Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • NIH asks federal watchdog to investigate 12 allegations related to foreign influence

    Chuck Grassley

    Senator Chuck Grassley (R–IA) has been concerned about foreign powers poaching U.S.-funded research.

    Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP Images

    A newly released letter from a government watchdog has shed a little light on an ongoing U.S. government effort to scrutinize federally funded biomedical research for potentially problematic foreign involvement.

    The letter reveals that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, recently asked federal investigators to review 12 allegations of rule violations, mostly involving researchers at U.S. universities who allegedly failed to disclose foreign affiliations on their grant proposals.

    The letter also discloses that over the past 5 years, investigators at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NIH’s parent agency, referred two cases to prosecutors that involved federally funded scientists who allegedly failed to disclose foreign ties or stole intellectual property. Neither of those cases appears to have involved NIH. (HHS also oversees other research agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) In both cases, the Department of Justice declined to file civil or criminal charges.

  • Violence and insecurity threaten Mexican telescopes

    The Large Millimeter Telescope

    The Large Millimeter Telescope in the Mexican state of Puebla has severely reduced scientific operations in the wake of carjackings and robberies.

    Dario Lopez-Mills/AP Photo

    Two astronomical observatories in Mexico have scaled back access and operations because of security threats, Mexico’s National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (INAOE) in San Andrés Cholula announced on 5 February. The Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) and the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory (HAWC) are both located on the Sierra Negra volcano in the Mexican state of Puebla. The highway leading to the mountain has become a target for carjackings and robberies in recent weeks, as a fight intensifies between the Mexican government and fuel thieves. Scientists and technical staff have stopped visits to the HAWC, canceling a planned repair trip, while the LMT has reduced its scientific operations to “the bare minimum level,” says INAOE astrophysicist and LMT Director David Hughes. “I cannot responsibly continue the scientific operation of the telescope until these issues are addressed.”

    The LMT is a single-dish telescope that works at millimeter wavelengths. The joint U.S.-Mexico project is part of the worldwide Event Horizon Telescope that is trying to image a black hole. Normally, the LMT would host scientists for observations at night and maintenance and engineering crews during the day. It was poised to start observations with a new 50-meter dish, up from 32 meters, before what Hughes calls “a severe security incident” caused him to dramatically reduce operations. He declined to describe the incident or say exactly what is being done to protect employees and collaborators.

  • How HIV/AIDS ended up in Trump’s State of the Union speech

    President Trump giving state of the union address

    President Donald Trump announced an initiative to end HIV/AIDS in the United States during his State of the Union address.

    Doug Mills/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    The people who planted the seed that led President Donald Trump to announce a new agenda to end AIDS in his State of the Union address yesterday had no notion that their idea would receive this kind of prime-time attention.

    Last summer, a few months after taking the helm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta in April 2018, Robert Redfield met with Anthony Fauci, who heads the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. One topic of discussion was their vision of how to better coordinate the federal government’s response to the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic and to help bring it to an end. “We got together and said this can work, let’s start pushing it,” Fauci tells ScienceInsider.

    About 2 months ago, Fauci and Redfield took their idea to their boss, Alex Azar, who leads the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington D.C., and his top deputy, Brett Giroir. “Alex really, really liked it,” Fauci says. “He said, ‘I think we can bring this to the president.’ We said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be interesting.’ The president was very excited about it and said, ‘Let’s do it.’” (Fauci, incidentally, says he has developed friendships with all five previous presidents, but has yet to meet Trump.)

  • New chapter in climate change politics begins with simultaneous House hearings

    two men shaking hands

    A bipartisan pair of governors—Roy Cooper (D–NC, left) and Charlie Baker (R–MA, right)—shake hands after testifying on climate change before the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources today.

    Cliff Owen/AP Photo

    Reprinted from E&E News

    Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives this morning brought climate change back to the political forefront for the first time in nearly a decade and were met with a Republican tone shift far from the skeptical attitude the GOP has taken to the issue for years.

    The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change and the full Natural Resources Committee met simultaneously to discuss the need to act on climate change and the costs of inaction.

  • Applause, with some raised eyebrows, for Trump’s pledge to end AIDS in the United States by 2030

    a health worker examines a patient

    A major challenge to ending AIDS in the United States is reaching the many HIV-infected immigrants who dont get testing or treatment. This clinic in Miami, Florida’s Little Haiti neighborhood caters to HIV-infected clients who speak Creole.

    Misha Friedman

    When news leaked yesterday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address tonight would include a call for ramping up efforts to end the AIDS epidemic in the United States by 2030, many advocacy groups quickly weighed in with guffaws. The nonprofit AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power New York in New York City, under the rubric “know your scumbags,” published a list of how it says the Trump administration has “further marginalized people living with HIV.” The president of GLAAD, which bills itself as the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning media advocacy group, issued a statement that said the planned announcement was “undermined by the Administration’s record and rhetoric” on health issues, and was “designed to distract from what’s really happening behind the scenes every day.”

    But many HIV/AIDS researchers and even some leading advocates had a more measured, and even enthusiastic, reaction to the possibility that Trump wants to join an existing ambitious campaign—famously endorsed on World AIDS Day in 2011 by then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and position his administration as a champion of a cause that he thus far has not embraced.

