Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

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  • U.S. climate report moves ahead after complaints about delays

    White House at night

    Originally published by E&E News

    President Donald Trump’s administration has quietly restarted the National Climate Assessment after public outcry over its delay.

    A key step in the progress of the National Climate Assessment—the solicitation for authors to work on the project—was delayed for months, E&E News has reported (Climatewire, 5 October). After public outcry, NASA restarted the process, publishing a Federal Register notice Thursday on behalf of the U.S. Global Change Research Program that it was seeking lead authors and researchers for the assessment.

  • Stem cell research, clinical use of ‘magic mushrooms’ among issues on state ballots this year

    Voters in line in Fairfax VA

    Voters lined up last month in Fairfax, Virginia, to cast their ballots in this year’s elections.


    Election Day is 3 November, but U.S. voters have already started to mail in or drop off their ballots. In addition to selecting candidates for local, state, and federal positions, voters in many states will be weighing in on more than 100 initiatives and referenda.

    The measures often deal with mundane financial matters. But voters will also get to vote on a number of hot-button issues, including marijuana legalization, abortion, and health care.

    There are also a few science-related initiatives that the research community is watching. Here are examples from four states: California, Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada.

  • In new strategy, Wellcome Trust will take on global health challenges

    The Wellcome Trust headquarters

    With an endowment worth £28 billion, the Wellcome Trust is taking on goal-oriented global health challenges.

    Arcaid Images/Alamy Stock Photo

    One of the world’s largest nongovernmental funders of science, the Wellcome Trust, is enlarging its focus to include goal-oriented, as well as basic research. The London-based philanthropy, which spends more than £1 billion per year, said today it will boost funding for research on infectious diseases, the health effects of global warming, and mental health. The new strategy moves it closer to philanthropies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on public health challenges around the world. “It’s a big shift,” says Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease expert who leads the charity. “It’s not just about discovering stuff, it’s also about making sure that changes come to peoples’ lives.”

    Wellcome already supports significant research in infectious disease. But outbreaks are “becoming larger, more frequent, and more complex,” a Wellcome spokesperson says, and so it will spend more money on researching neglected tropical diseases and pushing for “clinical trials with greater participant diversity.” It also hopes to make an impact in new areas. The spokesperson argues that there has been “little scientific progress in 30 years” on mental health or on the health impacts of global warming, which include the spread of infectious diseases and heat-related sickness and death.

    Adding mental health is a particularly big step, says Devi Sridhar, a global health expert at the University of Edinburgh who receives some funding from Wellcome and who consulted on a review that led to the new strategy. “We haven’t really seen a charity take on the mental health agenda,” she says. 

  • Could certain COVID-19 vaccines leave people more vulnerable to the AIDS virus?

    Two vaccine vials with their packaging

    CanSino Biologics’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine is one of at least four using an adenovirus that some worry could increase HIV susceptibility.


    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Certain COVID-19 vaccine candidates could increase susceptibility to HIV, warns a group of researchers who in 2007 learned that an experimental HIV vaccine had raised in some people the risk for infection with the AIDS virus. These concerns have percolated in the background of the race for a vaccine to stem the coronavirus pandemic, but now the researchers have gone public with a “cautionary tale,” in part because trials of those candidates may soon begin in locales that have pronounced HIV epidemics, such as South Africa.

    Some approved and experimental vaccines have as a backbone a variety of adenoviruses, which can cause the common cold but are often harmless. The ill-fated HIV vaccine trial used an engineered strain known as adenovirus 5 (Ad5) to shuttle into the body the gene for the surface protein of the AIDS virus. In four candidate COVID-19 vaccines now in clinical trials in several countries, including the United States, Ad5 similarly serves as the “vector” to carry in the surface protein gene of SARS-CoV-2, the viral cause of the pandemic; two of these have advanced to large-scale, phase III efficacy studies in Russia and Pakistan.

  • In Wyoming, an ecologist seeks a new niche as a U.S. senator

    Merav Ben-David at the University of Wyoming

    Merav Ben-David

    Nadav Soroker

    More than 10 years ago, Merav Ben-David encountered a bureaucratic blizzard when she launched a study of polar bears in Alaska. She had to comply with a host of regulatory policies, obtain permits from regional, federal, and tribal agencies, and plot out the team’s trip through the Artic Ocean. So, days after receiving her U.S. citizenship, the Israeli-born conservation ecologist says she found herself “neck deep” in government affairs.

    Now, Ben-David is once again neck deep in governance—but this time, she’s aiming to craft policy, not simply follow it. On 18 August, the University of Wyoming professor won the state’s Democratic primary for Senate. Now, she’s running for a U.S. Senate seat as an underdog against Republican Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming’s former representative to Congress.

    Ben-David’s interest in ecology started on a farm. Growing up in Nahalat Yehuda, she tended to young animals—nestlings, bunnies, hedgehogs, and the like—that she found in the fields of her father’s farm. By her early 20s, she had a master’s degree in zoology and was leading wildlife tours in Kenya. In 1990, she began a doctoral program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She became fascinated by the state’s marine ecosystems, occupied by mink, martens, otters, salmon, and polar bears. In 2000, she won a faculty job at the University of Wyoming.

  • Census Bureau needs outside help to save the 2020 census from political meddling, experts say

    Wilbur Ross speaks into a microphone

    Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said a shortened schedule won’t affect the quality of the 2020 census, but experts disagree.

    AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

    To counter what they see as unprecedented political interference in one of the world’s most respected statistical agencies, prominent statisticians are urging the U.S. Census Bureau to be much more transparent about how it is now processing the billions of bits of information it has collected from a truncated 2020 census.

    A series of actions by President Donald Trump’s administration has jeopardized the agency’s ability to deliver an accurate count of the U.S. population later this year, a task force of the American Statistical Association (ASA) concludes in a report released this week. So, to maintain public trust in this year’s census, the task force recommends the agency invite an independent group of researchers to pore over the data. The team would then issue a public report on whether the Census Bureau has met its goal of “counting everyone once, and only once, and in the right place.”

    “We are doing our best to support the Census Bureau because they have been put in a very difficult situation,” says ASA President Rob Santos, who co-chaired the task force. “They don’t have full control of their operations.”

  • Answer: covfefe? Play Science’s election 2020 crossword puzzle!

    image of empty custom Science crossword puzzle

    Does mixing science and politics make you cross? Sorry, because here’s the first ever News from Science crossword puzzle, as part of our election 2020 special issue. May people of all political persuasions unite to solve it. The interactive version below can reveal letters or words if you need help. Consensus is 29 Down may be the toughest but heres a story that offers some more help. (And heres a printable PDF of the puzzle for the old-fashioned method.)

  • In New York, chemist Nancy Goroff is battling a Trump loyalist for a seat in Congress

    Nancy Goroff in front of a whiteboard

    Nancy Goroff

    Goroff Campaign

    Her opponent calls her a “radical professor.” But Nancy Goroff says her scientific expertise is exactly what Congress needs to deal effectively with climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a host of other issues.

    A physical organic chemist and longtime faculty member at Stony Brook University, Goroff will face off in November against Representative Lee Zeldin (R–NY), a lawyer seeking his fourth term. If she wins, Goroff would become the first female Ph.D. scientist to serve in Congress.

    Running in a Long Island district that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 after twice backing Barack Obama for president, the first-time candidate is touting her scientific credentials.

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