Japan Earthquake Holds Lessons, and Warnings, for Pacific Northwest

For Japan, perched on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a major earthquake is no great surprise. The country’s building codes and earthquake alert systems are among the most sophisticated in the world and have no doubt saved thousands of lives. Now, scientists in the Pacific Northwest, whose Cascadia fault holds eerie similarities to the one that triggered today’s quake in Japan, say the disaster may force them to reexamine their own earthquake preparedness.
“This earthquake is going to be the benchmark for the Pacific Northwest when the Cascadia fault breaks,” says seismologist John Vidale of the University of Washington, Seattle. “We know that it can have an earthquake of this magnitude. It’s a question of when, not if.”
The Northwest, like Japan, lies in a subduction zone in which one tectonic plate plunges under another–as opposed to a shear zone like that in California where plates rub past each other horizontally. Both types of quakes can be devastating, but only quakes in subduction zones cause tsunamis. The shock of the magnitude-8.9 earthquake that hit Japan this morning was its sheer intensity: Several experts have hypothesized that the last one of this magnitude struck Japan in 869 C.E.
The quake shows both the importance and the limits of planning ahead, says seismologist Robert Woodward of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology in Washington, D.C. Studying earthquakes older than a few centuries is “incredibly hard forensics” that relies mostly on analyzing sedimentation caused by tsunamis, Woodward says. As a result, building codes are based mostly on smaller, more recent quakes and on geophysical monitoring.
But such hazard predictions can go only so far, Vidale says. They can warn how often and how strongly the ground will shake, but they can’t forecast the magnitude of any single event.
So far, Vidale says, the hazard predictions for Japan seem to have been much more accurate than they were for the tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand. “We don’t know yet, but haven’t seen evidence of buildings collapsing,” he said—a factor that added to the death toll in New Zealand
Japan is not out of the woods yet, Woodward notes: Buildings and structures weakened by the first quake may not withstand aftershocks. But Vidale says the real danger Japan faces now is not aftershocks from this quake, but a second earthquake on a fault that runs near Tokyo, which now has more stress on it. “In all likelihood it won’t be for decades,” he says, “but the chance is a lot more than it was yesterday.”
Scientifically, Woodward expects the earthquake to be a gold mine of information for researchers in the future. Vidale says scientists will be scrutinizing Japan’s seismological data in the days leading up to the quake for patterns or foreshocks that could predict future quakes.
Vidale says a priority for earthquake researchers will be discovering whether Japan’s sophisticated warning system helped mitigate the damage. Seismographs picked up the first tremors and sent an automated warning to TV stations and other outlets 1 minute before the quake struck. The actual impact of the warning remains to be studied, but Vidale says planners in the Pacific Northwest should take it into account.
“This is a well-instrumented earthquake, in a comparable setting [to the Pacific Northwest], and I think we’re going to learn a lot,” Vidale says. He estimates that installing such a response system in the Cascadia region would cost about $50 million, plus at least $1 million each year to monitor.
Compared with up to $100 billion in economic damage which, at the time of writing, the United States Geological Survey is predicting for the catastrophe in Japan from shaking alone (not including tsunami damage), it may be a worthwhile investment.

The professional company ue provides all the information on Cursos gratis. Cracking Tool | Dorks | Proxy | VPN | Drogs | New Friends | Health advice | Free VPS | Hacker Community | Hacker Forum | Security | Penetration Testing | Ethical Hacking | Speed up Sytem | Clean System | RAT | FUD Crypter | FUD Exploits Hackworlds.com is the best forum i ever seen! Feel free to take also a look and maybe i'll see you then. #1 Hacker Community - Network, Security, Coding, Crypters, Hacking Tutorials, Marketplace, RAT's, Exchanges, Leaks, Keyloggers, Proxies and many more.. decentralized mesh network irobot singapore

Stem Cell Lawsuit Finally Over

The Supreme Court today rejected a request to ban U.S.-funded research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). The decision brings to an end a long legal battle that has cast a shadow over hESC studies for over 3 years.
Two scientists who study adult stem cells filed their suit, Sherley v. Sebelius, in August 2009. They argued that new National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines lifting restrictions on hESC research violated a law banning federal funds for research that destroys embryos. A year later, the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction that briefly shut down NIH-funded hESC research until an appeals court stayed the injunction. The appeals court and a trial court later ruled in favor of the government.
In October, the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court. But today, the court “denied certiorari,” meaning it rejected their petition.
Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Washington, D.C., which supports hESC research, called the decision “a victory for scientists, patients, and the entire biomedical research community. Science can now continue to move forward, knowing the threat to promising research and funding has been eliminated.”
*Correction 1:15 p.m., 7 January: A change clarifies that the suit argued against new NIH guidelines that lifted restrictions on hESC research.

