April 2014 edition
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Science Communication Profiles

In March we published the first installment in our new "Science Communication Profile Series." This exciting project, being directed by nSCI's Diana Crow, is seeking out science communication experts from around the county and highlighting their insights, experiences, and perspectives with regard to communicating science. nSCI's first profile features filmmaker Alexis Gambis. Stay tuned for more interviews coming soon! If you have any recommendations for Diana, please email her at
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Volunteer Survey

nSCI is launching a new effort this Spring to improve the way we manage our projects and our volunteer network. Our goal is to be able to communicate with you more efficiently, to involve you more effectively, and ultimately, to move our many important projects along more rapidly. To get started, we're circulating a survey to all nSCI volunteers asking for more information on how you would like to help nSCI---writing, managing a project, and so on. Thank you in advance for your time and support, and we look forward to working with you.
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News desk

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

Discover launches the Citizen Science Salon

Starting this month, we welcome you to the Citizen Science Salon—a new print, online and social media initiative brought to you by Discover Magazine and SciStarter, a one-stop shop to find and get involved in projects, and to track and share contributions to science. Each issue of Discover Magazine will feature citizen science reference boxes at the end of select articles. These citizen science alerts will feature projects directly related to the article. The projects will be selected by SciStarter’s editors. Readers will be directed to the new Citizen Science Salon blog, where they can learn more about the project and get involved.  The blog will also feature selections from SciStarter’s online database of more than 750 curated citizen science projects,… Read more

New video aims to reduce misconduct in clinical trials research

The Research Clinic, a Web-based interactive training video aimed at teaching clinical and social researchers how to better protect research subjects and avoid research misconduct, was released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). The video lets the viewer assume the role of one of four characters and determine the outcome of the storyline by selecting decision-making choices for each playable character.  The characters are: A principal investigator (PI), a busy oncologist who must balance doing what he thinks is best for his patients and his research; A clinical research coordinator, an overworked nurse who works for a PI  who pressures her to falsify data… Read more

New IPCC report on climate change focuses on managing risks

A few months ago, we covered the release of the first section of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which dealt with the physical science of climate and climate change. After one last meeting in Yokohama, Japan, the authors of the section on climate “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” have released the final draft of their work. (One additional section will be released in just a couple of weeks, with a synthesis report and the full, official release due at the end of October.) This thirty-chapter report on climate impacts is the product of 679 scientists from around the world, and it cites over 12,000 studies. Its goal is to summarize observed climate impacts, lay out future risks,… Read more

CC-BY, Copyright, and Stolen Advocacy

In a recent New York Times story, journalist Denver David Robinson tells about how, while working in Uganda for a nonprofit organization, he did a photojournalism project for the Advocate magazine. His project helped “a dozen members of the (LGBTQ) community (tell) their stories, most for the first time.” The essay was published both online and in the Advocate‘s February-March 2013 print issue. One year later, Uganda’s president signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, making “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” a crime punishable by imprisonment and/or death. In the wake of that legislation’s enactment, a Ugandan tabloid called Red Pepper reportedly published an article (which doesn’t seem to be available online, thus sparing me having to decide whether… Read more

Learning to share big data

The University of Washington has launched a new project that could dramatically increase the power of academic research by giving a broad universe of scientists — including astronomers, physicists, chemists and biologists — faster and smarter ways of extracting information and meaning from the increasingly large amounts of data they have available to them. The new project is managed by the UW’s newly established eScience Institute and paid for in part by a $37.8 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The UW is sharing the grant with the University of California–Berkeley and New York University. The project addresses a common conundrum in the research community: While an enormous amount of data… Read more

Enlisting a Computer to Battle Cancers, One by One

When Robert B. Darnell was a graduate student in the early 1980s, he spent a year sequencing a tiny fragment of DNA. Now Dr. Darnell is an oncologist and the president of the New York Genome Center, where the DNA-sequencing machines can decode his grad-school fragment in less than a ten-thousandth of a second. As an oncologist, Dr. Darnell is firmly convinced that this technological advance will change how cancer is treated. “It’s inspiring for me, and it’s inspiring for lots of doctors,” he said in an interview. The idea is simple. Oncologists will get a tumor biopsy and have its genome sequenced. They will identify the mutations in the cancer cells, and they will draw up a list of… Read more

