Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • UC faculty members quit Cell Press editorial boards over impasse with publisher

    The Sather Tower and Doe Memorial Library of UC Berkeley at sunset.

    Some of the University of California’s (UC’s) most prominent scientists have announced they will resign from editorial boards of Cell Press to protest the continuing impasse between its owner, publishing giant Elsevier, and UC over subscription costs and open access to articles.

    Those departing include Jennifer Doudna, co-inventor of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, and Elizabeth Blackburn, co-recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The 30 have served on Cell Press journals that are among the most-cited in the biological sciences, include Cell, Developmental Cell, and Neuron.

    The protesting researchers represent a minority, however, of the approximately 110 UC faculty members serving on Cell Press editorial boards and the more than 1000 UC researchers on Elsevier editorial boards.

  • Star scientist out at Scripps Research

    Floyd Romesberg giving a presentation

    Floyd Romesberg

    Ryan Lash/TED/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the high-profile biology research hub in San Diego, California, has forced out prominent biochemist Floyd Romesberg, several sources have told ScienceInsider.

    Romesberg departed TSRI in mid-June, the institute confirmed yesterday. It would not say whether he was fired. Chris Emery, the senior director of communications at the institute, which last year was renamed Scripps Research, emailed the following statement to ScienceInsider:

    TSRI has never received a complaint about Dr. Romesberg sexually harassing a graduate student or anyone else.  We did learn information suggesting a potential Title IX violation by Dr. Romesberg.  Even though no formal complaint was made, we promptly conducted a thorough and impartial investigation.  Based on the investigation, TSRI found no violation of Title IX, the gender equity regulation governing academic institutions.

  • Boris Johnson pledges to ease U.K. research visas, but plows ahead toward Brexit

    Boris Johnson

    U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to make it easier for scientists to come to the United Kingdom, an important concern for researchers. “A fast-track immigration system for talented researchers and technicians will set the U.K. on the right track to maintain the U.K.’s position as a science and engineering superpower,” Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, said in a statement. But scientists remain deeply worried about damage from the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union in October, a risk Johnson has said he is willing to accept.

    After a visit to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Abingdon, U.K., yesterday, Johnson said his government will create a fast-track visa system for scientists. The system, to be launched this year, would be open to researchers at any stage of their career. In an added benefit, family members could work while in the United Kingdom.

    Immigration is one of the top concerns of the scientific community. The worry is that after Brexit, scientists, technical staff, and students from the European Union—the biggest source of scientific talent arriving in the United Kingdom—will have to go through the current visa process, which can take months and cost several thousand dollars. The risk is that the cost and bureaucracy would immediately make the United Kingdom a less attractive destination.

  • Top U.S. biodefense lab pauses work after safety lapses

    biohazard suits hang in a BSL 4 lab at U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md

    Protective suits hang in a laboratory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

    AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

    The lead U.S. military laboratory that studies some of the most dangerous pathogens has had to curtail its work because it failed a safety inspection last month. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Frederick, Maryland, studies the highly regulated “select agents” that cause Ebola, plague, tularemia, and other lethal diseases.

    An inspection in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta found USAMRIID had failed to properly recertify some workers in its biocontainment labs and also had a faulty wastewater decontamination system, The Frederick News-Post first reported on 2 August. A military spokesperson told the News-Post that USAMRIID is attempting to rectify the problems, but it is uncertain when the lab will start to work with those agents again.

  • Researchers weigh in on Trump’s $500 million plan to share childhood cancer data

    an adult holding the hand of a child patient

    Pooling data on childhood cancer patients could lead to better treatments.

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—Each year, the parents of 16,000 children in the United States will get the devastating news that their child has cancer. Not all of those children will survive, and the ones who do often suffer serious side effects later on from treatments. What if every piece of data on these patients—from their birth records to genetic tests on their tumors, the drugs they receive, and their subsequent health records—went into a secure web of linked databases that researchers could mine to improve pediatric cancer care?

    That was one big idea that emerged from a 3-day meeting here last week, where some 200 researchers and patient advocates met to brainstorm about President Donald Trump’s proposal, included in his January State of the Union address, to spend $500 million over 10 years on childhood cancer research. The Childhood Cancer Data Initiative (CCDI), as the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, has dubbed it, could have many payoffs, such as devising less harsh treatments and figuring out why 10% of childhood leukemia patients don’t respond to treatments or relapse, said NCI acting Director Doug Lowy. And for very rare cancers with no treatments, pooling such data on cases is essential for researchers to draw firm conclusions. But if sharing data “were easy, we would have already done it,” Lowy said.

    The problem is that data on children and young adults with cancer are stored in myriad separate, incompatible databases—including state cancer registries, tumor sequencing projects for specific cancers, and the giant NCI Children’s Oncology Group (COG), which runs clinical trials. Other valuable data take effort to use: A patient’s medical records, for example, often must be typed into a database by hand, a time-consuming chore. And imaging data need to be annotated to be useful for analyses across many patients.

  • Europe’s record heat melted Swiss glaciers

    The Aletsch Glacier, a river of ice, creeps down a valley in Switzerland.

    The Aletsch Glacier is Switzerland's largest glacier.

    Flickr/Sam Rayner/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Originally published by E&E News

    The sweltering heat wave that roasted much of Europe last month has since moved north, where it's wreaking havoc on the Greenland ice sheet. But while all eyes are currently trained on the Arctic ice, scientists are finding that Europe's coldest places have also suffered.