New Head of NIH Appropriations Panel Known for Conservative Views and Support for Research Spending

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA)

U.S. House of Representatives

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), the incoming chair of the U.S. House of Representatives panel that controls the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a long-standing reputation as a conservative budget hawk intent on reducing government spending. He’s also known for being skeptical that humans are contributing to climate change and for rejecting Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. But although that record might make many scientists anxious, his reputation as an inside operator who understands the importance of funding research makes many science boosters breathe a little easier.
“We are looking forward to working with him,” said Mary Woolley, president of the advocacy group Research!America in Alexandria, Virginia. “He has made clear his support for breast cancer funding and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He’s the kind of person who gets the job done.”
Kingston, a 10-term congressman, is taking over the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies from Representative Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who left Congress after failing to win a Senate seat. Kingston previously chaired the appropriations subcommittee responsible for agriculture, a job in which he gained a reputation for being friendly to agricultural research.
In his new job, Kingston will oversee NIH’s budget, which is currently slated to be $30.86 billion in fiscal year 2013. That figure represents a flat budget, currently being carried over from 2012 as part of a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until Congress can agree on a permanent deal. But Kingston may struggle to fend off future cuts: Science research advocates worry that steep budget reductions are looming as part of upcoming battles over short- and long-term federal spending plans.
Against this backdrop comes Kingston, a former businessman who was tagged as the most conservative member of the House of Representatives by National Journal. But he has a reputation for taking very good care of interests in or near his Georgia congressional district, which includes 25 largely rural counties in the southern part of the state. During the 111th Congress, for instance, he won federal spending “earmarks” for various research and medical projects, including $1.2 million for the government’s National Peanut Research Lab for water conservation research, $1 million for the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences for farm energy efficiency investigations, and $1 million for the Southeast Georgia Health System for pediatric and adolescent healthcare for Medicaid and uninsured patients. (House rules have since made it much more difficult to win such earmarks.)
Kingston’s spokesperson Chris Crawford says his boss is not taking the gavel with a preconceived agenda: “He really wants to identify priorities and let the subcommittee members work their will. There will be a lot of hearings with a lot of questions.”
That’s good news for budget advocates who are eager to tell the NIH research story. “We are confident that Representative Kingston sees the value of medical research, with Georgia receiving more than $441 million from the NIH in fiscal year 2012 that supported nearly 11,000 jobs in the state,” said Christopher Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Washington, D.C. “Nationally, NIH-funded research supported more than 432,000 jobs last year.”
Hansen adds that Kingston has supported other issues that are important to his group, including co-sponsoring legislation to both close screening loopholes and improve affordability of colon cancer screening for Medicare beneficiaries. Kingston has also championed research on obesity and is supportive of federal research on diabetes.
Kingston’s family background may help explain his interest in research. His Brooklyn, New York-born father, Albert Kingston, was an educational psychologist with a Ph.D. from Cornell University who took his family to live in Ethiopia in 1955. There, he worked for a U.S. federal government program in support of the ministry of education in Addis Ababa. The elder Kingston went on to become a professor of educational psychology at the University of Georgia until his retirement.
Congressional observers familiar with Kingston say he is a politician who often holds more nuanced views than his high-profile public statements sometimes suggest. (He’s appeared a number of times on comedian Stephen Colbert’s television show and is a regular on cable news.) In particular, they say he is a sophisticated pol who knows how to work the levers of power behind the scenes, while still maintaining a conservative public image that has allowed him to avoid getting “primaried” by more conservative challengers in election years. As a result, he has enjoyed a safe seat and plenty of financial support from backers. During the 2012 election cycle, Kingston raised about $1.2 million, the majority from agribusiness and defense companies, according to Opensecrets.org.

Familiar Face at Rival Chosen for Science’s Next News Editor

Tim Appenzeller

Courtesy of AAAS

A veteran science journalist will be the next editor of Science’s news section. Tim Appenzeller, chief magazine editor for Nature for the past several years, will replace current News Editor Colin Norman later this year, Alan Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science, announced today.
Norman announced last year that he would retire after 32 years at Science once a successor was found. He has led the magazine’s award-winning news section since the mid-1990s.
It will be Appenzeller’s second stint at Science. He helped coordinate the magazine’s news and feature sections from 1991 to 1999. He has also worked as a writer and editor for Time-Life Books, Scientific American, National Geographic, The Sciences, and U.S. News & World Report.
Appenzeller has won numerous awards for his work, including the American Geophysical Union’s 2005 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism for a National Geographic feature on climate science.

