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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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- Sunday, December 8, 2013 - 3:00pm
As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, some observers are recalling the crucial role he played in advocating for science during the highly fraught AIDS crisis in South Africa. Mandela’s protégé and successor as South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, rejected the scientific consensus and espoused the discredited view that HIV does not cause AIDS, popularized by University of California, Berkeley, molecular biologist Peter Duesberg. Mbeki’s refusal to bring the resources of the government to bear against the disease is responsible for 300,000 needless deaths, researchers have estimated.
In Mandela’s first public break with the African National Congress, which he had belonged to and then led over a period of 65 years, in 2001 he denounced Mbeki’s failure to fight the epidemic. “We must not continue to be debating, to be arguing, when people are dying,” Mandela declared, reports Stephanie Nolen of the Globe and Mail, who was based in South Africa from 2003 to 2008. By then a revered elder statesman, Mandela brought the immense power of his moral standing to the need to change his country’s policies.
Mandela, however, “arrived late” to the struggle against the disease, according to the Globe and Mail. During his own presidency, he gave relatively little attention to the rapidly growing epidemic and put Mbeki in charge of dealing with it. This approach allowed the infection to spread. Mandela had to give priority to even more critical matters during the first, crucial days of establishing non-racial democracy in the long-troubled country, his supporters argue.
Once Mandela came out on the side of accepting and vigorously acting on science, however, he became a powerful and effective advocate, helping turn the tide of opinion and policy in his own country and elsewhere. In 2005, Nolen reports, MandelaContinue Reading
- Friday, December 6, 2013 - 3:30pm
With a list of partners that reads like a Who’s Who of technology companies, the Smithsonian Institution today formally announced a new program to dramatically improve the ability of scientists to remotely track the movements of wild animals—perhaps over their whole lives. While still lacking a business plan and definite funding, Partners in the Sky has nonetheless set four goals for the new research and conservation effort, which will rely on industry support, says Peter Leimgruber, a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia.
Already, researchers seeking to follow animals as they move through the environment have made much progress. Radio collars and other tracking devices are shrinking and lasting longer on more compact power supplies. Some tracking efforts make use of satellites for uploading data; others set up networks of transmitters in forests or other natural areas to pick up signals from tagged individuals. But scientists are still unable to track most of the 6000 or so species that migrate, because most are too small to carry even the small 3- to 5-gram devices now available, Leimgruber says. Furthermore, the devices now available can be unreliable and expensive, with limited opportunities to transmit the data.
When Leimgruber first showed a radio collar for elephants to Allan McArtor, chairman of jetliner-maker Airbus Americas Inc., the aerospace executive was not impressed. The satellite radios "were big bulges the size of a volleyball," McArtor recalls. He thought, "our aerospace industry deals with these technologies all the time. There's got to be a better way." So a year ago, McArtor brought together engineers from about 15 aerospace and other companies and convinced them to pitch in their expertise. Now, Partners in the Sky includes Airbus, Intel, Iridium Communications Inc., Joubeh, LockheedContinue Reading
- Friday, December 6, 2013 - 1:45pm
The company 23andMe will no longer provide health information to people who purchase its DNA testing kit, it announced last night.The change was "to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process," the statement said. While current customers will still have access to a 23andMe online database noting the health issues associated with their particular DNA, the company will not update that information, and customers who purchased its Personal Genome Service (PGS) on or after 22 November will receive only information about their ancestry and their raw genetic data without interpretation.
The move comes after a 22 November letter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the Mountain View, California-based company to "immediately discontinue marketing the PGS until such time as it receives FDA marketing authorization for the device." The regulatory agency expressed a variety of concerns, including that patients might change dosage of medications or even abandon therapies because of 23andMe test results on drug responses.
