Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • EU science chief defends record after ouster over coronavirus plans

    Mauro Ferrari

    Mauro Ferrari left the European Research Council on 7 April after its scientific council called for his ouster.

    World Economic Forum/Greg Beadle/FLICKR (CC BY-NC-SA)

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

    Last week’s noisy resignation of Mauro Ferrari as president of the €2.2 billion European Research Council (ERC)—the European Union’s foremost funder of basic research—revealed a rift over its approach to research on the coronavirus pandemic. Ferrari’s departure, just 3 months into the job, also showed the limits of an ERC president’s power to influence the course of a funding agency that prides itself on its independence.

    On 7 April, the same day Ferrari stepped down as ERC president and chair of its Scientific Council, he released a statement to the Financial Times, saying he had “lost faith in the system” and was upset by ERC’s unwillingness to set up a “special program” to address the COVID-19 pandemic. But the next day, the 19 other members of the science council hit back. In a sharp statement, the council said Ferrari “displayed a complete lack of appreciation for the raison d’être of the ERC.” It also suggested that Ferrari had neglected his duties to attend to personal projects in the United States. It said the council unanimously called for his resignation on 27 March.

  • EPA scientists said U.S. should tighten key air pollution limit. The agency’s head just said no

    Andrew Wheeler, the acting chief of the EPA, speaks at a press conference.

    Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

    Cliff Owen/AP photo

    Originally published by E&E News

    Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), today proposed leaving national soot standards unchanged at least through the middle of the next decade as he questioned the reliability of scientific research suggesting that tighter limits are needed to save lives.

    “There’s still a lot of uncertainty” surrounding that research, Wheeler told reporters on a conference call announcing his decision to leave the 2012 standards on fine particulate matter in place. Wheeler said he considered “the latest scientific evidence and analysis,” as well the recommendations of an EPA advisory panel that favored the status quo despite the conclusions of agency career staff.

  • Mice, hamsters, ferrets, monkeys. Which lab animals can help defeat the new coronavirus?

    a hamster held in the hand of a researcher

    A University of Hong Kong researcher gets a Syrian hamster accustomed to being handled before studies in which the rodents are infected with the new coronavirus.

    Dewi Rowlands/Laboratory Animal Unit/University of Hong Kong

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

    Beloved as pets, Syrian hamsters are winning another kind of attention from scientists trying to understand and defeat COVID-19. Fifteen years ago, scientists found the hamsters could readily be infected with the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Their symptoms were subtle, so the animals didn’t get much traction as a model for the disease. But with COVID-19, caused by a related virus, SARS-CoV-2, the model’s prospects appear brighter.

    When physician scientist Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and co-workers recently infected eight hamsters, the animals lost weight, became lethargic, and developed ruffled fur, a hunched posture, and rapid breathing. High levels of SARS-CoV-2 were found in the hamsters’ lungs and intestines, tissues studded with the virus’ target, a protein receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). These findings “closely resemble the manifestations of upper and lower respiratory tract infection in humans,” Chan and co-authors wrote in a 26 March paper in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

  • ‘Suppress and lift’: Hong Kong and Singapore say they have a coronavirus strategy that works

    Two people walk down a dark and empty street showing temporarily closed restaurants and bars.

    Bars are closed in a popular nightlife district in Hong Kong. The city government decided to tighten restrictions in the wake of rising COVID-19 case numbers.

    Ivan Abreu/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

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

    Despite setbacks, Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s targeted strategies for fighting COVID-19 may yet succeed—and provide a model for other countries emerging from their first wave of cases. Until recently, the two cities had managed to keep their case numbers remarkably low while avoiding the extreme lockdowns implemented in China and many other countries. Both fought outbreaks through aggressive testing, isolating infected people, and tracing and quarantining their contacts. For everyone else, it was almost business as usual, with a bit of social distancing.

    But case numbers spiked in the second half of March, and some observers feared the strategy had failed. Hong Kong had just 149 confirmed cases on 15 March; the tally reached 1005 yesterday. Singapore’s number grew from 226 on 15 March to 2532 yesterday. Neither city is seeing the explosive growth Italy, Spain, and many areas of the United States have witnessed. Their health care systems have not been overwhelmed. But both ramped up their responses. Hong Kong recently imposed restrictions on restaurants and closed bars entirely. Singapore has closed schools and nonessential businesses and instructed residents to stay home—a dramatic escalation.

  • Would-be coronavirus drugs are cheap to make

    Employees look into a large mixer in production line of chloroquine phosphate

    Most drugs in clinical trials against COVID-19, such as chloroquine phosphate, can be made cheaply.

    FeatureChina/AP Images

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

    With a vaccine for the novel coronavirus still likely 1 year or more away, the first weapon against the virus could be one of the drugs now in clinical trials with COVID-19 patients. A new analysis out today shows that many of these drugs, which are currently manufactured or in development to treat other diseases, can be made for $1 a day per patient, or less. If any prove effective against the novel coronavirus, a coordinated international effort will be needed to ensure they are made affordable for people worldwide, the researchers argue.

