ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Got data? Survey of 2017 March for Science doesn’t make the grade

    Marchers huddle under umbrellas in Washington, D.C., in 2017

    Tens of thousands braved the rain last year in Washington, D.C., for a March for Science that will be repeated this weekend.

    B. Douthitt/Science

    A group of researchers has released the first results of a large survey of those who participated in and supported last year’s March for Science. Some social scientists say the analysis is fundamentally flawed and reflects poorly on an organization that champions scientific rigor. March organizers acknowledge the survey’s limitations but say it has provided them with important insights into what motivates their supporters.

    The volunteer organizers of the 22 April 2017 march, an ambitious experiment in global science advocacy, were eager to learn all they could about the more than 1 million people who had participated. So, 6 weeks after the event, they notified their more than 200,000 supporters that a survey developed by researchers at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia, was available online. The 72-question survey asked for demographic information, as well as why respondents had marched and what they thought about government policies and public attitudes toward science.

    Last week, days before the second annual march on 14 April, the GMU researchers posted the results. A solid majority of the 20,000 respondents said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction, a situation almost all blamed on the policies of President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. Their biggest fears were that those government officials would disregard scientific evidence and cut research funding, although only about half thought the march would forestall either action.

  • China asserts firm grip on research data

    conceptual illustration of an arm coming out of a computer screen writing a check mark on a piece of paper
    iStock.com/erhui1979

    SHANGHAI, CHINA—In a move few scientists anticipated, the Chinese government has decreed that all scientific data generated in China must be submitted to government-sanctioned data centers before appearing in publications. At the same time, the regulations, posted last week, call for open access and data sharing.

    The possibly conflicting directives puzzle researchers, who note that the yet-to-be-established data centers will have latitude in interpreting the rules. Scientists in China can still share results with overseas collaborators, says Xie Xuemei, who specializes in innovation economics at Shanghai University. Xie also believes that the new requirements to register data with authorities before submitting papers to journals will not affect most research areas. Gaining approval could mean publishing delays, Xie says, but “it will not have a serious impact on scientific research.”

    The new rules, issued by the powerful State Council, apply to all groups and individuals generating research data in China. The creation of a national data center will apparently fall to the science ministry, though other ministries and local governments are expected to create their own centers as well. Exempted from the call for open access and sharing are data involving state and business secrets, national security, “public interest,” and individual privacy. 

  • Why The Ohio State University decided to go public about misconduct

    Ohio State university campus

    The Ohio State University’s campus in Columbus

    Denis Tangney Jr./iStockPhoto.com

    In an unusual move, The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus last week released a detailed account of the scientific misbehavior of one of its former faculty members. The 75-page report was damning: It concluded that cancer researcher Ching-Shih Chen—once lauded as an "Innovator of the Year" and the winner of millions of dollars in federal funding—had committed misconduct in eight papers. The problems prompted the university to suspend a clinical trial of an anticancer compound Chen had identified, and led to his resignation last September.

    Typically, the public might not have learned any of these worrying details for months or years. Most institutions conduct misconduct investigations privately and then—if the federal government funded any of the affected research—forward the results to the relevant funding agencies. The agencies can then take their time in deciding how to respond, and when to release the findings.

    In this case, however, OSU officials opted to short-circuit that process. In their report, they announced Chen was guilty of "deviating from the accepted practices of image handling and figure generation and intentionally falsifying data" in 14 instances. OSU recommended all eight affected papers be retracted immediately.

  • South Korean university’s AI work for defense contractor draws boycott

    sentry robot freezes a hypothetical intruder

    An autonomous sentry freezes an “intruder” during a 2006 test of the weapons system by the South Korean military.

    KIM DONG-JOO/AFP/Getty Images

    Fifty-seven scientists from 29 countries have called for a boycott of a top South Korean university because of a new center aimed at using artificial intelligence (AI) to bolster national security. The AI scientists claim the university is developing autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” whereas university officials say the goal of the research is to improve existing defense systems.

    On 20 February, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, South Korea, celebrated its new Research Center for the Convergence of National Defense and Artificial Intelligence. A web page that has since been removed by the university said the center, to be operated jointly with South Korean defense company Hanwha Systems, would work on “AI-based command and decision systems, composite navigation algorithms for mega-scale unmanned undersea vehicles, AI-based smart aircraft training systems, and AI-based smart object tracking and recognition technology.”

    Toby Walsh, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, who organized the boycott, fears that the research will be applied to autonomous weapons, which can include unmanned flying drones or submarines, cruise missiles, autonomously operated sentry guns, or battlefield robots. “It is regrettable that a prestigious institution like KAIST looks to accelerate the arms race to develop such weapons,” an open letter from the boycotters states. “We therefore publicly declare that we will boycott all collaborations with any part of KAIST until such time as the President of KAIST provides assurances, which we have sought but not received, that the Center will not develop autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.”

  • 2018 March for Science will be far more than street protests

    March for Science sign from 2017

    March for Science organizers want next week’s event to leave a legacy beyond abandoned signs.

    JEFF MALET PHOTOGRAPHY/NEWSCOM

    The March for Science has matured. It may even have outgrown its name.

    What began last year as a primal scream against newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump and his policies shows signs of becoming a movement. This year’s second worldwide event, set for 14 April, will likely feature fewer sites and smaller crowds. But the passion remains, transforming a single day of grassroots mass protest into sustained global expressions of support for science.