The FDA action has sparked a vigorous debate over the rights of people to learn their own genetic information and the authority of governments to regulate marketing claims related to health. 23andMe says on its website that its services are “for research, informational, and educational use only. We do not provide medical advice." But the company has emphasized the medical uses of its test in recent marketing, says Cecile Janssens, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied the accuracy of risk predictions made by 23andMe and other companies. "It used to be more about what science knows about your DNA," she says. "But in the past year they really went on a different track. It is more about health recommendations now."
Just days after theContinue Reading
- Friday, December 6, 2013 - 1:00pm
Japanese scientists and academics are warning that legislation threatening prison terms for those who divulge and publish what the government deems a state secret threatens academic freedom and the public’s right to know.
The bill has been rushed through Japan’s parliament so quickly that opponents have had little time to react. The lower house of the Diet passed the bill on 26 November, and a final vote by the upper house is expected by Sunday.
That fast track has given scientists little time to voice their opposition. A hastily formed ad hoc group of about 30 scholars—including Nobel laureates Toshihide Maskawa, a physicist now at Nagoya University, and Hideki Shirakawa, a chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Tsukuba—issued a statement [in Japanese here] on 28 November saying the secrecy law "threatens the pacifist principles and fundamental human rights established by the constitution and should be rejected immediately." The statement further says, "Even in difficult times, protecting the freedom of the press, of thought and expression and of academic research is indispensable."
- Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 5:15pm
Jim Green, the head of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, shook things up for planetary scientists this week by announcing a restructuring that will change how the division funds grant proposals. The change has drawn criticism from some researchers, who say that it threatens to delay funding for their projects by up to a year and could put some out of work. One of the fiercest critics of the restructuring, ironically, is the co-author of a report that Green says recommended the change in the first place.
The change will cause difficulties for some scientists, NASA acknowledges. But Green says the agency is preparing to provide bridge funds to accommodate those who may face a funding gap.
At stake is $210 million that the division gives out in grants every year for researchers to make sense of data collected by planetary missions. Because each of these grants is typically given for 3 years, the division makes new awards equal to roughly one-third of the budget—$70 million—every year. Now, the division puts out calls for proposals at steady intervals throughout the year on about two dozen narrow topics such as cosmochemistry and planetary astronomy.Continue Reading
- Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 4:00pm
After 4 decades of vetting clinical trials of gene therapy for novel risks, it’s time to relax a bit, says a report issued today by an expert panel. But key government officials are greeting the recommendation with caution.
Gene therapy has proved its value, and its leaders have managed ethics issues well, according to a panel convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at the U.S. National Academies. The long-term hazards of gene therapy may not be clear yet, but the general risks seem no greater than in other areas of experimental medicine, the report says, so it’s time to phase out the U.S. outfit created in 1974 that’s dedicated to reviewing gene therapy, the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, or RAC.
“[M]any of the original fears associated with gene transfer”—such as worries about creating new pathogens, modifying the human germ line, or injuring society in other ways—“have not been borne out,” the IOM panel concludes. At the same time, it finds that “public perception has largely transitioned from negative to positive” thanks to gene therapy’s success in treating disorders such as inherited blindness and hemophilia. The panel urges the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which houses RAC and uses its advice, to stop having RAC examine individual gene therapy protocols.
- Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 3:00pm
Scientists in Italy have petitioned lawmakers to revise a measure that sharply restricts the use of animals in scientific research. The controversial law, approved by the Italian Parliament in July, will soon go to the nation’s president for signature. It implements an E.U. directive on animal research, but critics say that Italian lawmakers added additional, damaging restrictions.
A group of scientists organized the petition, titled Save Animal Research, which was delivered to Italy’s Chamber of Deputies today. The effort collected 13,000 signatures in a few weeks. “An amazing number, if you consider the uneasy topic,” says Stefan Treue, director of the German Primate Center in Göttingen.
The Italian law would ban in 2017 the use of animals to study drug abuse research and xenotransplantation. It prohibits the breeding of dogs, cats, and nonhuman primates for scientific purposes, although the Health Ministry may authorize their use for basic research aimed at treating serious human and animal diseases. And it ends the use of animals in university science and medicine courses, with the exception of veterinary courses.
- Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 6:00pm
When President Barack Obama announced yesterday “a new initiative at the National Institutes of Health [NIH] to advance research into an HIV cure,” he noted that the government would “redirect $100 million into this project.” But Obama did not specify where the money would be redirected from, and a subsequent NIH press release offered only a hint of more detail, noting that money “will come from existing resources and a redirection of funds from expiring AIDS research grants over the next three years.”
In an e-mail to ScienceInsider, Jack Whitescarver, director of NIH’s Office of AIDS Research, explained that “existing resources” means NIH’s existing $3.1 billion HIV/AIDS budget: No new money will come from other parts of NIH. About 20% to 25% of NIH grants expire each year and become eligible to recompete, Whitescarver says, and some will not merit refunding because they focus “on areas of AIDS-related research that are now considered less pressing.” As an example, he singled out research on AIDS-associated opportunistic infections, which previously was a high priority. “But with the advent of effective antiretroviral therapy, that research, while still scientifically meritorious, is now of lower priority for funding with AIDS research dollars,” Whitescarver explained.
- Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 11:15am
BRUSSELS—European research ministers have approved the content and rules of the giant Horizon 2020 research program at a meeting of the European Union’s Competitiveness Council, held here today. This was the last necessary step before the European Commission can release the 7-year program's first calls for proposals on 11 December.
The vote formally marks the end of 2 years of negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of Ministers on the program's detailed features and budget breakdown. It confirms a preliminary agreement reached earlier this year and follows a similar vote at the European Parliament last month.
“These last 2 years have been tough, hard, exhausting but at the same time our work attracted a lot of interest and demonstrated that research and innovation [are] high on the political agenda,” research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn told ministers just after the vote here today.
- Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 11:00am
Climate change poses little threat of causing greenhouse gases to gush from the Arctic or the Gulf Stream to slosh to a stop, at least in this century, concludes a report released today by a committee of the National Research Council (NRC). But the uncertainties associated with passing tipping points in the climate system are dangerously large, the NRC committee finds. To remedy that, the committee recommends the creation of an early warning system to alert policymakers to new threats of abrupt change and, of course, further research to reduce those uncertainties. “The time is here to be serious about the threat of tipping points,” the report concludes, “so as to better anticipate and prepare ourselves for the inevitable surprises.”
NRC foresees some of those surprises coming from some unconventional quarters. In addition to problems created by sudden climate changes over a few decades or even a few years, the committee points to abruptly developing problems created by a steadily changing climate. Rising sea level could suddenly begin to breach sea walls, for example, and thawing permafrost could cause the sudden collapse of buildings, roads, or pipelines.
Some sudden impacts of climate change are already under way, the report notes. Arctic warming has caused a rapid decline in sea ice cover during the past decade that could seriously affect everything from Arctic ecosystems to shipping and oil drilling. And global warming is so rapid—as fast as any warming in the past 65 million years—that species already under pressure from habitat loss and overexploitation are at greater risk of extinction.Posted In:
- Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 5:00am
Shanghai students have widened their lead in the latest global comparison of the educational skills of 15-year-olds. Asian city-states dominate the rankings, released today, while U.S. students continue to lag behind their counterparts in the industrial world.
Every 3 years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures how well students can apply what they’ve learned in reading, mathematics, and science to practical problems. And the 2012 results are similar to 2009 and earlier versions. Of 65 participants, which include both countries and smaller geographic units such as provinces and states, Shanghai once again leads the way in all three subjects, while Singapore and Hong Kong hold down the next two spots in math and science. (China did not participate as a country, and PISA allowed several U.S. states to compare their students to the rest of the world.) Two other traditional powerhouses, Korea and Japan, are the only large nations who made it into the top 10, and both countries made significant progress in science. (Click here to see a summary table of results.)Continue ReadingPosted In:
- Monday, December 2, 2013 - 1:00pm
This morning, an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a lawsuit in a New York Supreme Court in an attempt to get a judge to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons and should be freed from captivity. The suit is the first of three to be filed in three New York counties this week. They target two research chimps at Stony Brook University and two chimps on private property, and are the opening salvo in a coordinated effort to grant “legal personhood” to a variety of animals across the United States.
