US judge: Suit over Trump travel ban waivers will go ahead
By SUDHIN THANAWALA
Friday, December 14
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A lawsuit accusing the Trump administration of denying nearly all visa applicants from countries under President Donald Trump’s travel ban will move forward, a U.S. judge said Thursday.
Judge James Donato heard arguments on the administration’s request that he dismiss the lawsuit. The case was “not going away at this stage,” he said at the close of the hearing.
The plaintiffs say the administration is not honoring a waiver provision in the president’s ban on travelers from five mostly Muslim countries — Iran, Lybia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in a 5-4 ruling in June.
The waiver provision allows a case-by-case exemption for people who can show entry to the U.S. is in the national interest, is needed to prevent undue hardship and would not pose a security risk.
The 36 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include people who have had waiver applications denied or stalled despite chronic medical conditions, prolonged family separations, or significant business interests, according to their attorneys.
They estimate tens of thousands of people have been affected by what they say are blanket denials of visa applications.
At Thursday’s hearing, Sirine Shebaya, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said officials considering the waiver requests are not following guidelines and are routinely denying people the opportunity to show they qualify for a visa.
Justice Department attorney August Flentje said consular officials are working “tirelessly” on visa applications using guidelines from the State Department. He said decisions on visas are beyond judicial review, and he accused plaintiffs’ attorneys of a “kind of micromanagement” of those decisions.
Donato said he did not have to consider any specific waiver decision, but more broadly whether officials were considering applications in “good faith” and not stonewalling.
Roughly two dozen opponents of the travel ban — some wearing stickers that read, “No ban, no wall,” — came to the courthouse for the hearing.
Trump administration ban on NIH use of fetal tissue should worry all scientists
December 14, 2018
Professor of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh
Carolyn Coyne receives funding from the NIH.
University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Throughout history, politicians have restricted or outright banned certain areas of scientific or medical research based on moral or ethical grounds. In some cases, these measures were justified and prevented unethical human or animal research. In others, the bans could be seen as misguided and delaying medical advances.
The use of human fetal tissue for research purposes has been highly contentious and tightly regulated, given that access to this tissue is directly associated with a woman’s right to choose an abortion since the tissue is procured from human fetuses. In 1993, Congress approved the use of federal funds for fetal tissue research. Recently, prompted by anti-abortion groups and supported by 85 Republican members of Congress, the Trump administration banned the acquisition of human fetal tissue for research conducted by scientists employed by the National Institutes of Health. In addition, several states, including Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma, have banned the use of human fetal tissue in research at the state level.
I am a scientist who studies the impact of viral infections on fetal development and postnatal health, with the goal of improving the well-being of infants and children. I believe that the highly politicized nature of human fetal tissue research and the ever-growing government restrictions on the use of this tissue will stymie scientific discovery and hinder the development of new treatments to reduce the burden of human disease.
Uses for fetal tissue
The use of human fetal tissue in medical research has resulted in many seminal discoveries that have directly improved human health. Several vaccines, including those against chickenpox (varicella) and Rubella virus, have saved millions of human lives and were manufactured from viruses initially grown in human fetal-derived cells.
Fetal tissue has also been used to develop “humanized” mouse models of disease. These models involve the transfer of specific cells isolated from human fetal tissue into mice that lack an immune system, thus allowing for studies in human cells in the context of a whole animal model. These models have proven invaluable for revealing the biology of HIV infection and for testing novel anti-HIV therapeutics.
The recent outbreak of Zika virus, which causes a variety of malformations including microcephaly in a developing fetus, underscored the necessity to perform studies in human fetal tissue to identify how the virus is transmitted from the infected mother to her developing fetus. The human placenta, which forms the sole interface between the mother’s and her fetus’s blood throughout pregnancy, is structurally distinct from that of most small animal laboratory models, like the mouse or rat. Thus human-derived fetal tissue is essential to study the biology of Zika virus.
Outside of infectious disease research, fetal tissue has provided insights into human neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which is expected to affect more than 5 million Americans over the age of 65 by 2050.
Scientists can procure tissue from different sources, including mechanisms within a given institution or through a third-party vendor. However, it is illegal to profit from the sale of human fetal tissue, a principle which was passed into law in 1993.
Scientists become entangled in the fetal tissue debate
Scientists who use human fetal tissue in their research have themselves become subject to intense government scrutiny. During the Obama administration, Republican House member Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee – who has since been elected to the U.S. Senate – chaired a “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” special committee that looked into the use of fetal tissue in research.
