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Elsewhere in Science: Pirating papers, handling harassment, and more

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

► “[The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)] is pushing back” against the practice of postdocs “suing their employer” to “[obtain] a permanent position,” Elisabeth Pain reported last Friday. Over the past few years, “[t]he researchers, along with many technicians and administrative staff, have successfully asked the courts to make CSIC comply with Spanish labor law and turn their short-term contracts into indefinite employment,” Pain wrote. Now, CSIC is instating a “series of controversial measures that many say punish the institutes and research groups where such cases have occurred. The new measures … have drawn criticism from the scientific community and angered trade unions.”

► “Legislators in both houses of Congress agree that science at the Department of Energy (DOE) should get a slight boost—0.9%—next year. But how they get to that number is quite another story,” Adrian Cho wrote on Monday. The Senate plans to make cuts to ITER and to “trim domestic fusion research[, which would] allow legislators to give relatively healthy boosts to the office's five other research programs within an overall tight budget,” while the House of Representatives proposal calls for “cutting biological and environmental research and holding the other programs to tiny increases.”

► “After months of uncertainty, scientists at Australia’s premier research agency ... learned their fate” on Tuesday, Leigh Dayton reported that day. “More than 275 jobs will be cut, with climate science taking the biggest hit. Up to 75 jobs will be lopped from the Oceans and Atmosphere division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Technological Organization (CSIRO) as part of a restructuring first announced in February by CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall.”

► “The research community lost a key supporter [Tuesday] with the defeat of Representative Chaka Fattah (D–PA) in a Democratic primary race in his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania–area district,” Jocelyn Kaiser wrote Wednesday. “Fattah, who faces a federal trial next month for ethics transgressions, had a keen interest in neuroscience and helped catalyze the high-profile Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) project, a multiagency effort to study the brain. Fattah, 59, has represented a west Philadelphia district for the past 22 years,” she continued. “He will go on trial in May on bribery and fraud charges involving misuse of a $1 million campaign loan when he ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007. … His departure will end a long record of support for science.”

► On Thursday, “[t]he science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives approved by voice vote a measure that would set new rules on how [the National Science Foundation (NSF)] builds and operates large new scientific facilities like [the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)],” Jeffrey Mervis reported that day. “Republican legislators who are championing the bill (HR 5049) say it’s needed to curb abuses in a system that led to an $80 million projected cost overrun for NEON and forced NSF to fire the contractor on the $433 million project,” he wrote. “Democrats on the committee voiced grudging support for the legislation. … But they made it clear that they think the new bill is far from the ideal approach.”

► “Who’s downloading pirated papers?” John Bohannon asked in a feature about Sci-Hub, “the world's largest pirate website for scholarly literature,” in this week’s issue of Science. The answer: Everyone. “[I]n increasing numbers, researchers around the world are turning to Sci-Hub, which hosts 50 million papers and counting,” Bohannon wrote. “Over the 6 months leading up to March, Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents. More than 2.6 million download requests came from Iran, 3.4 million from India, and 4.4 million from China,” though Bohannon notes that “users are not limited to the developing world.” For example, “[t]he United States is the fifth largest downloader after Russia, and a quarter of the Sci-Hub requests for papers came from the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the wealthiest nations with, supposedly, the best journal access. In fact, some of the most intense use of Sci-Hub appears to be happening on the campuses of U.S. and European universities.”

Bohannon learned these details by analyzing “extensive server log data supplied by Alexandra Elbakyan, the neuroscientist who created Sci-Hub in 2011 as a 22-year-old graduate student in Kazakhstan.” (A bio of Elbakyan and the data accompany the feature.) “Elbakyan was surprisingly forthcoming and transparent,” Bohannon wrote. “Among the few things she would not disclose is her current location, because she is at risk of financial ruin, extradition, and imprisonment because of a lawsuit launched by Elsevier last year.” But, Bohannon continued, “[w]hile Elsevier wages a legal battle against Elbakyan and Sci-Hub, many in the publishing industry see the fight as futile. ‘The numbers are just staggering,’ one senior executive at a major publisher told me upon learning the Sci-Hub statistics. ‘It suggests an almost complete failure to provide a path of access for these researchers.’”

For her part, Science journals Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt wrote about her “love-hate relationship with Sci-Hub” in this week’s editorial. “I recognize the underlying motivation of bringing global research content to the developing world,” she wrote, but she also has concerns. “As institutions cancel subscriptions, the ability of nonprofit scientific societies to provide journals and support their research communities is diminished,” she wrote. “Journals published by scientific societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science journals) are not the sole contribution to the research community; such nonprofit societies also support a range of efforts that have a history of benefiting the greater scientific enterprise.” She concluded that “[s]cientific nonprofit societies do indeed understand the need to continue addressing research accessibility by those in challenged regions, but through legitimate means. For those who have such avenues but choose to pirate a paper instead, ask yourself whether it is worth risking the viability of a system that supports the quality and integrity of science.”   

► “An emotionally charged session on sexual harassment in anthropology began with audible gasps last week when a young, untenured professor described to a standing room–only crowd how she had been humiliated recently when she participated in an otherwise all-male scientific workshop,” Ann Gibbons and Elizabeth Culotta reported from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists meeting in Atlanta in this week’s issue of Science. “The intense session was one of a half-dozen events at the meeting—mentoring lunches, happy hours, and workshops—on combating discrimination and sexual harassment. ‘Biological anthropology has a problem,’ said panelist Robin Nelson of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. ‘But we're not alone.’ Yet few fields are confronting the problems as vigorously, perhaps because in this discipline women have reached critical mass.” Even so, “[t]he field is by no means unanimous about what change is needed,” Gibbons and Culotta wrote.

► “The new International Laboratory for Human Genome Research (LIIGH) in Juriquilla, Mexico, which celebrated its first anniversary this month, was built to bring home [young scientists who left Mexico to study abroad],” Lizzie Wade reported (subscription required), also in this week’s issue. “But returnees have been stymied by limited funding and a stifling bureaucracy, and many end up longing for the comparative ease of doing research in the United States and Europe.”  Others, though, like LIIGH’s Lucía Morales, see it as an opportunity to live out their scientific dreams. “‘I realized I had to stop [comparing doing science in Mexico with my experience in France],’ she says. In Mexico, ‘it's slow science, like slow food.’ Still, Morales believes the opportunity to run her own lab so early in her career is worth the trade-offs.”

► Earlier this year, Jörgen Johansson wrote a Working Life story about his struggles with the bureaucratic requirements of his European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant. In response, Jennifer Gabrys, the principal investigator for the ERC Starting Grant-funded “Citizen Science” project, “calls Johansson's description ‘off the mark’” in an eLetter summarized in the Letters section (subscription required) of this week’s Science. She wrote that the story “potentially reveals less an issue with the ERC as such, and more a problem with the differing levels of experience that universities … offer in supporting ERC projects. … In this context, rather than deride the ERC, it seems imperative for researchers and smaller institutions to share best practice and experience so as to ensure the widest possible participation in ERC projects.”

► In this week’s Working Life story, Nathan Johnson wrote that, although graduate school can be daunting at times, now that he has graduated, he appreciates the “hidden perks” that come along with it.

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