May 2014 edition
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Is STEM meaningless?

It's been about 20 years since the term STEM was first introduced by the National Science Foundation. The original goal was to consolidate and promote the concerns of various interest groups all seeking better technical education and literacy. Today, STEM programs are everywhere, but their definitions and goals have morphed and their impacts have been difficult to assess. Is it time to retire this acronym? Would our science education and policy goals be better served by focusing on science, not STEM?

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News desk

Sloan Foundation backs new data infrastructure effort

The Data Conservancy, IEEE, and Portico announced today their partnership to design and prototype a data curation infrastructure that connects published research and associated data sets for the long-term benefit of researchers worldwide. This two-year project, which is supported by a $602,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, will result in the development of a service that will build, store, update, and retrieve the connections among publications and data, and preserve those connections over the long-term. Scholarly digital publications increasingly consist of distinct building blocks, including text, graphics, and data, which often reside in different repositories and are maintained by different institutions, employing different technologies. These components have many, and evolving, relationships that must be preserved over time. This… Read more

Allitt’s ‘A Climate of Crisis’ stirs debate

Emory University history professor Patrick Allitt is touring the country promoting his new book, “A Climate of Crisis.” It’s an interesting account of how our public debates about science can sometimes become—as this Wall Street Journal book review puts it—”less an informed exchange of ideas than a strident debate pitting alarmists against deniers.” Click here to read this synopsis of Dr. Allitt’s argument, published by the Seattle Times as an op-ed piece on April 28. Allitt makes a seemingly level-headed argument that science has pushed the panic button before about environmental and health issues, so here we go again—climate change is just another panic. Unfortunately, Dr. Allitt’s argument reflects a popular but misguided sentiment that scientists aren’t credible because they… Read more

nSCI Profile Series: Ari Daniel, radio and multimedia producer

Ari Daniel is an independent radio and multimedia producer and the Boston producer of Story Collider. He has worked as a science reporter for The World and NOVA and has contributed numerous segments to public radio programming including NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Radiolab, Studio 360, and Living on Earth. He completed his PhD in Biological Oceanography at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and holds an M.Phil. in Animal Behaviour from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He tends to focus on the personal stories of people in the scientific community and enjoys the challenge of trying to convey ideas through audio. Key point #1: Radio is all about personal storytelling AD: Ever since I was a… Read more

American Geophysical Union to Make Journals Freely Available Online

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) and Wiley today announced that, starting 1 May, all AGU journal content from 1997 to content published 24 months ago will be made freely available. This change will apply to all articles and supplementary materials from journals that are not already open access, as well as AGU’s weekly newspaper, Eos. It currently represents more than 80,000 journal articles and issues of Eos.  Additional content will continue to become open every month, on a 24-month rolling cycle. “As the largest publisher of Earth and space science research, not only is it AGU’s responsibility to  advance our science and support the execution of high-quality research, of equal importance is our responsibility to share that knowledge as widely… Read more

Ten Simple Rules for the Care and Feeding of Scientific Data

In the early 1600s, Galileo Galilei turned a telescope toward Jupiter. In his log book each night, he drew to-scale schematic diagrams of Jupiter and some oddly moving points of light near it. Galileo labeled each drawing with the date. Eventually he used his observations to conclude that the Earth orbits the Sun, just as the four Galilean moons orbit Jupiter. History shows Galileo to be much more than an astronomical hero, though. His clear and careful record keeping and publication style not only let Galileo understand the solar system, they continue to let anyone understand how Galileo did it. Galileo’s notes directly integrated his data (drawings of Jupiter and its moons), key metadata (timing of each observation, weather, and… Read more

Taking on Elsevier

A little over two years ago, the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier journals began. Initially, it seemed to be highly successful, with the number of signatories rapidly reaching 10,000 and including some very high-profile researchers, and Elsevier making a number of concessions, such as dropping support for the Research Works Act and making papers over four years old from several mathematics journals freely available online. It has also contributed to an increased awareness of the issues related to high journal prices and the locking up of articles behind paywalls. However, it is possible to take a more pessimistic view. There were rumblings from the editorial boards of some Elsevier journals, but in the end, while a few individual members… Read more

Goggles Optional

Goggles Optional is a podcast where scientists from Stanford University provide their professional yet humorous takes from the world of science. Quoting from the Googles Optional “about” page, “the hosts explore the significant news and discoveries of the week using a combination of wit, analogies, and words with less than four syllables. Goggles Optional has been featured as a New and Noteworthy science podcast on iTunes and by the Stanford School of Medicine blog. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a scientist to listen. The Goggles are Optional!” Recent episodes: Episode 25: A new way to Array April 23, 2014 Episode 24: Jeopardy! April 16, 2014 Episode 23: Pinky and the Brain April 9, 2014 Episode 22: The Cuckoo… Read more to help 2 million students learn to program

