July 2014 edition
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The pricing of academic journals

For many purchases, price comparisons are a few mouse clicks away. Not for academic journals. Universities buy access to most of their subscription journals through large bundled packages, much like home cable subscriptions that include hundreds of TV stations. But whereas cable TV providers largely stick to advertised prices, universities negotiate with academic publishing companies behind closed doors, and those deals usually come with nondisclosure agreements that keep the bundled prices secret. After several years of digging, and even legal action, a team of economists has pried out some of those numbers.

The results of their investigation, published on 16 June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that some universities are paying nearly twice what universities of seemingly similar size and research output pay for access to the very same journals. For example, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, paid Elsevier $1.22 million in 2009 for a bundle of journals, while the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor—an almost identical university in staff size and number of PhD students—paid $2.16 million for the same bundle. At Science’s request, the authors even calculated a potential measure of how good or bad a deal U.S. universities are getting, providing a graphic view of the price spread.

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News desk

New NAS report details economic impacts of science research

The National Academies Press (created by the National Academy of Sciences to publish the reports of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council) has released a new report, entitled Furthering America’s Research Enterprise. A pre-publication version of this report is available for free download from the National Academies website at According to the report’s introduction: This study was requested by Congress in the American COMPETES Act (P.L. 111-358), which became law on January 4, 2011. Seeking to increase the returns on federal investments in scientific research, Congress asked the National Academies to study metrics that could be used to gauge the impacts of scientific research on society. Of particular interest were… Read more

Math Under Common Core Has Even Parents Stumbling

Rebekah and Kevin Nelams moved to their modest brick home in this suburb of Baton Rouge seven years ago because it has one of the top-performing public school districts in the state. But starting this fall, Ms. Nelams plans to home-school the couple’s four elementary-age children. The main reason: the methods that are being used for teaching math under the Common Core, a set of academic standards adopted by more than 40 states. Ms. Nelams said she did not recognize the approaches her children, ages 7 to 10, were being asked to use on math work sheets. They were frustrated by the pictures, dots and sheer number of steps needed to solve some problems. Her husband, who is a pipe… Read more

nSCI Profile Series: Monica Ramirez-Andreotta—scientist, artist, community-educator

Monica Ramirez-Andreotta is an assistant professor of Health Sciences at Northeastern University. She is a member of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, and a member of the National Institutes of Environmental Health-funded  PROTECT (Puerto Rico Test Site for Exploring Contamination Threats) program’s community engagement and research translation cores. Ramirez-Andreotta holds an MPA in environmental science and policy from Columbia and a PhD in soil, water and environmental science from the University of Arizona. For her dissertation, she led a citizen science project called “Gardenroots” where local residents who lived near a superfund site measured arsenic levels in the edible tissues of the vegetables growing in their gardens. She also holds a BA in photography and has extensive experience… Read more

New study profiles the biomedical consortia landscape

Of the 369 consortia that we researched, the majority were focused on creating resources that advance research for a specific medical condition, and most research being performed by AD, diabetes, and cancer consortia was focused on biomarker development. This goal is aligned with current trends in the pharmaceutical industry, which is focused increasingly on molecularly targeted therapies. However, balancing proprietary strategy with risk reduction and shared expertise becomes a challenge for consortia (14). Most have decided that specific druggable targets are proprietary, but diagnostic biomarkers that can stratify patients into subgroups are considered to be precompetitive and broadly usable information (15–17). For example, biomarkers validated through a consortium such as I SPY2 also must be recognized by a regulatory body… Read more

Public engagement with science, Victorian style

Most people are familiar with some Victorian attempts to popularise science. Perhaps best known are the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures, begun by Michael Faraday and continued by successors including John Tyndall. They helped make science fashionable and the lecturers famous, also instilling a particular view of science, its authority and its relationship to the public. The 19th century was, though, also a boom time for publishing about science, in books and periodicals aimed at all sorts of readers: budding researchers, interested amateurs, women, children, self-improving workers, pious admirers of God’s work and political radicals. Because of this plethora of audiences – and the still fuzzy lines between amateur/professional, researcher/populariser, man of science/man of letters – there was room for a… Read more

