Michel Aubier discussed the risks of air pollution in a talk show on television station France 5 on 1 March.

Michel Aubier discussed the risks of air pollution in a talk show on television station France 5 on 1 March.

France 5

Elsewhere in Science: Funding concerns, a scientific memoir, and more

Here is this week’s career-related news from across the Science family of publications.  

► Financial conflicts of interest can have serious repercussions if researchers don’t handle them appropriately, as a case in France highlighted this week. “A prominent pneumologist is in the crosshairs of the French Senate because he apparently didn't disclose his paid work for an oil company during a Senate inquiry into the costs of air pollution,” Tania Rabesandratana reported Thursday. “Michel Aubier, an asthma specialist at the Hôpital Bichat-Claude Bernard in Paris, could face prison time and a hefty fine if his alleged perjury goes to court,” Rabesandratana wrote. “Aubier, who is also a member of a research team at France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), told a Senate committee of inquiry that the link between air pollution—including diesel particles—and lung cancer is tenuous and controversial. Aubier, who was under oath, also told the committee that he had 'no links of interests with economic actors' involved in this issue. But earlier this month, newspapers Libération and Le Canard enchaîné revealed that the petrol firm Total pays Aubier as a medical adviser—€50,000 to €60,000 per year since the late 1990s, according to an article by broadsheet Le Monde on 18 March.”

► “A new grant program,” called Maximizing Investigators' Research Award (MIRA), “launched by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to give researchers more stable, flexible funding is drawing concern,” Jocelyn Kaiser reported (subscription required) in this week’s issue of Science. MIRA “is part of an effort across the National Institutes of Health to expand the agency's use of awards that support people based on their track record, not projects,” but the problem is that, “[o]n average, the new awards amount to a 12% cut in a recipient's overall average NIGMS funding for the past 5 years, with much deeper cuts for some.” For example, “one mid-career investigator who had a large program on cell biology slashed by 40% says she feels like ‘my legs were cut out from under me.’ She will now write proposals to other National Institutes of Health … institutes to make up the difference—an outcome the MIRA program was intended to avoid,” Kaiser wrote. But “NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch, in Bethesda, Maryland, says only a ‘small minority’ [of MIRA awardees] have complained, and that NIGMS was ‘very clear’ that a MIRA would entail less money overall in exchange for an extra year of stable funding and freedom to pursue new ideas not tied to a specific project. … Still, NIGMS is responding to the concern that MIRAs may not work for everyone by giving more leeway to established investigators who apply for the next round of MIRA grants: Applicants will have more time to renew their R01s if they don't get a MIRA or decide not to accept it.”

► In January, NextGen VOICES asked, “Do publications (number and impact) convey the true value of an early-career scientist?” and this week’s Science includes a selection of the responses. Overall, “[o]ut of the almost 200 (self-selected) scientists who replied, about 75% did not think that publications conveyed a scientist's true value.” One respondent wrote, “Young scientists should be evaluated based on their ability to convey ideas, interpret data, resolve problems, and generate novel scientific ideas. These values can be easily overlooked if one focuses only on publications and impact factors. A mediocre young scientist may have good publications merely by being at the right place, with the right person, and at the right time….”

The new NextGen VOICES survey prompt is, “Use exactly six words to create a story about the life of a scientist in your field.” For example, consider “‘For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.’ This classic story, widely attributed to Ernest Hemingway, paints a detailed picture in just six words.” Submit your story by 13 May. Find more details here (subscription required).

► This week’s Science also includes a review (subscription required) of University of Hawaii, Manoa, geobiology professor Hope Jahren’s scientific memoir Lab Girl. Jahren “has transformed the sedentary, slow-growing lives of plants into a vibrant series of stories that are interwoven with tales of her own research career in the field of paleo-plant physiology,” wrote reviewer Meg Lowman, a field biologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco who is also an author. Jahren “tells it like it is,” Lowman added, frankly describing “the loneliness and uncertainty she experienced early in her scientific career” and the trials and tribulations of setting up her first lab. Ultimately, Lowman found that “[t]he stories [Jahren] shares are compelling because they are relatable. … As a woman who has written a book about her own (mis) adventures in science, I look forward to the day when my bookshelf reflects the rich diversity of all those who are engaged in the scientific enterprise.”

► In this week’s Working Life story, Science Careers "Experimental Error" columnist Adam Ruben explained how he balances his day job as a scientist with his “Batman job” as a comedian—and how he makes time for everything else.

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