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US news roundup: 11-17 September


This week: concern about political meddling, climate change scepticism and foetal tissue research

In depth: Members of Congress from both major parties have warned that the United States could lose a generation of up-and-coming research talent due to the Covid-19 pandemic, unless the government acts quickly to shore up the financial position of universities.

Full storyFears of virus-induced brain drain from US universities

Here is the rest of the US news this week…

Democrats slam alleged political meddling in CDC reports

The Trump administration “needs to leave the science to the scientists”, according to Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat member of the Senate health committee. She was reacting to a report by the news website Politico that Michael Caputo, a senior Department of Health and Human Services staffer, pushed staff to change weekly Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports to play down the severity of Covid-19 and avoid reporting information that was unfavourable to the president. The CDC and Caputo did not respond to invitations to comment from Research Professional News.

Anthropogenic climate change sceptic appointed to NOAA

A climatologist who has publicly questioned the idea of human activity driving global warming has been appointed to a top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. David Legates, who works at the University of Delaware, will be the agency’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction, the public broadcaster NPR reported. Legates was previously cautioned by Delaware’s governor after casting doubt on climate science while working as a state climatologist. NOAA and Legates did not respond to invitations to comment from Research Professional News.

Rejection of foetal tissue grants ‘could violate integrity policy’

Democratic representatives have said that the National Institutes of Health could breach its own scientific integrity policy if it follows the July recommendations of an NIH ethics review board in withholding funding from several proposals for research involving human foetal tissue. The board said the NIH should withhold funding from 13 out of 14 proposals put before it, because the 13 lacked “adequate ethical justification” for using the tissue. But Eddie Bernice Johnson and Bill Foster, who chair and sit on the House science committee respectively, said applicants were not told to provide such a rationale, meaning the assessment criteria were not transparent. The NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the board, did not respond to invitations to comment from Research Professional News.

Scripps to pay $10m to settle allegations of misusing NIH funds

The Scripps Research Institute has agreed to pay $10 million to settle claims that it improperly claimed for costs on a National Institutes of Health grant, according to the Department of Justice. The department said Scripps had charged the NIH for time spent by researchers on non-grant-related activities such as writing new grant applications and teaching. Scripps did not respond to an invitation to comment from Research Professional News.

Pharma companies report record R&D spending

Pharmaceutical companies in the United States invested at least $83 billion in R&D in 2019, according to the trade body PhRMA. The reported spending would be a record high and is equivalent to about 20 per cent of revenue, the body said. Pharma makes up about a sixth of private R&D spending in the US.