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US news roundup: 4-10 December


This week: federal spending, student debt and Biden appointments

In depth: A veteran Democratic presidential adviser has said he thinks scientific integrity in government will be an early priority for president-elect Joe Biden when he takes office in January.

Full storyBiden team expected to move quickly on scientific integrity


Here is the rest of the US news this week…

Lawmakers pressured on spending bills

Research organisations are urging Congress to prevent a government shutdown and provide relief to science agencies and programmes by agreeing on spending bills before an 11 December deadline. A letter to Congressional leaders from 173 research organisations, including learned societies and universities, emphasised the scale of the disruption already suffered in 2020 due to Covid-19. “Research cannot be turned on and off like a faucet”, they said. An earlier letter from 76 organisations requested at least $26 billion as part of a separate emergency package for pandemic-hit research institutions.

Student debt freeze extended

US secretary of education Betsy DeVos has extended the freeze on student loan repayments until January 31. The move follows pressure from higher education groups to extend a freeze implemented in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. DeVos described it a “temporary pause” but, by the time it expires, Joe Biden will have been sworn in as president. On the campaign trail, Biden said that at least $10,000 of debt per student should be forgiven.

Biden’s CDC pick ‘ready to combat virus with science and facts’

Joe Biden has nominated HIV specialist Rochelle Walensky to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States’ main public health agency. Walensky currently leads Harvard Medical School’s infectious diseases faculty. She said she was “honoured” and “ready to combat [Covid-19] with science and facts”. Biden also nominated California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, to lead the department of health, and Vivek Murthy to return as surgeon-general, a post he held under president Barack Obama.

Executive order sets rules for federal AI

Donald Trump’s White House has issued nine principles that federal agencies and departments should follow when using artificial intelligence technologies. It said federally operated AI systems should make decisions that are accurate, effective and understandable. The guidelines are similar to those the defence department and intelligence agencies chose for themselves earlier this year, and leave operators considerable discretion to manage and apply automated systems “as appropriate”.

Nasa names private moon mining pioneers

Nasa has chosen four companies to provide it with rocks mined from the lunar surface. Each company will be paid a fee of between $1 and $15,000, after proving with photographs that it has successfully gathered moon rocks. Nasa said it chose the cheapest companies that submitted technically acceptable proposals. The rocks will become the property of Nasa under its Artemis programme of manned moon missions, and the miners will be required to act in accordance with international treaties.