The open notebook revolution

Two years into his PhD, Carl Boettiger needed a better way to organize his data and synthesize his ideas. Fishing around online, he stumbled across chemist Cameron Neylon’s open electronic lab notebook. Boettiger, who was studying mathematical ecology, liked what he saw. Neylon, now advocacy director at the Public Library of Science in San Francisco, California, had pulled back the curtain on the steps and thought processes behind his protocols and research. His data collection, protocols and results were linked together and available online, making the concepts easy to reference and explore. Inspired, Boettiger created his own electronic notebook, reporting online about his day-to-day research in a publicly available wiki that is followed by the open-science community. Viewers can find… Read more

Where did all the risk takers go?

In a recent letter to The Guardian, a very prominent group of scientists made the case for allowing more mavericks in science. I have a lot of sympathy with them, in part because they are right. The scientists who make the largest contributions are also the ones who do stuff no one else thought of, or work on a problem that everyone else thought was uninteresting. They are the ones willing to break the rules to do an experiment that they thought was absolutely necessary. The impact of risky research cannot be overstated, so a plea to nurture risk takers seems obvious. But, exactly who are we pleading with here? Most governments are largely hands-off when it comes to disbursing… Read more

The top 40 scientists on social media?

Communicating information in the sciences, especially in a way that’s fun and entertaining, is both a honed skill and a natural talent. These 40 people have managed to perfect that voice and now serve as the esteemed “scientist social media wizards.” They’re astrophysicists, meteorologists, science reporters and more, and you’re missing out if you’re not following them online. Click here to read more from this March 19, 2014 Business Insider article by Melissa Stanger and Melia Robinson.… Read more

Bypassing peer review en route to Nobel

Big scientific discoveries—the kind that shift our view of the world and our place within it—don’t come along very often. This week, though, one did. New data seem to offer, for the first time, direct evidence of the entities Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity: gravitational waves. Which is a finding that, if it holds up, sheds new light on nothing less than the origins of the universe. The discovery is, according to one expert, “an amazing achievement.” It is also, according to another, “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science”—“a sensational breakthrough involving not only our cosmic origins, but also the nature of space.” So, basically: This is big, you guys! Einstein big! Nature-of-space… Read more

nSCI Profile Series: Alexis Gambis, science filmmaker

Alexis Gambis is a French-Venezuelan filmmaker with a PhD in molecular biology. His debut feature The Fly Room tells the story of geneticist Calvin Bridges (of the TH Morgan lab) and his relationship with his estranged daughter and will premiere on the festival circuit later this year. Gambis is the founder and artistic director of Imagine Science Films, a NYC-based nonprofit that organizes science-themed film festivals in cities around the world. He’ll be previewing his film at the Genetics Society of America’s 55th Annual Drosophila Research Conference later this March. Gambis holds a BA in biology from Bard College, a MA in Bioinformatics from L’Universite Paris-Est de Marne Le Vallee, a doctorate in Molecular Biology & Genetics from Rockefeller University,… Read more

Anti-vaccine group loses charity status

Over the last month, a group that had called itself the Australian Vaccination Network has suffered some heavy blows at the hands of Australian state governments. The group, which questions the safety and efficacy of vaccination, had been targeted by state regulators in the past, but it appealed the penalties they imposed. Now it has lost two appeals; as a result, it’s been forced to both change its name and cease all fundraising as a charity. There is a strong consensus among medical and public health authorities that vaccines are generally safe and are clearly effective at preventing disease. In their absence, diseases such as the measles have frequently resurfaced, with last year seeing nearly triple the number of cases… Read more

Asteroid hunter data challenge launches today

In this challenge, we are tasking competitors with developing a significantly improved algorithm to identify asteroids in images from ground-based telescopes. The winning solution will increase the detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data, and run effectively on all computers Asteroids pose both a possible threat and an opportunity for Earth: they could impact us, causing damage, OR possibly be mined for resources that could help extend our ability to explore the universe. Since 1998 NASA has led the global search for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) through its Near Earth Object Observation Program. NASA has also led the federal government in researching how crowdsourcing can help solve tough problems through efforts like the NASA Tournament… Read more

