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Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • EPA can’t bar grantees from sitting on science advisory panels, judge rules

    epa headquarters building

    The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

    Rob Crandall/Alamy Stock Photo

    Originally published by E&E News

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot block recipients of agency funding from participating on its science advisory boards, a federal judge said yesterday.

    The ruling from Senior Judge Denise Cote of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York follows her decision earlier this year that said EPA needed to provide a "reasoned explanation" for the 2017 ban, which resulted in the ouster of scientists from advisory panels (Greenwire, 11 February).

  • Thailand scrambles to contain major outbreak of horse-killing virus

    A horse behind an insect curtain

    A horse in Thailand is isolated behind netting that keeps out midges that spread African horse sickness.

    Wipawan Pawitayalarp

    Thailand, already battling the spread of coronavirus, is now contending with another deadly viral outbreak—in horses. With hundreds of horse deaths reported there in the last 3 weeks, horse owners are rushing to seal their animals indoors with netting, away from biting midges that spread the virus for African horse sickness (AHS). Some scientists suspect that zebras, imported from Africa, led to the outbreak.

    The disease’s sudden appearance, far from its endemic home in sub-Saharan Africa, has surprised Thai veterinary authorities, who are ramping up testing for the disease and ordering the vaccination of thousands of horses, donkeys, and mules. It is the first major outbreak of the disease outside Africa in 30 years, and AHS experts are worried that it could spread to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. “A sustained, persistent outbreak of [AHS] that spreads to other countries would be devastating, not only to the racing industry and companion animals, but also to some of the poorest workers in the region relying on working horses, donkeys, and mules,” says Simon Carpenter, an entomologist at the Pirbright Laboratory in the United Kingdom.

     Without controls, the virus could even travel via wind-borne midges across seas to herds on island nations, gradually working its way to Australia, which has more than 1 million racing, sport, and feral horses. The nation is “engaging with other countries to develop a regional response to this outbreak,” says Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Mark Schipp.

  • Crushing coronavirus means ‘breaking the habits of a lifetime.’ Behavior scientists have some tips

    A CDC billboard in Times Square during COVID-19

    Researchers have been deeply involved in developing messages aimed at changing people’s behavior to curb the coronavirus pandemic, and studying which ones work.

    Noam Galai/Getty Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    With no vaccine or medication to cope with the novel coronavirus, people around the world have sought—or been ordered to seek—protection by changing the way they act in ways large and small, from their washing hands more frequently to avoiding almost all physical contact. Now, government and industry leaders are turning to behavioral scientists for advice on how to persuade their citizens and workers to abide by such dramatic changes.

    To beat the pandemic, we need “a more rapid change of behavior than I can think of in recent human history,” says Robb Willer, a sociologist at Stanford University. He recently helped recruit more than 40 top behavioral scientists to summarize their field’s research on how to steer people into certain actions and how it might aid the response to the pandemic.

  • For Brazil’s Indigenous communities, pandemic revives memories of earlier plagues

    A small local medical clinic at the Waiaipi reservation

    A small clinic at the Waiapi Indigenous reserve in Amapá state in Brazil. A lack of medical care could worsen the toll of COVID-19 among Indigenous communities.

    Gerd Ludwig/National Geographic Image Collection

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

    To the older generation of the Paiter Surui, the COVID-19 pandemic looks familiar.

    The Indigenous people who inhabit the border of the Brazilian states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso suffered hundreds of deaths from measles and other infectious diseases in the decades after they first made contact with non-Indigenous people in 1969. The survivors “already experienced what is happening in the world today with the coronavirus,” says Rubens Naraikoe Surui, a young Indigenous leader.

  • U.S. conservatives who detest climate models add a new target: coronavirus models

    Senator John Cornyn (R–TX) in a Senate hallway

    Senator John Cornyn (R–TX), who has criticized the utility of climate models, is one of a number of high-profile conservative leaders now raising questions about models that attempt to forecast the coronavirus pandemic.

    AP Photo/Alex Brandon

    Originally published by E&E News

    A vocal set of conservative critics in the United States have upped their attacks recently on the data modeling behind the novel coronavirus response, and they claim—despite scientific evidence to the contrary—that the flaws also prove the limits of climate change forecasts.

