Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Archive for December 2014

“Anti-science” Republicans?

leave a comment »

By: Bethanie Morrison, Ph.D

photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

With the Grand Old Party (GOP), or the Republican Party, taking over the U.S. Congress in 2015, some members of the science community are “facepalming” as they prepare to become subject to a congressional majority who is said to be “anti-science” and therefore restrictive on federal funding for research. The anti-science perception of the GOP is characterized by their perceived disbelief in certain scientific claims that the vast majority of scientists have reached a consensus on, such as man-made global warming and human evolution. The question that I have is, what makes questioning the general consensus and advocating restraint on federal spending “anti-science?”

Often times, it’s the loudest voices in the GOP that express the disbelief. However incorrect their views may or may not be, is the simple act of disagreeing with the scientific majority something that should be considered “anti-science?” Author Lee Harris wrote in The American, “Belief in the infallibility of the latest scientific consensus may be useful in the process of learning about science when we are children, but the history of science teaches us that the scientific consensus of today is no more immune to future scientific revolutions than the scientific consensus of the past. To label as anti-science anyone who is skeptical of the current scientific consensus may be a clever political stunt, but it betrays a hopelessly naïve idea of the nature of science. The real enemy of science is not the skeptic, but the true believer.” In his article, Harris made the excellent point that some of the greatest scientific findings in history went against the majority. Think about it. Darwin. Kepler. Copernicus! These men all went against the accepted “norm” of the times, and we would not have the knowledge that we have today without them having gone rogue. Therefore, just because certain Republicans pay attention to the few lonely, but hard-working and intelligent scientists that disagree with the accepted scientific paradigms, does not make them “anti-science.”

There are other facts that must be taken into consideration before making a blanket statement such as: “Republicans are anti-science.” First, mainstream Republicans should not necessarily be confused with the very vocal and ultra-conservative Tea Party, which for now is under the Republican flag. Data from a study published in Environmental Politics examining the environmental concerns of 4 U.S. political parties shows that, “In particular, members of the Tea Party are less likely than the rest of the GOP to accept human evolution and trust scientists for information on climate change.” Does this finding make the Tea Party “anti-science?” It makes them skeptics, and that is all that can be said. Being skeptical is a hallmark of a good scientist! While the Tea Party may be skeptical of evolution and climate change, the Republican party as a whole should not be labeled “anti-science” because of a few very loud skeptics with what can be seen as a different political agenda.

Secondly, Republicans have been in favor of increased research funding in the past and are not specifically against it today. In a 2003 policy update written by the NIH Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis, “The effort to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget began as a movement among Senate Republicans and has had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate since the first session of the 105th Congress. Based on the substantial increases provided to NIH in fiscal years (FYs) 1999 through 2002, the effort created a climate supportive of the move to double the NIH budget to a level of $27.221 billion by 2003, and has been responsible for the increases provided in the appropriation measures for NIH.” In a nutshell, this is pointing out that Republicans were responsible for the initial doubling of the NIH budget more than a decade ago.

Currently, up for debate in Congress is the reauthorization of America COMPETES, a bill originally signed by Republican President George W. Bush and later reauthorized by President Obama. This act aims to invest in innovation through research and development, and to improve the competitiveness of the United States. The current GOP has introduced their own version of COMPETES, called the FIRST act, which aims to streamline federal investments at federally funded organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by funding research and development (R&D) to address national needs. The bill has become controversial among scientists because many believe it dictates which research these organization should fund. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a major backer of this bill and Chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, has stated: “…NSF has misused taxpayer dollars and funded too many questionable research grants – money that could have gone to higher priorities. For example, how does the federal government justify spending over $220,000 to study animal photos in National Geographic? Or $50,000 to study lawsuits in Peru from 1600 – 1700? We all believe in academic freedom for scientists, but federal research agencies have an obligation to explain to American taxpayers why their money is being used on such research instead of on higher priorities. In a time of constrained federal spending, the FIRST Act protects NSF’s budget in order to keep America on the cutting edge of science.” As a result, under the FIRST act, these federally funded organizations will simply be held more accountable for grants being funded using taxpayer money.

