ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • More than 1500 people told us where and why they marched for science

    people marching

    Science marchers in Washington, D.C.

    Bill Douthitt

    Nearly a third of attendees at the March for Science last weekend were at their first political or issue protest, one-fifth work outside of the sciences, and most say, whether you believe them or not, that U.S. President Donald Trump was not their primary reason for gathering, an online poll conducted by ScienceInsider indicates.

    Several research teams braved the chill and rain to conduct formal scientific surveys of people attending the Washington, D.C., March for Science, but ScienceInsider stayed in our cozy offices and invited the marchers to come to us and tell us where and why they took to the streets. Nearly 1600 people accepted that invite, filling out a short online survey that we ran from the start of the New Zealand march—Friday night U.S. time—through Tuesday afternoon.

    Such internet polls are always difficult to decipher, warn social scientists, not least because they draw a nonrandom response. “You just have a bunch of people who care a whole lot about the issue, or what could be called a self-selected biased sample based on convenience.” cautioned sociologist Dana Fisher of the University of Maryland in College Park, who conducted one of the Washington, D.C., surveys, in an email. “The findings CANNOT be generalized to participants at any one March 4 Science or to the population of participants as a whole (or to the samples that we collected since our sampling methodology was very different and was used to be able to attempt to collect a random sample of participants).”

  • $10 million settlement over alleged misconduct in Boston heart stem cell lab

    ambulance vehicles at Brigham and Women's Hospital

    Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

    BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/Newscom

    A research misconduct investigation of a prominent stem cell lab by the Harvard University–affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston has led to a massive settlement with the U.S. government over allegations of fraudulently obtained federal grants. As Retraction Watch reports, BWH and its parent health care system have agreed to pay $10 million to resolve allegations that former BWH cardiac stem cell scientist Piero Anversa and former lab members Annarosa Leri and Jan Kajstura relied on manipulated and fabricated data in grant applications submitted to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts released today notes that it was BWH itself that shared the allegations against Anversa’s lab with the government. The hospital had been conducting its own probe into the Anversa lab since at least 2014, when a retraction published in the journal Circulation revealed the ongoing investigation. The hospital has not yet released any findings.

    In 2014, Anversa and Leri sued Harvard and BWH—along with BWH President Elizabeth Nabel and Gretchen Brodnicki, Harvard’s dean for faculty and research integrity—for launching and publicizing the investigation that they claimed wrongfully damaged their careers. In their complaint, they acknowledged fabricated data in the Circulation paper and altered figures in a 2011 paper for which The Lancet has published an “expression of concern.” But they claimed that Kajstura had altered data without their knowledge. (Anversa and Leri’s recent papers list their institution as Swiss Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Retraction Watch notes.)

  • Science and politics collide over Bears Ears and other national monuments

    sunset at Bears Ears National Monument

    Sunset at Bears Ears National Monument.

    Bob Wick/BLM

    President Donald Trump signed an executive order yesterday calling on the Department of the Interior (DOI) to review “all Presidential designations or expansions of designations under the Antiquities Act made since January 1, 1996.”  Why would a new president with so much on his plate care about 24 parcels of land and sea that his three immediate predecessors decided to protect permanently?

    The answer, not surprisingly, is politics. Opponents of such designations see them as unwanted federal interventions. And that’s why Trump has asked Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review those decisions, starting with an expanse of land in southeastern Utah surrounding a twin pair of mesas known as Bears Ears. Its designation was one of former President Barack Obama’s last acts in office.

    “In December of last year alone, the federal government asserted this power over 1.35 million acres of land in Utah, known as Bears Ears—I’ve heard a lot about Bears Ears, and I hear it’s beautiful—over the profound objections of the citizens of Utah,” Trump said during a signing ceremony at DOI. “The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice,” he added. 

  • Will the March for Science wither away like the Women’s March?

    Margaret Breslau protesting

    Activist Margaret Breslau protests at a minimum wage rally in Richmond.

    Margaret Breslau

    Margaret Breslau is no stranger to political action—and she knows that sustaining momentum is vital. The organizer of the Blacksburg, Virginia, March for Science has campaigned for minimum wage earners, Black Lives Matter, the Occupy movement, and even a group that successfully banned Wal-Mart from setting up shop in her city in 2009. She’s already worried that the window for action opened by the past weekend’s global science rally has begun to close.

  • At a political boot camp for scientists, enthusiasm and anxiety

    protester holding sign that reads “Dear Scientists please run for congress"

    One marcher at the March for Science in Washington, D.C., shows his support for scientists running for Congress.

    Ryan Cross

    Self-promotion, pithy sound bites, and political advocacy aren’t always the traits of researchers. But those are the skills a group of 60 scientifically trained attendees were encouraged to embrace last week at an event in Washington, D.C., that was part boot camp and part pep rally for scientists and those employed in technical fields who are considering running for local, state, or national offices. Judging by the reactions of those in attendance, however, it may be some time before the nation sees a large number of science-savvy candidates out on the stump.

    The 20 April gathering, organized by a group called 314 Action that aims to encourage more scientists and engineers to run for office, was one of a number of events held in advance of the 22 April March for Science. The group’s recruitments have been amply covered by the media, and a few of the wanna-be candidates in attendance—who came from all over the nation—seemed at ease hopping amongst the reporters and camera crews, eager to share their stories and ambitions.

    But many others appeared downright anxious and unsure, and hesitated when asked about their political views, hometowns and workplaces by ScienceInsider. A few even asked to remain anonymous, concerned about potential repercussions back home if they were associated with political activity. For these wary potential politicos, the event was mostly a way to test the waters and see whether public campaigning might be within their comfort zone.

