Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • President Trump signed a budget compromise to keep the government open without his requested $5.7 billion for the border wall. The bill does include nearly $1.4 billion for an additional 55 miles of border fencing, with language added by Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) that stipulates barrier cannot be built through five cultural and environmental landmarks: the National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a Catholic chapel called La Lomita, and a tract of land for use as a spaceport by Space-X. After signing, the president declared a state of emergency to redirect funds to build the border wall without approval from Congress, and an administration official stated that the location stipulations will not apply to barrier built using the emergency funds (Texas Tribune; Wall Street Journal).
  • The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan public land conservation bill. Included in the bill are 1.3 million acres of newly protected wilderness, four new national monuments, hundreds of miles of scenic rivers, mining bans for land around Yellowstone and North Cascades National Parks, and permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses money from offshore drilling to fund conservation efforts. However, some advocates have criticized a provision that would give away up to half a million acres of Alaskan public lands to Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War (Washington Post). The bill will now head to the House, where it is expected to pass. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was one of eight senators who opposed the bill (Washington Post).
  • New research shows that species that are threatened by the wildlife trade take an average of 10 years to be legally protected. More than a quarter of species considered as at-risk by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List are not protected by the international endangered species agreement CITES because a two-thirds majority of member countries must agree to protect species under CITES (Science Mag).

Higher Education and Academia

  • A new study examined the gender of scientists included in the acknowledgments versus gender of authors on every paper published in Theoretical Population Biology between 1970 and 1990, and found that 59% of acknowledged programmers were women, while only 7% of authors were women. Programmers began to be acknowledged as authors in the 1980’s as programming duties started to shift from mostly female research assistants to mostly male graduate students and post-docs (The Atlantic).

Federal Agencies

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) is developing new restrictions on collaborations with foreign researchers whose governments have been accused of stealing US intellectual property or so-called “sensitive” countries. The policy has not been finalized, but representatives from several universities are concerned about the harm restricting collaborations may have on the research community (Science Mag).
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a plan to limit the levels of “forever chemicals” in drinking water. These are non-stick chemicals such as PFAS and PFOA that can remain in the environment for decades. EPA critics claim that the regulation is insufficient and badly delayed, but some scientists welcome the plan’s focus on increased research (Science Mag).

Public Health

  • Eva Ramón Gallegos, a Mexican scientist, has successfully cured 29 patients of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) using non-invasive photodynamic therapy. Some types of HPV can lead to precancerous lesions, the treatment was able to clear 100% of HPV infections in patients without lesions, 65% of patients with HPV and lesions, and clear lesions in 57% of women without HPV. Some translations of the Spanish article led to confusion about a cure for HPV-related cancers (El Universal; Cancer Health).
  • A new report by the CDC found that use of e-cigarettes by US teenagers has increased 78% in one year. While the use of cigarettes among high school students has continuously declined, 27% of students used tobacco products in 2018, up about 30% since 2017 (CNBC).
  • FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a statement stating that he plans to increase regulation on dietary supplements in the US. New regulations would change how the FDA enforces laws regulating vitamins, herbs, and minerals as well as increase the speed of communication with consumers when an issue is detected. (WebMD).
  • A US government panel has approved the continuation of controversial flu studies. Scientists had been studying avian flu (H5N1) using a gain-of-function mutation that allows the virus to pass airborne between ferrets, a model for human studies. Increasing virulence in mammals prompted the studies to be put on hold while the Department of Health and Human Services review the work, which took four years. Critics say the review process lacks transparency (Science Mag).

Climate Change

  • Ted Cruz (R-TX) mocked the Green New Deal resolution, introduced last week by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as “kooky” and “nutty.” He contended that the resolution would mean banning cows and cars as well as giving money to “bums.” An earlier fact sheet on the Green New Deal included language on providing universal income to those unwilling to work, but the resolution does not (Dallas Morning News).
  • An estimated 15,000 children in the UK walked out of schools this week, protesting climate change. They join tens of thousands of other European youth who have been inspired by a 16-year-old Swede to demonstrate against political inaction on climate issues. The protesters’ demands include declaring a “climate emergency,” increasing public awareness and inclusion of climate science in curricula, and a lowering of the voting age to 16 (BBC).

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • Last week marked the third annual International Day of Girls and Women in Science, and the journal The Lancet published an entire issue of peer-reviewed evidence that women in STEM face systemic barriers to success in their fields. Over 300 articles were submitted for the issue from over 40 countries; topics included gender imbalances in academic publishing and the grant review process, improvement in research quality produced by diverse teams, and the failures of many Women in STEM programs to support intersectional solutions (Massive, The Lancet).

Texas News

  • While enrollment at the University of Texas at Austin has stayed constant, enrollment at Texas A&M University has increased by approximately 16,000 students over the past decade. Officials at A&M are therefore requesting $55 million from the Texas Legislature to approach per student allocation parity with UT (Texas Tribune).
  • Kinder Morgan is planning to build part of the Permian Highway Pipeline through Hays County. At a recent open house, residents of the county questioned why the company is allowed to take land through eminent domain, whether the pipeline is safe, and what types of materials are transported in the pipeline (KUT).

One thought on “Weekly Digest — February 12-18, 2019

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