Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • As India’s lockdown ends, exodus from cities risks spreading COVID-19 far and wide

    Migrants wearing protective face masks wait for transportation

    Migrant workers stand in line as they wait for transportation to a railway station in Mumbai, India.

    Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

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

    One morning in mid-May, Nasim Qureshi suddenly developed a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Qureshi, a member of Mumbai, India’s street vendor union, rushed to a small private hospital, where doctors gave him a check up but refused to admit him. Later the same day, he was turned away from two more hospitals before he finally found a bed at a municipal hospital. By then, his breathing trouble had worsened—and the hospital only had a few ventilators.

    By the time one was made available, his friends say, Qureshi had died.

  • European R&D review finds lagging high-tech performance despite major science investment

    illustration of scientists in a laboratory with a giant light bulb
    akindo/istockphoto, adapted by M. Atarod/Science

    The European Union is struggling to turn its scientific prowess into economic gains, according to a biennial European Commission review of European R&D performance.

    The 770-page report says Europe lags behind the United States and China in high-tech industries, despite strong scientific output and high public investment. It argues that Horizon Europe, the forthcoming successor to the €77 billion Horizon 2020 research funding program, should bolster innovation by supporting tech startups and plowing money into research partnerships with the private sector. The Commission published the report today alongside a €1.85 trillion proposal for a postpandemic recovery plan, which calls for €94.4 billion to be spent on Horizon Europe from 2021 to 2027.

    According to the report, EU researchers produce one-fifth of the world’s most cited publications, whereas the United States leads with 31.3%. China is third, at 17.5%. And EU public sector R&D spending, as a percentage of gross domestic product, is second only to South Korea, although the European Union falls to fourth place, in a tie with China, when private sector investment is factored in, behind South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

  • Merck, one of Big Pharma’s biggest players, reveals its COVID-19 vaccine and therapy plans

    the Merck campus

    Announcing several partnerships today, Merck will pursue two vaccines and a therapy for COVID-19.

    REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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

    Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, has been conspicuously absent from the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. No longer. The company this morning announced it has cut deals to develop and manufacture two different COVID-19 vaccines and a much-discussed experimental antiviral compound that is already in early clinical trials.

    Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, portrays the company as deliberate rather than a latecomer. And the immunologist believes Merck’s skills and experience can accelerate the progress that other, smaller developers already have made. “Clearly, we have a lot of heft,” says Perlmutter, who declined to disclose how much Merck is investing in each project.

  • Sick chinchillas languish at farms that supply U.S. researchers

    A chinchilla in cage from Moulton Chinchilla Ranch.

    A U.S. Department of Agriculture complaint about Moulton Chinchilla Ranch documented 85 sick, untreated chinchillas, including this one photographed in 2017 with red swelling under its chin.

    KEVIN WILKEN/USDA/FOIA via Animal Folks

    Biomedical researchers rely on chinchillas–docile South American rodents with ears strikingly similar to those of humans—for studies of ear infections and hearing loss. But the two main U.S. chinchilla suppliers to research labs have for years violated the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which enforces that law. Until the pandemic descended, the two suppliers sent hundreds of animals to U.S. labs.

    Those suppliers failed to identify and treat sick and injured animals, kept them in filthy barns and excrement-laden enclosures, and failed to clear dead animals, according to USDA inspection reports recently restored to full public view. One supplier, Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR) in Chatfield, Minnesota, has a 9-year record of violations and was to have faced an agency judge in April at a hearing; that hearing was postponed because of the pandemic.

    MCR is the only chinchilla provider listed in the Buyers Guide produced by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). “How is this business allowed to continue to operate given the issues that have been repeatedly identified?” asks Cathy Liss, president of the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), which advocates for lab animals.

  • Japan ends its COVID-19 state of emergency

    open train doors show many commuters wearing masks

    Concerns that crowded commuter trains in Japan would help spread COVID-19 have, so far, not been realized.


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

    Japan yesterday declared at least a temporary victory in its battle with COVID-19, and it triumphed by following its own playbook. It drove down the number of daily new cases to near target levels of 0.5 per 100,000 people with voluntary and not very restrictive social distancing and without large-scale testing. Instead, the country focused on finding clusters of infections and attacking the underlying causes, which often proved to be overcrowded gathering spots such as gyms and nightclubs.

    “With this unique Japanese approach, we were able to control this [infection] trend in just 1.5 months; I think this has shown the power of the Japanese model,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared at a press conference yesterday evening announcing the lifting of the state of emergency.

