Europe’s ambitious 1 billion Euro project, the Human Brain Project (HBP), was launched in October 2013, and aimed to boost digital technologies such as supercomputing, working together with neuroscientists. Many high-ranking neuroscientists have voiced their discontent in the way that the HBP has been managed and its scientific progress therein. In response, the Board of Directors met on 26th February and voted narrowly to change the governance structure, disbanding the three person executive committee. This decision is expected to be supported by about 85 of the HBP’s partner universities and research institutes, later this week. The initial sparks of discontent were noted when the HBP had revealed plans to remove cognitive neuroscience from the initiative. 150 top neuroscientists had signed a protest letter alleging that committee was autocratically running the scientific plans off the course. The neuroscientists stated that they would boycott the HBP if their concerns were ignored. While the issue is being resolved, the responsibilities of the committee have been taken over by the Board of Directors. Recommendations from a mediation committee and a Commission interim report will be taken into account. With the Board of Directors in the driving seat, scientists believe that the HBP is getting itself in order. However the recommendations of the mediation committee, and their implementation, remain to be seen. The HBP’s announcement also confirmed reports that while the major funding body for the HBP is the European Commission and its research partners, the HBP has a larger vision to evolve into an international organization with a permanent infrastructure. (Alison Abbott, Nature News)
Most professional bodies agree that serving society is an important part of their mandate, however, there are differences regarding what exactly these social responsibilities are thought to be. To investigate, the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law program, together with AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, conducted a pilot study collecting responses to a questionnaire from 2153 scientists, engineers and health professionals across the world. The questionnaire presented examples of social responsibilities and asked participants to grade them, ranging from ‘critically important’ to ‘not at all important’.
Some of the highlights of the findings were that 80% of the respondents considered the proposed responsibilities as important, with some differences in response based on age, discipline and geographical locations; there were no differences by gender. While younger respondents were keen to explain their work to the public, senior respondents emphasized the need to report suspected misconduct. Respondents from health and social/behavioral sciences were most likely to select ‘critically important’, while engineers were least likely to consider a responsibility as important, very important or critically important. Respondents from Europe, North America and the Pacific concurred with an emphasis on considering the risks of potential adverse consequences associated with their work. Respondents from Africa, the Arab states, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean tended to respond in ways similar to each other and prioritized the impact of each research project on social well-being.
This is a pilot study and reflects responses only from a small group of respondents, who were associated with AAAS in some way. A larger scale survey focusing on a broader international audience is the next step and will explore differences in the perception of what social responsibility is. (Kathy Wren, AAAS News)
The adverse effects of too much salt in your diet are well known and have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and in some cases even to autoimmune disorders. In a recent study, researchers are now finding that high levels of salt in the skin are helping mice fight infections. While immunologists are intrigued by the possibility that salt storage has evolved as a host defense mechanism, they remain skeptical. Experiments in mice have demonstrated that extremes of salt intake allow for additional accumulation of salt in the skin and this appears to boost the immune defense. Research using MRI techniques that measure sodium in the skin has found large accumulation of salt in bacterial skin infections even in humans who consumed a high salt diet. Scientists warn that these findings do not authorize a high salt diet to boost immunity. It is possible that prior to the era of antibiotics, and before the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, a high salt intake might have benefited our ancestors. However, today, the detrimental effects of a high salt diet out weigh any potential immunological benefits. A more realistic application of these findings might suggest that local application of high salt wound gels or dressings on wounds. It makes you wonder if there is some truth in ‘rubbing salt on your wounds’ – perhaps fueling the immune system against the infection? (Kate Wheeling, Science News)
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