Elsewhere in Science, 24 July 2015

NIST

Credit: Robert Rathe

Every Friday, Science Careers points to articles in the Science family of publications that are relevant to careers in science and other technical fields. Some of them are accessible to anyone, but access to articles appearing in Science Translational MedicineScience Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► Last Friday, 1 year after the death of Joep Lange, “a towering figure in the world of HIV/AIDS and global health” who died en route to an international AIDS conference on the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight 17, Martin Enserink wrote about the founding of the Joep Lange Institute, which “aims to bring his characteristic combination of research and on-the-ground action to bear on health problems in developing countries. … The new institute will open its doors in Amsterdam later this year, supported by some $20 million from various private sources in the United States.” There will also be “a new, rotating chair and fellowship program at the Academic Medical Center, where Lange was a professor. … The Joep Lange Chair and Fellows program will be partly funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

► “Chemists looking to design and test new medicines are awash in a sea of bad data, according to a report released today by an international panel of experts,” Robert Service wrote in a Tuesday ScienceInsider. In the past, chemical biologists have unwittingly found themselves “us[ing] faulty probes” and “have relied on the normal self-correcting mechanisms of science—journal articles, reviews, and conference proceedings—to set the record straight.” To combat the bad-data issue, the panel is “setting up a TripAdvisor-like crowdsourcing portal to disseminate up-to-date information about chemical probes that they see as the heart of the problem.”

► “[H]aving to comply with [U.S. federal research] regulations is a perennial source of complaints from university administrators,” Jeffrey Mervis wrote at ScienceInsider on Wednesday. They may soon find some relief, though, courtesy of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who “chairs the Senate panel that oversees both the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the 800-pound gorilla for federally funded basic research, and the Department of Education, which monitors higher education, where most NIH-funded research is performed.” Alexander “told a National Academies panel examining federal oversight of academic research that he hopes to make reform happen as part of broader legislation to hasten medical advances,” Mervis wrote. “It doesn’t protect the public to spend money on administrative costs that would be better spent finding a cure for Alzheimer’s,” Alexander says.

► “The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appears to have been the unwitting victim of a real-life Walter White, the meth-cooking chemistry teacher in the hit television show Breaking Bad,” Juan David Romero reported later that day. A Saturday night explosion “at the federal laboratory’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus was linked ... to the production of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant often ‘cooked’ in home laboratories. Federal and local law enforcement agencies are now investigating how the explosion happened and whether a NIST security guard injured in the blast might have been involved.”

► “All available evidence suggests that over 60% of new Ph.D.s in science in the United States will not have careers in academic research,” begins the editorial from AAAS’s former CEO Alan Leshner in this week’s issue of Science, adding another voice to the call to arms for reforming biomedical training. “Given that so many students will not join that community, the [training] system is failing to meet the needs of the majority of its students. … It is time for the scientific and education communities to take a more fundamental look at how graduate education in science is structured and consider, given the current environment, whether a major reconfiguration of the entire system is needed.” While he acknowledges that “such fundamental change may encounter substantial resistance,” he finds inspiration from related fields, such as undergraduate education for engineering and biology, where “[t]his scale of change has been tackled before, with substantial success.”

► This week’s issue of Science also featured a news package about ancient DNA. In a story titled “New life for old bones,” Elizabeth Culotta reported on the growing field of ancient DNA research. “For years, the methods of extracting and analyzing degraded DNA molecules were so tricky that they remained the exotic province of a few high-profile labs. But now the techniques are spreading. As researchers from many fields realize just how much ancient DNA can tell them, the method is being applied to everything from the peopling of Europe to how plants and pathogens respond to climate change,” she wrote.

► Although science and songwriting may not appear to have much in common, molecular geneticist and songwriter C. Neal Stewart Jr. has found some commonalities between the two pursuits. He shared how the lessons he has learned in his musical pursuits have informed his approach to his scientific research in this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column.

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