ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Calling Polio an International Emergency, WHO Recommends Travel Requirements

    Continuing battle. A poster encouraging polio vaccination from the 1960s.

    Continuing battle. A poster encouraging polio vaccination from the 1960s.

    U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Citing “extraordinary” circumstances, the World Health Organization (WHO) today declared the international spread of wild poliovirus a public health emergency of international concern. It is just the second time that WHO has declared an emergency, saying the recent export of polio from three nations to adjoining areas could threaten global efforts to eradicate the disease. 

    Under the new recommendations, which are not legally binding but carry tremendous weight, the three countries deemed to pose the greatest risk of further spread—Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria—must now ensure that all residents and long-term visitors have proof of recent polio vaccination before leaving the country. WHO is also encouraging the seven other nations known to have polio infections to implement similar measures.

    This is just the second time that such an emergency has been declared under the International Health Regulations adopted in 2005; the first was during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in April 2009.

  • RIKEN to Check 20,000 Papers for Doctored Images and Plagiarism

    RIKEN

    TOKYO—Shock waves emanating from allegations of image manipulation and plagiarism in two Nature papers published in January continue to ripple through RIKEN, the Japanese institute at the center of the ongoing controversy. Last week, local media reported (in Japanese) that questions have arisen about images in research papers published by three more members of a RIKEN committee charged with investigating the Nature papers. The news came a week after RIKEN announced it would investigate allegations of image manipulation in papers published by Shunsuke Ishii, who resigned as chair of the investigating committee on 25 April.

    Now, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper is reporting that RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori has asked all laboratory and research group leaders to check all of their previous publications for doctored images and plagiarism. The newspaper quotes an unnamed RIKEN official as saying the directive covers at least 20,000 publications. There was no indication of a deadline for completing the reviews.

  • Harry Truman Agreed With Me, Says Chairman of House Science Panel

    Buck stops here. President Harry Truman and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the House science committee.

    Buck stops here. President Harry Truman and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the House science committee.

    The White House and U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

    In the latest salvo in a yearlong battle, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) has suggested that a long-dead Democratic president would have backed his legislative proposal to change the grantsmaking process at the National Science Foundation (NSF). But President Harry Truman didn’t address the issue that Smith is raising when he vetoed a bill to create the foundation, says the agency’s historian.

    Yesterday, presidential science adviser John Holdren publicly criticized Smith’s proposals, which the lawmaker argues would “ensure transparency and accountability” at the $7 billion agency. “I don’t think we should be trying to fix something that isn’t broken,” Holdren said.

    Today, Smith responded to Holdren’s remarks in a statement. “What is broken is NSF’s refusal to provide Congress and American taxpayers with basic information about how NSF-funded grants are in the national interest,” Smith stated, referencing language in his Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act. It would require the NSF director to certify that every grant had the promise of fostering economic growth, improving public health, or safeguarding the nation.

  • Let's Call It 'Climate Disruption,' White House Science Adviser Suggests (Again)

    First there was “global warming.” Then many researchers suggested “climate change” was a better term. Now, White House science adviser John Holdren is renewing his call for a new nomenclature to describe the end result of dumping vast quantities of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into Earth’s atmosphere: “global climate disruption.”

    “I’ve always thought that the phrase ‘global warming’ was something of a misnomer because it suggests that the phenomenon is something that is uniform around the world, that it’s all about temperature, and that it’s gradual,” Holdren said yesterday at the annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. (AAAS publishes ScienceInsider.) “What could be wrong with that?”

    Instead, he said, “we should call it ‘global climate disruption.’ Although the rising average global surface temperature is an indicator of the degree of disruption that we have imposed on the global climate system, what’s actually happening involves changes in circulation patterns, changes in precipitation patterns, and changes in extremes. And those are very different in different places.”

  • U.K. Looks to Scrap Confidentiality Rules for Animal Research

    Laboratory mice

    Laboratory mice

    Wikimedia/Aaron Logan, from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php

    The United Kingdom has proposed lifting outdated confidentiality rules that ban the release of information about animal research.

