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Science  10 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6440, pp. 514-516
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6440.514

Science supporters march on

Activism

Advocates rally at a 4 May science march in Kyiv.

PHOTO: PAVLO CONCHAR/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

Turnout may have dwindled since 2017, but supporters of research kept the March for Science alive with a third annual event on 4 May. Activists gathered at more than 100 locations on every continent including Antarctica, and nearly 1000 people turned out for the flagship march in New York City. Since the inaugural march in 2017, which drew more than 1 million participants in more than 450 cities, organizers have broadened their efforts to include online petitions to legislators and a summit focused on community organizing. At this year's New York City event, an all-female lineup of keynote speakers focused on policies to address climate change and gender discrimination and harassment in science. “It's not enough to be a scientist or to love science,” marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who co-organized the 2017 march, told the crowd in her speech. “We must be informed and active citizens.”

“This government will not … tell researchers where they have to publish their papers.”

Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the White House science office, on U.S. open-access policy. European funders want to limit research articles to outlets where they're instantly free to read.

Meet the lesser-known flying dinos

Paleontology

An artist's reconstruction of Ambopteryx longibrachium.

PHOTOS: WANG MIN

A superbly preserved fossil of a starling-size, feathery creature with membranous wings of skin expands a known family of bat-winged dinosaurs, which evolved flight separately from the ancestors of birds. The new species, Ambopteryx longibrachium, fills in details about a group of flying dinosaurs called scansoriopterygids. (Pterosaurs, the earliest flying vertebrates, belonged to a different branch of the reptile family.) A fossilized scansoriopterygid species called Yi qi, discovered in 2015, revealed traces of wings made from flaps of skin. The more complete Ambopteryx fossil, found by a farmer in northeastern China and described this week in Nature, allowed researchers to compare its wing design and apparent flight mode with those of birds. The work confirms that Yi qi was not an evolutionary oddity, but likely part of a larger group of underappreciated dinosaurian flyers.

Two-thirds of world's largest rivers in trouble

Hydrology

Shrimp farms impede the natural flow of Ecuador's coastal rivers.

PHOTO: ANTONIO BUSIELLO/WWF-U.S.

When a river flows freely, ecosystems thrive. Unencumbered waters are passageways for migratory fish and allow nutrient-filled sediment to move downstream to floodplains and deltas. But about two-thirds of the world's longest rivers are no longer free flowing, and with more than 3700 large dams in the works, that number will rise, researchers report in Nature this week. Hydrologist Bernhard Lehner of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and his colleagues used a new definition of “free flowing” that excludes not just dammed rivers, but also those that are confined by levees; managed for flood control; or drained or diverted for power, irrigation, or drinking supplies. Using aerial, satellite, and other data, the researchers also created a database that marks the presence of dams and other modifications within each 4.5-kilometer stretch of the world's 12 million kilometers of rivers. The information may help countries avoid modifications to the most free-flowing waterways.

Bird flu reemerges in people

Global health

Nepal last week reported its first human case of H5N1 influenza, a highly lethal strain known as bird flu that often infects poultry flocks. This is the world's first confirmed human case of H5N1 since February 2017. Nepal's Ministry of Health and Population said a 21-year-old man died from the disease on 29 March. A Japanese laboratory that collaborates with the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on 30 April that a saliva sample from the man tested positive for H5N1. The Nepalese health ministry is investigating how he became infected. The ministry has identified no other suspected cases of H5N1 in humans or birds. From 2003 to 2017, WHO tallied 860 confirmed H5N1 cases in people, 454 of which were fatal.

A gaggle of gravitational waves

Astrophysics

In their latest observing run, detectors have spotted several more sources of ripples in space called gravitational waves. Last week, scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which has detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, and the Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy, reported three pairs of black holes spiraling into each other, a pair of merging neutron stars, and a possible black hole-neutron star merger. In earlier runs, scientists had spotted 10 black hole pairs and one neutron star pair. Meanwhile a paper in press at Physical Review Letters presents an exact mathematical formula for the signal from a black hole merger, which could enable researchers to analyze such signals without comparing them to computer simulations.

Nuclear cleanup costs climb

Environment

The estimated cost of cleaning up pollution from U.S. nuclear weapon manufacturing has more than doubled in 8 years, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). To clean up 16 federal sites, the government is on the hook for $377 billion—up from $163 billion in 2011—and the sum could continue to grow, David Trimble, head of GAO's waste cleanup monitoring, told a subcommittee of the House of Representatives on 1 May. The cleanup program, within the Department of Energy, is at “high risk” for fraud, waste, and mismanagement, Trimble said. He cited weak oversight of companies doing cleanup and failure to investigate the root causes of the ballooning price tag. The most challenging sites are the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and Hanford, Washington, where a combined 220 buried tanks hold 345 million liters of radioactive waste.

