Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Bill to fight sexual harassment in universities approved by Chilean Senate

    "NO” written on the hands of protesters

    Protesters march in June 2018 in Santiago, demanding an end to sexual harassment and abuse, including in educational institutions.

    AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo

    SANTIAGO—On 20 August, Chile’s Senate approved a bill requiring state-supported institutions of higher education to create detailed protocols to respond to sexual harassment. Under the law, universities would have to adopt a concrete definition of harassment and establish consistent punishments for harassers, or risk losing state accreditation and funding. The bill will now move to the Chamber of Deputies, the second half of Chile’s legislature, where the bill’s creators hope it will become law as early as next year.

    The bill was originally a brainchild of the Chilean Network of Women Researchers (RedI), an advocacy group that promotes gender equality in science and research in Chile.

    A 2017 study conducted by Chile’s National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research found that at least 39% of students and 41% of academics reported encountering unsolicited attention of a sexual nature.

  • More than 700 German research institutions strike open-access deal with Springer Nature

    people shake hands at a Springer Nature and Project DEAL press event

    Leaders of the German consortium Project DEAL signed an agreement today with Springer Nature officials in Berlin.

    Bettina Ausserhofer

    BERLIN—A consortium of more than 700 German research institutions and libraries today announced an agreement with publisher Springer Nature to make it simpler for authors to publish their papers open access. The agreement is the largest national open-access deal to date, but it doesn’t allow authors to publish open access in Nature or its sister journals.

    The consortium, called Project DEAL, has negotiated for more than 3 years with major publishers to reach “publish and read” agreements. Such agreements give member institutions full access to a publisher’s online content and make papers that their researchers publish freely available worldwide. Charges are based not on subscriptions, but on a fee per published paper.

    Project DEAL reached a similar agreement with the publisher Wiley in February, but this agreement is bigger. It is expected to cover more than 13,000 articles per year published by researchers working at German institutions, compared with roughly 9500 in Wiley journals. That makes it “the largest ever transformative agreement” for open access, Springer Nature CEO Daniel Ropers told a press conference here this morning.

  • Climate facts subject to rules on partisan advertising in Canada

    climate protest in Toronto, Canada

    Environmental campaigners in Canada have been told that climate science is a partisan issue in the upcoming election.

    Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Environmental charities and campaigners in Canada’s upcoming federal election this fall say they are facing new restrictions on how they talk about climate change after a warning from the country’s election watchdog that the topic will be subject to rules around third party “issue advertising.”

    Elections Canada, an independent agency based in Gatineau that governs the country’s elections, told charities at a training session in July that because the People’s Party of Canada, a fringe right-wing party led by former Conservative Cabinet minister Maxime Bernier, denies the reality of human-caused climate change, any advertising during the election that states it is real or advocates for policies to address it could be seen as indirectly campaigning against that party. Groups making such statements would be required by federal law to register as third parties in the election, Elections Canada told the attendees.

    Registering as a third party comes with onerous financial reporting requirements and would put the charitable status of an organization at risk, but running political ads without registering carries a financial penalty. 

  • New addiction research center receives trove of molecules from embattled opioidmaker

    Mike Hunter, Burns Hargis, and Kayse Shrum speaking during a press conference

    Purdue Pharma offered data and molecules to Oklahoma State University (OSU) after a settlement announced in March by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (left) and OSU medical school President Kayse Shrum (right).


    When Oklahoma State University (OSU) got a major windfall from a settlement with opioidmaker Purdue Pharma earlier this year, it still faced a long road to establish itself as a hub for addiction research and treatment. That road got a bit shorter last week when the company announced that it in addition to the settlement money, it would hand over thousands of its proprietary molecules, patient samples, and other data.

    The new agreement is separate from the settlement reached in March between Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, and the state of Oklahoma, which alleged that the company marketed the painkiller OxyContin deceptively, helping fuel an epidemic of opioid abuse. The state agreed to drop its suit in return for support for a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at OSU’s Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa. The new center is funded by a $177 million endowment from Purdue and its owner, the Sackler family.

