Elsewhere in Science, 14 March 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 as well as ScienceInsider, ScienceNOW, Science Translational Medicine (Sci. TM) and Science Signaling—that hold some relevance to careers in science and technical fields. (Note that while articles appearing in ScienceInsider and ScienceNOW can be read by anyone, articles appearing in Sci. TM, Science Signaling, and Science may require AAAS—publisher of Science Careers—membership/Science subscription or a site license.)

• Last Friday, Jocelyn Kaiser reported on new data that show the number of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded investigators declined “by at least 500 researchers and as many as 1000,” during last year’s budget cuts. The data also show the number of R01-equivalent awards decreasing from 22,116 to 2, 511 during that period.

Kaiser noted that “the drop in investigators does suggest some contraction in labs.” In the article, Jeremy Berg, President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, asked, ” ‘[I]s this a wise culling of the herd, or is this a destructive loss of productive investigators and talent?’ Some of the grants are probably R01s that the investigator has held for decades, Berg says. Others ‘are probably people in the prime of their careers.’ “

• Are you training for a career in agricultural research? If so, here is some good news. In another ScienceInsider posted last Friday, Erik Stokstad reported that “the White House budget request included $75 million for three new research institutes.” If approved by Congress, each institute would receive $25 million a year to fund research of interest to the public and companies. The idea—for three “innovation institutes”—was recommended in a report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

While the final plans for the institutes aren’t yet clear, advocates for agricultural research are pleased. “This is a very exciting moment for us in agricultural research,” says Molly Jahn of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an author of the PCAST report. “We’ve been heard.”

• Switzerland lost its status as an associated country to Horizon 2020, the European Union’s new research funding program, after its voters agreed on a referendum to curb mass immigration. The referendum violated E.U. rules, making Swiss investigators ineligible for Horizon 2020 funding, including research grants from the European Research Council (ERC). On Thursday at ScienceInsider, Tania Rabesandratana  reported that  “Switzerland’s government has now offered a partial remedy: The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) will offer ERC-like grants so that Swiss applications don’t go to waste.”

• A letter in this week’s issue of Science responded to an article by Beryl Benderly, published in January at Science Careers. In the article, Benderly cited a paper in Academic Medicine noting the coincidence of the rise in women in academic medicine and the emergence of the clinician-educator track at medical schools. These clinician-educator positions are less prestigious than tenure-track positions, but they offer more flexibility, so they may be desirable to some women with family obligations. Perhaps, Benderly suggested, the absence of women in top positions could be partly a matter of women’s choice.

The letter’s authors—seven from Stanford University in California and one from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York—object and suggest that Benderly’s article misrepresents the findings of the study. Institutionalized gender bias is likely the main reason women are underrepresented in the upper echelons of academic medicine, they write, and explanations involving women’s choice can distract observers from unfair institutional practices. Benderly’s response to the letter is here.

• In Books Et Al., Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and the president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, reviewed Girls Coming to Tech! A History of American Engineering Education for Women, by Amy Sue Bix. The book tells the story of women’s integration at three important engineering colleges: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the California Institute of Technology, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The book “provides detailed descriptions of how each of the three institutions gradually realized that admitting a small number of female students was not enough to ensure that they thrived academically and socially,” Klawe writes. “Over time, each institution provided more support to improve the learning and social environments for female undergraduates and made raising the number of female engineering students to ‘critical mass’ a priority. Today, females compose close to 50% of the undergraduates at MIT, and a higher percentage of them complete their degree than do males.”

• In this week’s News & Analysis section, David Malakoff analyzed the White House’s 2015 spending request and equates it to a preview of a Hollywood film: Imagine a world in which NIH and NSF are able to fund 1650 extra research grants. It’s probably fantasy film, however, since for it to be realized, Congress would need to waive spending limits set last December in the deal that ended the government shutdown. Alas, in the real world, the future is probably flat.

• On Thursday at ScienceInsider, Mervis described a markup session by the research panel of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the notorious H.R. 4186, aka the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act. FIRST would reauthorize research and education programs at NSF and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—but it would also reduce social science funding by 40% and, in the opinion of many science advocates, meddle in peer review. The panel passed the bill in a party-line vote after agreeing to restore some social science funding. On Wednesday, Malakoff described some reactions to the FIRST bill.

• On Monday, Science Careers published a Q&A interview with Paul Brookes, the outed whistleblower behind science-fraud.org. Describing investigations of misconduct cases, Brookes said, “I want everything to happen faster. Everything takes so long. Many cases at the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) take 3 or 4 years. The ORI needs more money and more people.”  Then on Wednesday, as if on cue, Insider reported the resignation of David Wright, the director of ORI, over his frustration with the “remarkably dysfunctional” federal bureaucracy. “What I was able to do in a day or two as an academic administrator takes weeks or months in the federal government,” he wrote, in a “scathing” resignation letter.

Top Image: Entomologist Jeffery Pettis measures the health of bee colonies at the ARS Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland. CREDIT: Peggy Greb/USDA

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