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Posts Tagged ‘public health

Science Policy Around the Web – February 21, 2017

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By: Rachel Smallwood, PhD

Obesity

Should We Treat Obesity Like a Contagious Disease?

Researchers are modeling obesity from a public health perspective as a contagious disease. There are many factors associated with obesity, including genetics, low levels of physical activity, and high caloric intake. An earlier study examined the effects of different social factors on an individual’s risk of being obese; it found that people with obese friends and family were at an increased risk for obesity, and this trend was influenced by how close the relationships were.

In this model of the prevalence of obesity, the researchers included a factor to represent obesity as a “social contagion”, reflecting those previous findings and indicating a potential increased risk and increased prevalence due to transmission from one person to another. This mechanism is assumed to be related to people adopting the behaviors of those close to them; notably, activity levels and type and quantity of food consumed. The model predicts obesity rates in populations with terms associated with the genetic contribution to obesity, the mother’s non-genetic contribution to her offspring, and the prevalence of obesity. Essentially, the more obese individuals there are in a society, the more likely it is for someone to know and interact with an obese person.

The models indicate that obesity prevalence plateaus around 35-40% without an intervention. The model is still fairly primitive, but the researchers hope that in future it could provide insight into the effects of potential interventions. For example, is it better to target an intervention to individuals who are already obese, or should the reach of the intervention be more broad and target the population as a whole? When the models reach a level of complexity comparable to the existing factors for obesity, they can be a powerful tool in preventing and addressing the epidemic. (Kelly Servick, Science Magazine)

Autism

Brain Scans Spot Early Signs of Autism in High-Risk Babies

A study recently published in Nature showed that alterations in brain development in children who go on to be diagnosed with autism precede behavioral symptoms. High-risk infants’ brains were scanned with MRI at 6, 12, and 24 months. It was determined that the infants who were subsequently diagnosed with autism had a faster rate of brain volume growth between 12 and 24 months. Additionally, between 6 and 12 months, these infants had a faster rate of growth in the surface area of folds on the brain, called the cortical surface.

Taking these findings, the research team used a machine learning approach called a deep-learning neural network to make a model to predict whether an infant would be diagnosed with autism based on their MRIs from 6 and 12 months. This model was tested in a larger set of infants, and the model correctly predicted 30 out of 37 infants who went on to be diagnosed (true positives), and it incorrectly predicted that 4 infants would be diagnosed with autism out of the 142 who were not later diagnosed (false positives). These results are much more robust than behavior-based predictions from this same age range.

More work needs to be done to replicate the results in a larger sample. Additionally, all of the participants were high-risk infants, meaning they had a sibling who was diagnosed with autism, so the results are not necessarily generalizable to the rest of the population. Further studies need to be done in the general population to determine if these same patterns are observable, but that would require an even larger sample due to the lower risk. However, the early detection of symptoms and prediction of diagnosis are potentially valuable tools, especially considering another recent publication showed that early intervention in children with autism affects the severity of symptoms years down the road. (Ewen Callaway, Nature News)

Science Funding

Ebola Funding Surge Hides Falling Investment in Other Neglected Diseases

Funding totals from 2015 reveal a trending decrease in funding for neglected diseases, excluding Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fevers. Neglected diseases are diseases that primarily affect developing companies, thus providing little incentive for private research and development by commercial entities; the other diseases include malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Given the recent surge of funding for Ebola research, the analysis firm, Policy Cures Research, decided to separate it from the other neglected diseases in its analysis to observe funding patterns independent from the epidemic that dominated the news and international concerns. Funding was tracked from private, public, and philanthropic sources.

The funding for Ebola research has primarily gone to development of a vaccine, and over a third of the funds were provided by industry. For the other diseases, the decline in overall funding is mostly represented by a decline in funding from public entities, primarily comprised of the governments of large, developed countries. Those countries accounted for 97% of the research funding for neglected diseases in 2015, so any significant change in that funding category would affect the overall funding amounts. However, there was also a slight decline in philanthropic funding. When including Ebola with the others, funding of neglected diseases was actually at its highest in the past ten years. It is not known whether money was funneled from the other diseases to Ebola research, or if this decline is indicative of less research spending in general. (Erin Ross, Nature News)

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February 21, 2017 at 10:03 am

Science Policy Around the Web – February 3, 2017

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By: Eric Cheng, PhD

Source: pixabay

Trump and Science

Scientists’ Lives Upended by Trump’s Immigration Order

New executive orders have been signed by President Trumpthat suspend immigration into the United States from “terror-prone regions.” The target countries listed are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. These new immigration orders have caused chaos at U.S. airports to people from these countries, including people with a valid U.S. visa or green card who were traveling outside of the U.S. when the order was signed. It is also affecting scientists who are currently in the United States, but are visiting from the affected countries. For example:

