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  • Trump catalyzed the March for Science. Where is it now?

    The March for Science passes by the U.S. Capitol

    In 2017, the March for Science attracted nearly 1 million demonstrators worldwide, including many who jammed the streets of Washington, D.C.

    Bill Douthitt/AAAS

    On 22 April 2017, just 3 months after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, more than 1 million demonstrators around the world took to the streets for an unprecedented event: the March for Science. The event, designed to demonstrate public support for science, was a “lightning in a bottle moment” inspired largely by the antiscience stances taken by the fledgling Trump administration, says Lucky Tran, one of many volunteers with research backgrounds who helped transform the idea, initially floated by a few people on social media, into a high-profile happening complete with sometimes nerdy signs that became internet sensations.

    Even before the march ended, however, many organizers, participants, and onlookers wondered: Could the March for Science—which became a nonprofit organization with about 1 million social media followers—translate its early success into sustained influence?

    Now, as Trump runs for reelection, the answer is becoming clearer. Although the March for Science has not replicated its initial splash—a 2018 march drew far fewer participants—and has sometimes struggled to define concrete goals, observers say the effort continues to resonate, albeit in ways that can be hard to measure.

  • ‘Myopic’ funding cuts may force Mexican scientists to leave major international organizations

    A panel of speakers prepare to present in a conference hall

    The 2018 World Meeting for Women in Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro was organized by the International Mathematical Union, one of the global organizations Mexico may be forced to leave.

    Luz de Teresa

    On 9 October, Tonatiuh Matos, president of the Mexican Physical Society (SMF), received an email that he says left him speechless. In it, the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), Mexico’s main science funding agency, notified Matos it would no longer pay the society’s membership dues for the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). The funds will be redirected to the fight against COVID-19.

    Many other national science organizations tell ScienceInsider they have recently received similar letters from CONACYT. The agency has canceled funding for memberships in organizations as diverse as the International Mathematical Union, the Latin American Biology Network, the Third World Academy of Sciences, the International Science Council, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

    Unless they can find ways to pay for the memberships—a tall order given that some dues exceed $100,000—the move could lead to a withdrawal from the global science scene that scientists warn will isolate Mexico scientifically and deprive it of opportunities. “There will be no new ideas, there will be no new technology and therefore there will be no new developments, no innovation,” Matos says.

  • India’s COVID-19 cases have declined rapidly—but herd immunity is still far away, scientists say

    a health care worker wearing a mask swabs a patient’s nose in front of poster of a woman wearing a long dress
    AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

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

    MUMBAI—Last week, a panel of leading scientists appointed by the Indian government delivered a startlingly optimistic message: The world’s second largest COVID-19 epidemic has rounded a corner. India’s daily number of daily new cases has almost halved the past six weeks, and a new mathematical model suggests “we may have reached herd immunity,” some members of the panel wrote in a paper published online by The Indian Journal of Medical Research. Assuming measures such as social distancing, wearing masks, and hand washing remain in place, the group said the pandemic could be “controlled by early next year.”

    But other scientists say the model overestimates the number of people already infected and warn that with colder temperatures and several religious holidays approaching, India may well see a second wave. The positive national trends hide a more complex picture, suggests Giridhar Babu, an epidemiologist with the Public Health Foundation of India. He believes the virus may have burned through large, densely packed populations but will continue to spread in rural areas, at a lower rate, for many months: “We still have large numbers of people for the virus to go through.”

  • The ‘very, very bad look’ of remdesivir, the first FDA-approved COVID-19 drug

    Daniel Oday speaks to President Donald Trump who sits at the Resolute desk while Stephen Hahn looks on.

    President Donald Trump and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn (right) met with Daniel O’Day (left), CEO of Gilead Sciences, when remdesivir received an emergency use authorization in May.

    AP Photo/Alex Brandon

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

    October was a good month for Gilead Sciences, the giant manufacturer of antivirals headquartered in Foster City, California. On 8 October, the company inked an agreement to supply the European Union with its drug remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19—a deal potentially worth more than $1 billion. Two weeks later, on 22 October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved remdesivir for use against the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in the United States—the first drug to receive that status. The EU and U.S. decisions pave the way for Gilead’s drug into two major markets, both with soaring COVID-19 cases.

    But both decisions baffled scientists who have closely watched the clinical trials of remdesivir unfold over the past 6 months—and who have many questions about remdesivir’s worth. At best, one large, well-designed study found remdesivir modestly reduced the time to recover from COVID-19 in hospitalized patients with severe illness. A few smaller studies found no impact of treatment on the disease whatsoever. Then, on 15 October—in this month’s decidedly unfavorable news for Gilead—the fourth and largest controlled study delivered what some believed was a coup de grâce: The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Solidarity trial showed that remdesivir does not reduce mortality or the time COVID-19 patients take to recover.

  • ‘Another piece of populist propaganda’: Critics slam the Brazilian government’s new COVID-19 drug

    President Jair Bolsonaro smiles in a crowd of people having their pictures taken on stage

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at a 19 October ceremony to announce results from a clinical trial with nitazoxanide

    Andre Borges/NurPhoto via AP

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

    On 19 October, the Brazilian government organized a high-profile ceremony to announce what it billed as a new breakthrough in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: the antiparasitic drug nitazoxanide. President Jair Bolsonaro was present, as were several other Cabinet members. “We are announcing something that will begin to change the history of the pandemic,” science minister Marcos Pontes said.