Ebola vaccine effort steps up

Global health

To fight an unusually stubborn outbreak of the Ebola virus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will expand its use of an experimental vaccine that more than 110,000 have received. Preliminary evidence suggests the vaccine, made by Merck, is extremely effective. But response teams have only offered it to people who have been a contact of a known case or a contact of a contact. This week, a group of vaccine experts that advises the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the vaccine be offered to everyone in a community where a case occurs. Instead of going house to house, WHO will create vaccination sites, protected by security forces. The region is home to nearly two dozen rebel groups—some of which have attacked Ebola response teams. As of 6 May, the 9-month-old outbreak in the northeastern region of the DRC had sickened 1506 people, 1045 of whom died.

Fraud explains launch failures

Earth science

A long-running NASA investigation has found that an aluminum plant in Portland, Oregon, run by the manufacturer Sapa Profiles Inc., fraudulently certified rocket parts that led to the crash of two climate science satellites. The Taurus rockets that carried the Orbiting Carbon Observatory in 2009 and the Glory satellite in 2011 failed to blow off their nose cones after launch; the resulting crashes destroyed missions that cost more than $700 million. NASA discovered that for 2 decades, Sapa altered more than 2000 test results of its aluminum products, including the joints that should have shattered to release the rockets' nose cones. Sapa and its parent company will pay $46 million to settle the claims and are suspended from future contracting with the federal government. They continue to dispute NASA's conclusions that the joints led to the two crashes, however, and no court of law has found them liable for the launch failures.

NIH unmuzzles trial critics

Clinical trials

Days after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) barred two employees from speaking with investigators about a clinical trial (Science, 3 May, p. 414), the agency reversed course. Last week, it confirmed that it would allow critical care physicians Charles Natanson and Peter Eichacker to meet with the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP). OHRP is investigating an NIH-funded trial testing potential treatments for the bloodstream infection sepsis. The two physician-researchers advised Washington, D.C.–based advocacy group Public Citizen, which said the trial put participants at risk by failing to test established medical care alongside two experimental approaches. NIH did not allow Science to speak with Natanson, and said that officials from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which oversees the trial, would attend the meeting with OHRP.

Revival for science advice office?

Policy

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to resurrect Congress's long-dead science advice office. A House spending panel last week approved a 2020 funding bill that includes $6 million to reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which Republican lawmakers regarded as wasteful and killed in 1995. Congress established OTA in 1972, and the office churned out some 750 reports assessing potential promise and peril in emerging fields such as biotechnology. It had about 140 staffers and a budget of $21 million at its demise. Science advocacy groups have regularly called for restoring OTA, and Representative Tim Ryan (D–OH) said the move would “pave the way for better technology and science policy.” But the effort faces uncertain prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mount Sinai faces lawsuit

Workplace

Seven women last week sued the Arnhold Institute for Global Health, part of the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, for sex and age discrimination. The women are current or former employees, three of them physician-researchers. They allege that the center's director, Prabhjot Singh, in an effort to create a Silicon Valley–like “bro culture,” preferentially hired younger men who then abused female co-workers, and that Singh disparaged and demoted older women who had built the center, driving them out. The medical school declined to make Singh and other defendants available for comment, but said in a statement, “We deny the allegations of discrimination … [and] intend to vigorously defend” the institution against the lawsuit. An eighth, male plaintiff alleged discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin, and retaliation after he reported that Singh misrepresented progress on a project to funders.

Gift fuels marijuana research

Biomedicine

Bemoaning a “research void,” cannabis industry investor Charles Broderick last week gave his two alma maters—Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge—a total of $9 million for cannabis research. The two institutions called it the largest U.S. donation to date supporting such research. Broderick founded New York City–based Uji Capital LLC, which holds stock in several Canadian marijuana companies. With its $4.5 million share of the gift, Harvard Medical School in Boston plans to run studies of cannabis neurobiology and health effects, among other things. Work at MIT will include studies examining the relationship between cannabis and schizophrenia, and its potential as a therapeutic in autism spectrum disorder and Huntington disease.

U.S. seeks computer supremacy

Advanced computing

The U.S. Department of Energy announced plans this week to build what could be the world's most powerful supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee. Called Frontier, the $600 million machine is set to debut in 2021, and will be capable of 1.5 quintillion calculations per second (exaflops). That's more than seven times faster than the 200-petaflop Summit supercomputer at ORNL, currently the world's fastest. Frontier could turbocharge efforts to use artificial intelligence, deep learning, and big data to advance research fields including plasma fusion, high-efficiency engine design, and personalized medicine. The 1-exaflop Aurora supercomputer is also set to start up in 2021 at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. But China is still expected to be the first to reach the exascale, with three groups competing to finish machines next year.

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