NOAA, NASA unveil

In this new and pilot-stage of, you will find resources to help companies, communities, and citizens understand and prepare for the impacts of coastal flooding and sea level rise. Over time, this community will expand to include more datasets, web services, and tools; it will also cover other themes such as the vulnerability of the food supply and the threats to human health from climate change. If you are a data innovator, check out the data catalog to browse relevant datasets. If you are looking for a streamlined list, the resources page will direct you to featured datasets and services on coastal vulnerability. If you are a community planner looking for information to help you plan for coastal flooding… Read more

Beall’s Litter

Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has come to some fame in science publication circles for highlighting the growing number of “predatory” open access publishers and curating a list of them. His work has provided a useful service to people seeking to navigate the sometimes confusing array of new journals – many legitimate, many scammers – that have popped up in the last few years. Unfortunately, as he has gained some degree of notoriety, it turns out he isn’t just trying to identify bad open access publishers – he is actively trying to discredit open access publishing in general. There were signs of this before, but any lingering doubt that Beall is a credible contributor to… Read more

Cosmos kerfluffle #1: Bruno and science v. religion

My recent post questioning the Giordano Bruno segment in the first episode of the new Cosmos has attracted a gratifying amount of attention, both on this site and elsewhere around the web. It has also prompted a heartfelt reply from Steven Soter, a resident research associate at the American Museum of Natural history and Cosmos‘s co-writer (along with Ann Druyan). It is very much in the spirit of Cosmos, and of the scientific process in general, to engage in debate in the search for deeper truths. It is also a powerful tribute to the new series that so many people are now discussing Bruno, Thomas Digges, and the intertwined relationship of science and religion during the 16th century–not your usual… Read more

Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science

Last April, President Obama assembled some of the nation’s most august scientific dignitaries in the East Room of the White House. Joking that his grades in physics made him a dubious candidate for “scientist in chief,” he spoke of using technological innovation “to grow our economy” and unveiled “the next great American project”: a $100 million initiative to probe the mysteries of the human brain. Along the way, he invoked the government’s leading role in a history of scientific glories, from putting a man on the moon to creating the Internet. The Brain initiative, as he described it, would be a continuation of that grand tradition, an ambitious rebuttal to deep cuts in federal financing for scientific research. “We can’t… Read more

President honors exemplary math and science teachers

Teachers know something about snow days. A snow and ice storm hit Washington, D.C., as about 100 science and mathematics teachers arrived here on March 2. The next day, they traveled by Metro and by foot through heavy snow to the White House, where they met with the President, the pinnacle of a three-day visit to the nation’s capital. They are winners of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the U.S. government’s highest honor for K-12 math and science teachers. Administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), this recognition offers each awardee $10,000, along with the trip to Washington and the chance to network with government and education leaders, policy makers and each other. In… Read more

Researchers need standard etiquette for data-sharing

Every mountaineer knows the sinking feeling of reaching a peak after a hard climb, only to see the true summit still above. Scientists who take on the tough terrain of open access may have a similar experience. After they reach the notable goal of sharing their research papers, they discover that a higher summit awaits: open data. In many fields, making research data available online for all is a step beyond making research papers open-access. This might puzzle communities that have already agreed to share. Biologists routinely upload DNA sequences to the public repository GenBank, for example, creating a scientific commons for everyone’s benefit. There are now more than 600 subject-specific repositories, with community-specific standards. Yet even some of the most… Read more

World Science University wants to teach you physics for free

With online lectures, MOOCs, and open courseware, it’s probably never been easier to get access to college-level instruction on a huge variety of topics. But yesterday saw the launch of a new entry dedicated to scientific concepts: the World Science University, launched by the group that runs the World Science Festival. The WSU takes a somewhat different approach to things, offering two levels of courses in physics, depending on how interested you are in delving into the underlying math. It’s also got what you might call a physics FAQ, with answers provided in video form. We’ve been playing with the beta version of the courses over the last few weeks, and we sat down with WSU founder and lecturer Brian… Read more