    Under Section 24 of the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, the Home Office cannot release any information about animal research carried out in the country. This includes, for example, information about people or places applying for animal testing licenses and inspection visit reports. But these rules are now “out of step with [government] policy on openness and transparency,” said Home Office Minister Norman Baker in a public consultation launched yesterday.

    Sharing information more openly will “help to provide a constructive dissemination of technical knowledge” and will lower the risk of duplication of animal experiments, the government says.

    Both animal rights groups and researchers using animals have praised the proposal as a step in the right direction. “Freedom of access to information is … the only means by which research can be properly scrutinised in order to ensure the best possible outcome for people and animals,” said the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in a statement issued today.

  • White House Science Adviser Criticizes FIRST Act

    Displeased. White House science adviser John Holdren, shown at a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday, opposes a bill that he says would weaken the National Science Foundation.

    Displeased. White House science adviser John Holdren, shown at a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday, opposes a bill that he says would weaken the National Science Foundation.

    U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations

    Pending legislation to alter the grantmaking process at the National Science Foundation (NSF) “would have an extraordinarily unfortunate effect” on the $7 billion research agency, presidential science adviser John Holdren said today.

    Holdren’s comments, made at the annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy (AAAS publishes ScienceInsider), are the first public reaction from the White House to the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act, a 2-year reauthorization of NSF programs that is expected to be approved this month by the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Holdren’s words are consistent with the view of many academic leaders that the bill is part of a broader attack by congressional Republicans on federally funded science.

    “I think that NSF’s peer-review process has proven itself over the years in a manner that has made it the envy of the world,” Holdren told attendees at the AAAS forum in Washington, D.C. “Everybody else is trying to mimic the success NSF has had from funding research. I don’t think we should be trying to fix something that isn’t broken.”

  • California Stem Cell Institute Picks Industry Veteran as President

    New CIRM head Randy Mills (left) with the chair of the group's board, Jonathan Thomas.

    Hired. New CIRM head Randy Mills (left) with the chair of the group's board, Jonathan Thomas.

    Todd Dubnicoff

    After a 6-month search, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has announced a new president. Predictably, the $3 billion agency is turning to a veteran of the private sector to guide it through a phase where industry savvy will be critical to its survival.

    Randy Mills, who spent the last 10 years as CEO of the stem cell-focused Osiris Therapeutics, will take the helm as the agency plans for an uncertain financial future and attempts to move more of its research to the clinic. “We now reach a time in our CIRM life which is sort of mid-life,” the governing board’s chair, Jonathan Thomas, said at a meeting today in Burlingame, California. Since the 2004 California ballot initiative that funded the new agency with bond sales, CIRM has awarded about $1.7 billion in grants to scientists at 65 institutions, including university medical schools and private companies. But with funding from those bonds set to run out in 2017, CIRM is working to sweeten its relationship with industry and fulfill its mandate of getting therapies to patients.

    Mills fits right into that goal, Jeff Sheehy, a CIRM board member and HIV patient advocate, tells ScienceInsider. “We’re getting someone who’s actually taken a stem cell product to market.” Under Mills’s leadership, Columbia, Maryland-based Osiris became the first company to receive regulatory approval for a stem cell drug. Canadian regulators in 2012 approved Prochymal to treat complications from bone marrow transplants. “We need something like that to happen with some of our projects,” Sheehy says.

  • Bigger, Better Arctic Studies Needed, U.S. Report Argues

    It's cold up there. Arctic sea ice cover in September 2010, from data collected by a NASA satellite.

    It's cold up there. Arctic sea ice cover in September 2010, from data collected by a NASA satellite.

    NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

    A new ocean. An unpredictable landscape changing faster than any other place on Earth. And remote, impenetrable places that are hard to reach and sit in darkness for months each year. Those are just some of the things awaiting researchers who will confront the challenge of studying the Arctic in the 21st century, concludes a report released yesterday.

