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Posts Tagged ‘Global Warming

Science Policy Around the Web – January 20, 2017

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By: Jessica Hostetler, PhD

Climate Change

Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year

The New York Times reports that scientists named 2016 the hottest year on record. This follows the record set in 2015, which followed the record set in 2014 and marks the first time in history a temperature record was set three years in a row. The data is in agreement from three governmental institutions: the USA’s NOAA and NASA and the United Kingdom’s Met Office. The findings were based on “measurements from ships, buoys and land-based weather stations” used to compute an average global temperature of the earth’s surface. The El Niño weather pattern “released a huge burst of energy and water vapor into the atmosphere” and intensified warming in 2015 and 2016, but scientists agree the upward trend over many years is caused by increasing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

The warming increases were particularly pronounced in the arctic with “temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean” potentially exacerbating sea ice melting and coastal erosion. The heating of the ocean has implications for rises in ocean levels and increased tidal flooding. The calculations from NASA showed over a half a degree Fahrenheit of warming from 2013 to 2016 which is the largest three-year increase since records were started in 1880 and of “the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have now occurred since 2000.” Both NOAA and NASA will soon report to cabinet members appointed by the Trump Administration, with concerns raised from “agencies about whether their data will now be subject to political manipulation.” (Justin Gillis, New York Times)

Human Research Policy

New Rules Ease Consent Requirements for Scientists Using Patient Specimens

STAT News reports that the outgoing Obama Administration issued new rules on Wednesday, January 18th for conducting research with human participants referred to as the “Common Rule” , which include “stepping back from proposals that would have imposed significant new regulatory requirements on scientists.” Earlier versions of the proposal would have required informed, written consent for the use of biospecimens such as “cells, blood, tumor samples, DNA” etc. that were obtained during medical procedures even if the samples had all identifying information removed. Scientists argued that such a change would stifle research; for instance if researchers wanted to use specimens from a previous study where consent was given for a new study, a new consent would be required which would require tracking down each participant.  This would prove challenging for several new White House initiatives such as the Precision Medicine Initiative or the Cancer Moonshot. The proposed change drew 2100 comments during a 90-day public comment period following release in September 2015, and the Department of Health and Human Services responded by making changes to the proposal. (Sharon Begley, STAT News)

The final rule, as posted by the HHS website, includes the following:

  • The requirement for consent forms to provide potential research subjects with a better understanding of a project’s scope, including its risks and benefits, so they can make a more fully informed decision about whether to participate.
  • Requirements, in many cases, to use a single institutional review board (IRB) for multi-institutional research studies. The proposal from the NPRM has been modified, however, to add substantial increased flexibility in now allowing broad groups of studies (instead of just specific studies) to be removed from this requirement.
  • For studies on stored identifiable data or identifiable biospecimens, researchers will have the option of relying on broad consent obtained for future research as an alternative to seeking IRB approval to waive the consent requirement. As under the current rule, researchers will still not have to obtain consent for studies on non-identified stored data or biospecimens.
  • The establishment of new exempt categories of research based on the level of risk they pose to participants. For example, to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden and allow IRBs to focus their attention on higher risk studies, there is a new exemption for secondary research involving identifiable private information if the research is regulated by and participants protected under the HIPAA rules.
  • Removal of the requirement to conduct continuing review of ongoing research studies in certain instances where such review does little to protect subjects.
  • Requirement that consent forms for certain federally funded clinical trials be posted on a public website.

(Sharon Begley, STAT News)

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January 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

Science Policy Around the Web – January 17, 2016

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By: Kseniya Golovnina, PhD

Source: Wikimedia Commons, by Copyright (c) 2004 Richard Ling, under Creative Commons

Biodiversity

The Mysterious World of Antarctica is More than Penguins

On December 21, 2016 the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) released a video, which was made under the sea ice in O’Brien Bay, south of Casey research station in East Antarctica. This was the last part of the Australian Antarctic program, led by Dr. Johnny Stark, with the aim to observe the effect of climate change and ocean acidification due to increased carbon dioxide emissions on the Southern Ocean seafloor communities.