Apparently’s successful “Hour of Code” event in December was just a warm-up act. The Seattle-based nonprofit on Thursday is announcing the rollout of its computer-science education programs at 30 school districts around the country. Altogether they’ll reach more than 2 million students – nearly 5  percent of all K-12 students in the country — starting this fall. will provide curriculum and professional development and mentor teachers. Participating districts will teach’s free courses in elementary, middle and high schools. To help prepare teachers, hired about 20 contract workers who will travel to districts and provide workshops during the summer. It also has 23 full-time employees in Seattle. The initial effort will cost about $1 million, which is being funded in part by donations from a who’s who of… Read more

Science Tools Anyone Can Afford

Manu Prakash keeps a map on his bedroom wall that imagines what the world would look like if it were configured according to the scientific research that each region produces. Judged this way, he said, “Africa just disappears, India is small, and China is only a little bigger.” To combat that inequity, Dr. Prakash has proposed the creation of a “frugal science.” He believes that by distributing powerful yet inexpensive laboratory instruments he can play the role of a scientific Johnny Appleseed, spreading science and medical opportunity around the globe. “Today people look at these extraordinary labs and forget that in the 1800s they could still do the exact same science,” he said, referring to major research laboratories and the… Read more

As Researchers Turn to Google, Libraries Navigate the Messy World of Discovery Tools

Many professors and students gravitate to Google as a gateway to research. Libraries want to offer them a comparably simple and broad experience for searching academic content. As a result, a major change is under way in how libraries organize information. Instead of bewildering users with a bevy of specialized databases—books here, articles there—many libraries are bulldozing their digital silos. They now offer one-stop search boxes that comb entire collections, Google style. That’s the ideal, anyway. The reality is turning out to be messier. The rise of these “discovery” tools, which mine giant indexes of aggregated content, is generating new tensions. Because some companies that make the search tools are also in the content business, selling article databases and other… Read more

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future

Stories set in the future are often judged, as time passes, on whether they come true or not. “Where are our flying cars?” became a plaintive cry of disappointment as the millennium arrived, reflecting the prevailing mood that science and technology had failed to live up to the most fanciful promises of early 20th-century science fiction. But the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures. Writers may find the future appealing precisely because it can’t be known, a black box where “anything at all can be said to happen without fear of contradiction from a native,” says the renowned novelist and poet Ursula K. Le Guin. “The future is a safe, sterile… Read more

Blinded by scientific gobbledygook

I have just written the world’s worst science research paper: More than incompetent, it’s a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble. Now science publishers around the world are clamouring to publish it. They will distribute it globally and pretend it is real research, for a fee. It’s untrue? And parts are plagiarized? They’re fine with that. Welcome to the world of science scams, a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate. And even veteran scientists and universities are unaware of how deep the problem runs. Click here to read more from this April 21, 2014 Ottawa Citizen article by Tom Spears.… Read more

What do you mean by ‘STEM’?

It’s been about 20 years since the term STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) was first introduced by the National Science Foundation. The original goal was to consolidate and promote the concerns of various interest groups all seeking better technical education and literacy. Today, STEM programs are everywhere, but their definitions and goals have morphed and their impacts have been difficult to assess. For one, STEM is defined differently by different groups across a wide gamut. Does it include blue-collar manufacturing work, just science research work or somewhere in between? By the broadest definitions, a bewildering 20 percent of U.S. jobs (from plumbers to nuclear engineers) are classified as requiring a high level of knowledge in at least one STEM… Read more

Climate Efforts Falling Short, U.N. Panel Says

Delivering the latest stark news about climate change on Sunday, a United Nations panel warned that governments are not doing enough to avert profound risks in coming decades. But the experts found a silver lining: Not only is there still time to head off the worst, but the political will to do so seems to be rising around the world. In a report unveiled here, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that decades of foot-dragging by political leaders had propelled humanity into a critical situation, with greenhouse emissions rising faster than ever. Though it remains technically possible to keep planetary warming to a tolerable level, only an intensive push over the next 15 years to bring those emissions under… Read more

