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Posts Tagged ‘ethics

Science Policy Around the Web – December 8, 2017

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By: Roger Mullins, Ph.D.

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Chemical Safety

Chlorpyrifos Makes California List of Most Dangerous Chemicals

Last Wednesday, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) passed a vote to add the organophosphorus pesticide Chlorpyrifos to Proposition 65, an extensive list of over 900 chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. While Chlorpyrifos was previously considered for inclusion on this list in 2008, updated scientific information gave the OEHHA cause for reassessment.

This new data included further information on the neurodevelopmental toxicity of Chlorpyrifos in humans and wildlife. Of particular concern to this board was its harmful effect on fetal brain development. Central to this decision was the extensive review of scientific evidence provided in the 2014 and 2016 EPA Human Health Risk Assessments, as well as new and additional findings not previously reviewed in these assessments.

On a national level, the findings of earlier EPA risk assessments resulted in a national ban on homeowner use as far back as 2000. The recent 2014 and 2016 reports further cemented the evidence for pervasive neurodevelopmental toxicity and also highlighted the danger of dietary exposure from residues in drinking water and crops. An all-out ban on Chlorpyrifos was proposed in 2015, revoking all pesticide tolerances and cancelling its registrations, but this was ruled out by the current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2017. This pesticide is still under registration review by the EPA, which re-evaluates their decision on a 15-year cycle.

Inclusion on California’s Proposition 65 list does not amount to a ban within the state, though products containing Chlorpyrifos will have to be labeled as such starting in late 2018. This action on the state level stands in contrast to federal decisions, and is a revealing lesson in regard to the complexity of national response to scientific evidence.

(Sammy Caiola, Capital Public Radio)

Gene Drives

US Military Agency Invests $100m in Genetic Extinction Technologies

Gene-drives, an emerging powerful gene-editing technology, have been drawing considerable attention and controversy for their proposed use in disease vector control. This method involves the release of an animal that has been genetically modified into a wild population, with the aim of breeding in genes that have been designed to reduce the species’ ability to spread disease. These introduced genes are preferentially inherited, resulting in their eventual dominance in the population. For example, a gene could be designed and introduced to provide resistance to a particular parasite or reduce fertility. This technique is proposed for use in controlling mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus, as well as to halt the spread of invasive species.

Controversy over this technique however also hinges on its strengths. The primary concerns are the likelihood of animals with favorable modifications crossing over international borders, downstream effects on dependent species, and the possibility of irreversible harm to the ecosystem if the technique is misapplied. Appropriately, much of this concern comes from fellow scientists. In light of this, scientists and policy-makers alike have been proactive about addressing the safety and ethical issues presented, coming up with a set of specific guidelines to advance quality science for the common good. These entail an effort to promote stewardship, safety, and good governance, demonstrate transparency and accountability, engage thoughtfully with affected communities, stakeholders, and publics, and foster opportunities to strengthen capacity and education. Consensus on these issues is intended to help move this promising field forward in the face of growing public scrutiny.

Recently, a trove of emails from US scientists working on gene drive technology was acquired under the Freedom of Information Act and disseminated to the media. Some of these emails revealed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s engagement with a public relations company to influence the UN moratorium on the use of this technology. The Foundation has long been a financial supporter of the Target Malaria research consortium that seeks to develop gene drives for the eradication of Malaria. The concern surrounding the release of these emails realizes the common fear of scientists involved in research with the potential to fall under the public eye, as ironically, even attempts to recruit expertise in portraying your research favorably may be seen as damning.

This will inevitably be true of any powerful emerging technique to come in the future as well. With the advance of science’s ability to address problems effectively, there will be obstacles towards implementing new technologies and addressing concerns from the communities they may affect. Some of these will be valid and cause for moratorium and introspection, and some will be more attributable to sensationalism. Understanding and navigating these differences will be an increasing and ever-present concern for policy-minded scientists.

(Arthur Neslen, The Guardian)

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December 8, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 28, 2017

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By: Patrice J. Persad, PhD

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Mental Health

Brain Patterns May Predict People at Risk of Suicide

Suicide is the second common cause of death for adults under 27 years old in the United States. In light of this, being able to identify individuals who are more likely to attempt suicide may transform suicide prevention initiatives’ outcomes.

