Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Has U.S. biomedical research on chimpanzees come to an end?

    Invasive research projects on chimpanzees must legally come to an end next month unless researchers obtain a permit.

    Invasive research projects on chimpanzees must legally come to an end next month unless researchers obtain a permit.

    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/AP images

    Zero. That’s the number of labs that have applied for a permit to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees in the United States, as required by a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rule. The number suggests that all biomedical research on chimps has stopped—or is about to stop—and it’s unclear whether the work will ever start up again.

    “This is the beginning of the end of invasive chimpanzee research,” says Stephen Ross, the director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, who pushed for the FWS rule. “Scientists have seen the writing on the wall.”

    Biomedical research on chimpanzees has been waning since 2013, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would phase out most government-funded chimp research and retire the majority of its research chimps to sanctuaries. The most recent blow came in June, when FWS stated that all U.S. chimpanzees—including the more than 700 chimps used in research—would be classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Any labs that wished to continue invasive work on these animals would need to apply for an ESA permit, and permits would only be allowed for work that enhances the survival of the species and benefits chimpanzees in the wild.

  • Scientists protest Scotland’s ban of GM crops

    Engineered potato plants could reduce the need for fungicides.

    Engineered potato plants could reduce the need for fungicides.

    Wayne Hutchinson/Alamy

    Research organizations are asking the Scottish government to reconsider its recent decision to ban the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops. The ban “risks constraining Scotland's contribution to research and leaving Scotland without access to agricultural innovations which are making farming more sustainable elsewhere in the world,” 28 science organizations maintain in a letter sent on 17 August to the Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment, Richard Lochhead.

    The European Union recently agreed to allow individual nations—and devolved authorities, such as Scotland—to forbid GM crops on their territory. On 9 August, Lochhead announced he would not consent to planting of insect-resistant corn, the only GM crop approved E.U.-wide for planting. Nor would he approve the use of six other GM crops that are under evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority. The reason is to “protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” Lochhead said in a statement.

  • Lobbyists seek new funds for chronic fatigue syndrome research

    Patient advocates and scientists joined forces today in a new campaign to boost research funding for the mysterious and debilitating disease chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The group aims to increase research funds available for ME/CFS from the $5.4 million annually available today. It also wants to transfer responsibility for the disease from an isolated office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    The coalition hopes to engineer the changes by inserting language into an authorizing bill expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate; it would be a companion to the 21st Century Cures bill that has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. That bill aims to speed the development of new medical treatments by streamlining regulations and boosting funding for NIH.

  • A for effort, C for impact from U.S. biomedical research, study concludes

    Pills and money
    Credit: Chris Potter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Productivity in the biomedical sciences has exploded in the past 50 years in the United States and globally, with more than a million papers now published each year by an even larger number of scientists. Yet dramatic growth in funding and knowledge has not been matched by a similar impact on U.S. public health. That’s the conclusion of a provocative new analysis from researchers who worry that poor research practices are hindering progress.

    Microbiologist Arturo Casadevall and M.D./Ph.D. student Anthony Bowen gathered data on what they call “inputs” and “outputs” since 1965—annual inflation–adjusted U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets, papers added to the PubMed database, and the number of paper authors. They then compared the trends to outcomes, such as the number of new molecules approved by the U.S government for use as drugs, and gains in life expectancy.

  • Apparent ‘pay to cite’ offer sparks Internet outrage

    This offer, first made in June, has drawn fierce criticism.

    Scientists are erupting in outrage on this otherwise sleepy August day. The cause? Cyagen, a purveyor of transgenic research mice, is seemingly offering its scientist customers cash if they cite one of their products in a published paper. But a company spokesman says it’s all a misunderstanding.

    The saga began late this past June, according to Cyagen spokesman Austin Jelcick, when the company sent out an email promoting a special offer. It was titled: "Cite us in your publication and earn $100 or more based on your journal's impact factor!"

    In recent days, some bloggers and Twitter users took noteand expressed outrage. At best, some argued, the offer was a seamy inducement. At worst, it amounted to a kind of payola scheme—and a potential financial conflict of interest that researchers should disclose.

  • World food supply at growing risk from severe weather

    Endless search. Even under normal conditions, families can spend several hours each day collecting water.

