Tuesday, 31 March 2009

China attempts to crack down on scientific fraud

SciDev reports that in an attempt to combat scientific misconduct, the Chinese Ministry of Education has 'stipulated seven acts of academic misconduct and how they will be punished.' The circular states that plagiarism, falsifying data and references, fabricating CVs and changing others' academic achievements or signing their names without permission are scientific misconduct.

The new measures are aimed at higher education institutions after a recent scandal saw an associate professor and dean of pharmaceutical science lose their jobs over allegations of copying data. Higher education institutions are consequentially also under pressure to train teachers and students in good academic conduct.
Hou Xinyi (Nankai University) is quoted as saying that 'it is the government-controlled grant and award system that has spawned misconduct among Chinese academia', with this system making it easier for those in higher positions to win funding leaving researchers under pressure to gain contacts in addition to publishing in as many high impact journals as possible.

Monday, 30 March 2009

EPSRC considers blacklisting measures

The Guardian reports that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has 'announced plans to "blacklist" academic researchers who submit three unsuccessful research proposals in any one year and have a low personal success rate of winning grants'. The EPSRC has said the proposal will help to manage demand for grants. David Reid, EPSRC's head of communications is quoted as saying, "A small number of people put a disproportionate burden on the peer-review system. We're talking about weeding out consistently low-quality proposals."

However, the announcements have caused fear and anger in the chemistry community, with concern about the impact of such measures on scientist's careers and potential department closures as a result.

In a letter to the Guardian, Professor Joe Sweeney (University of Reading) states: 'This policy will not increase the number of scientific projects funded: only the success rate will improve. Thus, then it presents the ludicrous possibility that the distribution of public funding for science will now be judged not by quality, but by the amount of money, in a self-destructive negative-feedback loop: the less money available, the less success, and the higher the body count of blacklisted scientists.'

A petition against the policy has been set up on the Number 10 website.

Read the Guardian letter in full.
Read Professor Joe Sweeney's letter in full.
Sign/view the online petition.

Concern over EU Directive revision

Some of the most influential voices in the UK bioscience sector have come together to voice concern over the Revision of EU Directive 86/609 on animal experimentation, through the Understanding Animal Research website. The declaration welcomes the opportunity to update the Directive, but voices concern that elements of the draft revised Directive could 'have a number of potential adverse impacts on bioscience research, on medical and scientific progress and on scientific and commercial competitiveness, both in the UK and across Europe.

Although it is hoped that the updated Directive will result in a great emphasis on the three R's of Reduction, Refinement and Replacement with relation to the use of animals in research, the authors of the declaration of concern reiterate their belief that animal research remains essential for the following purposes:
  • To develop fundamental biological knowledge;
  • To help deliver new medicines and treatments for citizens across the globe;
  • To protect the health of humans, animals and the environment

The signatories include: Sir Mark Walport (Wellcome Trust), Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Medical Research Council), Professor Douglas Kell (BBSRC), Simon Denegri (Association of Medical Research Charities), Dr Richard Dyer (Biosciences Federation), Dr Simon Festing (Understanding Animal Research), Kenneth Applebee (Institute of Animal Technology), Chris Brinsmead (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) and Aisling Burnand (BioIndustry Association).

Read the Declaration in full.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

In his latest blog post, 'Getting the word out', BBSRC Chief Executive Professor Doug Kell includes discussion on the rise of the informal science mechanisms such as twitter versus formal mechanisms such as peer review. The BBSRC and Doug Kell can both be found on twitter (links below). As highlighted by the previous post on Twitter, the current willingness of decision-makers to (at least) engage with a wider audience through a variety of mechanisms should be applauded.

Read Doug Kell's blog post in full.
BBSRC on Twitter
Doug Kell on Twitter
Biochemical Society on Twitter

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Science Twitterers

As Twitter grows in popularity, some of the biggest names and organisations in science are getting on board and sharing their own tweets of wisdom.

They include:
Science Minister Lord Drayson
The Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills
Science? So What
Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills John Denham

And, not to be left behind... the Biochemical Society (policy efforts).

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Why is science important?

Good Question. Does this website have the answer?

Science teacher Alom Shaha says, "So, I’ve started this film and blog project in which I want to ask the question “why is science important?” to people who feel the importance of science so deeply that they have dedicated their lives to it — working scientists, science writers and, of course, science teachers. I’m making a documentary, funded by The Wellcome Trust, and running this “collective blog” as I work on the film. Bits from the blog will appear in the film and bits of the film will appear on the blog. The idea is that the two will inform and enrich each other."

Why is Science Important? from Alom Shaha on Vimeo.

Visit the 'Why is science important' website.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Please sir?

The BBC reports that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is in discussion with the Treasury about about a £1bn cash boost for scientific research as part of a stimulus package, similar to that seen in the US.

This funding is intended to 'keep academic talent in the UK while putting money into the ailing economy.' There is a concern that the downturn could destroy the scientific skills that draw high-tech companies to the UK in addition to potential 'brain-drain' which could see UK scientists drawn to the US and Asian countries where research funding has been dramatically increased.

It is hoped a decision will be made by the end of the month.
Read the BBC article in full.

Monday, 9 March 2009

US reversal on stem cell funding

The BBC reports that US President Barack Obama has 'lifted restrictions on federal funding for research on new stem cell lines'. This a significant change in policy after Ex-President George Bush blocked the use of any government money to fund research on human embryonic stem cell lines created after 9 August 2001. It is thought that this decision could see Congress overturning a ban on spending tax dollars to create embryos in the future. Perhaps predictably, the move to life the ban on federal funding was 'welcomed by stem cell researchers but criticised by opponents and social conservatives'.

Read the BBC article in full.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

RCUK poster competition - Perspectives

Research Councils UK is running Perspectives - a poster competition for early-career researchers. The scheme gives scientists valuable training and experience in discussing their research with non-specialists, as well as training in poster design and a chance to explore the social and ethical aspects of their work.

Finalists display their posters at the British Science Festival in September, at the University of Surrey in Guildford. Cash prizes are awarded by a panel of expert judges.
Perspectives is open to postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers funded by the UK Research Councils.

Deadline for applications: 8 May 2009

For more information, and to apply online, see: http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/perspectives

Call for readers

L’OrĂ©al UK and Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, and the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET have partnered together to provide a dedicated UK and Ireland For Women In Science Fellowship Programme for women scientists at postdoctoral level to enable and/or facilitate promising scientific research in the life or physical sciences.

All applications are initially reviewed by readers who determine the long-list (of approximately 20) applications that are forwarded to the judging panel. Readers are currently being sought to assist with the first round of assessment for the 2009 L’Oreal UK and Ireland For Women In Science fellowships. If you are a senior lecturer or above, we would like to hear from you. The first round of assessment involves scoring the applications against a set of criteria (which is provided). Applications will be sent out in the week commencing Monday 13 April and feedback needs to be received by Friday 8 May. As a token of our appreciation for your help a small honorarium will be given.

If you are interested, then please contact - jcarpen@ri.ac.uk. It would also be helpful if you could confirm the subject areas you feel you can assess, as well as indicate the number of applications you feel you can review.