This committee was formed in direct response to heavily edited undercover videos that purported to show the unethical sale of human fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood. In addition to investigating the sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood and other suppliers, the panel also subpoenaed researchers to testify on the use of fetal tissue in their own studies.
The committee released its final report at the end of 2016 after an expensive 15-month investigation. Despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary, the committee concluded that no significant medical advancements had ever resulted from the use of human fetal tissue and that the NIH should no longer fund any research that utilizes fetal tissue.
The committee instead advocated the use of other research models, such as cell lines isolated from cancerous tumors or rodent-based models, despite the fact that many of these systems do not accurately mimic key aspects of human biology and disease. In anticipation of possible restrictions imposed on human fetal research, the NIH is investing US$20 million toward development of alternative models and approaches.
Scientific research requires freedom
Many scientists might assume that they will be unaffected by these government restrictions. However, many commonly used cell lines, such as human embryonic kidney cells, which are used in research labs to produce protein, fall under the blanket definition of fetal tissue. Given their fetal origin, their use could be banned.
Moreover, as a scientist, I fear that this type of government regulation of scientific inquiry based on political nonscientific grounds sets a precedent that could affect every scientist in academia, industry or government. Indeed, the current administration ban on fetal tissue for researchers at the NIH could eventually spread to include all NIH-supported scientists. In this scenario, most research involving human fetal tissue would be stopped throughout the United States.
Scientific discovery requires freedom, and I believe it should be exempt from external political influences. This concept was established in the 1940s, when academic institutions began awarding tenure and the American Association of University Professors stated “The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.”
In my opinion, banning or restricting research with human fetal tissue derived from elective terminations has no moral or ethical purpose and serves only to fit a political agenda. All scientists should be alarmed by the actions of our government.
Boy Scouts’ money struggles: Is bankruptcy an option?
By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
Thursday, December 13
NEW YORK (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America deflected questions about a report suggesting it is considering seeking bankruptcy protection, though the head of the organization said it is exploring “all options” as it tries to stay afloat while facing sexual abuse lawsuits and dwindling membership.
“I want to assure you that our daily mission will continue and that there are no imminent actions or immediate decisions expected,” Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.
Surbaugh was responding to a Wall Street Journal report that the BSA, founded in 1910, had hired a law firm to assist in a possible Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. He described the report as “news speculation,” but he acknowledged that the group is “working with experts to explore all options available” as well as the pressures arising from multiple lawsuits related to past instances of sexual abuse.
“We have a social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting, and we also have an obligation to carry out our mission to serve youth, families and local communities through our programs,” Surbaugh said.
Other institutions facing multifaceted sexual abuse scandals have sought bankruptcy protection recently. USA Gymnastics took the step last week as it attempts to settle dozens of lawsuits related to abuse by now-imprisoned gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. About 20 Roman Catholic dioceses and other religious orders around the U.S. have previously filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of clergy sexual abuse claims.
Surbaugh apologized on behalf of the BSA to those abused during their time in the Boy Scouts.
“We have always taken care of victims — we believe them, we believe in fairly compensating them and we have paid for unlimited counseling, by a provider of their choice, regardless of the amount of time that has passed since an instance of abuse,” he said. “Throughout our history we have taken proactive steps to help victims heal and prevent future abuse.”
In addition to abuse-related litigation, the Boy Scouts have been trying to reverse a decline in membership. The organizations’ current youth participation is about 2.3 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past.
In a major step toward revitalization, the BSA is moving to open all its programs to girls, but even that has caused problems.
Last month, the Girl Scouts of the USA filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the BSA for dropping the word “boy” from its flagship program in an effort to attract girls.
That suit was in response to the BSA’s decision to rename its program for 11- to 17-year-olds; it will be called Scouts BSA rather than the Boy Scouts, though the parent organization will remain the Boy Scouts of America.
Paul Mones, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who has handled many sex-abuse lawsuits targeting the BSA, said the organization has assets of more than $1 billion, but has been under increasing pressure from litigation as public awareness of sexual abuse intensifies.
Mones was co-counsel in a 2010 sexual abuse case in Portland, Oregon, that led to a nearly $20 million judgment against the BSA on behalf of a man molested by a Scout leader in the 1980s. As a result of that case, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the BSA to release previously confidential files on suspected abusers.