Ten Years In, an Innovative College for Undergraduate Engineers Snags Prestigious Award

Trio of innovators.
Richard Miller (center), with Sherra Kerns and David Kerns, on the Olin College campus.

Franklin W. Olin College

The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering opened its doors 10 years ago with the goal of being a disruptive force in U.S. higher education. But its radically different approach to training undergraduate engineers isn’t obvious at first glance.
On paper, the students attending Olin College look and act like their peers at the many small, elite private schools spread across the United States that have been around for generations. They arrive straight from high school, with sterling academic records and staggering lists of extracurricular activities. They spend their entire careers at the Needham, Massachusetts, campus, and they leave after 4 years with a degree that prepares them for top-ranked graduate schools and well-paying jobs.
But looks can be deceiving. Few institutions have more eagerly embraced the winds of change blowing through U.S. engineering education than Olin College. And last week it received the $500,000 Bernard M. Gordon Prize from the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) that recognizes “experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders.”
The award cites the college’s commitment to design process, collaborative teams, entrepreneurship, and real-world projects that are helping the school redefine what an engineering degree represents. The academy also praises the college’s attempt to scale up the Olin experience through summer workshops for engineering faculty members from other institutions who want feedback on their innovative ideas before implementing them. At the same time, what passes for radical at many universities today—notably their lust after massively open online courses and other uses of educational technology—isn’t at all what Olin officials have in mind.
The NAE award recognizes three academic leaders at Olin—Richard Miller, the college’s first employee and its founding president, and the husband-and-wife team of David Kerns and Sherra Kerns, chaired faculty members and, respectively, former provost and former vice president for innovation.
Miller talked with ScienceInsider this week about what Olin is trying to accomplish. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Q: Is Olin College still offering students a different engineering education?
R.M.: Yes. It’s profoundly different, and we’re not at all worried that Olin has become conventional. We’re still on the same pathway as we began.
To exaggerate, Olin’s definition of an engineer is someone who envisions something that has never been, and does whatever it takes to make it happen. If you can’t envision it, you can’t create it. And we’re looking for people with passion, because nothing hard ever gets done without real passion behind it.
So in addition to competence in math and science, Olin students have an abundance of creativity and passion and intrinsic motivation. To find them, we don’t think you can look at test scores. You have to actually meet them. So Olin has a mandatory weekend of interviews for applicants.
Most of it is done in a team, groups of five from all over the world. In the first exercise, we give them a box and tell them they have 3 hours to design a particular widget. So it’s a bit of a contest. We actually don’t care how the project turns out, but we are looking to see how they interact with one another. …
The next exercise is to see how they deal with controversy. They have 30 minutes to develop a presentation, and every member of the group has to speak. And we sit in the back of the room and watch them. …
The last piece is a one-on-one interview, in which we ask them what it means to lead a good life. … This is all part of defining what we call multiple intelligences, which is a direct outgrowth of Howard Gardner’s work at Harvard [University].
Q: You have 7 years of graduates. Where are they going, and is there any correlation with who you think you are attracting?
R.M.: About 41% of the graduates in our seven classes go on to graduate school. Of those, 22% go to Harvard, Stanford, or MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. And 65% of those are attending a top-10 graduate engineering program. That’s one of the surprises, because we didn’t set out to create a predoctoral program at the school.
We set out to create a new paradigm for undergraduate engineering education, and I think we have made a good start. But the students were paying attention to something else. We thought we were talking about innovative engineering. They thought we were talking about education reform.
In fact, I have a small group, maybe 10% of each graduating class, who are trying to get involved in designing seminar courses that deal with how people learn and to change how STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education is provided. And I don’t know what to tell them, to be honest. I’m not sure what you can do in STEM education with an undergraduate engineering degree. But a lot of them are very good with software design, and we are working to place them.
