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US news roundup: 13-19 November


This week: a climate change controversy, international student numbers, Harvard admissions and more

In depth: The public-private partnership behind a promising Covid-19 vaccine candidate has been hailed as “historic” by United States health secretary Alex Azar.

Full story: ‘Historic’ US partnership credited for Covid-19 vaccine results


Also this week from Research Professional News

Trump team looks to trade deals to protect intellectual property—Three-year strategy of outgoing administration looks abroad to patch holes in IP protection


Here is the rest of the US news this week…

Concern over reported removal of climate chief

Eddie Bernice Johnson, chair of the House science committee, has expressed concern that the Trump Administration has removed Michael Kuperberg from his role as executive director of the US Global Change Research Program, which is tasked with producing scientific reviews of the effects of climate change. According to multiple media reports, Kuperberg was dismissed on 7 November, with David Legates, a political appointee at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has publicly questioned the role of humans in climate change, reportedly lined up to replace him. Johnson said the reported move appeared to be an attempt by the Trump administration to politicise the National Climate Assessment, which the USGCRP is due to deliver in 2023. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which oversees the USGCRP, did not respond to a request for comment.

International student numbers plummet

The number of international students studying at US institutions dropped by 16 per cent at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, according to data released by the Institute of International Education. American Council on Education president Ted Mitchell said the fall was “staggering but, unfortunately, not surprising”. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mitchell suggested that the Trump administration’s policies “helped fuel the perception that this country is no longer a welcoming place for study and research”. The IIE found international student numbers in the US had fallen by 1.8 per cent in 2019-20, the first fall since 2005-6.

Harvard’s admissions policy does not discriminate, court rules

A US appeals court has upheld a 2018 district court ruling that Harvard University’s admissions policy does not discriminate against Asian Americans. The “race-conscious” policy is in keeping with previous Supreme Court rulings, the court found, including because it does not seek to ‘balance’ the ethnic composition of the intake or use race as a plus factor. A similar case, alleging discrimination against white applicants to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, opened recently. UNC told Research Professional News that the benefits of diversity in education were “undisputed”, that its use of race in admissions was “narrowly tailored” and that “no workable race-neutral alternatives” existed.

Panel says Mars mission ‘should be delayed by two years’

An independent review into Nasa’s preparation for its mission to bring back a sample of Martian rock has suggested that technical challenges mean the attempt should be delayed by two years to 2028, at an additional cost of about $1 billion, the Associated Press news agency reported. The review, which interviewed staff at Nasa and its mission partner, the European Space Agency, generally praised the agencies’ preparation and said the mission should go ahead.

Arecibo radio telescope at risk of collapse

The Arecibo Observatory, an ageing radio telescope in Puerto Rico, is in danger of collapsing following breakages to supporting cables, the Associated Press reported. The giant radio dish was used to spot the first exoplanet and first binary pulsar, which earned the scientists responsible the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics. The facility has survived many hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes since it was built in the 1960s.