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Science Policy Around the Web – November 8, 2013

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By: Tara Burke

Photo credit: Ryan Thompson via photopin cc

Photo credit: Ryan Thompson via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

F.D.A. Ruling Would All But Eliminate Trans Fats – Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration outlined measures to rid the nation’s food supply of trans fats, a major contributing factor to heart disease. The announcement ends a thirty-year fight by public health advocates against trans fats, which are created when liquid oil is treated with hydrogen gas to make a solid. The Institute of Medicine has found that there is no allowable amount of consumption of artificial trans fats and therefore, the FDA recommends that trans fats be removed from the legal category “generally recognized as safe”. The complete removable of trans fats from the American diet is expected to significantly cut down on health care costs and heart attacks. (Sabrina Tavernise)

U.K. Researchers Launch Open-Access Genomes Project – The United Kingdom announced this week the establishment of a British Personal Genome Project (PGP-UK). This program will recruit volunteers to provide DNA as well as health data; both DNA and health data will be available with no restrictions on their use. Britain’s PGP, headed by Stephan Beck from University College London, stems from a 2005 Harvard study. While the Harvard PGP currently has less than 200 genomes available, the study has many volunteers waiting. Other countries continue to see the value in personal genome databases as a way of furthering our understanding of DNA’s contribution to disease as Britain’s PGP joins other programs currently underway in Canada and Korea and one launching soon in Germany. (Elizabeth Pennisi)

More Asteroid Strikes Are Likely, Scientists Say – Traditionally, asteroid strikes have been thought of as an extremely rare event. However, in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists estimate that asteroid strikes may occur as often as every decade or two. These findings, along with the recent asteroid explosion over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk are elevating the topic of planetary defense. The United Nations is expected to recommend the establishment of an International Asteroid Warning Network, a way for countries to share information. They are also likely to recommend an advisory group to explore technologies that can deflect asteroids. (Kenneth Chang)

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November 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 22, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: Rick Eh? via photopin cc

photo credit: Rick Eh? via photopin cc

Our biweekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Mice Fall Short As Test Subjects for Humans’ Deadly Ills – Data obtained from mouse models of sepsis, burns, and trauma have been misleading. Nearly 150 drugs developed to treat sepsis in humans have failed. A manuscript published in PNAS last month demonstrated why- mice have a condition that looks similar to human sepsis but is very different biologically. The decade long study analyzed genes used by white blood cells when responding to sepsis. The investigators found a panel of genes that were upregulated in response to sepsis in humans and then analyzed the response in mice to see if a similar panel of genes were involved. Surprisingly, there were no similarities between organisms. Additionally, in samples from human patients, a similar panel of genes were involved in the response to burns, sepsis, and trauma suggesting that finding a drug to treat one condition will treat all 3. While in many situations, mice are an ideal genetic model to human disease, this work suggests that mouse models cannot be used to develop drugs for all human conditions.  (Gina Kolata)

How To Find a Food Desert Near You – A food desert is an area where it is difficult to access large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable food. To identify regions where access to healthy foods is limited, the USDA has recently released the Food Access Research Atlas.  Using the atlas, you can identify regions where there is low access to grocery stores. Additionally, income data has been incorporated into the map to compare low access to low income regions. (Nancy Shute)

Inequality Quantified: Mind the Gender Gap – While the number of women working in science and engineering fields has increased, universities still employ more men than women in STEM fields, and men still earn significantly more in these fields. Currently, only 21 percent of science professors and 5 percent of engineering professors are women. One potential cause of this problem is that a larger percentage of women quit scientific careers in the earlier stages to raise a family. Additionally, women only make 82 percent of what male scientists earn in the United States, and this gap is larger in European countries. Many universities are conscious of the need to correct the gender gap. (Helen Shen)

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March 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 16, 2012

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

What the world can learn from Denmark’s failed fat tax – Last October, the Danish tax ministry added a tax of 16 kroner ($2.70) per kilogram of saturated fat in foods from milk to butter to frozen pizza. The tax resulted in increased costs to consumers, increased administrative costs for companies, and a loss of jobs due to Danish citizens leaving the country to buy fatty foods. Therefore, the tax ministry decided to scrap the tax law. Olga Khazan reviews the Danish “fat tax” and similar taxes elsewhere- including the soda tax in New York.

From Physics to Politics: Mr. Foster goes to Washington – Citizens from Illinois’s 11th district recently elected physicist Bill Foster to the House of Representatives. After spending years in the lab contributing to findings such as the top-quark or co-inventing a system to increase the efficiency of the Tevatron, Dr. Foster decided to apply his analytical thinking skills to political issues. Scientific American interviewed the newly elected Congressman who encourages other scientists to become involved in the political process. (JR Minkel)

Call for global crackdown on fake medications – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one in ten medications sold in poorer countries are fake, and strikingly, one-third of all malaria medications are fake.  While richer countries do not face this problem to the same extent, they are not immune from the effects of falsified drugs. For example, a contaminated drug supply led to an outbreak of meningitis that has killed 16 people in the United States. A recent article in the British Medical Journal outlines an approach that can be taken by the WHO to inhibit the sale of counterfeit medication. (Michelle Roberts)

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November 16, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 8, 2012

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photo credit: Martino’s doodles via photopin cc

