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Elsewhere in Science, 18 Dec. 2015

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.

► Last year Sander Dekker, state secretary at the Ministry for Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, issued a mandate stating that 100% of government-funded research papers should become freely available by 2024. Following up on this, last Friday at ScienceInsider, John Bohannon reported that “[a]fter more than a year of negotiations—and a threat to boycott Elsevier's 2500 journals—a deal has been struck: For no additional charge beyond subscription fees, 30% of research published by Dutch researchers in Elsevier journals will be open access by 2018.” Although it’s not the full 100%, it could be a sign of things to come. “[T]his is the future. No one can stop this anymore,” says Gerard Meijer, who is the president of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and the lead on the Dutch side of the negotiations.

► Also last Friday, Jocelyn Kaiser reported “a major shakeup for the HIV/AIDS research community,” with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announcing that “it will no longer support setting aside a fixed 10% of its budget—or $3 billion this year—to fund research on the disease,” and that it will put $65 million into a “‘common pool’ for AIDS research.” Kaiser noted that this move puts some scientists’ grants at risk. But “‘there is broad support for the idea of oversight and review and a rigorous focus on the highest priority science with our precious research dollars,’ says Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Chris Beyrer, president of the International AIDS Society. More worrisome to his group and others is uncertainty about future increases for [the] research.

► Last Friday’s decision by the NIH to “phase out controversial monkey experiments at one of its labs in Poolesville, Maryland ... followed an aggressive yearlong campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,” but, as David Grimm wrote on Monday at ScienceInsider, “financial straits—not animal rights pressures—led to the decision. ‘NIH has to make decisions on how to spend its research dollars regardless of what others may think,’ says Constantine Stratakis, the scientific director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which oversees the lab in question.” Some, however, “are concerned that NICHD’s action will be seen as a victory for the animal rights movement. ‘If these types of strategies are influencing decisions about scientific research, that would be very worrying,’ says Tom Holder, the director of Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports the use of animals in scientific labs. ‘NIH needs to stand up for the value of animal studies and allow its researchers to speak more clearly to the public about their work.’”

► Media-attention scoring system Altmetric has just released its top 100 research articles list. So which study got the most media buzz in 2015? “The number one story [was] ‘A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance,’ published in January in Nature,” Bohannon wrote in another Monday ScienceInsider. “‘We didn't quite anticipate the media frenzy around the paper,’ says co-author Brian Conlon, a microbiologist at Northeastern University in Boston. ‘It's certainly a strange experience to see a photograph of bacterial cultures you took in the lab appear on the CBS evening news.’” The article was mentioned in news stories and on social media sites 2782 times, with most of the mentions coming from Twitter.

► “Shell and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have teamed up to sponsor a $7 million XPrize that they say will hopefully provide some answers” about what “lies in the 95% of the ocean that remains unexplored,” Carolyn Gramling reported Monday from the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco, California, where the program was announced. The prize is “intended to speed up the development of new technologies to illuminate the deep ocean” and “to draw new players into the game of ocean exploration, ‘democratizing’ the ocean. … The competition will take place in two phases over 3 years. As many as 25 teams may compete in phase one, a test at a depth of 2000 meters; in round two up to 10 finalists will test their technology at a depth of 4000 meters. The teams with the highest scores in seafloor mapping and high-definition digital imagery will get a total of $6 million. The other $1 million is a ‘NOAA Bonus Prize’ to be shared among teams that can successfully detect a feature (either natural or placed on the seafloor by the organizers) using its biological or chemical signature.”

► On Wednesday, NIH “released its first agency-wide strategic plan in more than 20 years. Although the document is largely a roundup of what the agency is already doing, it has some NIH advisers wondering whether the plan promises too much,” Kaiser reported that day at ScienceInsider. “NIH’s 27 institutes and centers prepare their own strategic plans every few years, but the agency generally does not do broader planning.” However, “[i]n a 2015 spending bill, [members of the U.S. Congress] asked NIH to come up with a 5-year strategic plan,” which the agency unveiled after about a year of deliberation. “The 46-page plan describes four objectives: ‘advance opportunities in biomedical research’ by funding fundamental science, treatments, and disease prevention; set priorities; enhance stewardship; and ‘managing for results.’ … Buried within it, the plan describes a few significant policy changes,” including the end to the 10% budget set-aside for AIDS research, as Kaiser reported last Friday. “The agency also promises to do more to avoid overlap of projects across NIH institutes and with other agencies. And it will require that every NIH institute publish an annual ‘standard metric’ for funding—a bar graph showing the number of grants with a given quality score that received funding.”