Communicating science communication research

High profile policy issues, such as those related to global climate change or antibiotic resistance, highlight the need for helping people understand scientific concepts and how they relate to “real world” problems. And there seems to be an increasing level of awareness among scientists, reporters and bloggers (among others) that science communication, as a discipline, can help us communicate more effectively with a wide array of audiences. But there’s a stumbling block – and it’s an ironic one: science communication researchers are often not very good at communicating about the science of science communication. Click here to read more from this June 17 scilogs post by Matt Shipman.… Read more

nSCI Profile Series: Monica Feliú-Mójer, outreach scientist

Dr. Mónica Feliú-Mójer is the manager of outreach programs at the University of Washington’s Department of Biostatistics, and the vice-director and news editor-in-chief at CienciaPR, a community-driven website that produces and shares science news with Spanish-speaking audiences and engages Hispanic scientists with science communication and education. She was born in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico and attended the University of Puerto Rico – Bayamón, before moving to the States to pursue a career in neuroscience. Feliú-Mójer holds a PhD in neurobiology from Harvard and is now focusing on science outreach. For her, the key to communicating science is making the science MATTER to the audience. To some audiences and communities, science is seldomly presented in a way that is relevant to… Read more

The future of scientific computing still linked to 1950s code

Take a tour through the research laboratories at any university physics department or national lab, and much of what you will see defines “cutting edge.” “Research,” after all, means seeing what has never been seen before—looking deeper, measuring more precisely, thinking about problems in new ways. A large research project in the physical sciences usually involves experimenters, theorists, and people carrying out calculations with computers. There are computers and terminals everywhere. Some of the people hunched over these screens are writing papers, some are analyzing data, and some are working on simulations. These simulations are also quite often on the cutting edge, pushing the world’s fastest supercomputers, with their thousands of networked processors, to the limit. But almost universally, the… Read more

NIH and NSF launch Innovation Corps curriculum

A new collaboration between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will give NIH-funded researchers training to help them evaluate their scientific discoveries for commercial potential with the aim of accelerating the translation of biomedical innovations into applied health technologies. I-Corps™ at NIH is a pilot of the NSF Innovation Corps™ (I-Corps™) program specially tailored for biomedical research. Academic researchers and entrepreneurs with Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) “phase one” awards–awards that establish feasibility of proof of concept for commercializable technology–from participating NIH institutes will be eligible to apply to I-Corps™ at NIH. NIH will hold a June 25 program briefing at the 2014 BIO International Convention in San Diego… Read more

Women science writers conference about changing the ratio

Science writers take a “show me the numbers” approach when tackling a tough topic. So organizers of the first Solutions Summit for Women in Science Writing came armed with their own data to back up recent concerns that gender bias, inequity, and sexual harassment are still holding women back. This included a new survey showing that women science writers reported far more negative professional experiences related to their gender than male science writers, including work-related harassment. A science writers’ bill of rights, an online clearinghouse on sexual harassment, mentoring networks, updated codes of conduct, and efforts to reduce tokenism were among the practical strategies that attendees at last weekend’s conference recommended to help educate both science writers and employers about… Read more

Why Congress should fund social science

“Cosmos,” the fascinating television series, tells us not only about science, engineering and mathematics but also its history. In one episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson tells the story of how, during the 17th century, the Royal Society in England funded Hisotria Piscium, a groundbreaking (at the time) book on the history of fish. When the book failed to sell, the financial loss was so severe that the Royal Society had to withdraw its funding for printing Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) which gave us the three laws of motion and other important discoveries. Did the Royal Society leadership know that Newton’s book would become one of the most important works in all of history while… Read more

How much did your university pay for your journals?

