MERS coronavirus particle.

CREDIT: NIAID/flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Elsewhere in Science, 19 December 2014

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.

►Starting 1 January, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) will have a new grant process, “theatrically titled ‘CIRM 2.0,’” Kelly Servick reported last Friday at ScienceInsider. “A key feature of the plan is a rolling application process, which will replace the system of proposal windows that opened and closed somewhat unpredictably. Groups can apply for funding at any time, and applications will be reviewed monthly … [CIRM President Randy] Mills has also vowed to shorten the time from application to funding from an average of about 2 years to 120 days, and groups must start work on a funded project within 45 days of approval.”

►The recent breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations is “expected to immediately loosen restrictions on U.S. and Cuban scientists getting together for joint research,” Richard Stone and Allie Wilkinson wrote on Wednesday. “It may also pave the way for U.S. organizations to sponsor workshops and meetings in Cuba and to export state-of-the-art instruments to Cuba, activities now essentially prohibited under U.S. law.” While much still remains to be seen regarding the effects of these policy changes, “[s]cientists are already celebrating.”

► In another Wednesday ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser reported that scientists who attended a 2-day meeting at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., “earlier this week to debate the risks and benefits of dangerous virus experiments found little to agree on, except for two points: A moratorium on U.S. funding for certain experiments should probably not cover studies of the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a novel virus infecting people in the Middle East; and both sides worried that the U.S. government’s plans to quantify the risks and benefits of these experiments in the next 6 months seems unrealistic.”

Then on Thursday, Kaiser reported (in an update) that “NIH confirmed … that all five projects working on a mouse model for MERS have been exempted from the pause. Two influenza studies have also been granted an exception; no requests for an exemption have been denied.”

►Also on Wednesday, the results were released for the Research Excellence Framework, “an influential evaluation of university research” in the United Kingdom that is “periodic and typically controversial,” Erik Stokstad reported. “The detailed peer review of 154 universities in the United Kingdom shows overall improvements in research since the previous assessment in 2008.”

The scope of the evaluation was massive. “Over this year, more than 1100 experts evaluated the work of more than 52,000 academics, examining 191,150 papers or other research products. In addition, universities submitted nearly 7000 case studies demonstrating the societal impact of their research. Universities were also scored for their ‘research environment,’ including strategy, facilities, and professional development.” The results can confer prestige, and additional funding, to the research departments that perform well.

► According to a Thursday ScienceInsider, it could soon be easier for geoscientists to find data on their research topics. Oceanographer Peter Wiebe of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts is working with a group of computer scientists to “lay the groundwork for a smarter academic search engine that would help geoscientists find the exact data sets and publications they want in the blink of an eye, instead of spending hours scrolling through pages of irrelevant results on Google Scholar,” Jia You wrote. The project, called GeoLink, is “part of EarthCube, an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation … to upgrade cyberinfrastructure for the geosciences.”

Wiebe began working on the project because he views current data centers as “black holes.” “The data go in, but it’s very hard to figure out what’s in there and to get it out,” he says. Time will tell if this project solves that problem.

►NASA and the NSF “received healthy raises” in the 2015 federal budget, Jeffrey Mervis and David Malakoff wrote in this week’s issue of Science. NASA’s science office budget was increased from $5.15 billion to $5.24 billion and NSF’s budget was bumped up from $7.17 billion to $7.34 billion. “Researchers had braced for the worst after a budget deal struck last year allowed for essentially no growth in the discretionary portion of the 2015 budget, which funds most science agencies. Against that backdrop, many research agencies did surprisingly well, although the largest, the National Institutes of Health, faces an essentially flat budget.”

►One item NASA’s increased budget is saving from the chopping block, as Mervis reported on Thursday, is an education program to put teachers “on a Boeing 747, modified to hold a 2.5-meter telescope, that serves as NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). They have used that experience working alongside scientists—enhanced by additional training before and after their flights—to inform and excite students about the world around them.” The recently approved budget “restores funding for what NASA calls education and public outreach (E/PO) programs operated by SOFIA and dozens of other scientific missions. Many educators are relieved, but are also watching closely as the agency reshuffles some of its E/PO programs.”

► “A rift has opened between officials in the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program and the research community it supports,” Adrian Cho reported in this week’s issue. “The fusion program has come under intense budget pressure as officials scrounge to pay for the U.S. share of ITER, the gargantuan international experiment to show that controlled fusion can produce more energy than it consumes. … With ITER squeezing the rest of the program, many researchers say that Edmund Synakowski, DOE's associate director for FES, and his staff exclude them from the decision-making process.” Proposed solutions include pulling the U.S. out of ITER or moving fusion research to a different program within DOE, but “[b]arring such radical moves, FES officials and researchers must get beyond their current impasse. Some observers say that means Synakowski must go.”

► In an April ScienceInsider, Servick reported the retraction of a 2012 paper on “the regenerative powers of the human heart” that was published in the journal Circulation.  The paper’s “corresponding author was Piero Anversa, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.” The decision was made after an “institutional review by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital … determined that the data are sufficiently compromised that a retraction is warranted.” Servick also noted that The Lancet issued an “expression of concern” about another one of Anversa’s papers.

Then in a Wednesday ScienceInsider, Servick reported “that Anversa and a Harvard associate professor in his lab, Annarosa Leri, are suing the hospital and Harvard Medical School in a U.S. District Court for an unspecified amount. They claim the investigations harmed their reputations and cost them millions by derailing a deal to sell their stem cell company, Autologous/Progenital.”

Today, Servick reported that “[t]he complaint alleges that Anversa and Leri were unaware of any misconduct and lays blame on Jan Kajstura, the first author on the retracted paper and a former member of a lab headed by Anversa.” This brings up important questions about “who bears final responsibility for possible misconduct.”

“ ‘In the abstract, I think everyone agrees that a principle investigator has to take responsibility for whatever goes on in his or her lab,’ says Ferric Fang, a microbiologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has published several analyses of retractions, misconduct, and the scientific enterprise.”

► In the latest development in the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cell controversy, Dennis Normile reported in ScienceInsider, today, that “[a] Japanese team announced … in Tokyo that it has been unable to reproduce … [the STAP method], despite working directly with the lead author on the Nature papers reporting the breakthrough method. That researcher, Haruko Obokata, also [on Friday] resigned from the RIKEN [CDB].”

► Last week, we posted a Q&A with Gregory Petsko of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Petsko chaired the National Academies’ committee that, on 10 December, issued The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited, the sequel to Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers.

This week’s In Brief section features “Three Q’s” from that interview. You can read the full story here.

► In Books et al., Andrew Robinson, author of Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity, reviewed The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, which is a series of print archives currently [consisting] of about 1000 writings, drafts, speeches, notebook and diary entries, lectures, notes, and calculations—both published and unpublished. It also contains Einstein's correspondence: some 12,500 letters written by him and some 16,500 letters written to him.” In the review, Robinson says that the search functionality and other aspects of the site are “impressive,” and "[i]t is difficult to imagine what more could be required, even by the most specialized researcher.”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life, Karen Perkins explains how a chance encounter with a fern led her to a science career.

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