If NhRP is successful in New York, it could be a significant step toward upending millennia of law defining animals as property and could set off a “chain reaction” that could bleed over to other jurisdictions, says Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a proponent of focusing on animal welfare rather than animal rights. “But if they lose it could be a significant step backward for the movement. They’re playing with fire.”
The litigation has been in the works since 2007, when animal rights attorney Steven Wise founded NhRP, an association of about 60 lawyers, scientists, and policy experts. The group argues that cognitively advanced animals like chimpanzees and dolphins are so self-aware that keeping them in captivity—whether a zoo or research laboratory—is tantamount to slavery. “It’s a terrible torture we inflict on them, and it has to stop,” Wise says. “And all of human law says the way things stop is when courts and legislatures recognize that the being imprisoned is a legal person.”
NhRP spent 5 years researching the best legal strategy—and best jurisdiction—for its first cases. The upshot: a total of three lawsuits to be filed in three New York trial courts this week on behalf of four resident chimpanzees. One,Continue Reading
- Friday, November 29, 2013 - 3:15pm
The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology has retracted a much-criticized paper that links a strain of genetically modified (GM) maize with severe diseases in rats. The paper's author, French biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen, slammed the decision, which he said is an attempt by the GM crop industry to muzzle scientists who put into question the safety of its products.
Séralini's paper sparked a media storm when it was published in September 2012. While some commentators presented the study as proof that GM food is “poison,” many scientists dismissed the study as flawed, and several official bodies also found it wanting.
Elsevier, the journal's publisher, said in a statement released on 28 November that “the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.”
- Friday, November 29, 2013 - 2:30pm
Signs are increasing that camels are involved in spreading a deadly new virus that surfaced in the Middle East last year. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that researchers had detected Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus in a herd of camels in Qatar linked to two recent human cases. "This is a very important piece of the puzzle," says Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. So far, the virus has sickened 160 people and killed 68.
The finding was part of an investigation into two patients from Qatar who both contracted MERS but survived. Qatari officials took samples from the environment and numerous animals at the farm where the two worked. Researchers in the Netherlands detected MERS coronavirus RNA in nose swabs from three of the 14 camels tested. The scientists confirmed the result by sequencing a fragment of the virus. "Based on the length of the sequence we are absolutely certain that this is MERS," says Marion Koopmans, chief of virology at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, who was involved in the work.
Scientists suspect bats as the ultimate source of the new virus, but human interactions with bats are limited so another animal species may act as a bridge. In August, Koopmans and other scientists reported that they had found antibodies against MERS coronavirus in 50 out of 50 camels from Oman. They also tested sheep, goats, and cows but found no antibodies. Whether the camels really were infected with MERS remained unclear, however. Earlier this month, Saudi officials announced that a camel owned by a MERS patient had tested positive for MERS as well but they have not presented any sequence dataContinue Reading
- Friday, November 29, 2013 - 9:15am
After years of wrangling, a 2005 study on symmetry and dance published in Nature has been retracted. The paper reported that Jamaican men and women with more symmetric bodies were also better dancers. Because symmetry is seen as an indicator of genetic quality, this would bolster the theory that human dance evolved as a sexually selected courtship ritual. The retraction notice gives no reason.
Biologist Robert Trivers of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, one of the authors, says he became aware of problems with the data after publication. He accuses co-author William Brown of preselecting the dancers and changing the values on some of the dancers' measures of symmetry. When Trivers's early attempts to have the paper retracted failed, he wrote a short book about it called The Anatomy of a Fraud that he sent to researchers who cited the paper. "Everybody in the fraud network, that is the journal, the university, the fraudster, they all benefit by stringing the thing out," he said earlier this year.