    “The climate, biology, and society in the Arctic are changing in rapid, complex, and interactive ways, with effects throughout the region and, increasingly, the globe,” finds the report from the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies. “Understanding the Arctic system has never been more important.”

    The study, sponsored by several U.S. science agencies, aims to identify “the questions that in five or ten years’ time we will kick ourselves for not asking now,” the NRC expert panel writes.

    There’s no shortage of questions emerging as the Arctic melts. Sea ice is vanishing at an alarming rate. Warm water is entering the Arctic from the Atlantic Ocean, with the impacts still unclear. The Arctic Ocean is becoming fresher due to melting ice and changes in hydrology on land. As permafrost melts, some trees are growing faster, while others find their roots inundated with liquid water. “The cascading ecological impacts (e.g. on bears, caribou, small mammals and insects) are unknown,” the report notes.

  • U.S. Science Chiefs Field Questions, Hard and Soft, at Innovation Hearing

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz brought an artificial hand created by a 3D printer (inset) to yesterday's U.S. Senate hearing on innovation

    Hands-on. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz brought an artificial hand created by a 3D printer (inset) to yesterday's U.S. Senate hearing on innovation, which also included testimony from National Institutes of Health chief Francis C

    U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations

    Members of a key congressional spending panel voiced strong, bipartisan support yesterday for increasing the federal investment in basic research. But given the tight spending limits facing Congress this year, scientists should not expect to take that support to the bank.

    The hearing, titled “Driving Innovation through Federal Investment,” was designed to showcase the enormous payoff to society from federal funding of academic research over the decades, from the Internet and stealth technology to MRI and better weather forecasting. But the next generation of new technologies is threatened by the inconsistent pattern of support for science over the past decade, according to the heads of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, who joined presidential science adviser John Holdren in testifying at the 140-minute hearing.

    The event gave members of the Senate Appropriations Committee a chance to hurl softball questions about the causes of what a coalition of pro-science organizations has labeled an innovation deficit and what it would take to eliminate it. But despite an eagerness to describe their agencies’ plight, the five witnesses needed repeated prompting by legislators to make some of their key points.

    “I only brought one prop,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said as he pointed to a model of an artificial hand, generated by a 3D printer, that held an object resembling a baseball. “Its mesh construction is an amazing technology.”

  • First Global Drug Resistance Overview Paints Grim Picture

    WHO asked its member states to provide information on resistance in nine microbe-drug combinations. Many countries provided information for fewer than five or said they had no national data available

    Uncharted territory. WHO asked its member states to provide information on resistance in nine microbe-drug combinations. Many countries provided information for fewer than five or said they had no national data available; white spots indicate count

    WHO

    The World Health Organization (WHO) presented its first-ever global attempt to assess the spread of drug resistance today—and the results are sobering. Antimicrobial resistance "threatens the achievements of modern medicine," warns the study, which shows that high rates of resistance occur in most parts of the world.

    "Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill," wrote Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security, in a press statement.

    The study presents some data on drugs against influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, but it focuses on seven common bacteria and nine classes of drugs used to treat them—for instance, fluoroquinolones to treat Escherichia coli, which can cause urinary tract or bloodstream infections. WHO asked its 194 member states to contribute information on how common resistances to these drugs are and how they survey them; 129 countries provided information, but only 114 of those could provide data for at least one of the nine combinations of pathogen and drug.

    The report finds high rates of resistance for some of the bacteria almost everywhere. For instance, nations in all six WHO regions report that more than half of Klebsiella pneumoniae isolates have acquired resistance to third-generation cephalosporins, an important class of antibiotics. That leaves only one class of drugs, the carbapenems, to treat severe infections with the bacterium, which causes pneumonia as well as bloodstream and urinary tract infections. But even resistance against these drugs of last resort is now cropping up around the world.

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