Elsewhere in Science, 12 June 2015

NIH Hospital

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 at ScienceInsider, Hao Xin reported that Temple University physicist Xiaoxing Xi pleaded not guilty to a charge of “scheming to help Chinese organizations obtain technology from a U.S. company.” “[T]he U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charged Xi with four counts of wire fraud with the intent to assist unnamed entities in China to become leaders in superconducting thin-film technology. … The charges against Xi are the latest in a string of allegations brought by the Justice Department against Chinese researchers working in the United States or in China.” But the evidence may be thin: “The indictment against Xi details activities that seem commonplace to people familiar with the interactions between overseas Chinese scientists and their native land.”

► Later that evening, Emily DeMarco reported that “NIH suspended operations … at a facility that makes experimental drugs for the agency’s Clinical Center in the wake of an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that revealed multiple problems that could expose sterile drugs to [fungal] contamination. Forty-six trials currently underway” have been affected. In a statement, NIH Director Francis Collins said that he “will personally oversee the steps to protect the safety of patients and remedy the situation as swiftly as possible.” In addition, “[a] full review using outside experts in engineering, microbial practices, and sterility practices is planned, and NIH is scheduled to provide an interim corrective action plan to FDA by 19 June.”

► “About 3000 Russian scientists rallied in Moscow on Saturday to protest against government reforms of the research system and the imposition of competitive funding, which is not commonly used in the country,” Vladimir Pokrovsky wrote at ScienceInsider on Monday. “Under the new arrangements, three-quarters of [the Russian Academy of Sciences’s] institutes could end up worse off, without salaries or funding for equipment and will end up being closed.” Researchers are concerned for a variety of reasons, not least of which being that “the winners will not necessarily be the best organizations or the leading researchers,” says Evgeny Onishchenko of the Lebedev Physical Institute. “In the situation where the survival of a laboratory depends on the result of a competition, one can expect all sorts of trickery.” Meanwhile, Russian scientists are also facing the likely closure of “one of the country’s most important science foundations,” as Pokrovsky reported on 27 May.

► Researchers in U.S. states that don’t receive much funding may also have reason to worry about their future financial prospects. On Tuesday at ScienceInsider, Jeffrey Mervis reported that “Representative Bill Foster (D–IL) surprised some of his colleagues last week when he proposed killing a long-running program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) intended to lift up states at the bottom of the research funding heap. Although his amendment was defeated 232 to 195, the large number of ‘yeas’ is the latest indication that the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) may need to do some serious soul-searching to remain viable.” Twenty-eight states are eligible for EPSCoR, including Rhode Island, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Hawaii to name a few. “Foster says he’s fed up with less-populated states getting far more dollars back from the U.S. government than what they pay in taxes. NSF’s EPSCoR is a small but egregious example of that phenomenon, he says.” And “Foster may ... have picked a ripe target,” Mervis wrote. “Two recent outside evaluations of EPSCoR have urged NSF to rethink the program.” Despite the defeat this round, Foster is “[h]eartened by the number of votes his amendment received” and “says he plans to try again next year.”  

► In another Tuesday ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser reported that “[a]n eye-popping $28 billion is spent in the United States each year on preclinical research that can’t be reproduced by other researchers.” That’s “the conclusion of a provocative analysis published” in PLOS Biology. The authors of the study say that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the money is being wasted, though. “This is a time to invest more, not less, with a relatively small part of that investment to improve the irreproducibility rate,” says biologist Leonard Freedman, lead author of the paper and president of the nonprofit Global Biological Standards Institute in Washington, D.C.

► On Wednesday, also at ScienceInsider, David Malakoff reported that “[a] half-dozen academic journals are investigating allegations that aerospace engineer Willie Wei-Hock Soon, a prominent skeptic of the idea that humans are contributing to global warming, failed to disclose financial ties to a fossil fuel company in papers they published.” It doesn’t end there: “[T]he Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences … is examining fresh allegations—made in a report released today by the advocacy group Climate Investigations Center (CIC)—that Soon failed to follow disclosure rules in submitting a letter to that journal.”

► The role of patients in medical research is expanding in the United States, and researchers studying human health should both take advantage of the benefits of this trend and contribute to its adoption, wrote Margaret Anderson and K. Kimberly McCleary of FasterCures, an “action tank” working “to remove barriers to medical progress,” in a Focus article in this week’s issue of STM. “Today, the role of patients as partners permeates the R&D landscape,” and “[t]he past year has ushered in a ‘perfect storm’ of policy initiatives in biomedical research and opportunities for patient engagement,” the authors wrote. “Developing appropriate, scalable, sustainable methods and practices will require collaboration, experimentation, coordination, and transparency. Multiple types of expertise will be needed, and adoption will be highly iterative and require extreme focus on the goal: improved patient outcomes.”

► Do you ever think about starting your own business? Maybe you already have? Or perhaps you’re interested in joining a startup? If so, this week’s issue of Science, focused on entrepreneurship, is for you. The package includes an editorial, a series of vignettes in the Policy Forum, three feature stories, and a quiz to help you find out whether you think like a “typical” entrepreneur.

Sally Rockey, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research for the past 5 years, is leaving her post. Her next job will be as the head of “the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit created by the 2014 Farm Bill that has federal funding and will aim to match it with private donations for [U.S. Department of Agriculture] research,” Kaiser wrote in a Thursday ScienceInsider. “It’s hard to leave NIH, but I’m going back to my roots in agriculture,” Rockey says.

► The submission deadline for this year’s AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize is 30 June. The $25,000 “prize is awarded to the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of Science. Each annual contest starts with the first issue of June and ends with the last issue of the following May.”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story, Michelle E. Portman, assistant professor at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, says that she has learned to value all of life’s experiences, the ups and the downs.” If you can weather the storm, she wrote, “[y]ou’ll be OK.”

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