Elsewhere in Science, 20 November 2015


Credit: Thomas Lersch/Wikimedia/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 Medicine (STM)Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► “[S]cientific fraudsters have a distinct literary style,” according to a new study, Dalmeet Singh Chawla reported at ScienceInsider last Friday. “But the language analysis methods aren’t yet a reliable fraud-busting tool, the researchers and others caution.” “David Markowitz and Jeffrey Hancock of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, examined some 2 million words published in 253 biomedical research papers that had been retracted between 1973 and 2013 because they contained fraudulent data” and “determined the ‘obfuscation index’ for each paper. … The deceitful papers tend to be vaguer, more difficult to read, and have fewer quantifying words,” Chawla wrote. “But linguistic sleuthing is still far from a perfect method for revealing fraud, Markowitz says.”

► “Hoping to a fill a void left by the closure last summer of Russia’s only private research funder, scientists here are gearing up to launch a new foundation,” Vladimir Pokrovsky reported from Moscow in a Monday ScienceInsider. “Over the past 3 years, the government labeled several dozen [nonprofit] organizations ‘foreign agents,’ questioning their motives and imposing restrictions on their activities,” Pokrovsky wrote. One victim was the Dynasty Foundation, which “spent some $30 million over 13 years on seed money for young Russian scientists and on competitions for science teachers, science festivals, and public lectures by world-class researchers” but “[wound] up its activities in July. Rueing Dynasty’s demise, a group of scientists ... set out in August to create a successor.” “But fundraising has proven daunting,” Pokrovsky continued, so the new foundation “is starting small.” It “intends to translate into Russian science nonfiction books from abroad, including children’s literature, publish Russian science authors, and organize science festivals in the hinterlands, far from the science powerhouses of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk.”

► “Frustrated scientists in Chile have taken to the streets to protest against low research spending, frail science institutions, poor career prospects—and what they see as the government's overall disregard for science,” Tania Rabesandratana wrote in another Monday ScienceInsider. “A critical issue for scientists in Chile is poor career prospects that appear set to worsen. In 2008, Chile’s government launched an ambitious program to support Ph.D. studies and postdocs abroad, with the requirement that grantees return to Chile for several years after their stint abroad. But many young researchers have returned with no job prospects in sight,” according to biologists Pablo Astudillo, who co-founded the More Science for Chile campaign in 2010 and works at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and Verónica Eisner, who took part in the protests and works at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. “And competition for entry level scientific positions will only increase,” Rabesandratana continued. “According to a paper published last year in the Journal of Technology Management & Innovation, Chile will almost double the number of its Ph.D. holders from about 4500 in 2012 to about 8500 in 2018.”

►“Late last month, hundreds of people in two Washington, D.C., suburbs received a letter in the mail” from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claiming “that one of their neighbors was tied to animal abuse at a government lab,” David Grimm wrote in a Wednesday ScienceInsider. The letter targeted “U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and NIH researcher Stephen Suomi, revealing their home addresses and phone numbers and urging their neighbors to call and visit them,” in an attempt “to shut down monkey behavioral experiments at Suomi’s Poolesville, Maryland, laboratory,” Grimm wrote. Tom Holder, the director of Speaking of Research, a U.K.-based organization that supports the use of animals in scientific labs, and others worry about the potential harm that these tactics can cause. “It’s irresponsible and dangerous,” Holder says. “When you start connecting addresses and giving it to unknown audiences, you’re putting someone at risk.”

► “If more African scientists are needed to solve Africa's health challenges, then where better to train those scientists and where better to make the funding decisions that have an impact on health research priorities than in Africa?” wrote Simon Kay, head of International Operations and Partnerships at the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, in this week's issue of STM. In September, the Wellcome Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UK government's Department for International Development “announced initiatives to tackle these challenges with a long-term vision of training internationally competitive African researchers.” The first one is the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training, and Science “program, an initiative to produce world-class scientific training in health by helping to develop the next generation of African researchers and research leaders.”

► “The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, … named Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn as its next president,” Emily Underwood reported Wednesday at ScienceInsider. Blackburn, who will be leaving her position as a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, to take on the role, “says she hopes to use the new position at Salk to advocate for and educate the public about the importance of basic research. She also wants to help Salk maintain and expand its access to cutting-edge technologies such as new advances in light microscopes.”