Ehssan Nazockdast was planning to attend his sister’s wedding in Tehran in March. One hitch: The specialist on fluid dynamics at New York University in New York City is an Iranian citizen. That leaves him vulnerable under an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday that calls for the rigorous vetting of applicants for U.S. visas from Iran and six other predominantly Muslim nations, and bars the entry of any citizen from those nations for 90 days while procedures for that vetting are put in place. Nazockdast has lived in the United States for nearly a decade, has a green card, and has two young daughters with a wife who is a U.S. citizen. But now that Nazockdast is branded with a scarlet letter, he dare not leave. “I’m living in a big prison called the United States of America,” he says.

A federal judge has issued an emergency stay that halts deportations of refugees with valid U.S. entry documents. Two days after executive order was signed, John Kelly, Secretary for Homeland Security, issued a statement deeming “the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest,” which was interpreted as allowing the re-entry of green card holders. from nations covered by the order, although they could receive extra scrutiny. The Council on American-Islamic Relations still intends to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Western District of Virginia challenging the constitutionality of what it calls the “Muslim ban.”

Over 7000 scientists of all nationalities and religions, including 43 Nobel laureates, have signed an open letter, warning that Trump’s order “significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research” and calls it “inhumane, ineffective, and un-American.” (Richard Stone and Meredith Wadman, ScienceInsider)

Science Policy

Scientists ‘Partly to Blame’ for Skepticism of Evidence in Policymaking, says AAAS CEO

In addition to access to high-quality technical experts to handle science-related global crisis, an United States president also needs to believe that scientific evidence is useful in setting government policy says American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO Rush Holt. At the winter meeting of the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C., Dr. Holt remarked how scientists are partly to blame for the decreased priority of scientific evidence in U.S. policymaking.  One potential explanation for this devaluation of evidence may be due to scientists’ way of presenting evidence that is too “condescending and hierarchical. We might say, ‘Let me try to explain this to you. Maybe even you can understand this.’ And that is not very effective. So we are partly to blame,” stated Dr. Holt.

Dr. Holt believes that “reverence for evidence” has been part of the nation’s political discussion since the United States was founded, and traditionally covers both parties. The biggest challenge now will be to try and empower policymakers to think about any scientific evidence presented to them and to evaluate the validity of the conclusion based on the evidence for themselves. (Jeffery Mervis, ScienceInsider)

Public Health

Senate Finance Committee OKs Tom Price, MD, for HHS Chief

The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-0 to approve the nomination of Rep. Tom Price, MD, (R-Ga), to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). All votes were from the Republican members of the committee because 12 Democratic members boycotted the executive session to confirm Dr. Price. Although the committee normally requires at least one member from each party present to reach its quorum requirement, the rule was suspended prior to the vote. Now Dr. Price’s nomination will go before the Senate for a vote, which will only need a simple majority of 51 votes for confirmation. (Robert Lowes, Medscape)

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February 3, 2017 at 10:01 am

Science Policy Around the Web – January 24, 2017

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By: Leopold Kong, PhD

Landfill by Dhscommtech at GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

Environment

New Discovery Could Lead to a Safer Solution to Plastic Pollution

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a commonly used resin of the polyester family used in the fibers for clothing and liquid containers. In 2015 alone, 56 million tons of PET was produced. Although recyclable, with 1.5 billion pounds recovered annually in the United States, PET is not biodegradable and is a major presence in landfills. Screening 250 samples of contaminated soil, waste water and sludge from a bottle recycling factory for microorganisms that can grow on PET, a team of Japanese scientists has discovered a bacterium, Idoenella sakaiensis, that can break down this tough plastic. Recently spotlighted as a major breakthrough of 2016 by the American Chemical Society, research on the bacterium continues as scientists seek to unlock the mechanism behind the biodegradation pathway that was previously thought to be impossible. Professor Kenji Miyamoto, one of the study authors, said, “This is the first PET-degrading bacterium found [with potential] to develop a new and nature-friendly system”. (Research Highlights, Keio University).

Biomedical Research

Trump Asks NIH Director Francis Collins to Stay On

Last Thursday, on the eve of the inauguration, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that Dr. Francis Collins has been asked to continue his role as NIH director by the Trump administration for an unspecified time. This eleventh hour development came as Collins received back the letter of resignation he had sent late last year, something all presidential appointees do. If asked to stay on through this presidential term, Collins, part of Obama’s science ‘dream team’, would be the first NIH director since the 1970s to be chosen by two presidents.

Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania said, “In general, I think more than eight years has not been a good idea. There’s a cycle, and eight years is hard to have new ideas and new energy.”  Nonetheless, Collins, a National Academy of Sciences member who led the human genome project and a highly vocal Christian apologist, would serve as an effective bridge between the research community and the new Republican administration to secure much needed funding for basic research. Tony Mazzashi, senior director for policy and research at the Association schools and Programs of Public Health in Washington DC said, “ I think everyone in the research community will be thrilled.” (Jocelyn Kaiser, Science)

Public Health

Novavax Starts New Clinical Trial in Bid to Prove Failed RSV Vaccine

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a significant public health burden, infecting almost all children by age 2, with 5 to 20 out of 1,000 requiring hospitalization and with a mortality rate of 8 to 34 out of 10,000. Unfortunately, the development of an effective vaccine has been challenging. In the late 1960s, an RSV vaccine for infants devastatingly failed clinical trials with 80% of children receiving the shot being hospitalized. Recent advances in immunology and the RSV vaccine target has led to a new generation of potentially safer and more effective vaccine candidates from industry giants Novavax, GlaxoSmithKline, Global Vaccines, AstraZeneca and MedImmune. Also being explored is vaccination of expectant mothers to protect infants.

However, the field took a hit last year when Novavax’s candidate vaccine failed its phase 3 clinical trials, resulting in a 30% layoff of its workforce. Nonetheless, last Thursday, the company announced that it has started a new phase 2 trial on older adults in the southern hemisphere.  “We expect the results from this trial to inform the next steps in our older adults program and would ensure we maintain our leadership position in this very attractive market opportunity,” said Stanley Erck, president and CEO of Novavax. (Tina Reed, Washington Business Journal)

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January 24, 2017 at 10:04 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

Science Policy Around the Web – December 23, 2016

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By: Joel Adu-Brimpong, BS

Source: Flickr, by Ben Gordon, under Creative Commons

Public Health

Looking Beyond Flint

All eyes turned to the city of Flint, Michigan as it burst onto the national scene after reports revealed that children were being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead in their drinking waters. Although shocking, a recent study shows that the Flint narrative is no abnormality. “In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America,” states Reuters, an international news agency and investigative body that conducted the study.

In this Reuters report, it was discovered that almost 3000 areas in the country had at least twice the lead poisoning rates of the infamous Michigan city, with much less press coverage. In some areas, such as Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, areas with multigenerational lead poisoning, about 40 to 50 percent of children had elevated levels of lead. Nationwide estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purport that approximately 2.5 percent of small children, children between ages one and five, present highest levels.

For this study, Reuters obtained lead poisoning data from state health departments and the CDC. But rather than peruse and detail state or county-level data, Reuters pursued more granular results; testing for lead poisoning at the neighborhood-level. Altogether, Reuters observed 2,606 census tracts, or small county subdivisions, and 278 zip codes across the country with at least twice the prevalence rate of lead poisoning as Flint. It was noted that while poverty remains an integral predictor of lead poisoning, victims span the American tapestry of rich and poor, urban and rural and black and white.

Federal aid to assist states in lead poisoning management is quite limited. After the Flint debacle, Congress delivered $170 million in aid to Flint. However, the budget allocated to the CDC to assist states in lead poisoning control is only a fraction of the Flint package. With the 21st Century Cures Act set to withdraw approximately 3.5 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a fund established under Obamacare, and a pervasive political rhetoric regarding the repeal of Obamacare, lead poisoning may return to its obscure position in the public sphere. (M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer, Reuters)

Drug Policy

When Drug Prices Rise, Americans Turn Outward?

A recent study revealed that 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug a day. And if you are among this group, or care for someone on medication, you are most likely aware that drug prices have been rising. In fact, a 2015 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that roughly 80 percent of Americans deemed costs of prescription drugs ‘unreasonable.’ A report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics earlier this year indicated that, after accounting for estimated reimbursements, net medication spending for the 2015 year was roughly $310 billion. So what happens when drug prices exceed affordability in the U.S.?

A poll by KFF last month found eight percent of survey respondents, or roughly 19 million adults in the U.S., had or knew someone in their household who had imported a drug at some point. Drug prices when obtained outside the country (i.e., Canada, Mexico, etc.) may be half the sticker price in the U.S., or even cheaper. This finding comes on the heels of recent spikes in prescription drug prices such as that of Daraprim, a life-saving drug often prescribed for AIDS patients, Cycloserine, a drug used to treat tuberculosis, Epipen, an injection device for patients with severe allergies, and others which have caused national outrage.

