Elsewhere in Science, 4 July 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 (Sci. TM), and Science Signaling—that hold some relevance to careers in science and other technical fields. (Note that articles appearing in Sci. TM, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS [the publisher of Science Careers] membership, a Science subscription, or a site license.) Because of Friday’s holiday, this week, we’re publishing “Elsewhere” on Monday.

► Islam Hussein, an Egyptian virologist now working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, is taking on pseudoscience in Egypt. Earlier this year, John Bohannon wrote at Insider, Egypt’s engineering authority announced a device it said could remotely detect viral infections—including, oddly, malaria, which is not viral. The new device doesn’t require electricity, it is claimed, because it can use the body’s static electricity. Another device is claimed to cure any number of diseases by exposing blood to special radiation.

The response has been muted. Wary of reprisals, most Egyptian scientists (especially those still in the country) have kept quiet. Essam Heggy, former adviser to Egypt’s ex-president, who is currently employed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spoke out earlier this year, and since then, “has been attacked by Egyptian media day and night,” Hussein says, as quoted by Bohannon.

Now, Hussein has made a series of YouTube videos debunking the miraculous devices. One of his videos has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

► Worried that the United States isn’t producing enough graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields? Frustrated over the failure of Congress to fund efforts aimed at expanding that critical workforce? Not to worry: An analysis by ScienceInsider of data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) shows that the number of STEM graduates is rising at a healthy pace. “Specifically, the number of degrees awarded annually in the natural sciences and engineering—NSF’s equivalent of what is normally defined as a STEM field—grew from 241,000 in 2000 to 355,000 in 2012, Jeffrey Mervis noted at Insider.

► When I first saw the headline—“Vampire squirrel has world’s fluffiest tale”—I was hoping to find a career angle so that I could justify including the article in this week’s “Elsewhere in Science” roundup. “[T]he rare tufted ground squirrel (Rheithrosciurus macrotis), which hides in the hilly forests of Borneo, … is an odd beast,” wrote Erik Stokstad. “It’s twice the size of most tree squirrels, and it reputedly has a taste for blood.”

I was lucky. There is a career angle, and a legitimate one at that: This research project is based on an unusual collaboration. It’s a family affair, involving a conservation scientist (Erik Meijaard, of People and Nature Consulting International), a remote-sensing expert (his wife, Rona Dennis), and a student at the British International School, Jakarta (their daughter, Emily Mae Meijaard,). Emily Mae analyzed the pictures, “measuring the size of the tail and body of various individuals,” Stokstad wrote.

► A report from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has criticized France’s system for funding science, Tania Rabesandratana wrote at Insider. For one thing, according to the report, only about 10% of all French funding for science is awarded competitively for specific projects, the lowest figure among all OECD countries. The report also reports weak spending on R&D by French industry—just 1.5% of GDP compared to 2% in neighboring Germany.

► Eli Kintisch spent some time with a group of German earth scientists in Potsdam, Germany, watching the World Cup. “German ambivalence about overt nationalism is perhaps more pronounced with nerdy scientists,” Kintisch wrote. “[M]any are pokerfaced” through much of the match. “But in the 55th minute, Germany scores, and joy ensues.”

► Do you reward your child’s good grades with a cookie? Do you dangle promises of elite postdoc fellowships and strong letters of recommendation—or threats of lost authorship—in front your graduate students, in attempts to extract optimal performance? Unless your goals or strictly short-term, that may not be the best approach. Last Tuesday, Bohannon wrote about a new study suggesting that such external motivation can be counterproductive. “According to one school of thought, internal motivations and external motivations are both effective. But some psychologists argue that only the internal motivations work for long-term goals, such as career achievement or learning new skills. The problem is that laboratory studies of motivation have focused only on short-term goals.”

The study was based on data from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. For years, West Point has conducted a survey of incoming students, quizzing them on, among other things, their motivations. West Point also tracked the career outcomes of their graduates (a practice graduate programs in the sciences should emulate). “Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz, psychologists at Yale University and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, respectively, asked West Point 7 years ago if they could work with these data. ‘This then began a process,’ Wrzesniewski says, of navigating bureaucracy and orchestrating official approval from the military and their home institutions. In the end, they got 14 years of data on the motivations and outcomes for more than 10,000 cadets.”

 “The study ‘reveals that intrinsic motivation is powerful, but it is also fragile,’ says Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. ‘Even when West Point cadets found their work interesting and meaningful, if they were also strongly motivated by extrinsic rewards,’ such as a good salary or the respect of their peers, ‘they were less likely to complete their studies, continue their service, and get promoted early.’ This creates a paradox for ambitious people. If achieving a goal strikes you as having many benefits beyond the goal itself, but you care too much about those added benefits, you are more likely to fail.”

The result is consistent with what has long been known about managing knowledge workers, including scientists, as we have often written over the years. Leave your sticks and carrots at home. The best way to manage scientists is to give them the tools and support they need let that internal motivation take charge.

► At ScienceInsider, Dennis Normile reported the retraction of two controversial Nature papers that earlier this year reported “a new, astoundingly simple way of generating pluripotent stem cells.” The retractions were expected. Separately, the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology announced that Haruko Obokata, the papers’ first author, “will return to the lab to try to reproduce her results as part of efforts to redo every step of the STAP experiments.”

► In an editorial in this week’s , Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt announced the formation of a new Statistical Board of Reviewing Editors (SBoRE), which will consist of “experts in various aspects of statistics and data analysis, to provide better oversight of the interpretation of observational data.” McNutt writes, “Members of the SBoRE will receive manuscripts that have been identified by editors, BoRE members, or possibly reviewers as needing additional scrutiny of the data analysis or statistical treatment. The SBoRE member assesses what the issue is that requires screening and suggests experts from the statistics community to provide it.”

► A few weeks ago, NextGen Voices asked, “What is the most challenging ethical question facing young investigators in your field? How should it be addressed?” Some of the answers are published in this week’s Letters section. More are published online. There is also a new question: “In your experience, what is the biggest challenge to global scientific collaboration? How should it be addressed? To submit an answer, go to http://scim.ag/NextGen12.

► In this week’s Working Life, produced by Science Careers and published each week inside Science’s back cover, Jack Kittinger describes his grandfather’s leap from space in 1960—and his own recent leap from the academic career track to heading up a conservancy.

If you’d like to tell your own unique story about a career in science, you can submit your short essay to [email protected]

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