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Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Medical journal editors expect authors to disclose conflicts of interest—but don’t disclose their own

    hands working with a stack of paper
    istock.com/smolaw11

    Virtually all top medical journals require authors to disclose potential conflicts of interest, but few—just 12%—apply that same medicine to their own editors by publicly disclosing editors’ financial ties to industry, a study has found.

    Authors of the study, published 23 July in BMJ Open, called that “paradoxical” given that other analyses have shown that about 50% of editors at such journals in the United States have received payments from industry. “Journal editorial teams are a key player that should apply to themselves the transparency they demand from their authors,” wrote Rafael Dal-Ré of the Autonomous University of Madrid and his co-authors.

    They examined 130 journals spanning medical, imaging, and surgery specialties, focusing on the top five most influential ones, as measured by their impact factors, in each of 26 subcategories. In half of the categories, not a single journal publicly disclosed any editor conflicts of interest (COIs), their study found.

  • Boris Johnson’s stance on climate change has flip-flopped

    Boris Johnson wading through a water garden

    Boris Johnson, the new U.K. prime minister, planted water lilies at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London in 2015 while the city’s mayor.

    REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

    Originally published by E&E News

    The United Kingdom's new leader is being labeled an enemy of climate science and an ally of President Trump, but his public record paints a murkier picture.

    Take an October 2011 report in which Boris Johnson, then London's mayor, touted his green credentials and policies to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Scientists doing basic studies of human brain win longer reprieve from clinical trials reporting rule

    a woman wearing a EEG cap

    Researchers have pushed back against including basic brain studies, such as those that monitor neuronal activity, in a federal database of clinical trials.

    wunkley/Alamy Stock Photo

    U.S. scientists who challenged a new rule that would require them to register their basic studies of the human brain and behavior in a federal database of clinical trials have won another reprieve. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, says it now understands why some of that kind of research won’t easily fit the format of ClinicalTrials.gov, and the agency has delayed the reporting requirements for another 2 years.

    The controversy dates back to 2017, when behavioral and cognitive researchers realized that new requirements for registering and reporting results from NIH-funded clinical studies would also cover even basic studies of human subjects, experiments that did not test drugs or other potential treatments. The scientists protested that including such studies would confuse the public and create burdensome, unnecessary paperwork. A year ago, NIH announced it would delay the requirement until September and seek further input.

    The responses prompted NIH staff to examine published papers from scientists conducting basic research. They agreed it would be hard to include some of these studies into the rigid informational format used by ClinicalTrials.gov—for example, because the authors didn’t specify the outcome they expected before the study began, or they reported results for individuals and not the whole group. In other cases, the authors did several preliminary studies to help them design their experiment.

  • World Bank dedicates $300 million to Ebola response

    Workers prepare to bury an Ebola victim

    Workers prepare to bury a victim of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images

    The World Bank in Washington, D.C., said today it will contribute $300 million to responding to an ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The outbreak has killed more than 1700 people and last week it was declared an international emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

    “Together, we must take urgent action to stop the deadly Ebola epidemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement. The bank’s newly committed money will be provided as grants and credits to intensify the frontline health response in Ebola-affected areas of the DRC. The cash infusion adds to $100 million the organization has provided since the outbreak surfaced in August 2018.

  • A vaunted program for boosting the diversity of U.S. academic scientists is starting to spread

    Alumni spanning 30 years gathered in Baltimore

    Meyerhoff scholars from as far back as the start of the program in 1989 gathered in Baltimore, Maryland, this spring to celebrate the program's 30th anniversary.

    Jim Burger/University of Maryland, Baltimore County

    The audience applauded when Crystal Watkins Johansson revealed she was being promoted to associate professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and head of the new Sheppard Pratt Memory Clinic in Baltimore, Maryland. And there were cheers for Lola Eniola-Adefeso, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, when she described “standing at the top of the academic ladder, working to pull up others like me.”

    In May, the two women had returned to their undergraduate alma mater, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Meyerhoff Scholars Program and honor its namesake, Baltimore philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff. The 95-year-old civil engineer, who made his fortune in commercial real estate, is lionized for his $500,000 donation to UMBC that launched what is now widely considered to be the most successful program in the United States for preparing minority students for careers in academic research.

    The data tell an impressive story. Johansson and Eniola-Adefeso, who are both black, are two of 1150 alumni, of whom 71% are black or Hispanic. To date, 312 Meyerhoff scholars have earned Ph.D.s, 59 have joint M.D./Ph.D.s, 141 have been awarded M.D.s, and some 40 now hold tenured or tenure-track positions. An additional 265 have received a master’s degree in a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field, and 258 more are now enrolled in graduate or professional school. These scholars represent the “new face of science,” says Michael Summers, a UMBC biology professor and longtime adviser to the program.

  • Q&A: How Ecuador, the world’s largest banana exporter, is defending against a devastating fungus

    Xavier Lazo Guerrero

    Xavier Lazo Guerrero, Ecuador’s agriculture minister, is leading efforts to prevent a deadly fungus from reaching the nation’s banana plantations.

