• U.S. ends 3-year ban on research involving enhanced-lethality viruses

    The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday announced it was ending its three-year moratorium on funding of gain-of-function research, that is, research which aims to make extremely dangerous viruses even more dangerous in order to find a vaccine or cure for them. The U.S. government instituted the ban in 2014, against the backdrop of rising worries that these “gain-of-function” studies would allow scientists to increase the ability of the infectious disease to spread by enhancing its pathogenicity, or its ability to cause disease. Scientists who supported continuing research involving enhancing the transmissibility of infectious disease were not helped by a series of safety mishaps at federal research facilities.

  • FAA declares seven nuclear research facilities no-drone zones

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted a request from the Department of Energy (DOE) to declare seven DOE’s nuclear research facilities no-drone zones. Starting 29 December, drone operators would not be allowed to fly their UAVs within 400 feet of these facilities: The FAA said it is currently considering more “no-drone zone” requests from federal agencies.

  • DNA has gone digital – what could possibly go wrong?

    Biology is becoming increasingly digitized. Researchers like us use computers to analyze DNA, operate lab equipment and store genetic information. But new capabilities also mean new risks – and biologists remain largely unaware of the potential vulnerabilities that come with digitizing biotechnology. In 2010, a nuclear plant in Iran experienced mysterious equipment failures which paralyzed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Months later, a security firm was called in to troubleshoot an apparently unrelated problem, and found a malicious computer virus called Stuxnet, which was telling uranium-enrichment centrifuges to vibrate. Stuxnet demonstrated that cybersecurity breaches can cause physical damages. What if those damages had biological consequences? Could bioterrorists target government laboratories studying infectious diseases? What about pharmaceutical companies producing lifesaving drugs? As life scientists become more reliant on digital workflows, the chances are likely rising. The emerging field of cyberbiosecurity explores the whole new category of risks that come with the increased use of computers in the life sciences.

  • Analyzing recent research on causes of gun violence

    In 2015, over 36,000 people died from gunfire in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with roughly two-thirds of those deaths being classified as suicide. America’s gun-murder rate is 25 times that of the other high-income nations, and the gun-suicide rate is eight times as high. Despite these numbers, the last extensive analysis of research into the origins of gun violence, conducted in 2004, was inconclusive. Consensus is growing in recent research evaluating the impact of right-to-carry concealed handgun laws, showing that they increase violent crime, despite what older research says.

  • Court recognizes first amendment right to anonymity even after speakers lose lawsuits

    Anonymous online speakers may be able to keep their identities secret even after they lose lawsuits brought against them, a federal appellate court ruled last week. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Signature Management Team, LLC v. John Doe is a victory for online speakers because it recognized that the First Amendment’s protections for anonymous speech do not end once a party suing the anonymous speaker prevails. The ruling, however, is not all good news for anonymous speech. The test announced by the court sets unmasking as the default rule post-judgment, placing the burden on the anonymous party to argue against unmasking.

  • Three million Americans carry loaded handguns daily

    An estimated three million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and nine million do so on a monthly basis, new research indicates. The vast majority cited protection as their primary reason for carrying a firearm.

  • Noncompliance hobbles comprehensive background check policy for private-party gun sales: Study

    Of the three states that recently expanded comprehensive background check (CBC) policies to include all gun transfers, including those among private parties, only Delaware showed an overall increase in firearm background checks. Washington and Colorado had no changes, which the study authors say suggests that compliance and enforcement were incomplete. “The overwhelming majority of all firearms used for criminal purposes, some 80 percent, are acquired through private party transactions,” said one researcher. “By expanding background checks to include private-party transfers, there is a higher chance that these policies will make it harder for felons and other prohibited persons to acquire firearms and commit violent crimes.”

  • Administration’s decision to rescind 2015 water rule based on flawed analysis: Experts

    New evidence suggests that the Trump administration’s proposal to rescind the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that would limit the scope of the Clean Water Act inappropriately overlooks wetlands-related values. The differences between the two analyses led to an almost 90 percent drop in quantified benefits from the 2015 to the 2017 analysis.

  • Why a congressional ban on bump stocks is unlikely

    Even in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, it appeared that nothing could shake the immovable stalemate over gun rights in Congress – but a strange thing happened: Republicans started talking about tightening regulations on firearms. But until Congress can prove otherwise, and Republicans in particular move from rhetoric to legislation, it’s reasonable to expect this latest bipartisan opening to meet a similar fate to the bipartisan move, in the wake of Sandy Hook, to expand background checks: That attempt, led by Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), could not overcome a Senate filibuster.

  • Germany’s newly elected populist, far-right AfD: We will fight an “invasion of foreigners”

    Leaders of the populist, nationalist AfD party, which entered the Bundestag for the first time after Sunday federal election, have pledged to fight an “invasion of foreigners” with its new MPs. Alexander Gauland, speaking in Berlin the morning after the election results came in, said his party would “uncompromisingly address” immigration, an issue the party has campaigned on since late 2015. “One million people – foreigners – being brought into this country are taking away a piece of this country and we as AfD don’t want that,” Gauland told a press conference late Sunday. “We say we don’t want to lose Germany to an invasion of foreigners from a different culture. Very simple.”

  • Extreme weather, event-attribution science mean businesses, governments risk more litigation

    With Hurricane Harvey battering the southern United States, a new report warns that governments and business may be increasingly at risk of litigation for failing to prevent foreseeable climate-related harm to people and infrastructure. “Identifying the human influence in events once only understood as ‘acts of god’ will reshape the legal landscape, meaning governments and businesses could be sued if they don’t take action to protect people from floods, heatwaves and other foreseeable climate change risks.”

  • Arpaio pardon could encourage more civil rights violations

    President Donald Trump may pardon Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who illegally used racial profiling to enforce immigration laws. It’s true, Trump has the legal power to pardon pretty much anyone. But pardoning Arpaio could send the message that state and local officials can aggressively enforce federal immigration law, even if it risks racial profiling and violating the due process rights of citizens and noncitizens.

  • Undocumented immigration does not worsen drug, alcohol problems in U.S.: Study

    Despite being saddled with many factors associated with drug and alcohol problems, undocumented immigrants are not increasing the prevalence of drug and alcohol crimes and deaths in the United States, according to a new study. According to the study, rather than increasing substance abuse problems, a 1 percent increase in the proportion of the population that is undocumented is associated with 22 fewer drug arrests, 42 fewer drunken driving arrests and 0.64 fewer drug overdoses — all per 100,000 people. The frequency of drunken driving fatalities was unaffected by unauthorized immigration rates.

  • Gun violence prevention groups adopt moderate, middle-ground positions to meet goals

    A new study found that American organizations identifying as gun violence prevention groups advocate for the right to bear arms and for some gun purchase and ownership conditions, which they argue will curb gun-related injuries and deaths. The finding contrasts with some depictions of gun violence prevention groups as “anti-gun.”

  • To curb hate speech on social media, we need to look beyond Facebook, Twitter: Experts

    Germany has passed a new controversial law which requires social media companies quickly to delete hate speech or face heavy fines. The debate over the new law has focused on the most common social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube. Experts say that placing Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube at the center of the debate over hate speech on social media websites is understandable, but it could undermine monitoring less widely known social media players. Some of these smaller players may present more problematic hate speech issues than their bigger rivals.