Some scientists say that this regulation will hinder possible groundbreaking, yet obscure, research. “Opponents in the scientific world and their political allies believe that, at its heart, the GOP assault isn’t about bringing greater accountability to the EPA or NSF, but rather a larger lack of trust in science that could soon spur efforts to micromanage NIH, the Department of Defense and other agencies that, all told, spend tens of billions on scientific research every year,” says Maggie Severns, an education reporter for Politico. The perceived “lack of trust” in science likely stemming from the GOP’s view that research money is being wasted on useless scientific endeavors. On the other hand, no one would expect a privately funded organization to fund research that does not have the promise of meeting a goal of the organization. For example, a privately funded breast cancer organization would not fund research on worm development unless the scientists could tie the findings of worm development directly to human breast cancer. Why should the government be different? Why, if they are the entity funding the research, should they not have a say in what research will benefit their constituents more than other research?

This being said, the original COMPETES act has support from new Republican leaders: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the current ranking member of the Appropriation subcommittee that controls the budgets of the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers; Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the current ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The support of these major Republican players may tip the scales in favor of the reauthorization of the COMPETES act, and would be an example of a bipartisan relationship between Congress and President Obama with regard to science and technology.

In summary, the Republican party, commonly deemed as “anti-science,” has done nothing to warrant such a title. They have been in favor of funding federal research programs all along. These funding mechanisms do come with some guidelines, but they have not said that science relevant to our particular population should not be studied or funded. Instead of simply not reauthorizing the Democrat-supported COMPETES act, they have offered up a suggestion for alternative funding in the FIRST act. There is leadership in place that will ensure one of these bills gets passed and federally funded science will continue. Finally, as scientists ourselves, we should always take a look at all sides of an argument, not just the most popular one. Would you consider yourself to be “anti-science” if you were to disagree with some popular findings? Probably not. You would consider yourself to be a critical thinker and good scientist. Therefore, we should be willing to extend the same courtesy to the Republicans and discontinue the use of the term “anti-science” when describing the 114th U.S. Congress.

 

 

 

 


 

 

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 31, 2014 at 9:15 am

Posted in Essays

Tagged with , , , ,

Science Policy Around the Web – December 30, 2014

leave a comment »

By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D

photo credit: Synapse journal via photopin cc

The Peer Review Process

Peer review – reviewed. Top medical journals filter out poor papers but often reject future citation champions

The peer review process for publishing scientific work was itself examined in a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, led by sociologist Kyle Siler of the University Of Toronto, Canada, used a previously compiled database of manuscripts and reviewer reports to follow-up on 1,008 manuscripts submitted to 3 top medical journals, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the British Medical Journal, and The Lancet. Only 63 of the papers were accepted, while 757 were later published elsewhere. By examining the reviewer’s reports and number of subsequent citations received, the study found that those with the most positive reviews did indeed have a greater number of citations, but surprisingly 12 out of the 15 most-cited articles were ‘desk rejected’ by at least one of the journals. Siler suggested this could reflect a fear of “unconventional research” while Michele Lamont, a Harvard University sociologist, suggested that both a sensitivity to market dynamics that favor sameness and editors that lack a sense of what is “truly creative” in scientific research could be influencing the journal’s selection process. Editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, Fiona Godlee, countered that a paper “might be rejected simply because it falls outside the journal’s clinical focus” and expressed unease at the use of citations as a measure of scientific excellence. In agreement with these sentiments, a Nature survey found that the most-cited papers were frequently about commonly employed methods rather than truly ground-breaking science. Daniele Fanelli, an evolutionary biologist who studies publication bias, recommends evaluating the quality of published papers by performing a second round of peer review and/or by determining whether the results were successfully replicated or translated into the clinic, but admits this would be a very time consuming process. (Nature, Mark Peplow)

 

Stem Cell Research

Discredited STAP cells were likely embryonic stem cells

Numerous independent research groups as well as a verification team from Japan’s RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) failed to reproduce results of two articles published online by Nature January 29th describing the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) method for generating stem cells. An investigating committee recently released a report stating that the STAP-derived stem cells, chimeric mice, and teratomas purportedly formed from those cells “all originated in cultures contaminated with (embryonic stem) cells.” The committee concluded that the 3 STAP stem cell lines generated were in all likelihood not the result of adult cell reprogramming, but rather due to contamination with 3 previously established embryonic stem cell lines. Although suspected, no evidence for deliberate contamination was found. Haruko Obokata, lead author on the STAP papers, was however found guilty of “research misconduct involving fabrication” of two images for which no supporting experimental data was found. This is in addition to 2 previous counts of misconduct for fabrication and falsification of images reported by a separate committee on April 1st. In July Nature retracted the papers. Obokata resigned December 19th after trying and failing to reproduce her results while working with CDB’s verification team. In addition to Obokata, the committee laid significant responsibility on two senior researchers, Teruhiko Wakayama and Yoshiki Sasai for poor oversight. Sasai committed suicide in August. Although no longer working at RIKEN, who has cut CDB’s staff by half in the wake of the stem cell controversy, Wakayama is willing to accept disciplinary action for his part in the debacle. (ScienceInsider, Dennis Normile)