Got data tools? NSF wants to hear about you

How scientific research is conducted across all science disciplines is changing. One important direction of change is toward more open science, often driven by projects in which the output is purely digital, i.e., software or data. Scientists and engineers who develop software and generate data for their research spend significant time in the initial development of software or data frameworks, where they focus on the instantiation of a new idea, the widespread use of some infrastructure, or the evaluation of concepts for a new standard. Despite the growing importance of data and software products the effort required for their production is neither recognized nor rewarded. At present there is a lack of well-developed metrics with which to assess the impact… Read more

2012 Faculty Workload Survey released

The Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP; Phase V) is a cooperative initiative among 10 federal agencies and 119 institutional recipients of federal funds, sponsored by the National Academies, with a purpose of reducing administrative burdens associated with federal research grants and contracts. In early 2012, the FDP conducted a survey of principal investigators (PIs) of federally-funded projects to determine the impact of federal regulations and requirements on the research process. This was a follow-up survey to the 2005 FDP Faculty Workload Survey of 6, 295 federally-funded investigators (see Decker et al. 2007). In the current survey, responses were obtained from 13,453 PIs (representing a 26% response rate; 12,816 with complete data) with active fede ral grants during the 2010-11 academic year… Read more

Video Abstracts in Science Journals: An Overview and Case Study

The video abstract has emerged in recent years as a new way of communicating the results of scholarly enquiry. For library-based journal publishers who want to support multimodal scholarship, it is useful to understand the potential benefit and impact of incorporating video abstracts into their publications. This paper provides an overview of the growth of video abstracts in science scholarship, and presents a single journal case study that compares the use and potential impact of video abstracts hosted on both YouTube and on a journal’s own website. METHODS: For the case study, video abstract usage data for the New Journal of Physics (NJP) was gathered from both YouTube and the NJP native platform and then correlated using a Spearman rank… Read more

Pig Wrestling

A side-effect of working on the Big Bang is that I get a fair bit of crank mail (to use the technical term), a few crank phone calls, and even the occasional crank visit. These cranks – or “independent investigators” – usually believe they have solved abiding mysteries in cosmology and theoretical physics, or demolished some key tenet of modern science. Relativity and the Big Bang are popular choices. The crank community is not a small one. Counting the people who have contacted me directly since I moved back to New Zealand, my country’s crank cosmologists clearly outnumber the portion of the local scientific community that works on the evolving universe. (And before you make any jokes I am sure… Read more

Assessing the Cable News Coverage of Climate Science

CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are the most widely watched cable news networks in the U.S. Their coverage of climate change is an influential source of information for the public and policy makers alike. To gauge how accurately these networks inform their audiences about climate change, UCS analyzed the networks’ climate science coverage in 2013 and found that each network treated climate science very differently. Fox News was the least accurate; 72 percent of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. CNN was in the middle, with about a third of segments featuring misleading statements. MSNBC was the most accurate, with only eight percent of segments containing misleading statements. Click here to read more from this April 7, 2014… Read more

The STEM Crisis Is a Myth

You must have seen the warning a thousand times: Too few young people study scientific or technical subjects, businesses can’t find enough workers in those fields, and the country’s competitive edge is threatened. It pretty much doesn’t matter what country you’re talking about—the United States is facing this crisis, as is Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, India…the list goes on. In many of these countries, the predicted shortfall of STEM (short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workers is supposed to number in the hundreds of thousands or even the millions. A 2012 report by President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, for instance, stated that over the next decade, 1 million additional… Read more

Stop calling science a ‘frontier’

In a televised speech introducing the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s TV series “Cosmos,” President Obama used a metaphor that is both familiar and troubling: “America has always been a nation of fearless explorers. We dream bigger and reach farther than others imagine. That’s the spirit of discovery that Carl Sagan captured in the original ‘Cosmos.’ Today, we’re doing everything we can to bring that same sense of possibility to a new generation, because there are new frontiers to explore and we need Americans eager to explore them. There are no limits.” This language is familiar because almost every president since Calvin Coolidge has claimed a special relationship between Americans and a metaphorical “frontier of… Read more

In (Digital) Scholarly Communications We Trust?

