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Posts Tagged ‘scientific journals

Science Policy Around the Web October 15th, 2019

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By Neetu M. Gulati PhD

Image by Florian Pircher from Pixabay

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to Developers of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for their work developing lithium-ion batteries, a technology that led to a revolution in electronics. John B. Goodenough of the US, M. Stanley Whittingham of the U.K, and Akira Yoshino of Japan were instrumental in making these rechargeable batteries a reality. The Nobel Committee for Chemistry said that lithium batteries have enabled devices to become smaller and more powerful. One member of the Committee, Olof Ramström, explained, “this battery enabled our mobile world… we now have power anywhere we go.”

The winners for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry will share a cash prize of over $900,000 and will each receive a gold medal and diploma in December. Other winners of the Nobel Prize in scientific fields for this year were also recently announced. The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Canadian-American scientist James Peebles and Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, for their work in the physical cosmology and discovery of exoplanets orbiting a solar-type star. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to American researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and British researcher Peter Ratcliffe for their discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability. 

(Brianna Abbott, Peter Landers and Joanna Sugden, Wall Street Journal)

Prestigious journal pulls paper about chemical attack in Syria after backlash

The journal Science and Global Security (SGS) has chosen not to publish a controversial paper, after previously choosing to accept the paper for publication. The reversal came after backlash from scientists accusing one of the authors of the paper, Ted Postol, a expert on missile defense, of pushing conspiracy theories. The subject of the paper is a sarin gas attack that killed more than 80 people in a rebel-held town in Syria in April 2017. The paper casts doubt on the Syrian government’s responsibility for the chemical attack, despite the fact that two international organizations, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the United Nations, have concluded that the Syrian government had dropped a sarin-filled bomb on the town. 

The authors of the paper used computer modeling to argue that the impact crater where it is believed sarin gas was released was created by an artillery rocket fitted with an explosive rocket, not a bomb. Furthermore, Postol has separately suggested that sarin was not used at all in the attack, and that this attack and two others he examined were not caused by the Syrian regime. 

Gregory Koblentz, a biological and chemical weapons expert, argued that the purpose of the paper was “to challenge the impartiality and competence of the OPCW and JIM,” and urged SGS not to publish the manuscript. He argued that the paper would be “misused to cover up the [Assad] regime’s crimes.” The journal’s editors decided to hold off on publishing the manuscript, citing issues with peer-review and the revision process. The journal’s website now states that “The Editors have decided to return this manuscript to the authors without prejudice and not proceed further with considering it for publication.”

(Kai Kupferschmidt, Science)

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October 15, 2019 at 4:42 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 31st, 2019

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By: Silvia Preite, Ph.D.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay 

Common drink and food sweetener – High-Fructose Corn Syrup – accelerates colon cancer growth in mouse models: what about in humans?

Increased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks has been associated with higher risk of obesity and intestinal cancers. However, whether sugar directly contributes to tumor development, independently from obesity, is less clear. A common sweetner of sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and processed foods is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A recent study published in Science revealed that consumption of HFCS accelerated colon cancers in predisposed mice bearing a mutation in a tumor-suppressor gene commonly found in human colorectal colon cancers. Strikingly, the human diet equivalent amount of HFCS required to see such effects in mice corresponds to 12 ounces of a sweetened drink – one can of soda per day!

Mice fed with HFCS did not become obese or developed metabolic syndrome, however, developed larger and more advanced tumors, compared to water-treated animals. Mechanistically, HFCS leads to increased levels of fructose and glucose in the intestinal lumen and serum, that can be transported and utilized inside the tumor to generate energy and support its growth. The identification of these events opens new possibilities for the development of therapeutic strategies aimed at controlling tumor growth; in particular, targeting of fructose metabolism may selectively slow tumor progression without affecting survival of normal cells. 

Further studies are needed to assess if similar tumorigenic mechanisms take place in humans. Moreover, whether prolonged and extensive consumption of HFCS has a greater detrimental effect on human health compared to other types of sugar remains to be determined. Regardless, this study could contribute to increase public awareness about the potential deleterious effects on physical health and tumor development due to sweetened drinks and processed food whose comsumption is globally rising. 

(Source: Goncalves et al., Science, 2019)

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May 31, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 14th, 2019

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By: Mary Weston, Ph.D.

