Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – August 22, 2017

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By: Leopold Kong, PhD

20170822_Linkpost_1

Image: By Tkarcher [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Zika

The case of the disappearing Zika

Early last year, there were over 35,000 suspected and confirmed cases of Zika virus infection per week in South America. This year, the number has plummeted below 1,000 per week. In the United States, only a single case of local Zika transmission has been reported this year in contrast to 224 in 2016.  Neither improved mosquito control nor climate change can explain the good news.  Experts attribute the drop in Zika cases to the development of immunity against the virus, which has spread rapidly.  Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), says he is not “entirely surprised” by this trend, but is “impressed by how steep it has been”.  A vaccine is still needed to curb potential future epidemics, but its development is now complicated by lack of populations susceptible to infection.  Increased Zika cases have been reported in Mexico this year, which could lead to outbreaks in Texas. Currently, a vaccine developed by NIAID is entering a placebo-controlled study of 2400 people in Zika-affected areas.

(Jon Cohen, Science)

The Scientific Workforce

Graduate Student immigration in the US and the UK shifting to Canada and Australia

In 2015-16, the United States and United Kingdom hosted nearly 384,000 and 200,000 international graduate students respectively. The two countries have been the world’s top two hosts for graduate students since the 1970s.  However, since the travel ban in the United States and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, the numbers have been dropping.  In contrast, universities in Canada and Australia are reporting spikes in their application numbers.  Joint surveys conducted in February and July found that about a third of US universities have decreased international graduate student applications, particularly from India, the Middle East and China.  Sayed Mashaheet, a native of Egypt who earned his PhD in crops science at North Carolina State University, says that many international students see the United States as a riskier investment since the election.  With its friendly citizenship pathways, Canada maybe benefiting from these changes. The University of Toronto received 27% more international-student applications this year for a total of 15,000 compared to 11,951 in 2016.  Sofia Solar Cafaggi chose to pay her way through medical school at the University of Toronto instead of attending the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for free because she will be eligible for Canadian citizenship after three years.  “In the US, I would have stayed an alien for at least the next decade, and that made me nervous about career prospects given the current political drama,” she says.  If the shift continues for the US and the UK, “some programmes will simply collapse,” says Anita Gopal, international officer for the US national Postdoctoral Association in Rockville, Maryland.

(Virginia Gewin, Nature News)

Science Funding

Trump’s list of Science Priorities aims to steer federal agencies’ focus

On August 17, the White House issued a memo to federal agencies outlining how their research money should be used.  Written jointly by the White House Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy, the document sets the White House’s priorities for the next budget request.  This year, the memo lists five priorities in this order: military superiority, security, prosperity, energy dominance, and health.  The list greatly contrasts with Obama’s research priorities that included global climate change, clean energy, Earth observations, advanced manufacturing, and innovations in the life sciences, biology and neuroscience.  The list also appears to contradict President Trump’s own 2018 budget requests.  For example, the memo focuses on support for breakthroughs in military technologies and for helping older Americans remain healthy despite large cuts for those same areas in previous proposals.  Notably, the memo supports research in precommercial technology in energy, which would presumably include the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.  However, President Trump has previously called for this agency to be shut down.  The budget for the 2019 fiscal year are due next  month.

(Jeffrey Mervis, Science)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

August 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm

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