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George Church apologizes for contacts with Jeffrey Epstein

In an exclusive new interview with STAT, Harvard University biologist George Church says “nerd tunnel vision” was likely what drove scientists like him to continue meeting with accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade after he pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution. “I certainly apologize for my poor awareness and judgment,” Church told STAT in his first public comments about recent revelations regarding his and other scientists’ meetings with Epstein, who also served a 13-month sentence following his conviction. Scientists may not have realized the full extent of Epstein’s transgressions, Church said. “There should have been more conversations about, should we doing this, should we be helping thus guy?” he said. Church is now the only major scientific figure to publicly apologize for his interactions with Epstein. 

Majority of Americans think scientists should be more involved in science policy

A new survey of more than 4,400 Americans finds that some 60% of them think scientists should play an active role when it comes policy about scientific issues. Here’s more from the survey: 

  • Trust: 86% say they trust scientists to act in the public’s best interest, up from 83% last year. Democrats and those with more scientific knowledge are also more likely to trust scientists. 

  • Transparency: Fewer than 20% believe that scientists are transparent about potential conflicts of interest and industry ties. The same number also believes that scientists regularly admit to and take responsibility for mistakes. 

  • Type of scientist: Americans tend to trust science practitioners such as doctors and dietitians more than researchers. Some 48% people medical doctors provide fair and accurate information versus 32% who believe the same of medical research scientists. 

Inside STAT: Counselors engage new parents before vaccine hesitancy hardens

A vaccination counselor speaks with new parents about immunizing their baby.(LAURENCE BUTET-ROCH FOR STAT)

The mother was not dead-set against vaccination. But she was vociferous enough to worry the nurses. So, when preparing to discharge her preemie son after five months of hospitalization, they called in Dr. Arnaud Gagneur. His research had given rise to a whole new workforce in Québec, whose job was to soothe parents’ anxieties about vaccines. Now, as Gagneur hoped to import this strategy around the globe, he was faced with a question: Could he convince one mother in his own hospital to immunize her kids? STAT reporter Eric Boodman traveled back to his home province — translating interviews from Québécois French — to report this in-depth, engrossing feature. “I wanted readers to glimpse the fight against a global health crisis, waged gently in the maternity ward,” Eric said of the trip. Read more here

Sesame allergies affect an estimated 1.5 million Americans

A new survey finds that sesame allergies are more common than previously thought, affecting at least 1.5 million people in the U.S. Here’s more:

  • The context: Researchers conducted the survey after the FDA put out a request for data on sesame allergies to better guide food-labeling policies. Sesame doesn’t have to be listed as an allergen on food labels and can be described generically as “flavors.” 

  • The findings: More than 1.5 million adults and children may have a sesame allergy. Nearly one-quarter of people with sesame allergies reported severe reactions such as fainting, but many people with a sesame allergy don’t have an epinephrine injector to help in case of an allergic reaction.

  • The takeaway: Researchers say this data could help inform policymakers in efforts to reduce the public health burden of sesame allergies.

France considers paying for IVF for single and lesbian women

France is considering a new law that would extend government funding for IVF to single women and lesbian women. It is one of 10 countries in the EU where single and lesbian women aren’t eligible for the treatment. Existing French law only allows national health coverage for IVF for infertile heterosexual couples, and single and lesbian women usually travel to neighboring countries for the treatment. The bill would also set an upper age limit for who would be eligible for IVF treatment, and it proposes paying for four rounds of treatment per pregnancy. It also includes a provision where children born through sperm donors can request to know the identity of the donors upon turning 18. The bill comes five years after mass protests erupted following the legalization of same-sex marriage in France, and is expected to prompt strong debate in the French parliament next month. 

Regular contact with a friend at an older age is linked to lower dementia risk

A study of more than 10,000 older adults finds that the more social interaction they tend to have in their daily lives, the less their chances of developing dementia. Researchers looked at data from people who had been followed since the mid-1980s as part of a study and who had been surveyed about their social habits at various points in the subsequent three decades. Someone who was 60 and reported seeing a friend daily was 12% less likely to have dementia than those who didn’t have such regular contact. Similar associations were present in 50-year-olds and 70-year-olds, although those differences were not statistically significant. One caveat: The study relied on diagnoses of dementia in electronic health records, so milder cases of dementia, which may not have been recorded, could have been missed. 

What to read around the web today

  • Unwatched, a sober home business boomed. Then they found the bones. The Boston Globe
  • Uganda begins largest trial of experimental Ebola vaccine. The Associated Press
  • Pain rescue team helps seriously ill kids cope in terrible times. NPR
  • This Indian scientist is working on motor proteins to help the world understand obesity. The Print
  • Superstar athletes popularize unproven stem cell procedures. Kaiser Health News

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Monday, August 5, 2019


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