As for the other 59% that don’t go on to more school, an employer survey given out two times, after 6 months and 2 years, finds that new Olin graduates are equal to those with 3 to 5 years of experience. We believe that competency is a consequence of working in teams. Our kids are used to problems that are ill-defined. They develop practical solutions and get it done. And that’s what most companies like.
Q: Are you really getting a different type of student? Or would other top engineering schools say the same thing about their students?
R.M.: Let me put it this way. Say, for example, during that last part of the application process, where it’s one-on-one, you’re sitting in the room with the kid and he or she is talking and looking down at their shoes and rocking back and forth and not making eye contact. And you ask, “So what do you do when you’re not solving equations?” And the student says: “Well, I play video games.”
Now at Olin, that would probably not get you admitted. Despite the fact he might have perfect test scores, and he may be the next prodigy in computer science, I’m not sure that he or she would fit in well at Olin and grow, and the other students might not get much from the interaction. So we might put that fish back in the pond, and he or she would show up at another university. And he may go on to win a Nobel Prize. But it wouldn’t be an Olin kid.
Q: What’s your attrition rate?
R.M.: It’s very low. I think our 4-year graduation rate is between 90% and 95%. Lots of students may decide they don’t want to be a practicing engineer, and that’s fine with us. But they get the degree.
An increasing fraction of Olin graduates are going to medical school or getting M.D./Ph.D. degrees, or going to law school, often in patent law. For example, almost 10% of our graduating class last year went directly to Harvard Business School. They have this program in which students agree to go out and work for 2 years and then come back to campus for a 2-year M.B.A.
Q: Your gender ratio is pretty even. But how are you doing in attracting other types of underrepresented minorities?
R.M.: In a nutshell, not nearly as well. We have about the same percentage as other small, elite, undergraduate engineering schools, which is to say about 5%.
It’s very hard to do. One explanation is that our medium math/verbal SAT score has been 1490 to 1500 for the past 5 years. And if you look within the underrepresented population of high school students, the percentage of students who have an SAT score in that range is quite low. And those kids can go anywhere they want.
Olin does really well in competing for students against other engineering schools. But it’s harder for us to compete with the Harvards and Stanfords because of what I call opportunity costs.
They are 18 when they apply, and Olin offers a really cool engineering degree program. On the other hand, they’re 18 and at the top of their class. I might want to be an engineer, they think, or I might want to be a brain surgeon. Do I have to make that decision at 18? If I go to Stanford, I don’t have to decide right now.
Q: What about the decision to charge tuition? Your Web site says it’ll cost students almost $40,000 a year to go to Olin, even with a half-tuition scholarship.
R.M.: Right. We give every student, independent of family need, a $20,000-a-year merit-based scholarship as part of the admissions package. In addition to that, Olin is one of a small and declining number of schools that also gives full need-based aid and has need-blind admissions. In spite of all that, we are much more expensive than we were 5 years ago.
Q: Why the change?
R.M.: It was a result of the 2008 financial crisis. Like so many schools, we had a significant drop in our endowment, which makes it unviable in the long term to continue to offer full-tuition scholarships to every student. We also guessed correctly that this would not be a short-term recession, that it would be a long recovery, and that we couldn’t just hold our breath in the meantime. We needed to find another way to breathe.
Q: Have you noticed any change in the demographics?
R.M.: We were scared to death of what might happen. We did everything we could to try to prevent changes in demographics. In terms of the numbers, the only real effect is that we had a dip in female to male ratio in the first class, in fall 2010. And that’s because women are an underrepresented group and because of that they are offered a better financial deal by many schools.
Q: Let’s talk about faculty. Without offering graduate degrees, is it harder to attract faculty members interested in carrying out a strong research program?
R.M.: Olin set out to be not just a teaching institution. After all, you can only teach what you know, and if you’re not continually learning, in a fast-moving field, then your usefulness is limited.
Olin faculty receive more competitively awarded funding, per capita, than most other universities: a total of between $1 million and $2 million a year for a faculty of between 35 and 40. We do this by having teaching loads that are not as high as at many tuition-driven, undergraduate institutions. We want them to have time for research.
We expect faculty members to produce papers as good as anybody else in their discipline. But it might not be good enough, in terms of quantity, for promotion at a research-intensive university, where faculty are expected to, say, produce five papers a year and train two Ph.D. students and bring in $500,000 a year in federal grants to fund the tuition for those graduate students.
