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  • Journals endorse new checklist to clean up sloppy animal research

    a person wearing protective gear tend to animal cages

    New guidelines call for researchers to report experiment details, such as animals’ housing and food, which can have big effects on reproducibility.

    fotografixx/iStock.com

    Animal research is facing a crisis: Up to 89% of all preclinical research—which includes animal research—can’t be replicated, according to a 2015 analysis, often because researchers fail to describe basic details of the experimental setup. This calls into question the validity of the findings, says Nathalie Percie du Sert, who works on improving animal research at the U.K. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction of Animals in Research. “If you can’t do anything with the results,” she says, “what’s the point of the study in the first place?”

    To address the problem of poor reporting, Percie du Sert and a team of researchers have developed a checklist of 10 critical details each animal study needs to report, such as the number of animals used, their sex, whether they were randomly allocated to a test group and control group, and whether the researchers knew which animal was in which group. “ARRIVE 2.0,” published today in seven scientific journals, is a streamlined version of an earlier set of guidelines that were published in 2010. Despite being endorsed by more than 1000 journals, those guidelines have largely been ignored by researchers.

    “It’s really great that they’ve updated it,” says David Moher, a publication scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. But, he says, “I wonder how it will go down.” Endorsement of the guidelines is not enough, Moher says; journals and reviewers will need to enforce their use. And even enforcement is tricky: A trial of the first set of ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments) guidelines found that scientists who were told they must fill out a checklist showed no real improvement in their experimental reporting compared with a control group that was simply asked to use the checklist.

  • NSF’s handful of foreign influence cases may be due to how it investigates them

    NSF headquarters

    The National Science Foundation has disciplined 16 scientists for failing to disclose foreign ties.

    Maria B. Barnes/NSF

    Last week, Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus, immunologist Song Guo Zheng became the latest addition to a growing roster of U.S. academic scientists accused of helping China illegally harvest the fruits of federally funded research. Like Zheng, who has been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with grant fraud, almost all the cases involve scientists funded by the $42 billion National Institutes of Health (NIH), which in the past 2 years has aggressively investigated grantees it believes have failed to disclose support from foreign governments.

    In contrast, scientists with grants from the $8 billion National Science Foundation (NSF), the nation’s second largest funder of academic research, have rarely made the news. That silence correlates with newly released data showing the tiny number of NSF-funded scientists who the agency determined had violated its policies.

    For example, NSF officials told Nature last week that the agency has taken disciplinary action against 16 grantees in the past 2 years. By comparison, 189 NIH-funded scientists have been sanctioned by the agency or their employer. There’s also a big difference in the severity of their punishment: Some 77 investigators have been blocked from applying for a new NIH grant, whereas NSF has barred only four scientists.

  • ‘Huge hole’ in COVID-19 testing data makes it harder to study racial disparities

    A physician administers a test for coronavirus to Anthony Lopez at Interbay Village at a mobile testing site run by Swedish Medical Center in Seattle

    Complete data from COVID-19 testing sites in low-income areas, such as this one at Interbay Village in Seattle, are crucial to fighting the pandemic. 

    DAVID RYDER/REUTERS

    Science's COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    At a virtual meeting last month, cardiologist Garth Graham shared data that shine a narrow flashlight beam into a vast, shadowy crisis. As vice president of community health at CVS Health, he oversees nine centers offering free, rapid COVID-19 tests in low-income neighborhoods with high proportions of racial and ethnic minorities. From those sites, the view of the pandemic is dire. Roughly 35% of tests performed at a center in Phoenix and 30% in Atlanta had come back positive as of 23 June, he said. Nationwide, only 8.8% of tests were positive last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although last week Arizona reported a 21% positive rate.

    The CVS test results suggest that “the pandemic is unfolding very differently in Black and brown communities,” Graham said.

  • A WHO-led mission may investigate the pandemic’s origin. Here are the key questions to ask

    a behind a closed gate and police tape, a response team work in a closed wholesale market

    An emergency response team on 11 January at work in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, initially said to be the source of COVID-19.  

    NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

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

    The two-person team from the World Health Organization (WHO) traveling to China today to address the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to come home with answers. Rather, the duo—an epidemiologist and an animal health expert whose names have not been released—will discuss with Chinese officials the scope of a larger international mission later, according to a WHO statement.

    But this initial trip offers real hope that the mystery of the virus’ origins, which has become a political powder keg and the subject of countless conspiracy theories, will finally be investigated more thoroughly and transparently. (A similar WHO-led mission to examine how China was handling its fight against the virus, launched after weeks of diplomatic wrangling, returned in February with a surprising wealth of information.)

  • NSF campaign will drill for ice capturing West Antarctica’s last collapse

    A mountain peaks through a section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

    The West Antarctic Ice Sheet may have collapsed as recently as 125,000 years ago.

    Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Scientists have long suspected that 125,000 years ago, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapsed, drowning a world not much warmer than today in 3 meters of rising tides. But hard evidence of whether such a collapse occurred—and if it did, how fast the melt went—has remained scarce.

    Next week, the National Science Foundation will fund a 5-year project, costing more than $3 million, that will seek evidence of this collapse from gases trapped in tiny bubbles encased in a 2.5 kilometer-long tube of ice. The core drilling, likely to start in 2023, will target Hercules Dome, an expanse of ice 400 kilometers from the South Pole. Hercules sits at the saddle between the continent’s western and eastern ice sheets; if the western one collapsed, “Hercules Dome would be sitting on the waterfront, so to speak,” says Eric Steig, the project’s principal investigator and a glaciologist at the University of Washington, Seattle.