Follow David Crary on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CraryAP
Worry over kids’ excessive smartphone use is more justified than ever before
December 14, 2018
Sleep deprivation among teens spiked after 2012 – just as smartphone use became common.
Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University
Jean Twenge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Parents who fear their kids are spending too much time in front of screens now have more reason for concern.
New research funded by the National Institutes of Health found brain changes among kids using screens more than seven hours a day and lower cognitive skills among those using screens more than two hours a day.
When studies find links between screen time and negative outcomes, some have argued that this is just the latest moral panic over technology.
After all, didn’t the parents of baby boomers and Gen Xers worry that their kids were watching too much TV or talking on the phone too much? Those kids turned out OK, right?
So how are portable electronic devices, the chosen technology of today’s kids and teens – a generation I call “iGen” – any different?
New research I’ve conducted on the relationship between portable device use and sleep provides some answers.
Everywhere, all the time
It almost goes without saying that today’s portable devices – including smartphones and tablets – are fundamentally different than the living room television sets and rotary phones of the past.
Since researchers have been tracking TV watching habits, the average U.S. teen has never spent more than two-and-a-half hours a day watching TV. Yet as of 2016, the average teen spent about six hours a day immersed in digital media – more than twice as much time.
This large amount of time spent using digital media is enough to crowd out time once spent on other activities, such as interacting with friends face to face, reading or going out.
And unlike the telephone, digital media apps are designed to hook you. As former Silicon Valley executive Tristan Harris said of smartphone apps, “Your telephone in the 1970s didn’t have a thousand engineers … updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive.”
Second, unlike TV or landline phones, portable devices can be carried everywhere: to school, where teachers say they are a near-constant distraction, and into social situations, where a conversation can instantly be upended by reaching for a buzzing phone. (There’s even a word for this: phubbing, a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing.”)
Sure enough, people have reported enjoying a restaurant dinner with friends less when their phones were available, compared to when they weren’t.
The sleep factor
Across many studies, kids and teens who spend more time with screens – including both TV and portable devices – also sleep less.
That could be because they spend so much time engaged with their devices that it’s coming at the expense of sleep. But there’s also a physiological reason: The blue light emitted by electronic screens tricks our brains into thinking it’s still daytime, and then we don’t produce enough of the sleep hormone melatonin to fall asleep quickly and get high-quality sleep.
Once again, some might argue that TV is just as bad: After all, it also takes up time and emits blue light.
But in a new paper, my co-authors and I decided to parse the two. We studied links between sleep and TV watching as well as links between sleep and portable device use. Then we compared the results.
Drawing from a large survey of parents administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, we found that 2- to 10-year-olds who spent four or more hours a day on portable electronic devices – versus no time – were twice as likely to be significantly sleep deprived. TV time was also connected to less sleep, but not as strongly or consistently.
Among teens ages 14 to 17, those who spent four or more hours a day on portable electronic devices – versus no time – were 44 percent more likely to not sleep enough. However, once portable device time was statistically controlled, watching TV or playing video games on a console had little link to sleep time.
Why would portable devices be more strongly associated with losing sleep?
For one thing, TV is simply not as psychologically stimulating as a portable device like a smartphone, which, unlike a TV, doesn’t exist to simply consume media. Smartphones have also become a huge part of social life, whether it’s texting with friends or interacting with them on social media.
And unlike TV, smartphones and tablets can be silently carried into the bedroom or even the bed, resulting in some teens using them throughout the night – what some call “vamping.”
That might explain why sleep deprivation among teens spiked after 2012 – just as smartphone use became common.
The lesser of two evils?
To be clear, we did find that watching many hours of TV was associated with less sleep, especially among elementary-school age children. Watching over three hours a day of TV is also associated with depression – though more weakly than portable device use.
So parents were right to worry about kids watching too much TV in the 1970s and 1980s. But their worries might not have been as justified as today’s parents’ concerns about smartphones.
So what is a parent – or anyone who wants to sleep well – to do?
First, it’s best for smartphones and tablets to stay out of the bedroom after “lights-out” time. Nor is it a great idea to use the devices within an hour of bedtime, as their blue light influences the brain’s ability to produce melatonin. Finally, as a general rule, two hours a day or less spent on portable devices is a good guideline. These rules apply to parents, too – not only kids.
