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  • A year ago, Black physicists at Fermilab demanded change. What’s happened?

    Fermilab scientists

    The Change Now collective at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory: (front row, from left) Tammy Walton and Brian Nord; (back row, from left) Bryan Ramson, Doug Berry, and Jessica Esquivel

    Brian Nord

    Within days of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on 25 May 2020, five early-career Black physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) began to write what became a 17-page manifesto calling on lab leaders to do more to achieve racial justice and equity.

    The manifesto was a daring—and unprecedented—act of public protest by employees of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) preeminent high-energy physics laboratory. The scientists, all under the age of 40 and none of them tenured, say they knew they lacked institutional clout. But Doug Berry, Jessica Esquivel, Brian Nord, Bryan Ramson, and Tammy Walton could no longer tolerate what they saw as the lab’s failure to provide “a welcoming, equitable, and just work environment for Black people,” they wrote. Transforming an institution at which Black scientists have historically been almost invisible should begin, they continued, by “listening to and doing what Black employees say they need, and not making plans for us without us.” And they chose a name, the Change Now collective, that emphasized their sense of urgency and the importance of united action.

    Floyd’s murder and the resulting surge of the Black Lives Matter movement triggered many such calls for change across the U.S. scientific community and around the world. One of the largest events occurred on 10 June 2020, when participants in #ShutDownSTEM demanded an end to “business as usual” at universities and research facilities.

  • German biologist appointed head of Europe’s basic science agency

    Maria Leptin

    Biologist Maria Leptin will be the fifth president of the European Research Council.

    Michael Wodak/MedizinFotoKöln

    The European Commission yesterday appointed German biologist Maria Leptin as the new president of the European Research Council (ERC), which as Europes largest basic science funder hands out roughly €2 billion in grants per year. Leptin will be ERCs fifth president; her 4-year term begins on 1 October.

    Leptin comes to ERC after 10 years leading the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), an intergovernmental research institute based in Heidelberg, Germany, that is funded by 30 countries. She is seen as a safe pair of hands after the dramatic resignation last year of her predecessor, Italian American nanoscientist Mauro Ferrari. Ferrari quit after falling out with ERCs Scientific Council, a body of 22 scientists chaired by the president, over how to use the ERC budget in the midst of a pandemic.

    I do hope that this is the end of the drama for the ERC,” says Lidia Borrell-Damián, secretary-general of Science Europe, an association of science funding organizations. The ERC is there to promote frontier research and not to play in any drama.”

  • Scientists quit journal board, protesting ‘grossly irresponsible’ study claiming COVID-19 vaccines kill

    A nursing home worker receives a vaccine

    A nursing home worker receives the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered in the Netherlands in January. A Dutch database is at the heart of a controversy surrounding a new paper on COVID-19 vaccine safety.

    Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via Reuters

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Several respected virologists and vaccinologists have resigned as editors of the journal Vaccines to protest its 24 June publication of a peer-reviewed article that misuses data to conclude that “for three deaths prevented by [COVID-19] vaccination, we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination.”

    Since Friday, at least six scientists have resigned positions as associate or section editors with Vaccines, including Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Katie Ewer, an immunologist at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford who was on the team that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Their resignations were first reported by Retraction Watch.

  • Can immune responses alone reveal which COVID-19 vaccines work best?

    illustration of an antibody bound to the surface spike protein of SARS-CoV-2

    An antibody (red/pink) latches on to the surface protein of SARS-CoV-2 (green). Many scientists believe the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies triggered by a vaccine predicts how well it protects.

