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  • First round of hearings by Congress back a more muscular NSF

    the dome of the U.S. Capitol

    Legislators this week began to debate the National Science Foundation’s future.

    The U.S. Congress this week got its first chance to weigh in on proposals to expand the mission and massively boost the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the initial response was positive.

    During three committee hearings, most legislators seemed to like the idea, although some expressed reservations about its size and scope—up to $100 billion over 5 years, with half going to a new technology directorate. And everybody wanted more details.

    Supporters said a budget boost at the $8.5 billion agency would reverse years of underfunding and help the country develop the emerging technologies needed to outinnovate China and other economic competitors. Opponents questioned whether NSF could handle such rapid growth and whether an agency that mostly funds academic research is also the best home for efforts to commercialize those discoveries. Some legislators worried that too much of that research could wind up in the hands of China because of lax safeguards against espionage.

  • California to hunt greenhouse gas leaks and superemitters with monitoring satellites

    A flame burns from a gas and oil plant

    Oil and gas producers burn off methane to prevent it from escaping. New satellites will look for leaks.


    In December 2016, soon after advisers to President Donald Trump threatened to shut off NASA’s climate-observing satellites, California Governor Jerry Brown made a famous promise: “If Trump turns off the satellites,” he said while addressing a geoscience meeting, “California will launch its own damn satellites.” That promise is now a reality, with California and partners set to launch by 2023 two satellites to spot and monitor plumes of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. If all goes right, dozens more could follow.

    The $100 million Carbon Mapper project, announced today and financed by private philanthropists including Michael Bloomberg, will advance efforts to track concentrated emissions of greenhouse gases, which rise from fossil fuel power plants, leaky pipelines, and abandoned wells. Previous satellites have lacked the resolution and focus to monitor point sources rigorously. “We’re going after the big emitters,” says Riley Duren, Carbon Mapper’s CEO and a remote-sensing scientist at the University of Arizona. He says the ultimate goal is to be “like the weather service for methane and CO2.”

    The announcement has the potential to “shake up” the field of greenhouse gas monitoring and verification, says Ray Nassar, an atmospheric scientist unaffiliated with the project at Environment and Climate Change Canada. He says the satellites would be immediately useful for tracking fugitive methane emissions, which have more than 80 times the warming power of CO2 emissions in the short term. “Finding, pinpointing, and stopping the big leaks is thus key,” he says.

  • Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications

    High angle view of Sharif University of Technology campus

    Iran’s Sharif University of Technology has helped drive an increase in the country’s published scientific papers.

    Masoud K/Flickr/Wikimedia commons (CC BY-SA)

    After years of lagging scientifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have significantly boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals—as well as citations to those papers—during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said last week. Further growth could occur if the region’s countries boost their low rate of scientific cooperation with each other, it said.

    From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Clarivate’s report, based on its Web of Science bibliometric database, notes the “outstanding relative growth” of papers from the Middle East and North Africa came despite international sanctions against Iran and violent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere.

    The report covers 19 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran, but only six accounted for 80% of the 150,000 papers by the region’s scholars in 2019: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Tunisia.

  • Concerns over rare clotting disorders halt use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine

    A nurse fills a syringe with Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine while other syringes and supplies are seen on a table in the background

    A nurse fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in New York City on 8 April.

    Mary Altaffer/AP

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    A rare but very serious side effect that has complicated Europe’s COVID-19 vaccination schedules for the past month has now thrown a wrench into U.S. immunization efforts as well. In a joint statement on Tuesday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they were “recommending a pause” in the use of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) “out of an abundance of caution.”

    The move came after six cases of a rare clotting disorder, also seen in some people vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, were reported among more than 6.8 million people vaccinated with the J&J vaccine in the United States. All cases occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One of them died. 

  • National academy may eject two famous scientists for sexual harassment

    illustration of face looking into microscope

    The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is moving for the first time to expel sexual harassers from its membership. Science has learned that the institution is adjudicating complaints that could lead to the ejection of astronomer Geoffrey Marcy and evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala.

    The process is unfolding 2 years after the prestigious, 158-year-old academy changed its bylaws to allow expulsion of members. Until then, membership had been for life. Rescinding membership is the most drastic penalty under the new rules, which also allow for lesser sanctions.

    With the potential moves against Marcy and Ayala, “We are watching social change happening in front of our eyes,” says Nancy Hopkins, an NAS member and emeritus biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It has been a long time coming.”

  • How scientists are teasing apart the biology of Long COVID

    A patient is shown doing walking exercises with professionals

    A COVID-19 survivor in Caracas, Venezuela, exercises at a rehabilitation center for patients like him.