    Oxfam East Africa

    In 2007, drought struck the bread baskets of Europe, Russia, Canada, and Australia. Global grain stocks were already scant, so wheat prices began to rise rapidly. When countries put up trade barriers to keep their own harvests from being exported, prices doubled, according to an index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Just 3 years later, another spike in food prices contributed to the Arab Spring uprisings.

    Such weather-related crop disasters will become more likely with climate change, warns a detailed report released today by the Global Food Security (GFS) program, a network of public research funding agencies in the United Kingdom. “The risks are serious and should be a cause for concern,” writes David King, the U.K. Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, in a foreword to the report.

  • Australia’s emissions target panned at home and abroad

    Coal is king in Australia.

    Coal is king in Australia.

    CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s new carbon emissions reduction target is “out of step with the global community,” the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a release today. The target, for 2030, is “pathetic” and places the country among the “don’t cares” of the international community, Lord Deben, formerly known as John Gummer and head of the British government’s climate change advisory body, told The Guardian newspaper yesterday, the day the target was announced.

    Even the Marshall Islands took aim, with Foreign Minister Tony de Brum telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that if the rest of the world followed Australia's lead, his country would “disappear,” along with other vulnerable Pacific atoll nations.

    Last April, the governmental Climate Change Authority recommended cutting emissions by 30% by 2025 and by 40% to 60% by 2030, relative to 2000 levels. Rejecting the advice, Prime Minister Tony Abbott set the target at 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. “Mr Abbott’s hubris is staggering,” Deben says.

  • Animal advocacy group targets cat and dog research using novel crowdsourcing campaign

    Dogs at a Class B dealer facility await transport to research labs.

    Dogs at a Class B dealer facility await transport to research labs.

    Animal Welfare Institute

    Using an unusual crowdsourcing technique to generate hundreds of public records requests, an animal advocacy group claims it has uncovered evidence that an Ohio State University (OSU) lab has violated National Institutes of Health (NIH) rules concerning the use of dogs in biomedical research. The university has denied the charges—and provided ScienceInsider with evidence to the contrary—but the group’s effort is just its first salvo in a unique campaign designed to end all research on dogs and cats.

    The new strategy could cause a headache for animal researchers across the country, says Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Washington, D.C., who authored a report earlier this year on activists using open records laws to target academics in hot-button fields such as climate change and genetically modified foods.

  • Exclusive: Iran’s atomic czar explains how he helped seal the Iran nuclear agreement

    Ali Akbar Salehi

    Ali Akbar Salehi

    Ap photo/keystone, salvatore di nolfi

    TEHRAN—Last February, nuclear talks between Iran and world powers were foundering. The two sides had found common ground on the deal’s broad outlines, but the devil lay in the technical details. The negotiators were struggling to agree on limits to Iran’s R&D on the centrifuges used for enriching uranium. Stymied, Iranian officials asked their top nuclear scientist to join the talks: Ali Akbar Salehi, president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).

    In an exclusive interview with Science at AEOI headquarters in north Tehran, Salehi, 66, related how he would only agree if his opposite number in the United States, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, sat across from him at the table. U.S. negotiators agreed to that request, opening the door to several weeks of intense science diplomacy between the two physicists, who overlapped at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge in the mid-1970s, when Salehi was earning a Ph.D. there in nuclear engineering. They helped overcome technical obstacles, and last month Iran and the P5+1—the United States and its five allies—reached an agreement designed to block Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon in exchange for a gradual lifting of sanctions imposed as a result of Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement also paves the way for a rapid expansion of scientific cooperation with Iran in areas as diverse as fusion, astrophysics, and cancer therapy using radioisotopes.

  • Report sets new goals for U.S. Antarctic Program

    Credit: Uwe Kils/Wikimedia Commons

    U.S. research in Antarctica needs fresh initiatives and better equipment, a new report by a committee of the National Academies concludes. But how to afford them remains a conundrum.

    The report—commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds the United States Antarctic Program (USAP)—is the third major assessment of the program in 5 years, aiming to streamline the program in an era of relatively flat budgets and rising infrastructure costs. It builds on a 2011 report by the National Research Council, which identified important areas of future research for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. This time, NSF asked the committee to lay out a strategic vision for research on the continent over the next decade, identifying specific research priorities while taking into account the program’s logistical needs. NSF and its Division of Polar Programs invest about $70 million a year in science and about $255 million in infrastructure and logistics.

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