    The overall coordinating body, for example, has evolved and diversified its activities. The 230,000 people on its mailing list now regularly receive requests to sign online petitions to legislators on timely topics; the most recent letter, for example, urges Congress to support research on gun violence. They can also participate in a Vote for Science campaign that highlights a different issue each month—last month agriculture, this month the environment, next month health—and ends with an “ask” of elected officials.

  • U.S. leprosy budget cut closes clinics, threatens research

    armadillo

    Many new U.S. leprosy cases likely are somehow transmitted from armadillos to humans.

    Greg McCormick

    Leprosy, a much feared and stigmatized scourge in history, affects a tiny number of Americans, but Congress’s decision to make a modest cut to its annual budget for care and research will have an outsize negative impact, leaders in the field warn.

    About 3300 people in the United States need care for leprosy, also known as Hansen disease, which can damage nerves and the eyes, discolor skin, and cause disfigurement if untreated. Although antibiotics can clear the infection with Mycobacterium leprae, the causative bacterium, U.S. clinicians often have difficulty diagnosing this rare and confusing disease. As a result, patients sometimes do not receive proper diagnosis and care until they suffer from paralysis, blindness, clawed hands, and a collapsed nose.

    The World Health Organization estimates that about 200,000 people globally still suffer from the disease, with the majority of new cases in Brazil and India. The United States has fewer than 200 newly diagnosed cases a year. Some cases are thought to occur because of transmission from armadillos, which live in southern states and are naturally infected with M. leprae. The exact route of transmission from armadillos to humans is not well understood, but it may have to do with coming in contact with the animals or with soil that’s contaminated with their feces or urine.

  • Cancer researcher at The Ohio State University resigns following multiple misconduct findings

    aerial view of Ohio state University campus in Columbus, Ohio

    The Ohio State University’s campus in Columbus

    iStock.com/aceshot

    A cancer researcher has resigned from The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus after the institution determined he had committed misconduct in eight papers. His work in designing anticancer compounds had led to millions of dollars in funding and multiple patents, as well as two compounds in clinical trials.

    According to a 75-page report released today by OSU, a committee determined that cancer scientist Ching-Shih Chen was guilty of “deviating from the accepted practices of image handling and figure generation and intentionally falsifying data” in 14 instances in eight papers. The report recommends that Chen work with co-authors and journals to produce an “immediate retraction” of those eight papers, published between 2006 and 2014.

    The investigation also prompted OSU to temporarily shut down research involving a compound developed by Chen; a phase Ib trial was suspended in June 2017. “Patient safety was never compromised,” according to the university. 

  • Emmanuel Macron wants France to become a leader in AI and avoid ‘dystopia’

    President of France, Emmanuel MACRON in crowd

    To avoid misuse of artificial intelligence, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed setting up a panel akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    NICOLAS NICOLAS MESSYASZ/SIPA/AP IMAGES

    France is going big on artificial intelligence (AI). President Emmanuel Macron yesterday announced a €1.5 billion plan to turn his country into a world leader for AI research and innovation, a field dominated by the United States and China. It calls for a hefty investment, a handful of specialized institutes, a focus on ethics and open data, and a call to recruit foreign researchers and French scientists working abroad to the country, not unlike Macron’s 2017 “Make Our Planet Great Again” climate initiative.

    Macron presented his plans in a lengthy speech peppered with erudite references and touches of humor at the end of the“AI for Humanity” conference in Paris. Turning the country into an AI leader would allow France to use AI for the public good and ensure that a “Promethean” promise doesn’t become a “dystopia,” he said.

    “The timing couldn’t be more perfect,” says Alessandro Curioni, vice president of Europe and director of IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, who attended the event in Paris. “We are becoming awash in data and we simply can’t keep up. The only answer is AI,” he says.

  • NIH moves to punish researchers who violate confidentiality in proposal reviews

    the NIH building
    Lydia Polimeni, National Institutes of Health

    When a scientist sends a grant application to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and it goes through peer review, the entire process is supposed to be shrouded in secrecy. But late last year, NIH officials disclosed that they had discovered that someone involved in the proposal review process had violated confidentiality rules designed to protect its integrity. As a result, the agency announced in December 2017 that it would rereview dozens of applications that might have been compromised.

    Now, NIH says it has completed re-evaluating 60 applications and has also begun taking disciplinary action against researchers who broke its rules. “We are beginning a process of really coming down on reviewers and applicants who do anything to break confidentiality of review,” Richard Nakamura, director of NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR), said at a meeting of the center’s advisory council earlier this week. (CSR manages most of NIH’s peer reviews.) Targets could include “applicants who try to influence reviewers … [or] try to get favors from reviewers.”

    “We hope that in the next few months we will have several cases” of violations that can be shared publicly, Nakamura told ScienceInsider. He said these cases are “rare, but it is very important that we make it even more rare.”

  • India taps biologist as new science adviser

    Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan

    Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, India’s new science adviser, in 2015

    British High Commission, New Delhi/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    India has a new science adviser. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Monday tapped Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, a molecular biologist and head of India’s Department of Biotechnology, to fill the post. He replaces physicist Rajagopala Chidambaram, a longtime adviser to India’s governments and a key figure in the development of India’s nuclear weapons program.

    “It is a great responsibility. … We have our task cut out,” VijayRaghavan tweeted after the appointment was announced. “Connect science to society and society to science. [Science and technology] can be the fulcrum for change.”

    The position of principal scientific adviser (PSA) has taken on greater prominence under Modi, who has disbanded other science advisory bodies and has tended to rely on the science adviser and science and environment minister for technical advice.

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