Just more than a year ago, researchers published a paper announcing that they had discovered how grizzly bears gain scores of weight before hibernation, but avoid the obesity-associated health problems, such as diabetes, that typically accompany such dramatic weight gain in people. Yesterday, Cell Metabolism retracted the paper after some of its authors at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, California, announced that the original paper contained falsified data.
After 4 years of mulling, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is preparing to tighten rules designed to protect people who participate in research funded by the federal government and many private entities. HHS, along with 15 other agencies, released a Federal Register notice today describing the intended changes, which include tighter consent requirements for the reuse of stored blood or tissue in new research.
The requirements, collectively known as the Common Rule, have been in place since 1991. But the expanding scale of research involving human subjects—enabled in part by more sophisticated ways to analyze biospecimens and by the large-scale collection of digital health records—has inspired an overhaul. In 2011, HHS announced plans to tighten the rules, and began collecting public feedback.
The notice released today follows through on several ideas floated in that announcement. One major change would require researchers to get a participant’s consent to analyze donated biospecimens in future studies that are unrelated to the original research. For now, researchers can make use of stored samples leftover from previous studies or clinical tests without explicit consent by stripping them of any personal identifying information. That sidesteps the typical consent by “taking the human out of human subjects research,” says Kathy Hudson, deputy director for science, outreach, and policy at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. But “that is not really consistent with the views we have about the partnership we have with research participants,” she adds. The new rule would “show respect” for these subjects, she says, by asking them to give broad consent to any unspecified future research use of their blood or tissue.
A lab at the center of a longstanding controversy about dangerous virus research has engineered heartier influenza viruses that could streamline vaccine production. The researchers contend that their findings may help bring future pandemics under control faster—but the study also demonstrates the risk of curtailing so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies, in which viruses are made more transmissible or more pathogenic, the researchers argue.
The U.S. government suspended funding of GOF studies last year and ordered a review of their risks and benefits. The current work, by Yoshihiro Kawaoka's group at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was performed before that happened; it's not clear whether its funding would have been stopped.
The team set out to address a perennial problem in the production of influenza vaccines. To keep up with the ever-mutating flu virus, researchers each year create new vaccines tailormade to combat the strains they expect to dominate. Every year, it's a scramble to produce the vaccines in time for the flu season.
BEIJING—Tomorrow, China’s government will mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s formal surrender at the end of World War II by rolling tanks through Tiananmen Square and staging an airshow with jet fighters.
To safeguard China’s rarely seen military aircraft—the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 fighter jets—from the risk of damage by accidental bird strikes, or birds sucked up into high-performance jet engines, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has trained a squadron of male rhesus macaques to search and destroy nests near an unnamed airfield, or airfields, in northern China.
Ornithologists say the operation is misguided, at best. “Many hungry and exhausted birds stop off in Beijing on their way south for the winter. If these birds are continually disturbed, it will cause extra stress and almost certainly higher mortality,” says Terry Townsend, founder of the birdwatchers group Birding Beijing.
In 2000, Congress created a center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the relatively high rates of disease such as diabetes in African Americans and Latinos. A decade later, lawmakers expanded the center to an institute, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). This month, physician Eliseo Perez-Stable will take the helm of NIMHD, whose founding director John Ruffin retired last year.
Born in Cuba, Perez-Stable, 63, followed his father’s path into academic medicine, spending his career at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). His work has ranged from examining strategies for reducing smoking among minorities to studying health disparities in elderly minority populations. At NIMHD, Perez-Stable will oversee $270 million in research and training programs, and help coordinate minority health research across NIH.
Do you have a great idea for a study that you want to share with the world? A new journal will gladly publish it. Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) will also publish papers on your methods, workflows, data, reports, and software—in short, “all outputs of the research cycle." RIO, an open-access (OA) journal, was officially launched today and will start accepting submissions in November.