 

Global Health – Ebola

Ebola’s lessons, painfully learned at great cost in dollars and human lives

Over 7,500 people have died from the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although still far from being resolved, the epidemic has taught us a number of valuable lessons. Chief among these lessons is the realization that our global health organizations are woefully unprepared for a pandemic. The extreme difficulty of resource distribution in resource-poor areas is one glaring deficiency. Many other the lessons learned stress the necessity of acting locally: gaining trust by involving local leaders, listening and responding to people’s concerns, and respecting traditions and cultural norms as much as possible. Switching from black to white body bags, white being the traditional color of mourning; and designing Ebola treatment units to be more like a hospital and less like a prison by replacing walls with fences and adding windows were small changes that made a difference to a suffering community. Speed and agility are often more effective than size. Just as the United States began construction of 17 large treatment units in Liberia, the infection rate there dropped and rose in Sierra Leone. Nancy Lindborg of the U.S. Agency for International Development noted, “You can get a strategy and it becomes and immovable constraint . . . You have to be adaptable to the course of the disease.” Rich countries need to care about what is happening in the developing world, and all countries need to improve monitoring and responsiveness to outbreaks. Congress recently approved over $5 billion for emergency Ebola aid and $800 million for the Global Health Security Agenda to help thwart future outbreaks. Although proactive funds are less immediately attractive, it is much easier and cheaper to stop an outbreak early. The Predict project’s disease surveillance program, funded in large part by USAID, has identified approximately 800 previously unknown viruses and uses mathematical models to predict where the next epidemic may strike. Finally, it is important prevent hysteria by keeping fears grounded in reality through education and effective communication. (The Washington Post, Lena H. Sun, Brady Dennis, and Joel Achenbach)

 

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 30, 2014 at 9:00 am

Posted in Linkposts

Tagged with , , , ,

Science Policy Around the Web – December 26, 2014

with one comment

By: Sara Cassidy, M.S., Ph.D.

Federal Science Policy

New recommendations to tackle seafood fraud

Do you know what’s on your plate? The Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of State and Commerce, has released its recommendations to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The term “seafood fraud” includes all manner of seafood misrepresentation, including mislabeling or substituting one fish for another. There are many steps in the supply chain in which this can occur, including at the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging facility. It can occur deliberately, when high-quality fish is exchanged for a less desirable, cheaper, or more readily available species. Fraud hurts legitimate fisherman and fisheries, as sustainable fishing tend to be more expensive and labor intensive. It also hurts the consumer. “Seafood is one the most traded commodities in the world. Consumers should be able to have confidence their seafood was legally and sustainably harvested,” said Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. And finally, IUU fishing and seafood fraud negatively impacts the environment when illegal over-fishing strips the ocean of necessary resources. The recommendations are open to public comment on the Federal Register until Jan 20th 2015.  (Media Note, www.state.gov; www.federalregister.gov; Andrew Sharpless and Ted Danson, HuffingtonPost)

 

Conservation Policy

A tough sell to protect endangered corals and fish in Florida

Biscayne National Park is in southern Florida, between Miami and Homestead. The park preserves Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reefs. However, conservation of this public habitat, one of largest reef tracts in the US, is being hampered by arguments over how best to execute it. On one hand, federal officials want to ban fishing in 10,522 acres of the park to replenish the dwindling populations of snapper and grouper and rehabilitate the deteriorating seabed. On the other hand, state officials and the marine industry favor incremental fixes and toughening of existing rules. Saltwater recreational fishing accounts for $7.6 billion for Florida’s yearly economy.

