Elsewhere in Science, 21 August 2015

Pills and money

Credit: Chris Potter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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.

► Late last Friday, John Bohannon reported at ScienceInsider that “Cyagen, a purveyor of transgenic research mice, is seemingly offering its scientist customers cash if they cite one of their products in a published paper.” When word of the offer got around, “some bloggers and Twitter users took note—and expressed outrage. At best, some argued, the offer was a seamy inducement. At worst, it amounted to a kind of payola scheme—and a potential financial conflict of interest that researchers should disclose.” “But the deal is not exactly what it seems at first glance, [Cyagen spokesman Austin] Jelcick says. For one thing, it is for store credit, not cash. And the ‘citation’ that Cyagen asks for is nothing more than a mention in the methods section of a paper if Cyagen mice were indeed used for the experiment—something that is already required by most journals, in part to assist in faithfully reproducing an experiment,” Bohannon wrote.

► “A for effort, C for impact from U.S. biomedical research,” read the headline for Jocelyn Kaiser’s Monday article, at ScienceInsider, about a study investigating the payoff of the country’s biomedical research investment, both money and effort, in terms of public health outcomes. “[D]ramatic growth in funding and knowledge has not been matched by a similar impact on U.S. public health. That’s the conclusion of a provocative new analysis from researchers who worry that poor research practices are hindering progress,” she wrote. The health outcomes used in the study include the “number of new molecules approved by the U.S government for use as drugs, and gains in life expectancy.” “‘Our results are best interpreted as a cautionary tale,’ [authors Anthony Bowen of the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York City and microbiologist Arturo Casadevall of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland,] write, and could undermine public confidence in science. They hope their findings will ‘motivate new efforts to understand the parameters that influence the efficiency of science and its ability to translate discovery into practical applications.’”

► In another Monday ScienceInsider, Emily Underwood reported that “[p]atient advocates and scientists joined forces [that day] in a new campaign to boost research funding for the mysterious and debilitating disease chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).” The group would like to increase ME/CFS research funding from $5.4 million per year to a level “comparable to illnesses with similar patient numbers and cost to society. As examples, they cite multiple sclerosis, which was designated $103 million in fiscal year 2015, and HIV/AIDS, which received $3 billion in fiscal year 2015 research funding.” “The coalition hopes to engineer the changes by inserting language into an authorizing bill expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate.”

► “Research organizations are asking the Scottish government to reconsider its recent decision to ban the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops,” Erik Stokstad reported in yet another Monday ScienceInsider. “Many scientists are upset that [Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment Richard] Lochhead has made his decision without public consultation, says Chris Peters, a campaigner at Sense About Science, a nonprofit in London that advocates for use of evidence in government policy-making.” Sense About Science sent Lochead a letter from 28 science organizations that stated the ban “risks constraining Scotland's contribution to research and leaving Scotland without access to agricultural innovations which are making farming more sustainable elsewhere in the world.”

► “Zero. That’s the number of labs that have applied for a permit to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees in the United States, as required by a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rule. The number suggests that all biomedical research on chimps has stopped—or is about to stop—and it’s unclear whether the work will ever start up again,” David Grimm wrote at ScienceInsider on Tuesday. “‘This is the beginning of the end of invasive chimpanzee research,’ says Stephen Ross, the director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, who pushed for the FWS rule. ‘Scientists have seen the writing on the wall.’” Robert Lanford, the director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, “admits that chimpanzee research is winding down in the United States, but he believes it will continue in some capacity. ‘We will eventually negotiate a path to getting permits for highly innovative projects where there is no other animal model available,’ he says. ‘The chimpanzee is still an extraordinarily important model for medical research—the question is, will we choose to use them or not?’”