    Scientists worldwide are conducting clinical trials on at least a dozen potential treatments for COVID-19. Some compounds have been on the market for decades, such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine used to combat malaria and lupus. That makes it relatively straightforward to estimate the minimum cost of making them, says Andrew Hill, a drug pricing specialist at the University of Liverpool.

  • How can we save black and brown lives during a pandemic? Data from past studies can point the way

    a woman touches the head of her father who is on a stretcher rolling into an ambulance

    A daughter in Stamford, Connecticut, touches her father, who had symptoms of COVID-19. Some black communities have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

    John Moore/Getty Images

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

    This week, a grim drumbeat of reports revealed that COVID-19 is devastating many minority communities. For example, black people comprise 32% of Louisiana’s population—but a startling 70% of the coronavirus deaths. In its first release of racial data, New York City reported that Hispanics died from COVID-19 at a rate of 22 per 100,000 and black people died at a rate of 20 per 100,000—double the rate of white people, who died at a rate of 10 per 100,000. Also this week, worrisome reports of high infection rates in Native Americans came from the Zia and San Felipe pueblos in New Mexico.

    These grim facts are only emerging now because until this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and most local health departments weren’t releasing data on race. Many still are not.

  • Is France’s president fueling the hype over an unproven coronavirus treatment?

    Didier Raoult during a press visit.

    Didier Raoult has complained about the “dictatorship of the methodologists” who insist on randomization and control groups in clinical trials.

    Moura/ANDBZ/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images

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

    The highly politicized debate about the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two antimalarial drugs, to treat COVID-19 has reached an extreme in France, where two small trials purporting to show potential benefit were done. French physicians have come under enormous pressure from desperate patients to prescribe hydroxychloroquine, despite scant evidence that it works, and 460,000 people have already signed a petition to make it more widely available. Leading the advocacy is a controversial and politically well-connected figure, microbiologist Didier Raoult.

    Today his profile rose even higher, as French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to Marseille to meet Raoult, a hospital director and researcher who led the two trials. Macron did not comment after the meeting, but the rendezvous, initiated by Macron, was a clear sign of Raoult’s newfound political clout. Jean-Paul Hamon, president of the Federation of Doctors of France, one of many scientists and doctors critical of the meeting, called it “showbiz politics.”

  • Polio, measles, other diseases set to surge as COVID-19 forces suspension of vaccination campaigns

    Door-to-door polio vaccine campaign in Kenya

    Door-to-door campaigns against polio, such as this one in Kenya in 2018, could help spread COVID-19.


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

    “A devil’s choice.” That’s how Seth Berkley, head of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, describes the dilemma facing global health organizations in the past few weeks. They could either continue to support mass vaccination campaigns in poor countries and risk inadvertently helping to spread COVID-19—or recommend their suspension, inevitably triggering an upsurge of many other infectious diseases.

    In the end, they chose the latter. As Science reported last week, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on 24 March recommended suspending polio vaccination campaigns until the second half of the year. Two days later, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) issued a broader call, recommending that all preventive mass vaccination campaigns for other diseases be postponed. “Any mass campaigns would go against the idea of social distancing,” says Alejandro Cravioto of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s faculty of medicine, who chairs SAGE.

  • After claims of sex bias, scientific leader at NIH’s child health institute withdraws from new job

    Constantine Stratakis

    Constantine Stratakis was scientific director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for 10 years.

    National Institutes of Health

    Constantine Stratakis, the geneticist who directed intramural science at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for the past decade, withdrew today from a position he was slated to take in June as executive director and chief scientific officer of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC).

    His withdrawal came 6 days after Science published allegations of gender discrimination by Stratakis from women at the $1.56 billion NICHD, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. On Monday, senior women at RI-MUHC submitted a position statement urging its board of directors to revoke Stratakis’s hiring agreement. “We respectfully submit that it will not be possible for Dr. Stratakis to effectively meet the requirements of the … job, in view of the serious accusations that have come to light,” they wrote in the letter submitted to MUHC’s president and the chairman of the research institute’s board; they also circulated it to the research institute’s students, staff, and faculty. By Tuesday evening more than 500 of them had signed it. (The research institute has 445 scientists, more than 1100 staff, and nearly 1200 trainees.) The RI-MUHC board met this morning and after the meeting, it announced Stratakis’s withdrawal.

    Its statement read, in part:

  • Social scientists scramble to study pandemic, in real time

    people crossing a street with reflections of the stock market

    Social scientists are examining how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting everything from people’s behavior to the economy.

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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

    If pandemic lockdowns have people feeling a bit like lab rats stuck in cages, in some ways that’s exactly what they are.

    As the coronavirus touches on virtually every part of life around the globe, social scientists are rushing to suck up real-time data on how people are responding to the unfolding pandemic. Economists are gathering data about supply chains. Political scientists are scrutinizing how government responses track with ideology. Psychologists are monitoring children in after-school programs. Behavioral scientists are surveying thousands of people to see how they respond to information in a crisis.

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