Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • 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.

  • Controversy over eye-catching new Nobel Center roils Stockholm

    A sketch of the new Nobel Center in Stockholm, featuring beautiful, modern architecture which doesn't fit in among the older buildings around it

    An artist’s impression of the new Nobel Center in Stockholm.


    STOCKHOLM—Supporters says it'll be an eye-catching landmark and a powerful symbol of this city's ties to the most prestigious awards in the world. The proposed new Nobel Center, to be built in central Stockholm, would draw 600,000 visitors a year, provide a splendid new venue for Nobel award ceremonies, and become a hub for science, education, and literature.

    But opponents say the bronze, steel, and glass box is too big, ugly, and in the wrong place—and they're determined to stop it. They say the center would forever mar Stockholm's historic skyline.

    Construction of the eight-story, $140 million building is set to begin in the small peninsula of Blasieholmen in 2017 and finish 2 years later. But the debate about it is far from over. The City Council approved a detailed construction plan last April, but a group called Bevara Blasieholmen - Flytta Nobelbygget (Preserve Blasieholmen - Move the Nobel Center) is appealing the decision in court, together with owners of buildings adjoining the site. (The group is also planning to hold a rally—one of many—in Blasieholmen tomorrow.)

  • Report urges Trump, Clinton to make room for science in the White House

    President Barack Obama in Tokyo

    President Barack Obama visited a Tokyo science museum in 2014.

    The White House

    A new report on how the next U.S. president should manage the nation’s science portfolio comes with an invisible sticker on its cover: Open and read immediately if Donald Trump is elected.

    The 20-page report, by former Clinton science adviser Neal Lane and colleagues at Rice University in Houston, Texas, is directed at the winner of the November election. Its explicit message is simple: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the position of the president’s science adviser should be retained. Left unspoken is the fear that Republican standard-bearer Trump, unlike Democrat Hillary Clinton, may decide to dismantle the present structure, which has existed for decades under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

    “The status quo is not always a bad thing,” quipped Lane during a briefing today on the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “There are many things about OSTP and the science adviser’s job that have been shown to work pretty well over the years. And there’s nothing that came up that would suggest there are problems” with how the Obama administration has used its science adviser, John Holdren, and his office.

  • Star-mapping mission shows Milky Way to be larger than thought

    A star-studded map of the sky showing never-before-seen stars

    A new sky map from Gaia reveals 400 million stars that have never been seen before.


    The Milky Way has been mapped in greater detail than ever before. And a first quick look indicates that our home galaxy is larger in extent than scientists had thought before, says Gisella Clementini, an astronomer at the Astronomical Observatory of Bologna in Italy.

    Today, at the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid, the European Space Agency (ESA) released the first data from its €750 million Gaia star-mapping mission. The new catalog contains sky positions for 1.1 billion stars, 400 million of which have never been seen before. For many stars, the positional accuracy is 300 microarcseconds—the width of a human hair, seen from a distance of 30 kilometers—positions that will help astronomers better determine the 3D layout of the galaxy. “This is far better than anything we’ve ever had before,” says project scientist Timo Prusti of ESA’s science and technology center ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “It’s a milestone.”

  • Lasker prizes recognize oxygen discovery, hepatitis C treatment, and a lifetime of DNA research

    Bruce Alberts

    Bruce Alberts won the 2016 Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science.

    Christopher Reiger

    The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced its annual awards today, honoring research into how humans adapt to available oxygen, how the hepatitis C virus (HCV) replicates, and how cells copy DNA. Often referred to as “America’s Nobels,” the prizes highlight scientific work that helps diagnose and treat human disease. Winning a Lasker is sometimes a precursor to winning a Nobel Prize.

    For its basic research award, the foundation picked the work of biomedical researchers William Kaelin Jr. of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Peter Ratcliffe of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and Gregg Semenza of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. The researchers dug into the complexities of a seemingly basic life function—breathing. More specifically, how a genetic transcription factor called hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) helps our bodies adapt to low-oxygen environments, and how modifying that factor could help treat anemia and cancers.

    “You can think of HIF as being the conductor for a symphony,” Kaelin says in a Lasker Foundation interview. HIF regulates genes that dictate how the human body responds to a lack of oxygen, he said, but it can also affect genes that determine whether a cell divides and how that cell can affect neighboring cells. Therapies could seek to increase or decrease the amount of HIF to deliver more oxygen to anemic cells or suppress cancerous growth.

  • Clinton and Trump stay true to form in talking about science

    Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

    Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D)

    Michael Vadon; Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

    Ask Donald Trump (R) about climate change, and he’ll talk about “limited financial resources” and suggest that eradicating malaria and increasing global food production may be higher priorities for his administration. Ask Hillary Clinton (D) the same question, and she’ll spell out the key elements of her $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge aimed at making the United States a “clean energy superpower.”

    The candidates have spoken on science, thanks to, a coalition determined to tease out the science-related policy positions of those vying to be the next U.S. president. And the candidates have done so in ways that are consistent with how they won their party’s nomination and what they are saying on the campaign trail. For Clinton, that means a raft of new initiatives based on detailed arguments. Trump’s answers reflect his skepticism of the federal government’s ability to solve problems and his reticence to explain what lies beneath his sweeping generalizations.

    The coalition’s name derives from its initial push in 2008 for presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to hold a debate devoted to science. That never materialized, but the group didn’t fold its tent. In the past month Trump, Clinton, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein submitted answers to 20 questions crafted and posed by the coalition. Of the major candidates, only Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party did not respond.

  • Debate signals cloudy outlook for Chinese supercollider

    Yang Chen-ning

    Yang Chen-ning does not believe that a Chinese supercollider will deliver enough bang for the billions of bucks it will cost to build.

    Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo

    BEIJING—An éminence grise in particle physics, Nobel laureate Chen Ning Yang, has come out strongly against plans to build the world’s largest particle accelerator in China. His comments come at a critical time for the Circular Electron Positron Collider (CEPC), one contender to succeed the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. Debate is now intensifying over whether the CEPC’s science questions are compelling enough to justify the estimated $6 billion price tag, 70% of which China would bear with as-yet unidentified partners covering the rest.

    Leading the charge for the CEPC is the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ (CAS’s) Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) here. For 30 years, the institute has operated the Beijing Electron Position Collider (BECP), a small machine that put China on the map in high-energy physics. With the BECP set to shut down in 2022, researchers here for the past decade have been mulling a successor. In September 2012, 2 months after the LHC announced the discovery of the Higgs particle, IHEP proposed the CEPC and an even more ambitious upgrade down the road. However, its request for about $120 million over 5 years for conceptual design work on the CEPC failed to win approval earlier this year from China’s National Development and Reform Commission; instead, the project received some $5 million for preliminary study.

    On 4 September, Yang, in an article posted on the social media platform WeChat, says that China should not build a supercollider now. He is concerned about the huge cost and says the money would be better spent on pressing societal needs. In addition, he does not believe the science justifies the cost: The LHC confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, he notes, but it has not discovered new particles or inconsistencies in the standard model of particle physics. The prospect of an even bigger collider succeeding where the LHC has failed is “a guess on top of a guess,” he writes. Yang argues that high-energy physicists should eschew big accelerator projects for now and start blazing trails in new experimental and theoretical approaches.

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