Although illegal for Americans, in most instances, to import drugs into the U.S. for personal use due to safety and effectiveness concerns, experts contend that eight percent is a conservative number. Some respondents may be reluctant to report violations of the law or are uncomfortable with talking about daily struggles with drug affordability. Demographics of individuals who imported prescription drugs ranged from young adults in college to elderly retirees, with prescription drugs imported spanning treatments for chronic and acute conditions.

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats sent a letter to Donald Trump urging the President-elect to effect bipartisan support to curb rising drug prices. But with no assurances in sight to curtail the epidemic of rising drug costs, will even more Americans turn outward in order to meet their prescription needs? If so, how might this affect the quality of circulating drugs and medication adherence practices? (Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News)

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December 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 02, 2016

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By: Liu-Ya Tang, PhD

Source: pixabay

Public Health

Childhood Bullying and Adult Overweight

Bullying is, without a doubt, a big problem in U.S. schools, as “40% to 80% of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers” according to the American Psychological Association. What influence will bullying have on child development? Bullying can not only affect mental health, but also have a lasting effect on a person’s physical health. A recent study finds that bullied children were more likely to be overweight than non-bullied children at age 18.

Scientists studied a cohort of twins from 2,232 children who were followed to age 18. Bullying victimization was reported by mothers and children during primary school and early secondary school. At ages 10, 12 and 18, they collected data for indicators of overweight. To index genetic and fetal liability to overweight, co-twin body mass and birth weight were also used. They found that the association between childhood bullying victimization and being overweight at age 18 was influenced by the chronicity of exposure, as children bullied in both primary school and secondary school showed the highest risk of being overweight. They also measured whether childhood psychosocial risk factors (socioeconomic disadvantage and food insecurity) contributed to a higher risk of being overweight at age 18. To their surprise, the result showed that the elevated risk of bullied children becoming overweight is independent of their psychosocial risk.

The researchers further dug into the mechanisms of why childhood bullying puts kids at high risk for being overweight as a young adult. One possible reason is the allostatic load theory prediction, which states that “more chronic exposure to psychosocial stress is associated with the greatest metabolic abnormalities”. This theory has been supported by a study, in which they found that children being bullied may eat more due to impaired inhibitory control over feeding linked to prefrontal cortex abnormalities. In addition to explanations from the biological aspect, social mechanisms may also need to be taken into account. Bullied children may avoid participating in group sporting activities to reduce the risks of victimization from peers. It is important for school, clinical practice and public health agencies to identify the mechanisms and develop anti-bullying interventions, which could support bullied children to have a healthy life later and help reduce the large public health burden due to overweight. (Jessie R. Baldwin et al., Psychosomatic Medicine)

Climate Change

Will Climatic Warming Affect Soil Respiration?

It is estimated that nine times more carbon dioxide (CO2) is released from soils to atmosphere via soil respiration annually when compared with anthropogenic emissions. This efflux of carbon from soils is attributed to both plant root respiration and microbial respiration. Rising temperatures are expected to increase rates of soil respiration, which potentially provides a positive feedback to climatic warming. However, there were discrepancies in the observations from recent years, so the interaction between soil respiration and climate warming remains uncertain in climate projections.

To understand the complex relationship between soil respiration and temperature, 43 researchers from the United States and Europe conducted a global synthesis of 27 experimental warming studies spanning nine biomes, which results in >3,800 observations. There are numerous interesting findings. With the exception of boreal forest and desert, they didn’t observe significant differences in the temperature sensitivity of soil respiration between warmed or control treatments within other biomes (temperate forest, northern shrubland, southern shrubland, grassland and temperate agriculture). This finding suggests that acclimation of soil communities to warmer conditions is likely to have a greater impact for soil carbon dynamics in boreal forest and desert systems, while climatic warming will have little effect on other biomes. They also investigated the relationship between soil moisture, respiration rate and temperature, and found that the magnitude of the respiration response to warming decreased linearly with the degree of soil drying across the entire dataset.

