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Science row hits EU at height of coronavirus crisis


RAF CASERT Associated Press

April 8, 2020, 4:12 PM

3 min read

BRUSSELS -- The European Union has been thrown into a scientific policy dispute at the height of the coronavirus crisis after the head of its top science panel resigned amid claims of red tape and institutional gridlock while other scientists at the group indicated that they were well rid of him.

Professor Mauro Ferrari resigned Tuesday as president of the European Research Council and insisted in a statement dramatically titled “Return to the frontlines, to the frontier" that he had “lost faith in the system" of the EU, complaining it was stifling his ambition for swift action on the pandemic.

On Wednesday though, the 19-member scientific council of the ERC said they had unanimously called on Ferrari to resign last month. The Council added in a statement that he “displayed a complete lack of appreciation" and “did not understand the context of" the scientific group. The Council claimed Ferrari failed to sufficiently consult its scientists and too often sought to promote his own ideas instead of those of ERC.

Ferrari had been named for the job in May last year but only started his term on Jan. 1. His resignation had immediate effect.

The EU's executive Commission, which runs the day-to-day business of the 27-nation bloc, “regrets the resignation of Professor Ferrari at this early stage in his mandate (...) and at these times of unprecedented crisis in which the role of EU research is key,” spokesman Johannes Bahrke said.

The ERC promotes top research in the EU and boosts what it calls “investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence." It was set up in 2007 and runs on a 2 -billion-euro ($2.2-billion) annual budget.

The resignation was first announced by the Financial Times, based on a statement released to the paper by Ferrari, who said he had “been extremely disappointed by the European response” to the pandemic.

Ferrari complained about running into institutional and political obstacles as he sought to swiftly set up a scientific program to combat the virus.

“I have seen enough of both the governance of science, and the political operations at the European Union,” he wrote in the statement. “I have lost faith in the system itself.”

The ERC council’s vice president will assume the president’s duties on an interim basis until the EU’s chooses Ferrari’s successor, Bahrke said.

Ferrari said that he would now return “to the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19, with real resources and responsibilities, away from offices in Brussels, where my political skills are clearly inadequate,"

As the coronavirus spread to Italy, Spain and other European nations, the EU was criticized for not acting forcefully enough to set up a coordinated response, although health policy is primarily a responsibility of national governments.

Bahrke defended the EU’s actions during the pandemic, saying the bloc has put forward “the most comprehensive package of measures combating the coronavirus.”

He added that the ERC has been working on 50 different projects related to the new virus first identified in China late last year.


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Top science panel: Coronavirus unlikely to significantly subside with warmer weather

a person wearing a costume: Top science panel: Coronavirus unlikely to significantly subside with warmer weather © The Hill Top science panel: Coronavirus unlikely to significantly subside with warmer weather

Warmer weather is unlikely to significantly impede the spread of the novel coronavirus, a National Academies of Sciences (NAS) panel told the White House on Tuesday.

About a dozen members of the Academies' Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats published the report, addressed to Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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Their report found that while studies of how temperature and humidity affect the virus's transmissibility are not yet clear, previous research suggesting a connection were flawed.

"There is some evidence to suggest that [the coronavirus] may transmit less efficiently in environments with higher ambient temperature and humidity; however, given the lack of host immunity globally, this reduction in transmission efficiency may not lead to a significant reduction in disease spread" without efforts such as social distancing, the report states.

No such seasonal aspect has been observed in other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, the report noted.

The report found various issues with data quality in existing research including the "estimates of reproductive rate, assumptions about infectivity period, and short observational time windows." It also found they failed to account for factors like geography, per capita income, access to testing and the quality of local health care systems.

Both President Trump and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have suggested warmer temperatures may slow the spread of the virus, although Fauci has noted that without effective mitigation, another outbreak could occur in the fall.

"I think it very well might," Fauci said, when asked in March whether the virus could have a seasonal cycle. "And the reason I say that is that what we're starting to see now in the Southern Hemisphere, in southern Africa and in the southern hemisphere countries, is that we're having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season."

The NAS cited similar cases, noting, "Given that countries currently in 'summer' climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed."

Source: Top science panel: Coronavirus unlikely to significantly subside with warmer weather

MEL Academy Offers Three Months Of Free Online Science Webinars For Kids At Home

Home science education for kids

Credit: MEL Science

Science experiments are a great way to inspire curiosity, engage kids in science and spend quality time with loved ones at home. So MEL Academy, an online science-teaching tool with the goal of making science education easy, interesting, and effective, is helping families cope with current stay at home orders by making all their webinars and VR lessons free for the next three months.

It’s like the Cooking Channel, except with live science teachers who guide you through safe hands-on science experiments and fundamental scientific concepts for at home learning.

When you sign up on the MEL Academy website, you’ll find detailed information for a variety of live webinars including subject, topic, and age range. You’ll receive an email with a link to access the webinar and a list of household materials to prepare, so you can follow along with the experiment in real time. Teachers and scientists demonstrate each experiment, explain the underlying science and concepts and live chat during the presentation.

Every webinar lasts 45 minutes and includes an explanation of the science topic and the DIY science experiment demonstrations. There are four live lessons every day, between 8am and 2pm EST. Students seem to love the ability to live chat with the teacher, which is very different from one-way television or YouTube videos.

You can also check out MEL Academy previously recorded science lesson webinars. And if you decide you’d like to go further, MEL also offers chemistry subscription boxes delivered monthly as well as chemistry lessons in virtual reality that follow a standard K-12 curriculum.

Happy science-ing everybody!

Source: MEL Academy Offers Three Months Of Free Online Science Webinars For Kids At Home

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