    (ILLUSTRATION) V. ALTOUNIAN/SCIENCE; (IMAGES) W. SURYA, BIOCHIM. BIOPHYS. ACTA (2018); D. WRAPP, SCIENCE, (2020); E.O. SAPHIRE, SCIENCE, (2001); ORIENTATIONS OF PROTEINS IN MEMBRANES DATABASE

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Other than running a placebo-controlled, clinical trial lasting many months and involving tens of thousands of people, is there any way to be sure a COVID-19 vaccine will work? Many researchers contend that the success of several vaccines now widely in use offers a shortcut: Simply gauge a vaccine’s ability to elicit so-called neutralizing antibodies, which bind to the virus and prevent it from entering cells. But several recent studies, the latest published as a preprint on 24 June, point to other “correlates of protection”: “binding” antibodies—which latch on to the virus but don’t block entry—and another set of immune warriors called T cells.

    Vaccine decisions may soon depend on a better understanding of these supporting actors. Several companies are developing updates of their COVID-19 vaccines tailored to protect against new viral variants, and they hope regulatory agencies won’t require that they show efficacy in big clinical trials, which are not only time-consuming and expensive, but also increasingly ethically fraught because some of the participants receive a placebo even though proven vaccines are now available.

  • Journal impact factor gets a sibling that adjusts for scientific field

    a stack of journals
    B. DOUTHITT/SCIENCE

    Critics have long bashed Clarivate Analytics’s journal impact factor, complaining that the metric, which reports average citations per article, has methodological flaws that support misleading comparisons of journals and researchers. Today, the company unveiled an alternative metric that improves on some of these flaws by allowing more accurate comparisons of journals in different disciplines.

    The new Journal Citation Indicator (JCI) accounts for the substantially different rates of publication and citation in different fields, Clarivate says. But the move is drawing little praise from the critics, who say the new metric remains vulnerable to misunderstanding and misuse.

    The announcement comes as part of the company’s 2021 release of its Journal Citation Reports database. It includes the latest journal impact factors and other journal analytics. Among these is the new JCI, which averages citations gathered by a journal over 3 years of publications, compared with just 2 years for the impact factor. What’s more, Clarivate says the JCI includes journals not covered by the impact factor, including some in the arts and humanities, as well as regional journals or those from “emerging” scientific fields. 

  • It’s official: China has eliminated malaria

    A specialist holds blood smears on glass slides.

    A lab worker holds up blood smears that will be examined for malaria parasites under a microscope at the Yunnan Institute for Parasitic Diseases in April 2019.

    World Health Organization/C. McNab

    The World Health Organization (WHO) today is certifying China as free of malaria, after a decadeslong effort drove an estimated annual toll of 30 million cases in the 1940s, including 300,000 deaths, to zero in 2017. Along the way, China developed new surveillance techniques, medicines, and technologies to break the cycle of transmission between the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria parasites and humans.

    Antimalaria efforts started in the 1950s with programs to distribute antimalarial medicines to people at risk, reduce mosquito breeding grounds, and spray insecticides. China launched a program to identify new malaria drugs in the late 1960s. As part of that effort, pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou screened traditional Chinese medicine concoctions for compounds active against malaria, eventually isolating artemisinin from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua). Artemisinin became the key compound in the front-line drugs now used against malaria and won Tu a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015. China was also among the countries pioneering the use of insecticide-treated nets in the 1980s.

    Annual case numbers dropped over the years, reaching roughly 5000 annually in the late 1990s. In 2012, the country initiated a push to eliminate malaria with a “1-3-7” strategy, allowing local health facilities 1 day to report a malaria diagnosis, 3 days to investigate the case, and 7 days to implement countermeasures. In recent years, Chinese scientists have developed genetics-based approaches to track drug resistance and to distinguish indigenous cases from imported ones.

  • New NASA radiation standards for astronauts seen as leveling field for women

    Eileen Collins at the pilot station in shuttle Discovery

    Astronaut Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot the space shuttle in 1995.

    NASA

    A blue-ribbon panel has endorsed NASA’s plans to revise its standard for exposing astronauts to radiation in a way that would allow women to spend more time in space.

