Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • ‘Boffins and their VERY academic chants’: How the media covered the March for Science

    reporter and cameraman covering the March for Science in Washington, DC

    A reporter at work during the March for Science in Washington, D.C.

    Emily Petersen

    “What do we want? Evidence-based policy. When do we want it? After peer review.” That slogan, heard in many cities on Saturday, was a source of amusement for the U.K. tabloid The Daily Mail. “Boffins’ VERY academic chant as Doctor Who joins thousands protesting against Brexit during global March for Science,” the paper headlined its story about the march.

    But U.K. march organizers had little reason to complain: The Daily Mail, not known for its interest in science, reported extensively on the marchers’ motivations and interspersed its 1500-word story with 27 big photos. It helpfully explained the sign “No Taxation Without Taxonomy” to its readers: “Taxonomy is the science of classifying animals, plants and other organisms.”

    Largely unknown until a few weeks ago, the March for Science suddenly became a global news story the past weekend. Coverage was most extensive in the United States, which also had the most marchers. Major news outlets including ABC, CNN, The New York Times (NYT), and The Washington Post covered marches in Washington, D.C., and other cities with an abundance of op-eds and news pieces throughout the weekend.

  • Cancer institute reinstates director after uproar from staff and funder

    Jon Huntsman, Joe Biden, Mary Beckerle, and Orrin Hatch

    Mary Beckerle (second from right) during former Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in February 2016 as part of the cancer moonshot initiative.

    Adam Finkle/Huntsman Cancer Institute

    Eight days after learning via email that she was no longer the head of the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in Salt Lake City, cell biologist Mary Beckerle has been invited to reassume her position. Today’s announcement from University of Utah President David Pershing seeks to smooth a tense relationship between the semiautonomous center, its main philanthropic funder and the university that houses it.

    The largely unexplained firing, announced to staff last week in an email from Pershing and Vivian Lee, senior vice president for health sciences, mobilized HCI staff and other high-profile researchers, some of whom marched in support of Beckerle’s reinstatement and signed an online petition that now has more than 3700 signatures. Several faculty members described the move as an effort by Lee to take control of HCI and roll the revenue from its cancer hospital into the university’s health system.

  • Lots of scientists marched yesterday. Five explain why they didn't

    Hank Ratrie exploring a cave, with hard hat on.

    Hank Ratrie's creaky knees kept him from the Washington, D.C., march, but he was planning to take his students caving.

    Hank Ratrie

    Saturday’s march coverage focused, naturally enough, on those who turned out in the streets. But Science’s Dorie Chevlen spent some time talking with those who didn’t march, for one reason or another.

    Turns out not marching can be a sensitive topic: When Dorie posted a note looking for nonmarchers on a march-related website, several commenters called for her post to be removed, accused her of being a troll, and even suggested she was a Russian operative trying to wreak havoc. Even simple questioning about the march, it appears, can to some people feel like an assault on science itself.

    Here’s what some nonmarchers told Dorie:

    Hank Ratrie, a biology professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, agreed with the march’s aims, but trekking to D.C. to walk around the Mall for several hours wasn’t easy at his age. “I’m getting old,” the 71-year-old Ratrie explains, “and I’m not a big fan of crowds, either.” So he was planning “to make my science gesture by taking my students caving instead” – giving them some first-hand exposure to field observation.

  • What if every scientist and engineer in the U.S. marched? How many would that be?

    A group of demonstrators who support science in Boston in February 2017.

    Demonstrators rally for science near the AAAS annual meeting in Boston in February.

    Lindzi Wessel

    As Saturday’s March for Science approaches, many are wondering: Just how many marchers will show up?

    ScienceInsider’s crystal ball isn’t good enough to make that forecast (and local weather conditions are likely to play a big role in determining turnouts).

    But with some help from statistics compiled by the National Science Foundation’s 2016 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, we have been mulling another puzzle: If every scientist and engineer in the United States shows up at the U.S. marches, how many bodies would that be?

    Turns out there are a few ways you can answer that question (and the following numbers are for 2013, the most recent year for which data are available). For example:

  • Earth Optimism Summit will provide contrast to marchers’ angst

    giant panda

    The successful effort to rebuild Giant Panda populations will be among the encouraging stories shared at the Earth Optimism Summit.

    Soren Wolf/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

    There will be more than a little angst on display in Washington, D.C., over the next week. Science marchers will rally Saturday to express their concerns about perceived attacks on evidence and research, and climate marchers worried about U.S. policy are set to jam the streets of the nation’s capital 7 days later.

    But there’s also some optimism on tap over the next 3 days: The first Earth Optimism Summit kicks off today at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, just blocks from where the marchers will be gathering. It will feature some 240 talks on what is working in conservation, energy efficiency, innovation, and other fields.