The humanities of science communication

It’s a surreal feeling to be bothered by things that are completely reasonable. In recent months I’ve been part of many conversations about how to engage people with science. Every time the science of science communication comes up, and every time I feel like something is off. There’s a big push now to understand what’s known, in formal studies, about how to communicate science. The idea is that, as people who believe in science, we should use research to guide our activities. There have been fascinating findings, such as the fact that in some emotionally or culturally charged situations exposure to more information can *increase* polarization, not decrease it as one would assume. As a result, presenting facts alone won’t,… Read more

New National Academies report on integrating STEM education

Leaders in business, government, and academia assert that education in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is vital not only to U.S. innovation capacity but also as a foundation for successful employment, including (but not limited to) work in the STEM fields. K-12 STEM education, including standards and assessments, has tended to focus on the individual subjects, most often science and mathematics. The T and E of STEM have received relatively little attention. However, recent reform efforts, like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are stressing STEM connections – in the case of NGSS, between science and engineering. STEM Integration in K-12 Education examines current efforts to connect the STEM disciplines in K-12 education. This report identifies and… Read more

NSF Gets an Earful about Replication

I spent last Thursday and Friday (February 20 and 21) at an NSF workshop concerning the replicability of research results. It was chaired by John Cacioppo and included about 30 participants including such well-known contributors to the discussion as Brian Nosek, Hal Pashler, Eric Eich, and Tony Greenwald, to name a few.  Participants also included officials from NIH, NSF, the White House Office on Science and Technology and at least one private foundation. I was invited, I presume, in my capacity as Past-President of SPSP and chair of an SPSP task force on research practices which recently published a report on non-retracted PSPB articles by investigators who retracted articles elsewhere, and a set of recommendations for research and educational practice,… Read more

Why It’s Time to Retire the Term “Life Sciences”

I originally thought about titling this piece “Life Sciences, Biosciences, BioPharma, Biotech, and Healthcare: What’s the Difference?” but that was simply too unwieldy. Many people use these terms interchangeably without thinking about what they specifically refer to, and which types of jobs and activities they encompass. Are they all the same thing? I don’t think so, and using the wrong term often leaves many of us swimming in a sea of confusion. Let me illustrate my concerns by sharing some definitions taken from the Free Dictionary Online: Life Science: “Any of several branches of science, such as biology, medicine, anthropology, or ecology, that deal with living organisms and their organization, life processes, and relationships to each other and their environment.… Read more

Science reviews FY2015 White House budget proposal

President Barack Obama on Tuesday released a $3.901 trillion budget request to Congress, including proposals for a host of federal research agencies. The unveiling is just the beginning of the annual budget process; Congress will now chew on the proposal, and is likely to ignore many of the White House’s suggestions. Still, the budget request offers insight into the White House’s research priorities, and can play an important role in negotiating final spending levels for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins 1 October. ScienceInsider has been combing through the document, and the stories below report some of what we found on the first day. Come back for more stories this week on research spending. NIH Faces Flat Funding and a… Read more

A Successor to Sagan Reboots ‘Cosmos’

A poignant moment occurs near the end of the first episode of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” a rollicking 13-part tour of the universe to be broadcast on Fox starting on Sunday. Sitting on a rock by the Pacific, Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the show and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, pulls out an old desk calendar that had belonged to Carl Sagan, the Cornell astronomer and author. On a date in 1975 he finds his own name. The most famous astronomer in the land had invited young Neil, then a high school student in the Bronx with a passion for astronomy, to spend a day in Ithaca. Dr. Sagan kindly offered to put him up… Read more

Scientific Publishing Is Killing Science

Even the National Institutes of Health acknowledges that biomedical science has a growing credibility problem. Last month, Director Francis Collins and Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak wrote that “the recent evidence showing the irreproducibility of significant numbers of biomedical-research publications demands immediate and substantive action.” The evidence they cite includes a startling 2011 report by researchers at the pharmaceutical company Bayer, who were unable to reproduce the results of nearly two-thirds of a set of peer-reviewed, pre-clinical drug studies. Collins and Tabak cite several reasons why researchers produce so much bad science these days, but among scientists in both academia and industry there is a growing feeling that how we publish science is a big part of the problem. Scientific publishing… Read more

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