TS Picks: April 3, 2017

USDA posting few animal inspections; HHS secretary proposes cutting indirect research expenses; science journalism vs. fake news

By | April 3, 2017


Selections from The Scientist’s reading list:

  • After last month’s revelation that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) would no longer publicly list its animal welfare inspection reports and enforcement actions, the situation seems to have changed, slightly. According to Science, the USDA has posted four reports—from inspections conducted on January 10, 12, and 17 of this year—during the first quarter of 2017. The USDA has not posted any such reports since Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, but the agency told Science that it has inspected “about 300” animal research facilities between the start of 2017 until March 30.
  • Proposed cuts to the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may impact the overhead costs covered by many agency grants. Tom Price, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, told Congress last week that “indirect expenses,” such as electric bills, lab equipment, and other overhead costs, may be on the chopping block if the Trump administration’s cuts are preserved as legislatures craft a federal budget. Science advocates are warning against such a move. “The reality is we don’t have other revenue sources to pay for those things, because let’s face it, we are not going to rob tuition to pay for those costs,” Tobin Smith, vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “It just is not going to happen.”
  • Stephen Metcalfe, chair of the U.K.’s House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, wrote last week in The Guardian that responsible science journalism is more important now than ever. “If the press is to maintain the public’s trust, journalists must demonstrate their commitment to clear and unbiased reporting of scientific facts,” he wrote, “and be given the necessary support by policymakers to do so.” Metcalfe cited reporting on the absence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, genetically modified foods, and climate change as examples where accurate science reporting has sometimes yielded to the economic pressures of the news business. Referring to a new report from his committee, he decried the ease with which UK policymakers can cherry pick scientific information gleaned from the press. “My committee found that the rules around policymaking currently make it far too easy for ministers to use science selectively to either back a political aim or, worse still, to mask financial reasons for not taking sufficient action,” Metcalfe wrote. “We need a firm commitment by all those in the political sphere to pursue evidence-based policy making, rather than policy-based evidence.”

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

April 10, 2017

The thing is, indirect expenses have always been the the bane of the NIH grants' existence.  These negotiated fees, many times very high percentages of the direct costs, bring in huge amounts of money.  Perhaps there actually is a certain amount of waste there, and a complete revamping of the indirect cost system is just what might be necessary for the entire research enterprise to continue.  It might be best to meet the new administration halfway on this one.  If not,  regarding, "We are not going to rob tuition to pay for those costs." there may be no other choice than to do that, cease research, or dip into those endowments.  

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