Jan 18, 2018

Axios Science

By Alison Snyder
Alison Snyder

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Axios turns 1 today  — and, more importantly, we're launching our newest coverage area: international affairs. The new World stream will feature a mix of our own reporting and some from outside experts, like Sinocism publisher Bill Bishop and Council of Foreign Relations president Richard Haass.

Where U.S. science stands
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The amount spent on science research and development, using purchasing power parity (ppp) exchange rates for international comparison. Reproduced from National Science Board Science & Engineering Indicators - 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals

Erin Ross writes: China is on track to overtake the U.S. in expenditures on science research and development — if they haven’t already.

According to the National Science Foundation’s congressionally mandated Science & Engineering Indicators report released today, overall spending on research in China has gone up by roughly 18% each year since 2000. The annual increase in the U.S. is just 4%.

Yes, but science is not a zero-sum game, notes chemist Geraldine Richmond, who authored the report that evaluates the state of science in the nation and the world every two years. Even if the U.S. falls behind in science leadership, they will collaborate with and build off of research done in other countries, she says.

The big funding question: “Where do we want to lead, in science and technology, and where are we content to participate?” Richmond asked during the press conference.

Read the full story here.

Axios stories for your brain
Early testing of new blood cancer screening shows some promise

A robot processes samples for evaluation from the blood-based CancerSEEK test. Photo: Fred Dubs / Johns Hopkins Medical Pathology

Eileen Drage O'Reilly reports: Scientists announced Thursday in the journal Science that they've developed a highly specific blood test that screens for 8 common cancer types, helps identify the location of the cancer, and is expected to cost about $500.

Why it matters: The research community is searching for a non-invasive way to screen for cancer but has faced huge problems of high costs and false positives — which can cause a patient unnecessary testing and anxiety.

Yes, but: The study was conducted in a relatively small number of cancer patients. Some scientists believe the high specificity and sensitivity rates of the CancerSEEK test may drop in a larger patient group and say they will be watching the results from a larger trial expected in about 18 months.

Read the full story here.

What we're reading elsewhere
  • Cancer immunotherapy: Cost is one barrier to access but so may be geography — at least for now, Emily Mullin explains in MIT Technology Review.
  • Celebrity science: Michael Schulson writes in Undark about "how sloppy science, celebrity culture, and social media virality too often converge to generate market-driven fear-mongering and baseless health claims, rather than serious consumer education."
  • Loneliness: The U.K. now has a minister for it, per the NYT. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, depression and premature death. 1 stat to consider from the Times' Ceylan Yeginsu: "Government research has found that about 200,000 older people in Britain had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month."
The mystery of our expanding universe
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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

We've known for decades that the universe is expanding faster as time goes on, but we don't know the speed of that acceleration. Putting a number on it would help astronomers and cosmologists understand the universe's beginning, its structure and where this is all heading.

But there's a problem: The expansion rate of the universe can be calculated in two different ways — and when it is, researchers arrive at two different values. "When this discrepancy first showed up a few years ago, many experts believed it was just a mirage that would fade with more precise measurement. But it hasn’t," Tom Siegfried writes in Science News. In fact, a recent analysis by The Space Telescope Science Institute’s Adam Reiss further solidified the difference.

What's happening: The conflicting values may be “a signal of some astronomical unknown, whether a new particle, new interactions of matter and radiation, or a phenomenon even more surprising," Siegfried writes.

Go deeper: Read his piece on cosmology's biggest question.

Something fun

Courtesy of U.S. Postal Service

From Erin: Mycologist stamp-collectors, rejoice! The U.S. Postal Service plans to issue a mushroom stamp in 2018. Part of their “Bioluminescent Life” campaign, the stamp shows a stand of Mycena lucentipes, a seemingly ordinary tan mushroom that glows bright green in the dark. While past stamps have included illustrations of mushrooms, this fluorescent fungi is the first to feature prominently on postage.

Alison Snyder

Thanks again for reading. Don't forget to check the stream throughout the week.