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Elsewhere in Science: Measuring influence, intellectual property, and more

Here is the past week’s career-related news from across the Science family of publications.  

► If you’re applying for funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), you may soon no longer need to deal with the stress—or the motivation—of a deadline. “In recent years, [NSF] has struggled with the logistics of evaluating a rising number of grant proposals that has propelled funding rates to historic lows,” but “one piece of the agency has found a potentially powerful new tool to flatten [submission] spikes and cut the number of proposals: It can simply eliminate deadlines,” Eric Hand reported last Friday. The findings were announced at an “NSF geosciences advisory committee meeting, [where] Assistant Director for Geosciences Roger Wakimoto revealed the preliminary results from a pilot program that got rid of grant proposal deadlines in favor of an anytime submission. The numbers were staggering. Across four grant programs, proposals dropped by 59% after deadlines were eliminated.” Geologist Paul Bierman of the University of Vermont in Burlington suggests that removing deadlines “filter[s] for the most highly motivated people, and the ideas for which you feel the most passion.”

► Many researchers are eager for metrics to measure and communicate their scholarly impact. On Wednesday, John Bohannon wrote about a new tool from Semantic Scholar, an online service run by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, Washington, that aims to “measur[e] the influence that a scientist or organization has had on subsequent research. The tool, which focuses only on computer science for now but will expand to neuroscience by the fall and then to other subjects, can rank papers, authors, and institutions by a specific influence score,” Bohannon wrote. Read the full article for more on how the tool works and what researchers think about it.  

► This week brought a host of U.S. budget news relevant to researchers. First, on Tuesday, “[a] Senate spending panel ... approved a tiny budget increase next year for [NSF] and flat funding for NASA—and congratulated themselves for doing so given a cap on overall domestic discretionary spending across the government,” Jeffrey Mervis reported. Then, on Thursday, Mervis reported that “[t]he full Senate appropriations committee ... unanimously approved $7.509 billion for NSF, a $46 million boost over its current budget. ... [L]egislators added $53 million to the agency’s large new facilities account to begin building three regional-class research vessels rather than the two NSF had requested,” but the “research and education accounts were held flat, at $6.033 billion and $880 million, respectively, as was the agency’s internal operating budget. President Barack Obama had requested $46 million more for research and $18 million for education.”

On a related note, Warren Cornwall wrote on Wednesday that “[f]ederal energy research could get a financial shot in the arm under a bipartisan energy bill, passed by the U.S. Senate [that day] on an 85 to 12 vote, which calls for hefty budget increases for science. But researchers shouldn’t start celebrating: Whether the money ever reaches laboratories will depend on a number of factors, including whether Congress and the White House can agree on a final version of the legislation, and whether the lawmakers who control the purse strings actually ante up the funding envisioned by the bill.”

► “The involvement of [online communities in discussions about suspect publications and possible research misconduct] has made the standardization of processes to address allegations more complex and has led to less patience from the scientific community and the public with what are often long timelines in institutional misconduct investigations,” Science journals Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt wrote in an editorial in this week’s issue of Science. This situation puts editors in a tough spot: They want to make the necessary corrections quickly, “but they also want to ensure that authors have received due process,” she continued. Policies and procedures for handling these cases will continue to evolve, and she offered some solutions that were discussed at a recent Journals Summit convened by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, but in the end, she emphasized, “the editor's paramount concern should be for the integrity of the scientific record.”

► How intellectual property (IP) ownership is awarded to academics can have a significant effect on their commercialization efforts, according to a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that Mervis reported on (subscription required), also in this week’s issue. Specifically, after Norway “ended its long-running practice of giving academics 100% ownership of their [IP]” and adopted a “U.S.-style system that gives academics just a one-third share,” IP “[c]ommercialization cratered,” Mervis wrote. “The per-capita number of patents dropped by 53%, while the per-capita formation of university-backed startup companies plunged by 67%, the researchers report. They also found evidence that the quality of the commercial activity declined, as measured by how well the companies did and the number of citations garnered by patents relating to each discovery.”

► As part of a series of articles about fighting malaria in this week’s issue, Leslie Roberts wrote about Myaing Myaing Nyunt, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore who leads “a unique collaboration [with] her husband, molecular epidemiologist and malariologist Chris Plowe. ... They are working with government scientists in Myanmar to forge the scientific and political links needed to drive malaria from [Nyunt’s] native country. The project has brought Nyunt back to Myanmar after more than a quarter-century of living abroad, much of it in exile.” Read the full story for more about her life and career.

► As he is getting close to earning his Ph.D., He Fu has realized that, just like the microbes he works with, he has experienced his own lag phases and growth phases. Read this week’s Working Life story to find out what he has learned.

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