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Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

  • Journals to solve ‘John Smith’ common name problem by requiring author IDs

    Which of the Alexander Smiths above is the author of a paper on hyperkähler geometry? The ORCID naming tagging system aims to solve mysteries like these. (It’s the Smith in the middle.)

    Which of the Alexander Smiths above is the author of a paper on hyperkähler geometry? The ORCID naming tagging system aims to solve mysteries like these. (It’s the Smith in the middle.)

    (LEFT-RIGHT): COURTESY OF ALEXANDER K. SMITH/UCSF; COURTESY OF ALEXANDER J. SMITH/UWEC; CHARLIE RIEDEL/AP IMAGES

    Name ambiguity. It's one of those problems that you're born with. If you're a Williams, Johnson, or Smith—the most common surnames in the United States—it can be tricky for people to find you on the Internet, especially if you also have a common first name, such as Michael, Mary, James, or Jennifer. For academic researchers, whose careers are measured largely by authorship on papers, name ambiguity is a killer. Wouldn't it be great if all scientists had a unique identifier that mapped to all of their papers, projects, and grants?

    Wait no longer. The scientific community seems to be coalescing at last around a single researcher identification standard. In an open letter released online today, some of the largest academic publishers and scientific societies are announcing that they will not just encourage, but ultimately require, researchers to sign up with ORCID, a nonprofit organization that uniquely identifies people with a 16-digit number.

  • Does North Korea really have an H-bomb?

    The United States conducted the world’s first successful hydrogen bomb test in 1952.

    The United States conducted the world’s first successful hydrogen bomb test in 1952.

    CTBTO/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    North Korea claims to have detonated its first hydrogen bomb yesterday. But experts are skeptical that the pariah state detonated—not an ordinary atomic device—but a much more powerful “H-bomb of justice,” as state media is now calling it. So what kind of device did the reclusive regime test? And how can nuclear jockeys make such a determination from afar?

    There’s no doubt that North Korea detonated something near where it conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. Seismic stations yesterday recorded a magnitude-5.1 earthquake with a waveform nearly identical to those registered after North Korea’s earlier tests, supporting its claim. The waveform confirms that an explosion triggered yesterday’s earthquake, says Brian Stump, a seismologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. “It could be a chemical or nuclear explosion, but because of the magnitude it is likely a nuclear explosion,” he says. Researchers are now “chewing through the waveforms” registered by seismometers in the region “to see what’s different from 2013,” says Andy Frassetto, a seismologist with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology consortium in Washington, D.C.

  • Brain game–maker fined $2 million for Lumosity false advertising

    Brain game–maker Lumosity fined $2 million for false advertising

    REIGH LEBLANC/FLICKR (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Lumos Labs, the company that produces the popular “brain-training” program Lumosity, yesterday agreed to pay a $2 million settlement to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for running deceptive advertisements. Lumos had claimed that its online games can help users perform better at work and in school, and stave off cognitive deficits associated with serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress.

    The $2 million settlement will be used to compensate Lumosity consumers who were misled by false advertising, says Michelle Rusk, a spokesperson with FTC in Washington, D.C. The company will also be required to provide an easy way to cancel autorenewal billing for the service, which includes online and mobile app subscriptions, with payments ranging from $14.95 monthly to lifetime memberships for $299.95. Before consumers can access the games, a pop-up screen will alert them to FTC’s order and allow them to avoid future billing, Rusk says.

  • Vaccine priority survey

    Rotating pillars spin vials for inspection at a manufacturing plant run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

    Rotating pillars spin vials for inspection at a manufacturing plant run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

    © Ken Garrett

    A Science feature this week describes the concerted effort underway to more aggressively develop many vaccines that wind up sitting in laboratory freezers because of a lack of marketplace. Below is an expanded table of the survey of vaccine experts noted in the feature.

  • Special report: Ebola's thin harvest

    NIAID

    Since 29 November, not a single new Ebola case has been reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone, or Liberia. If no new cases pop up, the world will be able to declare on 14 January that the 2-year Ebola epidemic has ended at last, after more than 28,600 cases and 11,300 deaths.

    Victory would also mean the end of an unprecedented era in Ebola research. The tragedy offered a unique opportunity: Never before had the disease affected enough people to allow researchers to test Ebola drugs and vaccines in a real-world setting. As the number of cases exploded in mid-2014, they set in motion a vast research program that operated at breakneck speed.