“We're interested in making the full process of science open,” says RIO founding editor Ross Mounce, a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. Many good research proposals fall by the wayside because funding agencies have limited budgets, Mounce says; RIO is a way to give them another chance. Mounce hopes that funders will use the journal to spot interesting new projects.
Publishing proposals can also help create links between research teams, Mounce says. “Let's say you're going to Madagascar for 6 months to sample turtle DNA,” he suggests. ”If you can let other researchers know ahead of time, you can agree to do things together.”
After 3 years in the shadows, the anonymous founder of a popular and controversial website that allows users to critique published research has revealed himself. “I’m a bit nervous … I wouldn’t call myself a risk-taker,” admits Brandon Stell, a 41-year-old neuroscientist and the main force behind PubPeer, which has become an influential outlet for identifying flawed—and sometimes fraudulent—studies.
The site’s practice of allowing anonymous postings, however, has also drawn a lawsuit from a cancer researcher who claims PubPeer comments cost him a lucrative job.
Stell, an American who works in a brain physiology lab at the University Paris Descartes, never imagined that PubPeer, which was inspired by paper discussion groups he attended in college, would attract so much attention so quickly. Stell and his friends decided when they started PubPeer in 2012 that they would remain anonymous until they saw how the site evolved.
The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has decided that surgeon Paolo Macchiarini is not guilty of scientific misconduct in his treatment of three patients with tissue-engineered tracheae. The decision, announced this morning by Vice-Chancellor Anders Hamsten, disagrees with the conclusion of a report by an independent investigator, released in May, which did find that Macchiarini had committed misconduct.
"I and my team are not guilty of anything. Not having falsified anything, not having embellished or withheld anything,” Macchiarini says. "The sense of innocence is prevailing.”
Macchiarini, a visiting professor at Karolinska, led teams that transplanted artificial tracheae into three patients at the institute’s hospitals. The patients had suffered damage to their tracheae because of cancer or side effects from another surgery.
Four years ago, after more than a decade of drawing the popular online comic Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD for short), former engineer Jorge Cham jumped to the big screen, enlisting an ensemble of California Institute of Technology in Pasadena researchers to produce and star in a movie version of his cartoon depicting the trials and tribulation of being a graduate student in the sciences. Now, a follow-up film is coming out next month. In an email exchange, Science caught up with Cham and learned a few details about the sequel. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Why go through the insanity of a making a film again?
A: As hard and risky as it is to pull off these kinds of projects, it's also very gratifying artistically to work with so many people and create something together. I just didn't think it was possible, or that there was enough demand for it. I think the main catalyst was the increasing number of PHD comics fans who would approach me at events and ask if there was going to be a sequel. Then, when one of the stars of the movie, Alex Lockwood, told me she was graduating and leaving the country, it dawned on me that this would be the last chance to do any kind of followup.
Q: In Hollywood, sequels are typically bigger and louder. Are there more characters and explosions in your sequel?
A: There aren't any explosions, but there are definitely more characters. My approach to writing this movie was to progress the characters and put them in new and interesting situations. For both of the main characters in the movie, that meant going out and interacting with a larger part of the world of academia. So, one...Continue Reading »
They say never judge a book by its cover, but a new study suggests that you may be able to predict the popularity of a scientific paper from the length of its title. Brevity, it turns out, appears to earn a paper a little more attention.
Articles with shorter titles tend to get cited more often than those with longer headers, concludes a study published today, which examined 140,000 papers published between 2007 and 2013. It appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science. (See below for a list of the five longest, and five shortest, titles included in the study.)
Citations are a key currency in the academic world. The number of times other researchers cite a scientist’s work is often an important metric in hiring and workplace evaluations. Citations also play a role in determining a journal’s place in the scholarly pecking order, with journals that publish more highly cited papers earning a higher “impact factor” (although many critics challenge that measure).
Efforts to understand the factors that influence citation rates, however, are fraught with challenges. One problem is that citations can take years to accumulate, and so it can take long periods for even stellar papers to receive recognition.
