Elsewhere in Science, 6 March 2015

Harold Varmus in 2011

Credit: NIH

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

► Last Friday, David Grimm asked online readers, “What did Leonard Nimoy mean to you?” inviting responses in the comments section.

► At ScienceInsider also on Friday, Emily Conover covered Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz’s appearances before two congressional committees, where he defended the president’s 2016 Department of Energy budget request. “[A]lthough some lawmakers worried that DOE’s request tilts too far toward applied research in its science programs, their grilling of Moniz on science was relatively light,” she wrote.

► A few minutes later, Jeffrey Mervis reported that Representative Bill Foster (D–IL) would be joining the House science committee “with the goal of restoring science to its rightful place in legislative discourse.” Foster earned a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University “and spent 22 years as a particle accelerator designer at Fermilab.” Mervis wrote that Foster “was one of three members with a Ph.D. in physics. But the two others—representatives Vern Ehlers (R–MI) and Rush Holt (D–NJ)—have since retired, leaving Foster as the sole remaining member of that troika. (There are no doctoral-level physicists in the Senate.)”

► On Monday at ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser reported that the escape last month of a dangerous pathogen—Burkholderia pseudomallei—“led federal officials last month to suspend research on certain high-risk pathogens at Tulane University.” The event “has left questions about an ongoing investigation of the incident and broader risks.”

► “A damning report on how the University of Minnesota (UM) protects volunteers in its clinical trials concludes that researchers inadequately reviewed research studies across the university and need more training to better protect the most vulnerable subjects,” Jennifer Couzin-Frankel wrote Monday at ScienceInsider. “It also found that a ‘climate of fear’ existed in the Department of Psychiatry, where concerns about clinical trials first surfaced.”

► “A long-running Pentagon program that pumps about $250 million annually into U.S. universities for basic research is taking on an international flavor,” David Malakoff wrote Tuesday at ScienceInsider. “This year, for the first time, the Department of Defense (DOD) formally encouraged U.S. applicants to partner with researchers from the United Kingdom in seeking grants from the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.”

► “The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as early as this week to approve two controversial, Republican-backed bills that would change how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses science and scientific advice to inform its policies,” Puneet Kollipara wrote Tuesday at ScienceInsider. “Many Democrats, scientific organizations, and environmental groups are pushing back, calling the bills thinly veiled attempts to weaken future regulations and favor industry. White House advisers today announced that they will recommend that President Barack Obama veto the bills if they reach his desk in their current form.”

► “At the annual March Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) here this week,” Robert Service wrote from San Antonio Wednesday, “a pair of physicists floated one new idea: Congress should create a $100 billion national endowment to help fund basic research. The endowment, which they’re calling the National Research Bank, isn’t an official proposal of APS. Rather, says Michael Lubell, a physicist at the City College of New York who is pushing the idea, ‘we’re trying to start a conversation.’ ”

► On Wednesday at ScienceInsider, Tania Rabesandratana wrote from Brussels that “Bulgaria and Hungary are the first E.U. member states to enlist the European Commission's help to reform their research policies. The two Eastern European countries will receive advice from external reviewers as part of the Commission's new Policy Support Facility (PSF), announced here yesterday.” With its €20 million endowment through 2020, “the PSF provides ‘a sort of technical aid,’ E.U. research commissioner Carlos Moedas told reporters. Moedas praised the countries for signing up for the scheme.”

► On Wednesday, ScienceInsider presented an interview with Roger Pielke Jr. “a science policy expert at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Pielke has been something of a lightning rod in climate debates, sometimes drawing attacks from all sides as a result of his views on research and policy. He’s also written extensively on conflict of interest, and has been actively tweeting and blogging in recent days in defense of himself.” Pielke is a target of an investigation by “Representative Raul Grijalva (D–AZ), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives…into the funding sources of seven academics who have studied climate change or testified before Congress on the matter, often to criticize research findings or policy proposals.” Some have called the investigation “a witch hunt.”

► On Wednesday, Harold Varmus announced that he intends to step down as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), after 5 years in the position. Malakoff wrote about it at ScienceInsider. The next day, Varmus and Kaiser sat down for a chat. “In his resignation letter, Varmus introduces a new award for staff scientists,” Kaiser wrote. “He says the idea is to offer salary support and independence to scientists who hold less high-profile but essential jobs, such as managing a core facility or doing informatics within a principal investigator’s lab. Some research leaders have suggested that labs should rely more on staff scientists and less on the cheap labor of graduate students and postdocs. But Varmus says the award should start at a ‘small scale’ because it is hard to anticipate how it will ‘change the structure’ of a lab and its workforce. ‘Fixing the system is not simple. There are so many moving parts,’ he says.” Varmus adds that NCI is “still ‘discussing’ another possible new award that would allow senior scientists to wind down their labs.”

► Ryoji Noyori, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in chemistry, “plans to resign as president of RIKEN, the network of Japanese national labs that has spent much of the past year embroiled in a fraud scandal,” wrote Dennis Normile at ScienceInsider earlier today, drawing on Japanese news reports. “A search for a successor is apparently already under way.”

► “The French secretary of state for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, has stepped down for health reasons, the French government announced yesterday. The minister in charge of national education, higher education and research, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, will temporarily take over her duties,” wrote Science Careers’s Elisabeth Pain at ScienceInsider.

► In this week’s STM editorial, four German scientists and administrators proposed reforms aimed at “Moving medicine forward faster,” including “the formation of multidisciplinary centers, which guarantees a geographical and organizational proximity of clinical and basic research.”  Other proposals: Physician-scientists are key to establishing sound communication between basic researchers and clinicians; physicians need protected research time; the scientific community needs better research metrics. Also, “institutions may have to ensure that their tenure and promotions systems adequately recognize and evaluate the contributions of scientists conducting translational research. Some academic institutions are already working on moving away from traditional assessment criteria for professors toward new evaluation systems and career structures for young academic scientists.”

► In this week’s Science editorial, Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt offered early-career scientists tips on communicating their work. She’s big on posters: “This format can be less stressful than speaking in front of a large audience. Furthermore, the student personally converses with members of the scientific community who share an interest in his or her research. The back-and-forth is good training and a reminder to students that discussing their research with experts or nonexperts should be a two-way conversation.” A 10-minute talk, on the other hand, can be “more difficult to organize and effectively deliver than an hour-long seminar,” she wrote. For those who do give talks, “[e]nthusiasm is one of the very best elements. ... Students should never merely recite from their slides and should never ever go over time. Recognizing who the audience is and pitching the talk appropriately are essential.”

► A 2007 study revealed that only 28% of high school biology teachers gave their students a solid grounding in evolution. Another 13% were openly sympathetic to creationism. “The rest, which the researchers label ‘the cautious 60%,’ spent as little time as possible teaching this most fundamental concept in modern biology,” Mervis wrote in this week’s Science. Why the ambivalence? A new study shows that “[t]eachers lack the necessary knowledge, conviction, and role models to teach evolution properly,” Mervis wrote.

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Kevin Boehnke, a doctoral candidate in public health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, writes that his training in ancient history has given him a perspective and tools that have made him a better scientist.

► Finally, don’t miss this week’s Science special issue celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

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