    Pedro Rances Mattey/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    After the first surge of COVID-19 cases in spring 2020, a new worry emerged: Some people didn’t get better. For those with so-called Long COVID, lingering symptoms ranged from brain fog and intense fatigue to shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste. So far, there’s little clarity about what causes or how to treat this constellation of symptoms. Some surveys suggest between 10% and 30% of people infected with the pandemic coronavirus may struggle to recover, but these data are preliminary.

    Emilia Liana Falcone, an infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, and Michael Sneller, an infectious disease specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), are each leading a large Long COVID clinical trial. They are recruiting volunteers who’ve had COVID-19—some with ongoing symptoms and some without—along with a control group of people who never caught the virus. Volunteers come in regularly for medical tests, and scientists probe their blood for immune abnormalities. The goal: a biological explanation of chronic symptoms after COVID-19. The pair spoke with Science about their work, their thoughts on Long COVID, and their efforts to let the data guide them. This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

  • Japan plans to release Fukushima’s wastewater into the ocean

    Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma town

    Contaminated wastewater fills more than 1000 tanks at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

    Japan announced today it will release 1.25 million tons of treated wastewater contaminated by the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean. The government said it is the best way to deal with tritium and trace amounts of other radionuclides in the water.

    “Releasing the treated water into the sea is a realistic solution,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a Cabinet meeting endorsing the plan. “We will do our utmost to keep the water far above safety standards.” A Japanese government official later clarified that details of the release need to be worked out and approved. Gradual, trial releases could start in 2 years and might take 40 years to complete.

    Industry groups and nuclear scientists say other nuclear plants have disposed of wastewater this way with minimal impacts. But environmental groups, fisheries organizations, and neighboring countries immediately condemned the decision, citing the vast amounts involved. Marine scientists expressed concerns about the possible impact of the discharge on marine life and on fisheries.

  • ‘Sink into your grief.’ How one scientist confronts the emotional toll of climate change

    Kimberly Nicholas

    Sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas says confronting climate change requires acknowledging values and feelings as well as advancing science and policy.

    Janet Nichols

    “I was trained to be calm, rational, and objective, to focus on the facts,” sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas recalls in her new book, Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World. But as research has increasingly revealed how climate change will forever alter the ecosystems and communities she loves, she has struggled to address her feelings of sadness. “My dispassionate training,” the Lund University researcher writes, has “not prepared me for the increasingly frequent emotional crises of climate change,” or how to respond to students who come to her to share their own grief.

    It’s a situation many scientists and professors are facing these days, Nicholas writes. “Being witness to the demise or death of what we love has started to look an awful lot like the job description.” But Nicholas says the untimely death of a close friend helped persuade her that the only way forward was to acknowledge that “we are not going to be able to save all the things we love.” Instead, she says, we have to “swim through that ocean of grief … and recognize that we still have time to act, and salvage many of the things we care about.”

    Nicholas is no stranger to the emotional blowback climate science can provoke. In 2017, she and climate scientist Seth Wynes, now at Concordia University, published a high-profile paper showing the most effective actions to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint—such as flying less or shifting to a vegetarian diet—are rarely emphasized by governments or educators. But it was the study’s finding that going childless could dramatically reduce a person’s contribution to global warming that generated headlines—and controversy—around the world. 

  • Hard choices emerge as link between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare clotting disorder becomes clearer

    People in line for a COVID-19 vaccine

    People line up to receive AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom has used the vaccine more than any other European country.

    Clodagh Kilcoyne/REUTERS

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    What was a worrisome suspicion 4 weeks ago is now widely accepted: The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine can, in very rare cases, cause a disorder characterized by dangerous blood clots and low platelet counts. In Europe, at least 222 suspected cases have been reported among 34 million people who have received their first dose of the vaccine. More than 30 have died.

    “Causality is more of a journey to certainty than a binary decision,” says Anthony Cox, an expert on pharmacovigilance at the University of Birmingham. But faced with accumulating cases, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which had been careful not to point fingers, acknowledged on 7 April “a probable causal association” between the syndrome and the vaccine, recently named Vaxzevria.

  • Chinese COVID-19 vaccine maintains protection in variant-plagued Brazil

    A woman's face shown with an out of focus syinge before receiving Sinovac COVI-19 vaccine

    A woman in São Paulo eyes the syringe about to be used to give her a shot of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine.

    Andre Penner/AP

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    As potentially more dangerous coronavirus variants spread worldwide, scientists and clinicians have raced to discover how well the available COVID-19 vaccines protect against the mutant strains. Preliminary results from a large study of health care workers now suggest one dose of CoronaVac, a vaccine developed by a Chinese company, is still about 50% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in a Brazilian city where more than three-fourths of new cases are caused by the highly transmissible variant known as P.1.

    That real-world protection is about the same level clinical trials saw with two doses of CoronaVac against the standard, or “wild type,” pandemic coronavirus in the country, suggesting the variant’s mutations have not increased SARS-CoV-2’s ability to evade vaccine-evoked immune responses.

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