Elsewhere in Science, 1 August 2014

Each week, Science publishes a number of articles that are likely to be of interest to career-minded readers. Because those articles are published on the other Science sites, Science Careers readers could easily overlook them.

To remedy that, every Friday we’re pointing our readers toward articles appearing in Science (the print magazine), online news, Science Translational Medicine (STM), and Science Signaling—that hold some relevance to careers in science and other technical fields. Note that articles appearing in STM, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers) membership, a Science subscription, or a site license.

► On Monday at ScienceInsider, Science Careers Contributing Editor for Europe Elisabeth Pain reported on a summary document from an international panel warning that in order to improve its performance in science, Spain would need “[m]ore cash and many profound structural changes.” The report urges Spain to raise the government’s “contribution to science and innovation”—currently at 0.61%—“to 0.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and argues for the creation of a national funding agency that gives out merit-based grants, more autonomy for the universities, and a major overhaul of Spain’s national research centers. Above all, what is needed is a stronger culture of evaluation and accountability, even if it means increasing inequality between universities,” Pain writes. The report was requested by the Spanish government and assembled “by a peer-review panel of the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC), chaired by Luke Georghiou, vice president for research and innovation at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.”

“The most pressing problem,” however, is a career issue—specifically, Spain’s “human resources pipeline. Due to a near-total freeze on hiring, staff members at Spain’s research institutions are aging. To give young talent a career path, Spain could provide incentives for the retirement of senior researchers and introduce the tenure-track positions that were promised in the 2011 science law and again in the 2013 to 2020 science strategy. (Amid Spain’s economic crisis, they never materialized.) The report also calls for a ‘radical change’ in the civil service to foster staff mobility, reward excellence, and promote the best researchers to leadership positions quickly.”

► Also on Monday at ScienceInsider, Puneet Kollipara announced the winners of the new Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists. Len Blavatnik’s activities may be New York-based, but this year’s awards are strictly Boston-area. The inaugural awards went to Adam Cohen, a chemical biologist at Harvard University, Marin Soljačić, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , and Rachel Wilson, who is also at Harvard. Each of the winners will receive $250,000.

► In a Tuesday ScienceInsider, Leigh Dayton reported “that up to 30 astronomy jobs will be eliminated at [Australia’s] national research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).” In a budget announced in May, the CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science program, which gets $21 million a year, “is being reduced by 15%.” CSIRO’s $700-million-budget will shrink by $27 million “this fiscal year and a total of $115 million over the next 4 years.” When it’s all said and done, 420 jobs could be cut.

► Why did about 15,000 children in Europe develop narcolepsy after receiving the flu vaccine Pandemrix? Sleep scientist Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and his colleagues set out to answer that question. Their study found “a potential link between the H1N1 virus used to make the vaccine and narcolepsy.”

As, Emily Underwood reported in an In Depth article in this week’s Science, that study has been retracted. “The retraction states that Mignot and his colleagues were unable to replicate the results of the ELISpot assay, a widely used method for measuring how immune system cells such as T cells respond to fragments of foreign proteins, called antigens,” Underwood writes. “Mignot told Science that while attempting to develop a diagnostic test for narcolepsy based on the assay, ‘my lab could not make the ELISpot test work.’ ”

News of the retraction has left some researchers reeling. “ ‘This was one of the most important pieces of work on narcolepsy that has come out,’ says neuroimmunologist Lawrence Steinman, a close friend and colleague of Mignot’s, who is also at Stanford. The retraction, announced in STM, ‘really caught me by surprise,’ he says.”

► On Thursday at ScienceInsider, Erik Stokstad reported on the case of 26-year-old biologist Diego Gómez Hoyos, a Colombian graduate student seeking a master’s degree in conservation and wildlife management. In a case that’s likely to raise the hackles of open-access advocates, Gómez faces up to 8 years in prison for posting another scientists thesis on the Internet. The prosecution is based on 2006 revisions to Colombia’s copyright laws aimed at bringing them into compliance with a free trade agreement with the United States. Gómez posted the thesis, without permission, because he thought it would be useful to other scientists for identifying amphibians.

► In this week’s Science, Kai Kupferschmidt reported on a “row” in Europe over whether to keep the position of chief science adviser to the European Commission. “Nine nongovernmental organizations … have called on Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president-elect, to scrap the” post because they’re unhappy about “the support of the current science adviser, Anne Glover, for genetically modified organisms.” Prominent scientists dismiss the criticism, but, Kupferschmidt notes, it does point to problems with the post, in particular its ill-defined responsibilities and accountabilities and lack of transparency.

The controversy—and Glover’s remarks, in an interview with Science—illustrate the difficulties scientists face in trying to bring science to bear on policy. “It’s a very common tendency: If you don’t like the advice, get rid of the adviser,” says Roger Pielke of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Politicians tend to look only for evidence supporting the position they already hold, Glover argues. “At the moment … nobody is going in there and saying: ‘Why are you using that evidence, that is rather out of date, or that is rather biased.’”

► Speaking of policy and bias: Also in this week’s Science, Edwin Cartlidge reported on the controversy surrounding an industry-sponsored report that holds “activities at a local oil field” blameless for two deadly earthquakes that struck Italy in 2012. Two studies—this one and one published in April—addressed the question of whether increased oil production at the field may have triggered the earthquakes. The more recently released study, which was “commissioned on behalf of the company that owns the oil field,” is “at odds with” the earlier study, which concluded that human influence could not be excluded. The Italian government is putting its weight behind the new study, which it “requested from the oil field’s owner,” despite the fact that, as Science has determined, it is merely an expanded version of, and reaches the same conclusions as, a study that was released as early as late 2012.

► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, which you’ll find each week inside the Science back cover, Ian Street and others explain how stressed-out postdocs can stay healthy and focused.

► In Books et al., Stephano Golinelli and Luc Henri reviewed Biohackers: The Politics of Open Science, by Alessandro Delfanti. “[I]n spite of his personal political commitment to openness,” the reviewers write, “Delfanti elegantly dismisses dominant narratives that portray open science (in particular, open biology) as an up-to-date version of the traditional Mertonian norms now endangered by corporate neoliberalism. He suggests instead that the changes he discusses are actually a complex pollination of the life sciences by information technologies, emerging from what he calls a ‘cultural feedback.’ ” The new openness, in other words, is “much more” than a challenge to the expanding scope of intellectual property rights. “These elements are further remixed with other distinctive, and sometimes conflicting, features of the hacker’s ethos, such as intense relations with the media, hedonism, creativity, entrepreneurial drive, communitarian spirit, and radical resistance to external interference (be that from public regulations, corporate interests, or academic institutions).” Delfani warns that “in a world in which openness, flexibility and freedom from bureaucracies and cooperation are elements that belong to a capitalistic mode of organising labour and production, we must rethink any easy commitment to open science as good per se.” The book “will likely be a source of disappointment for some naïve activists,” write the reviewers. “But as an early account and interpretation of open-biology phenomena, the book certainly presents a neutral, dynamic, and convincing perspective. Their motivations may well be diverse and potentially conflicting, but it cannot be denied that Delfanti’s biohackers are playing constitutive roles in the ways science will be produced, disseminated, rewarded, and perceived in the 21st century.”

Top Image Credit: Robert Neubecker

Elsewhere in Science, 25 July 2014

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