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Elsewhere in Science, 27 March 2015

President Obama at the White House science fair
Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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.

► Last year, we pointed to a ScienceInsider post by Kelly Servick that detailed the story of Fazlul Sarkar, a researcher who sued anonymous posters on PubPeer after claiming “that anonymous comments suggesting misconduct in his research caused [the University of Mississippi] to revoke its [job] offer.”

Last Friday, Servick reported that “[e]arlier this month, Wayne County Circuit Judge Sheila Gibson mostly sided with PubPeer, but requested a separate hearing to discuss a comment from one user. It describes reporting discrepancies in Sarkar’s papers to Wayne State officials and receiving a response from the school’s secretary to the board of governors: ‘Thank you for your e-mail. … As you are aware, scientific misconduct investigations are by their nature confidential, and Wayne would not be able to comment on whether an inquiry into your allegations is under way … .’ ”

From the evidence, “the judge inferred that the anonymous poster had accused Sarkar of misconduct in a previous e-mail, says Nicholas Jollymore, a libel lawyer with Jollymore Law Office, P.C. in San Francisco, California, who is representing PubPeer and attended the hearing. Gibson asked that PubPeer turn over identifying information to her and scheduled another hearing next Tuesday to decide whether to give that information to Sarkar and his lawyer.” The outcome of this case could set a precedent for anonymous reviews on sites like PubPeer.

► “Ukraine has earned privileged access to competitive research funds from the European Union, bringing its science closer to the Western bloc,” Tania Rabesandratana wrote Tuesday at ScienceInsider. “Under a deal signed in Kiev on 20 March with the European Commission, Ukraine becomes an ‘associated country’ to Horizon 2020, the European Union's €80 billion, 7-year research program. That means researchers and businesses in Ukraine may apply for any Horizon 2020 grant.”

► Sixteen-year-old Sophia Sánchez-Maes won a spot at Monday’s White House science fair by pioneering a new process for using algae to make biofuels. Eighteen-year-old Eric Koehlmoos ran a biofuel project from his basement. Other students took on computers and cybersecurity. Speaking at the event, President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of continuous support for science research and education and announced $240 million in new funding for the Educate to Innovate program. “ ‘It’s not enough for our country just to be proud of you,’ he told the students. ‘We’ve also got to support you.’ ” Emily Conover covered the science fair for ScienceInsider.

► What caused the sinking of a Taiwanese research vessel last October? “Barely a day into a cruise to study atmospheric pollution, Ocean Researcher V headed back to port because of bad weather,” Dennis Normile wrote earlier today at ScienceInsider. “The ship drifted off course, struck two submerged reefs, and sank near the Penghu Islands, about 260 kilometers southwest of Taipei in the Taiwan Strait. Most of the 27 researchers and students and 18 crew were rescued. But Shih-Chieh Hsu, the cruise's chief scientist, and Yi-Chun Lin, an engineering assistant, drowned.” The ship was a total loss, and officials determined that human error caused the accident. “Wen-chung Chi, director-general of the Maritime and Port Bureau, said that a review of the ship's voyage data recorder and other evidence indicated that the crew should have been alerted that the ship had drifted off course,” Normile wrote.

► “As head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Anthony Fauci wields a $4.4 billion research budget and has a punishing schedule,” Kai Kupferschmidt wrote earlier today at ScienceInsider. “But the past 2 weeks, Fauci, 74, has reserved 2 hours on most days to put on a protective plastic suit and help treat a U.S. health care worker who became infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone.” Why? “I do believe that one gets unique insights into disease when you actually physically interact with patients,” Fauci says. “In the case of Ebola, Fauci says he also wanted to show his staff that he wouldn't ask them to do anything he wouldn't do himself; in addition, ‘it is very exciting and gratifying to participate in saving someone’s life.’ ”

► Today at ScienceInsider, John Bohannon reported on a new open-source program called SciDetect that can “automatically detect automatically generated papers.” Publisher Springer announced the launch in a 23 March press release. Created by computer scientist Cyril Labbé’s group at Joseph Fourier University, “[i]ts purpose, according to Springer, is to ‘ensure that unfair methods and quick cheats do not go unnoticed.’ When asked how much money Springer paid Labbé’s team, a representative replied that ‘unfortunately we cannot provide you with financial figures,’ but noted that it was enough to fund a 3-year Ph.D. student in Labbé’s lab.”

► “Few matters threaten the integrity of science more than scientists not being allowed to warn the public about legitimate hazards uncovered in the course of scientific research,” wrote Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt in this week’s Science editorial. “Yet, this month, the issue was raised twice in the United States.” In one case, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which had linked a dramatic increase in earthquakes in the state to oil and gas extraction, “took an about-face” after one of its seismologists met with the president of the University of Oklahoma and a billionaire businessman who is a major donor to the school. In another, employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) claimed the existence of “an unwritten policy” that “forbids use of the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming,’ and ‘sustainability’ in any communications from the DEP.” “[S]tates should follow the federal example and enact integrity policies that protect state workers from interference in the conduct and reporting of scientific findings,” McNutt wrote.  

► There has been a long-standing debate, especially in Europe, over whether institutions ought to treat Ph.D. candidates as students or employees. Yesterday, the Max Planck Society (MPG) in Germany announced a €50-million-per-year scheme that is expected to mostly do away with stipends and replace them with employment contracts, Science Careers Contributing Editor Elisabeth Pain reported today at ScienceInsider. The stipends, which were given mostly to foreigners, have long been decried as unfair because they do not come with basic social security benefits. Institutes are offered an alternative—they can shift all their Ph.D. candidates onto stipends—but MPG expects the great majority of institutes to offer contracts instead.

The new system guarantees students funding for at least 3 years but no more than 4 years. It also requires Ph.D. candidates to enter into written agreements with their supervisors stating their respective rights and responsibilities and commits MPG to providing more career support, including courses in transferrable skills, information on career paths, and networking opportunities.

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story, statistician Ken O’Neil, who has been profoundly deaf since birth, wrote that scientists with disabilities can bring a number of enhanced skills to the workplace, such as “a greater understanding and awareness of problems and how to deal with them” and “a different perspective on real-world problems and models.”