    Only one thing was missing from the presentation: the evidence. And when it emerged 4 days later, scientists were decidedly underwhelmed.

  • Delete offensive language? Change recommendations? Some editors say it’s OK to alter peer reviews

    hands marking a paper

    Fiona Fidler, a metaresearcher at the University of Melbourne, was outraged. She had discovered that her appraisal of a submitted paper had been changed before being sent to the author, sometimes drastically. The words “very sympathetic” had become “generally sympathetic.” “This one is a good example” ended up as “this one still needs work.” Worst of all, she felt that the bottom line of her peer-review report to the journal Educational and Psychological Measurement, recommending that it accept the paper with minor revisions, was misrepresented in the editor’s rejection letter to the author.

    “I had never experienced anything like this before,” Fidler says about the 2012 incident. She demanded explanations from the journal editor. And she later partnered with the snubbed paper author, Rink Hoekstra, a psychologist at the University of Groningen, to find out how widespread this practice was.

    With colleagues, they’ve now surveyed 322 editors at high-impact journals across ecology, economics, medicine, physics, and psychology on when they think altering peer-review reports is justified. Published as a preprint earlier this year at the Open Science Framework and now under review at eLife, the survey reports that 91% of the respondents identified at least one situation in which they would edit a report. More than 80% said they would do so if a reviewer used offensive language or made inappropriate personal comments about the authors. But 8% said they would change the reviewer’s overall recommendation—even without their permission, a finding that shocked Hoekstra. He believes that’s probably an underestimate, given the stigma of admitting to such dubious behavior in a survey. “I think there are probably even more who actually do it.”

  • ‘Every minute counts.’ This immunologist rapidly reshaped her lab to tackle COVID-19

    Akiko Iwasaki illustration

    “Having to adapt to different situations throughout my life prepared me [for] a different virus,” says Akiko Iwasaki of Yale University.


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

    Until this year, Akiko Iwasaki had never had tubes of human blood delivered to her lab. “We were mostly working with mouse models,” says the Yale University immunologist, who speaks precisely and thoughtfully. “We used to look at the data and contemplate it.” Then COVID-19 struck, and such unhurried musings flew out the window. In a matter of weeks, Iwasaki overhauled her research to launch a slew of studies on how the new virus, SARS-CoV-2, takes its toll on patients. She and her nearly two dozen lab members know their discoveries could impact people falling sick right now. “Every minute counts.”

    In the months since, she has produced a string of high-profile papers in which she has redirected her expertise in the immune system, honed in mice, to questions such as why men are more likely than women to fare poorly if infected and how immune responses in hospitalized patients can help predict their prognosis. Now, she is turning her attention to long-haulers, people who suffer a bout with the virus and don’t fully recover.

  • As U.S. election nears, researchers are following the trail of fake news

    conceptual illustration of wifi signal, online use, and pinocchio lying nose

    It started with a tweet from a conservative media personality, accompanied by photos, claiming that more than 1000 mail-in ballots had been discovered in a dumpster in Sonoma county in California. Within hours on the morning of 25 September, a popular far-right news website ran the photos with an “exclusive” story suggesting thousands of uncounted ballots had been dumped by the county and workers had tried to cover it up.

    In fact, according to Sonoma county officals, the photos showed empty envelopes from the 2018 election that had been gathered for recycling. Ballots for this year’s general election had not yet been mailed. Even so, within a single day, more than 25,000 Twitter users had shared a version of the false ballot-dumping story, including Donald Trump Jr., who has 5.7 million followers.

    This election season, understanding how misinformation—and intentionally propagated disinformation—spreads has become a major goal of some social scientists. They are using a variety of approaches, including ethnographic research and quantitative analyses of internet-based social networks, to investigate where election disinformation originates, who spreads it, and how many people see it. Some are helping media firms figure out ways to block it, while others are probing how it might influence voting patterns.

  • ‘There’s only one chance to do this right’—FDA panel wrestles with COVID-19 vaccine issues

    A patient receives an injection in their upper arm.

    This COVID-19 vaccine trial in Florida and others could be disrupted if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes one vaccine before others.

    Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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

    Concerns raised yesterday by an advisory group to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may once again tap the brakes on Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s $10.8 billion push to rapidly move candidate COVID-19 vaccines from concept to communities.

    As new U.S. cases of the pandemic coronavirus set a daily high of more than 75,000, FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) held a 9-hour virtual meeting to discuss a regulatory pathway that could permit the widescale use of a COVID-19 vaccine that has only minimal evidence of safety and efficacy. A so-called emergency use authorization (EUA) could use preliminary data from vaccine efficacy trials now underway to shave many months off the standard approval process, and FDA wanted VRBPAC to weigh in about the wisdom of taking this shortcut. The hearing, live-streamed on YouTube, drew intense interest, and some of the committee members—a mix of academics, consumer representatives, and government scientists—had an unsettling but clear message to FDA: Hold your horses.

  • U.S. cities struggling to meet lofty climate goals

    Tuscon, Arizona

    Tuscon, Arizona, has seen greenhouse gas emissions grow by 39% since 1990, the biggest increase among the 100 largest U.S. cities, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.


    Originally published in E&E News

    Most major U.S. cities that have signed on to the climate fight with pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions are failing to meet their goals or haven't even started to track local progress, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution.

    The report, "Pledges and Progress," looked for climate policy and actions in the nation's 100 most populous cities, finding that two-thirds have made commitments to address citywide emissions.

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