Interestingly, they found a universal decline in the temperature sensitivity of respiration at soil temperature >25°C for non-desert biomes, while deserts have a higher temperature threshold at 55°C for reduced respiration. The significant difference in soil respiration in response to temperature could be due to a number of factors, such as different plant and microbial communities in the desert compared with other biomes, or abiotic decomposition as a major component of litter decomposition in deserts. Compared with lower latitudes, higher-latitude sites more often experience soil temperature <25°C, where soil respiration rates correlate positively with temperature. So higher attitudes will be more responsive to warmer temperatures. This study helps project future shifts for different geographic regions with the climatic warming. (Joanna C. Carey et al., PNAS)

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December 2, 2016 at 11:51 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 25, 2016

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By: Alida Palmisano, PhD

Source: pixabay

Climate Change

2016 Set to Break Heat Record Despite Slowdown in Emissions

An article published in the Washington Post discusses recent news about climate change. Temperatures around the globe are reaching a record high this year, according to a report from the U.N. weather agency. Another report from the World Meteorological Organization showed that while emissions of a key global warming gas have flattened out in the past three years, preliminary data through October showed that world temperatures are 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That’s getting close to the limit set by the global climate agreement adopted in Paris last year. It calls for limiting the temperature rise since the industrial revolution to 2 degrees C or even 1.5 degrees C. Environmental groups and climate scientists said the report underscores the need to quickly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for warming the planet.

Another recent report delivered some positive news, showing global CO2 emissions have flattened out in the past three years. However, the authors of the study cautioned that it is far too early to declare that the slowdown, mainly caused by declining coal use in China, is a permanent trend. Even if China’s emissions have stabilized, growth in India and other developing countries could push global CO2 levels higher again. Even the recent election in the United States — the world’s No. 2 carbon polluter — could also have a significant impact.

Some researchers stressed that it’s not enough for global emissions to stabilize, saying they need to drop toward zero for the world to meet the goals of the Paris deal. “Worryingly, the reductions pledged by the nations under the Paris Agreement are not sufficient to achieve this,” said climate scientist Chris Rapley of University College London. (Karl Ritter, Washington Post)

Information and Technology

Facebook, Google Take Steps To Confront Fake News

Are we, as a society, really prepared for today’s way of receiving information from the web? In a recent article, NPR reporter Aarti Shahani talks about the issues related to viral fake news.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has addressed (multiple times) the issue of fake news, which are inaccurate or simply false information that appears on the Web in the guise of journalism. Zuckerberg said that the notion that fake news on his platform influenced the election in any way is “a pretty crazy idea.” But many disagree; and as a former employee, Antonio Garcia-Martinez says Zuckerberg’s comment sounds “more than a little disingenuous here.” Facebook makes money by selling ad space inside its news feed. It also makes money as a broker between its advertisers and other online companies. A company spokesperson told NPR that it is not doing business with fake news apps as these outside parties are not allowed to use the ad network. But the company did not address the reality that fake news in the Facebook news feed attract people and clicks, which translate to money.

Google, another tech giant, said that it is working on a policy to keep its ads off fake news sites. Garcia-Martinez says that it’s “ambitious” of Google to make this promise. “Where does it end? Are they just going to limit it to advertising?” he asks. “Are they not going to show search results of things that are obviously false? I mean, even false content itself is free speech, even though it’s false speech.”

These issues are emerging in today’s society because of technological advances; however policy and legislation struggle to keep up with the evolving way we interact with the world. (Aarti Shahani, NPR)

Public Health

Could the FDA be Dismantled Under Trump?

A recent article reflects on how the President-elect may change the work of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Public health policies shift may include a surrender of the FDA’s rules for off-label promotion of drugs, the importation of more drugs from other countries, and fewer requirements for clinical trials (the gold standard for determining whether medicines are safe and effective). “Between a Trump presidency and a radically pro-business Congress, the next few years may see a removal of numerous consumer protections,” said Michael Jacobson, co-founder and president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The FDA’s balancing act between patient protection and the drug and device industry’s push for a quicker path to market has never been easy. Over the past few years, spurred by patient advocacy groups and much of the pharmaceutical industry, lawmakers have fought over bills that would change how the country regulates prescription drugs and medical devices. Regardless of whether that legislation advances, Trump’s presidency is likely to enable the industry to get much of what it wants in terms of deregulation. “At the very least, President-elect Trump will support ‘Right-to-try’ laws that attempt to provide access to unapproved drugs,” the authors wrote.

One former FDA official, who spoke anonymously, said that the support for the right to try movement signals a broader disapproval of regulation. “The people who believe in that don’t believe there should be an FDA,” the former official said. Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that Congress could easily cut the FDA’s budget thereby “crippling programs to prevent foodborne infections, prevent dishonest food labels, and keep unsafe additives out of the food supply.” Others said even if he intends to overhaul the FDA, Trump may be surprised to find that there are limits to what he can do. “You can be against regulation all you want but the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act is not something that is malleable within executive orders,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, founder and senior adviser to Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, which has long battled the agency for better patient protection. “There are laws, many laws, and it took a long time to get them.” (Sheila Kaplan, STAT)

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November 25, 2016 at 9:00 am