► “[NIH] is effectively ending its support for invasive research on chimpanzees,” Jocelyn Kaiser wrote at ScienceInsider later that day. “In a memo leaked this week, [NIH Director Collins] says that a colony of 50 chimps it had planned to keep in reserve for research—after retiring the rest—is no longer needed.” Reactions to this news have been mixed, but Collins pointed out that “NIH has only received one research application—a proposal from an intramural researcher that was later withdrawn,” Kaiser wrote. Another big factor in his decision was that “in 2013, Congress lifted a cap on how much NIH can spend on supporting chimpanzee retirement; and Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana, a sanctuary where retired NIH chimps are being moved, has space for about 25 animals and could potentially take more later.”

► The United Kingdom should “create a supervisory organization that would coordinate and support the seven research councils that award grants to investigators in various disciplines,” according to a report released Thursday, Erik Stokstad wrote that day at ScienceInsider. “This new organization should be headed by a high-profile scientist who could provide ‘a stronger strategic voice for research,’ the report recommends,” Stokstad continued. “Paul Nurse, who leads the Francis Crick Institute, a huge biomedical research facility about to open in London,” led the review of the seven research councils. He “recommends that the councils be subsumed into a new body called Research UK. … Research UK would take over administrative duties, such as tracking grant data, providing business support, and reporting to Parliament ... [and] should be run by ‘a highly distinguished scientist, capable of delivering a managerially efficient organisation and of interacting effectively with Government.’ The director should also have a separate pool of money which could be used for cross-cutting grants, grand challenges, and rapid research on emergencies such as epidemics or earthquakes.” “The review has been greeted warmly by top figures in the U.K. research community.”

► In 2013, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson “was asked by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation to write a 272-word speech, inspired … by Lincoln's 272-word Gettysburg Address, which would see its 150th anniversary that November.” He decided to write his speech, titled “The Seedbed,” to remind everyone “of America's science legacy; and as an appeal to advance all that this legacy can do for the nation's future.” You can read his speech, which was originally published in Gettysburg Replies: The World Responds to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in this week's Science editorial. There is also an accompanying video here.

► NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program “gave out three-quarters of a billion dollars this year,” Jeffrey Mervis wrote in this week's issue of Science. But, as a new National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study found,  “for African-American scientists, … the program may as well not exist,” Mervis continued. In fact, “[i]n a survey of principal investigators (PIs) who received a late-stage SBIR award from NIH between 2001 and 2010, just two of the 604 respondents were African-American. Hispanics did only slightly better, accounting for just 2.0% of these phase II awards, and there was one Native American PI.”

► Also in this week’s issue is a Q and A with “European research commissioner Carlos Moedas, a smiling, mild-mannered polyglot with experience in engineering, real estate, and investment banking, to discuss his plans for science in the European Union. ... [I]n a big speech in June, he announced plans to help innovation flourish, boost science data sharing, and develop science ties with other continents. In the interview, Moedas expressed confidence that investing in science will boost Europe's economies; he said that he has the ear of President Jean-Claude Juncker and explained the need for a European Innovation Council.”

► “[F]raudsters are snatching entire Web addresses, known as Internet domains, right out from under academic publishers, erecting fake versions of their sites, and hijacking their journals, along with their Web traffic,” John Bohannon wrote, also in this week’s Science. He “identif[ied] 24 recently snatched journal domains, [and] discovered how the hijackers are likely doing it. The only hard part is identifying vulnerable journals. Once the targets are identified, snatching their domains is easy. To test my theory, I snatched one myself. For a day, visitors to the official Web domain of an academic contemporary art journal based in Croatia were redirected to Rick Astley’s 1987 classic music video, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’” Read the full article for more about the phenomenon and what journals and editors can do about it.

► For researchers starting their careers, it can make sense to follow the money when determining their research priorities. But for those working on various diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, and funded by NIH, their carefully laid plans could be in danger, Kaiser wrote in a feature in this week’s issue of Science. “Next month officials are expected to release an agency-wide strategic plan that they say will address how disease burden should influence the allocation of research dollars,” Kaiser wrote. HIV/AIDS funding may be affected the most, because, “[s]ince the early 1990s, Congress and [NIH] have agreed to dedicate roughly 10% of the NIH budget to fighting HIV/AIDS,” which some feel is now out of proportion with the burden the disease imposes in the United States. In a recent response to a question from a Congress member about this, NIH’s “Collins said the agency is ready to abandon the 10% set-aside.”

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