Source: Pixabay

Rural areas drive increases in global obesity

While past studies have found that the increase in global obesity is largely driven by urban regions, a newly published paper argues that this rise is actually being led by those in rural areas. 

Global increases in BMI (body mass index) have been observed for decades, but no one had evaluated differences in urban and rural regions on a large-scale across many countries. The new Nature study evaluated BMI values in 200 countries from 1985-2017, finding that rural areas are responsible for more than 55% of the global rise in the average BMI and more than 80% of the rise in some low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

Previous theories argued that urbanization caused rising BMI largely because of the availability of cheap, ultra-processed foods, a lifestyle that provides more transportation options, and greater access to non-physical leisure activities (smartphones, cable television). In contrast, rural areas were thought more likely to consume more local produce, have less access to ultra-processed and packaged food, and participate in high energy expending activities. However, rural areas, even in LMICs, have now begun to resemble urban areas because of access to ultra-processed foods and cheap mechanized devices that reduce transport and farming energy expenditure.

Obesity results in higher health care costs, lower life expectancy, and reduced quality of life. Thus, prevention strategies are vital but currently, most preventative measures are targeted towards urban areas. Given this new data, funding priorities and strategies need to adjust to address this growing issue. 

(Barry M. Popkin, Nature)

After outcry, USDA will no longer require scientists to label research as ‘preliminary’

After protests, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has stopped requiring their staff scientists to label all published peer-reviewed research as “preliminary.” Released last week, the revised USDA guidelines now require the following language when disclaimers are necessary: “The findings and conclusions in this [publication/presentation/blog/report] are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.” Not all publications will be obliged to contain this statement. 

Previous USDA guidelines, implemented last July, required publications to carry the label: “The findings and conclusions in this preliminary publication have not been formally disseminated by the [USDA] and should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.”  This disclaimer caused concern over claims that it was confusing and possibly misleading. Scientific publications are peer-reviewed (evaluated by professionals in the field for quality and accuracy) and considered completed work, not preliminary. Some among the scientific community feared the disclaimer might reduce the impact of the published research conclusions or be used to diminish findings that conflict with views of the current administration. 

While reaction towards the disclaimer change has been generally positive, some non-USDA researchers are still concerned that the latest guidelines have the potential to jeopardize scientific integrity. The new guidelines say that the USDA can request “corrections” or “changes” to research papers if they pertain to a “prominent issue,” a significant scientific advancement, or could influence trade/policy decisions. Rebecca Boehm, an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated that “removing ‘preliminary’ from the disclaimer is a step in the right direction, but there still may be unnecessary obstacles preventing agency researchers from publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals.” 

(Ben Guarino, Washington Post)

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May 14, 2019 at 4:56 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 24, 2017

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By: Joel Adu-Brimpong, BS

Source: Flickr by Selena N. B. H. via Creative Commons

Scientific Publishing

Fake It Until You’re Caught?

The beauty of the scientific enterprise is that it is, eventually, self-correcting. Thus, occasionally, a scientific paper may be retracted from a journal based on new revelations or due to reports of ethical breaches. Tumor Biology, a peer-reviewed, open access journal disseminating experimental and clinical cancer research, however, seems to have set a record for the number of retracted papers at once. In a single notice, in April, Tumor Biology retracted 107 articles; yes, one hundred and seven!

Springer, the former publisher of Tumor Biology, reported that the retracted papers were due to a compromised peer review process. Like other journals, Tumor Biology allows the submission of preferred reviewer information (name and email address) when submitting a manuscript. In the case of the retracted papers, “the reviewers were either made up, or had the names of real scientists but false email addresses.” Unsurprisingly, the manuscripts sent to the fake reviewers consistently received positive reviews, bolstering the likelihood of publication.

Springer, of course, is not the first and only major publisher to uncover issues in its peer-review process leading to mass retractions. A 2016 paper reveals similar issues from other major publishers including SAGE, BioMed Central and Elsevier. These breaches are particularly worrisome as some of the retracted manuscripts date back to the beginning of the decade. This means that studies floating around in other journals may have built on knowledge reported by the retracted studies. As if this was not enough, Springer has also come under scrutiny for individuals listed on Tumor Biology’s editorial board, several of whom appear to have no association with the journal and/or in at least one case, have been deceased for several years.