The type of faculty members we recruit is different. Their preparation and background is as good or better than at most universities where I’ve worked. They are very well-prepared people, with great credentials.
But the difference is that Olin looks for faculty members who really want to be inspirational teachers at the undergraduate level. Instead of working toward a Nobel Prize themselves, they are more interested in preparing a future Nobel Prize winner.
Q: What are your plans for the next 10 years?
R.M.: Olin has a mission, given to us by the Olin Foundation, to become an important and constant contributor to the advancement of engineering education in the United States and around the world. So we feel that, given our current educational paradigm, that tweaking the knobs and having the SAT scores [of incoming students] go up 20 points isn’t really worth the energy.
We have a higher calling, and that is to inspire other universities to think about the undergraduate education they are offering. The idea is to incorporate the latest learning in cognitive sciences and education and do a better job of inspiring the next generation of students in STEM education.
As you probably know, only about 4.5% of the bachelor degrees awarded in the United States last year went to students studying engineering. And it’s a declining market share. About half of the students who declared engineering upon entering any college in the U.S. will not graduate with an engineering degree. We think that this is largely a fixable problem, but not by staying home and teaching Olin students.
Instead, we’re hoping to help inspire and lead a transformation of engineering education in the U.S. and around the world. So we plan to expand our faculty without expanding our student body, to work more with other universities in what we call consultation and co-design partnerships. The idea is for faculty members at other universities to come to us with their ideas about how to innovate, and give them a chance to try them out and plant them at Olin. There are about 10 universities that have already done that, and about 200 universities have contacted us to talk about their ideas.
To enroll, they have to send us a proposal, and include the fact that there are others on campus who share their views on reform. Before they launch it, however, they want to talk with like-minded people, and figure out how to implement it. We may also hold alumni sessions to see what has worked, and to spread these ideas.
We have about 350 beds on campus, and we don’t intend to grow our student population. But we hope that through these partnerships, we can touch 25,000 students a year without enrolling them on our campus.
Q: In some ways, Olin has a very traditional structure, in terms of operating a residential college for 18- to 22-year-old students who stay at Olin and graduate in 4 years. That’s not what people at Coursera and edX and Udacity are talking about when they describe what they want to accomplish. What’s wrong with their vision?
R.M.: Rather than traditional, I’d say we have a residential vision for education. We think of engineering as a profession. And like all professions, it has less to do with what you know than with what you can do. To be good at a profession is the equivalent of being good at a performing art. And I don’t believe that Coursera has a vision of teaching concert pianists over the Internet.
When you have our type of educational goal, I think it’s unlikely that in the short term remote education is going to replace that face-to-face interaction and co-design. Having that human contact with an expert who can react to the important issues is essential.
You can’t learn everything from a book. A lot of it comes from direct experience. You have to learn to listen to that inner voice and shape it with reactions from other people. I don’t think you can learn to become a good public speaker by only interacting with a computer. I think you have to learn to perform in front of a live audience, to read the audience, how to deal with stage fright, and so on.
Q: What about training an engineer?
R.M.: You can learn a lot of the content from a book, or by interacting with the Internet. But you can’t learn the process of engineering from a book.
The American aerospace industry was invented in a bicycle shop in Ohio. It wasn’t invented in a physics lab. In the United States, in my view, we don’t do a good enough job of teaching the process of creative design. And while there’s obviously a place for the content and body of knowledge, assuming that is all education is about or the most important part is a distraction.
Imagine medical education had discovered Coursera and decided we can vastly increase the number of cardiologists in this country by making their education free over the Internet to thousands of people who can learn tomorrow. And we’ll use social media as the primary interaction method and assessment.
Are you ready to leave your cardiologist and go there? At some point, they need to do open-heart surgery. It can certainly reduce the early part of the curriculum, so that people aren’t bored to tears by sitting in a classroom. But the heart of it, pardon my choice of words, is what you can do. It’s not about what you know. In other words, it’s experiential learning.
*Update 10 January, 4:20 p.m.: This article has been revised to clarify Miller’s view of the application process at other schools.

