Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • ANALYSIS: Can scientists put a face on basic research?

    Co-chairs Neal Lane and Norman Augustine listen to Bart Gordon (at podium) discuss new report.

    Co-chairs Neal Lane (left) and Norman Augustine (right) listen to Bart Gordon (at podium) discuss new report.

    Tony Brown/

    When academics argue for more U.S. government spending on basic research, they usually haul out statistics that demonstrate how research has played an outsized role in spurring economic development. Those numbers may appeal to other scholars, but to date that approach hasn’t been particularly effective in winning over Washington policymakers. Bart Gordon prefers the Peyton index.

    “There are two ways we can compete with the rest of the world,” explains Gordon, the former chair of the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. “If we compete on wages, which are less than $2 a day for half the people in the world, the standard of living for my 13-year-old daughter’s generation will be dramatically reduced. Or we can invest in research and innovation.”

    Gordon made the reference to his daughter, Peyton, at a media briefing this week on a new report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. It recommends a huge increase in federal spending as well as changes to the U.S. research enterprise that will make it more efficient. The title, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, is meant to highlight the link between research and the country’s future prosperity. But the optics of the event were at odds with that forward-looking message.

  • At least 15 children in Syria die in measles immunization campaign

    A child is vaccinated in Syria last year.

    A child is vaccinated in Syria last year.

    European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr/Creative Commons

    At least 15 children, all or most under age 2, have died after receiving an injection in a measles immunization campaign in an opposition-held area of northern Syria. Up to 50 more children were sickened.

    Details are hazy, says a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Geneva, Switzerland, but at this point the cause looks like a “very bad human error,” in which a strong muscle relaxant was administered instead of the measles vaccine. The tragic deaths threaten to undermine all vaccination efforts across Syria, where childhood immunization rates have dropped precipitously after years of civil war.

    WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have dispatched an investigation team but for now are dependent on secondhand information from nongovernmental organizations and other partners in northern Syria, says WHO’s Christian Lindmeier. (For security reasons, neither organization has staff on the ground in Idlib, where the deaths occurred.) Until the cause is confirmed, rumors will continue to circulate, he warns; various press accounts are alleging a plot by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or perhaps the terrorist group ISIS.

  • Australia sees record highs in syphilis cases and hepatitis deaths

    Treponema pallidum spirochetes, which cause syphilis.

    Treponema pallidum spirochetes, which cause syphilis.

    CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing Jr.

    Public health experts in Australia are sounding alarms over a record number of new cases of syphilis and a dramatic rise in viral hepatitis deaths. Experts trace the spike in syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to a decrease in condom use, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM), and they see the hepatitis death toll as the inevitable result of long-term trends in injecting drug use.

    The alarming numbers and the underlying behaviors are examined in a pair of reports on HIV, viral hepatitis, and STIs in Australia released today by the Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society and the Centre for Social Research in Health, both at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. 

    "Unfortunately, it's really bad news for STIs in Australia," says epidemiologist David Wilson of the Kirby Institute. And for hepatitis, "there is a very large epidemic that largely went on under our nose but it is catching up with us right now," he says.

  • In Colombia, coffee scientists urge: Viva la resistencia!

    Coffee rust

    Richard/Flickr/Creative Commons

    Coffee scientists from around the world last week flew into Colombia's Eje Cafetero region, a verdant collage of deep gullies and mountainsides covered in thousands of small-scale coffee farms framed by banana trees. At the heart of the 25th International Conference on Coffee Science (ASIC) was a burning question: how to deal with coffee leaf rust, or roya. The world's most damaging coffee disease, leaf rust has torn through Latin America, costing farmers an estimated $1 billion and cutting some harvests by more than half in Central America. Between copious coffee breaks, scientists announced several new molecular techniques to help combat this continental epidemic.

    Resistant coffee plants

    Helping the coffee plant defend itself from the fungus is a top priority. Colombia leads the world in developing rust-resistant coffee breeds, also known as cultivars. When coffee leaf rust—which was first spotted in East Africa in the 1860s—made it to South America in the 1970s, Colombia's national coffee research center, Cenicafé, was already a decade into its rust resistance breeding program. Since then, it has released two major coffee cultivars—Colombia (in 1980) and Castillo (2005)—that have been effective since 1983 in tempering leaf rust while preserving the characteristics so important to world-class coffee: high yield, large grain size, great taste.

  • Confronting Ebola: A virologist in Liberia's hot zone

    Heinz Feldmann in scrubs and a rain jacket outside one of the tents in Monrovia.

    Heinz Feldmann in scrubs and a rain jacket outside one of the tents in Monrovia.


    Virologist Heinz Feldmann has spent most of his career studying the deadly Ebola virus at research institutes in Germany, Canada, and the United States. He is now at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, Montana.

    Feldmann has co-developed one of the vaccine candidates that is scheduled to be tested soon and has helped contain several Ebola outbreaks in the past. On 8 September, he returned from 3 weeks in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, where he ran a diagnostic lab for a treatment center operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

    Q: What was your impression of the situation in Monrovia?

    A: The first impression was actually that nothing is wrong. The part of the city we were in, outside the center, was pretty calm. But when you get to the Ebola ward, that impression turns. It is a disastrous situation. There are a lot of sick people hanging around, trying to get in, but the ward is just not big enough. They have to turn obviously sick people back into the community because there are no beds. I think we would need at least five to 10 times the capacity in Monrovia. The city is totally overwhelmed by the number of cases and the outbreak.