    In conversations with OSU about the new endowment, the company mentioned that it had thousands of molecules it had been investigating as potential drugs but that it no longer planned to pursue, says Jason Beaman, who heads OSU’s psychiatry department and helped develop the school’s wellness center. “We just said, ‘Hey, we would we happy to take those off your hands and do the right thing.’”

  • Funding crisis at Brazilian science agency could leave 80,000 researchers and students without pay

    100 reais being printed

    The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development’s scholarship budget was slashed by 21% this year.


    A major budget crisis at Brazil’s leading science funding agency could disrupt the lives of thousands of students and early-career scientists. In September, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) in Brasília could run out of money to continue to fund the grants and scholarships it provides to more than 80,000 Brazilians.

    On 15 August, the agency took to Twitter to announce the suspension of financial support for its recipients—a measure that many had feared since the government decided to slash CNPq’s scholarship budget by 21%, from 998 million reais ($249 million) in 2018 to 785 million reais ($196 million) this year. “We are taking the necessary measures to minimize the consequences of this restriction,” the statement reads. So far, however, CNPq has not clarified how many people will be affected next month, or how long the suspension of payments would last.

    The budget issues at CNPq are only the latest in a long series of cuts to Brazil’s federal science budget. “But there was never a crisis like this,” says José Alexandre Diniz-Filho, an ecologist at the Federal University of Goiás in Goiania.

  • Australian university suspends ancient DNA expert Alan Cooper as part of workplace investigation

    Alan Cooper

    Alan Cooper

    Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

    The University of Adelaide in Australia has suspended evolutionary molecular biologist Alan Cooper, director of the university’s Centre for Ancient DNA, as the result of an investigation into allegations of bullying at the lab.

    “The University recently commissioned an independent culture check, in relation to the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD),” a university spokesperson wrote in a statement to Science. “Following on from the information provided, the University has decided to take further action. The Director of ACAD has been suspended from duties pending the outcome of further processes. Those processes will be conducted confidentially, and the University will not make further comment while they are under way.”

    In recent weeks, allegations that Cooper bullied and harassed his lab members have surfaced, as noted by a blog, ABC News Australia and social media. For example, former graduate student and postdoctoral researcher Nic Rawlence, now director of the paleogenetics lab at the University of Otago in New Zealand, alleges that Cooper bullied and harassed him and other trainees while Rawlence worked in Cooper’s lab from 2006 to 2013. “Everyone dreaded lab meetings. You were going to get picked on, yelled at, and shamed‘None of you can write,’ [Cooper] would say, in front of university higher-ups and outside visitors," Rawlence told Science. "If you were not picked on, you felt so sorry for whoever was. It was a textbook example of bullying.” Rawlence says he submitted a written account of this behavior to the firm conducting the “culture check.” 

    Cooper did not respond to requests for comment.

  • AAAS names chemist Holden Thorp as editor-in-chief of Science

    Holden Thorp

    Holden Thorp

    Washington University

    Holden Thorp, a chemist who held top leadership positions at two major U.S. research universities, was named today as the next editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals. He succeeds biologist Jeremy Berg, who had held the job since 2016 and is returning to a research post at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

    Thorp, 55, was provost at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, from July 2013 until this past July; he held faculty appointments there in both chemistry and medicine. His priorities during that period included supporting interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship and promoting diversity among the institution’s leadership and undergraduate students.

    Before that, he spent 3 decades at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he served as chancellor from 2008 through 2013, after beginning his scientific studies at the institution as an undergraduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1989 from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and completed postdoctoral work at Yale University. His research focus has ranged widely, from physical inorganic chemistry early in his career to drug development more recently. Thorp developed technology for electronic DNA chips and co-founded two pharmaceutical companies, which are commercializing new drugs for fungal disease and prostate cancer.

  • An ecologist with an eye toward forecasting the future

    researchers working at a dig site

    The Ecological Forecasting Initiative aims to aid efforts to use data collected in the field to forecast future ecosystem changes.