Anne Llewellyn, logged in via Facebook: When I was diagnosed with the Brain Tumor in 11/14, I was playing a lot of candy crush on my Smartphone and laptop. I asked the Oncology Nurse Practitioner if that had any impact on me getting a tumor. She said we don’t have evidence today that smartphones are a danger, but she said I believe we will soon. Here we are 4 years later. BEWARE
Building a better weapon against harmful algal blooms
Research focuses on improving predictive models for farmers, others
Predicting and pinpointing which farming practices are most likely to protect against environmental harm is a complex proposition, and researchers at The Ohio State University are working to fine-tune the tools that could help farmers and others prevent harmful algal blooms.
This week at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in Washington, D.C, a team of scientists from The Ohio State University shared early results from a trio of studies that aim to improve models designed to guide agricultural practices for reducing the risk of nitrogen and phosphorous farm runoff. Such runoff leads to the growth of toxic algae in waterways.
Basic models for predicting the consequences of various decisions, such as when to apply fertilizer, are available but they must be refined in order to ensure reliability and gain the trust of interested parties, including farmers and environmental protection organizations, said Jay Martin, a professor of ecological engineering at Ohio State.
Asmita Murumkar, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State, said her work is beginning to illuminate how the timing offertilizer application intersects with heavy rains to contribute to nutrient runoff. She’s working with the Ohio Applicator Forecast, a tool that uses National Weather Service data to assign risk estimates to applying fertilizer at various times.
Murumkar is hopeful that her research will help quantify what impact the tool would have on the environment under different scenarios– say if a quarter of farmers in the Maumee River watershed used it, or half.
“We want to better understand how much phosphorous runoff it would reduce in the region,” Martin said, adding that there’s plenty of evidence that individual farm practices impact runoff from those farms, but less evidence in terms of larger-scale estimates.
“We know from our previous work that fertilizer timing is important, but we want to be able to look across the whole Lake Erie Basin and know best-case and worst-case scenarios and this modeling will help address that,” he said.
Margaret Kalcic, assistant professor in Ohio State’s Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, said farmers are encouraged to follow the “Four Rs” for right time, source, amount and place when applying fertilizer.
“But ‘right’ is not clearly defined, and our team is working to provide our partners in Ohio, including farmers, advocates and policy makers, with better answers,” Kalcic said.
Added Martin, “There’s more subtlety here than just watching the weather and the ground moisture and we’re trying to determine the best solutions that support agricultural production and environmental protection.”
Grey Evenson, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State, will present initial findings on his work to identify the best data to use in modeling, so that it offers a more-accurate picture of what is happening in fields and adjacent waterways.
“We don’t want to underestimate – or overestimate – the value of these best management practices. For instance, some practices may produce greater benefits than we give them credit for in the model – such as improving soil health, which leads to better water retention,” Evenson said.
Added Kalcic, “A lot of this work is about tuning existing models. By improving the quality of information we put into them we have greater confidence in the information that comes out of them.” She said that there are many questions about the larger environmental impacts of practices such as no-till farming, which is generally thought of as environmentally friendly.
“We know that no-till is good for preventing soil erosion, but there are still uncertainties about its effects on water quality in the region,” Kalcic said.
Graduate student Anna Apostel will discuss a third project, in which she’s manipulating various parameters in one model to try to determine how reliable – or not – the model is. The long-term goal is to move toward more-robust estimates of how practices contribute to water quality.
Martin said adjusting parameters so that magnitudes of processes better match reality and data from observations in the field is a critical part of improving model performance.
“We want to adjust our equations to better represent reality,” Apostel said.
The overarching goal of all the work, the researchers said, is to have models that better align with what the researchers have observed in field experiments but that can look at the issues on a broad, regional level.
“We know that if you build a bad model it’s not going to help anybody make any decisions,” Kalcic said.
“We really want to build trust in truly useful models that will help policymakers, farmers and others. The worst thing would be that people trust models that are telling them the entirely wrong message,” she said.
Funding for the new research came from the Ohio Department of Higher Education Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, NOAA National Weather Service and the National Science Foundation.
Addressing water quality challenges is among Ohio State’s top research priorities. In addition to studies such as the those being presented at the fall AGU meeting, faculty and staff are working with policymakers, farmers, advocacy groups and others to find solutions. Among those efforts is the Ohio Water Quality Initiative, led by the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which aims to ensure grassroots support, strategic investments of time and money, and increased impact and relevance of its work.