    “Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond,” Trump said in his speech tonight. “My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.” He did not specify how much money he will request or whether it will come from existing programs or new appropriations. (Shortly after the speech, the Department of Health and Human Services released a fact sheet about the proposal; the White House is expected to release its annual budget request to Congress on 11 March.)

  • Rookies lead the way on House science panel

    the U.S. capitol building

    A major perk of being the majority party in the U.S. Congress is getting to fill the leadership slots on every committee. For several new Democratic legislators, however, having their party regain control of the House of Representatives also creates an unprecedented opportunity to shape U.S. science policy.

    On Wednesday, the newly configured House science committee will convene for the first time to adopt its rules and structure. To no one’s surprise, the 39-member committee will choose Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX) as its chairwoman.

    A 14-term legislator and former nurse administrator, Johnson has spent the past 6 years aggressively leading the Democratic charge against any number of Republican proposals seen as threats to the U.S. research enterprise. Now, her party will be setting the agenda. But her new lieutenants—the chairs of the panel’s five subcommittees—are rookies unschooled in the ways of Congress and, for the most part, in the challenges facing the community.

  • One of Indiana’s new congressmen is a Vietnam veteran, a farmer … and a scientist

    Jim Baird

    Jim Baird (R–IN) and other freshmen members of Congress choose their offices through a lottery.

    Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Photo

    The infantrymen whom Jim Baird led in Vietnam fondly called him “pig farmer” because of his passion for breeding pigs. Now, nearly a half-century after he was helicoptered out of a firefight in which he lost his left arm, Baird answers to a new moniker: congressman.

    He’s the only rookie legislator with a science Ph.D. on the newly reformulated science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. And he’s the only Republican among the three members of the 37-person panel holding such a degree.

    Last year, some four dozen candidates touted their scientific training in seeking a seat in Congress. All but a few were Democrats, and most were harsh critics of how science has fared under President Donald Trump.

  • A 25% pay raise? That’s not nearly enough, young Indian scientists say


    Early-career scientists hold a rally at the office of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in New Delhi on 16 January.

    Pallava Bagla

    NEW DELHI—In response to months of protests and marches, the Indian government announced yesterday that it will give early-career scientists raises of up to 25%. But leaders of the protest movement, who had asked for an 80% hike, immediately rejected the offer. “This hike is not acceptable. We will continue the street protests,” says Lal Chandra Vishwakarma, chair of the Society of Young Researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here.

    Vishwakarma says research scholars will discuss how to proceed at an AIIMS meeting on Saturday, where “a nationwide shutdown of labs will be considered.”

    The raise benefits more than 60,000 research fellows, a press statement issued by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) here says; all will get raises of at least 24%. (Indian research fellows also receive a housing allowance that varies by city.) And from now on, high performers can be eligible for additional financial incentives, says Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, the government’s principal scientific adviser, although details of the scheme have yet to be announced.

  • Water mismanagement triggered ecological disaster in Australian rivers, panel concludes

    dead fish floating in water

    Dead fish floating in the Darling River near Menindee, Australia, earlier this month.

    Jeremy Buckingham’s Office

    Even before a recent massive fish die-off put Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin in the headlines worldwide, scientists had been warning that mismanagement of the region’s scarce water was setting the stage for an environmental disaster.

    They were right, a report released today by a special government commission concludes. The yearlong inquiry found that too much water is being taken out of the river network for irrigation and household use.

    The Murray-Darling system comprises more than 100 named waterways that drain 1 million square kilometers in the country’s arid southeast. Heavy irrigation has left the lower reaches of the rivers running at about a third of historical levels and sometimes completely dry. Occasionally, as over the past 6 weeks, the flow is too low to flush nutrients from agricultural runoff through the system, leading to algal blooms and subsequent fish kills.

  • Few open-access journals meet requirements of Plan S, study says

    hands working with a stack of paper

    Only a small proportion of open-access scientific journals fully meet the draft requirements of Plan S, the initiative primarily by European funders to make all papers developed with their support free to read, a study has found. Compliance with the rules could cost the remaining journals, especially smaller ones, more than they can afford.

    Plan S, which takes effect next year, stipulates that any published research funded by its members must appear on open-access platforms that meet certain requirements. At most, only 889, or 15%, of 5987 science and medical journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) would fully comply with Plan S, according to data gathered by Jan Erik Frantsvåg of the University of Tromsø–the Arctic University of Norway and Tormod Strømme of the University of Bergen in Norway. They published their findings on the Preprints platform on 16 January. Even fewer journals in the social sciences and humanities complied fully: only 193, or 3%, of 6290 such publications.

    Frantsvåg and Strømme identified 14 criteria in the Plan S draft rules that journals must meet if participating funders are to permit publication in them. Some rules concern editorial policy, such as that journals must allow authors to retain copyright. Others deal with technical matters—journals must provide full text in machine-readable formats, such as XML, to allow for text and data mining. Of the 14 criteria, Frantsvåg and Strømme could assess only nine criteria using available DOAJ data, which means even fewer than 15% of science and biomedical journals might fully comply with Plan S.

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