AAD biologist Dr. Glenn Johnstone and his team launched a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) through the small hole drilled in the ice and captured a rare glimpse of wonderful colorful Antarctic underwater world. They discovered a flourishing community of sea life below the massive ice sheet, at 30 meters below the surface, where the water temperature is −1.5°C year round, and the sea is covered by ice that is 1.5 meters thick for more than 10 months of the year. The video surprisingly revealed “a habitat that is productive, colorful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.”

About 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean and increases its acidity. According to NASA Earth Observatory, increased acidity will increase the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, making the carbonate shells of marine organisms such as corals thinner and more fragile. Higher water temperatures would also decrease the abundance of phytoplanktons, which play an important role in the carbon cycle absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The increased carbon dioxide in the ocean might facilitate the growth of a few species of phyplanktons that take carbon dioxide directly from the water, but overall excess carbon would be detrimental to most ocean species.

Scientists are only now beginning to understand the complex underwater Antarctic ecosystem. Antarctica may be one of the first places where the detrimental effects of ocean acidification are seen, says Dr. Stark. These studies could be a good future indicator of the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on ocean ecosystems. (Australian Antarctic Division)

Food Policy

One or Two Tablespoons of Nutella?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has closed collecting public comments about a regulatory change that would cut Nutella’s labeled serving size by half. More than 650 comments were collected. “One tablespoon or two tablespoons?” – The Washington Post explains the difference. The issue was about the appropriate reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) and product category. Nutella is classified as a dessert topping, with a RACC of two tablespoons. The serving size typically indicates how much Americans consume at a time and not how much they should, to make it easy for people to compare different products.

Its manufacturer, Ferrero, has asked that Nutella be reclassified as a jam or put in a different product category. This would cut the serving size that Nutella displays on its labels to one tablespoon, which would also decrease the sugar and calorie counts. It is already the second request from Nutella’s company since 2014. As they said to the Washington Post “it was simply seeking clarity as it and other companies prepare their new Nutrition Facts labels, slated for release in 2018”. However, critics of Nutella’s FDA petition including Lindsay Moyer, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, warn people about the marketing ploy to trick people into thinking that it has less calories. If Nutella’s serving size is changed to one tablespoon, it could advertise a mere 100 calories per serving — versus roughly 188 calories for two tablespoons of peanut butter, or 196 calories for almond.

At the same time the question of one or two tablespoons seems not so relevant if one takes a look at the company’s website, where they say “you could circle the world with the amount of Nutella produced every year”. U.S. sales of Nutella are up 39% — from $161.4 million to $224.3 million — in the past five years in comparison with 5% for other nut butters. (Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post)

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January 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Perspective on Climate Change: Supporters versus Skeptics

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By: Nivedita Sengupta, PhD

        A recent United Nations report shows that earth’s surface temperature is rapidly hurtling towards a two degrees Celsius increase. Scientists say that the world must stay below two degrees to avoid the worst effects of climate change. However solving this issue can be challenging and overwhelming. The science used to generate the evidence for climate change is complicated and the predictions carry many caveats and asterisks. Nonetheless the major question that stands out is, “What is climate change and why people are skeptic about it?”

The definition of climate change itself triggers a difference in opinion. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change refers to “A change in the climate that persists for decades or longer, arising from either natural causes or human activity”. This definition differs from that in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where climate change preferentially refers to “A change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere.” Instead, UNFCCC defines a change in climate over comparable time periods because of natural causes as climate variability.

Keeping these definitions aside, many policymakers and major corporations worldwide have agreed and expressed willingness to address climate change. They believe the scientific evidence generated so far demands action. But some scientists, economists, industry groups, and policy experts continue to insist that there is no need for policy changes. Ironically many people concede with them and insist that the entire problem is exaggerated. The debate between the supporters and the skeptics is ingrained, and both groups deride each other with countless claims and counterclaims on both the science and proposed policy solutions.

