Elsewhere in Science, 27 February 2015

Animal name tags

Credit: Davide Bonazzi

Each week, the Science family of publications publishes articles that are likely to be of interest to Science Careers readers. So we're pointing our readers toward articles relevant to careers in science and other technical fields. Many of the articles appearing in Science Translational MedicineScience Signaling, and Science require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► “The marquee research journal Nature and almost all of its sister publications this week announced that they will offer authors the option of participating in double-blind peer review, where both submitters and referees remain anonymous,” wrote Dalmeet Singh Chawla last Friday at ScienceInsider. “The practice, which is common among humanities journals, has long been debated in the sciences, and several journals have recently taken the plunge. Some observers, however, remain skeptical of the value of double-blind systems and note that other journals are heading toward greater transparency.”

► On Sunday at ScienceInsider, David Malakoff reported, via the New York Times and other outlets, that Willie Wei-Hock Soon, an aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and “a vociferous critic of the idea that humans were causing global warming and of proposals for the U.S. government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” has received a large amount of “financial support over the past decade from fossil fuel companies and others opposed to government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions—but has not always disclosed those financial links in his technical publications.” On Monday, Malakoff wrote that the Smithsonian Institution, had “asked its independent Inspector General (IG) to investigate” the allegations.

► “Indian postgraduate students have taken to the streets nationwide by the thousands over the past week to protest overdue hikes to government stipends,” wrote Priyanka Pulla Monday at ScienceInsider. “Unless demands are met soon, protest leaders promise to take more drastic action, such as a attempting a countrywide lab shutdown.”

► In another ScienceInsider, Malakoff wrote: “The resignation of Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has focused new attention on the question of who will become the next head of the global body. Pachauri stepped down today amid allegations of sexual harassment by a female colleague, The Guardian reports.” 

► “Last fall, in a startling move, the U.S. government announced that a handful of U.S.-funded studies on risky pathogens were so dangerous that researchers should halt the work until experts could review them,” wrote Jocelyn Kaiser in a Wednesday ScienceInsider. “After weeks of quiet, that review now appears to be moving forward. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has chosen a private firm to conduct a formal risk assessment to help experts decide whether the halted studies, which generally focus on flu viruses, should ever be allowed to resume.

“But two prominent scientists have written the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a federal advisory board that is helping guide the analysis, to complain that it is being rushed through in secret and that the board lacks the needed range of expertise.” There’s a related editorial in this week’s Science.

► In another Wednesday ScienceInsider, Kaiser wrote: “The number of animals used by the top federally funded U.S. biomedical research institutions has risen 73% over 15 years, a ‘dramatic increase’ driven mostly by more mice, concludes an animal rights group. They say researchers are not doing enough to reduce their use of mice, which are exempt from some federal animal protection laws.

“The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which collected the data, says the analysis by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is ‘inappropriate.’ The analysis was published online [Wednesday] in the Journal of Medical Ethics.”

► Does giving research animals names improve their well-being or bias experiments? Michael Erard addresses that question in this week’s Science. “Scientists once shied away from naming research animals, and many of the millions of mice and rats used in U.S. research today go nameless, except for special individuals,” he wrote. “But a look at many facilities suggests that most of the other 891,161 U.S. research animals have proper names, including nonhuman primates, dogs, pigs, rabbits, cats, and sheep.

“Rats are Pia, Splinter, Oprah, Persimmon. Monkeys are Nyah, Nadira, Tas, Doyle. One octopus is called Nixon. Breeder pairs of mice are ‘Tom and Katie,’ or ‘Brad and Angelina.’ If you're a mouse with a penchant for escape, you'll be Mighty Mouse or Houdini. If you're a nasty mouse, you'll be Lucifer or Lucifina.” Although in the print issue, the electronic version will be free for the next month. There’s also a related survey and a quiz.

► “The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, one of the world's largest collections of plants and fungi, has had to prune itself, trimming 47 research jobs and focusing its science on its own holdings,” wrote Erik Stokstadt in this week’s Science. “ ‘It's the most substantial reorganization in a century,’ says Director Richard Deverell. In the face of declining budgets, ‘it was about the survival of the institution.’ He hopes the strategy, detailed in a 5-year plan released this week, will help stabilize government funding and win new research grants.”

► Japan is attempting to “internationalize” its universities in an effort to encourage more of its graduates to pursue further training overseas, wrote Dennis Normile in this week’s Science. Thirty seven Japanese universities will receive additional funding “to become more in sync with international norms, by revamping tenure systems and overhauling curricula, for example.”

► “ ‘I call myself a corrector,” says University of Colorado geneticist Christopher Korch,” in a feature by Jill Neimark in this week’s Science. “What Korch passionately wants to correct is the contamination of laboratory cell cultures, a problem that has bedeviled biomedical research for more than half a century. Over the past 15 years, he has published on 78 widely used cell lines that turned out to be overgrown with other cells. Thyroid lines were actually composed of melanoma cells, prostate tissue was displaced by bladder cancer, and normal uterine cultures turned out to be nothing but breast cancer, casting doubt on countless studies of basic biology and disease.

“And yet until recently he has felt more like a voice in the wilderness than a catalyst for change. ‘All too often, scientists have ignored my findings,’ Korch says. ‘Not one of my published papers has led to a retraction by a journal or scientist. Less than 10 corrections have been issued, when each false line I discovered affects the conclusions of hundreds or thousands of papers.’

“Now Korch has a band of allies and, he hopes, a novel way to persuade recalcitrant biologists.”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Elisabeth Pain, our contributing editor for Europe, interviews theoretical physicist Ulf Leonhardt, who encourages scientists and science trainees to “[b]e stubborn” and “[b]elieve in yourself.”

► Today at ScienceInsider, Jeffrey Mervis wrote about “the Science Philanthropy Alliance, a new effort by six foundations to boost private giving to basic science research, which is largely conducted at universities. The alliance has set itself the 5-year goal of boosting such giving by $1 billion a year—an estimated 50% jump over current levels, although Kastner admits that there are no good baseline numbers.”

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