The recent USDA hiring freeze may be hurting bees

I want to start with the following statement: I know the title of this post is a pretty loose link.

But hear me out. One of the less talked about moves by the executive branch since the inauguration is the hiring freeze at USDA and EPA.

This means postdocs, researchers, graduate students and temporary positions. So for example, Julia Fine who was set to start a postdoc studying bee decline in Utah on a USDA funded position was informed that her position is frozen. Indefinitely.

Since Fine is the lead author on one of the recent prominent studies of bee decline, then this hiring freeze is hurting bees.

Want the more complete story (boy I know I do), read about it over at the Huffington Post.

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If you know a Federal scientist, give them a hug. It’s been a really bad week.

From a friend who works for the forest service:

“This week my colleagues and I have had to deal with confusing gag orders and onerous requests for information and justifications of our work. In one case, I was given only half an hour to write statements on a number of pending agreements to explain why they were in the “public interest.” Note, these agreements involve *already allocated funds*, that have gone through *numerous justification and vetting processes already*. I have no idea how these justification requests will be used, but signs out of other agencies are ominous.

All of that said, the *single most pressing issue* for us right now is the blanket hiring freeze. We can muddle through with a hiring freeze on permanent staff, but my work and that of many of my colleagues (and much the functioning of the rest of the Federal system) depends on temporary and seasonal workers.

If this part of the ban is not lifted, then I will not be able to complete a number of projects that are critical to learning how we can best restore arid ecosystems in the Western United States. These lands are under threat from increasing fire frequency, invasive species and other disturbances. These lands support and sustain wildlife, pollinators, rare plants, clean air, clean water, Native American tribes, recreationists, sportsmen and ranchers. These lands are part of our heritage as Americans.

If you would like to help Federal scientists and other Federal employees continue to provide the public service that you have *already paid for* as a tax payer, please consider adding *lifting the ban on temporary and seasonal hiring* to your list of things that you are calling your Senators and Representatives about. Thank you.”

The battle between global health charities and open access mandates

Global health charities are funding more and more scientific research (as NIH and NSF funding rates are scarily low).

However, one prominent charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have an open-access policy stipulating that any research that they fund must be available open-access.

Which conflicts with Science and Nature policy. So at the moment any research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cannot be published in two of the top journals for science.

Thoughts?

Read about it here. 

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Science will not be silenced

I was on a tour of Berlin this past summer and there’s a monument outside of Humboldt University. It’s a room full of empty bookshelves, meant to remind people that during Hitler’s rise to power the Nazi’s striped books from the University library and burned them. My tour guide mentioned that when you start censoring science and knowledge, you know you’ve got a real problem.

In his first week in office, Trump has done just that. There is a TON of information out there about what happened in the last 24 hours, I’m going to summarize SOME of it here.

First Trump signed an executive order to freeze all grants and on-going projects. The following was posted by scientists on social media.

“The EPA was just directed to freeze all grants. This means that grad students and researchers funded on EPA funds are now without funds. All ongoing studies are stopped.It happened in a moment with a memo, by executive action, with zero input or oversight.It could happen to any Federal institute, including the National Science Foundation, which funds research at universities around the country — including the health insurance and living stipends of many, many students. Trump also froze all federal hiring yesterday.Please, if you can safely raise your voice, raise it loudly. Call your congresspeople, call the White House, write op-eds and articles and blog posts. This is only Day 4. Please, stand up for science and the environment. This is the emergency we were all worried about. (Share widely. I did not write this. It was copied and pasted from a scientist who wants to remain anonymous. The fear of retaliation is real.)”

A gag order on both the USDA and ESA followed quickly, which means that scientists are not allowed to communicate science. This is not normal. 

In response, Badlands National Park twitter feed went rougue, in direct defiance of the order, began posting nothing but climate change facts. Those tweets have since been deleted.

Today was a bad day for the environment, but a terrible day for scientists. Meanwhile, the Republicans in the House quietly closed any investigation into the Flint water crisis.

Before now we were talking in hypotheticals, about what might happen if Trump was the president, what that might mean for science or for the environment. The reality is scarier than I imagined.

Please don’t take this likely. Call your senators or congressional representative. It is not acceptable to silence scientist, let them know we will not stand for this.

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Stand up for NIH funding

Elizabeth Warren recently posted a piece on Medium about a bill to help advance medical innovation in the United States. But, as she points out, this bill does not provide money to basic research funded through the NIH, but rather is meant to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to make money by lying to the public.

Needless to say this is upsetting, and given the current funding rates and the tightening of the federal budget for scientific research (NIH funding was cut by 20% over the last dozen years…), this bit of science news should inspire you to call your senator or congressman.

Read the piece here, and remember: This is not normal.

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Why we need money for basic science

The funding rates for science are not good (understatement…). Which has lead some in the popular science community to claiming that we don’t need government in research. We can do it on our own! We can make our own money! YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

This argument is dangerously and terribly wrong. Very wrong. What we need from governmental funding is the ability to be able to conduct basic scientific research. Not research focused on questions that have the potential to bring large profits. And governmental funding provides that.

Read about it over at Scientific American. 

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The CRISPR revolution: Where are the profits?

Usually when an industry gets a booming industry it is largely due to profitability, which garners interest from investors.

But in biotech there is a section of the industry that is gaining investors and various firms chasing a similar goal. However, how that is happening is a mystery. The companies are burning through millions, hasn’t started clinical work on a drug candidate and it will be years, “if ever” before it has something commercializable.

What industry am I referring to? CRISPR-Cas9 technology. We’ve talked on the blog before about the possibilities CRISPR has to offer human health, but over at The Economist here’s a post about whether or not it can be all we dream it to be.

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