Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Releases New Report; Prompts Additional Investments

Formed in 2011, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) focuses on policies and other tools to secure American leadership in advanced manufacturing.  Earlier this week the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology adopted the AMP’s latest report, Accelerating U.S. Advanced Manufacturing.  This report builds on the AMP’s 2012 report and prompted several government investments, also announced earlier this week.

You can peruse the full list of recommendations on pages 17-18 of the report, but they are grouped in three categories (taken from the 2012 report): Enabling Innovation, Securing the Talent Pipeline, and Improving the Business Client.  Some of you may roll your eyes at the vagueness of these categories, so I would encourage you to focus on the portions of this report (Appendix A) that discuss the action plans and implementation to date on the various recommendations.

What is likely more broadly interesting are the technology areas identified as most promising targets for American leadership, as well as the Administration actions announced in connection with the report.  NASA, along with the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Energy, will invest $300 million in those technology areas:

  • advanced materials including composites and bio-based materials,
  • advanced sensors for manufacturing, and
  • digital manufacturing.

The National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Energy will work to connect researchers with labs and research facilities for technology testbeds.  The Department of Labor will launch a $100 million dollar program to encourage apprenticeships (including new models of apprenticeship) with a focus on advanced manufacturing.  Finally, the Department of Commerce has announced an expansion of its Manufacturing Extension Partnership (a tool that doesn’t get enough attention and probably not enough use) with a focus on new technologies.

Study That Prompted Allegations Of NIH Interference Found Wanting

In March 2013 the Office for Human Subjects Research Protections (OHRP) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that some of the informed consent provisions associated with the a study at the University of Alabama, Birmingham were lacking.  In June OHRP sent a subsequent letter to the researchers indicating it would put its planned sanctions on hold.

In between March and June, HHS and National Institutes of Health officials interacted with OHRP staff, and that interaction prompted allegations of improper influence.  The HHS Office of the Inspector General found no evidence of wrongdoing in its investigation.

But that doesn’t end the story, since OHRP put its actions on hold.  That hold ended on Friday.  Rather than implement sanctions against the researchers, OHRP has issued a call for comments on proposed informed consent guidelines.  The proposed guidelines affect the application of human research protections to cases of ‘standard of care research.’  The major questions concern what risks could be considered ‘reasonably foreseeable’ and how those risks should be described to prospective subjects.

In the case of the SUPPORT study that prompted this whole process, there was disagreement over whether or not the study protocols put subjects at risks that warranted disclosure.  OHRP felt that since the risks were greater than what subjects would reasonably expect without treatment, notice was required.  Others argued that because the treatment under study was within the standard of care for the condition, that no disclosure was required.

OHRP is taking comments until December 24, and will issue final guidance sometime in early 2015.

When Is A Quarantine Not A Quarantine?

I think I’m raising questions more than offering perspective with this post, but there are some things about the latest developments in the Ebola cases diagnosed in the United States.

(That’s right, it’s not an outbreak.  The situation is West Africa certainly is.  Four cases in a country that sees a few thousand times that many deaths from the flu does not qualify as an outbreak.)

Based on the latest declared case, a doctor in New York City that had been working in West Africa, the governors of New York and New Jersey declared quarantines above and beyond the recommended Centers for Disease Control monitoring (though the CDC is considering changing those guidelines).  As the politicians have more than public health on their mind, I can understand why they might go above and beyond what is medically necessary.  After all, Americans are scaredy cats, happy to act on fear before thinking things through.  Why not placate their fear, and worry about the possible negative consequences (people simply traveling around the quarantine zone, fewer military and aid workers going to West Africa, reduced disclosures of exposure, etc.)

But the terms of the quarantine, or at least the pronouncements of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about said quarantine, make me think that at least one of the politicians involved is either unclear on public health or simply doesn’t care. Continue reading

Just One Ebola Grand Challenge Among Many

The current administration loves its open innovation platforms and competitions.  To help combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (not to be confused with the isolated cases in the United States), the Department of Defense, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have collaborated on the Ebola Grand Challenge.

They want your help for two aspects of the challenge.  First, submit your ideas for innovations or challenge grants online.  Second, participate in the online discussions around the topic (I’d recommend donning your online flame retardant outfit first).  The organizers have designated three missions (and a fourth category for any other ideas) of interest: strengthen health care capacities, promote care-seeking, and boost tracking and communication.  In each case, they are looking for both existing research and potential ideas that could apply to the current outbreak.  No formal expertise required.

Meanwhile, I’d encourage you to avoid U.S. media on this story, as it reminds me of that quote from Hamlet – “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

UK Science Advocates Prepping For 2015 Elections

The next UK Parliamentary elections will take place next year.  The Campaign for Science and Engineering has been getting ready, recently releasing a series of briefings on science matters.  They seek comment from each of the parties with representation in Parliament on how their respective party manifestos (platforms for us Yanks) reflect the issues noted in the briefs.

The briefings cover investment in scientific and technical research, education and skills, and science advice in government.  While they are – obviously – geared toward the UK situation, I think you’d find the general concerns applicable to other countries.  Maintaining, if not increasing, government investment in science and technology; ensuring sufficient numbers of people trained in science and engineering (both for the educational workforce and the workforce at large); and the presence and transparency of science and engineering knowledge in policymaking are all challenging topics.  They all suffer, to varying degrees, from a lack of priority attention from policymakers.  The reaction to these briefs (or lack thereof) should demonstrate that quite soon.

Australia Shakes Up Its Top Science Advisory Council

The Abbott Government recently announced the formation of the Commonwealth Science Council as part of its new competitiveness agenda for Australia.  Chaired by Prime Minister Abbott, the Council membership is split evenly between industry and university appointments, with the appropriate government ministers participating as appropriate.  The Industry Minister will serve as Deputy Chair and the Minsters for Health and Education would be regular contributors.

Australian Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb noted his support for the new Council, which would take the place of the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC).  My own (limited) review of PMSEIC activities suggests that the Commonwealth Science Council, by dint of its membership and the focus of the Abbott Government, will be more focused on near-term activities and on connections between researchers and industry.  (However, it would seem that there has been a trend away from a foresight-heavy advisory council dating back several years before the newest government formed.)

While such links might be denounced in the States as ‘picking winners,’ smaller countries like Australia can’t afford to invest in as many areas of science and technology.  Such investment strategies are (hopefully) sound strategic tools for finding the most return on investment.

Open Government Project Holds First Annual Awards And Continues To Add Members

In connection with the recent session of the U.N. General Assembly, the Open Government Partnership announced the winners of its first annual awards.  The theme of this year’s awards was citizen engagement.  Thirty-three countries applied (out of the sixty-six governments in the Partnership), and ten were recognized for their efforts to actively encourage citizens to engage with their government.

The U.S. entry was ranked 9th, and focused on the country’s work in open innovation.  Specifically mentioned in the award recognitions were efforts in citizen science, crowdsourced data scanning, and competitions.  The U.K. entry (coming in at number 6) was Sciencewise, (no, not that ScienceWISE), a resource for policymakers to better understand how public engagement can help them with science and technology policy matters.  It can also support such engagement.  What might be the most interesting project of those recognized is in Montenegro.  The project, Be Responsible, is focused on shrinking the country’s grey economy through public reporting.  Half of the fines levied against those reported will be distributed to civic projects decided on by those who participated in the program.

The Awards will continue, and the announcement for the 2015 award applications should come early in the new year.