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Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • Clinical trials rebound after COVID-19 crash, but can enrollment gains continue?

    nurse’s hand adjusts a rack holding an infusion for a patient
    Marijan Murat/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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

    For the hundreds of thousands of people enrolling in clinical trials every year—and for whom experimental therapies can offer a last hope—a new report provides some welcome news: Enrollment in clinical studies in the United States is on the rebound after disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But a fresh surge of coronavirus cases could once again scramble studies aimed at testing disease treatments.

    In June, engagement of new patients in U.S. clinical trials was down 38% compared with prepandemic levels, found the analysis released last week by Medidataa healthcare data services company. That’s still a significant improvement from April, when U.S. enrollments were much lower: down 70% at the 1500 trial sites tracked by the firm. Some hospitals, including the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in New York City, New York University’s Langone Health, and the medical center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have reopened almost all of their trials.

  • Trump moves to regulate greenhouse emissions from planes, but critics skeptical

    a jet with contrails flies above clouds

    For the first time, the United States has moved to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft, but many environmentalists say the limits don’t go far enough.

    MediaProduction/iStock.com

    Originally published by E&E News

    Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today announced that the agency would limit greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes for the first time in U.S. history.

    The proposed rule represents a rare step to reduce planet-warming pollution by EPA, which has typically weakened or delayed climate rules under President Donald Trump.

  • The artist who helped drive The Magic School Bus remembers Joanna Cole

    An illustration of Ms. Frizzle as the Statue of Liberty.

    Bruce Degen created this poster of Ms. Frizzle for the 2017 March for Science.

    Bruce Degen

    In 1984, writer Joanna Cole and artist Bruce Degen met at the New York City offices of Scholastic to discuss creating a new children’s book about science. They have since published 16 colorful, zany books featuring Ms. Frizzle and her magic school bus.

    Cole died on 12 July at age 75. But the series—including an upcoming book on evolution—continues to take children and their parents on fantastic adventures that also teach them about the natural world. We asked Degen to talk about his collaborator and his role in making the beloved series.

    The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  • Polio vaccination campaigns restart after modelers warn about risk of ‘explosive’ outbreaks

    People have their temperature taken in Pakistan

    Vaccinators get temperature checks before getting to work in Karachi, Pakistan, on 20 July.

    AKHTAR SOOMRO/REUTERS

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

    In a sad knock-on effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) abruptly halted all mass vaccination campaigns in March, worried they could inadvertently spread the novel coronavirus. The move further imperiled the troubled 3-decade drive to wipe out polio.

    But now, armed with new data and perspective, GPEI and the countries it supports are resuming vaccination campaigns. Burkina Faso was first out of the gate in early July; Pakistan followed yesterday. Polio cases are surging in many countries, and models paint a “pretty bleak picture” if campaigns don’t restart soon, says Michel Zaffran, who heads the effort at the World Health Organization (WHO). For now, countries will only be responding to outbreaks; preventive campaigns remain on hold.

  • EU leaders slash science spending in €1.8 trillion deal

    Charles MICHEL, President of the European Council

    European Council President Charles Michel offered up cuts to research spending to reach a deal.

    European Union

    Following a marathon EU summit in Brussels, national leaders this morning agreed to a €1.8 trillion, 7-year budget and pandemic recovery fund that will spend €81 billion on Horizon Europe, the main EU research program. That’s far less than what researchers had hoped for—and €13.5 billion less than a proposal 2 months ago from the European Commission, the EU executive arm.

    The cuts are “a major disappointment and a breach of trust,” given European politicians’ rhetoric on the importance of research, says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities.

    The summit deal, reached after 4 days—and nights—of tense negotiations, has two major pieces: a €1.07 trillion regular budget plus a €750 billion pandemic recovery fund that is split nearly evenly between grants and loans. Just €5 billion of the recovery fund will be spent within Horizon Europe—and the Commission doesn’t plan to spend any of that on the European Research Council (ERC), the EU basic research funder.

  • ‘Ethically troubling.’ University reopening plans put professors, students on edge

    Science Careers logo

    Come August, hundreds of universities across the United States are poised to reopen their campuses with a mix of online and in-person courses. Only a handful are aiming for an entirely online semester. But as the machinery of higher education cranks back into action, faculty, staff, and students are voicing concerns that, with COVID-19 cases surging in many parts of the country, employees are being forced to put their health—and the health of others—at unnecessary risk.

    At many universities, employees will not be permitted to teach or work from home unless—due to age or preexisting health conditions—they’re at risk of a severe outcome from COVID-19. The need to care for children and fear of infection aren’t valid reasons to work remotely, according to some universities. “Employees who care for or live with [high-risk] individuals … should plan to return to campus as scheduled,” the Georgia Institute of Technology’s (Georgia Tech’s) reopening guidelines stated as of 20 July.

