Elsewhere in Science, 6 November 2015


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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.

► Last Friday at ScienceInsider, Adrian Cho reported that “a commission requested by Congress to study the [Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) 17 National Laboratories] recommended that DOE give them greater latitude to pursue goals set by the mothership.” But not everyone agrees with this assessment. At a congressional hearing held last week by a Senate spending panel, “Senator Dianne Feinstein (D–CA), the subcommittee's ranking member, pointed to huge cost overruns in current projects. ‘You're asking for less oversight, and that's a problem when you have billions [of dollars] in [cost] estimates that have been underestimated,’ said Feinstein, who chaired the subcommittee in 2014 when it requested the report.” This isn’t a new issue; there have been more than 50 studies on the subject in the past 40 years. Only time will tell if this report brings about changes.

► This week’s episode of the XX Files follows researcher Elizaveta Solomonova as she searches for and studies “people who can visit dream land and report back accurately what they see, hear, feel, and even smell” during sleep studies in the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory at the University of Montreal in Canada. Watch the video to find out more.

► “One scientist will be among the new faces in [Canada’s] 338-member House of Commons: Richard Cannings, a bird biologist, author, and former curator of the vertebrate museum at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver,” Brian Owens wrote in a Tuesday ScienceInsider. “Cannings, a member of Canada’s left-of-center New Democratic Party …, will represent British Columbia’s … South Okanagan—West Kootenay riding, or district.” In a Q and A, Cannings discussed his thoughts on improving science and environmental issues. “I am very much interested in what the federal government will be doing around climate change action, and around the environmental assessment procedures that have been really weakened under the Conservative government,” he says. “I'd like to see that changed. And the Liberals have pledged to do this, so we'll be keeping an eye on them and pressing them to move forward.”

► Also, on Thursday, “[t]he new Canadian government … announced it would restore the country’s mandatory long-form census,” Owens reported in an update to a ScienceInsider originally published earlier this week. The change comes in response to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government’s decision, in 2010, to replace “the mandatory long-form census … with the voluntary National Household Survey. The move was deeply unpopular with social scientists, as well as municipal and provincial governments and business groups. … The voluntary survey had a much lower response rate—68% versus more than 90% for the previous mandatory questionnaire—making the data collected of much lower quality. Voluntary surveys also tend to exacerbate sampling bias,” Owens wrote in the original post. Navdeep Bains, minister of innovation, science and economic development, said that the decision was made in time to implement the mandatory census in May 2016.

► Mathematicians should be aware of growing career opportunities in industrial mathematics, especially around the Pacific Rim, Dennis Normile reported in this week’s issue of Science. “[I]ncreasing numbers of academic mathematicians are applying their knowledge and skills to industrial challenges,” he wrote. “This trend is now catching on in the Asia-Pacific region, with countries supporting new institutes, grant programs, and brainstorming sessions.” Read the full article for more about activities in South Korea, New Zealand, and Japan.

► Also in this week’s issue, Shruti Ravindran reported on “the funding squeeze now gripping science in India.” In June, the government issued an “ultimatum” to India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a network of 38 national laboratories, stating that they need “to nurture its own finances. The central government, intent on curbing domestic spending, feels CSIR’s $600 million budget is a luxury it can no longer afford and has given the labs 2 to 3 years to ‘self-finance’ half their expenditures by winning grants, licensing discoveries, and collaborating with industry,” Ravindran wrote. “In addition to seeking their own funding, CSIR lab chiefs now must send reports to the government about how their centers serve flagship government programs such as schemes to build smart cities, clean the Ganges River, and promote sanitation.”

► In another article from this week’s issue (also posted on ScienceInsider), Jeffrey Mervis reported that U.S. scientists should get their “money this year—because federal spending in 2017 may feel very tight.” This message “is buried in the new 2-year budget agreement that President Barack Obama signed this week.” Here’s what happened: “The Obama administration and the Republican-led Congress struck a surprise deal late last month to prevent the U.S. government from defaulting on its loans and fund operations through the fall of 2017. The agreement adds $50 billion this year and $30 billion next year to caps on discretionary spending.” That amounts to a “5% increase in overall discretionary spending for 2016. In 2017, however, the added $30 billion will boost overall discretionary federal spending by only $3 billion—a 0.3% rise that won’t even keep pace with inflation.”

► In a Policy Forum in this week’s issue, Ann-Margret Ervin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, and three colleagues wrote about concerns regarding how variability in ethical review affects large, multicenter clinical studies. “Ethical review of multicenter research is usually conducted by the institutional review board (IRB) of each participating institution. However, variation in interpretation of regulations by IRBs is common and can have ethical and scientific implications,” the authors wrote. They noted that conducting ethical review with a single, central IRB of record (CIRB) is an alternative to the current system, but “[u]nfamiliarity with local context, as well as delineation of responsibilities of local and central IRBs, are barriers to adoption of CIRBs. These barriers are touted by institutional stakeholders, including general counsel, research administration officials, and IRB directors to support the perception that more-streamlined approaches may not provide sufficient protection to participants.”

► In the Letter’s section of this week’s issue, a team of 11 authors, led by Irving L. Weissman and Sean M. Wu of the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, wrote that the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) should “[l]ift [their] restrictions on chimera research.” “In the recently posted notice NOT-OD-15-158, the NIH stated that it ‘will not fund research in which human pluripotent cells are introduced into non-human vertebrate animal pregastrulation-stage embryos while the agency considers a possible policy revision in this area.’ … We believe that this notice poses a threat to progress in stem cell biology, developmental biology, and regenerative medicine,” they wrote. “Ultimately, we believe that human/non-human chimerism studies in pre-gastrulation embryos hold tremendous potential to improve our understanding of early development, enhance disease modeling, and promote therapeutic discovery. Given that the objective of the NIH is to enable discoveries that advance human health, the restrictions presented in NOT-OD-15-158 serve to impede scientific progress in regenerative medicine and should be lifted.”

► In this week’s Books section, Isiah M. Warner and Gloria Thomas of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, reviewed Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement, by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which “takes [readers] on ... a journey from [Hrabowski’s] childhood involvement in the civil rights movement to his growing legacy as an advocate for improving access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) higher education. The book juxtaposes the stories of an individual, an institution, and a nation in a manner that is highly instructive,” Warner and Thomas wrote. “In Hrabowski's final reflections, he asserts that ‘success is never final,’ and he encourages us all to continue telling our stories in an effort to inspire others to take on similar challenges at their own institutions.”

► When he was a grad student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carl Brozek noticed that “students' concerns that their advisers weren't giving them the mentorship they needed” were falling through the cracks. So, although he was deep into his chemistry studies, he hatched a plan to use comments from students and administrators to create a list of best practices for the adviser-advisee relationship. Read this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story to find out more about his experience.

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