Elsewhere in Science, 24 October 2014

Early-career Indian researcher in a lab.

Credit: Pallava Bagla

Each week, the Science family of publications publishes articles that are likely to be of interest to Science Careers readers. So, every Friday, we're pointing our readers toward articles that hold some relevance to careers in science and other technical fields. Note that many of the articles appearing in Science Translational Medicine (STM), Science Signaling, and Science require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers), a Science subscription, or a site license.

► On Monday, Jeffrey Mervis presented the first in a series of ScienceInsider posts on what could happen in Washington next year, following the upcoming midterm elections. Here, Mervis focuses on the outlook for biomedical funding, considering a proposal to exempt National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding from spending caps mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Those caps were subsequently suspended for 2014 and 2015, but unless some action is taken, they will kick in again next October, when the 2016 fiscal year starts. The act calls for $110 billion in total spending cuts annually, through 2021. If they aren’t suspended or adjusted, the caps will almost certainly push down NIH research budgets starting a year from now.

Some lawmakers have taken up the cause. “Senator Tom Harkin (D–IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D–CT) have sponsored identical bills that would designate NIH as ‘emergency spending’ and boost its authorized budget by 10% annually in 2015 and 2016 and by 5% for each of the next 5 years,” Mervis wrote. “ ‘This bill will put a plan in place for the Appropriations Committee to reverse the 10-year retrenchment in biomedical research funding over the remaining years of the Budget Control Act,’ Harkin said in July when he introduced the legislation, called the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act.” Other measures to avoid the cuts have also been proposed.

In the post, Mervis asked whether steady funding has ever existed (his answer: no) and points out that a sudden influx of funds could have some undesirable effects. “On one hand, for instance, legislation such as Harkin’s bill would bring much desired additional funding to NIH,” Mervis wrote. “At the same time, however, it would trigger yet another dramatic upward budget swing. Research leaders have long argued that such sudden swings are quite disruptive and make long-range planning nearly impossible. In addition, a sudden upturn can send a false message of hope to aspiring scientists that the good times will last into the foreseeable future.” Also see these two related articles in this week’s Science. A second posting in the “After Election” series, published Wednesday, looked at science education.

► On Wednesday at ScienceInsider, Laura Margottini wrote about the response of Italian scientists to expected cuts to Italian research budgets.  “A bill approved by Italy’s cabinet of ministers on 15 October would over 3 years squeeze €100 million from a €6.7 billion budget for universities and €120 million out of a €1.6 billion budget for public research centers,” Margottini wrote. “The plan, part of an overall cut in public spending, would also zero out a €140 million fund for applied research. These reductions come on top of a €170 million cut to universities already decreed for 2015 and a €150 million cut to student aid.”

Researchers from several associations “blasted the austerity measure at a press conference in Rome on 18 October. New cuts will strangle research, says physicist Francesco Sylos Labini of the Enrico Fermi Center in Rome and a member of ROARS (which stands for Return on Academic Research). ‘Cuts won’t touch salaries of permanent people, but will have dramatic consequence in hiring new people and in the financial resources for research,’ he said at the conference. The scientists also noted that last year, the government eliminated grants for basic research and that since 2008 the number of new permanent positions for academics has contracted by 90%. The new bill is an especially bitter pill, they say, because Prime Minister Matteo Renzi earlier this year had championed research and education as a potential cure for Italy’s economic malaise.”

► On Wednesday, Jocelyn Kaiser reported on the reaction of researchers to the recent moratorium on “gain-of-function” research, which can make pathogens more transmissible in mammals or more pathogenic. “At a meeting at which experts were tasked with hashing out the risks and benefits of these experiments, the opening session instead was dominated by a litany of concerns that research important to public health is being curtailed,” Kaiser wrote. About 2 dozen NIH-funded studies are affected, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, but it appears the ban may touch a larger number of scientists. “An industry scientist, Bill Sheridan of BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc., which is headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, cautioned that new flu drugs must be tested on wild strains to look for resistance, which is one way of enhancing a virus,” Kaiser wrote. “If such GOF work was halted, ‘we won't be able to develop any antiviral drugs,’  Sheridan said.”

► In Science, Dennis Normile wrote about the impact of the sinking of the Taiwanese research vessel Ocean Research V,  “less than 2 years after its maiden scientific cruise,” on Taiwanese science, calling it “a severe setback for Taiwanese oceanography and related fields.”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced “Working Life” column, Huan “Sharon” Wang describes the experience of doing a Ph.D. supervised by two advisers.

► Dealing with cancer in low-income countries, wrote C. Norman Coleman of the International Cancer Experts Corps in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and Richard R. Love of the the International Breast Cancer Research Foundation in Madison in a FOCUS in this week’s STM, requires a global partnership between mentors from the high-income world and community-health workers who know the local circumstances.

► In a Thursday ScienceInsider, Christina Larson reported that in the wake of “widespread corruption and misaligned incentives,” an “[o]verhaul of Chinese science spending looms.” The Chinese government has made plans to change the way that its science funding is distributed. “Chinese media are reporting that the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) may hand control of the lion’s share of research spending to as-yet-unidentified ‘independent institutes,’ the state-run People’s Daily reported on 21 October.”

The Chinese Academy of Sciences is also set for major reform. The academy’s plan is “aimed at spurring innovation and eliminating redundant research programs,” Larson wrote.

► Meanwhile, Ulf Leonhardt, a German theoretical physicist who received an offer to work at the Centre for Optical and Electromagnetic Research (COER) at South China Normal University, is charging that some of his research funds were diverted while he was at the university.  “After hiring lawyers to investigate, they uncovered a web of misinformation, including incorrectly translated agreements and covert purchases of equipment at COER. ‘The fraud they committed was so brazen,’ charges Leonhardt, who bailed out of his contract after spending just one summer in Guangzhou.” Mara Hvistendahl wrote about it in this week’s Science.

► In ScienceInsider on Wednesday, Pallava Bagla reported that about 71,000 of India’s young scientists will “receive a roughly 60% increase in their stipends” from the Indian government. “[T]he graduate students and postdocs are certainly grateful for the economic boost,” but “they are disappointed that it apparently took prolonged protests to force the government’s hand,” Bagla wrote.

“The raises are ‘a welcome step,’ says Pankaj Jain, a Ph.D. student in molecular biophysics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and a leader of the institute’s Students' Council that led the fight for a pay boost. But Jain feels more reforms are needed to attract students into science, including a regular pay ladder,” Bagla wrote.

► This afternoon, Normile reported at ScienceInsider that top administrator’s at RIKEN, Japan’s network of laboratories, “will voluntarily return 1 to 3 months of their salaries to atone for their responsibility for the STAP stem cell fiasco.”

► Last week AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers) put out a call for submissions for Science Advances, its new digital open access journal. The journal “features well-executed, important research across the entire range of scholarly pursuits including computer, engineering, environmental, life, mathematical, physical, and social sciences,” the website says. You can submit your paper here.

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