For many purchases, price comparisons are a few mouse clicks away. Not for academic journals. Universities buy access to most of their subscription journals through large bundled packages, much like home cable subscriptions that include hundreds of TV stations. But whereas cable TV providers largely stick to advertised prices, universities negotiate with academic publishing companies behind closed doors, and those deals usually come with nondisclosure agreements that keep the bundled prices secret. After several years of digging, and even legal action, a team of economists has pried out some of those numbers. The results of their investigation, published on 16 June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that some universities are paying nearly twice what universities… Read more

IPCC’s outdated climate change communication won’t cut it

For almost 25 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released regular assessment reports warning the world of the dangers of climate change. The scientific knowledge that has been accumulated over this time is astonishing in its breadth and scope. Compiling, collating and synthesising publications from dozens of scientific disciplines, and distilling this into a format that policymakers from across the globe can use as the basis of their national policies on climate change is a phenomenal, painstaking and noble undertaking. But from the perspective of catalysing a proportionate political and public response to climate change, the reports have had limited impact. Despite all the rebuttals of sceptics’ arguments, and the “myth busting”, public opinion is no further… Read more

NISO Issues Altmetrics White Paper Draft for Comment

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has released a draft white paper summarizing Phase I of its Alternative Assessment Metrics (Altmetrics) Project for public comment. The Initiative was launched in July 2013, with a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to study, propose, and develop community-based standards or recommended practices for alternative metrics. In Phase 1 of the project, three in-person meetings were held and 30 in-person interviews conducted to collect input from all relevant stakeholders, including researchers, librarians, university administrators, scientific research funders, and publishers. The draft white paper is the summary of the findings from those meetings and interviews, along with the identification of potential action items for further work in Phase II of the project. “Citation… Read more

Interests, Ideology And Climate

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult. But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests? I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the… Read more

Driving STEM: The exploding demand for computer science education

The chart above tells quite a story. That blue line — the one that looks like a hockey stick — shows how interest in computer science from freshmen at the University of Washington in Seattle has skyrocketed since 2010 compared with other engineering fields. The UW is not alone. Countless other U.S. universities, from Harvard to Stanford to the University of Michigan, are seeing similar demand for computer science degrees. On the surface, it’s an encouraging trend for the tech industry, which can’t get enough new engineers. But beneath the surface is a problem: College students want to become computer scientists, but in many cases there isn’t enough room or faculty to meet the demand. Young adults today are realizing how computer science knowledge can help them succeed at not just being a software developer, but with… Read more

Submissions Drop at World’s Largest Open-Access Journal

The number of papers published by the world’s largest open-access journal, PLOS ONE, has plummeted over the past few months after rising fairly steadily for years, notes a scholarly publishing blogger. Phil Davis suggests the closely watched PLOS ONE may have become a less attractive option for scientists as its impact factor has fallen and other open-access publishers have come on the scene. Founded 14 years ago, the Public Library of Science (PLOS) has been a leader in open access—online journals that are free for anyone to read and cover costs by charging authors a fee. But PLOS has also drawn criticism, because the nonprofit broke even only after starting the multidisciplinary PLOS ONE, which accepts all papers that pass… Read more

EPA proposes major cut in CO2 emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a regulation Monday that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by up to to 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, taking aim at one of the nation’s leading sources of greenhouse gases. Under the draft rule, the EPA would let states and utilities meet the new standard with different approaches mixing four options including energy efficiency, shifting from coal to natural gas, investing in renewable energy and making power plant upgrades. Other compliance methods could include offering discounts to encourage consumers to shift electricity use to off-peak hours. The rule represents one of the most significant steps the federal government has ever taken to curb the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions,… Read more

Utopia and Lazarus resurrecting old(ish) science pdfs

Do PDF files allow scientists to make best us of the Web? This thought occurred to Steve Pettifer in 2008, as he watched a room full of life scientists trying to combine the work of two separate labs by downloading PDFs, printing them off, and then rapidly scanning the information in them. Surely, he thought, this is not a very efficient way of doing science in the 21st Century? Since Portland Press had reached the same conclusion it offered to fund Pettifer and his colleague Terri Attwood to come up with a solution that would combine the appeal, portability, and convenience of the PDF with the dynamic qualities of the Web. The outcome was Utopia Documents. Utopia Superficially, Utopia Documents… Read more

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