Elsewhere in Science, 19 September 2014

Each week, the Science family of publications publishes articles that are likely to be of interest to Science Careers readers. So, every Friday, we're pointing our readers toward articles that hold some relevance to careers in science and other technical fields. Note that many of the articles appearing in Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, and Science require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers), a Science subscription, or a site license.

► On Monday at ScienceInsider, Tania Rabesandratana reported that Swiss scientists are once again eligible to apply for European Research Council (ERC) research funding—including ERC Starting Grants—and other funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program, Europe’s 7-year science-funding blueprint. Swiss participation was suspended after the country passed a referendum restricting immigration.

► We’ve been tracking (via ScienceInsider) the story of James Doyle, the political scientist fired recently by Los Alamos National Laboratory after publishing a scholarly article questioning the value of nuclear weapons. On Monday, Jeffrey Mervis reported (at ScienceInsider) that U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials had “rejected Doyle’s petition to reverse or modify his dismissal.” However, a DOE watchdog will investigate whether his dismissal was due to the article’s publication or the views expressed in it. DOE has claimed that Doyle was dismissed for budgetary reasons.

► A new report from the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based American Academy of Arts & Sciences calls for renewed investment in science. On Tuesday, Neal Lane, who was director of the National Science Foundation under former President Bill Clinton, and Norm Augustine, a former CEO of Lockheed Martin, unveiled Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. The report calls, among other things, for increasing federal spending on research to 0.3% of  the gross domestic product (GDP); current federal research spending is about 0.19% of the GDP, Mervis reported at ScienceInsider. “We hope that this report will help start a conversation about the things that really matter,” Lane says.

On Thursday, Mervis posted an analysis of the report and the likely response, with comments from Bart Gordon, former chair of the science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. “There are two ways we can compete with the rest of the world,” Gordon explains. “If we compete on wages, which are less than $2 a day for half the people in the world, the standard of living for my 13-year-old daughter’s generation will be dramatically reduced. Or we can invest in research and innovation.”

Gordon, Mervis notes, has often made reference to his daughter, Peyton, as he has argued for more spending on research. Peyton “was only 4 years old when Gordon joined three lawmakers from both parties in asking the U.S. National Academies to describe the 10 most important steps the federal government should take to strengthen U.S. science,” Mervis wrote. “Its answer, in a report called Rising Above the Gathering Storm by a panel that Augustine chaired, emphasized the importance of research and science education.”

The title of the report, Mervis noted, “is meant to highlight the link between research and the country’s future prosperity. But the optics of the event were at odds with that forward-looking message.” Gordon, at 65, “was the most youthful of the seven people—all white males, to boot”—on the program of the event where the report was released. “[W]hile they all talked about a brighter future for the country, their physical appearance conveyed another message, namely, that America’s best days may be behind her. The homogeneous demographics also seemed out of place for a report that argues for a more diverse scientific workforce.” So, Mervis wondered, “Can the community make it happen before Peyton graduates from college?”

► On Wednesday at ScienceInsider, Kai Kupferschmidt interviewed virologist Heinz Feldmann, who had just “returned from 3 weeks in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, where he ran a diagnostic lab for a treatment center operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF),” testing for Ebola. Feldmann is a laboratory scientist who co-developed an experimental vaccine that is due to be tested soon and has worked in the field on several Ebola epidemics. At first glance, everything in Monrovia looked fairly normal. But once he got inside the clinic, that impression rapidly changed. “It is a disastrous situation,” he says.

► On Thursday at ScienceInsider, Aleszu Bajak reported on the 25th International Conference on Coffee Science meeting in the Eje Cafetero region of Colombia, “a verdant collage of deep gullies and mountainsides covered in thousands of small-scale coffee farms framed by banana trees.” The scientists are trying to figure out how to deal with coffee rust, a fungus that has cost Latin American coffee farmers an estimated $1 billion and cut some harvests by more than half. “Between copious coffee breaks, scientists announced several new molecular techniques to help combat this continental epidemic,” Bajak wrote.

► On Thursday at ScienceInsider, Kelly Servick wrote about a new incentive announced by the White House to confront drug-resistant bacteria: “a $20 million prize for a quick diagnostic test to recognize highly resistant infections.” The administration also “announced a national strategy that sets goals to be achieved by 2020, including better surveillance of highly resistant infections, faster development of new antibiotics, and more judicious use of existing drugs.”

► Today, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, John Bohannon reported the winners of the latest Ig Nobel Prizes. An example: “After observing 70 dogs defecate 1893 times and urinate 5582 times over a 2-year period, … researchers noticed that the dogs sometimes aligned the axis of their bodies with the geomagnetic field.” That research was published by Vlastimil Hart of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, in Frontiers in Zoology. Their hypothesis: Pooping dogs are calibrating their inner gyroscopes. Another award winner: “Seeing Jesus in toast,” published online this past January in the journal Cortex.

► In this week’s Science editorial, Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt announced that Science Advances, the new open-access Science journal covering all the sciences, is now accepting submissions.

►  When genomicist Neil Hall proposed a “Kardashian Index,” or K-index, for scientists, he meant it in a light-hearted way, but he “sparked an online tempest,” wrote Jia You in this week’s Science. The K-index is a comparison of the number of Twitter followers with citations. “Scientists with a high score on the index, named after the reality TV star Kim Kardashian, one of the most popular celebrities on the social media platform, should ‘get off Twitter’ and write more papers, suggested Hall, who works at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom,” she wrote. “Hall tactfully declined to provide a K-index for anyone specific,” but this week Science did the job, compiling a list of scientists with the most Twitter followers and reporting their K-index. Physicists top the Twitter list: At the top is Neil deGrasse Tyson, with 2,400,000 Twitter followers and only 151 citations, resulting in a K-index of 11,129. Brian Cox is second at 1,440,000 Twitter followers, but with more than 33,000 citations, his K-index is an order of magnitude better, at 1188. Richard Dawkins is the only other scientist with more than a million Twitter followers; his 49,631 citations yield a K-index of 740.

The best K-index in the top 20 (in terms of Twitter followers) belongs to Eric Topol, who once served on a Science Careers panel at a AAAS annual meeting. There’s an updated list (with some corrections) of the top-50 Twitter stars on Science’s news site.

► This week’s Science includes a profile by Virginia Morell of Russell Gray, the self-described “man of enthusiasms” who is using evolutionary biology to reshape the fields of animal cognition and historical linguistics, both “long regarded by many as black boxes, impenetrable to the scientific method.” 

► Finally, in this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Sandy Becker tells how her rhubarb pie recipe led to a long and fulfilling science career.

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