Elsewhere in Science, 7 November 2014

Renato Aguilera with graduate students from the 2013 RISE class.

Courtesy of Renato Aguilera, UTEP

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.

► “When she isn't out in the forest gathering data for her Ph.D. in plant biology at the University of Georgia, Athens,” wrote John Bohannon in an online news item posted early Monday morning, “Uma Nagendra spends a good deal of her time hanging upside down from a trapeze doing circus aerials.” Apparently that’s common: “It turns out that there are a lot of scientists doing it,” Nagendra says.

Bohannon was announcing the winners of the 2014 “Dance Your Ph.D.” competition, and Nagendra’s aerial dance, which is based on her Ph.D. research on ecological recovery from natural disasters, was the overall winner. The physics winner was Hans Rinderknecht; his performance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge explained how he uses light to trigger nuclear fusion. The chemistry winner came from a group led by Saioa Alvarez of the University of the Basque Country in Leioa, Spain; the research—and the dance—explains the chemistry of emulsions like mayonnaise. “[L]ipids,” Bohannon wrote, “have never looked so sexy.”

► Later Monday morning, David Malakoff posted the seventh item in the After Election 2014 series. This one focused on the postelection prospects for the R&D tax credit, which lawmakers allowed to expire for the sixth time in 21 years. The tax credit is likely to be renewed after the election, Malakoff wrote, but for how long and in what form?  Will it be permanent? Will it be more or less generous than previous credits? While the effectiveness of past credits has been questioned, a well-drafted, generous, permanent credit could do much to encourage companies to hire scientists.

► Is academic science sexist? The obvious answer—given the widespread underrepresentation of women in science, especially at the highest levels and in math-intensive fields—is “yes.” But, a controversial op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times (and a related but less controversial 67-page article published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest) argues that perhaps science is not as sexist as we thought. ScienceInsider drew attention to the ensuing controversy in a brief post. Rachel Bernstein, staff writer for Science Careers, followed up later in the week with a more detailed analysis.

► The idea of bipartisanship may seem like a distant dream, but apparently there are some issues where progress is possible—including reform of the compliance bureaucracy researchers are routinely subjected to.

“The rules, whether to protect human patients and research animals or prevent financial conflicts of interest, are often well-intentioned, academic officials say,” wrote Malakoff Monday in another After Election 2014 post. “And sometimes they are a reaction to an egregious breach. But ‘[t]oo often federal requirements are ill-conceived, ineffective, and/or duplicative,’ a coalition of major U.S. research universities declared earlier this year. ‘[T]he time researchers must devote to compliance … unnecessarily reduces the time they can devote to discovery and innovation,’ they warned.” Fortunately, “Congress has already launched several studies of possible solutions, and there seems to be bipartisan interest to doing something,” Malakoff wrote. 

► Is old research becoming obsolete? Apparently the opposite is true: Scholars are citing older articles at ever-increasing rates. That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by Google to mark the 10th anniversary of Google Scholar. “[R]esearchers analyzed scientific papers published between 1990 and 2013. They divided the papers into nine broad research areas and 261 subject categories. Then they compared the publication dates of the papers cited in all those papers,” Bohannon wrote. “The fraction of cited papers that are at least 10 years older than the paper citing them has increased steadily, from about 28% in 1990 to 36% in 2013.”

► The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is launching a new program to “attract and retain more minority students” in the sciences, Jeffrey Mervis wrote Tuesday. “NIH Director Francis Collins is not satisfied with the progress to date in correcting the serious underrepresentation of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the applicant pool [for investigator grants]. ‘We are far short of where I believe we ought to be,’ he said during a 22 October media briefing on NIH’s latest attempt to achieve that deceptively simple goal.” The new initiative, Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce, aims to address the issue by focusing on undergraduate and graduate education. “NIH expects to spend $240 million over the first 5 years of the initiative” to fund programs for minority students, and a program to evaluate the efforts and obtain rigorous data about what does and doesn’t work.