    The group, which includes federal lawmakers, climate science deniers and conservative pundits with close White House connections, has even called for congressional hearings into the coronavirus modeling.

  • South Africa flattens its coronavirus curve—and considers how to ease restrictions

    a health worker interviews a resident outside of her home.

    A health worker interviews a resident outside her home in Cape Town, South Africa.

    REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    With South Africa in its third week of a COVID-19 lockdown that will last at least through April, scientists advising the government gave a preview of the next phase of the response in a televised address on Monday evening. They offered “a glimpse at the science behind the decision-making,” Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize said during the briefing—and a road map for reopening the country.

    South Africa detected its first novel coronavirus infection on 5 March. For the next few weeks, the epidemic followed an exponential curve similar to those in the United Kingdom, the United States, and many other countries. On 15 March, the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, declared a national state of emergency banning visitors from high-risk countries, stopping large gatherings, closing more than half of its land borders, and shutting schools. On 27 March the country started a 21-day lockdown, closing all borders and confining everyone except those performing essential services to their homes except to buy groceries and medicine or to collect welfare payments.

  • Pandemic robs field scientists of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ moments

    two male chimps sitting side by side

    Researchers won’t be able to observe the changing relationship between these two male chimps, who grew up together in Uganda but now belong to rival troops.

    John Mitani

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

    When Jane Goodall witnessed a chimpanzee troop split into two bands in 1974, she called the event a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. Now, a group of chimp researchers fears missing its own once-in-a-lifetime moment because of the coronavirus pandemic. Two years ago, they, too, witnessed a chimp group fission at Kibale National Park in Uganda. The consequences surprised them: Males of one group recently attacked the other and beat up the females. “I would have never predicted that males that have grown up together would be at each other’s throats,” says John Mitani, a primatologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. But he and his colleagues are likely to remain ignorant about how this power struggle plays out over the coming months or even the next year.

    Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most of the research team has left the country. Mitani says such precautions make sense for both humans and chimps, who are likely vulnerable to COVID-19, too, according to an 11 April preprint on bioRxiv. But he and his colleagues may miss the rare events that structure chimpanzee society.

  • ‘Short-sighted.’ Health experts decry Trump’s freeze on U.S. funding for WHO as world fights pandemic

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Arizona in 2016, prior to being elected president

    Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

    President Donald Trump said today he will suspend U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) pending a 60- to 90-day investigation into how the agency has handled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump accused WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” at a White House press conference in the Rose Garden this evening, adding: “Everybody knows what’s going on there.”

    People involved in the pandemic response around the world reacted with horror to the news. “This is a short-sighted decision which will be disastrous for the agency,” says Devi Sridhar, a global health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “We need the WHO more than ever to support all countries, especially low- and middle-income ones.”

  • Ending coronavirus lockdowns will be a dangerous process of trial and error

    Roman-Catholic priest Johannes Laichner attaches a new photograph of members of his congregation to a bench at his church.

    A priest in Innsbruck, Austria, views photographs of his absent congregation. Austria eased social distancing today. 

    Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images

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

    The world is holding its breath.

    After the novel coronavirus made its way from China around the world, one country after another adopted harsh measures to stop SARS-CoV-2 from spreading and overwhelming hospitals. They have hit the pause button on their economies and their citizens’ lives, stopping sports events, religious services, and other social gatherings. School closures in 188 countries affect more than 1.5 billion students. Borders are closed and businesses shuttered. While some countries are still seeing daily case numbers increase, others—first in Asia but increasingly in Europe—have managed to bend the curve, slowing the transmission of COVID-19.

  • Delays in 2020 U.S. census generate rare consensus

    a man wearing a mask walks by census 2020 posters

    The coronavirus pandemic will delay the scheduled completion of the 2020 U.S. census.

    AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

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

    The coronavirus pandemic will delay collection of data from the 2020 U.S. census now underway, the Trump administration announced yesterday. But unlike the bitterly partisan fights that have followed previous decisions by the White House affecting preparations for the decennial census, including its failed attempt to add a citizenship question, social scientists and civil rights groups say this time the administration has made the right call.

    “We support the decision and urge Congress to act in concert with it,” declared four former Census Bureau directors, including the two men who served during the Obama administration, in a letter released today.

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