At the end of last month, scientists published that machine learning (ML) algorithms were able to yield accurate prognoses by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) profiles to differentiate subjects with suicidal thoughts (17 cases) and those without (17 controls) . After being exposed to a display of thirty words classified as positive (some examples: “kindness,” “carefree,” and “innocent”), negative (some examples: “guilty,” “evil,” and “gloom”), or pertaining to suicide (some examples: “lifeless,” “hopeless,” and “apathy”), each participant’s brain activity, or “neural signature”, for each word was captured by fMRI.

The accuracy of predicting individuals who had experienced suicidal thoughts was calculated as 91%. Upon stratifying the cases, a portion of those who had experienced suicidal thoughts were successfully identified as having attempted ending their lives in the past (nine out of 17). From categorizing individuals by suicide attempt status, the ML algorithm’s predictions were 94% accurate. The study’s authors envision clinical applicability, including improving patient surveillance, which could impact the suicide rate and lead to treatment or therapies concentrating on the cerebral areas identified by the algorithm. However, the researchers counsel that the study must be replicated with more subjects, particularly across different demographic groups and including individuals that have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders but do not experience suicidal thoughts.

Various ethical concerns are raised by the application of this research, including the complications surrounding valid consent and how the life insurance industry could use the data. Classification of potential thoughts by ML may intrude privacy beyond what volunteers may feel they are consenting to when they agree to be recorded by fMRI or similar technologies. Neural signature classification in patients may have secondary uses, which can expand outside of medicine and healthcare areas, and must be evaluated. Misuse by life insurance companies, inviting discrimination against candidate insurance policy holders because of true and false classification of suicide ideation from fMRI, is a hypothetical scenario.

(Jon Hamilton, National Public Radio)

Species Conservation

‘Gene Drives’ Are Too Risky for Field Trials, Scientists Say

Consider the following illustration. On the island of New Zealand, a clan of non-native stoats, short-tailed weasels, are pulverizing numbers of the endemic takahes, flightless birds. Settlers in the 1800s had set stoats free through the terrain to prey on the rabbits, disturbers and unwanted consumers of agricultural crops. Thus, the stoat in this case may have been thought of as posts in a living rabbit-proof fence. Consequently, impacts on the native ecosystem were and are negative underlining the decline in and harm to takahes and other flightless bird species, such as the kiwi, New Zealand’s national bird. This currently heralds the question “How can population sizes of invasive species, such as these stoats, be reduced?”

A proposed solution to the aforementioned question features the germline genome editing system CRISPR to introduce genetic elements designed to undermine the reproductive success of a particular species. The idea of a gene drive system is to increase the inheritance, or frequency, of a particular variation in a gene. The CRISPR system can be applied to introduce variation in a gene essential for a given species’ reproductive system. When an animal carrying a CRISPR edited copy of a gene mates with an animal carrying a functional copy of the gene, their offspring will inherit one altered copy and one regular copy. Eventually, as this genetic variation becomes frequent enough, two individuals carrying the altered copy are likely to mate, producing infertile offspring. Then the number of invasive species’ members, the stoats for example, would drop as a result.

Are there any caveats to the CRISPR-based gene drive system for species conservation? A research team headed by Kevin M. Esvelt, the first proposer of gene drives for wild populations, used population models and stimulations to revealed a vital finding: if several gene-drive-modified organisms of an invasive species came into contact and bred with wild-type organisms of the same species, the population of the species as a whole in its native habitat would decrease over time. In other words, the encounter between a wild-type organism and gene drive organism is inauspicious if mating transpires in the species’ native habitat. Based on these findings, the researchers stressed prudence in initiating this application in field studies, which echoed discussions lead by the National Academy of Sciences in 2016.

One alternative may be to engineer gene drives to deteriorate after a certain number of generations. However, according to Esvelt in the context of eradicating vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, restricted gene drive systems affecting only several generations (out of many) may be ineffective in vector populations.

Although the opening example’s setting is New Zealand, the future development and employment of CRISPR-based gene drive systems depend on international cooperation plus participation because other nations may experience the impact of an ecosystem beyond their designated borders. For formulating proper safeguards before field testing commencement, voices from the scientific community, political arena, general community, and other domains across potentially affected countries must be amplified and heard for maximizing the protection of all species.

(Carl Zimmer, New York Times)

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November 28, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – October 24, 2017

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By: Jennifer Patterson-West, Ph.D.

