IPCC makes new pitch for renewables, fast climate action
The world’s governments must immediately make a wholesale switch to carbon-free energy to have a shot at preventing catastrophic effects of climate change. That’s the conclusion of the final section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, released this week, which assesses policies needed to effectively restrain global warming. The report updates previous calls by the U.N.-sanctioned panel and climate scientists for rapid action to avoid warming above 1.5°C, the threshold for catastrophic effects such as flooding and crop failures. Planned fossil fuel plants must be canceled, most existing plants must be decommissioned, spending on renewable energy must increase three- to sixfold by 2030, and politicians must back incentives for these technologies, it says. Installing new solar and wind farms and other renewables is already cheaper in many cases than building new fossil fuel power plants, the report adds. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the report “a file of shame” and “litany of broken climate promises” by government and business leaders “that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world.”
In many ways, justice has not been served.
- Anthropologist Eben Kirksey
- in MIT Technology Review, noting that although He Jiankui has just been released from a Chinese prison after a 3-year term for creating gene-edited babies, his U.S. collaborators faced no punishment. Kirksey wrote a book about the case.
WHO pauses India vaccine supply
The World Health Organization (WHO) last week suspended shipments through U.N. channels of a COVID-19 vaccine made in India after an inspection revealed manufacturing deficiencies. WHO said Bharat Biotech, maker of the Covaxin vaccine, which uses an inactivated virus, promised to stop exporting it to any customer until the firm addresses the problems. But the company said it will continue to sell doses from the plant for use in India. The country is the largest consumer of Covaxin, with 308 million doses administered so far. India’s drug regulatory body, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, has not taken regulatory action or commented on WHO’s move. WHO’s action is significant because it authorized Covaxin’s use in November 2021, and several low-income countries have also authorized it; the vaccine is easier for them to distribute than messenger RNA vaccines because it does not need to be stored at low temperatures.
Biomedical agency lands at NIH
President Joe Biden’s new biomedical research agency for high-risk, cutting-edge research won’t have the full autonomy many backers had sought. Instead, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) will sit within the National Institutes of Health’s organizational chart—but, to promote its independence, its director will report to the NIH director’s boss, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, who announced that compromise in a letter to Congress last week. Many ARPA-H supporters argued it needed to be independent of NIH and its grantmaking culture, which they see as insufficiently innovative. Becerra testified at a House of Representatives hearing last week that NIH’s role will be to provide administrative support, such as human resources and payroll. Becerra also said ARPA-H will not be housed on NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
Max Planck director fired, again
For a second time, archaeologist Nicole Boivin has been removed as director of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), following a vote last month by a governing board of the Max Planck Society (MPG). Its president first removed her in October 2021, citing evidence of bullying and scientific misconduct. Boivin, who has denied the allegations, sued, and a Berlin court reinstated her, saying the removal violated procedures. But on 25 March, MPI-SHH’s Senate voted overwhelmingly to dismiss her as director, pointing to a confidential report whose summary supported the allegations. She remains a researcher at MPG. The case has drawn wide attention in Germany and from women scientists elsewhere, who noted that recent demotions at MPG have disproportionately affected women. Others said Boivin created an abusive work environment that harmed young women scholars.
With upgrade, telescope to pinpoint radio bursts
A groundbreaking radio telescope is being expanded to sharpen its eyesight to find the mysterious, milliseconds-long flashes known as fast radio bursts (FRBs). They were first detected in 2007, but only a few dozen were known before the 2018 debut of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). It has glimpsed more than 500 since. Although the telescope has a wide field of view that is ideal for detecting FRBs, it cannot locate them very well. Now, the management team is building three mini-CHIMEs, or outriggers, in British Columbia, California, and West Virginia. Their wide separation will allow researchers to pinpoint FRBs to a patch of sky no bigger than a coin viewed from 40 kilometers away, down from the size of the full Moon. Better accuracy helps other telescopes zoom in on the FRBs’ home neighborhoods for clues to their origins.
Kyoto shutters primate institute
One of the world’s leading groups that studies primate behavior, Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute (PRI), closed last week following a scandal. A new Human Behavior Evolution Research Center is taking over the institute’s facilities and animals; researchers within and outside the institute fear the scientific focus will shift from the lab-based cognitive studies and field observations that earned PRI international recognition to genetics, neuroscience, and biomedicine. The university made the move after investigations in 2020 uncovered mishandling of $9.7 million provided to build a chimpanzee enclosure at the institute’s campus in Inuyama, near Nagoya. As a result, the university dismissed then-Director Tetsuro Matsuzawa, known for work documenting the cognitive abilities of captive chimps.
