ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • China pledges to cut pollution and boost food safety

     A smog-filled sky over Beijing.

    China's government has once again pledged to reduce smog, seen enveloping Beijing in this December 2016 photo.

    Keith Tan/Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0

    BEIJING–China’s central government is laying plans to curb pollution, increase food and drug safety, and boost scientific research—though supporting details are scarce.

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang outlined these and other major goals during the opening session of the National People’s Congress on Sunday. The congress discussions are not likely to result in new legislation specific to science but speeches by top leaders set the tone for policy over the coming year.

    “Having reached the current stage of development, China can now advance only through reform and innovation,” Li said in support of his call to boost research efforts. China has “the largest pool of scientists, engineers, and professionals in the world, and their potential for innovation is truly tremendous.”

  • Trump plan for 40% cut could cause EPA science office ‘to implode,’ official warns

    Researchers examine marsh grasses

    Researchers from the Environemental Protection Agency's Gulf Breeze laboratory in Florida could be among those affected by deep proposed cuts to the agency's science programs.

    USEPA/Eric Vance

    In 2015, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., unveiled a controversial regulation aimed at improving protection for wetlands and small streams, officials pointed to a 400-page technical tome assembled by agency researchers as the rule’s scientific foundation and justification.

    But that document carried little sway this week as President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at gutting the rule.

    Now, the White House wants to dramatically slash the budget of the EPA science office that produced that report, employs some 1700 researchers and others, and runs essentially all of the agency’s other major scientific activities.

  • Wetlands scientists speak out against Trump's move to undo water rule

    Some farmers are concerned about impact proposed Clean Water Act rule could have on their operations.

    Some farmers are concerned about the impact that the Clean Water Act rule could have on their operations.

    Randy von Liski/Flickr

    Originally published by E&E News

    Seven scientific societies are speaking out against President Donald Trump's executive order targeting the contentious Clean Water Rule.

    Representing more than 200,000 members total, the Society of Wetland Scientists, Ecological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Scientists, American Fisheries Society, Society for Ecological Restoration, Society for Freshwater Science and Phycological Society of America wrote a letter to Trump arguing in favor of the regulation.

  • Which Rick Perry will show up as energy secretary: bombastic author or cautious executive?

    Rick Perry

    Gage Skidmore

    Originally published by E&E News

    What Rick Perry told senators vetting him for Energy secretary varied from what he wrote in his 2010 book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington."

    Nowhere in his testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in January did the former Republican governor of Texas reiterate his written belief of a masterful cover-up of data proving "global cooling." The climate, he testified instead, is changing.

     

  • As evacuees move back, Fukushima cleanup faces daunting obstacles

    Radioactive decontamination process of the forests and fields, near Fukushima

    Workers decontaminate a forest near Fukushima in Japan.

    jeremy sutton-hibbert/Alamy Stock Photo

    TOKYO—Six years into a decommissioning effort expected to last into the 2050s, an official leading the work on the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant claims that cleanup crews are making "steadfast progress." But thorny technical obstacles must be overcome.

    The 9.0-magnitude earthquake off Japan's northeast coast on 11 March 2011 triggered one of history's most devastating tsunamis. The one-two punch killed nearly 16,000 people, left more than 2500 missing, and wiped out infrastructure in coastal communities.

    The tsunami also knocked out Fukushima's systems for cooling its nuclear reactors, causing core meltdowns in three of the plant's six reactors. Hydrogen explosions blew out the walls and roofs of the buildings housing units 1, 2, and 3, releasing massive amounts of radiation. Much of the contamination was swept into the Pacific Ocean, but winds deposited fallout over parts of northeastern Japan. Some 160,000 people living near the plant were evacuated or fled on their own.

  • Senior Republican lawmaker has some advice for U.S. science marchers

    Representative John Culberson (R–TX, left) listens to a U.S. Navy officer during a tour of a California base in 2011.

    Representative John Culberson (R–TX, left) listens to a U.S. Navy officer during a tour of a California base in 2011.

    U.S. Navy/Erika N. Manzano

    The chairman of a congressional spending panel that oversees a wide swath of U.S. science agencies has some unusual advice for scientists planning to march on 22 April: Don’t talk about research. Instead, demand that Congress find a way to cut mandatory spending programs.

    Representative John Culberson (R–TX), is chairman of the commerce, science, and justice (CJS) appropriations subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Its $56 billion portfolio includes NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Census Bureau.

    First elected in 2000, Culberson is a self-proclaimed fan of science and a tireless promoter of space exploration, notably a robotic mission to find life on a moon of Jupiter. But he is also a fiscal and social conservative. He believes the only way that the federal government will be able to provide adequate funding for research is by controlling how much it spends on so-called entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and interest on the country’s $20 trillion national debt. Currently, those so-called mandatory programs account for roughly 70% of all annual federal spending. The rest, called discretionary spending, covers everything else, including research, defense, transportation, housing, law enforcement, education, and environmental protection.

