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Is the Law Putting Science at Risk?

The Academies Act in the UK has passed through Parliament and is now law, says Imran Khan at the New Scientist's The S Word blog. Its purpose is to expand the number of schools that could become semi-independent, says Khan, but the law also removes the obligation of these school (called academies, and seemingly run like charter schools in the US) to teach science and math in line with the National Curriculum. "We'll have more freedom given to schools in how they teach science and maths," Khan says. "Many schools will use this freedom well. But a minority may fail their students by simply not teaching them these core skills properly." This would not only deprive students of what Khan calls "the enjoyment of science," but could also hurt their later job prospects. If a school is poorly-funded and can't attract the best teachers, math and science may be the first to suffer in the curriculum, Khan says. "These schools will run the risk of leaving their students underprepared for the outside world because they don't have the right skills, and depriving them of the understanding of the world which science and engineering give us," he adds.

The Scan

Octopus Brain Complexity Linked to MicroRNA Expansions

Investigators saw microRNA gene expansions coinciding with complex brains when they analyzed certain cephalopod transcriptomes, as they report in Science Advances.

Study Tracks Outcomes in Children Born to Zika Virus-Infected Mothers

By following pregnancy outcomes for women with RT-PCR-confirmed Zika virus infections, researchers saw in Lancet Regional Health congenital abnormalities in roughly one-third of live-born children.

Team Presents Benchmark Study of RNA Classification Tools

With more than 135 transcriptomic datasets, researchers tested two dozen coding and non-coding RNA classification tools, establishing a set of potentially misclassified transcripts, as they report in Nucleic Acids Research.

Breast Cancer Risk Related to Pathogenic BRCA1 Mutation May Be Modified by Repeats

Several variable number tandem repeats appear to impact breast cancer risk and age at diagnosis in almost 350 individuals carrying a risky Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA1 founder mutation.