    A report by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released on 24 June encourages NASA to proceed with its plans to adopt a new standard that limits all astronauts to 600 millisieverts of radiation over their career. The current limit is the amount of radiation that correlates with a 3% increase in the risk of dying from a cancer caused by radiation exposure—a standard that favored men and older astronauts whose cancer risk from radiation was lower. The proposed standard would limit all astronauts to the allowable dosage for a 35-year-old woman.

    The changes are in line with current data and puts women on an equal footing, says Hedvig Hricak, a radiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “There’s no evidence for significant gender difference in the radiation exposure, and associated risk of cancer,” she says.

  • U.S. House backs higher spending levels for NSF and DOE science

    Capitol dome at night
    Diliff/Wikimedia Commons

    It was a good day for science in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    In back-to-back votes last night, members overwhelmingly approved two bills that would authorize massive spending increases at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science. One calls for more than doubling NSF’s current annual budget of $8.5 billion to $17.9 billion by 2026, and the other would give the Office of Science a 63% boost, to $11.1 billion, over the same 5-year period.

    The votes were nearly identical: 345 to 67 for NSF (H.R. 2225), and 351 to 68 for DOE (H.R. 3593). Every Democrat voted in favor, while Republicans backed each bill by a two-to-one margin. Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats found common ground in seeing NSF and DOE research as a way to help the country compete successfully against China, although Republicans emphasized the threat from Asia whereas Democrats cited scientific opportunities as the impetus for more spending.

  • When is ‘self-plagiarism’ OK? New guidelines offer researchers rules for recycling text

    Stacks of manuscripts filling image frame
    mumininan/iStock

    Although researchers often have valid reasons to take text they have already published and reuse it in new papers, peers often frown on such recycling as “self-plagiarism.” But when Cary Moskovitz of Duke University, who studies the teaching of writing, went looking for guidance on self-plagiarism for his students, he came up empty-handed.

    “There was almost no actual research into the practice,” he says. Scholars hadn’t really examined how frequently researchers recycle their text, whether that reuse constitutes copyright infringement, or what kinds of reuse researchers believe is right or wrong. So, Moskovitz set out to fill the gap. Today, his Text Recycling Research Project (TRRP) released guidance for editors and authors, describing when the practice is both ethical and legal, and how to present reused text transparently.

    The guidelines usefully recast these issues in terms other than self-plagiarism, says Lisa Rasmussen, a research ethicist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. “It’s causing a problem to focus too much on self-plagiarism,” she says. Some researchers who spend decades working on a particular topic, for example, might use very similar methods from one study to the next, making it efficient to simply cut and paste the methods sections of their papers. “We shouldn’t make them torture their words just so that they don’t get caught in a plagiarism detection software system,” as many journal editors do, she says.

  • National Academy of Sciences ejects biologist Francisco Ayala in the wake of sexual harassment findings

    Francisco J. Ayala

    Evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala

    Jacquelyn Martin/AP

    The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has expelled evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala from its ranks 3 years after he was found to have sexually harassed women colleagues. Ayala, who resigned from the University of California (UC), Irvine, in 2018 after a university investigation found him guilty of sexual harassment, is the second member NAS has ousted over sexual harassment allegations since the organization revised its bylaws 2 years ago to allow members to be removed if they violate its code of conduct.

    “Finally,” Jessica Pratt, an associate professor at UC Irvine who had filed a complaint with the university against Ayala, wrote in an email to Science. “I feel relief that for victims of sexual harassment or violence, their path to justice might be easier now because of changes in policy.” But she and others say NAS’s process was too slow.

    In an email yesterday, NAS wrote that its Council had rescinded Ayala’s membership, effective immediately. An NAS spokesperson confirmed the decision. Ayala, who was elected to NAS in 1980 declined to comment on NAS’s action, but has vehemently denied the allegations against him, which included making sexually suggestive comments and inviting a junior professor to sit on his lap. The announcement comes weeks after NAS expelled astronomer Geoff Marcy, who in 2015 had been found guilty of sexual harassment by UC Berkeley.

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