Surprisingly, some climate-change skeptics do admit that the earth is warming. But they debate the cause, its potential impact, and whether human intervention is affecting it. As Myron Ebell, the president elects’ select candidate for leading the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency, stated his views on climate change “I agree that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and its concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing as a result of human activities—primarily burning coal, oil, and natural gas, where I disagree is whether this amounts to a crisis that requires drastic action.”

So what are the premises on which the skeptics insist that the current policies addressing the issue of climate change are unwarranted and dispensable? Broadly, this question can be answered by discussing the views of skeptics versus supporters on three major points of concern.

First, what is global warming and is it really happening?

Skeptics

The skeptics argue that the earth is not warming. They contend that the satellite-based temperature measurements, taken across the earth’s surface, indicate no measurable change in the last 30 years, and that the measuring standards are different in every place resulting in inconsistent readings. Besides, the IPCC’s graph of “global” temperatures is incorrect as they do not state the earlier cool period of about 1400 or a very warm period from about 900 to 1050 when the temperatures in Europe were several degrees warmer than today. They also make the point that warming is natural and if the earth was warmer during those periods and consecutively cooled down via some natural mechanisms, then that will happen in the future too.

Supporters

According to IPCC and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), records of temperature that date back to the distant past, generated by analysis of ice cores and sediments, are quite accurate and suggest that the warming in recent decades is way higher than any period over the past millennium. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said, “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years.” 15 out of the 16 hottest years in NASA’s 134-year record have occurred since 2000.

Second, is there any real impact because of climate change?

Skeptics

Skeptics believe that climate change has no impact whatsoever and is not responsible for the extreme weather catastrophes in recent times. It has happened in the past and has no connection with either global warming or increased levels of carbon dioxide.

Supporters

The supporters says that the impacts are everywhere starting from the melting of polar ice sheets to endangered biodiversity, which will eventually risk human health and society. In the US alone, numerous weather and climate-born billion-dollar disasters have occurred from 1980-2016, the most recent being the historic flood devastating a large area of southern Louisiana.

Third, and the most disputed subject is…

Are human beings really responsible for climate change?

Skeptics

According to skeptics the carbon dioxide levels are not high enough to elicit concern as the current carbon dioxide levels were exceeded in the last 150 years. Besides, they argue that water vapor, and not carbon dioxide, is the significant greenhouse gas because it absorbs more radiant heat than carbon dioxide and makes up about 3% of the atmosphere compared to 0.03% by carbon dioxide. The current level of carbon dioxide contributes to about 3% of the total warming and hence the anthropogenic carbon dioxide contribution to total warming is, at the most, about 0.1%. Therefore carbon dioxide generated because of “human interference” has no discernible role in global warming. They consider carbon dioxide as beneficial for the environment and attribute other factors like aircraft exhaust, cosmic rays, solar winds, magnetic fields and solar intensity as causes of climate change. They state that no definitive factor for climate change has been established yet and any assertive statements about current and future climates should be regarded with skepticism.

Supporters

IPCC in its 2014 climate change report states, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.” Global warming is primarily a problem of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This carbon overload is caused mainly when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas or cut down and burn forests. Burning of fossil fuels to make electricity is the largest source of heat-trapping pollution. Though water vapor is the most abundant heat-trapping gas, it has a short cycle in the atmosphere and cannot build up in the same way carbon dioxide does. Preventing dangerous climate change requires very deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the use of alternatives to fossil fuels worldwide.

In 2015, the Paris Agreement was made within the UNFCCC to deal with climate change by reducing greenhouse gases emissions starting in 2020. So far, 114 out of 197 countries have ratified with the agreement and vouched to cut down emission. On September 2016, the United States of America joined the Paris agreement along with China, another big emission producing country. President Obama called it a top concern and said “For all the challenges that we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other challenge”. In contrast, president-elect Donald Trump has shown a skeptic view on this matter and has described climate change as “bullshit” and a “hoax. He vowed to dismantle the EPA and withdraw United States from the Paris Agreement to reduce the damage on economy created by climate change alarmists. However, there are a handful of elected members who offer some hope to fight the cause of climate change in coming years. Five candidates with strong climate credentials won offices in Congress, and they have impressive personal and political backgrounds. In the present situation it’s critical that the world stays on course with rational, prompt and comprehensive action to mitigate climate change.