► The White House has tapped Harvard physicist Cherry Murray to direct the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE’s) basic research wing, the Office of Science, Adrian Cho wrote on Wednesday at ScienceInsider. She cannot take the position until the Senate confirms her nomination, but, “if she is confirmed as head of the single biggest U.S. funder of the physical sciences, Murray says she already has an idea of where she would focus: on building bridges between Office of Science's 10 national laboratories and the six others run by different parts of DOE.” However, “[i]t remains to be seen whether Murray will get a chance to work on that integration, or whether, with 16 months to go in the current administration, the Senate will leave her nomination dangling.” Read on for more about the career path that led to her current role.

► This week’s issue of Science offers a special section about forest health, including a profile about ecologist Robin Chazdon, who, Elizabeth Pennisi wrote, “took the road less traveled. In the 1990s, when many tropical researchers were scrambling to study tropical forests before they disappeared, she focused on what grew back once the trees were burned or logged. Many colleagues worked in the forest's shaded understory, an ecosystem celebrated in Hollywood films. She labored in less charismatic deforested plots in the broiling sun, covered head to toe to keep prickly bushes and biting chiggers at bay.” But things have changed since she began her work, and others are beginning to appreciate the importance of her area of research. Now, “the rising interest in secondary forests has catalyzed her own second act. After decades as an academic, she's shifted her attention from collecting and analyzing data to influencing policy.”

► Also in this week’s issue, Tania Rabesandratana reported that the Belgian government and the International Polar Foundation (IPF) “are battling for control of the country's research station,” the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, “and science is stuck in the middle.” Amidst accusations that IPF has been misusing public funds, the Belgian “government says it has ended its agreement with” the foundation, “which built the station and has managed it since its 2009 inauguration. … The government vows to continue operations at the center with the help of the Belgian army.” This news “is creating uncertainty for scientists who are preparing for the 2015 to 2016 Antarctic research season, says Reinhard Drews of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). ‘We are scheduled to leave in November and not much time is left to figure out all the details,’ says Drews.”

► The Royal Dutch Shell company has received permission from the U.S. government for “exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Northwest Alaska,” and Eli Kintisch reported on the resulting controversy in this week’s issue. “Since 2010, the company has given more than $15 million to an environmental research program that is jointly managed by the firm's scientists, outside researchers, and representatives of the native Alaskan Inupiat villages that face the most acute potential environmental impacts from drilling.” “Some researchers and local officials say the information will be key to safeguarding the region if drilling in nearby seas ever takes off. … Others, however, criticize the arrangement as too close for comfort.” Shell hopes that its drilling rig, Polar Pioneer, “will help identify lucrative new oil fields and show the company can work safely in frigid Arctic seas.” Many environmentalists, however, “argue it threatens sensitive ecosystems and are watching the operations closely.”   

► In Jeffrey Mervis’s second Behind the numbers column, he examined “the time ‘lost’ to red tape.” “A closer look at the faculty surveys generating the data suggests there are flaws in the conventional wisdom that scientists are weighted down with a heavy administrative ‘burden’ that interferes with their ability to carry out cutting-edge research,” he wrote.

► Pieter Cohen, an internist at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, “has become something of a mix of Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes,” Jennifer Couzin-Frankel wrote in a feature from this week’s issue of Science. “[H]e hunts for drugs illegally buried in [dietary] supplements. Then he goes public. His unorthodox public relations strategy is to publish research fast in low-profile, specialty journals, reach out to a network of hand-picked journalists, and, he hopes, ultimately inspire new regulations. He has virtually no funding, nor does he aspire to secure any. ‘I have total freedom,’ he says. So far, he and his collaborators have identified three hidden stimulant drugs in supplements.” Check out the full article for more about his work, how he got into it, and his plans for the future.

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story, environmental safety consultant Richard Krablin explained how taking a big risk shaped his scientific career and instilled in him “an appreciation for the need to balance risks.” You can read his story at Science.

► Tell Science Careers about your career development and job search needs. The new survey, sponsored by the Science/AAAS Office of Publishing, Marketing & Sales, should only take 15 to 20 minutes to complete. To say thanks, your name will be entered into a drawing for one of five $50 Amazon gift cards upon submitting your survey responses.

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