    According to initial findings from the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network (GLAMOS), Swiss glaciers experienced unusually high melt rates during the last heat wave, which occurred in late July, and an earlier heat wave that struck the continent in late June.

  • Brazilian institute head fired after clashing with nation’s president over deforestation data

    Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro sits at a table with environment Minister Ricardo Salles.

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (left), here with Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles (right), attacked the validity of satellite data showing deforestation in Brazil has increased since he took office.

    AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

    The director of the Brazilian agency that monitors deforestation was fired Friday, following a public face-off with President Jair Bolsonaro. Physicist Ricardo Galvão announced his own ousting as director of National Institute for Space Research (INPE) to reporters in Brasília, saying his altercation with the president had made the situation “unsustainable.” No replacement has been announced.

    Known for his stout personality, Galvão challenged Bolsonaro on 20 July, rebutting remarks about deforestation the president had made the day before. Questioned by journalists about the rise of deforestation in the Amazon—as indicated by satellite data from INPE’s Real-time Deforestation Detection System (DETER)—Bolsonaro called the institute’s data “a lie,” and said Galvão appeared to be “at the service of some nongovernmental organization.” Galvão replied by calling Bolsonaro a “coward,” defending INPE science, and daring Bolsonaro to repeat the accusation to his face.

    Bolsonaro didn’t meet with Galvão and continued to question INPE data in the following 2 weeks, even as deforestation continued. According to the latest DETER numbers, approximately 4500 square kilometers of forest were cleared in the first 7 months of this year, since the beginning of Bolsonaro’s administration—60% more than in the same period in 2018.

  • Yellowstone grizzly bears are again listed as threatened

    Grizzly bear with two cubs in Yellowstone National Park
    Jeff Vanuga/Minden Pictures

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) this week restored grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to the U.S threatened species list, following a court decision that turned on how to accurately count and restore the population.

    The agency’s action complies with a ruling by a federal judge last year that said FWS’s 2017 removal of the grizzlies from the list violated the Endangered Species Act. The delisting, first proposed during former President Barack Obama’s administration, would have allowed limited hunting of Yellowstone bears for the first time in more than 40 years. The agency had based the delisting on evidence that the Yellowstone population, one of six in the continental United States, had grown. Environmental groups and Native American tribes sued to block the action.

    In a September 2018 ruling, U.S. District Court of Montana Judge Dana Christensen said the delisting was not based on state-of-the-art science for estimating bear populations and that the federal government could not divide the grizzly population into smaller segments without considering the health of the species as a whole.

  • China’s scientists alarmed, bewildered by growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States

    Scientist holds test tube

    Neuroscientist Rao Yi calls claims of a systematic Chinese government effort to steal U.S. intellectual property “lies.”

    RAO YI

    SHANGHAI, CHINA—Scientists in China are concerned about what they see as growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States. They dismiss claims of a vast conspiracy to steal U.S. intellectual property and worry that new visa restrictions, scrutiny of export of scientific devices, and U.S. investigations of Chinese and Chinese American scientists will hinder international collaborations. That could harm both countries' research efforts as well as global scientific progress, many say.

    Increasingly, "Chinese scholars will hesitate to work with collaborators in the U.S.," warns Cao Cong, a China science policy specialist at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. The Chinese government may also steer funding away from U.S.-based projects, he adds. Indeed, visa issues are threatening additional Chinese funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), an international project planned for a site on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

    Claims that China is taking advantage of the openness of the U.S. scientific enterprise have grown for years, but the administration of President Donald Trump has ratcheted up the rhetoric. China is trying to "steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense," Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), told a U.S. Senate hearing on 24 July. Investigations initiated at the request of FBI and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) have led to a number of Chinese and Chinese American scientists resigning or being dismissed from U.S. universities and research institutes amid claims they misrepresented ties to China.

  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hardline Brexit stance stokes fears for scientists

    Boris Johnson waves from doorway of 10 Downing Street

    New U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street after his inaugural speech.

    REUTERS/Hannah McKay

    The twisted tale of the United Kingdom’s planned withdrawal from the European Union has taken a perilous turn. Boris Johnson, a charismatic and incautious politician with scant public views on science, became U.K. prime minister last week. He immediately packed his Cabinet with ministers pledging to exit the European Union by a 31 October deadline, even without a deal in place for an amicable divorce—the “no-deal Brexit” that economists predict would cause a recession and scientists say would cause additional hardships for research. Although no-deal now seems more likely than before, Johnson has touted the benefits of science and may be open to post-Brexit immigration reforms that U.K. scientists want. “This is a moment of both opportunity and risk,” says Beth Thompson, the EU policy director for the Wellcome Trust, a biomedical charity in London. 

    U.K. scientists have overwhelmingly opposed Brexit, in part because they do so well winning grants and recruiting talent from the European Union. The previous prime minister, Theresa May, resigned when Parliament wouldn’t approve a deal she had negotiated that would have included a 2-year transition to preserve existing arrangements for travel, regulations, and grants. Last week, Johnson won the Conservative Party vote to replace May, but Parliament remains deadlocked, and he may need to call a general election in a risky attempt to win enough support to deliver Brexit. “A lot more uncertainty and chaos has been introduced into the system,” says Kieron Flanagan, a science policy expert at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

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