  • U.S. oversight of risky pathogen research could be better, draft report concludes

    MERS coronavirus particles

    MERS coronavirus particles

    NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

    Just a “small subset” of studies that manipulate dangerous pathogens to give them new abilities pose potentially grave risks to the public, an expert advisory group to the U.S. government concludes in a new draft report released today. But the current patchwork of U.S. policies aimed at regulating such risky experiments “is not sufficient,” and “may require supplementation,” the report concludes. And it says there are still some so-called gain of function (GOF) experiments that may never justify the risk.

    Some outside scientists, however, say the report’s apparent endorsement of greater government oversight of such studies may not be enough to ensure public safety. “As usual the devil is in the details,” Harvard University epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch wrote in an email to ScienceInsider. “I am pleased to see an acknowledgment that some experiments should not be done, but fear that the exaggerated perception of benefits, and the flaws in the existing processes to weigh risks and benefits, would together neutralize that acknowledgment into a de facto ‘anything goes’ approach.”

  • ScienceInsider’s top 15 stories of 2015

    Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) jarred geoscientists this year with his claim that earth science isn't a "hard science," and his effort to curb NASA spending in the field.

    Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) jarred geoscientists this year with his claim that earth science isn't a "hard science," and his effort to curb NASA spending in the field.

    Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-sa 2.0)

    The politics of climate change, controversy over a sexist comment made by a peer reviewer, and a reporter’s reflections on a complex cancer research story were among ScienceInsider’s most-read items this year. Without further ado, here is our top 15 list for 2015:

  • South Korea finally MERS-free

    An artist's conception of the MERS virus.

    Scinceside/Wikimedia

    Seven months after South Korea identified its first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the country is calling the outbreak officially over as of midnight tonight there. The final patient infected with the MERS virus passed away on 25 Novembernot from MERS but from the malignant lymphoma that had also prevented him from clearing the virus. Strictly following World Health Organization guidelines, Korean authorities waited 28 daystwice as long as the 14-day incubation period for the MERS virusto declare an official end to the outbreak.

    The last patient, a 35-year-old male, was already suffering from lymphoma when he had contact with a MERS patient on 27 May. Falling ill on 6 June, he was hospitalized at the Samsung Medical Center and confirmed positive for MERS on 7 June. He was later transferred to Seoul National University Hospital where he continued to show signs of  the virus until successive tests on 30 September and 1 October were negative. A 2 October Ministry of Health press release noted that 116 days was the longest time that a confirmed MERS patient has ever remained positive. "His underlying immunocompromised condition kept his body from getting rid of the virus,” the ministry said. 

  • Updated: NASA delays Mars InSight mission

    Seismometers in a vacuum sealed container (on the ground, left), used to listen for tremors on Mars, was one of the main science instruments on the suspended NASA InSight mission.

    Seismometers in a vacuum sealed container (on the ground, left), used to listen for tremors on Mars, was one of the main science instruments on the suspended NASA InSight mission.

    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

    NASA has suspended its next mission to Mars after problems with a French-built seismological instrument could not be fixed in time for the scheduled launch. The mission, a lander called InSight that was to listen for tremors on Mars as a way of understanding the planet’s interior, will not launch in March 2016, the agency said today. NASA has not announced a new launch date, but because of the relative orbits of Mars and Earth, the agency will have to wait at least 26 months before it can try to launch again.

    A new launch date is not a forgone conclusion. The agency will review designs to fix the problem with the instrument, and also estimate the cost of putting the mission on ice for 2 years—and whether that can be paid for. It could take a couple months to reach that decision point, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said during a teleconference today. “We either decide to go forward, or we don’t.”

  • Q&A: John Culberson’s unique vision for science

    Representative John Culberson (R-TX) huddles earlier this year with Charles Elachi (left) and Sam Thurman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, during the attempted launch of a satellite that measures soil moisture.

    Representative John Culberson (R-TX) huddles earlier this year with Charles Elachi (left) and Sam Thurman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, during the attempted launch of a satellite that measures soil moisture.

    NASA SMAP/T. Wynne

    Representative John Culberson (R–TX) is ready to “do whatever it takes” to keep the United States ahead of the rest of the world in science. But is the U.S. scientific community on board with that?

    Culberson is still fine-tuning that strategy as he completes his first year as chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Justice (CSJ) appropriations subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, which sets the budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Commerce’s sizable investment in research. However, one thing is already clear: His scientific priorities so far have left many scientists scratching their heads, if not shaking their fists.

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