Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Climate scientists wary of Trump: Please come to France, says presidental hopeful

    Emmanuel Macron

    "We like innovation. We want innovative people," Emmanuel Macron says.

    En Marche!

    The mediagenic wunderkind of French presidential politics has a message for U.S. scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs working on climate change and worrying about their future under President Donald Trump: Come to France.

    In a video posted to his Facebook and Twitter accounts late last night (and hashtagged #ScienceMarch), Emmanuel Macron renewed his commitment to fighting global warming and extended a warm welcome: "We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables, and new technologies. France is your nation."

    He may well get an opportunity to make good on his promise. Polls released this week suggest that Macron, the founder of a new center-left party who is campaigning on environmental protection, has soared past two more traditional candidates and is likely to face Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme-right National Front, in the 7 May runoffs. One poll says he'd defeat her with 63% of the votes.

  • U.K. cancer charity awards £71 million for four major research challenges

    Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a freeze-fractured section of a ductal carcinoma of a female breast

    Researchers don’t yet know when a ductal carcinoma in situ will turn into breast cancer.

    SPL/Science Source

    Cancer Research UK, the cancer charity based in London, today announced up to £71 million in awards to four teams that will tackle some of the most daunting problems in cancer research. The 5-year Grand Challenge Awards will fund work on mapping tumors, forecasting when breast cancer will develop, and pinning down environmental causes of cancers.

    The objective is to find “really novel ways” to address “urgent problems,” said Cancer Research UK CEO Harpal Kumar in a press briefing yesterday. He called the grants “the biggest … we or anyone else has ever given.” (A charity spokesperson later explained that Kumar meant funding provided to a single research project aimed at transforming a field, and that because of a drop in the value of the British pound, the grants are actually among the largest research awards ever.)

    The Grand Challenge competition began more than 2 years ago by gathering input from experts around the world to identify big problems—those that are “almost not doable but you can see a path to a solution,” says the project’s advisory panel chair, cancer biologist Richard Klausner of Illumina Inc. in San Diego, California. The advisers came up with seven challenges, including cancer vaccines and targeting a specific cancer gene, that attracted 57 research proposals. From a short list of nine finalists, the program has now selected four international teams. 

  • USDA scrubbing of animal records may have been sparked by horse lawsuit

    A gray Tennessee Walking Horse

    A Tennessee Walking Horse

    Pat Canova/Alamy Stock Photo

    A lawsuit over alleged cruelty to a special breed of horse appears to have prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) move last week to remove thousands of reports and documents relating to animal welfare from its website. The scrubbing has outraged animal welfare advocates—and made strange bedfellows of groups that oppose and support scientific research involving animals, with both sides condemning USDA’s actions. It appears, however, that the agency’s decision had little—if anything—to do with animal research.

    The lawsuit, filed in February 2016, was brought in part by Lee and Mike McGartland, Texas attorneys who enter Tennessee Walking Horses in various competitions. The breed is famous for its high-stepping gait, which some animal welfare advocates have charged comes from injuring the animals, typically by adding caustic chemicals to their legs and feet—a process known as soring. The Horse Protection Act of 1970 outlawed the practice, and the law is enforced by inspectors employed by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

    A negative APHIS inspection can disqualify a horse from competition, even before the owners or trainers can contest the findings in court. As a result, the McGartlands, who have had several horses disqualified from competition because of allegations of soring, charged APHIS with violating their due process rights. In particular, because the inspection reports are posted online and contain the names of the alleged violators, the McGartlands say that USDA has violated the federal Privacy Act, which regulates the dissemination of personal information by federal agencies. The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas, asks the agency to remove any such documents from its website.

  • In BPA safety war, a battle over evidence

    A hand injecting rat pups with BPA

    Government and academic scientists differ on how best to dose rat pups with BPA for toxicity testing.


    In the 1930s, a U.K. biochemist made a curious observation that today remains at the center of a raging debate about chemical safety. He noticed that the synthetic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) weakly mimics the human hormone estrogen. In the decades that followed, BPA became a ubiquitous ingredient in epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastic, used by the millions of tons every year for everything from dental sealants to plastic water bottles. But BPA doesn't stay put. In the 1990s, Stanford University researchers realized that tiny amounts can leach out of plastic. Researchers and the public, already worried that other hormone-mimicking chemicals could be interfering with the endocrine system—the symphony of hormones in the human body—wondered whether those traces of BPA were doing any harm.

    By now tests have found the chemical in more than 90% of Americans. But the risks of BPA contamination are still in dispute. One reason: Studies have produced conflicting or inconclusive results, in part because alterations in the endocrine system can be subtle and hard to pin down. Another is a deep rift between academic scientists and regulators about which kinds of studies are best for shaping government oversight of chemicals.

  • Do's and don'ts for scientists who want to shape policy

    Scientific notes being fed into the capitol and a sheet of policy exiting

    Davide Bonazzi/@Salzmanart

    Paul Cairney, a political scientist at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, has a message for those who want facts and research findings to guide policy. "‘Evidence based policy making’ is a good political slogan, but not a good description of the policy process," he writes on his blog, which has become a popular read for policy wonks. "If you expect to see it, you will be disappointed." It's a typically frank assessment from Cairney, who last year published a well-received book entitled The Politics of Evidence-Based Policy Making. But his goal isn't to discourage efforts to inject evidence into statecraft; rather, he aims to arm scientists with some practical advice about the policymaking world that might help them do better. In a recent interview, Cairney offered some do's and don'ts for getting involved.