At industry conferences, seminars, and board meetings around the world, the digital revolution in scholarly communications dominates the conversation. From open access journals to new approaches to peer review, from altmetrics to plagiarism-detecting software, our community has seen a decade or more of rapid change, with no end in sight. You might think that all these changes would affect perceptions of trustworthiness and authority in scholarly communications, but a recent study by the University of Tennessee and the CIBER Research Group* found that – with a few exceptions – that is not the case. Or at least not yet. Click here to read more from this April 7, 2014 Scholarly Kitchen article by Alice Meadows.… Read more

Attacking academic values

A new thing started happening here at Duke this week; we began getting inquiries from some faculty authors about how to obtain a formal waiver of our faculty open access policy.  We have had that policy in place for over three years, but for the first time a single publisher — the Nature Publishing Group — is telling all authors at Duke that they must obtain a waiver of the policy before their accepted articles can be published.  It is not clear why NPG suddenly requires these waivers after publishing many articles in the past three years by Duke authors, while the policy was in force and without waivers. Indeed, the waivers are essentially meaningless because of the way Duke… Read more

New ethical tensions at life’s start

Doug Diekema is an attending physician and director of education for the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children’s hospital. He’s a UW professor of pediatrics with adjunct appointments in bioethics and emergency medicine. Q. What are the main points of ethical dilemma regarding the beginning of life? A. They start before conception. Parents who find themselves having difficulty bearing children meet with a reproductive endocrinologist or infertility specialist and discuss options and risks. Some of these techniques can lead to multiple gestations. If you have four, five, six babies, do you reduce the number of fetuses in order to optimize survival of the ones that remain? Then when you get into a pregnancy, you have ethical questions… Read more

EU science chief on challenges of making good science policy

“Any specialist tends to be hampered a little in their own professional language and scientists may have a reputation of not communicating well because we talk in a technical way, but the same could be said about policy-makers, economists or social scientists”, observes Glover. “Sometimes we beat ourselves up a little too much for not being able to communicate, but I think if we have it in the back of our minds and know the audience we are communicating to, it is a massive advantage. It’s actually really motivating for scientists to set ourselves a challenge of making what we discover incredibly interesting.” The European Commission may put science and engineering at the core of European culture, but Glover does… Read more

Managing Article Processing Charges

There is no doubt that paying for the publication of open access through article processing charges has been increasing steadily over the past decade and in some disciplines is becoming a mainstream scholarly publishing activity. The numbers are not trivial, one of the largest fully open access publishers, PLOS, recently published their 100,000th article. In 2013, Australian researchers published over 1500 articles with another fully open access publisher BioMed Central. A cursory consideration of the management of article processing charges shows all players in the publication system are affected, including the researchers, funding bodies, publishers, libraries and other institutional administration (such as research offices). Many of the relationships between players in scholarly publication need to be reconfigured, or in some cases developed, in… Read more

Science Funding and Short-Term Economic Activity

There is considerable interest among policy-makers in documenting short-term effects of science funding. A multi-year scientific journey that leads to long-term fruits of research, such as a moon landing, is more tangible if there is visible nearer term activity, such as the presence of astronauts. Yet systematic data on such activities have not heretofore existed. The only source of information for describing the production of most science is surveys that have been called “a rough estimate, frequently based on unexamined assumptions that originated years earlier.” But although science is complicated, it is not magic. It is productive work. Scientific endeavors employ people. They use capital inputs. Related economic activity occurs immediately. Data characterizing these activities can be directly captured through… Read more

NASA Breaks Most Contact With Russia

NASA said Wednesday that it was suspending most contacts with Russian space agency officials, underscoring just how rapidly the Russian-American relationship is deteriorating in the wake of the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and hinting at further ramifications that will go beyond previous rifts. The one exception, NASA said, would involve operations of the International Space Station, the primary space collaboration between the two countries. Otherwise, the extent of NASA’s break in relations is broad and includes “travel to Russia and visits by Russian government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences,” Michael F. O’Brien, the agency’s associate administrator for international and interagency relations, wrote in an email to top NASA officials. Click here to read more… Read more

White House OSTP issues update on open access

“The public has been keenly interested in the development of Federal open-access policies and has reached out to OSTP through RFI responses and other means. In May 2012, a petition titled “Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research” was launched on the White House “We the People” online petition platform. In it, the petitioners specifically called upon the Administration to “implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.”5 That petition garnered nearly 66,000 signatures, easily surpassing the 25,000 signatures that were required at the time to guarantee a response from the Administration. On February 22, 2013, OSTP Director Dr. John P. Holdren released a memorandum to the Heads of… Read more

At House Science Panel Hearing, Sarcasm Rules

It was supposed to be a chance for legislators to discuss the Obama administration’s 2015 federal budget with presidential science adviser John Holdren. But sarcasm and political trash-talking overrode serious debate at Wednesday’s hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Even in a Congress noted for its polarization and lack of comity, members of the panel seemed more interested in name-calling than numbers. As a result, the 2-hour hearing was more evidence of how entrenched and extreme views are dramatically remaking what was once one of the most rational forums in Congress for discussing science policy. Click here to read more from this March 28, 2014 Science magazine article by Jeffrey Mervis.… Read more

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