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  • 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.

  • ‘Impossible to ignore’: How a former neuroscientist and dancer is turning research into art

    Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya while working on her newest mural in Washington, D.C.

    Scientist-turned-artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya with the mural she completed in Washington, D.C., earlier this month

    K. Dolan/Science

    Across from a dog park in the heart of Washington, D.C., stands a striking, multicolored mural, in which two women reach for each other across a space teeming with variegated particles. The 23-meter-wide mural, inspired by the work of Duke University particle physicist Ayana Arce, who is Black, imagines women building bridges to each other, just as quarks that are unpaired after intense proton-proton collisions find other quarks. Scientist-turned-artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya finished the artwork this month; it is the second in a series planned for 10 U.S. cities highlighting the research of female scientists, in a project sponsored by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Born in Atlanta to Thai and Indonesian immigrants, Phingbodhipakkiya knew she wanted both science and art to be integral to her life. After a life-changing accident derailed a blossoming dance career, she was driven to study neuroscience in college.

    But after 4 years as a research assistant in an Alzheimer’s disease lab, she became keenly aware of how poorly scientists–herself included–communicate with the public. So she abandoned her Ph.D. ambitions to get a master’s degree in fine arts (MFA) at the Pratt Institute. Her decision launched a career in science-focused art and design, leading to a TED residency, museum exhibits, and projects that, she says, focus on “badass women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math].”

  • Quality shines when scientists use publishing tactic known as registered reports, study finds

    Hand marking up a printed page

    Registered reports, which peer review methods and analyses before results are known, measure up on quality and creativity.

    Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

    In 2013, the journals Cortex, Social Psychology, and Perspectives on Psychological Science launched a groundbreaking publishing format—called a registered report—that they hoped would solve several problems worsened by conventional publishing practices. One issue was that many journals declined to publish important negative results, judging them not sufficiently novel. In addition, many authors analyzed their data in multiple ways but only reported the most interesting results.

    The trio of journals thought registered reports offered a better way. The approach turns the normal publishing timeline on its head: Authors write manuscripts laying out only their hypotheses, research methods, and analysis plans, and referees decide whether to accept them before anyone knows the study’s results. The innovation is that this guarantees publication for even the most mundane findings. Unlike standard papers, “the decision [to publish] … is based on the importance of the question, and the quality of the methodology you’re applying,” says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and an advocate of registered reports.

    But until recently, concrete data to support the benefits of this publishing model have been thin. Today, Nosek and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Human Behaviour reporting that reviewers rate registered reports as more rigorous, and their methods as higher in quality, than similar papers published in the standard format. And despite concerns that the approach could stifle research creativity, the reviewers considered registered reports to be as creative and novel as the comparison papers. The findings join the first small wave of studies exploring whether the publishing format—now offered by at least 295 journals—lives up to its promise.

  • Claim that Chinese team hid early SARS-CoV-2 sequences to stymie origin hunt sparks furor

    a building that houses the Huanan seafood wholesale market

    Many of the first COVID-19 cases were linked to a seafood market (center) in Wuhan, China, but a new analysis of other early coronavirus sequences may point elsewhere in the city.

    Kyodo via AP Images

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

    In a world starved for any fresh data to help clarify the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study claiming to have unearthed early sequences of SARS-CoV-2 that were deliberately hidden was bound to ignite a sizzling debate. The unreviewed paper, by evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, asserts that a team of Chinese researchers sampled viruses from some of the earliest COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, posted the viral sequences to a widely used U.S. database, and then a few months later had the genetic information removed to “obscure their existence.”

    To some scientists, the claims reinforce suspicions that China has something to hide about the origins of the pandemic. But critics of the preprint, posted yesterday on bioRxiv, say Bloom’s detective work is much ado about nothing, because the Chinese scientists later published the viral information in a different form, and the recovered sequences add little to what’s known about SARS-CoV-2’s origins.

  • Diversion of research money to buy oil refinery enrages Mexican scientists

    Aerial View of Deer Park Refinery

    Mexico’s plan to purchase the Shell Deer Park Refinery in Texas, in part with money from trust funds used to support research, has angered some scientists.

    Aerial Archives/Alamy Stock Photo

    Last year, researchers in Mexico were frustrated after the federal government moved to terminate dozens of trust funds that supported science, arguing the funds had been tarnished by corruption and the money was needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced this month that some of the money is being used to buy an aging oil refinery in Texas, many scientists are enraged. The purchase will not only divert money from research, they fear, but also make it harder for Mexico to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

    “It’s nonsense to use [money] that would bring the country forward … for something that takes our country backward,” says Martha Espinosa Cantellano, an experimental pathologist at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies.

    “It doesn’t make sense to invest in outdated technology,” says Lorena Ruano Gómez, a political scientist from the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics.

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