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December 8, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 16, 2016

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By: Sterling Payne, B.Sc.

Energy change inventory, 1971-2010 License: Creative Commons

Global Warming

Oceans are absorbing almost all of the globe’s excess heat

Climate change is a massive point of interest in public health. As trapped energy in the atmosphere continues to warm the earth, global ice sheets are diminishing, average temperatures are rising, and weather patterns are becoming more erratic. These changes can both directly and indirectly affect public health in a negative way.

A recent report published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that global ocean surface temperatures have steadily increased in the past century. The massive increase in surface temperature stems from oceans absorbing almost 90% of excess heat that is trapped in the atmosphere due to accumulation of greenhouse gases. Warming oceans lead to the melting of ice and increases in global sea levels, as well as changes in lifestyle of marine species, if not driving them to complete extinction. For example, ice sheets used by polar bears for breeding and hunting are available for less time each year, effectively shortening the time in which the species can be most productive.

The IUCN report adds to a seemingly endless pile of evidence that points to human-induced climate change as a very real thing. In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, it will be interesting to see how each candidate addresses science, and to what degree of significance they assign human-induced climate change. In the interim, here are some helpful tips for reducing your carbon footprint! (Tim Wallace, The New York Times)

Antibiotic Resistance

Use antibiotics wisely

“Neosporin” is the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I get a small cut or abrasion. Sporting the antibiotics neomycin, bacitracin, and polymyxin B, the tiny yellow tube is a breath of relief when trying to prevent an infection. However, after applying my gel-like defense, my thoughts almost always jump to the topic of antibiotic resistance. The quick doubling time of many bacterial species, paired with heavy use of antibiotics, gives rise to antibiotic-resistant strains that are no longer affected by humans’ number-one go-to. As Peter Jørgensen and others state in a Nature comment piece, killing all bacteria is not an option, because our bodies also rely on the microbiome to function properly. Antibiotics don’t recognize the healthy bacteria from the harmful, and when they’re used, simply kill everything.

The double-edge nature of antibiotics paired with growing levels of drug-resistant bacteria makes for a public health issue of paramount importance, one that will be addressed at the UN high-level meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance on September 21, 2016. Jørgensen and others feel that this meeting absolutely needs to address the positive roles of bacteria and the microbiome, and how they are helpful to human survival. The authors propose various strategies for maintaining the resilience of the human microbiome to resistance, such as holding agricultural companies accountable and lessening their use of antibiotics for animal growth, educating the public on antibiotic uses and how resistance develops, and strengthening collaboration between global organizations. All-in-all, the world needs to recognize the impact of bacteria, both positive and negative, on humans and the world we live in. For a visual, informative view on resistance development, watch this video showcasing an experiment conducted by individuals at the Harvard Medical School and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. (Peter S. Jørgensen et.al., Nature Comments)

Public Health

No driver? Bring it on. How Pittsburgh became Uber’s testing ground

I am hard-pressed to think of a situation that defines “science policy” more than the self-driving car trials being conducted by Uber in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, September 14, 2016, Uber rolled out a fleet of around 100 autonomous vehicles to pick up passengers and transport them throughout the city. Though autonomous, each vehicle will have a driver to take control if need be, as well as an engineer to monitor the self-driving system. Despite human additions, the job of getting riders from point A to point B will mostly be up to the vehicle itself. Will Knight, senior editor for the MIT Technology Review, stated the following about his self-driving Uber trip: “I mostly felt pretty safe. However, several times the person behind the wheel needed to take control: once so the car didn’t become stuck behind a truck, and once to avoid another vehicle making a sudden turn”. It will be interesting to see how other riders react, knowing that for the most part, the car is driving without any human input.