Indeed, the authors of the current study saw that trend in their analysis, which used the Scopus database to examine the titles of the 20,000 most cited papers in each year from 2007 to 2013 (a total of 140,000 papers). For papers published in 2007 and 2008, the link between shorter titles and higher citation numbers was relatively strong. The link became weaker, however, for papers published in 2012 and 2013, which had less time to accumulate citations.
That difference largely disappeared, however, when they looked at citation totals for entire journals, and not just individual papers....Continue Reading »
Francisco Franco ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. His nationalist, authoritarian regime had a brutal grip on the country's political and cultural life—but also on science, according to Education, science and ideology in Spain (1890–1950), a recent book published in Spanish. In it, Manuel Castillo Martos and Juan Luis Rubio Mayoral show that Francoism smothered research and relied on Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic institution, to police academic life.
ScienceInsider talked to Castillo Martos; this exchange has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter appeared relaxed and even made the occasional joke when he publicly announced yesterday that he has melanoma that has spread to his liver and brain. The 90-year-old expressed hope that he’d benefit, as many are these days, from cutting-edge therapies that help the immune system destroy cancer cells. (These treatments topped Science’s Breakthroughs of the Year in 2013.) Melanoma, in some patients, was among the first cancers to succumb to one of these immunotherapies, and the specific treatment Carter is taking has many oncologists excited: It’s a monoclonal antibody called pembrolizumab and sold under the brand name Keytruda. Approved in the United States a year ago for advanced melanoma, pembrolizumab belongs to a hot class of drugs called PD-1 inhibitors. By blocking the PD-1 protein, the therapy allows the body to make T cells that can chase after a cancer.
China has emitted significantly less carbon since 2000 than previously estimated because of erroneous assumptions about the quality of the country's coal, a study released today claims. That may sound like great news—but it doesn't mean that the world is warming at a slower rate or that the need to reduce emissions has become less urgent, the researchers warn. China remains the world's largest carbon emitter, and the new study doesn't make its target of reversing its growth in emissions by 2030 any easier to attain.
The main benefit of the study, based on new analyses of the carbon content of the country's coal, is that "it provides a baseline for future emission policies," says Dabo Guan, a co-author of the paper and a climate change economist at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, U.K.
"There is no doubt that the authors have made a significant step forward" in characterizing China's emissions, and the country's effort to improve the quality of its climate data "is very welcome," says Josep Canadell, an earth system scientist at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra.
Cherry Murray, a physicist at Harvard University, stresses that she can't say definitely what she would do as director of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) $5.1 billion Office of Science, the mammoth agency’s basic research wing. That’s because her nomination to the post, announced by the White House on 5 August, still must be confirmed by the Senate. However, if she is confirmed as head of the single biggest U.S. funder of the physical sciences, Murray says she already has an idea of where she would focus: on building bridges between Office of Science's 10 national laboratories and the six others run by different parts of DOE.
"The Office of Science manages its labs very well, it's the shining star of DOE," Murray says. "But they could be better integrated with the other national labs."
It remains to be seen whether Murray will get a chance to work on that integration, or whether, with 16 months to go in the current administration, the Senate will leave her nomination dangling. That's what happened to the previous Office of Science nominee, Marc Kastner, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Kastner was nominated in November 2013 but never received a confirmation vote and moved on to another position.
Murray has a stellar record as a scientific manager. From 1 July 2009 until the end of last year, she served as dean of engineering and applied science at Harvard. From 2007 to 2009 she was principal associate director for science and technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California—one of three labs run by DOE’s nuclear weapons division, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Before that, Murray spent 26 years at the storied Bell Labs, the private research shop once owned by AT&T that produced eight Nobel...Continue Reading »
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed new rules that would target emissions of methane and other pollutants from new and existing natural gas and oil facilities nationwide. The goal is to reduce emissions of methane—a potent warming gas—by 40% to 45% by 2025.
