Elsewhere in Science, 29 May 2015

Paolo Macchiarini

Credit: Consuelo Bautista

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.

►Setting an example we hope will be emulated widely, the new president of RIKEN, Japan’s “scandal-tarnished network of national laboratories,” announced plans to restore the labs’ luster by “introducing a tenure track system that would retain the best young researchers now on temporary contracts,” Dennis Normile reported Monday at ScienceInsider.

► In a Wednesday ScienceInsider, Gretchen Vogel reported that the Karolinska Institute released an “English translation of a report critical of surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, famous for transplanting tissue-engineered tracheae into more than a dozen people.” It “concludes that Macchiarini ‘bears the main responsibility for the publication of false or incomplete information in several papers, and is therefore guilty of scientific misconduct.’”

► Russia’s Dynasty Foundation, which last year spent $10 million to support 20 projects by young Russian scientists, could be shuttered now that authorities have labeled the organization a “foreign agent.” Dynasty is the first science-supporting nonprofit to fall victim to Russia’s 2012 “foreign agent” law, which aims “to crack down on nongovernmental organizations focused on human rights and free elections,” Vladimir Pokrovsky wrote Wednesday at ScienceInsider. The foundation is funded by Dmitry Zimin, a telecom tycoon. “In designating Dynasty a foreign agent on Sunday, justice officials cited Dynasty’s funding from offshore accounts owned by Zimin. In an official statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declared that if Dynasty ‘gets money from abroad, then it is a foreign agent.’” Zimin told ScienceInsider that he would probably “stop financing the foundation,” though he “later told the Russian newspaper Vedomosti that if the ministry were to cancel the designation and apologize, he would ‘think it over.’ ”

► In this week’s issue of STM, Arthur Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania, and 18 other U.S. academic medical center leaders wrote that “[u]nstable funding for biomedical research has created a hostile working environment that erodes the time available for investigators to conduct their research, discourages innovative high-risk science, threatens to drive established investigators out of U.S. academic biomedical research, and creates uncertainty for trainees and early-career investigators. However, executive directors at academic medical centers wrestle with another concern—one at the systemic level: At any amount of public investment, the cost of the biomedical research enterprise is growing inexorably beyond what available resources can reasonably support.” They concluded that “[b]ecause research in academic medical centers requires both federal and institutional support—the latter of which depends on clinical revenue—scientists, administrators, and policy-makers must collaborate effectively to address both threats.”

► In this week’s issue of Science, Jeffrey Mervis wrote about the latest chapter in the “heated, 2-year debate between law makers and science advocates about how Congress should oversee research funding at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“That debate was at full boil last week, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act, which sets policy for NSF and two other federal research agencies, and the House Appropriations Committee adopted a 2016 spending bill that includes NSF,” Mervis wrote. “Both actions aim to ensure that everything NSF funds will be ‘in the national interest,’ according to the influential Texas legislators behind the two bills, Republican representatives Lamar Smith and John Culberson.”

Many scientists, though, “believe that the bills, if enacted without any changes, would have disastrous consequences.”   

► Brazilian scientists will now have some relief from a 2001 law intended to protect against “rampant pillaging of its biological resources” that ended up “stifling biodiversity studies,” Herton Escobar wrote in this week’s Science. “[A]fter years of wrangling over how to fix the statute, in which officials sought to balance the interests of scientists, the agricultural industry, and biotech firms with those of indigenous populations demanding compensation for traditional knowledge, Brazil President Dilma Rousseff last week signed a law that is raising hopes among scientists. … It sets rules for sharing benefits with indigenous peoples when R&D leads to a product ... while eliminating bureaucratic hassles and encouraging biodiversity research. Scientists will no longer be ‘molested’ or ‘bullied’ by unreasonable regulation, said science minister Aldo Rebelo while unveiling the law. The scientific community has greeted the new law with a sigh of relief.”

► This week’s issue of Science also includes a brief recap of the 40th annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy, attended by “more than 400 elected officials, government and business leaders, researchers, educators, and others” on 30 April and 1 May in Washington, D.C. “The importance of basic research for the nation's scientific and economic future was a recurring theme,” and “participants delved into the factors driving the tight budget environment” scientists are currently facing. “Researchers whose work is targeted as an example of wasteful government spending need to do a better job explaining the value of their work, panelists agreed in a session on defending grants against unjustified attacks. The importance of engaging with the public, through storytelling, data-sharing projects that seek public feedback, and other strategies, also took center stage in a session on public opinion and policy.”

Data sharing and openness are hot topics in the scientific community, with important implications for research reproducibility and collaborative science. Now, the Chinese government may be coming at least partly on board with Premier Keqiang Li’s March 2015 proposal that government data be shared with the public. This week’s Science issue includes a letter emphasizing the importance of this potential move. “Open government data benefits scientific research, economic development, environmental management, social justice, and political decision-making,” wrote authors Ruishan Chen of Hohai University in Nanjing, China; Alex De Sherbinin of Columbia University; and Chao Ye of Nanjing Normal University in China. But the initial proposal is just a small first step. The authors made several recommendations for moving forward, the first of which is that “bureaucrats need to understand that open data can benefit the economy, the environment, public participation, and decision-making. Second, there needs to be a clearer legal definition for what information needs to be classified, so that this decision is not left up to the discretion of data holders. … China should comply with international standards of data collection, documentation, maintenance, and disclosure.”

►Yesterday at ScienceInsider, John Bohannon reported thatScience is retracting a study of how canvassers can sway people's opinions about gay marriage published just 5 months ago. The retraction comes without the agreement of the paper’s lead author, Michael J. LaCour, a political science Ph.D. student at the University of California (UC), Los Angeles.” In the retraction notice, published online yesterday, Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt gives the following reasons for the retraction: “(i) Survey incentives were misrepresented. To encourage participation in the survey, respondents were claimed to have been given cash payments to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys. In correspondence received from Michael J. LaCour’s attorney, he confirmed that no such payments were made. (ii) The statement on sponsorship was false. In the Report, LaCour acknowledged funding from the Williams Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Per correspondence from LaCour’s attorney, this statement was not true. In addition to these known problems, independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses. LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings.”

►To “foster scientific breakthroughs,” “[r]esearchers need freedom and the flexibility that leads to serendipity, and they should be encouraged to take risks even if it leads to failure,” concluded funding agency heads who gathered in Tokyo for the annual meeting of the Global Research Council (GRC), Normile wrote at ScienceInsider yesterday. “Real innovations are those that come about unexpectedly, and this means we cannot actually plan for and organize them. In our strategies, we have to institutionalize something we cannot actually institutionalize,” said German Research Foundation president Peter Strohschneider. “If GRC didn't exactly resolve that particular paradox, participants believe the organization [has been] making a valuable contribution to research management” since its founding in 2012, Normile wrote. “The next GRC meeting, to be held in New Delhi next May, will address issues affecting women in the scientific workforce and how to promote interdisciplinary research.”

►In Horizon 2020 news, the European Commission plans to put €2.2 billion of the research program’s €74 billion budget into the European Fund for Strategic Investment, “a new, controversial investment fund aimed at boosting Europe's sluggish economy,” Tania Rabesandratana wrote this afternoon.

► This week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column features a conversation between husband-and-wife scientists Jason Cooley and Renee JiJi—who not only work at the same university but are also in the same department. Although Cooley and JiJi’s careers might seem similar, there are some dramatic differences. Read their conversation to find out more. There is also a longer version at Science Careers.

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