    Fernando Lagla/Asamblea Nacional del Ecuador (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    Earlier this month, banana growers in Latin America got some worrying news. Officials in Colombia said four plantations had been quarantined after the possible appearance of a banana fungus that has already caused devastating losses in Asia. Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4) kills the plants by clogging their vascular system.

    The discovery, which hasn’t yet been confirmed, has put countries in the region on high alert. Neighboring Ecuador, for example, is the largest banana exporter in the world, and preventing TR4 from entering the country has become “my No. 1 priority,” says Ecuador’s minister of agriculture and livestock, Xavier Lazo Guerrero, who is based in Quito.

    ScienceInsider recently spoke with Lazo about how Ecuador is responding to the potential threat to one of its most important crops. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

  • Budget deal raises hopes for U.S. research agencies

    US capitol building
    lucky-photographer/iStockPhoto

    A new budget deal between the White House and congressional leaders means U.S. research agencies could receive increases on the order of the 4% to 5% that Democrats have already proposed for next year.

    Yesterday’s agreement, which must be approved by both chambers of Congress, governs spending for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Under the existing law aimed at reducing the federal deficit, Congress would have had to reduce total discretionary spending in 2020 by $125 billion, or roughly 10%. But the agreement removes that requirement and thus avoids dreaded mandatory across-the-board cuts, called sequestration, that would have been imposed if no such reductions were made.

    “A budget framework for the next 2 years that moves us past the threat of future sequestration is a win for American science,” the Science Coalition, a Washington, D.C.–based lobbying group representing dozens of U.S. research universities, wrote in a statement. “We urge Congress to appropriate the necessary funding to demonstrate America’s commitment to this endeavor.”

  • DRC health minister resigns over Ebola response

    Oly Ilunga Kalenga visits an Ebola treatment center

    Then–Minister of Health Oly Ilunga Kalenga visits an Ebola clinic in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in March.

    JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images

    The outspoken minister of health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) resigned today, protesting his president’s takeover of the country’s Ebola response. He also asserted that unnamed parties hid information about plans to deploy an experimental vaccine in the DRC, which has battled an Ebola outbreak since August 2018.

    Oly Ilunga Kalenga wrote to DRC President Félix Tshisekedi that, “as a result of your decision to oversee the response to the Ebola epidemic, and because I anticipate that this decision will inevitably lead to a predictable outcry, I submit to you my resignation as Health Minister.”

    Kalenga, 59, who has held the job since January 2017, wrote that Tshisekedi’s decision to remove him from heading the country’s Ebola response was made without his knowledge on 18 July. At the time, Kalenga was supervising the Ebola response in the city of Goma, DRC, where a first Ebola case was diagnosed on 14 July.

  • Mystery surrounds ouster of Chinese researchers from Canadian laboratory

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    Canadian researchers are reacting with puzzlement to the news that a “policy breach” has caused the nation’s only high-containment disease laboratory to bar a prominent Chinese Canadian virologist, her biologist husband, and a number of students from the facility.

    On 5 July, officials at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, Canada, escorted Xiangguo Qiu, biologist Keding Cheng, and an unknown number of her students from the lab and revoked their access rights, according to Canadian media reports. The Public Health Agency of Canada, which operates the lab, confirmed it had referred an “administrative matter” matter to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but said it would not provide additional details because of privacy concerns.

    A number of observers have speculated that case involves concerns about the improper transfer of intellectual property to China. (All of the researchers involved are believed to be Asian.) But Frank Plummer, a former scientific director of NML who left in 2015, says the lab isn’t an obvious target for academic or industrial espionage. “There is nothing highly secret there, and all the work gets published in the open literature,” he says. “I don’t know what anyone would hope to gain by spying.”

  • Update: Twins who were face of controversial rare disease treatment have died

    Hugh and Chris Hempel with their daughters Addi and Cassi

    The Hempel family, pictured when twins Addi (left) and Cassi (second from right), who both had Niemann-Pick type C, were about 11 years old. Chris Hempel (right) says the twins passed away within 27 minutes of each other.

    HUGH AND CHRIS HEMPEL

    *Update, 18 July, 4:30 p.m.: The Hempel twins, Addi and Cassi, died on 4 July. They were 15 years old. “They passed away within minutes of each other and we are filled with so much sorrow,” their mother, Chris Hempel, wrote in an email to ScienceInsider.

    She wrote that her daughters had been admitted to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, on 29 and 30 June, after they developed labored breathing and high temperatures. The cause, it emerged, was an aggressive virus that had invaded their lungs. Although Niemann-Pick type C (NPC) was not on their death reports, “Certainly their underlying NPC disease was a contributing factor,” Hempel wrote. “[T]heir pulmonary systems were already weakened by the NPC.”

    Hempel and her husband, Hugh, pioneered the experimental use of a sugar molecule, 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin, as a treatment for the rare genetic disease, winning a compassionate use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its use in the twins. In January 2018, they sued several companies involved in developing a commercial treatment; their allegations include breach of contract, theft of trade secrets, and unjust enrichment. The Hempels’ lawyer on 11 July filed a request for a delay in the proceedings in U.S. District Court in Maryland in order to allow the Hempels time to grieve. But Chris Hempel wrote that they plan to press on “vigorously” with that lawsuit.

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