    Academics across the country are dismayed. At Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), for instance, faculty published an open letter decrying the “limited amount of input faculty, staff, and graduate employees have had on decisions related to our safety.” At Georgia Tech, faculty released a similar letter saying the university’s reopening procedures “do not follow science-based evidence”—and that “no faculty, staff, or student should be coerced into risking their health and the health of their families by working … on campus when there is a remote/online equivalent.”

  • Controversial ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines gain support

    Sophie Rose

    Sophie Rose co-founded a group pushing a fast—and controversial—approach to COVID-19 vaccine trials and has volunteered to participate.

    Sophie Rose

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

    Since the early days of the pandemic, some researchers have advocated a fast way to determine whether a COVID-19 vaccine works: Intentionally attempt to infect vaccinated volunteers with the virus, SARS-CoV-2. Ethicists and vaccine scientists alike raised red flags, and the discussion has remained mostly theoretical. But now two key elements are taking shape: a large corps of volunteers willing to take part in a “human challenge” trial, and the well-understood lab-grown virus strains needed for the studies.

    The volunteers come from an advocacy group, 1Day Sooner, that has signed up more than 30,000 people from 140 countries. The group, co-founded by a 22-year-old, organized an open letter that was signed by 15 Nobel laureates and 100 other prominent researchers, ethicists, and philosophers, which it sent to U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins on 15 July. The letter urged the U.S. government “to undertake immediate preparations for human challenge trials” in young, healthy people, who are less likely to suffer severe disease from COVID-19. Among the signatories was Adrian Hill of the University of Oxford, whose lab developed one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates and plans to produce virus strains that could be used in the trials.

  • Meet Trump’s controversial pick for a top Census job

    2020 Census questionnaire documents

    The arrival of two political appointees last month has sent tremors through the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA via AP Images

    Last month, the U.S. statistical science community was shocked to learn that Nathaniel Cogley had assumed the new position of deputy director for policy at the Census Bureau.

    Most researchers had never heard of Cogley, a political scientist who earned a Ph.D. from Yale University in 2013 and is now on unpaid leave from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. He is one of a handful of political appointees at Census. And his newly created job title seemed out of place for an agency dedicated to the accurate, impartial, and timely collection and dissemination of data on U.S. demographic trends.

    In a terse statement on 23 June, Census Director Steven Dillingham said Cogley would “help the Census Bureau achieve a complete and accurate 2020 Census and study future improvements.” But researchers note that nothing in Cogley’s resume—including 2 years at a fledgling English-speaking university in West Africa—suggests he has any expertise on the policy issues facing the agency.

  • Claim that coconut oil is worse for biodiversity than palm oil sparks furious debate

    A farmworker stands on a ladder leaning on a coconut tree

    A laborer climbs a tree to pluck coconuts at a farm on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India.

    DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images

    Palm oil has a bad reputation—but is coconut oil worse?

    A new study argues coconut production poses a threat to biodiversity—including vertebrates, arthropods, mollusks, and plants—five times greater than palm oil. But the paper, published on 6 July in Current Biology, has triggered a ferocious debate on social media, where critics have accused the authors of promoting dubious statistics and an attempt to whitewash palm oil.

    “Dear logging companies, should you ever need to justify your destructive and extractive (illegal) activities in the Amazon + SE Asia, or protection against nature conservation NGO’s [nongovernmental organizations] or legal action, please refer to the following paper in @CurrentBiology,” primatologist Adriano Lameira of the University of Warwick wrote in one of several sarcastic tweets about the paper. 

  • A former Navy disaster specialist wages war against COVID-19 on U.S.-Mexico border

    Dennis Amundson talks to a nurse

    Dennis Amundson, who runs the intensive care unit at Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, chats with a nurse in the emergency room to evaluate whether a new patient might need his team’s help.

    J. Cohen/Science

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

    SAN DIEGO—When COVID-19 patients began to pour into Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista a few months ago, before the new coronavirus began to ravage much of the state, it shook up the medical team in the intensive care unit (ICU). “The morale wasn’t very good,” says Dennis Amundson, a pulmonologist who runs the ICU. They soon rallied, however, and now “smile going in” to patient rooms, he says. “It’s kind of like going to war at first,” Amundson adds. “You’re scared, and then all of a sudden you look left and look right, other people are doing it, so you do it, too. And then it becomes kind of native.”

    Amundson, who 2 years ago came to this hospital a mere 16 kilometers from the border with Mexico, knows from where he speaks. During his 38-year career as a U.S. Navy clinician who specialized in disaster care, Amundson did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, responded to tsunamis and volcanoes in Indonesia, treated Ebola patients in Liberia, and just before hanging up his captain’s hat in 2010 ran an ICU on a hospital ship off the coast of earthquake-stricken Haiti. But Amundson, who is a fit and ruddy 69 years old, says he still wasn’t fully prepared for what the pandemic has thrown at him and the hospital staff. “This certainly is a whole different animal than I was used to seeing in any of these other disasters.”

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