  • BioRxiv preprint server gets funding from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

    bioRxiv papers

    BioRxiv, the free online archive of draft biology papers, is getting a major funding boost. Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced that it is putting an undisclosed amount of money into expanding the preprint server and adding more software tools through a collaboration with bioRxiv’s founder, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York.

    “Expanded access to these drafts can dramatically accelerate the pace of discovery, and, in turn, our understanding of health and disease,” wrote neuroscientist Cori Bargmann, president of Science for CZI in Palo Alto, California, in a Facebook post. The news may generate some confusion among researchers and other proponents of preprints, however, because it comes as a nonprofit group is soliciting bids to create a central life sciences preprint server with similar objectives.

    Preprints are scientific manuscripts that haven’t yet gone through peer review and been published in a journal. Unlike physical scientists, who have posted preprints at a site called arXiv for 25 years, biologists have been slow to share their unreviewed papers. But the idea has gained momentum since bioRxiv was launched 3 years ago by CSHL. It is now the fastest-growing biology preprint server, adding 800 papers each month to its current total of about 10,000 papers.

  • Q&A: First U.S. state-by-state analysis of hepatitis C cases

    Map of the United States showing the number of persons living with Hepatitis C Antibodies, 2010

    Per capita number of people, by state, who had hepatitis C antibodies in the United States in 2010.

    HepVu.org

    In the infectious disease world, the liver-damaging hepatitis C virus (HCV) long has lived in the shadows of killers such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. But curative—and expensive—HCV drugs that have come to market over the past 5 years have focused new attention on the deadly disease.

    Now, for the first time, researchers have mapped its U.S. prevalence state-by-state. They hope their model ultimately will help improve targeting of efforts to screen for the virus and treat the more than 3 million people in the country who are living with the infection.

    The new study finds that the highest levels of HCV infection in 2010 were in the western United States. At the same time, eight states—California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, and Washington—account for more than half the cases. HCV is spread primarily when people who inject drugs share their needles and syringes.

  • NSF’s uphill road to making prestigious early career award more diverse

    July 29, 1955. Announcement of plans for the building and launching of the world's first humanmade satellite, with Dr. Alan T. Waterman (front left)

    Diversity wasn’t on the agenda in 1955 when NSF’s first director, Alan T. Waterman (front left), joined other scientific leaders to announce plans to build the country’s first satellite.

    NASA

    Increasing diversity within academic science has been a priority for France Córdova since she became director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014. Within a year she had launched an initiative, called INCLUDES, that challenges universities to do a better job of attracting women and minorities into the field. Now, Córdova has turned her attention inward in hopes of improving the dismal track record of NSF’s most prestigious award for young scientists.

    Only five women have won NSF’s annual Alan T. Waterman Award in its 41-year history, and no woman of color has ever been selected. The 2017 winners announced this month mark the 13th year in a row that the $1 million research prize has gone to a man (two, actually, including the second black scientist ever chosen.)

    For decades, NSF rules required candidates to be either 35 or younger, or within 7 years of having received their doctoral degree. Those ceilings made sense when the typical academic scientist was someone who “went straight through school with no debt and no family commitments, and who could focus on research in their late 20s and early 30s without distractions,” says Karan Watson, provost of Texas A&M University in College Station and chair of the Waterman selection committee.

  • Clean energy patent slump in U.S. stirs concern

    Wind turbines

    Even without environmental regulation, wind power is now one of the cheapest options for new power generation in many parts of the United States.

    Portland General Electric/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

    A surge in innovation tied to low-carbon energy technologies is showing signs of tapering off in the United States, at a time when the Trump administration is targeting the field for cuts in government research spending.

    The number of patents issued in fields related to cutting carbon emissions climbed from 15,970 in 2009 to approximately 35,000 in 2014 and 2015, before slipping back slightly to about 32,000 in 2016, according to a new report issued today by the Washington, D.C.–based Brookings Institution.

    It’s too soon to know whether this short-term drop is part of a bigger trend, says Devashree Saha, the study’s lead author and an associate fellow at Brookings. But it could be compounded by a push from the new president to pare back spending on renewable energy research, she says. “That, I think, raises a lot of concerns as to what is going to be the future of cleantech innovation in the next few years."

  • Rain doesn’t stop researchers from doing science at the march

    man wearing rain poncho fills out form on muddy grass during March for Science

    A rain-soaked participant in the March for Science fills out a paper survey on the National Mall.

    Jeffrey Mervis

    It was half past noon when sociologist Dana Fisher of the University of Maryland in College Park pulled her survey team from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. A light but steady morning shower had turned into a downpour, and Fisher was worried that the 17 tablet computers her volunteers had used all morning to survey the crowd at Saturday’s March for Science would soon freeze up. The 200 responses they had collected so far were only two-thirds of her goal, but she decided the risk was too great to push on.

    “If they break, we lose all the data,” Fisher said. “So I told them to pack up. It’s not ideal, but I’ve used data sets that were even smaller.”

    Fisher was leading one of four research teams who battled the chilly, driving rain to sample participants at the biggest-ever rally for science. The scientists had lots of questions—Who are you? Why did you come? What are your politics? What do you hope to accomplish?—among others. And their pursuit of answers inadvertently highlighted one of the central messages of the march: Government policies should be based on data, not opinion, and science has evolved an exquisitely tuned approach to collecting and analyzing those data.

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