    Cydney Scott for Boston University Photography

    LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY—The ultimate goal of many biologists is to be able to predict how their system—be it a genome, a cell, an organism, or an entire ecosystem—will change through time. For ecologists, there is added urgency as many are trying to figure out the best way to help plants and animals cope with climate change. Toward that end, Michael Dietze of Boston University has helped galvanize researchers to establish the Ecological Forecasting Initiative (EFI). First launched 1 year ago, EFI is a grassroots effort to set standards, encourage interdisciplinary approaches, and develop forecasting methods that can be applied to many situations, including fisheries management, wildlife migrations, algal blooms, wildfire patterns, and human disease.

    ScienceInsider chatted with Dietze this week here at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), where he organized a special session to take stock of the latest forecasting efforts and to announce new funding for the initiative.

    The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

  • For a decade, Francis Collins has shielded NIH—while making waves of his own

    Francis Collins

    Francis Collins has led the National Institutes of Health with a firm hand.


    For months after President Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017, biomedical scientists were on edge. The White House had asked geneticist Francis Collins to stay on as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, but nobody knew for how long. Some unconventional candidates for the NIH post, including a surgeon-turned-entrepreneur and a Tea Party member of Congress, provoked "major angst," recalls NIH observer Tony Mazzaschi, policy director for the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health in Washington, D.C. Soon, Trump proposed slashing the agency's budget by 22%.

    But in early June 2017, relief came when the White House announced that Collins would remain NIH director. Two years later, biomedical scientists are counting themselves lucky. Collins has helped shield NIH from threatened budget cuts as well as the upheaval that has shaken many other federal agencies under the Trump administration. As he completes a decade as NIH director this month, Collins, 69, has been a survivor—he's one of a few top-level holdovers from former President Barack Obama's administration and has served longer than any other NIH head in 50 years. Observers say Collins has also been one of the most influential directors ever to shape NIH, which with a budget of $39 billion this year is the world's largest biomedical research agency.

    The plainspoken, guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding scientist—who took the helm of NIH after 15 years as director of NIH's genome institute—has used charm to rally Congress to restore growth to NIH's budget after more than a decade of stagnation. He has launched ambitious research initiatives in cancer, neuroscience, and precision medicine. He has tackled, with mixed results, vexing community problems, such as a lack of minorities in science, the struggles of young scientists to gain funding, and sexual harassment. With two key exceptions—the recent curtailment of fetal tissue research by Trump officials and pressure to scrutinize foreign scientists' ties to their home countries—NIH has largely escaped political interference during his tenure.

  • In departure for NIH, Cancer Moonshot requires grantees to make papers immediately free

    Joe Biden talking to another man while a woman looks on

    Promoting the Cancer Moonshot, then-Vice President Joe Biden (right) speaks with Nobel laureate Paul Modrich (left), at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in 2016. 

    AP PHOTO/Ben McKeown

    The long-standing debate over open access to research results has been marked by a geographic divide. In Europe, some public funders have launched a high-profile open-access initiative, dubbed Plan S, that would ultimately require grantees to publish only in journals that immediately make papers free to all. But in the United States, federal agencies have stuck to a decade-old policy that allows grantees to publish in journals that keep papers behind a paywall for up to 1 year. Now, the divide is starting to blur, with one prominent U.S. research program starting to require immediate open access to the peer-reviewed publications it funds.

    The policy is part of the Cancer Moonshot program at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, the 7-year, $1.8 billion research initiative spearheaded in 2016 by then–Vice President Joe Biden after his son Beau died of brain cancer. Biden felt that broader data sharing would speed cancer research, and after hearing from open-access advocates he backed the concept for all cancer research papers. In a 2016 speech, Biden told the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR): “Imagine if… we said we will no longer conceal cancer’s secrets in… paywalled journals with restricted databases, and instead make all that we know open to everyone so that the world can join the global campaign to end cancer in our lifetimes?”

    NCI officials embraced that idea, and drafted rules that require moonshot grantees to submit a plan for making their publications “immediately and broadly available to the public.”

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