Elsewhere in Science, 7 August 2015


Credit: Abraham Karam, NEON

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.

► This week, In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe’s popular drug discovery and the pharma industry blog, moved to the Science Translational Medicine site. You can read his posts here.

► “A controversial study that showed genetically engineered golden rice could alleviate vitamin A deficiency in children was retracted” because of concerns about whether the authors behaved ethically in their work with the children in China who participated in the nutritional trial, Erik Stokstad wrote at ScienceInsider last Friday. “Shortly after the paper was published [in 2012], Greenpeace claimed that the children had been used as ‘guinea pigs.’” Tufts University, where lead author Guangwen Tang is a professor, conducted an investigation and in 2013 “bar[red] Tang from working with human subjects for 2 years.” Now, the retraction “cit[es] insufficient evidence for approval by an ethics committee in China and consent forms from all participants.” The case highlights the care that scientists must take both when working with human subjects and in controversial research areas.

► Bipartisan efforts from the United States Senate might bring “the most sweeping update to the country’s energy policy in more than 8 years. The legislation—which would authorize a wide array of programs—includes a call to boost funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science by 4% per year for 5 years. The office is the nation’s major funder of energy and physical science research,” Carolyn Gramling reported at ScienceInsider last Friday. “Other provisions within the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 would push for greater energy efficiency, updates to the energy grid, and a grid storage program; ease the permitting of natural gas pipelines; and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides money for habitat protection. The committee passed it by an 18 to 4 vote.” “The bill’s DOE research provisions are among those enjoying bipartisan backing. … But environmental groups have come out against the bill,” saying that “some provisions were unacceptable.”

► “Facing cost overruns and construction delays, [National Science Foundation (NSF)] officials have decided to reduce the scope of the troubled National Ecological Observatories Network (NEON) and eliminate a major aquatic research component,” Jeffrey Mervis wrote on Monday at ScienceInsider. “NSF recently discovered that the $433 million project, which was scheduled to be completed next year, ‘was delayed and projected to be approximately $80 million over budget if it stayed on its current trajectory,’ says James Olds, head of NSF’s biology directorate. After consulting with NEON officials and outside scientists, Olds says NSF ‘identified a descope option that will keep the project scientifically transformational and should bring it in on time and on budget.’”

►  “Last month [the University of California, San Diego (UCSD)], sued [the University of Southern California (USC)] and Alzheimer’s researcher Paul Aisen, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, for allegedly conspiring to commandeer data from the large, federally funded study after USC lured Aisen, a $55 million federal grant, and many of his lab members away from UCSD in June,” Emily Underwood wrote in a Monday ScienceInsider. “On 24 July, a California superior court found in favor of UCSD, issuing a preliminary injunction to restore control of the study data to the school.” But the story does not end there. “On 31 July, USC launched a blistering cross-complaint against UCSD, which claims that the university’s actions were unjustified, defamatory, and in violation of the California Constitution.” As Underwood notes, “both sides appear to be girding for what could be a lengthy court battle.”

► “President Barack Obama has nominated engineer Richard Buckius, [NSF’s current] chief operating officer, to fill the agency’s second highest position: deputy director,” David Malakoff wrote on Wednesday at ScienceInsider. “Obama also tapped physicist Cherry Murray of Harvard University to become the head of [DOE’s] Office of Science, which oversees a $5 billion physical science research portfolio.”

► In this week’s issue of Science, Herton Escobar reported the debut of the Vital de Oliveira, “a $77.5 million research vessel that scientists [in Brazil] hope will take them farther and deeper into the Atlantic Ocean than they have ever ventured.” The 78-meter-long vessel is “equipped with a remotely operated vehicle capable of diving to 4000 meters,” and it “can berth 40 scientists for up to a month at sea. That puts it in the same league as the most capable research vessels fielded by the United States and Europe,” Escobar wrote. All of this sounds great for marine science, “[b]ut some academics worry that prospecting for mineral resources will dominate research aboard the ship, which was two-thirds funded by Petrobras and Vale, Brazil's largest oil and mining companies.”

► In a story about the animal species that are winning and losing as the Arctic warms, in this week’s Science, Eli Kintisch offers a peek into the extreme working and living conditions of some of the biologists, zoologists, geoscientists, oceanographers, and atmospheric scientists conducting this research. Reporting from Ny-Ålesund—a research base in Norway, 1000 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle—Kintisch describes how “[m]eter-tall waves and driving snow are common here in the Svalbard archipelago, where the Atlantic and Arctic oceans meet, but that doesn’t deter [Markus] Brand, a graduate student from the Alfred Wegener Institute …  in Helgoland, Germany,” from pursuing his research on local fish populations. “Every day from June to September, ... Brand and a colleague climb into a small boat and putter into a fjord outside Ny-Ålesund” to collect samples.

An accompanying story also illustrates how the subjects that scientists study can affect the scientists themselves. One “growing phenomenon in the Arctic [is] polar bears foraging on land as their primary habitat, sea ice, retreats,” Kintisch writes, which makes field work even more dangerous, and difficult, than it would be otherwise. “During fieldwork nowadays, researchers often take turns standing watch for bears, meaning one less set of hands to collect samples.” When researchers “leave the base, they carry flares and guns to scare off any bears they encounter—or, if their own life is threatened, to kill them.” Ecologist Maarten Loonen of the Netherlands Arctic Station on Spitsbergen warns students that “[a]nyone who photographs a bear will get sent home immediately,” Kintisch reports. “It’s best to be a little afraid.”        

► “Next week, the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world's largest ecological society, celebrates its centennial in Baltimore, an opportunity to reflect on the field's past and future,” wrote ESA president David W. Inouye in an editorial in this week’s Science. “The gathering of international scientists, policy-makers, and students will not only explore the knowledge in hand, but consider what else is needed to chart a course over the next century in which humanity sustains and even improves the relationships that underpin life on Earth.”

► In the Books Et Al. section of this week’s Science, Gregory R. Goldsmith, a scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric Chemistry at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen, Switzerland, wrote about a free app to identify species in the wild that students may be interested in checking out. Called Map of Life, the project is run by Walter Jetz at Yale University and Rob Guralnick of the University of Florida. “In contrast to the long tradition of field guides authored by expert natural historians, Map of Life draws on collective wisdom, amalgamating global data sets of species observations from published sources and using a series of modeling techniques to convert them into species range maps,” Goldsmith wrote. “By combining these data with information from the mobile device’s location services (e.g., GPS), the application creates a list of species the user can expect to encounter. This information can be sorted, searched, and filtered to make a field guide relevant to the user’s particular interests.”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story, we present a Q and A with 2015 European Molecular Biology Organization Gold Medal winner Sarah Teichmann, who combines computational and experimental approaches in her research. “The beauty of a ‘wet-dry’ group is that you have the ability to interpret your own experimental data computationally and to test computational predictions experimentally,” she says.

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