Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • United States will miss Paris climate targets without further action, study finds

    American flag

    Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Although the Obama administration recently announced it will officially sign the climate change agreement forged in Paris nearly a year ago, making good on the deal’s promise to stem greenhouse gases could be a stretch, a new study concludes. 

    Even if the United States implements all current and proposed policies, it would miss its 2025 target by as much as 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year—roughly 20% of the nation’s total emissions, according to the analysis published today in Nature Climate Change. The 2025 target is to cut greenhouse gases 26% to 28% below 2005 levels—down to between 4.5 billion and 5.5 billion metric tons.

    One big challenge to U.S. efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions comes this week, as a federal circuit court hears arguments over a challenge to the White House’s major climate change initiative, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regulations targeting emissions from power plants. Even if the so-called Clean Power Plan survives the legal gantlet, however, the United States will still fall short in meeting its pledged reductions for 2025 without significant additional efforts, according to researchers at the federal government’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

  • Four men and two women are running for the top slot at the World Health Organization

    WHO symbol

    Symbol of the World Health Organization.

    Mattia Panciroli/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, this morning unveiled the names of the six candidates who are vying to succeed Margaret Chan as director-general.

    The elections, which will be held in May 2017, come at a critical point for WHO, which was widely criticized for its slow response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and is in the middle of implementing reforms. At the same time, public health crises like Ebola and the spread of Zika virus have moved global health up on the agenda of world leaders.  

  • Q&A: Can Facebook billions stop disease? This neuroscientist aims to find out

    Cornelia Bargmann

    Cornelia Bargmann speaks at the announcement of the new $3 billion biomedical venture launched by Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg.

    Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

    It’s proving to be a banner year for science philanthropy, with the likes of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Napster Co-Founder Sean Parker giving hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research. Now, Facebook Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, have joined the club. Today they announced a plan to devote $3 billion over the next 10 years to a new basic science initiative that will, under the leadership of neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann of The Rockefeller University in New York City, bring together scientists and engineers to cure diseases.

    The couple pledged to their newborn daughter last December to dedicate 99% of their Facebook shares—currently valued at $45 billion—to improving the world during their lifetimes. The newly created Chan Zuckerberg Initiative began with some education projects, but the organization will now draw on science “to help cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century,” they say.

  • Japan likely to scrap experimental nuclear power reactor

    Monju reactor

    Day of reckoning has arrived for the idled Monju breeder reactor.

    Nife/Wikimedia Commons

    Japan is apparently finally pulling the plug on Monju, an experimental reactor plagued by accidents, cover-ups, cost overruns, and other problems that have idled it for all but a few months since it came online in 1994. Japanese media report that at an extraordinary evening meeting today, the nation's cabinet decided to set up a committee to explore decommissioning Monju, which was supposed to play a key role in burning plutonium accumulating in spent fuel of Japan’s conventional nuclear power reactors.

    Monju was intended to burn plutonium typically blended with natural or reprocessed uranium and produce, or breed, more fissile fuel than it consumes. It was once seen within the global nuclear research community as a bold experiment, as similar breeder reactor programs elsewhere were halted.

  • Spain joins bandwagon for ‘openness’ about animal research

    Laboratory animal in cage.

    Scientists in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Germany have already taken initiatives to become more transparent about animal research.


    BARCELONA, SPAIN—In a bid to win the public's hearts and minds, the Spanish scientific community has pledged to become more transparent about animal research. Ninety research centers, universities, scientific societies, and companies around Spain have adopted a set of standards, launched yesterday by the Confederation of Spanish Scientific Societies (COSCE), on how research organizations should open up communication channels about their use of laboratory animals. They are joining a growing movement for transparency in Europe.

    Although animal research is generally accepted in Spain as beneficial, “part of the society is opposed to this type of research or isn’t sure about supporting it,” Juan Lerma, a professor at the Institute of Neurosciences of Alicante, Spain, who coordinated a COSCE commission on the use of animal research, wrote in the document. The signatories want to help the public better understand the benefits, costs, and limitations of animal research through a “realistic” description of the expected results, the impact on animals' welfare, and ethical considerations.

  • Big dreams emerge for big brain science projects

    Nerve cells

    Nerve cells in the brain of a songbird that are associated with learning and producing birdsongs, from the lab of Todd Roberts, a U.S. BRAIN Initiative–funded scientist.

    Vamsi Daliparthi and Todd Roberts, Department of Neuroscience, UT Southwestern Medical Center

    While the United Nations General Assembly prepared for its sometimes divisive annual general debate on Monday, a less official United Nations of Brain Projects met nearby in a display of international amity and unbounded enthusiasm for the idea that transnational cooperation can, must, and will, at last, explain the brain.

    The tribe of some 400 neuroscientists, computational biologists, physicists, physicians, ethicists, government science counselors, and private funders convened at The Rockefeller University on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. The Coordinating Global Brain Projects gathering was mandated by the U.S. Congress in a 2015 law funding the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The meeting aimed to synchronize the explosion of big, ambitious neuroscience efforts being launched from Europe to China. Nearly 50 speakers from more than a dozen countries explained how their nations are plumbing brain science; all seemed eager to be part of the as-yet unmapped coordination that they hope will lead to a mellifluous symphony rather than a cacophony of competing chords.