Don’t Speculate, Representative Lamar Smith Tells ScienceInsider

Call me, absolutely. Representative Lamar Smith explains the process of naming the science committee’s subcommittee chairs.

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee has taken exception to an article this week about the legislators who were named to lead the panel’s six subcommittees.
Here is the full text of the letter from Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), followed by an explanatory footnote:
An article in ScienceInsider tries to speculate on the recent Subcommittee appointments to the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Unfortunately, I regret that the reporter didn’t call to get the facts.
For example, ScienceInsider opines that Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill) was somehow “lost in the shuffle” in the decisions on subcommittee chairs. But in fact, House Republican rules prohibit members who serve on exclusive committees, including Budget and Financial Services, from serving as Subcommittee chairman on another committee. Rep. Hultgren is a member of the Financial Services Committee. Along with his work on other committees, I am confident that Rep. Hultgren will continue to be a strong voice in support of science and innovation.

Other claims about members being stripped of their posts or questions about their qualifications could have been easily answered had Science Insider contacted my office for comment. As Vice-Chairman of the Space Subcommittee, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala) has said that he is “thrilled” with his new position and looking forward to representing the interests of the Marshall Space Flight Center, located in his congressional district. And had I been contacted, I would have been happy to explain why Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) was selected to chair the Subcommittee on Technology. A successful innovator and entrepreneur, Rep. Massie started his own company after receiving a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1995, Rep. Massie won the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.
In the future, I hope ScienceInsider makes a better effort to get the facts. Unfortunately, in this case, the ScienceInsider seems more like Science Speculator.

Note: There are a handful of committees in the 435-member House of Representatives that are seen as so influential that members are not allowed to serve on other committees. Party leaders can make an exception by granting the member a waiver; however, that waiver typically would not enable the member to hold a leadership position on the second committee. Historically, the list of so-called exclusive committees has included appropriations, ways and means, and energy and commerce. Financial services was added to the list in 2005.
This practice is not followed in the 100-member Senate, where by tradition power is distributed more evenly.

Of Conflicts and Clinical Trials: Researchers Report New Results

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—This week, the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication here drew researchers from around the world to discuss ways to “improve the quality and credibility of scientific peer review and publication.” ScienceInsider attended and covered some of the more intriguing presentations. Today: a look at studies of problems in how researchers report the results of clinical trials and potential conflicts of interest.
Published Trial Results Often Differ From Those Initially Posted
Deborah Zarin, director of the database ClinicalTrials.gov at the National Library of Medicine, likes to say that her website is “a window into the sausage factory”—a view that we usually don’t get of how clinical trials work and how they don’t. 
Six years ago, ClinicalTrials.gov was tasked by Congress to embark on a new experiment: In addition to trial registrations, many trial sponsors were required to deposit their results in the public database for anyone to access. At the congress, a group from Yale University School of Medicine explored how well the results posted on ClinicalTrials.gov match up with what’s published. What they found was not particularly encouraging.

Jessica Becker, a medical student, described how she and her Yale colleagues—Harlan Krumholz, Gal Ben-Josef, and Joseph Ross—identified 96 trials published between July 2010 and June 2011, all of them with a ClinicalTrials.gov identification number. They focused on studies that appeared in high-profile journals. Almost three-quarters of the trials analyzed were funded by industry.
All but one trial had at least one discrepancy in how trial details, results, or side effects were reported.
One big question was whether the same primary endpoints and secondary endpoints appeared in both the final publication and the ClinicalTrials.gov results database. A primary endpoint represents the main goal of a study and the question or questions it was designed to answer. Secondary endpoints are often added to squeeze as much information as possible out of what’s collected, but statistically they can be weaker because the trial wasn’t created with them in mind. Primary endpoints in 14 trials appeared only on ClinicalTrials.gov, while primary endpoints from 10 others were only in the publication. The results described were also different in some cases: For 21% of the primary endpoints, what appeared in the journal wasn’t exactly the outcome described on ClinicalTrials.gov, and in 6%, the Yale group suggested that this difference influenced how the results would be interpreted.
For secondary endpoints, the difference was even more dramatic: Of more than 2000 secondary endpoints listed across the trials, just 16% appeared the same way in both the public database and the published article along with the same results. Results for dozens of secondary endpoints were inconsistent. “Our findings raise concerns about the accuracy of information in both places, leading us to wonder which to believe,” Becker said.
The group hasn’t probed why this is happening: There could be innocent errors on ClinicalTrials.gov or typos in publications. Or authors may promote “more favorable stuff” in what’s printed, she speculated.
“There are many, many microdecisions” that come with writing up a publication, Zarin says. The uncomfortable results presented by Becker are “part of what motivates the desire” for anonymized information on individual patients, Zarin suggests—exposing that might be the only way to reconcile the discrepancies. Zarin also speculates that researchers might add positive secondary endpoints after the study is completed—a big no-no in the trials world—to give it a rosier hue, and thus they don’t appear on ClinicalTrials.gov when the study is first registered. Zarin is conducting her own analysis of the ClinicalTrials.gov results database, which now includes results from almost 10,000 trials. (150,000 trials are registered on the site.) She says she’s reaching similar outcomes as the Yale group.
One question that the Yale team didn’t explore was whether researchers had inputted their results on the site before submitting their paper—something that would allow journal editors or reviewers to play detective and see whether the document they have matches up with what’s in the database.
Potential Conflicts Still Going Unreported
Clinical trial authors still aren’t reporting their conflicts of interest, despite years of conversations and new policies encouraging them to do so. That’s the bottom line of a study presented here at the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication, where Kristine Rasmussen from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen presented a new study tackling this question.
In most countries, it might be tough to determine whether authors who don’t disclose conflicts actually have them. But Denmark is unusual, because all Danish physicians are required by law to fill out forms if they collaborate with industry, and those forms are publicly available. (The United States is beginning to implement a similar rule as part of the Affordable Care Act.) The Danish system made it straightforward for Rasmussen and her Cochrane colleagues—Jeppe Schroll, Peter Gøtzsche, and Andreas Lundh—to compare disclosures of industry associations in published papers with the forms filed by doctors.
They looked at journals that follow recommendations from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and searched for trials that had at least one Danish physician author who did not work at a company. They selected 100 recent studies. About half the doctors had some financial conflict of interest with a drug company, though not necessarily the company sponsoring the published research, they found.
Although most of the doctors disclosed relationships they had with the firm funding the published research, fewer than half shared relationships they had with industry competitors. And despite all the talk in recent years about conflicts, 16% who had a financial tie to a sponsor or drug manufacturer leading the study didn’t report it. One example cited by Rasmussen: a physician who was an advisory board member and speaker for AstraZeneca, maker of the drug being covered by the paper, who declared he or she had no conflicts.
“I was actually very disappointed” by this, says Vivienne Bachelet, editor-in-chief of the journal Medwave in Santiago, who was not involved in the study. In her country, she says, the “level of awareness is just nil” about conflicts of interest. Medical societies in particular get substantial funding from drug companies but almost no one—the societies themselves, drug regulators, or the individual doctors—see this as something that should be disclosed, Bachelet says. “If they’re not disclosing over there,” in Denmark, “what’s to be expected in Chile?”
Rasmussen noted that one issue might be vagueness in the ICMJE conflict of interest form: While it’s specific about the expansive nature of conflicts that might arise, such as travel paid by a company or fees for expert testimony, it suggests that authors disclose only those that are “relevant.” Says Rasmussen, “authors are left to decide” what falls into that category.

