ScienceScope

Science  31 Oct 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5902, pp. 661
  1. Panel OKs Anthrax Shots for First Responders

    1. Martin Enserink

    A U.S. scientific panel thinks that police, firefighters, people who work with hazardous materials, and others running the risk of exposure to an anthrax infection may be offered the vaccine against the fatal disease. That suggestion, from an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a departure from current policies.

    Anthrax vaccination is compulsory for military personnel serving in risk areas overseas. Although most experts believe the vaccine—six shots over a period of 18 months—is safe, some service members believe it has made them ill, and some have filed lawsuits. Relying on new safety data, CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices agreed on 22 October that first-responder agencies “may choose to offer” their staff the vaccines on a voluntary basis—but it stopped short of recommending they do so.

    That caution reflects the panel's inability to assess the risk of future attacks, says the committee's chair, Dale Morse, who adds that the job site and duties affect a worker's risk of contracting anthrax as well. “We believe it's very low, but we can't say it's zero,” Morse says. Meryl Nass, an internist at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor, Maine, who strongly opposes the military program, believes the recommendations will put more people at risk for adverse events. No first responders became infected during the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, which killed five people.

  2. HAL the Cosmologist

    1. Adrian Cho

    Physicists know that the gravity from huge strands of dark matter distorts the images of distant galaxies and makes them tend to align, a bit like fish in a school. Now, computer scientists may help them to find new algorithms to measure that “weak lensing” distortion, which could be used to probe the mysterious dark energy that's accelerating the expansion of the universe. The competitors in the GRavitational lEnsing Accuracy Test 2008 (GREAT08) PASCAL Challenge will analyze a simulated data set of 30 million galaxies, preparation for the billions of galaxies that cosmologists expect to survey in coming decades. The challenge is the latest from the PASCAL Network, a consortium sponsored by the European Union. John Shawe-Taylor, a computer scientist at University College London, says the contest pushes machine learning in new directions by emphasizing large data sets and high precision.

  3. China Stakes Genetic Claims

    1. Richard Stone

    BEIJING—China is moving to better secure its genetic riches. The National People's Congress (NPC) is reviewing amendments to a patent law that would require applicants to disclose the origins of genetic resources when such materials are essential to the claimed intellectual property. The provision should make it easier to be fair to sources of genetic resources as well as inventors as mandated by the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which China is a party. But the amended patent law is silent on protecting the rights of indigenous people over their own genetic resources and traditional knowledge, a point that GRAIN, an environmental nonprofit based in Spain, wants to change. NPC is expected to complete its work by early next year.

  4. Star Wars in Florida

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Just days before the U.S. presidential election, both presidential campaigns desperately sought to assure Florida voters that their man will boost spending for NASA, a major employee in the battleground state. Both candidates have promised to spend $2 billion to ease the disruption to the work force resulting from a gap between retiring the space shuttle and building a new launcher. “If I'm elected president, I won't cut NASA funds like Senator [Barack] Obama [D-IL],” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said last week in Melbourne, Florida. But McCain also repeated his intention to freeze spending for all programs except defense, Social Security, and health care. “It seems Senator McCain isn't committed to exempting NASA from his proposed spending freeze,” said the Obama campaign in response.

  5. How to Age Gracefully

    1. Rachel Zelkowitz

    The U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Bethesda, Maryland, has launched a 12,000-person study to better understand what contributes to disability in the elderly. Whereas previous studies have examined the use of government-funded medical services, the new study will assess everything from medical records to lifestyle choices to understand why some people age more effortlessly than others. This week, NIA announced that the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) in Baltimore will run the $24 million study. The ultimate goal is to gather reams of data that will help us “understand disability trends and how these are playing out in different parts of the population,” says JHSPH health policy researcher Judith Kasper, who's leading the study.

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