Nature: Last week, scientists in 19 cities across Spain gathered to protest against the governments’ budget cuts, failure to supply promised funds, and other actions that they view as attacks on the scientific infrastructure of the country. Since 2009, the government has cut its science budget by 39%, and in 2011 it eliminated the science ministry. Protests and open letters have been organized several times since March 2012. Estimates suggest that one-third of projects funded in 2013 by the National Plan for Research, Development and Innovation have not received any funds this year, and that another one-third likely won’t be refunded in 2014. The nation has also only partially paid its dues as a member of both the European Science Foundation and the European Space Agency. The protests and open letters have been organized by the Letter for Science coalition, which includes most of the main research organizations in the country.
Ars Technica: NASA has announced a new program, SMARTCAP-Accel, that will provide funding to startups that are working on projects related to the medical dangers of space travel. The areas of focus include radiation exposure, inadequate nutrition, bone fracture, and heart health. NASA is also interested in routine monitoring techniques. To qualify for funding, the projects must be able to function without a doctor or full medical lab and must be completely solar powered. In addition to being useful in space, such technologies could also benefit people in remote and underserved areas on Earth. The program will award between $10 000 and $200 000, but all awardees must find a second source to match NASA’s funding. If the companies produce technology that NASA wants to use, the agency will purchase it separately.
New Scientist: Patent trolls are companies that buy the rights for patents that, in some overly broad cases, shouldn’t have been granted at all. The trolls then assert those rights by threatening lawsuits against businesses that infringe the patents—often settling out of court, with the targets agreeing to pay crippling licensing fees. The vast majority—70% to 90%—of the patents such companies hold are software or business practices and they target not just manufacturers but technology users. Now the White House has called for Congress to require the US Patent and Trademark Office to institute several policies to reduce patent-troll lawsuits. The White House has also instituted policies of its own that it hopes will reduce the estimated $29 billion spent each year fighting patent trolls and will hold those companies accountable for frivolous lawsuits.
Ars Technica: As global temperatures increase, sea levels are predicted to rise, more severe weather events could occur, and agriculture and animal habitats may be disrupted, all of which will cause problems for humans. In an effort to limit world temperature rise to no more than 2 °C by 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has proposed a four-step plan of action: accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels, limit the construction and use of the least efficient coal plants, capture more of the methane generated before it enters the atmosphere, and improve the efficiency of buildings, vehicles, and industrial processes. Despite the reasonableness of the proposal, similar efforts in the past have been met by opposition from countries and companies because of the initial costs and potential loss of income from not developing their fossil-fuel reserves.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Earlier this year the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a directive requiring papers resulting from federally funded research to be publicly available within 12 months of publication. The Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the Association of Research Libraries are offering a plan they call the Shared Access Research Ecosystem (SHARE) to meet the 22 August deadline for proposals. SHARE would build on currently existing systems at individual universities and research institutions by developing a network of publicly accessible repositories maintained by the individual organizations. The system would also include a unique identification code for principle investigators, and all publications would include copyright license information in their metadata. A similar system has been proposed by academic publishing institutions, with the maintenance of the system in the hands of the publishers, not the research organizations.
New Scientist: Hydraulic fracturing—commonly called fracking—is a technique for extracting oil and natural gas from underground rock layers by pumping in water mixed with sand and chemicals. Use of the technique has become more common, but has been criticized for increasing groundwater pollution and causing geologic instability. And in California, which is home to the Monterey Shale Formation, concerns have arisen over potential air pollution. The formation is estimated to hold 1900 million tons of recoverable oil—more than 2.5 times as much oil as in the fields of North Dakota that sparked a boom economy there. However, much of the field is located in densely populated Los Angeles County, which already has high levels of air pollution. A petition was presented to Governor Jerry Brown asking for a statewide ban on fracking, but a bill proposing a moratorium on fracking was recently defeated in the legislature.
Science: The European Strategy Group for Particle Physics, which met in Brussels last month, has drafted its plan for promoting the growth of the field. Besides supporting the work being done at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the report recommends that Europe contribute to other large projects, including the International Linear Collider and the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE), which may be hosted by other nations, among them the US and Japan. The US, in particular, could benefit from such monetary support because of the recent budgetary constraints being imposed by the Department of Energy on the proposal to build the LBNE at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.
New York Times: Autonomous vehicles, which have already been legalized in California, Nevada, and Florida, may become commercially available nationwide within the decade. In the meantime, a few car manufacturers have started implementing some semiautonomous features, such as the ability to stay centered in driving lanes and adjust speed based on the distance from the car ahead. Companies such as Google, which already has prototypes on the road, tout the safety benefits, but others have voiced concern that such vehicles could be compromised by computer hackers. In a statement issued this week, the US Department of Transportation endorsed the testing of autonomous vehicles, but added that “self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes.”
Science: This week at the second annual meeting of the Global Research Council in Berlin, the major topic for discussion centered on open access (OA) to scientific research results. Because OA policy varies in different parts of the world, the council refrained from making any concrete policy recommendations at this time. It instead proposed raising awareness about and support for OA by developing an action plan toward open access to publications and a list of principles for research integrity directed at funding agencies. Next year’s meeting will be held in Beijing.
New York Times: On Tuesday, South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission shut down two nuclear reactors and delayed the startup of two others—one under construction and the other undergoing routine maintenance. Prompted by an anonymous whistleblower, inspectors found that the reactors’ control cables, which are used to signal the reactor control systems in case of an accident, had failed their safety tests but were given certificates anyway. With those 4 reactors shut down, only 13 of South Korea’s 23 reactors are still operating. As a result, the commission expects electricity shortages during the summer. Despite several recent scandals suffered by the country’s nuclear power industry, the government is pushing ahead with a plan to add 16 more reactors by 2030.