100 Sign Petition Calling for Gun Violence Research

Testimony. Vice President Biden (far right) and members of the Gun Violence Commission hear from the mother of a shooting victim.

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

More than 100 researchers sent a letter yesterday to Vice President Joseph Biden asking the government to boost research on gun violence. Biden heads up the White House’s Gun Violence Commission, which is looking into ways to reshape national policies in the wake of last month’s mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut.
The researchers’ petition, sent under the letterhead of the University of Chicago social science center known as the Crime Lab, says that “politically motivated constraints” have held back U.S. research on gun-related violence since the mid-1990s. That’s when groups backing private gun ownership, including the National Rifle Association, leaned on Congress to limit such research. The lobbying push came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted firearms-linked deaths as a preventable public health problem.
In 1996, Congress cut CDC’s budget by the exact amount the agency was spending on such research and adopted language stating that no funds “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, were later waived off funding gun-related studies, according the letter. It argues that this loss of data collection and analysis pushed the government to a “muddling through” approach that hasn’t worked well.
“We recognize that a lot of the gun‑policy debate in Washington, D.C. will hinge on how different people value the tradeoffs associated with different policy approaches,” said Jens Ludwig, director of the Crime Lab and a co-author of the letter, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. “Right now the research community is hampered in its ability to inform policymakers about the expected benefits and costs of different policy approaches because of politically‑motivated limits on data access, and substantial federal under‑funding of research on gun violence.”
In the letter to Biden, researchers say that violence involves guns more often in the United States than in Western democracies with similar rates of violence, leading to a higher U.S. homicide rate. The letter claims that the total cost of gun violence to U.S. society is about $100 billion a year. Yet the “paltry” funding of research on this problem, according to the letter, is “far below the levels warranted.”
The researchers make two major recommendations:
“[R]emoval of the current barriers to firearm-related research, policy formation, evaluation and enforcement efforts.”
Direct investments by the federal government “in unbiased scientific research and data infrastructure.”
The Biden commission has been meeting with groups interested in gun control policies, including advocates of looser restrictions. Today, the panel met with makers of video games, which some argue may encourage violent behavior. Biden predicted that the panel will deliver its recommendations next week, and that the president will act quickly, possibly using executive authority.

TV Host’s Comments on Human Evolution Draw Fire

Have humans stopped evolving? That question has been getting some rare media and blog attention this week ever since David Attenborough, the 87-year-old British naturalist and broadcaster, declared: “I think that we’ve stopped evolving.”
In an interview published this week in the magazine Radio Times, the influential Attenborough, host of numerous television documentaries on natural science, held forth on a number of topics. At one point, he explained that so many more babies survive childbirth now that natural selection, as proposed by Charles Darwin, cannot act on humans to favor infants with traits that are beneficial today or to weed out those with adaptations that impair survival. “We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 95–99 per cent of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were,” he said.