  • China’s theft of U.S. trade secrets under scrutiny

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer looks at counterfeit drugs seized by the agency at its offices at John F. Kennedy Airport

    Counterfeit drugs seized at John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2012. A new report estimates that counterfeiting, stolen trade secrets, and pirated software cost the United States as much as $600 billion a year.

    Keith Bedford/REUTERS

    When it comes to intellectual property (IP) theft, there’s the rest of the world, and then there’s China, a new report says. In 2015, mainland China and Hong Kong accounted for 87% of counterfeit goods seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. China’s share of trade secrets theft, though harder to track, is not far behind, claims the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property in Washington, D.C., a bipartisan nongovernmental group co-chaired by former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who served as U.S. ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011.

    Stolen trade secrets, pirated software, and counterfeiting cost the United States between $225 billion and $600 billion per year, the commission estimates. The report singled out as suspect China’s targeting of biotechnology and quantum communications technology. “The massive theft of American IP … threatens our nation’s security as well as vitality,” said former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair, co-chair of the commission, in a press release.

    Scholars often take issue with efforts to put a price tag on IP theft. In court, for example, companies frequently cite as losses the amount spent researching a product or idea. But by the time a product comes to market, that figure may be a poor reflection of its true value. “The industry standard for competitive edge in IP is in some cases just a couple of years,” says Greg Austin, a cybersecurity expert at the EastWest Institute in Sydney, Australia, and author of Cyber Policy in China. He adds that the report does not adequately distinguish between illegal IP transgressions and lawful acquisition of knowledge, citing the quantum communications example. “Scientists in many countries, including the United States, cooperate actively with the Chinese in quantum research, and it is all perfectly legal.”

  • Brazil’s dengue vaccine in jeopardy

    worker inspecting bottles at Butantan packaging facility

    Experts worry that firing of director could impact the Butantan Institute's dengue vaccine efforts.

    CAMILLA CARVALHO/INSTITUTO BUTANTAN

    SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL—A promising dengue vaccine faces an uncertain future in Brazil, scientists say, after the dismissal of a prominent immunologist who has been overseeing clinical trials of the preparation here.  

    Last week, the São Paulo state government removed Jorge Kalil as director of the Butantan Institute, following accusations of administrative wrongdoing leveled against him by a former colleague. Announcing Kalil’s dismissal on 21 February, Governor Geraldo Alckmin praised him as a “great scientist” and said he wished he would continue to lead Butantan’s dengue vaccine program. Kalil told ScienceInsider he will decline that invitation. He denies the accusations against him and says it’s impossible to continue leading the vaccine program from outside the institute. “This is not an isolated project; it’s something that requires a coordinated effort by the entire institution,” he says. “I can’t accept something like this.”

    Scientists here and abroad have protested Kalil’s dismissal. Butantan researchers and staff staged protests last week, and the institute’s influenza vaccine factory shut down for a half day on Friday, demanding his return. In a 23 February letter to Governor Alckmin, Anna Durbin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the initial clinical trials of the vaccine, wrote that the dengue vaccine program made “tremendous progress” under Kalil, and that this momentum may be “reversed by the removal of his leadership of the Butantan Institute.”

  • After fracas, Global Fund abandons plan to pick new chief and reopens search

    Muhammed Ali Pate

    Muhammad Ali Pate was one of three candidates to lead the Global Fund, but the group has decided to reopen its search.

     

    DFID/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

    Leaks. Concerns about alienating President Donald Trump. Allegations about conflicts of interest. All of those reasons factored in to a surprise decision today by the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to restart its search for a new executive director.

    “Due to issues encountered in the recruitment process, the Board felt they were unable to bring the process to conclusion,” reads a statement issued by the Global Fund, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

    Since its launch in 2002, the Global Fund has given mainly poor countries more than $30 billion to fight public health threats. Donors to the fund include governments, foundations, and private industry, with the United States contributing about one-third of the total. Mark Dybul, the current head of the Global Fund, plans to step down at the end of May, and the group was expected today to select his successor from three candidates identified during a search this winter.

  • Trump’s 2018 budget will squeeze civilian science agencies

    Donald J. Trump

    Donald J. Trump

    Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    The chunk of the federal budget that includes most of the U.S. government’s spending on basic science would shrink by 10.5% in 2018 under a plan outlined today by President Donald Trump and administration officials.

    It is unlikely that all civilian science budgets would see cuts under the proposal—and some could even get increases. But the spending blueprint, which would have to be approved by Congress, highlights the financial pressures that civilian research agencies will face as Trump and the Republican majority in both houses of Congress attempt to carry out campaign promises to raise defense spending while reining in the rest of federal spending.

    White House officials said today that they will ask Congress to increase discretionary defense spending by $54 billion, to $603 billion, in the 2018 fiscal year which begins 1 October. They expect to pay for that increase by cutting an equivalent amount from nondefense discretionary spendingthe part of the budget that includes major basic research funders.  That means a potential squeeze on the $31 billion National Institutes of Health, the $7 billion National Science Foundation, the $5 billion Office of Science at the Department of Energy, as well as all other civilian science programs.

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