Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Trump’s NIH budget may include reducing overhead payments to universities

    Lab mice

    Federal funding for the indirect costs of research, such as caring for these mice at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, could be reduced under President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.

    Purdue Agricultural Communications Service photo/Tom Campbell

    The Trump administration may be planning to help pay for a massive 18% cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by slashing payments to universities and research institutes for overhead costs, ScienceInsider has learned.

    The proposed budget released by the White House yesterday, for the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October, contains a brief paragraph describing a $5.8 billion cut to NIH’s current $31.7 billion budget, as well as plans to reorganize the agency. The paragraph ends with this sentence: “The Budget also reduces administrative costs and rebalances Federal contributions to research funding.”

    According to a source close to the Trump administration, the sentence refers to plans to attack so-called indirect costs. That is money universities receive from NIH and other agencies to cover the expenses associated with conducting federally funded research. Indirect costs include everything from paying the utility bills for a faculty member’s lab to the salaries of the staff needed to comply with federal rules on using animals in research. 

  • San people of Africa draft code of ethics for researchers

    A family of San Bushmen walking through a grassland at dawn

    Researchers have eagerly studied Africa’s San people, some of whom are shown here foraging in a grassland. Now, the San have drawn up a code of ethics to govern scientists’ interactions with them.

    JASON EDWARDS/National Geographic Creative

    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Scientists have studied the San people of Southern Africa for decades, intrigued by their age-old rituals and ancient genetic fingerprints. Now, after more than a century of being scrutinized by science, the San are demanding something back. Earlier this month the group unveiled a code of ethics for researchers wishing to study their culture, genes, or heritage.

    The code, published here on 3 March, asks researchers to treat the San respectfully and refrain from publishing information that could be viewed as insulting. Because such sensitivities may not be clear to researchers, the code asks that scientists let communities read and comment on findings before they are published. It also asks that researchers keep their promises and give something back to the community in return for its cooperation.

     “We’re not saying that everybody is bad. But you get those few individuals who don’t respect the San,” says Leana Snyders, head of the South African San Council in Upington, which helped create the code.

  • Trump would shutter GoreSat—delivering a blow to exoplanet research

    A picture of Earth taken from space.

    DSCOVR has been capturing nearly continuous images of the planet since its “first light” image on 6 July 2015.


    Though astronomers have indirectly detected thousands of exoplanets, they are just starting to get fuzzy pictures of the orbs themselves. But what can they learn from just a few pixels of light? It turns out that the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a space-weather satellite with a controversial past, is answering those questions right now, says Stephen Kane, an exoplanet scientist at San Francisco State University in California. "We can get a significant advance preview of what those data will look like, because we now have a satellite that is staring directly at Earth."

    Those observations are in jeopardy, however, with news today that the proposed budget of U.S. President Donald Trump seeks to kill Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR years before the mission ends. It would be a setback for exoplanet research, Kane says. "We're enormously disappointed to hear this news."

    Perched between the gravitational pull of the sun and Earth, DSCOVR, which was launched in 2015, primarily serves as a space-weather buoy, giving advance notice of inbound solar storms. But it also has two instruments that peer back at Earth and capture the entire planet with the aim of detecting long-term trends in the planet's balance of incoming and outgoing energy, along with long-term shifts in its clouds, aerosols, and ozone.

  • A grim budget day for U.S. science: analysis and reaction to Trump's plan

    Portrait of Donald Trump

    President Donald J. Trump

    Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY SA)

    President Donald Trump rolled out his first budget request to Congress today. It is for the 2018 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. It calls for deep cuts to some federal science agencies (read our initial coverage to get some of the numbers), and is likely to draw fierce opposition from the scientific community and many lawmakers in Congress.

    ScienceInsider is providing analysis and reaction to the budget all day.

    Come back to see our latest items (most recent at the top).

  • United Kingdom moves forward with controversial embryo technique

    Laboratory petri dish of prenatal research

    Assisted reproduction technique can prevent genetic disease.


    The United Kingdom’s first baby resulting from a controversial assisted reproduction technique could be born by early next year. Regulators there have granted the country’s first license for a technique that would allow some women to avoid passing on a type of inherited disease by combining genes from three "parents."

    The diseases in question affect mitochondria, which are cellular energy producers that carry their own set of genes. Mutations in those genes can cause a range of symptoms, including brain damage, blindness, seizures, and heart problems. Women who carry the mutations can pass them on to their children. (Although sperm have mitochondria, they typically degrade shortly after fertilization.)

    The procedure, called mitochondrial replacement therapy, allows researchers to replace the faulty mitochondria in a woman’s egg cells with those from a healthy donor. Thus, genetic material from two eggs and one sperm is combined to make an embryo. If the baby is a girl, the genetic changes could be inherited. Making heritable genetic changes to eggs and sperm was prohibited in the United Kingdom until Parliament approved a new law allowing the technique in 2015.

