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California regulators last week issued the first ban by a U.S. state on the sale of new passenger cars that run only on gasoline. Starting in 2035, nearly all new cars sold in California must be all electric or run on hydrogen fuel cells; 20% can be hybrid-electric vehicles with batteries capable of running at least 80 kilometers. The measure is expected to halve greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars, pickups, and SUVs in California by 2040. The phased-in mandate from the California Air Resources Board could bolster nationwide efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Up to 40% of all U.S. cars sold may conform to the California rule—if, as expected, some other states adopt the measure, which is stricter than federal rules. But most states will have difficulty meeting the California targets, transportation experts at the University of California, Davis, wrote in an analysis. Today, roughly 15% of new cars sold in California are electric vehicles, and most other states lag far behind in EV sales and installation of charging infrastructure. EU lawmakers voted this year to ban sales of new gasoline-only cars starting in 2035, a measure that requires approval by member states.
Nations failed last week to agree on a first-ever treaty to protect high seas biodiversity, after some countries balked at ceding control to a new international regulator. Negotiations had been underway for several years on the pact, which includes provisions on establishing protected marine areas, regulating scientific collection of organisms, improving research capacity of developing nations, and requiring environmental impact assessments for new activities such as mining. The biggest sticking point was over whether environmental impact assessments would be approved by nations themselves or by a new international organization, says Alice Vadrot, a political scientist at the University of Vienna. Another thorny issue is whether countries can be obliged to make payments to a treaty organization so their researchers may collect biological samples in the high seas. A new negotiating session has been scheduled for January 2023.
Mixed-gender research teams produce more novel and highly cited papers than teams composed entirely of men or of women, according to a study of 6.6 million papers published from 2000 to 2019 by 7.6 million medical researchers. Teams with six or more authors of multiple genders—as inferred by a name-matching algorithm—published papers 7% more novel than similar-size, single-gender teams, based on an analysis of novel combinations of journals cited in each paper’s bibliography. These teams’ papers were also 15% more likely to be among the top 5% most highly cited papers in a given year, according to the study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (by a mixed-gender team). More work is needed to understand the reasons for the disparities, it says. The finding is consistent with previous studies that linked research teams that were more diverse racially and culturally to higher creativity.
This is very far from a normal monsoon—it is climate dystopia at our doorstep.
Moderna, which has made billions of dollars from a COVID-19 vaccine based on messenger RNA technology, last week accused its main rival of infringing the company’s patents for a similar mRNA shot. Among the allegations in a suit filed in a U.S. court, Moderna says Pfizer and its partner BioNTech made use of its patented strategy of replacing a natural constituent of mRNA with a labmade molecule. But the University of Pennsylvania filed a U.S. patent application for that same molecular substitution 6 years before Moderna did—and filing priority is critical in patent disputes. (Both patents have been issued.) Pfizer and BioNTech say they “will vigorously defend” themselves against Moderna’s suit.
Japan’s government will consider building new nuclear plants while pushing to restart more reactors idled for safety checks after the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced last week. The objective is to ensure energy security and cut Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are the world’s fifth largest. Engineers have restarted 10 of the 54 nuclear reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster. Twenty-one are being decommissioned, and the rest are still under review, a process Kishida hopes to accelerate. To replace nuclear power, Japan’s utilities have burned more coal and natural gas, jeopardizing the country’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050. An economy ministry road map unveiled on 29 July suggests new, next-generation light-water reactors could be commercialized by the mid-2030s. Kishida also promised to give greater support to renewable power.
Rochelle Walensky walked into a hot mess when she took the helm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2021. The agency had difficulty keeping up with the fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic. It botched the development and distribution of COVID-19 tests, issued unclear directives about prevention efforts such as social distancing and vaccines, and required several levels of clearance before CDC researchers could publish findings. Science spoke with Walensky, a former head of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, about preliminary findings of two reviews she commissioned of CDC’s COVID-19 response and its policies and processes. (A longer version of this interview is at https://scim.ag/Walensky.)
A: I was always a really avid consumer, champion, and cheerleader for CDC before I got here. The people at the CDC are amazing. The issue though is whether the people themselves were responsible or whether many of the things in the structure around them didn’t allow them to operate as swiftly as possible and didn’t allow them to prioritize. I think it’s a little bit of both.
A: The clearance process at CDC is too slow. How is it that we get our data out faster? I published enough papers to know that as painful as the review process is, they are generally better after it. So I don’t want to get rid of that necessarily. But CDC has been changing. Last week, we put data about monkeypox up on our website, and the [associated] paper hasn’t come out yet.
A: We’re going to realign incentives for staff so that we move toward promoting people for taking actions that benefit public health. It’s not lost on me that changing boxes around on an organizational chart is not going to do anything in and of itself. We haven’t spent enough of our time, energy, and resources on our public health infrastructure, our core capabilities of personnel, data modernization, and laboratory infrastructure. And that is the investment that I think we really need to make.