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  • U.S. Air Force cadets study idea of Space Force bases on the Moon

    close-up of an astronaut in a space suit in a recruitment advertisement

    For now, Space Force is a part of the U.S. Air Force.

    Department of the Air Force

    In December 2019, Donald Trump signed the U.S. Space Force Act, peeling off an orbit-and-beyond branch of the military, much as the Air Force grew out of the Army in the 1940s.

    For now, the Space Force still resides within the Air Force, but nearly 90 of this year’s approximately 1000 Air Force Academy graduates became the first officers commissioned straight into the new organization. Some of those graduates were members of an academy group called the Institute for Applied Space Policy and Strategy (IASPS). Featuring weekly speakers and formalized research projects the students hope to turn into peer-reviewed papers, the group aims to game out the policies and philosophies that could guide military space activity when they are old enough to be in charge. In particular, these young cadets are interested in whether the Space Force might someday have a military presence on the Moon, and how it might work with civilians.

    That activity could put the Space Force in conflict with scientists, who typically view the cosmos as a peaceful place for inquiry. But part of the club’s mission is speculating about that interplay—between the military and civilian scientists, civil space agencies, and private companies. Cadet J. P. Byrne, who will graduate in 2021, is the group’s current president. He chatted with ScienceInsider about the institute’s work. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  • Misconduct allegations push psychology hero off his pedestal

    Hans Eysenck

    Hans Eysenck reported that certain personality types have a 70-fold increased risk of dying from cancer.

    Nick Rogers/Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

    One of Anthony Pelosi’s most ambitious projects was on the back burner for more than 2 decades. In the early 1990s, Pelosi, a psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Glasgow, published two extensive critiques of the work of Hans Eysenck, a giant of 20th century psychology. Eysenck’s papers contained questionable data and results so dramatic they beggared belief, Pelosi concluded. His critiques, and those by several others, were widely discussed in the field, but never led to formal investigations. Buried by the demands of clinical practice, research, and a young family, Pelosi never found the time to continue his effort. No one, he says, “picked up the baton.”

    More than a quarter-century later, Eysenck, who was celebrated for his theories of personality and individual differences, is finally falling from his pedestal. Last week, the International Journal of Social Psychiatry and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine issued expressions of concern for seven of his papers. Other journals have issued 64 such statements, as well as 14 retractions, over the past 6 months.

    The renewed scrutiny comes in the wake of an inquiry by King’s College London (KCL), where Eysenck was a psychology professor from 1955 to 1983 at what was then the Institute of Psychiatry. But Pelosi and others argue KCL failed to include many of Eysenck’s other papers that also deserve a more thorough investigation in light of his lasting influence on the literature.

  • Harvard anthropology professor retires amid accusations of sexual harassment

    Gary Urton with Inca khipus

    Former students have alleged sexual misconduct by Harvard University’s Gary Urton, who studied Incan knotted strings, or khipu. 

    Prominent Andean scholar Gary Urton will retire from Harvard University, amid accusations that he sexually harassed former students during the 18 years he was a member of the faculty. In an email dated 10 July to his colleagues in the anthropology department, Urton wrote that he had decided to retire as of August.

    The email comes as Harvard’s Title IX office investigates complaints of sexual harassment filed by at least two former students against Urton, an anthropological archaeologist who chaired the anthropology department from 2012 to 2019.

    One complainant, Jade Guedes, said in an interview that if Urton retires, he should not be given emeritus status or other benefits that allow him to be on campus. “He should not have benefits that allow him to interact with students. People need to be protected from this sort of thing,” says Guedes, now an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

  • The pandemic virus is slowly mutating. But is it getting more dangerous?

    Minks in a cage

    Data from Dutch mink farms hit by the coronavirus may shed more light on a mutation that has spread widely.

    FABIAN BIMMER/REUTERS/Newscom

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

    It’s only a tiny change. At some point early in the pandemic, one of the 30,000 letters in the genome of SARS-CoV-2 changed from an A to a G. Today, that mutation, at position 23,403, has spread around the world. It is found in the vast majority of newly sequenced viruses and has become the center of a burning scientific question: Has the mutation become so common because it helps the virus spread faster? Or is it just coincidence?

    More than 6 months into the pandemic, the virus’ potential to evolve in a nastier direction—or, if we’re lucky, become more benign—is unclear. In part that’s because it changes more slowly than most other viruses, giving virologists fewer mutations to study. But some virologists also raise an intriguing possibility: that SARS-CoV-2 was already well adapted to humans when it burst onto the world stage at the end of 2019, having quietly honed its ability to infect people beforehand.

  • United States drops visa restriction on foreign students attending remote classes

    MIT Great Dome

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one of several universities that protested and filed lawsuits against a new visa restriction that would have forced international students to attend in-person classes or risk deportation.

    mizoula/iStock.com

    The Trump administration agreed today to drop its controversial proposal to prevent international students from staying in the United States if they are taking all their courses online. The government had argued the students didn’t need to be in the country if all their coursework was offered remotely.

    But university officials protested the 6 July directive from the Department of Homeland Security, saying it would disrupt the education of hundreds of thousands of students and send a message that they weren’t welcome on U.S. campuses. The announcement also didn’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 did not permit exemptions if there was a surge in COVID-19 cases near a university, causing an in-person or hybrid course to shift to an online-only format midsemester.

    Last week, multiple universities filed suit to prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from implementing its new policy, on the grounds that the administration had failed to follow federal laws in drawing up the rule. Today, a federal judge in Boston announced that the government had agreed to rescind its directive. The settlement leaves intact a policy issued at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that allows foreign students to maintain their visas even if their courses are entirely online.

  • ‘It’s a tricky thing.’ COVID-19 cases haven’t soared in Nigeria, but that could change

    Chikwe Ihekweazu speaks on stage

    Chikwe Ihekweazu is worried about access to future COVID-19 vaccines, but says, “We are also not just sitting quietly and doing nothing.”

    James Duncan Davidson/TED (CC BY-NC)

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

    So far, sub-Saharan Africa has not faced the extreme numbers of cases and deaths from the novel coronavirus some public health experts feared would occur. Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, has reported only 33,000 cases and just under 750 deaths among its nearly 200 million citizens. (The number of daily reported cases more or less stabilized in June, after an increase since April.) Like everywhere else, the true toll is likely higher—testing in Nigeria is scant—but the country hasn’t seen overflowing hospitals.

    Yet the numbers across Africa are ticking up, and Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, is far from complacent. In Nigeria, implementing testing and control measures across the vast federation of 36 states is a tall order.

  • 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.)

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