    “We are really seeing international cooperation at a level that we have not seen before,” said Rockefeller’s Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist who with Rafael Yuste of Columbia University convened the meeting with the backing of the universities, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Kavli Foundation, a private funder of neuroscience and nanoscience. Bargmann and Yuste have been integral to planning the BRAIN Initiative launched by President Barack Obama in the spring of 2013, which, along with the European Human Brain Project, started the new push for large-scale neuroscience initiatives. “This could be historic,” Yuste said. “I could imagine out of this meeting that groups of people could get together and start international collaborations the way the astronomers and the physicists have been doing for decades.”

  • University of Tokyo to investigate data manipulation charges against six prominent research groups

    The University of Tokyo.

    The University of Tokyo.

    Perry Li/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    The University of Tokyo today announced it is launching an investigation into anonymously made claims of fabricated and falsified data appearing in 22 papers by six university research groups. An individual or group going by the name "Ordinary_researchers" detailed questions about data and graphs in more than 100 pages delivered to the university in two batches on 14 and 29 August.

    The university did not name the researchers or the publications that have come under suspicion, but the documents were also posted online in Japanese. They identify mostly biomedical papers that appeared in Nature, Cell, The New England Journal of Medicine, and several other journals. The corresponding author on seven of the papers is physician and diabetes specialist Takashi Kadowaki, a former director of the university hospital who's still on the faculty at the school of medicine. "This is a totally groundless and false accusation by a faceless complainant," Kadowaki told ScienceInsider in an email. "We have absolute confidence in all of our data," he wrote.

  • Q&A: NFL medical adviser discusses league’s plans for new neuroscience research

    football player being tackled

    The repetitive head trauma that is common in professional football is a risk factor for the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

    © USA Today Sports/Reuters

    Last year, in a move to counter charges that it has neglected the health and safety of its players, the National Football League (NFL) tapped Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel as its first chief health and medical adviser, a paid position to which she told The Boston Globe she devotes about 1 day a month, plus some nights and weekends. (She and NFL have not disclosed her salary.) And last week, Nabel answered Science’s questions on the heels of NFL’s 14 September announcement that it will devote $40 million in new funding to medical research, primarily neuroscience relevant to repetitive head injuries—with grant applications judged by an NFL-convened panel of scientists, rather than by National Institutes of Health (NIH) study sections.

    Nabel is well known to many medical scientists as the cardiologist who directed the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH, then left that job in 2009 to become president of a prestigious Harvard University–affiliated teaching hospital: Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Nabel’s new role with NFL came under media scrutiny in May, when a report by Democrats on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee found that NFL inappropriately tried to influence the way an earlier, “unrestricted” donation from the league to NIH was spent. It revealed, for example, that last year Nabel expressed concerns to NIH’s neurology institute director Walter Koroshetz about the objectivity of an NIH study section and of a principal investigator whose team the peer reviewers had just awarded a $16 million grant. Robert Stern and his group at Boston University, with others, were proposing to image the brains and chart the symptoms of scores of college and professional football players across time. NFL suggested that the scientists, who have led in establishing the link between repetitive head injury and the neurodegenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), were not objective. The scientists were to have been paid from $30 million that NFL donated to NIH in 2012. After the league objected to its $16 million going to fund the Boston University–led team—it did offer to fund $2 million of the amount—NIH’s neurology institute ended up wholly funding the 7-year grant with its own money.

  • NOAA issues first contracts for private weather satellites

    LEMUR satellite

    Spire has 12 shoebox-sized Lemur satellites in low-Earth orbit.


    The CubeSats are going federal.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made its first foray into supporting commercial weather satellites on 15 September, awarding $1.065 million in pilot contracts to two California-based startups, GeoOptics and Spire Global, to evaluate their data for potential broader use.

  • NIH aims to beef up clinical trial design as part of new data sharing rules

    Two female scientists in a NIH lab discussing research

    NIH wants to expand the sharing of summary data from clinical trials, such as test results being reviewed here at NIH’s clinical center.

    Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health

    Drug companies and academic researchers will have to step up their public reporting of clinical trial results under new federal policies released today. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, also laid out a new plan for submitting clinical trial proposals that aims to beef up the rigor of the studies.

    Researchers can no longer submit an unsolicited idea, but must respond to a request for applications that will include specific design requirements. The goal is to cut down on the number of “small crappy studies,” that don’t include sufficient numbers of patients or veer off from the original study plan, NIH staffers say. The agency wants to “reengineer the process by which clinical investigators develop ideas for new trials,” NIH officials explain in a commentary today in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

    NIH is timing these changes with the release today of a final U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that expands requirements that sponsors of trials regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submit summary results no more than 1 year after a trial ends to, the NIH-run public database. Companies will now have to report results not only for approved products, but also for mid- and late-stage (phase II and III) trials of FDA-regulated drugs and devices that haven’t yet been approved and may never reach the market. That will help increase the efficiency of research by letting others know about trials that failed, officials say.

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