Elsewhere in Science, 30 October 2015


Credit: www.futureatlas.com/flickr/Creative 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.

► “Mathematics conference organizers may claim they choose speakers purely by merit,” according to a Sifter published last Friday, but a new statistical analysis by mathematician Greg Martin of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, “suggests profound bias against women.” For example, the Sifter continues, “the 2014 meeting of the International Congress of Mathematicians … had 19 male speakers and one female. Given the conservative estimate that 24% of potential speakers were women, the chances of women being overrepresented were 18 times greater than the chances of them being so severely underrepresented, according to Martin.” You can find out more about his research in The Atlantic.

► A new installment of the XX Files was released Tuesday, featuring chemist Kate Prigge, a postdoc at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prigge “is honing in on the smells that signal health and disease,” with some “help from medical working dogs that are able to smell ovarian cancer in patient samples.” Check out the video for more about her work and her plans for the future.

► “Neuroscientist Alan Finkel will be Australia’s next chief scientist,” Leigh Dayton reported on Tuesday at ScienceInsider. “Finkel—president of Australia’s Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering and former chancellor of Monash University in Melbourne—will provide independent advice and work to lift the profile of Australian science. Two priorities, Finkel says, are to boost Australia’s poor innovation record and set the nation on the road to a fossil-free future.”

► On Wednesday, another Sifter pointed to a story in Nature highlighting research revealing that “2.4% of citations in a major immunology journal were critical.” Interestingly, “[t]he papers that drew the most criticism tended to also receive more citations overall, presumably because they were more influential and widely-read. Criticisms tended to come from scientists working in the same fields, but separated by at least 150 miles geographically, according to the study published on 26 October in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

► “A high-ranking public official who sent a group of scientists to L'Aquila to assess seismic risk ahead of the deadly earthquake that struck the city in 2009 is to stand trial on charges of manslaughter, a judge ruled [Thursday],” Edwin Cartlidge wrote that day at ScienceInsider. “His trial follows the October 2012 conviction and sentencing to 6 years in prison of the seven experts, and the acquittal of all bar one of them last November.” Six days before the earthquake hit, the official, Guido Bertolaso, “who at the time of the earthquake was head of Italy's civil protection department, set up a meeting of the experts, … ostensibly to analyze the risk posed by a series of small- and medium-sized earthquakes that had been shaking the region around L'Aquila for several months.” His “trial centers on a telephone call that Bertolaso made to a local official the evening before the experts' meeting. ... In the call, Bertolaso described the meeting as a ‘media operation’ that he was setting up in order to ‘shut up’ a technician from a nearby physics laboratory who had allegedly made a series of alarmist predictions that had panicked the local population.”  

► Researchers working with dangerous microbes in the United States will soon have new protocols and regulations for their work, Jocelyn Kaiser reported in another Thursday ScienceInsider. “Spurred by several accidents at federal laboratories involving risky pathogens, the White House [Thursday] announced a sweeping set of steps aimed at shoring up biosafety and biosecurity procedures. The plan includes public disclosure of lab accidents, a new system for reporting mishaps, and a review of the large number of high-containment labs in the country,” Kaiser wrote. “A review launched in August 2014 has resulted in a 3-page memo (plus 184 pages of attachments and related reports) sent [Thursday] to federal agencies from the president’s science adviser, John Holdren, and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. It describes about 50 steps with timelines, ranging from beefed-up biosafety training to plans for an outside review of local labs’ protocols for inactivating select agents. Most steps are to be completed within the next year or two.”

► In an editorial in this week’s issue of Science, Bernard Wood of the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., wrote, in the wake of the Geoff Marcy sexual harassment scandal, that there must be “zero tolerance” for this type of behavior. “It is unconscionable for someone to use academic power to be a sexual predator, but the reality is that Marcy operated in an academic culture that turned a blind eye to such behavior,” he wrote. He also noted that sexual misconduct is not unique to Marcy’s discipline of astronomy. It is an issue “[i]n my own field of anthropology,” he wrote. “I have been aware of the problem, … and I understand just how pervasive, insidious, and devastating this behavior is.” “Male professors have a special responsibility to be strong allies of the women affected by sexual misconduct,” he continued, because “[m]any women who have been the target of inappropriate behavior, or have even heard of such incidents, believe that their careers will be jeopardized if they speak out. To work toward something for years, only to have it derailed by an unscrupulous superior or by malicious rumor, is a frightening prospect.” He concluded that “[e]qual academic opportunity will not exist as long as individuals have to adjust their careers to avoid exposure to sexual predation.”

► “[T]here has been a debate on the extent to which insights from economic lab experiments can be generalized to field settings,” wrote Gary Charness of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Ernst Fehr of the University of Zürich in Switzerland in this week’s issue, but a new study, also published in this week’s issue, “may ... change some scientists' views of the relevance of lab experiments.” The research offers evidence that “the results of a class of lab experiments can be generalized to the field,” they wrote.

► This week’s issue also features a letter about the value of welcoming citizen scientists into experimental research projects, which, the authors argue, can benefit both the citizens and the researchers. After watching an online video in which students at Molins de Rei High School in Catalunya, Spain, posed scientific questions, Mathilde Bonnefond of Radboud University, Nijmegen, in the Netherlands and two of her colleagues set out to help them answer those questions. The researchers taught the students “how to build a protocol and perform statistical analyses. We worked with them to replicate published data and then to design and perform original experiments in the school.” The experience empowered “the students, to the point where they became advocates of participatory research,” and it “challenged our traditional way of doing research, urging us to think out-of-the-box and thus improve as scientists.”

► After reflecting on his early scientific aspirations, Stephen T. Jackson decided to leave his tenured position behind to become director of the Department of the Interior Southwest Climate Science Center in Tucson, Arizona. Read this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story to find out more about his career transition.

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