Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Journal that holds record for retracted papers also has a problem with editorial board members

    stack of retracted papers from Tumor Biology

    Springer retracted 107 papers from Tumor Biology in April.

    Emily Petersen

    Almost every scientific journal has to retract a paper once in a while. But at Tumor Biology, when it rains, it pours. Last month, its former publisher, Springer, announced that the journal was retracting 107 papers all at once, after finding that the peer-review process had been compromised. It was the third mass retraction at Tumor Biology, which now holds the unenviable world record for most retracted papers, according to Retraction Watch.

    But that’s not Tumor Biology’s only problem. ScienceInsider has discovered that the journal’s editorial board, as published online, contains the names of several scientists who say they have no relationship whatsoever with the journal—including German Nobel laureate Harald zur Hausen. Until a few months ago, the board’s membership list even included a researcher who passed away in 2013.  

    Tumor Biology is owned by the International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers (ISOBM), and was published by Springer until last year; since January, the journal has been published by California-based publisher SAGE. Its editorial board is supposed to review submissions and offer advice on editorial strategy.

  • Senators press interior nominee on science and climate

    Senate wing of the United States Capitol building


    Originally published by E&E News

    The Trump administration's nominee for Interior deputy secretary today promised he would honor science in his decisionmaking if confirmed to lead the department's daily operations.

    "We will apply the law and be honest with the science," David Bernhardt said today during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

  • As Ebola outbreak grows, question of using vaccine becomes more urgent

    a man getting a shot in the arm

    A hospital worker in Conakry in 2015 opted to receive the experimental VSV Ebola vaccine.

    Idrissa SOUMARE/Afreecom

    As health officials and aid workers head to a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to respond to an outbreak of Ebola virus disease, a key question remains: Will the government authorize the use of a promising experimental vaccine? The vaccine had stunning results in a clinical trial in Guinea in 2015, but it has yet to be licensed for broad use.

    As DRC officials weigh whether to use the vaccine, new details are emerging about the outbreak, which so far includes 20 suspected cases and three deaths, including the first, or “index,” case. Most cases are in the Bas-Uélé health zone that borders the Central African Republic. Three teams there are working on identifying suspect cases, educating the communities, and investigating villages where “nonsecure” funerals have taken place. They are also contacting a traditional healer in Nambwa who “received the index case"—a 45-year-old man who first sought help on 22 April—for 6 days.

    In Likati, the largest town in the area, another team is overseeing a database of the cases. Two mobile laboratories are on their way, as are personal protective equipment for frontline responders, reagents for 100 tests, and GPSs for field crews. More experts from the government, the World Health Organization (WHO), Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and the Alliance for International Medical Action are on the way, and a helicopter is being arranged to bridge Likati to other places.

  • 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.

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