By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

As Dengue Fever Sweeps India, A Slow Response Stirs Experts’ Fears  While the Indian government will not acknowledge the magnitude of the Dengue Fever epidemic in their country, the virus spread by mosquitoes is affecting hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. In New Delhi, India’s capital, hospitals are overcrowded with patients affected with the disease. Interestingly, experts estimate that millions of people have been sickened with Dengue in 2012 while officials for the Indian government estimate that only approximately 30,000 individuals have been affected thus far in 2012. This underestimation results in insufficient policies to reduce spreading of the disease and delays in developing vaccines to prevent Dengue infection. (Gardiner Harris)

Warmer Still: Extreme Climate Predictions Appear Most Accurate – While most scientists agree that the temperature on earth is increasing, the extent of the increase has remained a point of contention. A new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that the more extreme predictions may actually be true resulting in temperature increase of 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Such a temperature increase will cause higher seas, disappearing coastlines, droughts, and floods (Brian Vastag). To try to circumvent these catastrophic events, some initiatives are underway in an attempt to reduce global climate change. Some states, such as California and Michigan are beginning to take measures to reduce global climate change.  Additionally, a village on the coast of British Columbia dumped 100 tons of iron sulfate into the ocean in what some are calling a “rogue climate change experiment” to cause a bloom of plankton to capture greenhouse gases.

NIH’s New Translational Chief on How to Solve Pharma’s Woes – Last December, Congress approved the $575 million National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) which has been criticized due to fear that funding for NCATS will reduce the funds available for basic biomedical research. Dr. Christopher Austin, a developmental neurogeneticist with experience in the private sector, became the director of NCATS in September. Recently, Dr. Austin sat down with ScienceInsider to provide insight to the mission of NCATS and respond to recent criticism. (Jocelyn Kaiser)

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November 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Earthquakes and the (non-)science of risk prediction

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photo credit: Waifer X via photopin cc

By:  Rebecca Cerio

One of the more scientifically bizarre stories lately has been the conviction of Italian scientists and engineers in the L’Aquila earthquake trial.  To summarize, during a swarm of small earthquakes, a government-sponsored panel told the people of the L’Aquila region that the tremors were nothing to worry about and that they were believed to disperse energy and reduce the chance of a larger earthquake.  (In the past, such swarms preceded only a tiny fraction of large earthquakes.)  Six days later, a large earthquake hit the region, killing over 300 people.  The scientists were tried for the deaths of about 30 of those people, who–reassured by the scientists’ words–stayed in their homes when the quake struck, instead of rushing outside to more open, safer ground.

Scientists, predictably, have shook their heads in dismay at the Italian court’s verdict (convictions of manslaughter and 6-year sentences).  They have, understandably, pointed out that there was no way that the scientists could predict an earthquake and that they should not be punished for giving the best advice they could given the data they had.  The prosecution has pointed out that the defendants were not being charged with incorrectly predicting an earthquake but instead incorrectly communicating the RISK of an earthquake.  In essence, the scientists were charged and found guilty of giving people a false sense of security that convinced the victims to change their behavior in an ultimately lethal way.

Whether the scientists gave people bad advice or whether they gave them good advice that simply turned out to be wrong is still unclear and is perhaps something that only Mother Nature would be able to testify about, but it gets right at the crux of a very pointed issue:  how should scientists convey risk and uncertainty about their data to the public, particularly in life-and-death scenarios?  How much responsibility do scientists have to convey that risk accurately?  And what legal blame do scientists have to accept when people interpret and use that data to justify acting in ways that lead to injury or death? Read the rest of this entry »

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October 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – October 5, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

President’s Bioethics Commission Releases Report on Genomics and Privacy – Whole genome sequencing (sequencing of a person’s entire genome) is swiftly becoming more and more affordable and opens up tremendous opportunity to advance medical knowledge and give people a new grip on their own health.  However, there have been lingering doubts about how such intimate knowledge will be protected, collected, and used.  New guidance about issues of privacy, regulation, and public good has been released by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.  You can get the whole report here.

Learn to Read a Scientific Report – This post on Wired.com is tiny and likely overlooked, but it made my day.  Quick, easy tips that hit upon some important ways for the public to evaluate scientific information (and advertisements) that come their way.  (by Noah Gray)

Doctors just say ‘no’ to drug company studies – Drug companies routinely fund, produce, publish, and advertise studies investigating the efficacy of their products.  One audience is the general public, but a larger audience is doctors.  Do doctors take into account possible drug company bias when evaluating new drugs?  Yes, they do, and they don’t like it, says a new study from investigators at the University of Arizona. (by Jennifer Fitzenberger via Futurity.org)

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October 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – August 24, 2012

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photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photo pin cc

By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

The Widespread Problem of Doctor Burnout – Emotionally exhausted, detached…and prone to errors.  A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that nearly half of doctors have some sign of burnout and that emergency care and other front-line doctors are at highest risk.  As Pauline Chen suggests in the NY Times, this is particularly troubling given that we already have a doctor shortage and are about to add 30 million more people into the US health care system.

Forensic investigation needs more science – The Innocence Project has appealed to chemists to support standards and more rigorous scientific independence in forensic science.   The Project is hoping that scientists will lobby Congress in support of a proposed bill that would provide funding for forensic science research and require national standards for forensic testing.  (via Daniel Cressey in Nature)

Bias is Unavoidable – Lisa Cosgrove  in The Scientist points out that simply stating conflicts of interest is not sufficient to actually prevent bias in the scientific decision-making process.  She makes a good point that science has proven that what we expect (or what our paycheck depends upon) can affect the interpretation of scientific data and thus policy based upon that data.

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August 24, 2012 at 6:17 pm