Elsewhere in Science, 16 October 2015

Credit: Raphael Perrino/Flickr

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 Medicine, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► This week, AAAS launched the XX Files, a video series that “takes viewers into the extraordinary worlds of extraordinary women scientists.” Titles include Scorpion hunters: Chasing scorpions to understand pain; Listening to the universe: Catching gravitational waves; and Drawn to scale: A week in the life of a scientific illustrator at Science magazine. The collection will grow with regular releases in the future.

► Cancer researchers, take note: “A £20 million grant awaits a team of researchers who submit the best proposal for tackling one of seven grand challenges in cancer,” Jocelyn Kaiser wrote at ScienceInsider on Sunday. “The new competition, announced [that day] by Cancer Research UK, the giant U.K. research charity, is meant to spur collaborations aimed at exploring untested but promising ideas. … The charity expects to spend £100 million on the program over the next 5 years through a series of 5-year grants.” “Preproposals for the first round are due in February. The winning team will be announced next fall.”

► ”This year's Nobel Prize in Economics honors a scholar whose work has bridged the conceptual gap between the masses and the individual, injected data into the realm of conjecture, and developed tools to help fight global poverty,” Adrian Cho reported in a Monday ScienceInsider. “Angus Deaton, 69, a British-American economist at Princeton University, pioneered the study of consumption among poor families and individuals and how it differs from that of more affluent people.”

Martin Enserink reported on a cautionary tale for animal researchers in a Wednesday ScienceInsider. “Researchers who conduct animal studies often don't use simple safeguards against biases that have become standard in human clinical trials—or at least they don't report doing so in their scientific papers, making it impossible for readers to ascertain the quality of the work, an analysis of more than 2500 journal articles shows,” he wrote. “Such biases, conscious or unconscious, can make candidate medical treatments look better than they actually are, the authors of the analysis warn, and lead to eye-catching results that can't be replicated in larger or more rigorous animal studies—or in human trials.” The researchers looked at papers published between 1992 and 2011, and, Enserink wrote, “[t]he good news is that things seem to be getting better: Recent papers mention more antibias measures than older ones.”

► The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has put funding on hold for experiments that involve “mixing human stem cells into very early animal embryos and letting them develop” while it “reconsiders its rules” for this type of research, Gretchen Vogel reported Wednesday. NIH has also “invited scientists and bioethicists to a meeting on 6 November to discuss the ethical questions raised by such experiments.” “The mixtures of cells under debate are called chimeras,” and animal chimeras are used “in a range of developmental biology and stem cell experiments. Chimeras that combine animal and human cells, especially those that involve pluripotent human cells, raise ethical questions, however,” leading NIH to revisit its policies.

► “Geoffrey Marcy, a prominent astronomer at the University of California [UC], Berkeley, has resigned following a university investigation that concluded he had repeatedly sexually harassed women,” another Wednesday ScienceInsider reported. As Jeffrey Mervis reported in the original story, also in ScienceInsider, last Friday, Marcy “ha[d] been found to have violated the university’s policies on sexual harassment.” According to a statement from UC Berkeley at the time, their “investigation concluded with a finding that Professor Marcy violated campus sexual harassment policy,” but Marcy was not removed from his position. Upon his resignation, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele said in a statement that they “believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation.” As for the university’s decision not to fire Marcy, they wrote in the statement that “Berkeley’s leadership considered disciplinary options, [but] we did not have the authority, as per University of California policy, to unilaterally impose any disciplinary sanctions, including termination.”

► The “six well-known neuroscientists [who] drafted an ambitious proposal for a large U.S. neuroscience project to map activity in the living brain,” which later became President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, have “crafted another bold proposal aimed at accelerating BRAIN’s success: the creation of a National Brain Observatory, a network of neurotechnology centers tied to the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Labs,” Emily Underwood reported Thursday at ScienceInsider. “The goal of the observatory proposal is to expand access to ... expensive technologies necessary for mapping the brain’s structure and activity.”

► Researchers who have “made a new product by genetically engineering a living organism, and are eager to sell it in the United States, ... need to answer a critical question: Which U.S. agency has to sign off on its safety?” Kelly Servick wrote in another Thursday ScienceInsider. The answer isn’t straightforward. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might all lay claim,” Servick wrote, and “many new technologies don’t fit neatly into the purview of one office,” according to a report from the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank. The report “serves as a warning to startup companies that they’ll likely need to visit multiple agencies early in the development process, says Todd Kuiken, the Synthetic Biology Project’s principal investigator. … The new report lays out a series of cases—some theoretical, others already on regulators’ desks—where the current framework leads to perplexing and unpredictable results.”

► U.S. nuclear physicists have developed "a new long-range plan," Cho wrote in a third ScienceInsider on Thursday. "The plan, presented to a federal advisory panel [that day] in Washington, D.C., will inform planning for the coming decade in the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) nuclear physics program, and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) physics program." Its recommendations include "mount[ing] a massive experiment to search for a hypothesized type of nuclear decay that is possible only if an elusive, nearly massless particle called the neutrino is—weirdly—its own antiparticle,” "building a new collider," and "fully exploit[ing] the three major facilities U.S. nuclear physicists already have.”

► In the Letters section of this week’s issue of Science, Deborah Burstein of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Margaret Hall-Craggs of University College Hospital London, and Clare Tempany of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston responded to a July letter titled “Sexism discussion misses the point.” The author of the earlier letter, they wrote, “advocates for improved infrastructure to assist women in the child-bearing years, when ‘research productivity needs to be the highest.’ She contends that the lack of support mechanisms that enable women to work at this level is the substantial barrier that impedes women from reaching full equality in science. We also advocate for improved infrastructure for women who desire to work within the framework of a standard career trajectory, but we are concerned by the underlying assumption that this is the only path to parity. … Alternative frameworks are needed to keep talented women (and increasingly men who share child-rearing) in science. Working at a limited scope full-time, or working part-time, can and does yield important work, and this must be respected and recognized by the community and by institutions.”

► The Books section of this week's issue includes a review of 57 Ways to Screw Up in Grad School, "a lighthearted yet comprehensive guide to making it through postgraduate education in one piece." "Literally following the '57-step program' would undoubtedly guarantee disaster," wrote reviewer Owen Parsons of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge in the UK. "Luckily, this book offers readers practical and entertaining advice on how to get the most out of the graduate school experience."

► Ornithologist Xin Lu, who has spent much of his research career conducting fieldwork on the Tibetan plateau, describes the emotional and spiritual rewards his work provides in this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story.

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