Transportation is a large matter of public health. Regardless of the method (bus, train, personal car, etc.), the safety of the people being transported is the highest priority. With the recent death of driver using a Tesla in autopilot mode, I expect the public to be healthily hesitant regarding the deployment/testing of self-driving vehicles. Some Pittsburgh residents feel exactly this way about the current Uber trials. As autonomous transportation moves forward, safety will be at the forefront of all efforts. For some, this means taking the human out of the equation completely. With no shortage of personal vehicles on the road today, autonomous vehicles need to have benefits, and safety absolutely needs to be one of them. (Cecilia Kang, The New York Times)

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September 16, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – July 29, 2016

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Photo source: pixabay.com

Clinical Trials

Europe overhauls rules for ‘first-in-human’ trials in wake of French disaster

Following the disastrous clinical study in Rennes, France in January 2016 that resulted in the death of one volunteer and the hospitalization of five more, efforts are being taken by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to improve identify and reduce risks in human clinical trials. EMA proposed changes to the current guidance on first-in-human clinical trials in a new concept paper which has been released for public comment.

The current guidelines for “first-in-human” (FIH) studies on healthy volunteers date to 2007 after a similar tragedy in London in 2006. Nine volunteers were hospitalized with severe adverse events after receiving a monoclonal antibody named TGN1412 for the first time.

The concept paper states that the role of pharmacology and toxicology data in estimating the therapeutic dose, increases in dosing, and stopping criteria need to be addressed in the revised guideline. Also, other subjects will be addressed which include new instructions for decision-making processes and stopping rules, rolling review of emerging human data during the study, communication to authorities and subjects, and guidance on the type of scientific information to be included in a trial application. The deadline for comments on this concept paper is September 30, after which it will publish a draft revised guideline later this year.

These changes are a direct response to the French clinical trial which has been criticized for its lax design. The trial protocol allowed the study to move to additional phases without external review such as an analysis of pharmacokinetic data of the previous cohort. The prosecutor is still investigating whether involuntary manslaughter charges are warranted in the case. (Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup, ScienceInsider)

Climate Change

Cleaner air may be driving improvements in Chesapeake Bay water quality

A new study suggests that cleaner air may be the main driving force on  the improvement in water quality in the Washington, DC metro area, including the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary. For decades it has suffered from excessive nutrient and low oxygen conditions. Although land-based management practices and improvements to wastewater treatment plants have helped to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, researchers have found that improvement in air quality is the primary driver of improvements in water quality in the area studied – the Upper Potomac River Basin which covers 12,000 square miles in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennslvania, and the District of Columbia. It is believed that these region-wide water quality benefits were due to the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1990.

“The recent water quality successes in the Chesapeake Bay restoration are apparently driven more by air quality regulation rather than by water quality control efforts,” said study author Keith Eshleman, professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Appalachian Laboratory. “These air quality regulations were intended to address human health issues and acid sensitive streams. No one thought you would have this positive impact on water quality. It was totally unanticipated.”

One cautionary note is that the apparent reversibility of the process means that a relaxation in air quality regulation would lead to a reversal in the direction of watershed water quality across the basin. (Keith N. Eshleman and Robert D. Sabo, Atmospheric Environment)

Science and Society

Turkish academics targeted as government reacts to failed coup

After the failed July 15th coup attempt, the Turkish government has disrupted higher education. As part of a massive political purge, educators across the country have been suspended from their roles. “They are restructuring academia,” says Caghan Kizil, a Turkish molecular biologist based at the Dresden University of Technology in Germany who has been in close communication with colleagues in Turkey. “People are very scared and not hopeful.”