“That is welcome news to the community of scientists who have been deeply involved in NIH-funded diversity programs that serve a relative handful of students each year,” Mervis wrote. “But mixed in with their applause is some handwringing. For starters, many scientists resent what they regard as Collins’s implicit criticism of existing diversity programs—which they say laid the groundwork for many of the new awards.” Of the existing programs, Collins says, “a number of those programs have produced stunning successes in terms of individuals who have been significant contributors to the biomedical research enterprise. But those are more anecdotes than systematic data.”

► “Fabiola Gianotti, an Italian physicist who garnered global attention 2 years ago when she and another physicist announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, has been named the next director-general of CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, where that momentous discovery was made,” Adrian Cho wrote Tuesday at ScienceInsider. “Gianotti will take over for current director-general Rolf-Dieter Heuer on 1 January 2016, the laboratory announced today.”

► The midterm election has come and gone, but the results are here to stay. On Wednesday, David Shultz reported results for science-related ballot items from across the country. Colorado and Oregon voted against requiring labeling for GMO foods, and bear biologists in Maine were happy that the voters there rejected a measure that would have barred the use of food bait, which the scientists say is an important tool for population management and research. Maine also approved bond measures to create an animal and plant disease and insect control lab, build a genomics and disease research center, and modernize and expand a biological lab specializing in tissue repair and regeneration. Those measures should result in at least a few new science jobs.

The election results will also lead to some leadership changes for U.S. Senate committees. Among other changes, it is likely that climate change denier James Inhofe (R-OK) will take over Environment and Public Works. Either Thad Cochran (R-MS) or Richard Shelby (R-AL) will likely head the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jerry Moran (R-KS) is expected to lead the subcommittee that funds NIH.

► In an editorial, Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt recapped a June meeting at the AAAS headquarters in which editors from 30 major journals, funding agency representatives, and scientists discussed ways to promote reproducibility in the biomedical sciences. The attendees drafted “Principles and Guidelines in Reporting Preclinical Research.”

“The new guidelines suggest that journals include in their information for authors their policies for statistical analysis and how they review the statistical accuracy of work under consideration. Any imposed page limits should not discourage reproducibility. The guidelines encourage using a checklist to ensure the reporting of important experimental parameters, such as standards used, number and type of replicates, statistics, method of randomization, whether experimenters were blind to the conduct of the experiment, how the sample size was determined, and what criteria were used to include or exclude any data,” McNutt wrote.

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column Mildred Dresselhaus, an 83-year-old physicist at MIT, reflects on gender inequality in science, including changes she has observed over the years and the work that still needs to be done.  

► “Graduate students in the United States receive disparate levels of professional development, networking opportunities, and assessments of basic levels of competency depending on where and with whom they train,” wrote Paul Jordan, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemistry at Indiana University, Bloomington, in a letter published in this week’s Science. To help level the playing field, Jordan would like “funding agencies [to] invest in a strategic plan for the development of younger scientists.”

► The latest NextGen VOICES survey asks, “What was missing from your science education? Name and describe a course that would have better prepared you for your science career.” Submit your response—100 words or less—before the 14 November deadline and it might be published in the new year’s first issue of Science.

► The debate about how government money should be used to fund basic research is ongoing and often heated, and this week offered two more examples.

Today, Mervis reported that the chair of the U.S. House of Representatives science committee questioned the worth of Ohio State University, Columbus, social psychologist Brad Bushman’s research into aggressive behavior. Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) “says he’s simply doing his job, questioning research that seems to him silly, obvious, or of low priority to society.” Smith has added Bushman’s work to his list of NSF grants he “regards as a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Mervis wrote. “How Smith compiles his hit list is a burning question for NSF watchers. Smith has offered no detailed explanation.”

Earlier in the week, Mervis also wrote about the conflict brewing around Truthy, a research project that analyzes information movement on Twitter. As Mervis writes, “[i]n late August, Truthy began to draw scathing criticism from political conservatives in the media and government, who claim it is really part of an attempt by the Obama administration to monitor and stifle free speech.” Smith declared this work “worse than a simple misuse of public funds.”

“The attacks are ‘not simply a misunderstanding of our research,’ says Truthy’s lead investigator, computer scientist Filippo Menczer, but ‘a deliberate attempt to distort what we have done.’ ”

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