  • U.S. declares war on Ebola epidemic

    The Ebola virus

    The Ebola virus

    CDC/Dr. Frederick A. Murphy/Wikimedia Commons

    Mark 16 September 2014 as the day the United States declared an all-out war on the Ebola epidemic raging in West Africa.

    As President Barack Obama explained in remarks he made today at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, the world is looking to the United States for help. “It’s a responsibility we embrace,” Obama said. “We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

    At the same time Obama was speaking in Atlanta, the U.S. Senate held an Ebola hearing that featured testimony from leading public health officials and perhaps the world’s most famous Ebola survivor, Kent Brantly, who became ill with the disease while treating patients in Liberia in July. “We must take the deadly dangerous threat of the Ebola epidemic as seriously as we take ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria],” said Senator Lamar Alexander (R–TN).

  • Ebola vaccine: Little and late

    Okairos uses a “wave bag” to shake up cells and produce small lots of vaccine.

    Okairos uses a “wave bag” to shake up cells and produce small lots of vaccine.

    Loredana Siani/Okairos

    As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa accelerates, the containment measures that worked in the past, such as isolating those who are infected and tracing their contacts, clearly have failed. This has spurred hopes that biomedical countermeasures, such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines, can help save lives and slow spread. But as President Barack Obama calls for an aggressive ramp up of the U.S. government’s response, resolve is colliding with a grim reality: The epidemic is outpacing the speed with which drugs and vaccines can be produced.

    Administration officials have begun working with industry to speed manufacturing of experimental drugs and vaccines. “We’re trying to do everything we can to scale up product,” says Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But the logistical obstacles are huge, and makers are getting a late start.

    An Ebola vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Rixensart, Belgium, is the furthest along, having entered phase I human trials on 2 September. GSK has committed to manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the vaccine, which consists of an Ebola surface protein stitched into a weakened chimpanzee adenovirus, by the end of the year. If it passes muster in the early studies, it could be given to health workers as soon as November. But hundreds of thousands of doses would be needed to put a dent in the outbreak. That “would take one-and-a-half years at the scale we’re working at,” says Ripley Ballou, who heads the Ebola vaccine program for GSK.

  • White House teams with private sector on plan to reduce HFC emissions

    Tetrafluoropropene, a hydrofluorocarbon used as a refrigerant.

    Tetrafluoropropene, a hydrofluorocarbon used as a refrigerant.


    The White House today announced a plan to reduce U.S. emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas with 2400 times the climate impact of CO2. Companies that make the refrigerants have pledged to dramatically reduce and eventually phase out their production at the same time they develop greener alternatives, and retailers have agreed to use equipment that is HFC-free.

    HFCs became a significant climate issue in the wake of the success of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which eliminated the emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). HFCs were a common substitute for CFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners in the 1980s and 1990s. Scientists have warned of the impact of HFCs on climate for years, but government action has been slow to follow. Today’s announcement notes that U.S. emissions of HFCs, if left unchecked, were on track to double by 2020.

  • Prominent U.S. academics reprise plea for more basic research to fuel innovation

    Collaborations between industry and universities are essential for innovation, report says.

    Collaborations between industry and universities are essential for innovation, report says.

    Robert Scoble/Flickr/Creative Commons

    How long can U.S. science lobbyists keep repeating the same message—that boosting federal funding for basic research and removing barriers to innovation is a proven way to ensure economic prosperity—without tuning out their intended audience? And is there any reason to think that those who have resisted their pleas in the past will warm to their arguments this time around?

    Neal Lane and Norm Augustine are about to find out. Today the two eminent science policy veterans came to Washington, D.C., to unveil a report from a panel of academic and industry leaders assembled by the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The 152-page report takes its place alongside a half-dozen other tomes in the last decade intended to first warn U.S. policymakers of an impending disaster and then describe how to avert it.

    The twin message is captured in the report’s title, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. China and other nations are a growing threat to U.S. preeminence in science and innovation, the report notes, and the best response is spending more on basic research and reforming the current U.S. system of innovation.

  • U.S. government set to announce surge of help for Ebola epidemic

    Burying an Ebola victim in West Africa.

    Burying an Ebola victim in West Africa.

    © EC/ECHO/Jean-Louis Mosser

    A week after sharp criticism met the U.S. military’s announcement that it planned to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic with a “deployable hospital” that has a mere 25 beds, U.S. President Barack Obama tomorrow plans to unveil dramatic new efforts to assist the West African countries besieged by the disease. 

    (Update: The White House on Tuesday morning released a fact sheet outlining its planned response. It will be coordinated by a U.S. Army general stationed at a new command center in Monrovia with an estimated 3000 troops. The Department of Defense has asked to "reprogram" $500 million toward the effort.)

    Obama will be visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to discuss the U.S. response, At about the same time, a U.S. Senate hearing on Ebola will also take place with testimony from key public officials and Ebola survivor Ken Brantly.

    Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with ScienceInsider on Friday and said she expected there would be “a substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s assistance. She particularly wants to see more attention paid to providing infected people with good care. “There’s a very, very wide variability in what’s being delivered as clinical care,” says Lurie, noting that case fatality rates differ dramatically  in different locations. “We know that simple interventions are likely to save the most lives.”

  1. « 1
  2. ‹ previous
  3. 170
  4. 171
  5. 172
  6. 173
  7. 174
  8. 175
  9. 176
  10. next ›
  11. 633 »