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Healthcare

Under Trump Rule, Nursing Home Residents May Not Be Able To Sue After Abuse

In October 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) listed a final rule that prohibited pre-dispute agreements binding patients to arbitration. Subsequently, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) along with a group of nursing homes sued the CMS resulting in a preliminary injunction on the ruling. In June 2017, revised requirements for long-term care facilities that eliminated the prohibition were released by the CMS.

NPR journalist, Ina Jaffee, highlighted the major limitations of the revised requirement.  Jaffee points out that the new rule will make lawsuits by nursing home residents nearly impossible. The long-term implication is that many victims of negligent care will not have their cases heard by a jury.

The revised requirements require that “all agreements for binding arbitration must be in plain language” and that “the agreement must be explained to the resident and his or her representative in a form and manner they understand.” Senior counsel Kelly Bagby with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) notes that the requirement for plain language may be besides the point if that patients are required to sign these agreements.

An elder law attorney, Wendy York, noted that patients are given large stacks of papers to signs without fully comprehending the implications of what they are signing.   These patients are often recovering from a trauma, major surgery, or under the influence of mind altering medications while filling out paper work.  The new ruling would require that the “resident acknowledge that he or she understand the agreement,” however an agreement can be required for admission thereby limiting the option of a resident to refuse the agreement if they are in need of care without access to better accommodations.

These rulings could have larger implications on patient and patient advocate’s legal recourse after receiving substandard treatment. Although the new rules are an improvement on the status quo, they do not go as far as those previously proposed.  Unfortunately, it is our most vulnerable citizens that will have more limited protection under the current ruling. However, when the new rules will go into effect remains to be seen.

(Ina Jaffee, NPR)

 

Genetic Testing

A baby with a disease gene or no baby at all: Genetic testing of embryos creates an ethical morass

Increasing affordability of genomic testing has given people more access to information regarding their own genes and those of their potential offspring. Ethicists and experts are trying to consider the implications of genetic information moving into the hands of consumers. How can or should this information be used to make real-life decisions?

With respect to reproductive medicine, preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) can be used to evaluate potential diseases or disorders in in vitro fertilized (IVF) embryos.  In a 2013 federal report on fertility clinic success, PGT testing was reported for approximately 5% of IVF conceptions. However, experts suspect this figure underestimates the frequency of PGT testing and report that requests are growing. A survey of experts by STAT news relayed that “requests to transfer embryos with genetic anomalies are rare.”

The number of diseases that are tested for in prospective parents and embryos are expanding, some of these diseases have a more severe health impact than others. The question now is where to draw the line? Beyond the scope of severe diseases, patients may want to select an embryo with a specific trait.  In these cases, the physician has to decide what is within the ethical bounds of reproductive medicine.  For example, some members of the deaf or dwarfism community reject the notion that their DNA is categorized as a “genetic anomaly” and may desire a child that shares these traits.

Currently, there are no U.S regulation for these cases. However, regulations in the United Kingdom prohibit the transfer of embryos with severe abnormalities. To provide a foundation for clinicians facing these questions, an opinion was recently published from members of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine outlining potential rationales for providers to assist or decline to assist the transfer of embryos with genetic anomalies.

(Andrew Joseph, STAT)

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October 26, 2017 at 10:05 am

Science Policy Around the Web – August 25, 2017

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By: Rachel F Smallwood, PhD

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Science policy

US science envoy cites Trump policies in a public resignation

The US Department of State houses the US Science Envoy Program, designed to allow accomplished US scientists to represent the country’s interests and goals in science and technology. These envoys engage international representatives, advocate for institutions, endorse science education and its importance, and advise the government on scientific matters. On August 21, 2017, in a letter to President Trump, Professor Daniel Kammen resigned his position as envoy. His focus in the program was on “building capacity for renewable energies.”

In his open letter to the president, he cited Trump’s leadership and policy decisions as his factors for leaving. He condemned Trump’s reluctance to call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He also stated that the president’s refusal of the Paris Climate Accord in addition to denial and undermining of environmental and energy research could not allow him to continue his position in good conscience. The first letter of each paragraph in the document spelled out the word “impeach.” He ends dramatically by asserting that Trump’s presidency is harmful to the United States and “threatens life on this planet.”

