Elsewhere in Science, 8 November 2013

Fighting Bush Fires

CREDIT: Daniel Munoz/Reuters/Newscom

Every week, Science publishes a few articles that are likely to be of interest to career-minded readers. But because those articles aren't featured on Science Careers, our readers could easily overlook them.

To remedy that, every Friday we're pointing readers toward articles appearing in Science—the print magazine as well as the other Science-family publications (ScienceInsider, ScienceNow, Science Translational MedicineSci. TM—and Science Signaling)—that hold some relevance or nuggets of advice for readers interested in furthering their careers in science. (Please note that while articles appearing in ScienceInsider and ScienceNow can be read by anyone, articles appearing in Sci. TM and Science may require AAAS membership/Science subscription or a site license.)

• In a 7 November ScienceInsider, Jeffrey Mervis reported "the opening move by the Senate commerce and science committee to reauthorize the 2010 America COMPETES Act." Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TX) opened the hearing by telling the panel to "finish the job" and increase the budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. However, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) had an opposing view: "I’d love to talk about spending more money on basic research. But until we deal with the fact that two-thirds of our budget is out-of-control, on automatic pilot … we are really stealing the future of our kids." The hearing was notable for featuring perhaps the first discussion of imposter syndrome on the floor of the U. S. Senate.

Also this week, the House Republicans introduced their own draft bill that would replace the COMPETES Act, Mervis wrote in another ScienceInsider. Science advocates are unhappy with the bill (introduced by Lamar Smith, R-TX, the head of the House science committee), which would  appear to impose new requirements for NSF funding, including a requirement that program officers go public with the rationale for funding a project.

• A spending bill approved in March included an amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that, for political science proposals to NSF, effectively adds a third review criterion to the usual two (scientific merit and broader impacts). Those submitting political science proposals need to demonstrate that the research will contribute to either economic development or national security. The research community isn't pleased with the new language, but this week, NSF advised political scientists to take that requirement seriously.

A 1 November letter posted on the agency's website tells applicants to "keep in mind" the Coburn language when preparing submissions for the next grant deadline (15 January). Joanne Tornow, NSF’s acting assistant director of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate, which includes political science, writes that "[t]he relationship of the proposed research to these goals should be addressed both in the broader impacts section of the project summary and within the project description." While speaking at the Washington meeting of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), NSF acting Director Cora Marrett offered this: "But does that mean we expect every proposal submitted to be about national security and economic development? Not at all. We know the community. And if the approach is broad enough, it should not be a problem to support the first-rate projects coming in. So I’m not worried about the consequences to the program."

• Science appears to have an important new advocate in the U. S. Senate. At the same COSSA meeting where Marrett spoke, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) endorsed the value of basic research, telling the COSSA audience that she will work to remove these restrictions on NSF funding for political science research. " 'When policymakers tie the hands of social science researchers,'  Warren said, 'they are tying their own hands.' " It was the second time in a week that she made a major statement about science. On 28 October, she told the Boston Chamber of Commerce that Congress needs "to double our investment in scientific and biomedical research and create more year-to-year certainty for that funding."

In a News & Analysis story in this week's Science, Richard Stone introduced readers to Alexander Stewart, an assistant professor of geology and soldier who was sent to Afghanistan in 2009. Stewart was "one of a dozen 'soldier-scientists' assigned by the National Guard Bureau to an elite company, the U.S. Army's 143rd Infantry Detachment, Long-Range Surveillance, for a 1-year tour of duty. Low-profile platoons like Stewart's, deployed by the military's Agribusiness Development Team (ADT) program, are part of the U.S.-led military coalition's counterinsurgency strategy, which aims to coax Afghans to rely on their government rather than the Taliban." The ADT program "has spent $42 million on more than 680 projects, such as coring trees for climate records; shifting farmers from growing opium poppy to saffron; and assessing the Taliban's potential to generate income from mining in their strongholds."

• In August, Science Careers ran an article by Eli Kintisch about the increasing pressure on climate scientists to engage in public outreach and communication. But, as Richard Kerr's News Focus story in this week's Science illustrates, communicating about climate change isn't always easy—partly because the link between climate change and extreme weather is complex and hard to explain. That, however, is a problem that scientists are working to solve.

• Staying up late at night to do scientific research might be good for your career, but it's not good for your immune system. On ScienceNow, Elizabeth Norton reported that a new study might offer insight into why the immune system is thrown off when the body's internal clock is interrupted. It is possible "that the genes that set the body clock are intimately connected to certain immune cells, according to the study." (In one of our first "Elsewhere" stories, we pointed to a ScienceNow by Kelly Servick that noted a study that found flickering fluorescent lights scrambled the body's natural cues.)

• The 12 finalists of this year's Dance Your Ph.D. contest have been announced, selected from 31 dance submissions. This is the 6th year of the contest, which asks participants to turn their Ph.D. research into a dance. Sounds fun, right? It is fun. You can watch the finalists' videos here.

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