  • NIH, DOE Office of Science face deep cuts in Trump's first budget

    Donald J. Trump

    Donald J. Trump

    Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    President Donald Trump's first budget request to Congress, to be released at 7 a.m. Thursday, will call for cutting the 2018 budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $6 billion, or nearly 20%, according to sources familiar with the proposal. The Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science would lose $900 million, or nearly 20% of its $5 billion budget. The proposal also calls for deep cuts to the research programs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and a 5% cut to NASA's earth science budget. And it would eliminate DOE's roughly $300 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

    There appears to be no mention, however, of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in a 62-page document outlining the proposal obtained by The Washington Post. NSF's budget request may not become clear until the White House fleshes out the details of its spending plan over the next 2 months.

    The NIH proposal is drawing deep concern from biomedical research advocates. "A $6 billion cut to [NIH] is unacceptable to the scientific community, and should be unacceptable to the American public as well," said Benjamin Corb, public affairs director of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Rockville, Maryland, in a statement. "President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2018 spending plan erases years' worth of bipartisan support for the NIH, and the American biomedical research enterprise which has long been the global leader for biomedical innovation. Cuts this deep threaten America's ability to remain a leader. It is of grave concern to the research community that President Trump's budget proposal—which would fund the agency at a 15-year low—values investments in defense above all other federal expenditures."

  • Updated: Some 100 groups have now endorsed the March for Science

    A group of demonstrators who support science in Boston in February 2017.

    Demonstrators rally for science near the AAAS annual meeting in Boston in February.

    Lindzi Wessel

    The March for Science, set for 22 April, is creating a buzz in the scientific community. The march arose as a grassroots reaction to concerns about the conduct of science under President Donald Trump. And it has spurred debate over whether it will help boost public support for research, or make scientists look like another special interest group, adding to political polarization.

    Leaders of many scientific societies have been mulling whether to formally endorse or take a role in the event, which will include marches in Washington, D.C. and some 400 other locations. 

    ScienceInsider has been tracking what science groups decide.

    Here's what we know as of 15 March (most recent updates at the top of each section):

  • Artificial chicken grown from cells gets a taste test—but who will regulate it?

    Southern Fried Chicken

    Fried “chicken” from cells grown in culture by Memphis Meats.

    Memphis Meats

    The quest for artificial meat inches forward—the company Memphis Meats announced today it has developed chicken and duck meat from cultured cells of each bird, producing “clean poultry.” The firm provided few details, although participants at a tasting reportedly said the chicken tasted like, well, chicken. Below is a repost of a story originally published 23 August 2016 on some of the regulatory challenges and questions facing Memphis Meats and other companies pursuing artificial meats.

    The first hamburger cooked with labmade meat didn’t get rave reviews for taste. But the test tube burger, rolled out to the press in 2013, has helped put a spotlight on the question of how the U.S. government will regulate the emerging field of cellular agriculture, which uses biotechnology instead of animals to make products such as meat, milk, and egg whites.

    So far, none of these synthetic foods has reached the marketplace. But a handful of startup companies in the United States and elsewhere are trying to scale up production. In the San Francisco Bay area in California, entrepreneurs at Memphis Meats hope to have their cell-cultured meatballs, hot dogs, and sausages on store shelves in about 5 years, and those at Perfect Day are targeting the end of 2017 to distribute cow-free dairy products. It’s not clear, however, which government agencies would oversee this potential new food supply.

  • The sequel: Influential House member plans to rekindle debate over NSF policies

    Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) leaves the House Republican Conference meeting surrounded by reporters

    Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) at the U.S. Capitol in 2014.

    Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

    The last bill that President Barack Obama signed before leaving office ended a 4-year battle over the future of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in a way that largely preserved current practices at the $7.5 billion research agency.

    Or so most scientists thought. They had vigorously fought bill language drafted by Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the House of Representatives science committee, that would have altered NSF’s well-regarded system of peer review and its commitment to a balanced research portfolio. And Smith had generally acceded to his Senate counterparts in negotiating the final version of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), enacted on 6 January.

    But last week Smith made clear at a hearing of the science committee that he’s gearing up for a new fight. And his comments suggest he’s intent on covering much of the same ground, starting with his view that NSF’s charge to support research “in the national interest” means it should fund less social science and environmental research.

  • Trump’s defense chief cites climate change as national security challenge

    U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks at an event.

    Secretary of Defense James Mattis

    DOD/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

    Reprinted from ProPublica

    Secretary of Defense James Mattis has asserted that climate change is real, and a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere, a position that appears at odds with the views of the president who appointed him and many in the administration in which he serves.

    In unpublished written testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee after his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said it was incumbent on the U.S. military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defense planners. He also stressed this is a real-time issue, not some distant what-if.

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