These discoveries are particularly disturbing and are percolating at a time when biomedical research spending is increasingly being scrutinized. Richard Harris, the award-winning NPR journalist, in his recent book Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions (2017), highlights major areas in biomedical research that produce wastes, such as studies that may incite researchers, and even whole fields, to follow a phantom lead. In the meantime, it does appear that journals are taking measures to ensure that these breaches are minimized, if not prevented entirely. (Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup, ScienceInsider)

Research Funding

Fighting On All Fronts: Republican Senators Advocate for DOE’s Research Funding

Republican senators are, again, urging President Trump to rethink potential budget cuts to research programs; this time to the Department of Energy (DOE). On Thursday, May 18, 2017, six top senate republicans, including well-known congresspersons Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), drafted a letter to the President reminding him of the importance of government-sponsored research. In the letter, they re-echo, “Government-sponsored research is one of the most important investments our country can make to encourage innovation, unleash our free enterprise system to create good-paying jobs, and ensure American competitiveness in a global economy.” They go on, “It’s hard to think of an important technological advancement since World War II that has not involved at least some form of government-sponsored research.”

If it seems like we’ve been down this road before, it’s because we have. Earlier this year, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, and his colleagues signaled disagreement with proposed budget cuts to the NIH and CDC in President Trump’s fiscal blueprint. The Republican congressman reiterated the importance of agencies like the NIH and CDC in conducting crucial biomedical research and leading public health efforts that protect Americans from diseases. The strong commitment to advancing biomedical research and the health of the American people led to an omnibus agreement that repudiated President Trumps proposed cuts, increasing NIH funding by $2 billion for the 2017 cycle.

The letter by Senator Alexander and colleagues was drafted following reports suggesting that the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy could face a reduction in funding of up to 70 percent for the 2018 fiscal cycle.  In a separate follow-up analysis, Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee reported on the growth and importance of clean energy jobs and its contribution to the economy. Cuts to the DOE’s research programs could have profound impact on not only millions of jobs but also America’s ability to stay competitive in the global economy as it shifts towards renewable energy and resources. (Geof Koss, ScienceInsider)

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Science Policy Around the Web – March 8, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Gulf on Open Access to Federally Financed Research – An updated view of the legislation introduced and reasoning behind both sides of the open access debate.  Should federally-funded research be available to the public free of charge?  The final answer isn’t likely to come in an election year, says Guy Gugliotta in the New York Times.

Are the Kids Alright?  – Medicating children is becoming more common every year, yet it has historically been difficult to get drug makers to properly safety-test their products in children.  Bob Grant in The Scientist outlines two laws up for reauthorization before Congress which have encouraged safety studies in minors…and possibly saved lives.

The Work-Life Integration Overload – A recent survey by the Association for Women in Science found that both men and women reported a significant amount of work-life imbalance, particularly among married-with-children scientists.  Their survey was far from scientific but does capture a picture of a generation of scientists struggling to balance work with family demands.

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March 8, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 7, 2012

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By: Science Policy For All contributors

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Thousands of Scientists Vow to Boycott Elsevier to Protest Journal Prices  – Their petition at thecostofknowledge.com is in response to Elsevier’s high journal cost (up to $20,000 a year, with a 36% 2010 profit margin) and to Elsevier’s support of the Research Works Act.  The RWA would restrict the open access policies of publicly funded institutions (see our post here). (by Jop de Vrieze via ScienceInsider)

NIH grant-funding success rate reaches all-time low in 2011 – “…overall success rates for research project grants … fell to an all-time low of only 18 percent in FY11, 3 percentage points lower than that for FY10.”  Sobering news for those in academia.  The decline is fueled by more grant applications, increased award amounts per grant, and (of course) a 1% cut in NIH funding.  (by Julie McClure via the ASBMB Policy Blotter)

Researchers feel pressure to cite superfluous papers – “One in five academics in a variety of social science and business fields say they have been asked to pad their papers with superfluous references in order to get published.  The figures, from a survey published … in Science, also suggest that journal editors strategically target junior faculty….”  Another piece of the tangled web woven by the peer review system.  (by Richard Van Noorden via the Nature website)

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February 7, 2012 at 10:25 am