In April, an investigation at Rutgers University finally concluded that "substantial (clear and convincing) evidence exists that research fraud has occurred in several areas" including "biased selection of subjects who were to be included in the symmetry/asymmetry comparison groups so as to artificially obtain desired results." At the time, Brown denied the accusations. He could not be reached for comment.
Even though the paper has now been retracted, Trivers says he is not entirely happy. "It took them 8 years after publication of the paper, and 5 after we submitted a retraction, and 4½ years after we published proof of fraud (later borne out by Rutgers' investigation) for them finally to ‘retract’ a paper now cited 136 times," he writes in an e-mail. "Journals see no upsideContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 3:30pm
Big research collaborations have become common—think Human Genome Project, Mars rovers, the new BRAIN Initiative—but they are almost unknown in psychology. Most psychological experiments are carried out by a single lab group, often just a few researchers. But several collaborations that span dozens of psychology laboratories around the world have recently formed. Their goal is nothing short of testing the reproducibility of psychological science. The first significant result from one of those alliances was released this week, and psychologists are breathing a sigh of relief that their field came through with relatively minor blemishes—10 of 13 experimental results were replicated.
Reproducibility is a mantra in science. For most types of research, if an experimental result can't be reproduced by another lab, then its credibility is undermined. Fail to reproduce in multiple labs and the original result is dismissed. Testing the reproducibility of experiments is crucial for cleaning out scientific errors, flukes, and fraud. But science doesn't run as efficient a cleaning service as it could. Researchers are given almost no professional incentive to repeat the work of others, let alone report failures to repeat their own experiments.
Now, motivated by several recent high-profile frauds and an overall concern that many of their field’s results aren’t trustworthy, some experimental psychologists are doing an audit. The one announced this week started with a trio: Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Kate Ratliff at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and Ratliff's Ph.D. student Rick Klein. Nosek has been at the forefront of efforts to clean up his field—he and more than 175 collaborators are repeating a random sample of the hundreds of studies published in 2008 in three major psychology journals—and he and Ratliff are both part of Project Implicit, a long-running collaboration that alsoContinue ReadingPosted In:
- Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 2:15pm
Israeli scientists will be able to take part in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding program, which will launch in January, according to an agreement reached late last night. Israel’s government had threatened not to participate in the 7-year, €70 billion program because of a diplomatic flap with the European Union that flared up this summer. The conflict centers on E.U. guidelines, slated to take effect in January, that prohibit any E.U. funds from going to Israeli organizations or activities in the territories occupied after June 1967, including the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
Israel has participated in E.U. science funding programs since 1996 as an associated country. Being an associated country allows non-E.U. members to take part in funding programs; such countries contribute to the program’s budget based on their gross domestic product. Israeli scientists have been very successful at winning E.U. grants. The country paid €534 million into the Seventh Framework Programme, which spanned 2007 to 2013; in return, almost 1600 Israeli scientists will have received a total of €634 million in funding. (Horizon 2020 is the successor program to Framework 7.) Israeli scientists, as well as technology minister Jacob Perry, had argued that not participating in the program would be a significant blow to Israeli research. Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman had objected to signing an agreement with the guidelines in place.
- Monday, November 25, 2013 - 5:45pm
For more than a decade, Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) advocated for improving scientific integrity policies at government agencies. When she commented on a draft of the policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2011, she wrote: “These are great principles but how will this happen? Who will monitor? Who will detect problems and enforce these strong words?”
Well, it turns out, she will. EPA announced today that it has hired Grifo to oversee its new policy on scientific integrity. “It’s great news,” says Rena Steinzor of the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore, who studies environmental regulation and the misuse of science in environmental policy.
Grifo is charged with overseeing the four main areas of EPA’s policy: creating and maintaining a culture of scientific integrity within the agency; communicating openly to the public; ensuring rigorous peer review; and encouraging the professional development of agency scientists.
