The fiscal cliff talks took a break as Congress and the president returned to their home states for the holiday. However, President Obama will return to Washington tonight, and Congress will be in session tomorrow. If the fiscal cliff is to be averted, a deal will need to be hammered out quickly. However, the American public, growing doubtful about a compromise plan, may have to wait until the final hours of 2012 to find out about the Democrats’ plan to prevent the economy from going over the fiscal cliff.
While the fiscal cliff has taken up much of Washington’s attention, other issues concerning science policy also have been making headlines. An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act directs the National Cancer Institute to broaden its research portfolio on recalcitrant cancers, defined as cancers with a five-year survival rate of less than 20 percent or those that kill more than 30,000 Americans each year. This bill does not contain any spending directives. The ASBMB has long supported investigator-initiated research and opposes legislation that would favor funding research on one or a few diseases at the expense of funding for other research. “We applaud this Congress for taking notice of the serious problems posed by these cancers,” said Ben Corb, ASBMB director of public affairs. “We are also glad the Congress did not issue any spending directives that would take funds away from investigator-initiated research. We strongly believe that investigator-initiated research, not governmentally mandated research, is the best path to solving the health problems facing the American public today.”
Meanwhile, in Texas, the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has suspended the awarding of new grants until the institute fixes its scientific-review procedures. The moratorium comes at the request of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and after more than seven months of public questions about the scientific review of grants at the institution. In May, Chief Scientific Officer and Nobel laureate Alfred Gilman, most of the institute’s scientific review council, and more than 20 percent of the CPRIT’s peer reviewers resigned due to dissatisfaction with the peer review process at the agency. Earlier this month, the executive director of CPRIT also resigned amid new allegations and investigations about grants that were awarded despite poor scientific reviews or no reviews at all.
Finally, Massachusetts crime-lab chemist Annie Dookhan, who was accused of falsifying data and tainting samples involved in thousands of criminal trials, was indicted on 27 charges ranging from obstruction of justice to perjury. Each obstruction of justice charge (17 total) carries a maximum 10-year sentence, while the single perjury charge has a 20-year sentence. Dookhan pleaded not guilty to all 27 counts.