It is no secret that the scientific community has serious concerns regarding the Trump administration’s views of and plans for scientific policy and research. This past April a March for Science was held on Earth Day with the intention of demonstrating the importance of science and the amount of support it garners. There has also been worry and discussion over what the administration’s recommendations will be for prioritizing funding for scientific research.

Professor Kammen’s resignation highlights a struggle for scientists in his position. For an administration that does not seem to appreciate the gravity of scientific matters such as climate, energy, and health research, there seems to be an important need for knowledgeable and experienced advisors to help them. However, when those experts’ advice is not heeded, and when the administration takes a stance that the experts are opposed to, it is difficult for them to continue. While resignations in these kinds of positions often seem to have a domino effect, at least one envoy is planning to remain in his position, and the state department confirmed it is in the process of appointing more.

(Jeff Tollefson, Nature)

Scientific Training

NSF issues a reminder that grant-winning universities should be formally training students in ethics

The National Science Foundation recently posted a notice reminding universities and research institutions of their responsibilities in teaching their trainees about ethical research practices. In 2007, the US Congress passed the America COMPETES Act, which requires institutions applying for funding from the NSF to show that they are educating their students and trainees on good science and ethical practices. The NSF enacted this by implementing the Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR) requirement; however, they only gave vague guidelines, allowing institutions flexibility in executing this training. In 2010, they did recommend that institutions incorporate a risk assessment to determine the needs for training.

In 2013, the NSF’s Office of the Inspector General published an independent report on compliance with the RCR requirements. There were several areas where institutions were falling short. Almost a quarter of the schools had no training at all when first contacted, and no schools conducted risk assessments. Additionally, a substantial portion of the universities that did having training implemented went with a minimalist approach, only have a short, online course. However, not all of the blame can be placed on the institutions. The America COMPETES Act did stipulate that the NSF should create written guidelines or templates for institutions to follow in implementing these trainings.

Despite the RCR requirements’ failure to induce institutions to provide satisfactory training in ethical science, the NSF has reiterated the importance that universities and institutions comply with providing this training. At a time when facts are being called “fake news” and leaders are making statements and decisions against scientific consensus, it is more important than ever that young scientists learn to conduct sound, ethical science and interpret it in honest and realistic ways. While it is good that the NSF is encouraging this, many hope that in the future they will take a more proactive and forceful stance in enforcing it.

(Jeffrey Mervis, Science)

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August 25, 2017 at 10:58 am

Science Policy Around the Web – July 25, 2017

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By: Allison Dennis B.S.

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Gene Drives

With Great Power There Must Also Come–Great Responsibility!

 

On the horizon of life-changing biotechnology up for ethical debate, nestled between CRISPR and whole genome sequencing, are gene drives, which have the potential to alter genes for better or for worse across generations. During sexual reproduction each of the two versions of a gene carried by a parent has a 50% chance of being inherited by each offspring. The frequency of each version of a gene across a population is influenced by rates of mutation, migration, genetic drift, and natural selection. Gene drives present the technology to circumvent these natural forces. By introducing molecular machines capable of damaging a particular version of a gene along with the version they prefer to the cells that give rise to eggs or sperm in an organism, scientists can shift the likelihood that their version will be inherited by that organism’s offspring from 50% to 100%. Upon fertilization the undesired gene will be damaged by the molecular machine and the desired gene will used as a template to repair the damaged copy, allowing two copies of the desired gene to be permanently introduced in the offspring and inherited by the next generation. Clever applications have been proposed to design mosquitoes resistant to malaria, mice unable to transmit lyme’s disease, or salmon able to grow to full size in half the time. More bold applications would use the technology to render female mosquitoes sterile, the ultimate insecticide. However, for each one of these beneficial applications exists the devastating opposite, which could be employed to accelerate the spread of disease. Altering population genetics of one species could accidentally devastate ecosystems.

U.S. defense organizations have taken notice of this powerful technology. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, has launched the Safe Genes program in an effort to anticipate and address potential risks of introducing uncontrolled or undesired gene drives. The program awarded a collective $65 million to seven labs hoping to develop counter technologies including self-fizzling drives, chemical control methods, and gene drive vaccines. This summer, to delve deep into the intellectual discussion JASON, tackled the issue. This independent group of scientists, holding stellar academic records and top-secret clearances, meets once a year to address questions posed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Department of Defense, CIA, and FBI. However, their report is likely to be classified. (Ewen Callaway, Nature News)

Violence Against Women

Beginning to Understand the Nature of Intimate Partner Violence Through Data Curation

Careful evaluation of the nature of homicides of women has revealed that 55% result from intimate partner violence (IPV). The study conducted by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) looked into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 10,018 women over the age of 18 between 2003 and 2014 across 18 states. In addition to cases where the victims were intimate partners of the suspect, IPV-related homicides included cases where the female victims were friends, family, or those who intervened during an incident of IPV.

Nationwide political attention was drawn to the issue of IPV starting in the 1990s. The Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress in 1994 and sought to legally define domestic violence as a crime external to the purview of private family matters. Research has revealed several risk factors associated with intimate partner violence, including threats with weapons, stalking, obsessive jealousy, sexual assault, and controlling behavior. However, the effectiveness of political and public health interventions remain unclear due to the overall decline in violence over the last decade and believed underreporting of individual incidence.

In an effort to more broadly understand the “who, when, where and how” surrounding violent deaths that occur in the United States, including those connected with IPV, the CDC created the National Violent Death Reporting System in 2002. By pooling information gathered by local law enforcement officers, coroners, medical examiners, and state agencies the CDC is hoping learn more about “why” so many violent deaths occur, towards the goal of developing and evaluating public health interventions. At its inception, funding only supported the participation of six states. However, involvement has been increasing from 17 states in 2006 and 42 in 2016 with the goal of eventually including all 50 states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

This study confirmed that homicide as a result of IPV occurs across all age groups and racial ethnic groups. However, young black and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected compared with white and Asian women of the same age group. Overall, black and indigenous women experienced significantly higher higher homicide rates, including non IPV related cases, than women of other races. Women died as a result of the use of firearms in 53.9% of all cases. While the “why” still remains unclear, this 15 year glance back sheds some light on the groups most affected by violence inflicted by their own partners, providing opportunity for targeted prevention. (Camila Domonoske, NPR)

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July 25, 2017 at 6:42 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 24, 2017

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By: Joel Adu-Brimpong, BS

Source: Flickr by Selena N. B. H. via Creative Commons

Scientific Publishing

Fake It Until You’re Caught?

The beauty of the scientific enterprise is that it is, eventually, self-correcting. Thus, occasionally, a scientific paper may be retracted from a journal based on new revelations or due to reports of ethical breaches. Tumor Biology, a peer-reviewed, open access journal disseminating experimental and clinical cancer research, however, seems to have set a record for the number of retracted papers at once. In a single notice, in April, Tumor Biology retracted 107 articles; yes, one hundred and seven!

Springer, the former publisher of Tumor Biology, reported that the retracted papers were due to a compromised peer review process. Like other journals, Tumor Biology allows the submission of preferred reviewer information (name and email address) when submitting a manuscript. In the case of the retracted papers, “the reviewers were either made up, or had the names of real scientists but false email addresses.” Unsurprisingly, the manuscripts sent to the fake reviewers consistently received positive reviews, bolstering the likelihood of publication.

Springer, of course, is not the first and only major publisher to uncover issues in its peer-review process leading to mass retractions. A 2016 paper reveals similar issues from other major publishers including SAGE, BioMed Central and Elsevier. These breaches are particularly worrisome as some of the retracted manuscripts date back to the beginning of the decade. This means that studies floating around in other journals may have built on knowledge reported by the retracted studies. As if this was not enough, Springer has also come under scrutiny for individuals listed on Tumor Biology’s editorial board, several of whom appear to have no association with the journal and/or in at least one case, have been deceased for several years.

These discoveries are particularly disturbing and are percolating at a time when biomedical research spending is increasingly being scrutinized. Richard Harris, the award-winning NPR journalist, in his recent book Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions (2017), highlights major areas in biomedical research that produce wastes, such as studies that may incite researchers, and even whole fields, to follow a phantom lead. In the meantime, it does appear that journals are taking measures to ensure that these breaches are minimized, if not prevented entirely. (Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup, ScienceInsider)

Research Funding

Fighting On All Fronts: Republican Senators Advocate for DOE’s Research Funding

Republican senators are, again, urging President Trump to rethink potential budget cuts to research programs; this time to the Department of Energy (DOE). On Thursday, May 18, 2017, six top senate republicans, including well-known congresspersons Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), drafted a letter to the President reminding him of the importance of government-sponsored research. In the letter, they re-echo, “Government-sponsored research is one of the most important investments our country can make to encourage innovation, unleash our free enterprise system to create good-paying jobs, and ensure American competitiveness in a global economy.” They go on, “It’s hard to think of an important technological advancement since World War II that has not involved at least some form of government-sponsored research.”

If it seems like we’ve been down this road before, it’s because we have. Earlier this year, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, and his colleagues signaled disagreement with proposed budget cuts to the NIH and CDC in President Trump’s fiscal blueprint. The Republican congressman reiterated the importance of agencies like the NIH and CDC in conducting crucial biomedical research and leading public health efforts that protect Americans from diseases. The strong commitment to advancing biomedical research and the health of the American people led to an omnibus agreement that repudiated President Trumps proposed cuts, increasing NIH funding by $2 billion for the 2017 cycle.

The letter by Senator Alexander and colleagues was drafted following reports suggesting that the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy could face a reduction in funding of up to 70 percent for the 2018 fiscal cycle.  In a separate follow-up analysis, Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee reported on the growth and importance of clean energy jobs and its contribution to the economy. Cuts to the DOE’s research programs could have profound impact on not only millions of jobs but also America’s ability to stay competitive in the global economy as it shifts towards renewable energy and resources. (Geof Koss, ScienceInsider)

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Science Policy Around the Web – October 2, 2015

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By: Danielle Friend, Ph.D.

Health Policy Conflict of Interest

Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets

Coca-Cola recently released statements indicating that they have given more than $118 million in funding to health-related projects with approximately $22 million allocated to health research. A complete list of projects funded by Coco-Cola can be found here. The release of these numbers is presumed to be in response to growing fears and complaints regarding the possibility of biased influence of food and beverage companies support on nutrition research. Additionally, the New York Times reports that Coco-Cola recently used $1.5 million to help create the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that emphasizes the importance of physical activity rather than diet in weight control and maintenance. The Global Energy Balance Network has partnered internationally with scientists to help spread the message that “weight conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.” Conversely, health experts state that Coco-Cola’s message is misleading and is an effort to reduce the responsibility that companies like Coco-Cola have played in developing sugary drinks that contribute to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Sales of sugary drinks have significantly sank in the last few years and companies like Coco-Cola are likely using this new tactic to encourage health-conscience consumers to focus more one exercise than diet in relation to weight loss and maintenance but clearly brings up concerns about the ethics of this tactic. (Anahad O’Connor, New York Times)

NIH

Dr. Insel to leave NIH, headed for Google

The director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Tom Insel, recently announced that he will be leaving his position after 13 years to join the Google Life Science team (GLS). During his time at the NIH, Dr. Insel is credited for shifting the field of mental health toward a more biology based, biomarker approach. In particular, Dr. Insel’s work at the NIH has focused on trials demonstrating that many of the medications that are currently available to treat mental illness are not as effective as previous thought. When asked what type of projects Dr. Insel will be leading at GLS, he responded that the projects were currently still undefined but would likely involve the development of technology that could aid in public health by tracking and predicting behavior related to mental illnesses. Tom also stated that the “GLS mission is about creating technology that can help with earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions. I am joining the team to explore how this mission can be applied to mental illness.” Google Life Sciences is currently a division of Google X and will soon become a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., a conglomerate of several companies linked to Google.

NASA Discovery

Water on Mars

Scientist at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed this week that they have identified liquid water on Mars. The news was announced by James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division. This news is especially exciting to those who are interested in examining whether life exists on other planets. “We haven’t been able to answer the question, ‘Does life exist beyond Earth?’ But following the water is a critical element of that. We now have, I think, great opportunities in the right locations on mars to thoroughly investigate that”, Green states. The house committee on Science, Space, and Technology held hearings on Tuesday titled “Astrobiology and the Search for Life Beyond Earth in the Next Decade” with the mission of reviewing scientific methods to be used to search for life, examine recent scientific discoveries in the field of astrobiology, and to assess the prospects of finding life beyond Earth over the next decade. Much of the hearings will focus on the Mars Exploration Program. (Kenneth Chang, New York Times)

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October 2, 2015 at 9:00 am