It sounds like a gargantuan task, but Grifo won’t actually be checking the integrity of every committee, scientific document, and peer review. Instead, she will be focusing on improving the process, says Michael Halpern, her former colleague at UCS. Part of the job will be educating staff members. Last week, EPA launched an online training guide for its staff members to make them aware of the policy and its protections. “It’s a cultural change so that [EPA] scientists feel they can participate in public life and the scientific community,” Halpern says, and better prepare them to deal with political pressure.
- Monday, November 25, 2013 - 5:30pm
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on DNA testing company 23andMe for the marketing of its Personal Genome Service (PGS). In a 22 November warning letter addressed to CEO Anne Wojcicki, FDA demanded that the Mountain View, California-based company stop selling its $99 testing kit, which uses a sample of a buyer’s saliva to identify genetic variants linked to more than 240 “health conditions and traits,” until it receives FDA authorization.
The service claims to identify risks, predict drug response, and inform treatment decisions—uses which require approval under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, FDA holds.
The agency followed up with an announcement in the Federal Register today, announcing that it is issuing "guidance" to companies that produce in vitro diagnostic products labeled “for research use only” and “for investigational use only.” The moves may signify a new push for regulatory control over the field of direct-to-consumer genomics. (On its website, 23andMe says its services are “for research, informational, and educational use only. We do not provide medical advice.”) Continue Reading
- Monday, November 25, 2013 - 4:15pm
Fred Kavli, the man behind the Kavli Foundation, died last week at the age of 86. He leaves a legacy of supporting the fundamental sciences that will be further strengthened in the future, thanks to additional funds that Kavli bequeathed to the foundation in his will.
“Fred had always indicated that the foundation would exist in perpetuity,” says Kavli Foundation President Robert Conn. “He endowed it with a generous initial gift. It will be even more generously endowed after his passing.” Conn did not, however, provide details on how much Kavli’s final bequest will add to the foundation’s capital, which totaled $145 million in 2011, according to tax records.
Kavli grew up in a small village in Norway and moved to the United States in 1956. Two years later, he founded Kavlico Corporation, which became one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for the aerospace and automobile industries. In 2000, Kavli sold the company and launched the Kavli Foundation to support basic research.Posted In:
- Monday, November 25, 2013 - 3:30pm
Canadian universities aren’t doing enough to protect academic freedom and safeguard against conflicts of interest in research agreements with industry, argues a new report from an academic association. But the leader of one applied research collaboration says the findings are misguided.
“In their drive to attract new revenues by collaborating with corporations, donors, and governments, Canadian universities are entering into agreements that … sacrifice fundamental academic principles,” the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) concluded, according to a press release, in the report released last week, which examined a dozen university-industry agreements. Many, it found, failed to protect researchers’ ability to publish freely, while just one spelled out rules for disclosing conflicts of interest.
CAUT’s conclusion, however, is “complete and utter nonsense,” says Murray Gray, scientific director of the Centre for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, one of the partnerships analyzed in the report. “Their premise is that academic freedom [means] that you should be paid as a professor to do work that what you want to do, without any accountability, that you should be given money and just go and have a good time.”
- Thursday, November 28, 2013 - 2:00pm
At the Society for Neuroscience meeting earlier this month in San Diego, California, Science sat down with Geoffrey Ling, deputy director of the Defense Sciences Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to discuss the agency’s plans for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a neuroscience research effort put forth by President Barack Obama earlier this year. So far, DARPA has released two calls for grant applications, with at least one more likely: The first, called SUBNETS (Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies), asks researchers to develop novel, wireless devices, such as deep brain stimulators, that can cure neurological disorders such as posttraumatic stress (PTS), major depression, and chronic pain. The second, RAM (Restoring Active Memory), calls for a separate wireless device that repairs brain damage and restores memory loss. Below is an extended version of a Q&A that appears in the 29 November issue of Science.
Q: Why did DARPA get involved in the BRAIN project?
