Elsewhere in Science, 12 December 2014

Peer Review

Credit: AJC1/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

The big policy news this week is the U.S. spending bill, which last night survived a vote in the House of Representatives unscathed but by just 13 votes. It is considered likely to pass the Senate. ScienceInsider has been analyzing the science spending provisions of the deal since it was proposed.

► On Tuesday, David Malakoff and Jeffrey Mervis presented a first look at the budget, noting that NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive small increases, while the research budget of the Department of Energy would remain flat. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive a budget of $30 billion, an increase of $150 million, losing ground after inflation. The bill also forbids adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list.

► On Wednesday, Mervis provided a more detailed look at the NSF budget. Social science funding—which some House Republicans would like to ban—is safe for another year. Especially notable for some Science Careers readers is that although NSF “fared extremely well compared with most federal agencies,” there may not be enough new money to boost stipends for its graduate research fellowships. The bill, Mervis said, “has surprisingly few directives on how NSF should spend its money.”

► Also on Wednesday, Eric Hand detailed the NASA budget. “For an agency regularly called ‘adrift’ without a mission, NASA will at least float through next year with a boatload of money for its science programs,” he wrote.

► Later, Jocelyn Kaiser posted an analysis of the proposed NIH budget, which, despite being flat overall, “contains modest increases for a few programs within the agency.” Among the winners is the National Institute on Aging, which will receive a 2.4% increase, with instructions to spend a “significant portion” of the new money on Alzheimer’s research. The bill includes some directives that research advocates are “eying warily.” NIH is instructed “to develop a new approach with actionable steps to reduce” the age at which researchers receive their first research grant, which currently is above 42. 

► In nonbudget news, stem cell researchers can add a new institute to their list of possible employers: the Allen Institute for Cell Science in Seattle, Washington, as Jennifer Couzin-Frankel reported on Monday. Seeded with $100 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, “the new institute … will embrace big-team science, bringing together cell biologists, mathematicians, computational biologists, and other specialists; and will seek to decipher a world whose complexity is still largely uncharted.”

► “Last month, BioMed Central, an open-access publisher, announced that in 2015 it will launch the journal Research Involvement and Engagement, which will closely collaborate with patients in all aspects of its editorial processes, including peer review,” Dalmeet Singh Chawla wrote on Wednesday. “The new journal aims to capture the contributions of nonacademics to scientific research.” According to Sophie Staniszewska of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, one of the two editors-in-chief for the new journal, “[h]aving experienced a certain medical condition makes patients ‘lay experts’ for that condition, and the journal aims to benefit from this.” For example, the journal “plans to have joint peer review, with each article typically being reviewed by at least one academic and one patient.”

► “New analyses of the hundreds of thousands of technical manuscripts submitted to arXiv, the repository of digital preprint articles, are offering some intriguing insights into the consequences—and geography—of scientific plagiarism,” wrote John Bohannon on Thursday at ScienceInsider. “It appears that copying text from other papers is more common in some nations than others, but the outcome is generally the same for authors who copy extensively: Their papers don’t get cited much.”

The paper presenting the results does not include a map of potential plagiarism, but the authors shared their data with ScienceInsider for additional analysis, revealing that “[r]esearchers from countries that submit the lion's share of arXiv papers—the United States, Canada, and a small number of industrialized countries in Europe and Asia—tend to plagiarize less often than researchers elsewhere. For example, more than 20% (38 of 186) of authors who submitted papers from Bulgaria were flagged, more than eight times the proportion from New Zealand (five of 207). In Japan, about 6% (269 of 4759) of submitting authors were flagged, compared with over 15% (164 out of 1054) from Iran.”

► On Thursday, Kelly Servick provided an update on the ongoing legal fight between PubPeer, a postpublication peer review website, and the author of one of the papers critiqued on the site. “Yesterday, lawyers for the website filed a motion to quash a subpoena filed on behalf of a cancer researcher who claims that PubPeer comments noting potential image irregularities in his publications cost him a lucrative new job. The researcher is suing the commenters for defamation, arguing they made baseless suggestions of misconduct. But PubPeer’s legal team … submitted an affidavit from an expert in scientific image analysis that concludes there were in fact irregularities in several of the researcher’s figures.”

►“[T]he Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has announced that it will launch a virtual biodiversity genomics institute to accelerate efforts to capture and catalog all the DNA from Earth’s flora and fauna,” Elizabeth Pennisi wrote today at ScienceInsider. “The Smithsonian is already devoting $10 million a year toward genomics research in evolutionary, diversity, conservation, and ecological studies. By formally tying all those efforts together, the Smithsonian hopes to ‘mobilize [its] internal troops’—about 100 scientists—to do even more, says John Kress, the Smithsonian’s interim under secretary for science.” 

► In this week’s Science, Robert Service profiles Jacqueline Barton, a California Institute of Technology chemist who “has racked up honors and critics in equal measure.” “[F]or decades, she has fought a battle with many of her biochemist colleagues over the properties of DNA and, more recently, her unorthodox proposal about how the body repairs damage to this vital molecule” using electricity, Service writes. “Barton says dealing with persistent criticism has been painful at times, but she insists she's only following the evidence. … That single-mindedness and her positive attitude have won her a legion of fans, particularly among her students.” 

► Finally, in this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life, postdocs Jessica Polka and Kristin Krukenberg argue:

To draw the best young minds to research and then keep them here, we need to change how we train scientists and how academic science gets done. More of the work should be done by staff scientists in stable positions and less of it by (fewer) trainees. We should move the career bottleneck from faculty to the postdoc or even to graduate school admissions. Training grants and fellowships should replace grant support for most trainees so that more can be invested in research grants without increasing the number of trainees and further glutting Ph.D.-level science labor markets. Such measures would have useful side effects: encouraging better training and intellectual independence. More important, they would improve young scientists' career prospects.

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