Congressional hearings can sometimes hide more than they reveal. So it was yesterday, when the research panel of the U.S. House of Representatives science committee held its first public airing of a bill that would make some controversial changes to peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy
A bipartisan proposal from two U.S. senators calls for boosting the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) science budget by nearly 23% over the next 2 years to $5.4 billion—a more generous raise than either Republicans or Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed.
The draft legislation is intended to become part of larger bill, still under discussion, that would reauthorize the 2010 America COMPETES Act, which expired at the end of September. It would set overall policy and maximum spending levels at several key science agencies, including the National Science Foundation and DOE’s Office of Science, which runs 10 national laboratories and is one of the nation’s major funders of the physical sciences.
The proposal is authored by senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a senior Republican who serves on key committees that oversee DOE and its budget, and Christopher Coons (D-DE), who serves on the appropriations committee. It calls for authorizing DOE science program to spend up to $6.9 billion in 2018, a 49% increase over its current level of $4.6 billion.
Hang on to your lab goggles. The haggling over a big chunk of U.S. science policy is picking up steam in Washington.
A well-known research lab is throwing its weight behind an idea that some biologists say is ripe for their field: a free website that will post raw manuscripts online before they’re submitted to a journal.
BioRxiv, launched yesterday by the nonprofit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), aims to be biologists' version of arXiv, the popular preprint server where physicists have shared their draft manuscripts for more than 20 years. The goal is to speed the dissemination of research and give scientists a way to get feedback on their papers before they are formally peer-reviewed, says John Inglis, CSHL Press executive director. "There is a growing desire in the community for this kind of service,” Inglis says.
It will be free to submit a paper or to read it in bioRxiv, Inglis says. CSHL is paying the costs of the service (he declines to specify them) but hopes that, like arXiv, it will ultimately attract contributions. Although anybody can submit a paper, not everything will be posted: A group of more than 40 "affiliate" scientists have agreed to screen submissions to "assure us that this is real science," Inglis says. "We certainly don't want the enterprise to be sunk by publishing a load of crap."
A leading trade association for the publishers of free, open-access (OA) scientific journals has expelled two of its members, and put a third on probation, as a result of a controversial investigative journalism project published earlier this year by Science. The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) announced today on its blog that it is terminating the memberships of publishers Hikari Ltd. and Dove Medical Press and placing the membership of SAGE Publications “under review” for 6 months.
Last month, reporter John Bohannon sparked extensive debate with a story, part of a larger special issue on how scientists communicate with each other, which documented lax standards for accepting manuscripts at a number of OA journals. He found that dozens of free journals accepted a fake and obviously flawed study that he had created. The “sting” prompted fierce debate, with some critics arguing that Bohannon’s methods were flawed and designed to undermine the OA movement, while others said the story highlighted an important problem in the rapidly growing OA industry.
When the story appeared, OASPA, which includes more than 50 major scientific publishers and related organizations among its members, issued a statement noting that Bohannon’s story “provides some useful data about the scale of, and the problems associated with … low-quality publishers,” and promising to “issue a fuller response … once we have had a chance to review the data in more detail.”
This year’s mandatory across-the-board budget cuts to U.S. research agencies have translated into less money for academic scientists and delays in their research projects.
Typhoon Haiyan was the most powerful tropical cyclone ever to hit land and perhaps the most powerful in recorded history. But what lessons can scientists draw from an awesome storm with winds of just over 300 kilometers an hour? Not as much as they might wish.
Why was Typhoon Haiyan so strong?
A new report from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget fills in a few more details on how last month’s 16-day U.S. government shutdown affected research. The 27-page tally of the shutdown’s costs, released yesterday, concludes that that disruption cost the government at least $2 billion in lost productivity and helped nudge up the nation’s unemployment rate.
A few science-related excerpts (bold, italics, and underlining from the report):
“During the 16-day shutdown, Federal government employees were furloughed for a combined total of 6.6 million days,” including 16,000 days at the National Science Foundation and 192,000 days at NASA.
A bill unveiled this week that would reshape how the U.S. government manages key research and education programs has rekindled tensions between the scientific community and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the science committee in the House of Representatives. The conflict, which began shortly after Smith became chairman in January, is being waged not just over the words in the legislation but also its overall tone.
The 96-page bill, which the House science committee will discuss at a hearing next Wednesday, is intended to replace the expired 2010 America COMPETES Act. The 2010 law set overall policy and suggested funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science, along with authorizing federal efforts to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. The original COMPETES Act, adopted in 2007, grew out of a high-profile 2005 National Academies’ report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, that called for doubling federal investment in the physical sciences and improving the quality of the nation’s STEM teacher workforce.
Now, lawmakers in both the House and Senate are beginning to consider how to pass legislation that would extend COMPETES. Late last month, Democrats on the House science panel unveiled a proposal that retains the spirit of the original bill. And yesterday, a Senate panel started discussing the issue. But the debate has begun in earnest with Smith’s informal release of a House Republican draft bill called the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act.
A project to “green” desert areas with an innovative mix of technologies—producing food, biofuel, clean water, energy, and salt—reached a milestone this week in the Gulf state of Qatar. A pilot plant built by the Sahara Forest Project (SFP) produced 75 kilograms of vegetables per square meter in three crops annually, comparable to commercial farms in Europe, while consuming only sunlight and seawater. The heart of the SFP concept is a specially designed greenhouse. At one end, salt water is trickled over a gridlike curtain so that the prevailing wind blows the resulting cool, moist air over the plants inside. This cooling effect allowed the Qatar facility to grow three crops per year, even in the scorching summer. At the other end of the greenhouse is a network of pipes with cold seawater running through them. Some of the moisture in the air condenses on the pipes and is collected, providing a source of fresh water.
One of the surprising side effects of such a seawater greenhouse, seen during early experiments, is that cool moist air leaking out of it encourages other plants to grow spontaneously outside. The Qatar plant took advantage of that effect to grow crops around the greenhouse, including barley and salad rocket (arugula), as well as useful desert plants. The pilot plant accentuated this exterior cooling with more “evaporative hedges” that reduced air temperatures by up to 10°C. “It was surprising how little encouragement the external crops needed,” says SFP chief Joakim Hauge.