    The Eemian, the last warm period between the ice ages, lasting from 129,000 to 116,00 years ago, is one of the best analogs for modern Earth. Temperatures were about 1° warmer than now, yet sea levels were 6 meters to 9 meters higher. And recent work, some still unpublished, has suggested much of this melt must have come from Antarctica.

  • NOAA watchdog chides agency for how it handled Hurricane Dorian’s ‘Sharpiegate’

    President Trump holds up a poster showing hurricane Dorian projected path

    President Donald Trump holds the altered Hurricane Dorian forecast map that led to "Sharpiegate." 

    AP Photo/Evan Vucci

    Originally published by E&E News

    The scandal that has become known as "Sharpiegate" damaged NOAA's credibility and may have undercut public trust in the agency's apolitical weather forecasting, Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson said in a long-awaited report released yesterday.

    "Instead of focusing on NOAA's successful hurricane forecast, the Department unnecessarily rebuked [National Weather Service] forecasters for issuing a public safety message about Hurricane Dorian in response to public inquiries—that is, for doing their jobs," the report said.

  • This tool is saving universities millions of dollars in journal subscriptions

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    In April, when the State University of New York (SUNY) system canceled a big subscription deal with Dutch publishing giant Elsevier in favor of a smaller, cheaper package of subscriptions, headlines focused on how much money the university would save: about $7 million. But behind the savings was a careful cost-benefit analysis and a software tool, Unsub, that helped SUNY work out how to get the most out of its subscription dollars. Many expect the approach to catch on more widely as cash-strapped universities try to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

    SUNY was facing an annual $9 million bill for its subscription to about 2200 Elsevier titles. But Unsub revealed that by spending $2 million a year for just 248 of the journals, the university could give researchers at its 64 campuses immediate access to roughly 70% of the Elsevier papers they are likely to read in the next 5 years. The tool produces its forecasts by analyzing data from each university’s library journal usage, and by scouring the web to see how many of the papers that faculty and students access are already available for free.

    Unsub is a “game changer,” says Mark McBride, SUNY’s library senior strategist in Albany, and “I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that.” Like many universities chafing at high subscription fees and fearing the budget impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, SUNY was looking for savings. And with the help of Unsub, McBride says, it concluded “a big deal is no longer necessary in order for a library to function effectively.”

  • ‘Disturbing and cruel.’ Universities blast new visa rule for international students

    Science Careers logo

    A new U.S. immigration policy announced Monday, which threatens to revoke visas for certain international students if they are not taking in-person classes, is stirring panic and confusion and causing some universities to push back with lawsuits. The policy states that international students who are currently enrolled in online-only programs will need to leave the country immediately or transfer to a school with in-person classes to legally continue their education. The announcement doesn’t explicitly distinguish undergraduate and graduate students—creating uncertainty among science and engineering graduate students who are focused on research and had no plans to enroll in courses this fall.

    The policy “is cruel to international students and damaging to America’s scientific leadership,” Sudip Parikh—CEO of AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers)—said in a statement released today. “We urge the administration to reconsider and rescind this guidance.”

    Boston University student Mounika Vutukuru, an F-1 visa holder from Canada in the final year of her Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, first heard about the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announcement on social media. The rule “essentially makes international students dispensable in this pandemic,” Vutukuru says. “When I saw the news, it started to dawn on me how depressingly coercive this decision is: We have to face the virus regardless of health and safety.”

  • A conservation scientist enlists Colombia’s ex-guerrillas in a new cause: preserving their country’s biodiversity

    Dairon Cardenas speaking with ex-combatants.

    Plant biologist Dairon Cárdenas López from the Sinchi Amazonic Institute of Scientific Research teaches ex-combatants how to collect samples from plants.

    Liliana Heredia

    For more than 50 years, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fought a civil war sparked partly by social inequities from the remote jungles of Colombia. In 2016, FARC and the Colombian government signed a peace agreement. Suddenly, a question loomed: How to reincorporate 14,000 former combatants back into society?

    Jaime Góngora, a wildlife geneticist at the University of Sydney, saw an opportunity. A native of Colombia, “I saw how many people were being impacted directly and indirectly by the conflict,” he says. But he also believed in the potential of conservation to give the ex‑combatants a new purpose. After all, they had spent years in the jungle and knew it better than anyone.

    Colombia is considered one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, but its jungles and forests remain largely unexplored by scientists, thanks in part to FARC’s occupancy. Since the peace agreement, surveys in these regions have found close to 100 new species. Góngora now leads a group of researchers from the United Kingdom, Australia, and 10 Colombian institutions who are working with ex‑combatants to study Colombia’s native plants and animals.

  • Can boosting interferons, the body’s frontline virus fighters, beat COVID-19?

    Woman getting medical treatment

    Valerie McCarthy received an injection that contained either placebo or an interferon.

    Steve Fisch

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    *Update, 21 July, 4:05 p.m.: The University of Southampton and the company Synairgen released the first results from a randomized, controlled trial of an interferon in SARS-CoV-2 infection, they announced on 20 July.

    The trial examined 101 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Those who inhaled an experimental type one interferon made by Synairgen were 79% less likely to develop severe disease and more than twice as likely to reach full recovery after 28 days than the placebo patients. Both findings reached statistical significance. The company’s stock soared more than 500% on the news.

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