Backers say the rules are needed to address an important cause of climate change, and will prompt drillers to stop letting valuable natural gas escape into the atmosphere. But critics in industry argue the rules aren’t needed, because companies are already acting voluntarily.
Natural gas offers peril and promise in terms of its environmental effects. It creates less carbon per unit of energy produced than coal and has fewer short-term health impacts from associated pollutants. But the main component of natural gas, methane, is 80 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when measured over a 20-year time period. So preventing methane leaks from gas fields and pipelines—as well as petroleum wells that produce gas as a byproduct—is considered crucial to combating global warming. Recent studies have shown that cities are a significant source of methane emissions, as are gas drilling and transmission facilities. And a new study released today in Environmental Science & Technology concludes that methane emissions from the collection and gathering facilities that bring natural gas to industrial plants are equivalent to the carbon dioxide produced by 37 coal plants over 2 decades.
Zero. That’s the number of labs that have applied for a permit to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees in the United States, as required by a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rule. The number suggests that all biomedical research on chimps has stopped—or is about to stop—and it’s unclear whether the work will ever start up again.
“This is the beginning of the end of invasive chimpanzee research,” says Stephen Ross, the director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, who pushed for the FWS rule. “Scientists have seen the writing on the wall.”
Biomedical research on chimpanzees has been waning since 2013, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would phase out most government-funded chimp research and retire the majority of its research chimps to sanctuaries. The most recent blow came in June, when FWS stated that all U.S. chimpanzees—including the more than 700 chimps used in research—would be classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Any labs that wished to continue invasive work on these animals would need to apply for an ESA permit, and permits would only be allowed for work that enhances the survival of the species and benefits chimpanzees in the wild.
Research organizations are asking the Scottish government to reconsider its recent decision to ban the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops. The ban “risks constraining Scotland's contribution to research and leaving Scotland without access to agricultural innovations which are making farming more sustainable elsewhere in the world,” 28 science organizations maintain in a letter sent on 17 August to the Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment, Richard Lochhead.
The European Union recently agreed to allow individual nations—and devolved authorities, such as Scotland—to forbid GM crops on their territory. On 9 August, Lochhead announced he would not consent to planting of insect-resistant corn, the only GM crop approved E.U.-wide for planting. Nor would he approve the use of six other GM crops that are under evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority. The reason is to “protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” Lochhead said in a statement.
Patient advocates and scientists joined forces today in a new campaign to boost research funding for the mysterious and debilitating disease chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The group aims to increase research funds available for ME/CFS from the $5.4 million annually available today. It also wants to transfer responsibility for the disease from an isolated office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The coalition hopes to engineer the changes by inserting language into an authorizing bill expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate; it would be a companion to the 21st Century Cures bill that has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. That bill aims to speed the development of new medical treatments by streamlining regulations and boosting funding for NIH.
Productivity in the biomedical sciences has exploded in the past 50 years in the United States and globally, with more than a million papers now published each year by an even larger number of scientists. Yet dramatic growth in funding and knowledge has not been matched by a similar impact on U.S. public health. That’s the conclusion of a provocative new analysis from researchers who worry that poor research practices are hindering progress.
Microbiologist Arturo Casadevall and M.D./Ph.D. student Anthony Bowen gathered data on what they call “inputs” and “outputs” since 1965—annual inflation–adjusted U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets, papers added to the PubMed database, and the number of paper authors. They then compared the trends to outcomes, such as the number of new molecules approved by the U.S government for use as drugs, and gains in life expectancy.
Scientists are erupting in outrage on this otherwise sleepy August day. The cause? Cyagen, a purveyor of transgenic research mice, is seemingly offering its scientist customers cash if they cite one of their products in a published paper. But a company spokesman says it’s all a misunderstanding.
The saga began late this past June, according to Cyagen spokesman Austin Jelcick, when the company sent out an email promoting a special offer. It was titled: "Cite us in your publication and earn $100 or more based on your journal's impact factor!"