Attenborough’s comments are getting attention (see here and here, for instance).
But his view doesn’t reflect scientific consensus. “Humans are most certainly still evolving, just not necessarily in ways we might expect,” wrote Catherine Woods of the Center for Neural Science at New York University in New York City in May in Science.
For example, millions of people in developing countries continue to live in poverty and to suffer from infectious diseases. Under these conditions, natural selection may be favoring genes that confer resistance to disease, such as AIDS and malaria, or enhance reproductive fitness in other ways, researchers said in a report in Science. “As long as some people die before reproducing or reaching reproductive age, selection is likely to be acting,” geneticist Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, U.K., told Science in 2005. And since that time, researchers have discovered a spate of human genes that evolution has strongly favored recently, such as mutations that help highland Tibetans survive at high altitude, Yupik Eskimos to stay warm efficiently, Europeans to thrive on cereal grains, and East Asians avoid alcoholism.

New Controversy Over Experimental IVF Method

A critique of potential in vitro fertilization (IVF) strategies to prevent babies from developing a common class of genetic diseases is sparking controversy. In today’s issue of Science, three evolutionary biologists argue that the ethical and scientific debates over an experimental IVF approach called mitochondrial replacement have underplayed some potential risks of the technique. While the trio support further development of the therapy, they say that more animal studies might be needed before clinical trials should proceed. But supporters of the technique—and a key IVF regulatory body in the United Kingdom—say that the concerns have already been taken into account and are minor compared with the symptoms the technique would prevent.
Mitochondria are organelles that provide cells with energy. Replacing these powerhouses in egg cells has been proposed for women who carry mutations in their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) but still want to have a baby themselves. (Mitochondria carry their own DNA, which is inherited almost exclusively through the mother; although sperm have mitochondria, they degrade after fertilization of an egg.) Mutations in mtDNA can cause mitochondrial diseases, with a range of symptoms affecting the eyes, heart, brain, and other organs. Some cases are mild; others are fatal.
Researchers have been working to develop ways that women who carry mtDNA mutations could have biological children without passing on the defect. Several methods are under development, but they all involve replacing the faulty mitochondria from a patient’s egg with those from a healthy donor. The techniques raise ethical concerns, because they involve altering the inheritable DNA of an embryo—“Three-parent babies” is often part of the headline that accompanies stories about the concept. In the United Kingdom, several ethical and scientific review panels have given the techniques a cautious endorsement, however, and the government has said that it wants to allow the technique. It is expected to release proposed regulations in the coming months, and the U.K. Parliament could vote on a final version next year. 

A number of animal studies have shown that the technique can produce live offspring, and a study last year showed that it can produce normal-looking human embryos, at least through the blastocyst stage, about 5 days after fertilization. Some supporters of the technique have compared it to changing the battery in a camera.
Klaus Reinhardt, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, and his co-authors contend that that analogy is too simple. They say animal studies suggest that the interactions between mtDNA and nuclear DNA are extensive, and minor changes in either one can affect mitochondrial function. Introducing donor mtDNA could lead to subtle problems in offspring that haven’t yet been studied in the only primate model for mitochondrial replacement: macaques. In mice and fruit flies, Reinhardt says, problems from swapping mitochondria show up disproportionately in males and often affect fertility. The published macaque studies on mitochondrial replacement follow the new offspring for 3 years, but males don’t reach adulthood until 4 years of age, Reinhardt notes.
The U.K. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which would be in charge of regulating the technique if it were allowed in the United Kingdom, says that its expert panel did take those concerns into account. The panel “carefully considered the interaction between nuclear and mitochondrial DNA and concluded that the evidence did not show cause for concern,” the agency says in a statement released today. The agency is talking with panel members to consider the issue of whether the macaques in the study were followed long enough, a spokesperson says.
Developmental geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London, who co-chaired the HFEA scientific review panel, says he doesn’t know of any evidence that interactions between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA could cause severe health problems in humans. If the therapy might lead to minor effects, “it is important that the family knows this risk,” he writes to ScienceInsider in an e-mail.  However, he adds, “I suspect they would still choose [mitochondrial replacement] rather than have a very sick child.”
Reinhardt says he agrees. “We are sure that HFEA will decide [whether to allow the therapy] on a case-by-case basis and will have safeguards. But couples that have mild mitochondrial disease might choose to wait 2 years until the macaques are a bit more mature.”