A common thread throughout the debate is the idea of fairness and consistency in the execution of federal preservation policies. Strict rules designed to protect resources and animals on national lands – such as no hunting in Yosemite – are proving more difficult in the country’s largest marine park. “Biscayne is a national park,” said Brian Carlstrom, the park’s new superintendent. “If this were national park land” — as opposed to national park water — “there would be no question of what resources can be extracted from here.”  (Lizette Alvarez, NY Times)

 

Federal Science Policy

New report questions the strength of the FBI’s case in 2001 anthrax attacks

Beginning on Set 18th 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several media outlets and two U.S. senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others. The resulting FBI investigation, called Amerithrax, one was largest and complex in U.S. history. In 2008, the FBI concluded that Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist working for the U.S. Army, was responsible for the anthrax attacks. Ivins committed suicide before the FBI findings were released. Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their analysis of the FBI investigation and concluded that the investigation could not rule out the possibility that someone other than Ivins committed the crime, similar to a previous report by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. The GAO report cites that contractors hired by the FBI used poor sampling techniques and statistical methods when evaluating the anthrax spores. Additionally, the GAO report chastises the FBI for failing to understand genetic variation in bacteria over time; the genetic similarity of four of the attack samples to samples found in Ivins lab was key to the FBI’s case. The GAO recommended that the FBI develop a framework for validation and statistical approaches for future investigations and the FBI agreed to these recommendations.  (http://www.gao.gov, David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

 

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 26, 2014 at 11:01 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 23, 2014

leave a comment »

By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

photo credit: pennstatenews via photopin cc

Workforce Development – Federal Policy

Yes, you can attend that career event, says the U.S. government

Whether a graduate student or a postdoc aspires to hold an academic position, or transition to a career away from the bench, developing skills other than those required at the bench are important. However, some principal investigators express reservations about sending their trainees to career development events; they consider it breaking the law, since they believe that federally funded trainees are meant to be doing research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and several other agencies approached the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting a policy clarification, which has resulted in the Council on Financial Assistance Reform (under the U.S. OMB) stating that graduate students and postdocs, even when supported by federal funds, are authorized to spend time away from the lab to develop career-related skills, since they hold “dual roles” as trainees and employees. Vanderbilt University postdoc, Lindsey Morris, says that without specialized career training, “you get to the end of your postdoc, and what do you do? You haven’t spent any time building those really critical career development skills, and you’re left without a job.” Though the OMB statement does not specifically state how much time a trainee can spend on career-related activities outside of lab, the guidelines “say very clearly that trainees are permitted to go and seek these opportunities. … You cannot misunderstand the language. There are no two ways of interpreting it”, says Ambika Mathur, Dean of the graduate school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. How the clarification and its implementation play out will be closely monitored over the next few years, to determine if further modifications are needed, says Michelle Bulls, director of the NIH Office of Policy for Extramural Research Administration, who worked on the statement. She says, “It will take about 3 years to figure out if this is good, bad, or indifferent.” (Rachel Bernstein, Science)

 

Stem Cells

European court clears way for stem-cell patents

The European Court of Justice ruled on December 18 that human embryonic stem (ES) cells made from unfertilized eggs can be patented, on the basis that these cells lack the capacity to develop into a human being. These cells are created through parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction in some animals, but one that does not result in normal development in humans. This ruling counters the general ban imposed by the court in 2011, banning patents on human ES cells. The original ruling banned patents that involved destroying cells capable of forming human embyros, as well as patents on ES cells made from unfertilized eggs. The ruling had met with opposition from many scientists. “We have known for a very long time that parthenogenetic embryos are not capable of developing very far after implantation”, says Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem-cell scientist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London. In a press release, the European court said: “The mere fact that a parthenogenetically-activated human ovum commences a process of development is not sufficient for it to be regarded as a human embryo.” A couple of patents filed by the International Stem Cell Corporation, a biotechnology company in Carlsbad, California, for methods to generate corneal tissues from ES cells made from egg cells, had been rejected by the UK, and now it’s up to the UK courts to decide if these cells are eligible for patent protection. The ruling “is generally good news”, says Clara Sattler de Sousa e Brito, lawyer based in Munich, Germany. She adds that though it opens up space to argue that human ES cells obtained from other methods like cloning, are not capable of developing into a human being, and thus should be patentable, arguing scientifically that ES cells from spare human embryos do not have this capability would be harder. (Ewen Callaway and Alison Abbott, Nature)

 

