• PerspectiveFor Scientific Integrity in Government, Fix Political Appointments Process

    The list of scandals featuring senior U.S. officials who subsumed scientific integrity to their political or personal interests numbers 60 entries in a new report from a bipartisan task force that traced practices under the past three presidents. The examples range from downplaying the connections between climate change and carbon emissions under George W. Bush to understating the risks of fracking on drinking water under Barack Obama, and on to retaliation against economists, biologists and climate scientists under Donald Trump. While the vast majority of the incidents listed occurred under the Trump administration, the task force warns that the pattern represents a kind of continuum: that abuses of the past weakened the guardrails of democracy to allow what’s happening today, and that the trend could escalate in future administrations unless Congress takes steps to strengthen safeguards. And at the root of each instance are the individuals who committed the abuses, whether the president or his political appointees.

  • Water securityNew $100M Innovation Hub for a Secure Water Future

    The National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), which is led by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), has been awarded a five-year, $100-million Energy-Water Desalination Hub by DOE (pending appropriations) to address water security issues in the United States.

  • Perspective: ExtinctionHumans “Extinct by 2100” as Intelligent Life Annihilates Itself Says Oxford Prof

    There is almost a one-in-five chance that humans will be wiped out before this century is over, according to an Oxford University department. The overall probability — or “existential risk” — of human extinction by 2100 is worryingly high, at 19 percent, Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute has calculated. Nick Bostrom, director of the Institute, notes that we should worry about the fact that aliens have not yet visited planet Earth: With billions of stars in our galaxy, it is proposed that statistically there is a very high chance of an alien race existing which has mastered space travel. But we have never found any evidence for interstellar tourists. This intriguing contradiction is known as the Fermi Paradox. Bostrom says that the fact that we have so far failed to discover another intelligent existence in space may mean that other intelligent races on other planets, if they had ever existed, may have doomed themselves to extinction by their own advanced technologies.

  • Perspective: Tech raceThe Quantum Revolution Is Coming, and Chinese Scientists Are at the Forefront

    Quantum technology — an emerging field that could transform information processing and confer big economic and national-security advantages to countries that dominate it. To the dismay of some scientists and officials in the United States, China’s formidable investment is helping it catch up with Western research in the field and, in a few areas, pull ahead. Beijing is pouring billions into research and development and is offering Chinese scientists big perks to return home from Western labs. Last year, China had nearly twice as many patent filings as the United States for quantum technology overall, a category that includes communications and cryptology devices. China’s drive has sparked calls for more R&D funding in the United States.

  • Perspective: BiotdefenseHow Does USAMRIID Shut Down Impact Nation’s Bioterrorism Laboratory Response Network?

    The Laboratory Response Network (LRN) is a collaborative federal effort run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in cooperation with other federal agency and public health partners. The U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) Special Pathogens Laboratory at Fort Detrick is one of only three National Laboratories at the top of the protective umbrella of the LRN structure, along with those operated by the CDC and the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC), responsible for specialized characterization of organisms, bioforensics, select agent activity, and handling highly infectious biological agents. It begs the question then, what happens when an important component of the nation’s biopreparedness infrastructure fails to meet CDC biosafety requirements and has its Federal Select Agent certification pulled?

  • Perspective: Science & politics Upholding Scientific Integrity at Federal Agencies

    Republicans and Democrats on a House subcommittee on Thursday agreed that science-related policy decisions should be based on facts, but differed on how to protect the federal scientists who gather and analyze those facts from undue influence. 

  • WMD detectionEpigenetic Tool for Detecting Exposure to WMD

    With a $38.8 million award from DARPA, researchers are working on developing a field-deployable, point-of-care device that will determine in 30 minutes or less whether a person has been exposed to weapons of mass destruction or their precursors. The device will be capable of detecting the health effects of a number of substances associated with weapons of mass destruction, including biological agents, radiation, chemicals and explosives. The detection devices will scan potential exposure victims for epigenetic changes, that is, chemical modifications that affect genes, altering their expression while leaving the genetic code intact.

  • Sonic weapons40 U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Have Suffered Brain Damage: Medical Report

    Brain imaging of 40 U.S. government personnel who served at the U.S. embassy in Havana in 2016, and who experienced a host of neurological symptoms after possible exposure of an unknown source, revealed significant differences in brain tissue and connectivity when compared to healthy individuals, according to a new report. Images reveal key brain differences, particularly in the cerebellum, between impacted patients and healthy individuals, which may underlie clinical findings previously reported by brain experts.

  • AnthraxFighting anthrax by removing the bacterium’s armor

    Anthrax is a deadly and highly resilient disease, caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Historically, it was a major cause of death in humans and cattle. has shown that removing the armor of the bacterium that causes anthrax slows its growth and negatively affects its ability to cause disease.

  • AliensNarrowing the search for advanced life in the universe

    Scientists may need to rethink their estimates for how many planets outside our solar system could host a rich diversity of life. Toxic gases limit the types of life we could find on habitable worlds.

  • Truth decayFinnish students outperform U.S. students on “fake news” digital literacy tasks

    A recent study revealed students at an international school in Finland significantly outperformed U.S. students on tasks which measure digital literacy in social media and online news. The researchers suggest this may be due to the Finnish and International Baccalaureate curricula’s different way of facilitating students’ critical thinking skills compared to the U.S. system and curriculum.

  • Truth decayWhy do some people believe the Earth is flat?

    By Anders Furze

    Why, despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, is the flat-Earth movement gaining traction in the twenty-first century? One expert says that, in part, it is due to a general shift toward populism and a distrust in the views of experts and the mainstream media. There is an “increasing distrust in what we once considered to be the gatekeepers of knowledge – like academics, scientific agencies, or the government,” she says. In this kind of environment, “it becomes really easy for once-fringe views to gain traction.”

  • China syndromeChina catching up to the U.S. in innovation

    If China is only a copier, not an innovator, then the competitive threat it poses to advanced economies would be limited. But there is no reason to believe China won’t follow the path of “Asian tigers” that rapidly evolved from copiers to innovators, which poses a serious threat.

  • BiothreatsBiotechnology advances offer opportunities for actors with malicious intent

    Over the past decade, the biotechnology economy has experienced remarkable growth, resulting in the rapid expansion of biological knowledge and application. These advances create openings for actors with malicious intent to harness readily available tools and techniques to create biological threats or bioweapons.

  • BiothreatsDo we need a moratorium on germline gene editing?

    In the wake of the news from China about He Jiankui’s gene-edited babies, many scientists are calling for a moratorium on germline gene-editing. Nature considered the topic sufficiently important to publish the call by several top researchers and ethicists for a moratorium.