Elsewhere in Science, 21 November 2014

Data Check

Credit: Open Doors 2014/Institute of International Education

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) or a site license.

► Science can lead you to a number of career options—even politics and the management of a major science-based nonprofit. In a Tuesday ScienceInsider, Jeffrey Mervis reported that “Rush Holt, a physicist, educator, and eight-term Democratic member of Congress, has been named the new CEO of AAAS. … He will succeed Alan Leshner, a neuroscientist who is stepping down this winter after leading AAAS since 2001.” Science Careers interviewed Holt in 2006. You can read that interview here.

► In a Tuesday ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser reported that the “ ‘pause’ in federal funding for virology studies that involve tweaking influenza, MERS, and SARS viruses in ways that could make them more transmissible or pathogenic in mammals” has left “work at 14 institutions in limbo.” The order, made by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services, states that researchers studying these topics should put their work on hold “while experts spend a year hashing out the risks and benefits of the studies and developing a policy for when to allow them,” Kaiser wrote.

Researchers are feeling the effects of the pause, and they’re not happy. “ ‘Our feeling is that the likelihood [of harm from studies with the PR8 strain] is exceedingly slim,’ says Walter Orenstein, who oversees Emory’s NIH [National Institutes of Health]-funded influenza research center. ‘But it’s something for the NIH to decide.’ ”

► On Tuesday, ScienceInsider invited Institute of International Education veteran Peggy Blumenthal to explore trends in international students obtaining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees in the United States, focusing on China and India, the two countries that supply the most students to the United States. The number of Chinese students pursuing undergraduate degrees is rising rapidly, while the number pursuing graduate degrees has plateaued. The picture for India is almost the opposite, with a growing population of students pursuing graduate degrees and a small, stable number obtaining undergraduate degrees.

According to Blumenthal, more Chinese undergraduates are coming to the United States to avoid the intense, highly competitive Chinese education system. “A growing number of parents choose to remove their children from that pressure cooker, Blumenthal says, and look for alternatives abroad.” For graduate students, though, opportunities in China are increasing. “ ‘China has pumped enormous resources into its graduate education capacity’ across thousands of universities,” Blumenthal says, and those universities have begun to adopt more Western-style research practices.

In contrast, “India’s investment in higher education hasn’t yet had much effect on graduate education, Blumenthal says. … ‘[T]here’s been very little effort to upgrade the quality of the faculty.’ At the same time, it’s becoming harder for graduates of India’s universities to follow the traditional path of doing their further training in Britain or Australia, as many of their professors had done in previous generations.” Together, these factors make the United States an appealing option for graduate education. As for the continuing low presence of Indian students pursuing U.S. undergraduate degrees, “[t]op-performing Indian students are well-served at the undergraduate level by the country’s network of elite technology institutes,” so there is little need or desire to send students abroad.

► In an editorial in this week’s issue, Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt gave an update on Science in the Classroom, “an online resource of annotated research papers published in Science, with associated teaching materials designed to help pre-college and college students understand how science moves forward as a structured way of revealing the laws of nature.” The project, which launched last year, covers a number of subjects and reaches “about 3000 users per month.” McNutt put out a call for more “contributors who are graduate students or Ph.D.-level scientists with a solid understanding of the scientific method and a talent for translating specialized terms into language that is accessible to pre-college and college students. Volunteers are asked to contribute about 10 hours to annotate a scientific article.”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Ranjan Mukherjee explains why, after 3 decades in science, he is launching a career as a writer.

► In a letter in this week’s Science, K. Brad Wray of the State University of New York, Oswego, responded to the topic of an article titled “A call for NIH youth movement. “Research suggests that scientists are most productive, and most productive of innovative research, when they are middle-aged, not when they are under 35,” he writes.

► On Thursday, new chairs for two House of Representatives spending panels that “hold sway over large chunks of federal research spending” were announced. Representative Tom Cole (R–OK) will chair the appropriations subcommittee that funds NIH, replacing retiring Representative Jack Kingston (R–GA). Representative John Culberson (R–TX) will succeed retiring Representative Frank Wolf (R–VA) as chair of the subcommittee that funds the “National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

► In big news for proponents of open-access publishing, today at ScienceInsider Kaiser announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “plans to require that the researchers it funds publish only in immediate open-access journals.” The rule goes into effect in January 2017, so “until then, grantees can publish in subscription-based journals as long as their paper is freely available within 12 months.”

“ ‘By reinforcing the global health community’s commitment to sharing research data and information, we can accelerate the development of new solutions to tackle infectious diseases, cut maternal and child mortality, and reduce malnutrition in the world’s poorest places,’ wrote Trevor Mundel, president of the foundation’s Global Health Division, on the group’s website on 20 November.”

► The House of Representatives approved two bills “that would change how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) obtains and uses scientific data and advice,” Puneet Kollipara wrote today. “The bills aren’t likely to become law this year, but they are fueling an intense political battle that is likely to resurface when the new Congress convenes in January.”

One bill targets the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a federally chartered board that advises the agency. The bill would “require the agency to make SAB’s membership ‘fairly balanced,’ add more public comment opportunities, require more acknowledgment of dissenting panelists’ views, bar panelists from discussing their own research, and limit nonscientific advice from the panel.” The other bill would “require that the data from any study that EPA draws upon to inform its regulations, risk assessments, and guidance documents be ‘reproducible’ and released publicly as long as the law doesn’t forbid it.”

The bills’ supporters argue that “they would increase transparency in how EPA uses data to justify its regulations and result in better, more balanced scientific advice for the agency.” “Opponents, however, say the bills are thinly disguised efforts to make EPA’s job more difficult,” warning that they “would grind SAB to a halt” and “drastically cut the number of studies that EPA would be allowed to use in developing rules.”

► President Barack Obama’s Thursday night address about his executive action on immigration “included two nuggets of interest to the research community,” David Malakoff wrote this morning. The White House plans to “expand and extend” the Optional Practical Training program, which allows students to work in the United States for up to 29 months while on student visas and to “expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S.” Specific details have not yet been announced.

This afternoon, the post was updated to include information on another research-relevant nugget: changes affecting the H-1B visa program.

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