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Elsewhere in Science, 4 Dec. 2015

Petri dish
Credit: Bill Dickinson/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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.

First, catching up on last week’s news:

► “The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) has asked academics for proposals to help understand and prevent the type of violence that left 130 dead in Paris on 13 November and profoundly shocked the country,” Elisabeth Pain wrote last Tuesday at ScienceInsider. “The call came in a letter from Alain Fuchs, the president of the flagship agency, who described it as ‘a rare opportunity for researchers to express a form of solidarity with all those who, directly or indirectly, have been affected by the terrible events which, as we all know, can happen again.’” At the time, CNRS had received 40 proposals so far, according to Fuchs.

► “China's main basic research agency is cracking down on scientists who used fake peer reviews to publish papers in international journals, demanding that many return research funding,” Mara Hvistendahl wrote in last week’s issue of Science. “The National Natural Science Foundation is now revoking funding from authors found to have committed egregious offenses. But critics say the measures don't go far enough to stave off fraud.”

Now, onto this week:

► Jonathan Pershing, “a Ph.D. geologist turned climate diplomacy wonk … who currently serves as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) deputy director of the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis,” has a “perfect attendance record” at meetings “of nations who have joined the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” which he continued by attending the currently ongoing meeting in Paris, Warren Cornwall wrote at ScienceInsider on Monday. “After earning a doctorate in geology and geophysics at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in 1990, Pershing landed a fellowship at the U.S. State Department. He then climbed the ranks to serve as one of the top U.S. negotiators at several world climate meetings between 2009 and 2012.” In a Q and A, Pershing discussed what it’s like to be at these meetings, and touched on some of the challenges of bridging the gap between science and policy.

► At the first meeting of Canadian scientists and policy experts since the new Liberal government took control after the October election, “many participants expressed relief over the election results, [but] they also voiced a list of research deficiencies and needs that seemed so long it took on almost liturgical tones,” Wayne Kondro reported from Ottawa in another Monday ScienceInsider. “But economist Peter Phillips, of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, cautioned that the wave of euphoria engulfing Canada’s scientific community … might be for naught. There’s no real evidence, he says, that [new Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s Liberals are actually committed to elevating science to some new part of the political atmosphere.”

► Last week, the Spanish government “announced the launch of the State Research Agency, which could start disbursing grants as early as 2017,” Pain reported in a Tuesday ScienceInsider. The agency will use existing research budgets, “but it will guarantee more stability in the funding stream and ‘more agile, flexible, and autonomous’ management procedures, the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, which oversees Spanish science, wrote in its announcement.” Many of the operational details, however, are unclear—and that worries some scientists. “[T]here are doubts about the scientific independence of the agency’s management. Some researchers also wonder about the future of the agency if the ruling People’s Party … loses the parliamentary elections, slated for 20 December.”

► A new open-access journal called Matters “aims to boost integrity and speed the communication of science by allowing researchers to publish discrete observations rather than complete stories,” Esther Landhuis reported at ScienceInsider on Wednesday. “‘Observations, not stories, are the pillars of good science,’ the journal’s editors write on Matters’ website. ‘Today's journals however, favor story-telling over observations, and congruency over complexity. … Moreover, incentives associated with publishing in high-impact journals lead to loss of scientifically and ethically sound observations that do not fit the storyline, and in some unfortunate cases also to fraudulence.’ … Some scientists, however, worry Matters could exacerbate another problem: the long-standing practice of slicing a large body of findings into many manuscripts, in order to boost authorship numbers.” Read the full article for more about the potential benefits and risks of this new publishing venture.

► “When Argentina President-Elect Mauricio Macri and his new cabinet are sworn in on 10 December, there will be one familiar face: science minister Lino Barañao. In a move unheard of in Argentinian politics, a cabinet member is staying on in a new administration,” Richard Stone wrote on Thursday at ScienceInsider. “Barañao, 61, is the only science minister Argentina has ever known. He attained the post in 2007, when former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner upgraded Argentina’s science council to a ministry. In his first 8 years on the job, Barañao oversaw a period of bumper growth,” Stone continued. In a Q and A, Barañao told ScienceInsider that “[t]he next step [for Argentina’s scientists] is to increase the coupling of knowledge creation and wealth creation. We’ll work harder to couple research in national labs with private companies. We also need incentives for technology-based companies, and instruments for financing. I’d like to create a stronger science presence in the whole country—right now scientific activities are concentrated in two or three big cities.”

► In another Thursday ScienceInsider, Cornwall interviewed Bill Hare, “a physicist and climate scientist [who] has become a scientific adviser for some of the nations on the front lines of climate change—poor countries with limited resources to adapt.” In the Q and A, they discussed how Hare began working with these countries, his hopes for this year’s climate summit in Paris, and more. “I see Paris as being a kickoff point for a major global process that’s going to be ongoing now for decades to actually begin and secure global emission reductions. To do that, the Paris agreement has to [give a] signal that provides not just governments, but the private sector [and] civil society with the message [that] the time has come to make some big changes in fossil fuel use and in other aspects of our industrial societies to reduce emissions,” Hare said.

► Although U.K. research was spared from budget cuts last week, “when the Conservative government announced its blueprint for spending over the next 5 years,” some researchers are not rejoicing, Erik Stokstad reported in this week’s issue of Science. “[They] fear that the flat, ‘ring-fenced’ budgets promised by finance minister George Osborne will not repair the damage. Scientists are also concerned that the government's penchant for lobbing money at special initiatives is undermining researchers' ability to decide on priorities. ‘It's not a strategic way of doing things, and that has caused unease,’ says physicist Athene Donald of the University of Cambridge.”  

► Also in this week’s issue, Jeffrey Mervis dug into the numbers behind the National Science Foundation (NSF). The story begins “in 2004, after the number of proposals submitted to NSF had soared by 37% in the previous 3 years, [which] sent success rates plummeting from 31% to 24%.” In response, NSF “clamped down on new solicitations,” and “[o]ver the past decade, the annual number of proposals has grown by less than 1%,” Mervis wrote. “At the same time, NSF's scientific staff grew. NSF employed roughly 25% more program officers in 2014 than it had in 2004. … The key was an increased reliance on ‘rotators’—scientists who come to the agency for a few years under a 1970s law that allows such temporary absences from their home institution, typically a university, to work for the federal government. The number of rotators jumped 50% … between 2004 and 2012.” “NSF says rotators bring with them fresh ideas gained through their recent experiences in the lab,” Mervis continued, but it also likes them because they “are paid out of the agency's research account. That's a winning political strategy because lawmakers would much rather give any additional dollars to NSF's research budget than to its management account, which funds the rest of NSF's workforce.”

► “The office that guards against fraud in federally funded biomedical research has a new chief. Kathy Partin, a basic neuroscientist and administrator at Colorado State University, Fort Collins (CSU), will become director of the federal Office of Research Integrity … the week of 27 December,” Jocelyn Kaiser wrote today at ScienceInsider. “Partin studies glutamate receptors in the brain. She is also assistant vice president for research at CSU and directs the university’s research integrity office, which offers training in research integrity and helps with misconduct investigations. In a 2014 article in Accountability in Research, Partin wrote that teaching researchers how to avoid plagiarism in science ‘is more difficult than it might appear.’”

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Ignacio Amigo explained how parenthood is, in many ways, an extension of research.” Read the full story to find out how his scientific career helped prepare him for his new role as a father.