Law aims at research dog breeder
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) this week signed into law a first-of-its-kind statute that would shut down research animal breeders that commit a single serious violation of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The law was prompted by complaints about mistreatment at Envigo, a contract research company that has housed more than 4000 beagles at a facility in Cumberland, Virginia; between July 2021 and last month, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors documented 73 AWA violations there. Thirty-five were in the most serious categories, including a finding of more than 300 uninvestigated puppy deaths. In recent years, Envigo has supplied beagles to labs at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, research universities, and pharmaceutical companies. The new law, which takes effect on 1 July 2023, prohibits organizations that breed dogs and cats for research from selling them for 2 years if they sustain a single USDA citation in the most serious categories.
Mexico harassment cases dropped
A government office in Mexico has drawn criticism for dismissing allegations of sexual harassment against a leading plant geneticist. The complaints came from four women scientists, three of whom worked with or under the supervision of Jean-Philippe Vielle Calzada of Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (Langebio). They alleged that he touched them without their consent, pressured them to enter a romantic relationship, and retaliated professionally after they rejected him. (Vielle Calzada has denied the allegations.) The office, the Internal Control Organ, found in 2021 that Vielle Calzada had committed “serious” misconduct. But in recent weeks, it dismissed two of the complaints, in one case citing a procedural issue, which the complainant plans to appeal. Critics of the office’s move have vowed to press for giving Langebio and its parent institution, the Center for Research and Advanced Studies, authority to sanction its researchers for harassment. From 2016 to 2018, only 1% of 399 cases of sexual harassment reported in Mexico’s federal institutions led to a sanction for the accused harasser.
Protections give woodland caribou a boost
A rescue effort led by Indigenous First Nations has roughly tripled the size of a British Columbia caribou herd in less than 10 years, one of the few examples of success at reversing declines of this species. The Klinse-Za herd grew from 38 animals in 2013 to more than 100 by 2021, after wildlife officials authorized the killing of hundreds of wolves that prey on the caribou, and housed female caribou in fenced enclosures while they give birth, scientists reported last month in two papers in Ecological Applications. Researchers highlight the leadership of the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations in the work and for pressuring Canadian federal and provincial governments to agree to protect 8000 square kilometers of forestland. Since 2000, nearly one-third of 38 caribou herds in southwestern Canada have disappeared, largely because logging and oil and gas exploration drove predators into caribou habitat.
Trump plug increases vaccination
An online advertisement created by political scientists and economists that featured former President Donald Trump recommending COVID-19 shots led to increased uptake of the vaccines in U.S. counties that had low vaccination rates, an analysis has concluded. COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is higher in U.S. regions that voted heavily for Trump in the 2020 election, so the research team targeted them by creating a 30-second YouTube ad that featured a Fox News TV interview in which Trump recommends the vaccine. The team spent nearly $100,000 on Google Ads to place it online in 1083 U.S. counties in which fewer than 50% of adults were vaccinated; an additional 1085 similar counties that did not receive the ads served as a control group. Compared with control counties, the study found an increase of 104,036 people receiving first vaccinations in areas that observed the ad, a statistically significant difference. The intervention’s cost was just under $1 per vaccinated person. In contrast, U.S. locales that used lottery tickets as a reward spent $60 to $80 per vaccination, according to the preprint study posted at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Biologist quits over #MeToo ruling
David Sabatini, the high-profile biologist forced out of the Whitehead Institute in 2021 after a probe found he violated its sexual harassment policies, has resigned his professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after three senior MIT officials recommended revoking his tenure. They found that Sabatini violated MIT policy by engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with a person over whom he held a career-influencing role. In an emailed statement, Sabatini, who codiscovered a key mammalian signaling pathway, called the outcome “out of all proportion to the actual, underlying facts. I look forward to setting the record straight and standing up for my integrity.” Nancy Hopkins, an emeritus professor of biology who helped lead a landmark push for gender equality on the MIT faculty in the 1990s, called his resignation “a milestone,” noting in an email, “A young woman had the courage to demand that the rules be enforced. And she was heard.”
Cancer institute head steps down
Norman “Ned” Sharpless, director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) since 2017, will step down at the end of April. He said he will spend time with his family in North Carolina before deciding what’s next, but could return to academia. Sharpless, who studies aging and cancer, was appointed to lead NCI, which has a $6.9 billion budget, by former President Donald Trump after directing the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. In 2019, Sharpless served a 7-month stint as acting chief of the Food and Drug Administration, then returned to NCI. There he highlighted the harm caused by missed cancer screenings during the pandemic and launched efforts to improve immunotherapies, share data on pediatric tumors, and improve diversity in the cancer research workforce. He also worked to find funding that has enabled NCI to raise its grant success rates, which have been the lowest of the National Institutes of Health’s largest institutes because of soaring applications.