    “There is a lot of attention being focused on the science march but it isn't all anger out there,” says coral biologist Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., a leader of the event, which was planned long before the science march materialized earlier this year. “We organized this because it was clear that bad news gets most of the oxygen and we wanted to share successes to inspire others.” 

  • New report halves the number of people infected with hepatitis C worldwide

    Cut-away molecular model of a hepatitis C virus

    An estimated 71 million people are living with the hepatitis C virus, not 130 million to 150 million, as previously believed.

    Ramon Andrade/Science Source

    A new World Health Organization (WHO) report chops the estimated number of people around the world living with the liver-damaging hepatitis C virus (HCV) in half—but the drop has nothing to do with the recent advent of powerful drugs that cure the disease for most everyone.

    WHO’s Global Hepatitis Report estimates that 71 million people in 2015 were living with HCV, down from an earlier estimate of 130 million to 150 million. As the report explains, the dramatic drop occurred primarily because of tests that measured HCV’s genetic material, RNA, in people. Previous epidemiological surveys tested whether people had antibodies against the virus, which is less precise.

    The report estimates that 257 million people are infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV), a number very close to previous estimates. Although HBV and HCV are unrelated, they both persist for decades, often without a person’s knowledge, and both can ultimately cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. Together, the viruses killed 1.34 million people in 2015, which the report notes is comparable to deaths from tuberculosis and higher than those from HIV/AIDS. 

  • Meet the 30-somethings behind the March for Science

    Caroline Weinberg

    Caroline Weinberg

    Nguyen Nguyen

    Caroline Weinberg has become pretty adept at navigating the crowded streets of New York City while staring at her phone. These days, it’s not unusual for Weinberg—one of the three leaders of the national March for Science (M4S)—to receive hundreds of emails and messages from M4S partners and more than 70 M4S volunteer leads every day. When planning an international march over just 3 months, even an hour can be too long to let an important note linger. So after a recent morning spending time speaking with ScienceInsider, Weinberg’s eyes were glued to her smartphone screen as she weaved her way along teeming sidewalks.

    “Responding to emails, it turns out, is the most important skill when running a global movement,” she jokes.

    It was happenstance that Weinberg, who describes herself as “not a big social media user,” ended up helping lead a march conceived in flurry of online messages this past January. It was social media that first connected Weinberg with her now M4S co-chairs, Jonathan Berman, a postdoctoral fellow researching hypertension at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio; and Valorie Aquino, an anthropology Ph.D. student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. And it has been social media that has fueled the organization of more than 400 marches around the globe, which kick off Friday night Eastern Standard Time in New Zealand. (ScienceInsider will be providing live rolling coverage of the marches from Friday night EST through Saturday night.)

  • For Congress, March for Science is a Democratic event

    committee talking to astronauts

    The House of Representatives science committee talks with astronauts aboard the International Space Station in 2014.

    NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

    Organizers of the March for Science have deliberately avoided reaching out to U.S. elected officials, saying that they want the rallies to be apolitical. As a result, few members of Congress will be participating in Saturday’s main event in Washington, D.C., and at hundreds of satellite marches across the country.

    And those who do will be Democrats. Republican legislators appear to be ignoring the chance to speak up for science.

    “I’d be surprised if any Republicans participate,” says Representative Jerry McNerney (D–CA), the only member of the U.S. House of Representatives with a Ph.D. in mathematics, who will be speaking at the San Francisco, California, march. “They may feel that they are on the receiving end of the protest.”

  • Power struggle erupts at Utah cancer institute over director’s firing

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Mary Beckerle

    Mary Beckerle (right) meets with former Vice President Joe Biden during his visit to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in February 2016 as part of the cancer moonshot initiative.

    Adam Finkle for Huntsman Cancer Institute

    The abrupt dismissal of the head of a Utah cancer center is causing backlash from its faculty—and its major philanthropic funder—in a struggle over the center’s autonomy from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. And nearly 2000 researchers have signed a petition calling on the university to reverse its decision.   

    For 11 years, prominent cell biologist Mary Beckerle has headed the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), which is based at the university but receives its funding largely from philanthropic donations, revenue from its cancer hospital, state funding, and grants from the National institutes of Health. In an email to some clinical staff on Monday, university President David Pershing and Vivian Lee, senior vice president for health sciences, announced that Beckerle would step down “effective today,” but would “remain on faculty as a distinguished professor in biology.” Beckerle, who has not responded to Science’s request for comment, told The Salt Lake Tribune that she had learned of her dismissal in an email less than an hour earlier.

    Details have been scant from the university, which also did not respond to a comment request. But Beckerle’s colleagues contend that the move amounts to a hostile takeover by the university aimed at capturing the cancer clinic’s revenue, and other prominent scientists are rallying unquestioningly around her.

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