  • U.S. lawmakers unveil bold $100 billion plan to remake NSF

    National Science Foundation headquarters

    Bills would shake things up at the National Science Foundation.

    Maria B. Barnes/National Science Foundation

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) would get a sweeping remake—including a new name, a huge infusion of cash, and responsibility for maintaining U.S. global leadership in innovation—under bipartisan bills that have just been introduced in both houses of Congress.

    Many scientific leaders are thrilled that the bills call for giving NSF an additional $100 billion over 5 years to carry out its new duties. But some worry the legislation, if enacted, could compromise NSF’s historical mission to explore the frontiers of knowledge without regard to possible commercial applications.

    The Endless Frontiers Act (S. 3832) proposes a major reorganization of NSF, creating a technology directorate that, within 4 years, would grow to more than four times the size of the entire agency’s existing $8 billion budget. NSF would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation, and both the science and technology arms would be led by a deputy reporting to the NSF director. (NSF now has a single deputy director; the slot has been unfilled since 2014.) 

  • Study tells ‘remarkable story’ about COVID-19’s deadly rampage through a South African hospital

    Two people in front of St. Augustine’s Hospital

    A coronavirus outbreak at St. Augustine’s Hospital in Durban, South Africa, caused 119 infections and 15 deaths.

    AP Photo

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

    On 9 March, a patient who had recently traveled to Europe and had symptoms of COVID-19 visited the emergency department of St. Augustine’s, a private hospital in Durban, South Africa. Eight weeks later, 39 patients and 80 staff linked to the hospital had been infected, and 15 patients had died—fully half the death toll in KwaZulu-Natal province at that time.

    Now, scientists at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have published a detailed reconstruction of how the virus spread from ward to ward and between patients, doctors, and nurses, based on floor maps of the hospital, analyses of staff and patient movements, and viral genomes. Their 37-page analysis, posted on the university’s website on 22 May, is the most extensive study of any hospital outbreak of COVID-19 so far. It suggests all of the cases originated from a single introduction, and that patients rarely infected other patients. Instead, the virus was mostly carried around the hospital by staff and on the surfaces of medical equipment.

  • Court rules ‘Dueling Dinos’ belong to landowners, in a win for science

    Two fossilized dinosaur skeletons displayed in a museum

    A court ruling clarified ownership of the “Dueling Dinosaurs.” Part of the specimen is shown here at auction. 

    AP Photo/Seth Wenig

    A legal saga that threatened to upend fossil hunting in dinosaur-rich Montana has drawn to a close, and paleontologists are breathing a sigh of relief.

    The Montana Supreme Court this week ruled that fossils are not legally the same as minerals such as gold or copper. Therefore, Montana fossils, including a dramatic specimen of two dinosaurs buried together, belong to people who own the land where they are found, rather than to the owners of the minerals underneath that land.

    The four-to-three decision upholds the way U.S. scientists have long approached questions of fossil ownership. It appears to defuse a potentially explosive 2018 ruling by the federal Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that fossils went to the owners of mineral rights.

  • Doubts greet $1.2 billion bet by United States on a coronavirus vaccine by October

    a patient receives a shot in her arm

    A clinical trial of the Oxford vaccine, now manufactured by AstraZeneca, began in the United Kingdom last month.

    Oxford University Pool via AP

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

    Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s bid to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine faster than any previous vaccine, is both turning heads and raising eyebrows with a major new investment that promises to shave weeks off its already ambitious timeline.

    Warp Speed’s earlier target of mass immunizations of Americans starting in November already had many scientists and public health officials wondering whether the clinical trials needed to ensure a vaccine for the new coronavirus was safe and effective before widescale use could possibly be completed in time. But in a 21 May press release, Warp Speed upped the ante when it announced an investment of up to $1.2 billion in a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca, noting that the delivery of the first of at least 300 million doses should arrive in October.

  • They redesigned PubMed, a beloved website. It hasn’t gone over well

    a person with their hands up in front of a laptop
    Tero Vesalainen/Istockphoto, adapted by M. Atarod/Science

    PubMed, the massive database of biomedical literature maintained by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is one of the U.S. government’s most popular websites, with some 2 million users daily. So when something at PubMed changes, it doesn’t go unnoticed.

    Unfortunately for the site’s caretakers, however, a sweeping redesign unveiled this week has left many PubMed users fuming—and airing their sometimes curse-laden complaints on social media.

    “Am I the only one who hates the new PubMed?” tweeted @LCneuroscience, the laboratory of David Weinshenker, a geneticist at the Emory University School of Medicine, on 19 May, the day after NCBI rolled out its remake.

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