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Health and medicine/Human health

After a tense week in which a government shutdown was averted, the White House and congressional leaders agreed on a 2011 budget that spared research and development from the worst of the cuts, according to Patrick Clemins, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.

The battle over the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, widely used in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins in food cans, holds lessons for the assessment of a broad range of chemicals whose possible impact on human health remains elusive, speakers said at a recent AAAS panel discussion.

Some studies in animals suggest that BPA can disrupt the endocrine system, with potentially harmful effects on growth and development. Canada plans to ban plastic baby bottles made with BPA, and some groups in the United States and Europe are calling for the same action.

In the culture of research science, there’s a focus on the frontier, a premium on solving unsolved problems. But Paul Anastas, known as the father of green chemistry, urged scientists in a presentation at AAAS to revisit old problems and re-solve them in cleaner, more efficient ways.

Across science, in areas ranging from agriculture to light-bulb design and pharmaceutical development, science-driven improvements conceived in past decades often have come with high cost to the environment and sometimes human health, Anastas said.

A specific region of the brain appears to be larger in individuals who are good at turning their thoughts inward and reflecting upon their decisions, according to new research published in the journal Science. This act of introspection—or “thinking about your thinking”—is a key aspect of human consciousness, though scientists have noted plenty of variation in peoples’ introspective abilities.

The new study is published in the 17 September issue of the journal Science. Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

Greg Ip, the influential U.S. economics editor for The Economist, told AAAS S&T Policy Fellows that America’s prospects for a quick economic recovery remain poor, yet his 50-year outlook is positive because of the promise of science-based innovation.

The renowned AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program this month entered into a five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will provide $30.1 million in support for hundreds of scientists and engineers.

“The EPA award is a wonderful testament to AAAS, to the program, and to the Fellows,” said Program Director Cynthia Robinson. “It is also a fine way to mark the launch of the 30th annual cohort of Fellows at the EPA.”