Environmental Policy

The Arctic keeps warming, and polar bears are feeling the heat

 The air temperatures in the Arctic are increasing twice as fast as temperatures in the lower latitudes, says a federal report, released on Wednesday, co-authored by sixty-three scientists from thirteen countries. The report was peer reviewed by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program of the Arctic Council and released in San Francisco at an annual gathering of the American Geophysical Union. The effect of the Arctic temperature rise, a result of global warming, can be seen in many different places. Alaska has recorded temperatures nearly 20 degrees higher than the January average. The amount of snow in Eurasia in April was at its lowest since 1979, and snow in June in North America was the third lowest on record. “Snow disappeared three to four weeks earlier than normal in western Russia, Scandinavia, the Canadian sub-Arctic and western Alaska due to below average accumulation in winter and above normal spring temperature,” said Jacqueline A. Richter-Menge, a senior research engineer for NOAA’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. Geoff York, senior director of conservation at Polar Bears International, wrote that the polar bear population declined from about 1,200 to 800 in the western Hudson Bay area of Canada between 1987 and 2011, though there might be some good news for bears in other parts of the Arctic. Overall, the findings from this report highlight an observation made by University of Virginia environmental professor Howard Epstein last year: “The Arctic is not like Vegas. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” (Darryl Fears, The Washington Post)

 

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 23, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – December 21, 2014

leave a comment »

By: Courtney Pinard, Ph.D

photo credit: NetIQ’s Flickr via photopin cc

Cybersecurity

Full extent of cyberattacks are revealed

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) has decided to partner with the private sector this month after the full extent of last years cyberattacks was revealed. A series of high-profile cyberattacks hit U.S. businesses, including one targeting JPMorgan Chase earlier this year that affected 76 million individuals and 7 million small-business accounts. Hackers accessed the names and contact information of customers, but not account or Social Security numbers.

This analysis comes after North Korea hacked Sony Pictures, accessing thousands of private documents. “Cyberattacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication, and it is critical that the industry and government collaborate to mitigate these threats,” SIFMA’s president and chief executive, Kenneth Bentsen, said in a statement. A possible consumer and corporate response to these cyberattacks was discussed in a recent New York Times article. Aside from assuming that all information is public, we may have another option to increase cybersecurity. The apps Snapchat and Confide provide enhanced security because messages are deleted as soon as they are read through a user-interfaced trick, according to Howard Lerman, the co-creator of Confide. The development of this new technology may prevent future high-profile cyberattacks, which could threaten national or global security. (Mario Trujillo, The Hill; Farhad Manjoo, New York Times)

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Posted in Linkposts

Tagged with

Science Policy Around the Web – December 16, 2014

leave a comment »

By: Lani S. Chun

Marijuana Policy

Congress takes first step to federally decriminalize cannabis programs in states where they are legal

Despite its status as a Schedule I drug (defined as a substance with “no currently accepted medical use”), compounds derived from cannabis have been shown to have potential medical uses (e.g. PTSD, epilepsy, pain, spasticity, movement disorders, and urinary dysfunction). In addition, there has been increasing support from the public to legalize marijuana, which has resulted in the legalization of marijuana for various uses in 26 states. Responding to public sentiment and the conflict between state and federal laws, the Congress passed a spending bill that prevents prosecution by the Department of Justice for state-legal marijuana activities. How this bill affects future marijuana policy is yet to be seen, but it has the potential to further free up resources to study the compounds present in marijuana and is undoubtedly recognition of the need for better drug regulation and enforcement. (Matt Ferner, Huffington Post; Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Washington Post; Barbara Koppel, et al., Neurology; Denise Lu, Ted Mellnik, and Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post; Whitehouse.gov)

 

Environmental Health Policy

ICCM to meet this week on the regulation of hazardous chemicals which may persist in the environment

From Dec. 15-17, the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) will have its fourth annual meeting to discuss the implementation of a set of policies adopted in 2006 called the Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management (SAICM). The goal of the SAICM is to ensure that “by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.” Funding for the SAICM is provided by a mix of countries and inter-governmental agencies, and provides for the development and application of policies enacted under the SAICM. Policy discussions at the conference in Geneva will include subjects such as lead paint, nanotechnologies/nanomaterials, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), and a new proposed issue: environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants. These subjects are of particular interest because of the real-world effects seen in both human and non-human populations such as the progressively younger onset of puberty in girls, lead paint poisoning, colony collapse disorder, and EDC-linked cancer. (SAICM.org; KUOW.org; Megan Allison, Boston; Eric Mack, Forbes; Damian Carrington, Guardian)

 