► In a Focus article in this week’s issue of STM, C. Michael Stein of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote about his concerns on “[t]he increase in regulation and monitoring of clinical research” and the resulting “mounting administrative duties that are both beneficial and burdensome. Administrative requirements that ensure the safety and ethical foundation of clinical research benefit patients, investigators, and society, but experts have debated the effectiveness of some requisites. What needs no debate is the fact that administrative requirements consume time and thus reduce efficiency.” Stein offered seven principles that, if followed, could help reduce the administrative burden, but he noted that there is a larger issue at hand. “The fundamental problem,” he wrote, “is that different authorities are able to impose requirements with few incentives or mechanisms to rationalize, harmonize, or minimize those requirements. Until a single body is mandated to make the administrative components of research more rational, the load will increase, scientific productivity and adherence to regulations will decrease, and solutions will be offered piecemeal.”

► In this week’s issue of Science, Jeffrey Mervis reported that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is looking for a new contractor to complete the $434 million National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), “an ambitious effort to monitor changing ecosystems across the United States.” But “[t]he decision was not unexpected: In August, NSF shrunk NEON's size and scope because of a projected $80 million overrun and repeatedly missed deadlines.” Then on 1 December NEON Inc., the organization currently working on the project, “submitted a revised construction and operating plan that projected additional costs and a further delay of 2 years, according to NSF officials, which precipitated NSF's decision.”

Science’s Breakthrough of the Year is CRISPR. The genome-editing technique earned top honors, in part because of achievements such as “the creation of a long-sought ‘gene drive’ that could eliminate pests or the diseases they carry, and the first deliberate editing of the DNA of human embryos.” But they aren’t the only reason that CRISPR was chosen. “CRISPR has proven so easy and inexpensive that Dana Carroll of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, who spearheaded the development of zinc finger nucleases, [one of its competitors,] says it has brought about the ‘democratization of gene targeting.’” You can find out more about CRISPR and this year’s runners-up by reading the special section in this week’s issue of Science.

► Among the nine 2015 runners-up are efforts to reproduce research studies in the field of psychology. The field, which was mired in scandal over false positives a few years ago, is now becoming “a beacon for scientific reproducibility,” Bohannon wrote. “The scandal spurred psychologists to clean up their field—both by replicating key studies and by creating new models of scholarly publication and peer review to restore confidence in published research.” In the biggest replication effort so far, “[i]n a report published in Science in August, 270 psychologists orchestrated a repeat of 100 studies published in three top journals.” Not only is the effort set to make the publication of direct replications more routine in psychology journals, but its innovative design may also have a knock-on effect on other fields. “The researchers followed a procedure called preregistration, publishing the methods and rationale of each study before the experiments were undertaken. Then they reported the results and statistical analysis no matter what the outcome,” Bohannon wrote. “That prevents researchers from teasing out positive results from their data or leaving negative results unpublished. If everyone followed that protocol, false positives might all but disappear from journals.”

► When Douglas Emlen started studying insect weaponry, he never thought he would become an award-winning book author, but science can take you in unexpected directions. Read this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story to find out how Emlen balanced his time between doing research and writing a book.

► “Congress today overwhelmingly passed the 2016 spending bill. The House of Representatives this morning voted 316 to 113, with a majority of Republicans and nearly all Democrats favoring the $1.1 trillion package for all federal agencies,” Mervis wrote at ScienceInsider. “The Senate concurred a few hours later with a vote of 65 to 33. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law later today.” The post offers a breakdown of the 2016 budgets for most science agencies and a list of stories to get readers caught up on the major issues.

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