G.L.: It’s really focused on our injured warfighters, but it has a use for civilians who have stress disorders and civilians who also have memory disorders from dementia and the like. But at the end of the day, it is still meeting [President Obama’s] directive. Of all the things he could have chosen—global warming, alternative fuels—he chose this, so in my mind the neuroscience community should be as excited as all get-up.
- Friday, November 22, 2013 - 4:30pm
A premier science museum in North Carolina has sparked some controversy by refusing to show an hourlong film about climate change and rising sea levels. “The suppression of information is not in in the spirit of what a museum ought to do,” says Charles “Pete” Peterson, a marine ecologist at the University of North Carolina’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City.
But museum officials deny any attempt to avoid the topic. “I have a track record of dealing with these issues head on,” says Emlyn Koster, who directs the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.
The museum may be in a bit of a delicate position. It is part of a state agency, the North CarolinaDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources. The state government has been perceived as hostile to action on climate change; last year, the legislature passed a bill forbidding the state coastal commission from defining rates of sea-level rise for regulation before 2016. Although Koster is a state employee who is exempt from some civil service protections and serves at the pleasure of Governor Pat McCrory (R), he stresses his independence. “At no time have I been told what to do or what to think.”
In October, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, an advocacy organization, asked that the Museum of Natural Sciences show the film Shored Up in January as part of its weekly Science Café events. The hourlong movie looks at the impact of sea-level rise in New Jersey and North Carolina, as well as various political responses to dealing with the threat. After debuting at a film festival in New Jersey in May, the documentary has been screened dozens of times around the country.
- Friday, November 22, 2013 - 5:00pm
Long considered the capstone of a scientific career in China, election to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) confers so much prestige on those anointed that organizations often try to recruit CAS members or reward their own with a guarantee of lifetime employment. But China’s Communist Party has ordered a reform of China’s academy membership system that may be aimed at curtailing privileges for academicians, or yuanshi. The surprise move “is completely outside my expectations,” says Cao Cong, a Chinese science policy scholar at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
The yuanshi system has come under mounting criticism, especially after a researcher was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) for his contributions to making cigarettes less harmful and after revelations of a corrupt railway official’s failed attempts to bribe his way into CAS. Many rank-and-file Chinese scientists both envy and chafe at the real and imagined privileges that yuanshi enjoy. The Education Ministry holds academicians in such high esteem that one metric it uses to evaluate universities is the number of yuanshi on the payroll. As a result, academicians might hold concurrent positions at several universities and institutes, fattening their wallets in the process.
Some observers view the yuanshi system as a hindrance to Chinese science and have called for abolishing it all together. That’s why many in China’s blogosphere were elated to learn that Communist Party leaders, in an opus on economic, social, and legal reforms released after a party powwow in Beijing last week, called for the “reform of election and management of the academician system” and to “implement regulations regarding retirement and withdrawal” of members. It’s uncertain how CAS will carry out the order. A researcher who has been advising CAS on reforms says he has been bombarded with questions aboutContinue Reading
- Friday, November 29, 2013 - 7:45am
Scientists overwhelmingly support the notion of making research papers freely available, but fewer publish their work in so-called open-access journals that make papers free immediately upon publication. Hindering some scientists are doubts about the quality and influence of open-access journals compared with traditional journals, according to results of an online survey conducted by Science magazine.
Broadly speaking, traditional journals earn revenue from subscriptions, while open-access journals charge authors a publication fee of hundreds to thousands of dollars. We polled readers about their views on open access as part of a special issue on communication in science last month that included revelations of shoddy peer review by some fee-based open-access journals.
The online survey, which drew 254 respondents, found strong support for the principle of free access: Nearly three-quarters of respondents consider it “very important” that research papers are freely available. Just over half prefer immediate open access to making papers free after 6 or more months. (On Science’s website, research papers are freely available 12 months after publication.) Two-thirds of respondents prefer providing access through a repository or author’s website.Posted In: