Elsewhere in Science, 14 November 2014

Amanda Curtis for U.S. Senate

Credit: Amanda Curtis for U.S. Senate

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, Science Signaling, and Science require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► In December, we reported, via ScienceInsider, about troubles at the Lick Observatory near San Jose, California, due to budget cuts within the University of California (UC) system. Those changes cut off funding for 11 astronomers who work at the observatory; UC Santa Cruz was asked to pick up the tab.

Warren Cornwall provided an update at ScienceInsider last Friday evening. “The historic Lick Observatory in California has gained a new lease on life. University of California (UC) administrators have scrapped a plan to cut funding for the facility. But the observatory’s financial future remains as tricky as the road that twists to its perch on a mountaintop above San Jose.”

► On Monday, Pallava Bagla reported at ScienceInsider that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “appointed physician Harsh Vardhan as minister for science and technology and earth sciences and elevated him to full Cabinet rank.”

“Vardhan, 59, is known for his pioneering role in the eradication of polio from India, which earlier this year was declared free of wild poliovirus.” Vardhan’s most pressing task, Bagla wrote, “may be to revitalize the science ministry.” He also hopes “to consolidate the bridge between science and society,” improve monsoon forecasting, and “more effectively deploy biotechnology in the health sector.”

► Last week, we mentioned Jeffrey Mervis’s ScienceInsider post on the attacks by Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the U.S. House of Representatives science committee, and other conservatives on government-funded research they don’t like.

On Monday afternoon, Mervis updated that post, noting that “the House science committee asked the National Science Foundation for all information relating to a grant awarded in 2011 to Indiana University researchers” that funded the so-called “Truthy” project. Mervis also noted that the Association of American Universities  had “blasted the science committee’s tactics. A statement by the group’s board of directors says the ongoing review of some 60 grants ‘is having a destructive effect on NSF and on the merit review process that is designed to fund the best research and to remove those decisions from the political process.’ ” 

► In 2012, seven Italians, including four scientists and two engineers, were found guilty of manslaughter for reassuring citizens that there was little risk of a major earthquake just before a quake struck in 2009. “Shouts of ‘Shame, shame!’ greeted the appeals court [Monday]” after the six scientists were acquitted, Edwin Cartlidge wrote at ScienceInsider. “Only one of the seven experts originally found guilty was convicted [Monday]: Bernardo De Bernardinis, who in 2009 was deputy head of Italy's Civil Protection Department and who will now serve 2 years in jail, pending any further appeals.” If the conviction had been upheld, it would have set a scary precedent for scientists potentially being held criminally liable for recommendations they offer the public. 

► On Monday, the White House announced that physicist Mildred Dresselhaus is among this year’s winners of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as David Malakoff reported later that day at ScienceInsider. And on Tuesday, Science Careers posted an interview with Dresselhaus. “Men’s careers wind down when they reach their 70s,” Dresselhaus tells Vijaysree Venkatraman in the interview. “Women don’t retire so quickly.” Economist Robert Solow was also among the 19 winners.

► BioRxiv, the biology preprint server modeled on arXiv.org, had its first birthday this week. According to its founders, it’s off to a healthy start, Jocelyn Kaiser reported Tuesday at ScienceInsider.

► In a Thursday ScienceInsider post, Tania Rabesandratana reported from Brussels that “[s]tatements of dismay poured in today after Anne Glover, the first chief scientific adviser (CSA) to the European Commission, confirmed that her post had ‘ceased to exist’ on 31 October, along with the previous administration's mandate.”

► Also on Thursday, Mervis reported on “[a] proposal to drop a question about college education” from the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau uses “to collect housing and demographic information from some 3.5 million people.” The National Science Foundation uses the information to “track trends in the U.S. scientific workforce,” but Mervis points out that some members of Congress think the survey is too intrusive and would like it to be shortened. So the Census Bureau flagged some questions for possible deletion. “Question No. 12, which asks respondents who have completed college to list their undergraduate major,” was on the list.

“It’s b---s--- to say that it’s a burden on someone to answer that question,” says Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. “Anybody who has gone to college is proud of the degree they received.”

► This week’s biggest science news was Wednesday’s successful landing of Philae on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which the Rosetta spacecraft is now orbiting. Before the landing, though, tensions were already emerging about access to the mission’s data and the rate at which it was being released. “[P]rincipal investigator Holger Sierks has come under special criticism for what some say is a stingy release policy,” wrote Eric Hand at ScienceInsider. “ ‘It’s a family that’s fighting, and Holger is in the middle of it, because he holds the crown jewels,’ says Mark McCaughrean, an ESA senior science adviser at ESTEC [the European Space Research and Technology Centre].”

In a ScienceInsider post earlier today, Hand and Daniel Clery describe the mad scramble to collect as much data as possible before Philae’s 60-hour battery runs out.

► Physics teacher and Democrat Amanda Curtis decided to run for the U.S. Senate in Montana when Senator John Walsh resigned after reports he had committed academic plagiarism. Out-spent more than 7 to 1 by her opponent, she lost, “[b]ut her 18-point margin of defeat was no worse than what befell several fellow Democrats, many of them veteran politicians, who spent tens of millions of dollars more than Curtis in their failed quest to keep their party in control of the Senate,” Mervis wrote on Wednesday at ScienceInsider. “She says her campaign demonstrates that ‘an average Joe can do just as well as a professional politician.’ ”

► What was the biggest scientific breakthrough of 2014? Science wants to hear from you. You can choose from the offered options or write in your own candidate in the comments section. Science's annual Breakthrough of the Year issue will be published online 18 December. Science’s winner will be revealed in the issue, along with readers’ top picks. Round one of voting ends on 1 December.

► What will be the impact of the Republican win in the U.S. midterms? In this week’s Science, Mervis and Malakoff consider that question and conclude that it will likely be “muted” despite some huge ideological shifts. “In January, control of the U.S. Senate's environment committee will shift from a legislator who believes ‘climate change is a catastrophe that is unfolding before our eyes’ to one who thinks ‘anthropogenic climate change is the world's greatest hoax,’ ” they wrote.

One big question is how the election's outcome will affect funding for social science research. “I think [social science funding] is dead at NIH and NSF [National Science Foundation],” says John Porter, a former Republican representative from Illinois, at a postelection event. “I just don't see how you're going to stop it from happening.” Alan Kraut, head of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, D.C., is concerned but confident that researchers can head off attacks on social science funding.

One result of the power shift, Mervis wrote in another article, is that pork could be back on the menu.

Also see a related editorial by Mary Woolley, president and chief executive officer of Research!America, and Science Executive Publisher Alan Leshner.

► Also in this week’s Science, Clery interviewed Kip Thorne, the renowned 74-year-old physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who inspired the film Interstellar “and kept a close eye on its scientific fidelity.”

► Rachel Bernstein, the new staff writer for Science Careers, earned her stripes this week with her first Science news story, “No sexism in science? Not so fast, critics say.”

► Finally, in this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Joseph Swift, a Ph.D. student at New York University, explains how a trip to Abu Dhabi helped alleviate career-related anxiety by giving him a glimpse of the real-world applications for his research.

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