Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – January 16, 2015

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By: Varun Sethi, Ph.D

photo credit: Matti Mattila via photopin cc

Federal Research Funding

U.S. House approves flat funding for DHS science amid fight over immigration policy

The US House of Representatives approved a spending bill on the 14th of January 2015, with funding for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) research programs remaining flat. The bill will now move to the Senate, where in 60 votes are needed to advance the House version. If this does not happen, then the Senate could pass a different version to be accepted by the House. However there is an urgent need to resolve this as the current budget measure (freezing spending at 2014 levels), will expire in about six weeks at the end of February. DHS’s research account would dip by $4.5 million, still being $24million higher than requested by the White House. Funding for university based research centers remains at $39.7 million, not agreeing to a White House proposal for a $8.7 million cut. A group of six senators is meanwhile renewing the emphasis on making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to work in the US and remain here permanently. However there is much criticism from groups representing technical workers following the introduction of the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015. White House officials commented earlier this week, that they would recommend that Obama veto the DHS measure in case it includes the immigration provisions. While the immigration issue is unlikely to affect the funding for the DHS’s science and technology directorate, it is likely to delay the department’s final budget for 2015.  (David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

Science Communication – Publishing

Nature owner merges with publishing giant

Macmillan Science and Education, the London-based publisher of journals such as Nature and Scientific American will be merging with the Berlin-based Springer Science and business media. The parent companies announced that this joint venture, with about 13000 employees, is likely to generate a turnover of €1.5 billion. The deal has been agreed between Holtzbrinck Publishing group, the private firm that owns Macmillan, and BC partners, the private equity firm that bought Springer in 2013. Media analyst, Claudio Aspesi, believes that the deal is a sensible decision on part of both companies. The BC partners add value to their deal by adding the worlds most prestigious journals and for Holtzbrinck, the additional scale from Macmillan will give additional funds. The combined company would have a potential for stronger growth.

Four major companies dominate the scientific publishing market. These include Springer (2987 journals), Elsevier (3057 journals), Wiley (2339 journals) and Taylor and Francis (2105 journals). Through this merger two well established companies with a strong publishing tradition, will significantly increase their impact. There is no clear comment on the financial structure of the merger; it is likely that the BC partners would cash out its 47% share by an initial public offering in 2 to 4 years. Paul Ayris, director of library services at University College London, raises an important question in whether such mergers are good for the users? Competition in the commercial market helps to bring prices down; concentration of larger publishing volumes in one source would thus not be good for the users. It is however also possible that the greater efficiency resulting from the enormous scale, will reduce costs. Time will tell.  (Richard Van Noorden, Nature News)

Science Communication

Cognitive Advantage in Bilingualism: An Example of Publication Bias?

While there are undeniably social benefits in being able to speak more than one language, scientific studies supporting, as well as challenging cognitive benefits of bilingualism been published extensively. Cognitive rewards such as the ability to plan and focus have been attributed to being bilingual in some reports. On the other hand, some studies found no such advantages. A recent study examined if the idea of bilingual advantage stems from a publication bias that tends to favor the publication of studies showing positive results.

Conference abstracts relating to bilingualism and executive control, spanning a 13-year period from 1999 to 2012 were examined. Of about 104 meeting abstracts, about half were found to support a bilingual advantage. Of these, 63% of studies were published as opposed to 36% of studies with null findings. These differences were not attributable to differences in sample size, tests used or power of the analysis. It is however not clear whether the source of bias stemmed from the journal editors, reviewers or scientists themselves. The authors conclude that while bilingualism has desirable effects, these findings should not be promoted by ignoring null or negative results. This also emphasizes the need to share all data, not just selected data that supports a particular theory; this being especially true when it comes to data regarding issues with societal relevance and implication. (Angela de Bruin, et al., Physiological Science)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

January 16, 2015 at 2:59 pm

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