  • Brain researchers fight National Hockey League’s demand for records

    Research team at Boston University examines human brain

    Researchers Robert Stern, Ann McKee, Chris Nowinski, and Robert Cantu (left to right) have been studying the link between brain disease and contact sports including hockey and football.

    Brian Cahn/ZUMApress/Newscom

    A pair of Boston University (BU) brain researchers is pushing back against demands by the National Hockey League (NHL) that they release data, brain pathology slides, and interview records of former NHL players and their families. The scientists accumulated the records during their research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease that has been linked to repetitive head trauma.

    In affidavits unsealed yesterday in a class action lawsuit brought against the league by former players, BU neuroscientists Robert Stern and Ann McKee argued that giving the league the records would compromise both their ongoing research and the privacy of the players and families involved. The affidavits were first reported on yesterday by Rick Westhead of the Canadian sports network TSN. The NHL first subpoenaed the documents in September 2015.

    Stern and McKee, a neuropsychologist and a neuropathologist, respectively, at BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, have studied the brains of former professional athletes, including hockey players, and are currently using MRI imaging to study scores of living National Football League and college football players in a large study funded by the National Institutes of Health. They say that assurances that players’ privacy will be protected are essential for the success of that $16 million study.

  • U.S. Senate bill aims to make sure federal scientists aren’t ‘muzzled’

    Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) in 2015.

    Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) in 2015.

    Senate Democrats/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Congressional Democrats are rallying behind a bill to protect federal scientists from attempts to interfere with scientific discourse and dissemination of research results.

    Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) yesterday introduced a bill (S.338) that would codify existing policies at some two dozen federal agencies. Those policies stem from a 2009 executive order from former President Barack Obama that required them to spell out how they would safeguard scientific integrity. The policies have dribbled out over the last 7 years.

    Although the topic may seem like motherhood and apple pie to researchers, some actions by President Donald Trump’s transition team and his fledgling administration have raised questions about its commitment to open scientific communication and respect for evidence. As a result, the issue has become a partisan litmus test. Nelson’s bill has 27 Senate co-sponsors, all of them Democrats, and a similar bill is being drafted by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.


  • The marches for science, on one global interactive map

    .Protesters including scientists gather outside the Treasury in London to protest Government cuts to science.

    Scientists are no strangers to demonstrations. Here, researchers in London protest budget cuts in 2010.

    PA Wire/Press Association Images

    It was a tweet that brought them together. “Hell hath no fury like a scientist silenced,” Caroline Weinberg, a public health educator and science writer in New York City, tweeted late last month. As a result of worries about the impact that President Donald Trump’s administration might have on scientists, Weinberg’s tweet also floated the idea of a “science march” to highlight the importance of research. Someone suggested she contact Jonathan Berman, a like-minded postdoctoral fellow studying hypertension at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, who had already set up a Twitter handle: @ScienceMarchDC.

    A few retweets later, “things just blew up,” Weinberg says. Within days, the science march account had more than 300,000 followers and a “secret” Facebook group had more than 800,000 members. And last week, Weinberg, Berman, and a third co-organizer, anthropology doctoral student Valorie Aquino of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, officially announced that a March for Science would be held on 22 April in Washington, D.C. Science advocates in more than 100 cities around the world say they will hold allied demonstrations the same day.

    The marches will be not just for scientists, but for “anyone who believes in empirical science,” the organizers emphasize on the March for Science web page. The demonstrations are meant to be a celebration of science, they say, as well as “a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.”

  • A group of prominent Republicans just launched a longshot bid for a carbon tax

    Former Secretary of State James Baker speaking at a meeting in 2008.

    Former Secretary of State James Baker in 2008.

    Miller Center/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Originally published by E&E News

    Former Secretary of State James Baker led a group of senior Republican statesmen today in rolling out a plan for using a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    The four-pillar proposal calls for a revenue-neutral carbon tax starting at $40 per ton.

    Ahead of a White House meeting with Gary Cohn, the former Wall Street executive who is President Trump's economic adviser, Baker acknowledged in a Washington press briefing that his Climate Leadership Council faces an "uphill slog," despite what he framed as the proposal's populist appeal.

  • How a culture clash at NOAA led to a flap over a high-profile warming pause study

    ocean buoy

    Data collected by satellites, land-based sensors, and NOAA ocean buoys like this are at the heart of the dispute.


    A former scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington, D.C., made waves this past weekend when he alleged that climate scientist Thomas Karl, the former head of a major NOAA technical center, “failed to disclose critical information” to the agency, journal editors, and Congress about the data used in a controversial study published in Science in June 2015. Karl was the lead author of that paper, which concluded that global surface temperatures continued rising in recent years, contrary to earlier suggestions that there had been a “pause” in global warming.

    John Bates, who retired from NOAA this past November, made the claims in a post on the prominent blog of Judith Curry, a climate researcher who recently retired from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and has walked the line between science and climate contrarians over the past decade. Bates’s complaints were also the centerpiece of a story published Sunday by David Rose of the United Kingdom’s The Mail on Sunday, a tabloid, which claimed that national leaders “were strongly influenced” by the “flawed NOAA study” as they finalized the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

    Rose's story ricocheted around right-wing media outlets, and was publicized by the Republican-led House of Representatives science committee, which has spent months investigating earlier complaints about the Karl study that is says were raised by an NOAA whistleblower. But ScienceInsider found no evidence of misconduct or violation of agency research policies after extensive interviews with Bates, Karl, and other former NOAA and independent scientists, as well as consideration of documents that Bates also provided to Rose and the Mail

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