In recent days, some bloggers and Twitter users took note—and expressed outrage. At best, some argued, the offer was a seamy inducement. At worst, it amounted to a kind of payola scheme—and a potential financial conflict of interest that researchers should disclose.Continue Reading »
In 2007, drought struck the bread baskets of Europe, Russia, Canada, and Australia. Global grain stocks were already scant, so wheat prices began to rise rapidly. When countries put up trade barriers to keep their own harvests from being exported, prices doubled, according to an index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Just 3 years later, another spike in food prices contributed to the Arab Spring uprisings.
Such weather-related crop disasters will become more likely with climate change, warns a detailed report released today by the Global Food Security (GFS) program, a network of public research funding agencies in the United Kingdom. “The risks are serious and should be a cause for concern,” writes David King, the U.K. Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, in a foreword to the report.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s new carbon emissions reduction target is “out of step with the global community,” the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a release today. The target, for 2030, is “pathetic” and places the country among the “don’t cares” of the international community, Lord Deben, formerly known as John Gummer and head of the British government’s climate change advisory body, told The Guardian newspaper yesterday, the day the target was announced.
Even the Marshall Islands took aim, with Foreign Minister Tony de Brum telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that if the rest of the world followed Australia's lead, his country would “disappear,” along with other vulnerable Pacific atoll nations.
Last April, the governmental Climate Change Authority recommended cutting emissions by 30% by 2025 and by 40% to 60% by 2030, relative to 2000 levels. Rejecting the advice, Prime Minister Tony Abbott set the target at 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. “Mr Abbott’s hubris is staggering,” Deben says.
Using an unusual crowdsourcing technique to generate hundreds of public records requests, an animal advocacy group claims it has uncovered evidence that an Ohio State University (OSU) lab has violated National Institutes of Health (NIH) rules concerning the use of dogs in biomedical research. The university has denied the charges—and provided ScienceInsider with evidence to the contrary—but the group’s effort is just its first salvo in a unique campaign designed to end all research on dogs and cats.
The new strategy could cause a headache for animal researchers across the country, says Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in Washington, D.C., who authored a report earlier this year on activists using open records laws to target academics in hot-button fields such as climate change and genetically modified foods.
TEHRAN—Last February, nuclear talks between Iran and world powers were foundering. The two sides had found common ground on the deal’s broad outlines, but the devil lay in the technical details. The negotiators were struggling to agree on limits to Iran’s R&D on the centrifuges used for enriching uranium. Stymied, Iranian officials asked their top nuclear scientist to join the talks: Ali Akbar Salehi, president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).
In an exclusive interview with Science at AEOI headquarters in north Tehran, Salehi, 66, related how he would only agree if his opposite number in the United States, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, sat across from him at the table. U.S. negotiators agreed to that request, opening the door to several weeks of intense science diplomacy between the two physicists, who overlapped at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge in the mid-1970s, when Salehi was earning a Ph.D. there in nuclear engineering. They helped overcome technical obstacles, and last month Iran and the P5+1—the United States and its five allies—reached an agreement designed to block Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon in exchange for a gradual lifting of sanctions imposed as a result of Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement also paves the way for a rapid expansion of scientific cooperation with Iran in areas as diverse as fusion, astrophysics, and cancer therapy using radioisotopes.
U.S. research in Antarctica needs fresh initiatives and better equipment, a new report by a committee of the National Academies concludes. But how to afford them remains a conundrum.
The report—commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds the United States Antarctic Program (USAP)—is the third major assessment of the program in 5 years, aiming to streamline the program in an era of relatively flat budgets and rising infrastructure costs. It builds on a 2011 report by the National Research Council, which identified important areas of future research for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. This time, NSF asked the committee to lay out a strategic vision for research on the continent over the next decade, identifying specific research priorities while taking into account the program’s logistical needs. NSF and its Division of Polar Programs invest about $70 million a year in science and about $255 million in infrastructure and logistics.