Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Lawmakers decry Trump plan to slash NIH 2018 budget

    Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins

    National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins in 2013.

    Stephen Voss/Redux

    Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House of Representatives today voiced their displeasure with the Trump administration’s proposed $5.8 billion cut next year to the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. But they avoided asking NIH Director Francis Collins for his thoughts on the topic, perhaps knowing that it would put him in a very uncomfortable spot.

    During a hearing on "advances in biomedical research", Representative Tom Cole (R–OK), who chairs the House appropriations panel that oversees NIH’s budget, said he was “very proud” of a $2 billion increase, to $34.1 billion, that Congress approved for NIH in 2017. That action overrode President Donald Trump’s request for a $1 billion cut. Cole added that he was “disappointed” with Trump’s 2018 proposal in his “skinny budget” released in March to cut NIH by 18%. That would “stall progress” and “potentially discourage promising young scientists” from pursuing biomedical research, Cole said.

    Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D–CT) and Nita Lowey (D–NY) said the president actually wants to cut NIH’s next budget by $8 billion, using as a baseline the amount that NIH had been appropriated for 2017 when the skinny budget was issued. That 24% drop would mean 5000 to 8000 fewer grants. Such a decline would “decimate biomedical research and the economy” by eliminating 90,000 jobs, said Lowey, citing a new analysis by United for Medical Research, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

  • Superstar surgeon fired, again, this time in Russia

    Paolo Macchiarini headshot

    Macchiarini gave five patients in Russia artificial windpipes; three of them have died.

    Lars Granstrand, SVT

    After Paolo Macchiarini’s star fell in Sweden, the Italian surgeon still had a place to shine: Russia. The Karolinska Institute (KI) in Stockholm fired him in March 2016 for multiple ethical violations, including "breach of KI’s fundamental values" and "scientific negligence." But Russia had long showered Macchiarini with funding and opportunities to perform his experimental surgeries to implant artificial tracheas, and it allowed him to stay. Now, a year later, his Russian refuge has ended as well.

    On 30 March, it became clear that the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) would not renew its funding for Macchiarini’s work, which now focuses on the esophagus rather than the trachea. The decision came 9 days after Nature Communications retracted a paper by Macchiarini that documented successful esophagus transplantations in rats. Minutes of a meeting made public last week show that Kazan Federal University (KFU), Macchiarini’s current employer, decided to end his research project there on 20 April, effectively firing him.

    “They have probably realized that it’s all based on nothing but hot air,” says Pierre Delaere of the University of Leuven in Belgium, one of the first to criticize Macchiarini’s work. Yet despite a passionate plea by four Swedish doctors who blew the whistle on Macchiarini’s work at Karolinska in 2014, Russian authorities appear to have no plans to launch a misconduct investigation of his work in Russia.

  • Here’s a suggestion for Congress: Try bipartisanship

    Ro Khanna, wearing a suit, standing at a podium speaking

    Representative Ro Khanna (D–CA) touts a plan by Republican Representative Harold Rogers (second from left) to turn Rogers’s eastern Kentucky district into “Silicon Holler.”

    Cris Ritchie/EKCEP Inc

    As a newly elected progressive Democrat, Representative Ro Khanna (CA) couldn’t be more out of step with the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. He supports free public college, for example, along with a single payer health care system and a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.

    So why has Khanna thrown in with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–CA) on a bill to fund job training for veterans? Why has he gone to rural Kentucky to help Representative Hal Rogers (R–KY), former chairman of the powerful appropriations committee, promote the idea of turning his district into “Silicon Holler”? And why is he teaming up with fellow freshman Representative Jodey Arrington (R–TX), who hails from one of the country’s most conservative districts, to propose a radical change in how Congress operates?

  • U.S. flower sellers rush to destroy illegal GE petunias

    two big, reddish-orange petunias, one of them dripping with dew

    The award-winning African Sunset petunia turns out to be the product of genetic engineering, and doesn’t have a permit to be sold in the United States.

    F.D. Richards/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

    Click here to read an update to this story, which includes the tale of how the GE petunias were accidentally discovered outside a train station in Finland.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that U.S. flower distributors have begun to destroy countless petunia plants after federal scientists confirmed that they were genetically engineered (GE) to produce vivid orange, red, and purple blooms. The agency says the flowers pose no risk to the environment or to human health, but GE organisms need special permits to be sold in the United States.

    Distributors apparently imported or bred the flowers without realizing the plants had been GE. On 2 May, the Germany-based horticultural firm Selecta Klemm informed USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that it had moved a GE orange petunia into the United States, according to a statement issued by USDA. (Petunias aren’t naturally orange.) “This led to testing by USDA of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are indeed GE and meet our regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations,” the department stated. “Several distributors have already voluntarily removed GE petunias from distribution and destroyed them.”

  • China’s belt and road infrastructure plan also includes science

    map of Asia and Europe with lines leading out from China

    China’s plans for stronger land (black) and sea (blue) trade routes also include funding for scientific cooperation.

    Lommes/Wikimedia Commons

    China’s plan to make massive investments in land and sea links with global trading partners also includes a little noticed commitment to support science and engineering, including the creation of dozens of new laboratories.

    The belt and road initiative—originally announced in fall 2013 and officially dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road—is primarily an economic development program. Chinese President Xi Jinping's pet project, it is heavy on infrastructure—calling for new roads, railways, bridges, and ports—to recreate the overland and maritime trade routes that once led to China. Nearly 70 nations have agreed to cooperate in the plan, which aims to foster industrial development not only in the developing nations of Asia and Africa, but also in China's western provinces, which have yet to share in the economic prosperity of the country's coastal regions.

    China is also planning to use the initiative to flex its scientific and engineering muscles, officials made clear at a 2-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that ended yesterday in Beijing. “Innovation is an important force powering development,” Xi said in a speech to the opening session of the forum. And so the initiative will include technical cooperation in fields including artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and smart cities. He also mentioned the need to pursue economic growth that is in line with sustainable development goals, and that rests on environmentally friendly approaches.

  • Global health spending good for U.S. security and economy, National Academies say

    U.S. soldiers march over dry, red dirt alongside soldiers from several East African nations

    The United States needs to stay engaged in global health efforts, a new report argues. Here, a U.S. Army contingent participates in a humanitarian aid mission in East Africa.

    Samara Scott/U.S. Army/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    If a serious infectious disease blossomed across the globe today, the U.S. death toll could be double that of all the casualties suffered in wars since the American Revolution. Those 2 million potential American lives lost to a global pandemic is just one sobering statistic cited in a new report released today by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that urges sustained U.S. spending on global health initiatives. It also calls on the federal government to develop a new “International Response Framework” to guide the nation’s preparation and reaction to intercontinental epidemics and global pandemics.

    “While global crises have largely been avoided to date, the lack of a strategic [U.S.] approach to these threats could have grave consequences,” the report warns. “If the system for responding to such threats remains reactionary, the world will not always be so lucky.”

    The next epidemic—whether from nature or bioterrorism—is a question of “when,” not “if,” according to the authors of the report, titled Global Health and the Future Role of the United States. They say the 313-page tome is intended to send a strong message that investing in public health beyond U.S. borders is more than a philanthropy project; it’s also a matter of economic stability and national security here at home.

  • Possible Trump pick for USDA science post draws darts

    Sam Clovis speaks at a Trump campaign event in Iowa in 2016.

    Sam Clovis at a campaign event in Iowa in 2016.

    Alex Hanson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Originally published by E&E News

    President Trump may be adding to his administration's challenges by picking someone without a science background to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) research programs, former agriculture secretary Dan Glickman said today.

    The Clinton administration official told E&E News that, while he doesn't know Sam Clovis — reported to be Trump's pick for undersecretary for research, education and economics — scientific knowledge is especially useful in a position that requires coordination with scientific agencies within the government.

  • India nears approval of first GM food crop

    a mustard field

    An Indian advisory committee has cleared a genetically modified mustard for commercial use.

    sj liew/Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

    Amidst acrimonious debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) food crops, India’s top biotechnology regulator last week declared a transgenic mustard plant “safe for consumption.” Moving the plant into farmers’ fields is now a political decision in the hands of India’s environment minister, who may wait until the Supreme Court of India resolves several long-pending related cases.

    The GM mustard has been under development for almost a decade. A report assessing the plant’s risks was released a year ago, drawing some 700 comments that were reviewed by the Ministry of Environment’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The report concluded the mustard was safe and nutritious, and GEAC chair Amita Prasad in New Delhi says the commission unanimously agreed on 11 May to recommend allowing farmers to plant the crop for the next 4 years. The final decision will be made by Environment Minister Anil Dave.

    The GM mustard was developed with public funding by plant scientist Deepak Pental of the University of Delhi. His team introduced several genes from a soil bacterium, Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, into the mustard to facilitate hybridization. Mustard is largely a self-pollinating crop and creating high-yield hybrids has been cumbersome. 

  • U.S. spy agencies wimp out on science of climate change, but still say it’s a security threat

    Sun rising over Earth's horizon


    U.S. national security is being threatened by improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) and genome editing, as well as the impacts of climate change, overfishing, and biodiversity loss, concludes the latest edition of an annual report released today by the U.S. intelligence community. But the report tries to avoid the increasingly politicized fight over climate science—without denying the existence of global warming.

    Dropping off the threat list from last year’s report are worries about gains in analyzing big data by other nations, as well as improvements in virtual reality. But new this year are concerns about the slowing pace of advances in the U.S. semiconductor industry and China’s continued efforts to grow their own computer chip capabilities. 

    The 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment, delivered to Congress today by Daniel Coats, U.S. director of national intelligence, is a 32-page rundown of global and regional threats that the nation’s spy agencies believe demand attention from policymakers. Along with familiar warnings about terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and cyberattacks, the report flags a number of science-related issues.

  • Critics say plan for drifting ocean trash collectors is unmoored

    Artist impression of Pacific Cleanup

    Inventor wants to use floating booms to channel plastic trash into a solar-powered collector (artist’s conception).

    Erwin Zwart/The Ocean Cleanup

    It is undeniably an ambitious vision. Boyan Slat, a charismatic 22-year-old drop-out inventor, plans to clean up plastic trash circulating in the North Pacific Gyre by launching a fleet of floating trash collectors. Ocean currents would propel floating plastic trash into curved floating booms, which would funnel trash toward a central tank, to be collected monthly by ships. “We let the plastic come to us,” he says. The group hopes to eventually finance the operation by recycling the plastic and selling it as a branded product or raw material. Slat already has a pair of sunglasses made from recycled Pacific plastic.

    Skeptics say the idea doesn’t make much sense and that collecting trash closer to shore would be more cost effective. “Focusing clean-up at those gyres, in the opinion of most of the scientific community, is a waste of effort,” says marine biologist Jan van Franeker of Wageningen Marine Research in the Netherlands. “It’s a lot of money to reduce something that disappears in 10 to 20 years, if you stop the input.” His research on seabirds showed a 75% decline of ingested plastic over 2 decades after reductions in industrial plastic entering the North Sea. Critics also worry that the high-tech clean-up project could distract from less glamorous efforts to lessen the use of plastic.  

    Slat’s 4-year-old organization, The Ocean Cleanup, based in Delft, the Netherlands, is well on its way to launching its first unit. At an event tonight in the Werkspoorkathedraal—an industrial meeting hall in Utrecht, the Netherlands—Slat unveiled a new design that he says will allow The Ocean Cleanup to deploy its first collector in 2018, 2 years earlier than planned. It will also collect trash at twice the rate of earlier designs, he predicts.

  1. « 1
  2. ‹ previous
  3. 1
  4. 2
  5. 3
  6. 4
  7. 5
  8. 6
  9. 7
  10. next ›
  11. 613 »