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, Jeffrey Mervis passed along the disappointing news that the authors of that Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) commentary that pointed out “systemic flaws” in U.S. biomedical research have decided that they were too ambitious and need to go slow. “We were naive,” said Harold Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute, after a presentation to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). “We were hoping to pick off some low-hanging fruit.” Varmus was addressing PCAST along with co-authors Shirley Tilghman, former president of Princeton University, and Mark Kirchner of Harvard Medical School; the fourth author, Bruce Alberts, the former editor of Science, was unable to attend. The PNAS article asserted that the current “hypercompetitive system” drives away the best students, “making it difficult for seasoned investigators to produce their best work.” The article also said that low success rates have spawned “conservative, short-term thinking” throughout the community, and that “time for reflection is a disappearing luxury.” Apparently, though, there is too little consensus on these issues for their proposals to go forward.
► Also on Monday at ScienceInsider, Kelly Servick reported that a researcher who lost a tenured faculty job offer after comments were posted on the anonymous peer-review site PubPeer intends to press legal charges. But first he has to find out who to sue—who wrote the comments—which won’t be easy.
Fazlul Sarkar, a cancer researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, had an offer revoked from the University of Mississippi in a 19 June letter; the letter “made it crystal clear the PubPeer postings were the reason they were rescinding the job offer,” Nicholas Roumel, an attorney representing Sarkar, told Science.
► How open-minded should scientists be? There’s something to be said for remaining receptive to unorthodox ideas, but does every notion, no matter how seemingly kooky, deserve a hearing? “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),” Martin Enserink wrote at ScienceInsider Tuesday, “is potentially wading into hot water next month when it hosts a meeting set up by Nobelist Luc Montagnier to discuss his controversial research on what has become known as ‘the memory of water.’ The afternoon at the agency's Paris headquarters will feature talks about the virologist’s widely ridiculed idea that water can carry information via an electromagnetic imprint from DNA and other molecules.”
“ ‘Shame on @UNESCO for hosting this absurd pseudoscience conference about Montagnier's nonsense,’ tweeted Andy Lewis, who hosts the blog The Quackometer, last week.” “ ‘This is classic pathological science—dredging around in the noise of irreproducible experiments by practitioners whose expertise is not in these fields in order to support hypotheses that fly in the face of well-established scientific principles,’ Lewis writes in an e-mail to Science.”
“We're just fulfilling one of UNESCO's roles, which is to offer an intellectual space for ideas to be discussed,” says John Crowley, head of UNESCO's Research, Policy and Foresight Section. “No more, no less.”
► The U.S. federal government will soon start tracking academic researchers who work with one of 15 dangerous microbes or toxins, wrote Jocelyn Kaiser at ScienceInsider, thanks to a new rule announced on Wednesday. Researchers who work with one of these 15 substances will be expected to report their work to special committees to be set up at their institutions. If the committee agrees that the project constitutes “dual use research of concern,” or DURC, it must notify the government agency funding the work within 30 days and submit a plan for mitigating risk within 90 days.
► There’s a new organization in town (Washington, D.C.) that intends to lobby the government for larger National Institutes of Health research budgets. ACT for NIH: Advancing Cures Today is supported by real estate investor Jed Manocherian, “whose time on the Board of Visitors of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston stoked his concern about NIH’s past decade of flat funding,” wrote Kaiser and David Malakoff in a Thursday ScienceInsider post. The organization’s advisory board includes Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore. Kaiser and Malakoff interviewed Patrick White, a biomedical science lobbying veteran who will be in charge of the new organization.
► In this week’s Science, Gabriel Popkin profiled Marten Scheffer, the Wageningen University ecologist whose work on cloudy Dutch lakes led to a classic paper in 1993 in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Popkin calls Scheffer “a leading, and sometimes unorthodox, thinker on the science of tipping points,” also known as catastrophe theory. Scheffer has “become the intellectual hub for a global network of scholars who meet for freewheeling discussions, often at a retreat center he built on his family farm in the Netherlands. The collaborations are carrying Scheffer far from the rural lakes where he started, to efforts to identify tipping points in tropical forests, global climate, and communities of gut microbes, and even in the onset of migraine headaches and depression.” Popkin wrote that “when Scheffer received the Spinoza Prize, a €2.5 million award that is the Netherlands' most prestigious science honor,” instead of giving a predictable speech, he “pulled out a guitar and played an original acoustic composition from Transitions, one of 15 albums he has recorded.”
► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Rodica Stan wrote about the many borders she has pushed across in pursuit of a scientific career.