In the span of a few days, more than 45,000 civil servants in the military and judiciary have been fired or suspended. In addition, it appears that some 15,000 staff members of the ministry of education also were fired, with 21,000 teachers losing their professional licenses, and more than 1500 university deans were all but ordered to resign. Turkish academics currently abroad have also been ordered back by the government. “They want to take the universities under their full control,” says Sinem Arslan, a Turk doing a political science Ph.D. at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. “Academic freedoms will no longer exist. I don’t think that anybody will be able to work on research areas that are considered taboo by the government or write anything that criticizes the government.”

The motives behind this new crackdown is currently not known. However, the truth may emerge from an unexpected source – Wikileaks. This whistleblower site released nearly 300,000 emails allegedly written from Turkish government officials going back as far as 2010. Time will tell if this new information will shed light on the motives behind the new crackdown on education and research in Turkey. (John Bohannon, ScienceInsider)

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July 29, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – February 23, 2016

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By: David Pagliaccio, Ph.D.

Kris Krüg via Photo Pin cc

Science in Schools

Climate confusion among U.S. teachers

Despite the vast agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring due to human activities, many difficulties persist in conveying this to middle and high school students. A new survey published in Science indicates that 74.3% of middle and high school science teachers discuss global warming but only at median rate of 1.5 class hours. Importantly, only 54% of teachers are clearly stating that fossil fuel use is a major cause of global warming rather than natural causes. The remainder presents a mixed message about the role that humanity plays in global warming vs. natural factors, denies humanity’s role, or does not present the causes of global warming. This may be due to several causes. Luckily, few teachers felt outside pressures from parents, school administrators, etc. to not teach about climate change. Instead, it appeared that a large percentage of teachers did not know the consensus among scientists and thus try to present a two-sided case about global warming. Further, less than half of teachers reported having formal training on climate change during their education though newer teachers were more likely to discuss the human causes of global warming. The authors also indicate a role for sociopolitical ideology where teachers with a more conservative view of the government’s role were less likely to emphasize teaching about the causes of climate change. The authors call for improved training, continuing education, and content materials, including updated textbooks, to aid in addressing this issue as well as trying to work to improve science literacy. (Eric Plutzer, Mark McCaffrey, A. Lee Hannah, Joshua Rosenau, Minda Berbeco, and Ann H. Reid, Science Education; USNews.com; NPR)

Science Funding

Budget 2017

President Obama has requested increased science funding in his fiscal year 2017 budget, yet people have concerns over the strategy for this and the likelihood of it passing Congress. Particularly, he requested an additional $825 million be allocated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but this money was set to come from mandatory funds. Further, $1 million of the NIH’s current budget was slated to be moved from regular appropriations processes to mandatory funds. There are concerns that Congress will not approve these mandatory funds, which require that a dedicated funding source be established. If approved, this new money would go to support new cancer initiatives, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the BRAIN initiative with little going to the other NIH institutes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would also not get much of a general increase in funding but would get money specifically for its role in Precision Medicine Initiative and the new cancer programs – also from mandatory funding. The President has also called for a $500 million increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) coming from both discretionary and mandatory spending streams. Again, there is doubt that Republicans will approve of allocation through mandatory spending streams that will require selling federal assets, which would leave only a small increase in NSF funding through discretionary spending. While there are many increases in science funding budgeted for, many people are disappointed in the means of funding allocation and are less than optimistic for passing this proposed budget. (Science News Staff, Science Insider)

Federal Regulations

Could FDA E-Cigarette Regulations Help More People Quit Smoking?

While e-cigarettes are generally expected to be safer than traditional cigarettes due to the lack of tar from burning tobacco, research is limited and major health organizations currently do not recommend using e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking. Despite the large and expanding market for e-cigarettes, there are essentially no federal rules or regulations regarding anything about the e-cigarette industry, including sales and advertising. Several attempts have been made to regulate e-cigarettes with the FDA first trying to regulate e-cigarettes as a drug-device combination in 2009. This was overruled by the courts, which deemed e-cigarettes a tobacco product in the next year. Further, the President’s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act allowed the FDA to regulate some tobacco products but did not specifically list e-cigarettes. In 2014, the FDA called for authority to specifically regulate e-cigarettes and is awaiting final approval. While no real federal regulations are in place, some states have enacted minimum purchasing age laws, tax e-cigarettes, or call for e-cigarettes to only be used in places where other tobacco products can be used. The science regarding the potential harms of e-cigarettes and any potential benefits to smoking cessation are lacking leading to much fractured debate over regulatory policy, which will continue as the FDA’s role continues to unfold. (Michael P. Eriksen, USNews.com)

