News at a Glance: Climate Justice, Ethical Mask Wearers, and the CDC Under Trump | Science


Global warming cancels crab fishing

In a first, the state of Alaska last week canceled the $250 million Bering Sea snow crab season due to a population crash that scientists largely attributed to a marine heat wave. The crab population, Chionoecetes opilio, has fallen from around 11.7 billion in 2018 to around 2 billion this year. Temperatures on the Bering bottom, where the crabs live, reached 3.5°C in 2018, up from 1.5°C in 2017, and have remained high for at least 2 years. Adapting to warmer waters would have stressed and potentially starved them, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. However, after temperatures returned to normal from 2020, the crabs did not reappear. This indicates that they did not temporarily move away in search of cooler water.


Trump’s pressure on the CDC detailed

The administration of former President Donald Trump has repeatedly pressured senior officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to modify or delete reports offering grim news about COVID -19, a select subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives reported this week. For 5 months in 2020, political appointees took the unusual step of targeting 18 reports written for the CDC’s flagship product Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that they perceived as undermining Trump’s more optimistic view of the pandemic, according to the report. CDC staffers pushed back and only five reports were changed or delayed. A politician demanded that MMWR be shut down if he couldn’t read the draft reports, which the CDC, by policy, hadn’t shared with outsiders. “That would be a red line, I think, for all of us, Henry Walke, CDC incident manager for coronavirus response, told the subcommittee. Some of the findings of the Democratic-led panel have previously been reported by news outlets, but its 91-page report offers new details from interviews with 19 current and former senior officials, including Trump CDC director Robert Redfield. . Former Trump administration officials cited in the report dismissed him as partisan.


Journals call for climate justice

Ahead of a major climate policy conference in Egypt in November, 259 health journals are calling on rich countries to step up support for low-income countries, like those in Africa, disproportionately affected by climate change. “It is highly unfair that the most affected nations have contributed the least to global cumulative emissions,” says the editorial, written by editors of Africa-based journals and published this week by all participating journals. It highlights how climate change is linked to drought, famine, floods and the resulting damage to the health and wealth of African nations. The editorial calls for changes in financing for low-income countries to help them adapt to the effects of climate change, for example by giving them grants instead of loans. Signatories include the BMJ, Lancet and JAMA families of journals and The New England Journal of Medicine.


Mask wearing improved behavior

People in China who wear masks to protect against COVID-19 behave more ethically in public than those who don’t, researchers have found. The result challenges an assumption that masks encourage deviant behavior by increasing anonymity. The researchers performed 10 different studies involving more than 68,000 participants. Some counted the antisocial behavior of masked and unmasked people in public, such as pedestrians running red lights and cyclists parking in no-parking zones. Another study measured whether participants lied about solving an unsolvable puzzle. In all of these cases, the masked people obeyed the rules and acted ethically more often than the unmasked people, the researchers report in the October 4 issue of the journal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Sharing antibiotics is not Rx

Therese Coffey, the UK’s health secretary, drew criticism last week after she told an official meeting that she had shared leftover antibiotics with others, which is illegal in this country . Health researchers fear that the overprescribing and overuse of antibiotics could promote drug-resistant microbes. Coffey’s comment came during a discussion about pressure on doctors to manage workload. The government is considering allowing pharmacies to supply patients with antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription.


The United States wants to use the Arecibo site for science education

A gash (center, left) in the dish of the famous Arecibo Observatory radio telescope, caused by an equipment collapse, has rendered it unusable since 2020. RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which for decades housed the world’s largest radio telescope, will no longer be a top research facility. Last week, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) called for proposals to transform the facility, which was badly damaged when a radio receiver crashed into its iconic 305-meter antenna in 2020, into a a center for science education and awareness. Prior to the collapse, Arecibo actively supported science education, welcoming nearly 100,000 visitors a year. Some astronomers have urged the NSF to build a new large telescope at the site. But the NSF announcement suggests it has no such plans. The researchers are also concerned that the budget for the new center – $5 million over 5 years – will not be enough to maintain several smaller instruments still in operation at the observatory or support its existing technical staff.


China sticks to zero COVID policy

Chinese President Xi Jinping touted his country’s “zero-COVID” strategy this week at the opening session of the Communist Party’s National Congress, dashing any hopes that the rigid regime of quarantines, mass testing and lockdowns of China may soon come to an end. The strategy has crippled the economy and public health experts say the obstacles to lifting it are now mounting: unlike most other countries in the world, China has not started the second booster doses, which means that protection decreases. And Chinese health authorities say zero-COVID is still needed to protect the 10% of people over 60 who are still not fully vaccinated. Xi’s policy is set to continue as congress is expected to give him an unprecedented third 5-year term.


A mixed virus strain ignites

Twitter erupted in outrage this week over a study in which scientists engineered the spike protein of Omicron – the fast-spreading but relatively mild variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is now ubiquitous – in a strain deadliest coronavirus found in Washington state at the start of the pandemic. The aim was to find out if the protein alone explains the low pathogenicity of Omicron. The hybrid virus killed 80% of infected mice, according to a preprint published on October 14 by researchers at Boston University (BU). Critics feared it would escape from the lab. They also argued that the work, partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), qualifies as “gain-of-function” (GOF) research that makes risky pathogens more dangerous and should have done the subject to high-level federal review (see function). UB officials said the study, conducted under the second highest level of biosafety precautions, BSL-3, was not GOF research because it resulted in a virus that was less lethal to mice than the original Washington strain, which killed 100% of the animals. They also said it was not subject to GOF review because NIH funds were only used to develop tools used in the experiment. Several non-BU virologists have pointed out that the mice were engineered to be extremely susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, which only kills about 1% or less of people.


Ukrainian science clings

As a new wave of Russian missiles began raining down on Ukraine on October 10, killing and injuring civilians, science was also hit. A rocket blew out the windows of the Ministry of Science and the Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. The headquarters of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine was also damaged. Its chairman, Anatoly Zagorodny, 71, has added building repairs to a to-do list that includes keeping a pulse on 160 scientific institutes and paying salaries to some 27,000 staff as war drains the budget of Ukraine. Science interviewed Zagorodny, a theoretical physicist, at the headquarters of the academy a few days before October 10. A longer version of this interview is available at

Q: Many Ukrainian scientists have fled. How are you going to encourage them to return home after the war?

A: It will be a really big challenge. Many Ukrainian students study elsewhere in Europe. We must ensure that international cooperation does not contribute to brain drain.

Q: How are those left behind being helped?

A: The Austrian Academy of Sciences, ALLEA [All European Academies]STOVE [the Polish Academy of Sciences], and others have announced or will announce special calls for help. And we are in conversation with PAN and the US National Academy of Sciences about their new program [to invite proposals from teams of Polish scientists and colleagues in Ukraine]. We have also called on the main manufacturers of scientific equipment. To date, four companies – Agilent, Bruker, Carl Zeiss and Analytik Jena – have nobly decided to donate urgently needed instruments for a total of over $4 million. We are deeply grateful.

Q: As Russia attacks civilian targets, you may face a long winter.

A: We will recommend institutes how to save equipment [for example, sample freezers and mass spectrometers that maintain a vacuum] and infrastructure in the event of loss of electricity and heating. It is terrorism pure and simple. But the Ukrainian people are united. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe we will be victorious.

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