Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – July 21, 2015

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D.

photo credit: timtom.ch via photopin cc

Funding policy

Congress pushes NIH to spur breakthroughs through prizes

A provision in the new 21st Century Cures bill, which passed through Congress last week, would create a new program from which to launch biomedical prize competitions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Prize competitions have been used by other federal agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to offer challenges in robotics and engineering tasks as way to speed up innovation and research. Though offering prizes for success can garner applications from sources outside of the traditional academic mainstream, “there only a few places where prizes really work in health,” said Christopher Frangione, vice president of prize development at XPRIZE, a private organization dedicated to facilitating global changes and innovation through competition. For example, long term studies involving basic, fundamental research might be poor candidates for a “grand challenge” competition, whereas benefits might be seen in areas that require an engineering feat, or would be helped by encouraging interdisciplinary research. Other opponents of the bill fear that prizes would reduce grant funding through other, more traditional means, and worry that having politically appointed advisers “threatens to undermine the independent peer-review process that is the bedrock of NIH funding,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D–NJ). Still, any new avenue to pursue ground-breaking medical research is worthy of exploration! It will be interesting to see if NIH ends up following up with the potential Innovation Prizes Program. (Kelly Servick, ScienceInsider)

Scientific rigor and reproducibility

Collaborate and listen to reproduce research

A new report from the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) suggests that suggests that researchers in particularly hard to reproduce fields like cell biology, could better their results in replicating published data if they reached out to the original authors for assistance or method clarification. ASCB surveyed its membership and found that 60% of those who reported problems with reproducibility said that they were able to fix the issue by checking with the lab that conducted the experiment in question to resolve issues about the methods. While this may seem like an obvious solution, some researchers may be reluctant due to competition within the field or other reasons. One solution to this issue would be to have each field adopt their own consistent standards of proof, said Mark Winey, one of the report’s authors and a molecular biologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and chair of the ASCB’s Data Reproducibility Task Force. In addition, a majority of respondents to the survey said that the quest to publish in high-profile journals hampered reproducibility, an opinion shared by Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist and immunologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. “Science is messy, and high-impact journals often demand clean stories with a clear punchline,” he says. “That creates perverse incentives for cherry-picking data.” (Chris Woolston, Nature | Research Highlights: Social Selection)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 21, 2015 at 9:00 am

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