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February 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – September 11, 2015

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

Corals and Fish on Jackson Reef by Matt Kieffer via Flickr Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

Climate Change

Warming Oceans Putting Marine Life ‘In a Blender’

Lobsters are thriving in Maine, while their numbers are dwindling in southern New England. The reason? Global Warming. The higher temperatures in the north may be speeding up their metabolism, but the waters may be too warm at the southern edge of their range. This is just one example of a global trend in changing temperatures. Because the ocean temperatures have been rising, many marine species are moving to more comfortable waters. Many species are moving towards the pole, away from the Equator, at an average speed of 4.5 miles a year, about 10 times as fast as land species are moving. Scientists are developing models to study what this reshuffling of ocean ecosystems will look like, and the picture seems stark. In a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, scientists analyzed the current ranges of about 13,000 species of marine organisms. If ocean temperatures continue to rise, species will move to stay in their ‘thermal niches’. The move might be easier for some, and not so for the others, depending on the obstacles that lie in their migration paths. Scientists also project that, if this happens, by 2100, the tropics will lose a majority of their species, and there will not be new species taking their place. It’s unclear how the existing ecosystems away from the equator would be affected by the arrival of new species. Some newly arrived species may outcompete the native inhabitants, and some may go extinct. “It’s a game about winners and losers”, says Dr. Jorge García Molinos, lead author of the study. Dr. Malin L. Pinsky says that movement of fish away from the tropics might have food implications. “Seafood in many of these countries is a very important source of nutrition. Climate change could leave a gaping hole in the oceans.” (Carl Zimmer, The New York Times)

STEM Education and Funding

Intel Ending Sponsorship Of Prestigious Science Contest For High School Student

Intel, the giant semiconductor manufacturer, has been a sponsor of the Science Talent Search competition, organized by the Society For Science, since 1998. But Intel will be ending its partnership with the competition after 2017. Science Talent Search is the most prestigious science and mathematics award for high school students in the U.S. Some of the past winners have gone on to win prestigious awards such as the Nobel Prize and the MacArthur Fellowships. The decision by Intel is puzzling given that sponsoring the competition costs Intel $6 million a year, about 0.01 percent of Intel’s annual revenue, and it generates goodwill to the organization. Intel moving away from this competition does not mean it is moving away from encouraging students about STEM fields. Intel is partnering with Turner Broadcasting to create a technology-based invention reality show called the ‘America’s Greatest Makers’. (Brakkton Booker, NPR)

Reproductive Research

Preemies’ Survival Rates Improve, But Many Challenges Remain

Extreme preemies — born somewhere between 22 and 28 weeks — have a better chance of surviving now than they did 20 years ago, doctors reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). But many of these babies still have severe health problems. The study was done by pediatrician Barbara Stoll and her colleges at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The doctors found that the survival rate of preemies has risen from 70 to 79 percent between 1993 and 2012 due to improvements in treatments for these babies. Outcomes are still bad for very young preemies, born less than 25 weeks – 90 percent of babies who survive have severe health problems. While neonatologist Roger Soll of the University of Vermont College of Medicine says “The changes in outcomes are much less than might be expected given the substantial changes in practice and raise the question whether many of these changes in practice have been effective”, Stoll is more optimistic. “We hoped for small, steady improvements like this,” she says. “We are cautiously optimistic that the data show progress is being made.” Two major medical interventions have helped this progress: prenatal steroid treatments to help preemies’ lungs develop faster, and doctors’ willingness to surgically deliver extreme preemies. (Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR)

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September 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm