Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Archive for March 2012

Science Policy Around the Web – March 29, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Thoughts on academic scientists giving media interviews –  David Kroll on the Take As Directed blog gives 7 great tips for how scientists can prepare for media interviews.

The APA’s response to DSM-V panel conflict of interest paper – The American Psychiatric Association has released a response to the Cosgrove and Krimsky paper examining conflicts of interest among the panel writing the next version of the “bible” of psychiatric illness diagnosis and treatment.  Their letter states that nearly three-fourths of the DSM-V panel members report no ties with industry and that their screening process for significant conflicts of interest is solid.  Others have pointed out that the conflicts of interest are more prevalent in areas where medication is a front-line treatment.  What do you think?

One-click science marketing – Martin Fenner’s commentary in Nature Materials gives a short primer on how scientists can use free web services to promote, communicate, and collaborate with both colleagues and the general public.

Have an interesting science policy link to share?  Let us know in the comments!

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March 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 22, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

1 solution to global overfishing found – That solution, say the authors of a landmark field investigation of co-managed tropical coral reef fisheries, is a combination of top-down and bottom-up management to balance livelihoods and fish populations.   “The study’s main finding is that co-management has been largely successful in sustaining fisheries and improving people’s livelihoods. … A comparison of co-managed reefs with other reefs showed that co-managed reefs were half as likely to be heavily overfished….”  (via EurekAlert)

Financial Conflicts of Interest and the DSM-5A paper by Lisa Cosgrove and Sheldon Krimsky takes a look at the new competing interest disclosure policy for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and finds that the panel deliberating on the next version of the “bible” of psychiatric illness, the DSM-5, still has considerable financial conflicts of interest.  (via PLoS Medicine)

Flu Debate Highlights Opacity of Public Health Research – Ian Fyfe on the Speaking of Medicine blog points out that the recent controversy on potentially dangerous avian flu research highlights a problem at the science/society interface:  the lack of public transparency of public health research.  He points out that the public does not have the knowledge to make informed decisions on such issues and that “[t]his level of uncertainty about work that has already been done and that carries significant risks to the population can only form a barrier between the public and the scientific community. Asking the public to then trust this same scientific community to evaluate and decide between two worrying prospects on their behalf is difficult.”

Have an interesting science policy link to share?  Let us know in the comments!

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March 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Holes in Veterans’ Health

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By: Danielle Daee

In 2006, the independent, non-profit Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Gulf War and Health published their findings based on a literature review of Gulf War veterans’ health.  This committee, consisting of scientists and health professionals, was charged by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to examine available data from studies (largely those funded by the VA) to (1) reveal any consensus conclusions and (2) make recommendations for future studies.  In their report, the committee revealed many shortfalls by the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) in recording medical and combat histories of veterans.  In addition, the committee described that Gulf War veterans generally report more overall symptoms compared to controls.  Several multiple symptom disorders (e.g. fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome) also were diagnosed more often in Gulf War veterans.  Despite this increase in symptoms, the committee could not identify a unique set of symptoms that could be defined as a specific Gulf War Syndrome.

The inability to define a syndrome has generated a public controversy among some veterans, scientists, and physicians who feel that a syndrome designation could aid in diagnosis, treatment, and benefit procurement.  As a result the congressionally appointed Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC), staffed by independent scientists and veterans, undertook their own investigation.  Their report, published in 2008, contradicts the IOM findings and asserts that there is sufficient evidence to suggest the existence of a multisymptom Gulf War Illness caused by neurotoxic exposures.  The disparate findings triggered congressional hearings in an attempt to establish a clear consensus.

According to the IOM committee chair Dr. Lynn Goldman, the two studies fundamentally differed in their treatment of the available data.  Goldman asserted that the IOM’s rigorous review of published studies revealed errors in many study designs that undermined the conclusions of the authors.  As a result, the IOM could not conclude that a unique subset of symptoms comprised a Gulf War Syndrome.  Goldman also contended that the results of some studies and the poor quality of veteran exposure data could not allow the committee to conclude that a specific exposure triggered the increased symptoms reported in veterans.  Goldman held fast to the reality that Gulf War veterans are sicker and report more symptoms than non-deployed veterans.  Consequently, she fully supported the congressional provision for “undiagnosed illnesses” to be compensated for veterans.  In addition, Goldman highlighted the IOM’s recommendation to the VA to standardize the criteria for veterans to receive healthcare and benefits.  This measure was intended to alleviate the bureaucratic obstacles that often hindered a veteran’s benefit procurement.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems clear that much of this debate could have been avoided if the VA and DoD kept better records of veterans’ health prior to deployment (including vaccinations), health post-deployment, deployment locations, and field exposures.  With this information, perhaps a consensus conclusion would have been likely between the two committees.  Additionally, a clear picture of every veteran’s health prior to and after deployment would ease the burden on the VA to validate service-related illnesses.  Moving forward, these records may improve provided that the IOM’s recommendations to the VA and DoD are implemented.

IOM report: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11729&page=1

RAC report: http://www1.va.gov/RAC-GWVI/

Written by danidaee

March 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 14, 2012

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By: Science Policy For All Contributors

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

111 Organizations Call for Synthetic Biology Moratorium – A coalition of environmental, watchdog, and social justice organizations have issued a position paper calling for a complete moratorium on synthetic biology activities.  The link in the article to the report seems misdirected, but the original position paper can be found here.  (by Elizabeth Pennisi via ScienceOnline)

UK medical research in jeopardy due to animal import boycott – Another article on this topic reiterated that only two airlines (which have circuitous routes that extend shipping times and thus animal stress) are now carrying research animals into the UK.  This is particularly bad news for anyone who needs to import a transgenic animal (animal with a particular genetic background of interest in studying certain diseases) that might only be available from a non-UK source.  (by Maria Cheng via the Associated Press)

Why Don’t Americans Elect Scientists? – An excellent question, given the dearth of scientists in Congress.  John Allen Paulos suggests that one reason is “that an abstract, scientific approach to problems and issues often leads to conclusions that are at odds with religious and cultural beliefs and scientists are sometimes tone-deaf to the social environment in which they state their conclusions. A more politically sensitive approach to problems and issues, on the other hand, often leads to positions that simply don’t jibe with the facts, no matter how delicately phrased.”  This article touches on the odd love-hate relationship Americans have with scientists.  (via the New York Times)

Have an interesting science policy link to share?  Let us know in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Controversial H5N1 Influenza Research

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By Adele Blackler

H5N1, the highly pathogenic and deadly avian flu, has been causing panic since it first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997.  Though the flu has a high mortality rate, it is very rarely transmissible between humans, and thus there has been no widespread epidemic or pandemic resulting from H5N1[i].

However, the announcement last year by two research groups, from the U.S. and the Netherlands, that they had identified key mutations that made the flu highly transmissible among ferrets, caused an outcry among the public and the scientific community.  The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, NSABB, raised concerns that full publication of the research methods could give potential bioterrorists a new weapon and asked that only redacted methods be published, to make it difficult to duplicate the results[ii].

Recently, a special World Health Organization (WHO) panel convened to discuss the flu research and, after discussion with the research authors and leading scientists in the field, recommended that the current voluntary halt to research should continue until a more thorough analysis of laboratory biosafety could be completed[iii]. However, in the interest of aiding public health efforts and scientific research, the WHO panel recommended that both papers be published with complete methods, meaning that the published methods will be complete enough to be replicated by other labs around the world with access to the starting material.  In response, the NSABB has requested a second look at the manuscripts and research and Congressional Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has questioned why this research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the first place[iv].

In an influenza pandemic, early detection and tracking is essential to being able to slow the spread of the virus and mitigate damage by quickly developing a vaccine.  Understanding what mutations can make the H5N1 flu transmissible could help with early detection of emerging pandemic-causing strains and could make tracking the flu easier. This research could play a key role in understanding how the avian flu can become transmissible among humans, and that could help with early detection.  Ultimately, if the H5N1 flu becomes highly transmissible among humans and turns into a pandemic-causing strain, early detection could save a countless number of lives.

Is the possibility of great public benefit enough to allow the H5N1 research to continue?  Supporters of continuing this line of research point to the 1970s, when a new type of experiments involving altering DNA made headlines.  Recombinant DNA research was also temporarily halted due to safety concerns, yet today DNA recombination experiments are routinely performed with no risk to health and safety[v].

Or is the risk that the deadly virus could escape the lab simply too great to justify continuation of the research? If research continues, what security measures should be in place? Further complicating the current debate is that many scientists in favor of H5N1 research are disagreeing about the biosafety level (BSL) a lab should have in place while working with the virus.  Currently, most infectious disease labs work with the second highest level of biocontainment, BSL3.  This is the same biocontainment level that was used for the current H5N1 research.   Individuals in favor of raising the required BSL to the highest possible level (BSL4) argue that it is the safest way to work with the virus and minimize exposure. However, few labs in the nation are equipped for BSL4, and requiring such a high level of security might unduly restrict who can perform research on H5N1, effectively putting an end to most of the research on the virus[vi].

Currently, it looks like research on the engineered flu strain will resume at the end of the voluntary moratorium, and the results will most likely be published with full, not redacted, methods.  However, the debate on whether or not this research should continue, and if the proposed benefits outweigh the possible risks, will continue for quite some time.


[i]            http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6070/802.full

[ii]            http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2012/03/nsabb-members-react-to-request.html

[vi]         http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-03/asfm-nhv030112.php

Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 13, 2012 at 7:55 am

Posted in Essays

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Science Policy Around the Web – March 8, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Gulf on Open Access to Federally Financed Research – An updated view of the legislation introduced and reasoning behind both sides of the open access debate.  Should federally-funded research be available to the public free of charge?  The final answer isn’t likely to come in an election year, says Guy Gugliotta in the New York Times.

Are the Kids Alright?  – Medicating children is becoming more common every year, yet it has historically been difficult to get drug makers to properly safety-test their products in children.  Bob Grant in The Scientist outlines two laws up for reauthorization before Congress which have encouraged safety studies in minors…and possibly saved lives.

The Work-Life Integration Overload – A recent survey by the Association for Women in Science found that both men and women reported a significant amount of work-life imbalance, particularly among married-with-children scientists.  Their survey was far from scientific but does capture a picture of a generation of scientists struggling to balance work with family demands.

Have an interesting science policy link to share?  Let us know in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 8, 2012 at 8:33 pm

HPV—an ounce of prevention could be worth its weight in gold

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Image courtesy of NCI Visuals Online

By: Danielle Daee

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an important health issue because it is the most common and recurrent sexually transmitted infection worldwide and it can cause genital warts and cancer (including cervical, anal, oral, and penile cancers).  While many of these cancers are rare, cervical cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer mortality in women worldwide.  Current screening procedures for cervical cancer are very successful in identifying precancerous lesions in women; however, regular screenings remain rare in impoverished populations.  As a result, there has been a push for the development of an HPV vaccine to combat the challenges of HPV infections.

Merck recently developed an efficacious, quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil) that prevents infection by HPV strains 16 and 18 (which cause ~70% of cervical and anal cancers) and HPV strains 6 and 11 (which cause 90% of genital warts) in both men and women.  Although universal vaccination would have clear benefits for both sexes and would help achieve herd immunity, the development of vaccination programs has been stymied by costs.  Currently, to be effective a three-dose regimen ($120 per dose) is required.  This is particularly cost-prohibitive for target, impoverished populations worldwide.  Furthermore, the vaccine will only prevent ~70% of cancers so additional screening procedures will still be necessary for effective cancer detection, driving preventative costs even higher.

Although HPV vaccines are clearly effective and important, it is evident that current costs will prevent the widespread use of the vaccines.  Moving forward, it is necessary to develop a more cost-effective vaccine by reducing dosage and increasing efficacy.  Research efforts should be focused on identifying common peptide targets that could enhance the cross-reactivity of HPV vaccines so numerous variants could be simultaneously targeted.  Additionally, it is imperative that scientists and physicians vociferously support the preventative value of an HPV vaccination program.   Strong support is essential to persuade international health organizations and local insurance companies that the value (in terms of both cost and human life) is worth the effort to provide affordable and convenient prevention for at-risk individuals.

Written by danidaee

March 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Essays

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