Elsewhere in Science, 2 October 2015

Ursula von der Leyen

Credit: Olaf Kosinsky/wikimedia commons

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.

► “A cardiovascular epidemiologist and research administrator is taking the helm of the office that oversees policies for the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) $25 billion a year in research grants and contracts,” Jocelyn Kaiser reported at ScienceInsider on Monday. “Michael Lauer, who has been with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute … since 2007, will become NIH deputy director for extramural research in a few weeks. He replaces Sally Rockey.”

►“[T]he website VroniPlag Wiki, a loose coalition of volunteers who scour dissertations for plagiarized passages and incorrect citations, published an analysis of German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen’s 1990 dissertation on the diagnosis of infections in pregnant women,” Gretchen Vogel wrote later that day at ScienceInsider. “The group found plagiarized passages on 27 of the dissertation’s 62 pages. It claims that on three pages, between 50% and 75% of the text is plagiarized text and on five pages, more than 75% of the text is plagiarized.” But von der Leyen refutes the accusations. “I can reject the accusation of plagiarism,” she told the German press. “It is not new that activists on the internet attempt to spread doubts about the dissertations of politicians.”

► In a Tuesday ScienceInsider, Edwin Cartlidge interviewed Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit brother with a planetary science Ph.D. who is the new director of the Vatican Observatory in Rome. The observatory operates a 1.8-meter telescope in Arizona and “employs a dozen astronomers to study asteroids, meteorites, extrasolar planets, stellar evolution, and cosmology.” In the Q&A, Consolmagno explained why the Vatican does astronomy, his future plans as head of the observatory, and more. “First of all, I want to provide space for other astronomers to do their work. And I also want to show the world that religion supports astronomy,” Consolagno said. “It is often religious people who most need to see that; they need to know that astronomy is wonderful and that they shouldn't be afraid of it.”

► “A German scientist is revoking the license to his bioinformatics software for researchers working in eight European countries”—Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark—“because those countries allow too many immigrants to cross their borders,” Kai Kupferschmidt wrote in another Tuesday ScienceInsider. Informatician Gangolf Jobb announced this update to the license for his Treefinder software in a statement on his website. “Although the change in the license may be a nuisance for some researchers, the program is far from irreplaceable, several scientists tell ScienceInsider,” Kupferschmidt wrote. “Some pointed to a list of possible alternatives online.”

► According to a study published Wednesday in the journal BMC Medicine, “the fake journal business is booming,” John Bohannon wrote that day at ScienceInsider. “Last year alone, so-called predatory publishers took in about $75 million and published nearly half a million articles.” These publishers conduct any of a number of unethical practices, including misrepresenting their peer-review processes and lacking appropriate editorial oversight. The study’s authors “found that most of the publishers are based in developing countries in Asia, with India leading the pack with 27%. … [T]he authors who publish in these journals by and large come from the same regions: India leads with 35% of authors, and more than 75% hail from Asia or Africa. … But dismissing this as a problem limited to the developing world is missing the point,” notes Jocalyn Clark, a veteran of scientific publishing in the developing world. “What is a nuisance for rich-country researchers (constant emails) is a major corruption for developing-country science—a corruption of the legitimate and vital open-access publishing model and a corruption of the vast funds, much of which are public, invested in global health research,” she says.

► “[T]he Kavli Foundation and several university partners … announced $100 million in new funding for neuroscience research, including three new institutes” at the University of California, San Francisco; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland; and Rockefeller University in New York City, Emily Underwood reported on Thursday. “Each of the institutes will receive a $20 million endowment, provided equally by their universities and the foundation, along with start-up funding to pursue projects in areas such as brain plasticity and tool development.” Underwood noted that “[t]he new funding … exceeds the original commitment of $40 million that the Kavli Foundation made to the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, when it was first launched by President Obama in 2013.”

► Later that day, a Sifter pointed to a Retraction Watch post about Milena Penkowa, a neuroscientist and former professor at the University of Copenhagen who “was convicted of scientific misconduct, fabricating and publishing the results of animal research that never actually took place.” The Copenhagen City Court in Denmark sentenced her to 9 months of “conditional imprisonment.” “The court says Penkowa not only made up data for her 2003 thesis, but later fabricated even more data to cover her tracks. Penkowa—who pled not guilty—remains free on a suspended sentence. Should she commit academic fraud again, the court says she’ll find herself behind bars.”

► “As a kid growing up in rural Rhode Island, Aram Calhoun ran the frog patrol. When she caught neighborhood boys throwing frogs into traffic, she'd chase the offenders and beat them up. Then she'd persuade her adversaries to become allies,” Jill U. Adams wrote in a feature in this week’s issue of Science. “These days, ... the University of Maine, Orono (UMO), academic is tackling a more difficult task than persuading kids to stop squashing frogs. She's leading an innovative effort … to overcome two of the tougher challenges in conservation biology in the United States: protecting small, ephemeral waterbodies called vernal pools that are critical to the survival of many amphibians and other organisms, and making conservation work on privately held lands.” Read the full story for more on Calhoun’s career path, which has included working with citizen scientists, economists, and developers, and how “she has grown accustomed to dealing with people who—at first—see her as the enemy.”

► The Letters section of this week’s issue contains a selection of responses from young researchers to the question of what they would do if “they could obtain unlimited funding for one currently unexplored scientific endeavor. What would they propose, and how would it revolutionize their field?” Among the creative proposals to tackle complex scientific problems, Brett Favaro of Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's suggested using the funding to address scientific workforce issues head-on. “I would put it all toward funding the human resource needs of science” so that “the basic economic needs of scientists would be met. … [P]eople from all over the world and from all backgrounds would be empowered to take on science careers. Those of us privileged enough to have jobs in the field would take on riskier questions if we knew that a failed experiment would not threaten our ability to feed our families, and more scientists would tackle questions that people in power do not want asked. ”

► In the Books section of this week’s issue, Johanna Gutlerner, co-director of the Curriculum Fellows Program at Harvard Medical School, reviewed The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It, by Leonard Cassuto, an author and English professor at Fordham University in New York City. To address the overproduction of Ph.D.s in science and technology relative to the number of available tenure-track jobs, Cassuto “believes that we need to focus on how and what we teach, as well as training our students to teach,” Gutlerner wrote. “[H]e urges us to develop a new ethic for the university, in which the priorities of graduate education are better interwoven with those of the university and society as a whole.”  

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