Environmental Policy – Conservation

Scientists attempt to forecast species extinction rate, warning a sixth mass extinction may be imminent

While the debate on climate change and what to do about it rages on, there is no doubt that human activity is leading to the accelerated rate of species extinction. Current estimates now put the possible occurrence of mass extinction (defined as a >75% species loss) anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years from now. The top causes of extinction include exploitation, habitat degradation/loss, climate change, invasive species, pollution, and disease, with climate change expected to take up a bigger part of the pie as time goes on. Scientists are calling for the development of better computer models to better detect and understand current and future threats to species survival. This will aid conservation efforts by giving scientists the ability to stave off possible causes of extinction and rebuild endangered populations. (David Shukman and Matt McGrath, BBC News; Richard Monastersky, Nature; Robin McKie, Guardian)

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 12, 2014

leave a comment »

By: Amie D. Moody, Ph.D.

photo credit: timtom.ch via photopin cc

Government Spending

How the NIH fared in the federal spending bill

On Tuesday evening, Congress finally reached an agreement for the 2015 federal budget. The NIH has been appropriated with $30 billion of the $1.013 trillion federal budget. This is a mere $150 million increase over the 2014 budget, and is insufficient to maintain pace with inflation. However, there are some key areas that are specifically earmarked for increases. The National Institute of Aging receives a 2.4% increase over 2014 levels, with an emphasis placed on studying Alzheimer’s disease. And, of course, some institutes will receive a $25 million increase for the BRAIN Initiative. In addition to these highlights, the bill funds a $12.6 million “jump start” for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act pediatric research initiative, a program that will otherwise be funded through contributions from tax returns.

 

Included with the budget was a report that contained certain directives that bear watching. The first of these directives echoes a proposal of Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), and urges the NIH to lower the age that investigators receive their first grant—the average age is currently 42. Although this is an issue on the NIH’s radar, the steps necessary to lower this age are unclear. A second directive voices lawmakers’ concerns that not enough emphasis is placed on disease burden when the NIH awards grants to study disease. Biomedical research advocates understand that the appropriations committee is expressing concerns and setting expectations. However, the advocates typically feel that the NIH should award grants based on the quality of the proposal, and not bias the award system towards criteria set by Congress. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

 

Environmental Policy – Conservation

Wildlife pathogens ravage the world around us

We live in a world where international travel is easy and common. Although this can be a strong positive for the global economy, it can also mean increased ease in the spread of wildlife pathogens. A. Marmaduke Kilpatrick, Ph.D., a disease ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, outlines the “big three” of these devastating pathogens. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a fungus that has caused the extinction of hundreds of species of frogs across every continent but Antartica. The fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans causes white-nose syndrome in bats. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America, and is still spreading westward across the continent. Finally, there is the West Nile virus. Although not as deadly as the other two pathogens, West Nile virus can reduce local populations of some bird species by up to 90% and be transmitted to humans. Not surprisingly, the one of these three that poses a threat to humans, the West Nile virus, is the pathogen that receives the most research funding. But it is also the least devastating. This raises the question of, in these days of reduced research funding, do the plights of the ecosystem warrant the money and effort to better understand the causes of wildlife pathogens and implement management policies? The sentiment of Dr. Kilpatrick is yes. Although the pathogens may not always be communicable to humans, they can still have very real impacts on livestock and crops, and thus still impact the lives of humans. Thus, higher-risk conservation efforts are needed to better detect, track, and stop the global march of wildlife pathogens. (A. Marmaduke Kilpatrick, The Scientist)

 

Public Health

The effectiveness of debunking vaccine myths

There is a common belief that communication and education are “silver bullets” when it comes to swaying a person’s beliefs. A study published on Monday in Vaccine found that educating people about popular myths associated with the flu vaccine did reduce misbelief. However, this new information did not actually increase the likelihood of people actually getting vaccinated. In fact, it actually reduced the likelihood! If misperceptions are not driving force behind vaccine hesitancy, then what is? One key reason is “motivated reasoning,” a psychology concept explaining why people change their minds in an argument. Essentially, if a person believes strongly about a subject, even when a facet of their perception is challenged, they fill in the “gap” with other reasons. Brendan Nyhan, Ph.D., still believes that it is important to ensure that the accurate information is readily available to the public. Yet, we do need to better understand how to effectively convey accurate public health messages. (Tara Haelle, NPR)

 

 

 

 

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 12, 2014 at 11:16 am