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Elsewhere in Science, 31 July 2015

Manuel de León
Credit: ICMAT

Every Friday, Science Careers points to articles in the Science family of publications that are relevant to careers in science and other technical fields. Some of them are accessible to anyone, but access to articles appearing in Science Translational MedicineScience Signaling, and Science may require AAAS membership (AAAS is the publisher of Science Careers) or a site license.

► On Tuesday, ScienceInsider included three reports of senior scientists departing from their positions for a variety of reasons. First, Tania Rabesandratana wrote that “[o]ne of Spain’s star mathematicians was removed from the head of a national research institute over accusations that the center had mismanaged public funds. Manuel de León remains a professor of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) but has lost the directorship of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (ICMAT), a research center run jointly by CSIC and three universities in Madrid.”

Later that day, Dennis Normile reported that, “[s]urprising many in the worldwide genomics community, the head of Shenzhen-based sequencing powerhouse BGI stepped down earlier this month. Jun Wang will now concentrate on research into artificial intelligence (AI), the institute announced on 17 July.”

Finally, Daniel Clery wrote that physicist Edward Moses, the president of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO), “is stepping down after less than a year in the job. Moses is leaving to ‘deal with family matters that require his attention,’ according to a statement on the GMTO website. It’s the second recent high-profile departure from the project. On 9 July the organization announced that Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago was stepping down as chair of the GMTO board after 12 years in the role.”  

► In funding news at Science Insider, Emily Underwood reported, also on Tuesday, that “the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released … [a] budget proposal for Alzheimer’s disease, which is projected to triple in prevalence by 2050. Distilled from discussions at a series of NIH meetings and consortia, the new document requests $1.06 billion for Alzheimer’s research in the 2017 fiscal year that begins 1 October. That’s $323.5 million more than the $737 million the president requested in the formal budget request.”  

Before Alzheimer’s researchers get too excited though, it’s important to note that this proposal is a “bypass budget.” As Underwood explained, “[f]rom time to time, Congress asks federal science agencies to prepare an expert ‘bypass budget’ that lays out the funding the agency thinks is necessary to meet an important goal. Usually such budgets are purely aspirational, and aren’t included in the White House’s formal budget request to Congress (hence the name; they 'bypass' White House budget officials). But lawmakers see the documents as an opportunity to get straight talk from an agency without White House interference. And, occasionally, bypass budgets have helped build political support for shunting new money toward research in areas such as cancer and HIV.”

► “A Russian computer scientist was fired from his job at a university in the Netherlands last year after Dutch intelligence officers warned he was spying for his home country. Ivan Agafonov, a postdoc at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) who was working on quantum computing, lost his work visa around the same time and left the Netherlands,” Martin Enserink wrote at ScienceInsider on Wednesday. A statement from TUE “said the university was informed in July 2014 that Agafonov ‘maintained contact with Russian intelligence services,’ by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). AIVD didn't tell TUE to fire Agafonov, says Barend Pelgrim, a university spokesman, and didn't discuss his activities in detail. ‘Basically it just said he was doing things he shouldn't do and was a danger to national security,’ he says. The TUE board immediately suspended Agafonov and later terminated his contract, Pelgrim adds.”

► Later, at ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser reported that “[o]pen-access advocates are heralding a Senate panel’s approval [that day] of” the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act, which “would require U.S. science agencies to make the peer-reviewed research papers they fund freely available to the public. Although a similar White House policy is already in place, supporters say the bipartisan measure—if approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president—would ensure the requirement stands through future administrations.”

► In a Thursday ScienceInsider, Kelly Servick reported that the case brought by heart stem cell researchers Piero Anversa and Annarosa Leri “against their institution,” Harvard Medical School and its affiliate, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), “for allegedly mishandling a misconduct investigation was dismissed by a federal judge in Massachusetts this week. The plaintiffs … claim[ed] that the inquiry into their lab at BWH wrongfully damaged their professional reputations, derailed the sale of their stem cell company, and cost them lucrative job offers.” Although this case has been determined, the initial misconduct investigation is still open.

► “New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe ruled that two research chimps at Stony Brook University are not covered by a writ of habeas corpus, which typically allows human prisoners to challenge their detention,” David Grimm wrote on Thursday at ScienceInsider. This ruling “dealt the latest blow to an animal rights group’s attempt to have chimpanzees declared ‘legal persons,’” but “[t]he Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which brought the lawsuit in an attempt to free the primates, has vowed to appeal.”

► In the Books Et al. section of this week’s issue of Science, Sybil Derrible of the University of Illinois, Chicago, reviewed Applied Minds: How Engineers Think by Guru Madhavan. In the book, “Madhavan, who is himself a biomedical engineer as well as a policy adviser, argues that engineers possess three traits that enable them to tackle complex challenges. First, they can visualize the structure of a problem by breaking it down into elements linked by logic, time, sequence, and function. Second, they know how to design under constraints. Third, they are able to make trade-offs to ensure a reasonable solution to a problem despite the constraints.”  

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life story, postdoc Gary McDowell says that you do not have to sacrifice your personal life to have a successful science career. You can read his story at Science.

► “Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX) has struck again,” Jeffrey Mervis wrote today at ScienceInsider. “Just when it looked as if he had struck a truce with opponents in a 2-year battle over legislation—passed this spring by the House of Representatives—that provides guidance to the National Science Foundation (NSF), Smith yesterday reintroduced the most contentious portion of that bill as standalone legislation. The new bill repackages Section 106 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), which would require NSF to tell the public why every award is ‘in the national interest.’ It lists seven criteria, including bolstering the nation’s economy, improving its scientific workforce, and fostering partnerships with industry.” “Research advocates ... fear that the language in Smith’s bills will lead researchers to be more timid in what they propose, out of fear that NSF will reject bolder ideas to avoid invoking the wrath of legislators. And they fear the legislation will embolden legislators to micromanage NSF grantsmaking.”

► “The death of Cecil the lion, a particularly photogenic male cat in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, has sparked international outrage,” Kai Kupferschmidt wrote later at ScienceInsider. In addition to being a tourist draw, Cecil had also been a research subject. Kupferschmidt spoke with one of the scientists, David Macdonald, who “is part of a team of scientists at the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Research Conservation Unit in the United Kingdom that was studying Cecil. They have been tracking the movements of more than 200 lions with satellites to better understand the animals' behavior. After Jimmy Kimmel, a popular U.S. TV host, made an emotional plea for lion conservation on his show on 28 July, donations started pouring in to Macdonald’s program. Since Kimmel’s appeal, the research unit has received some $500,000 in donations.” Macdonald spoke about his reaction to Cecil’s death and what the project plans to do with the donations it has received.