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  • When is ‘self-plagiarism’ OK? New guidelines offer researchers rules for recycling text

    Stacks of manuscripts filling image frame
    mumininan/iStock

    Although researchers often have valid reasons to take text they have already published and reuse it in new papers, peers often frown on such recycling as “self-plagiarism.” But when Cary Moskovitz of Duke University, who studies the teaching of writing, went looking for guidance on self-plagiarism for his students, he came up empty-handed.

    “There was almost no actual research into the practice,” he says. Scholars hadn’t really examined how frequently researchers recycle their text, whether that reuse constitutes copyright infringement, or what kinds of reuse researchers believe is right or wrong. So, Moskovitz set out to fill the gap. Today, his Text Recycling Research Project (TRRP) released guidance for editors and authors, describing when the practice is both ethical and legal, and how to present reused text transparently.

    The guidelines usefully recast these issues in terms other than self-plagiarism, says Lisa Rasmussen, a research ethicist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. “It’s causing a problem to focus too much on self-plagiarism,” she says. Some researchers who spend decades working on a particular topic, for example, might use very similar methods from one study to the next, making it efficient to simply cut and paste the methods sections of their papers. “We shouldn’t make them torture their words just so that they don’t get caught in a plagiarism detection software system,” as many journal editors do, she says.

  • National Academy of Sciences ejects biologist Francisco Ayala in the wake of sexual harassment findings

    Francisco J. Ayala

    Evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala

    Jacquelyn Martin/AP

    The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has expelled evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala from its ranks 3 years after he was found to have sexually harassed women colleagues. Ayala, who resigned from the University of California (UC), Irvine, in 2018 after a university investigation found him guilty of sexual harassment, is the second member NAS has ousted over sexual harassment allegations since the organization revised its bylaws 2 years ago to allow members to be removed if they violate its code of conduct.

    “Finally,” Jessica Pratt, an associate professor at UC Irvine who had filed a complaint with the university against Ayala, wrote in an email to Science. “I feel relief that for victims of sexual harassment or violence, their path to justice might be easier now because of changes in policy.” But she and others say NAS’s process was too slow.

    In an email yesterday, NAS wrote that its Council had rescinded Ayala’s membership, effective immediately. An NAS spokesperson confirmed the decision. Ayala, who was elected to NAS in 1980 declined to comment on NAS’s action, but has vehemently denied the allegations against him, which included making sexually suggestive comments and inviting a junior professor to sit on his lap. The announcement comes weeks after NAS expelled astronomer Geoff Marcy, who in 2015 had been found guilty of sexual harassment by UC Berkeley.

  • ‘Impossible to ignore’: How a former neuroscientist and dancer is turning research into art

    Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya while working on her newest mural in Washington, D.C.

    Scientist-turned-artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya with the mural she completed in Washington, D.C., earlier this month

    K. Dolan/Science

    Across from a dog park in the heart of Washington, D.C., stands a striking, multicolored mural, in which two women reach for each other across a space teeming with variegated particles. The 23-meter-wide mural, inspired by the work of Duke University particle physicist Ayana Arce, who is Black, imagines women building bridges to each other, just as quarks that are unpaired after intense proton-proton collisions find other quarks. Scientist-turned-artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya finished the artwork this month; it is the second in a series planned for 10 U.S. cities highlighting the research of female scientists, in a project sponsored by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Born in Atlanta to Thai and Indonesian immigrants, Phingbodhipakkiya knew she wanted both science and art to be integral to her life. After a life-changing accident derailed a blossoming dance career, she was driven to study neuroscience in college.

    But after 4 years as a research assistant in an Alzheimer’s disease lab, she became keenly aware of how poorly scientists–herself included–communicate with the public. So she abandoned her Ph.D. ambitions to get a master’s degree in fine arts (MFA) at the Pratt Institute. Her decision launched a career in science-focused art and design, leading to a TED residency, museum exhibits, and projects that, she says, focus on “badass women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math].”

  • Quality shines when scientists use publishing tactic known as registered reports, study finds

    Hand marking up a printed page

    Registered reports, which peer review methods and analyses before results are known, measure up on quality and creativity.

    Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

    In 2013, the journals Cortex, Social Psychology, and Perspectives on Psychological Science launched a groundbreaking publishing format—called a registered report—that they hoped would solve several problems worsened by conventional publishing practices. One issue was that many journals declined to publish important negative results, judging them not sufficiently novel. In addition, many authors analyzed their data in multiple ways but only reported the most interesting results.

    The trio of journals thought registered reports offered a better way. The approach turns the normal publishing timeline on its head: Authors write manuscripts laying out only their hypotheses, research methods, and analysis plans, and referees decide whether to accept them before anyone knows the study’s results. The innovation is that this guarantees publication for even the most mundane findings. Unlike standard papers, “the decision [to publish] … is based on the importance of the question, and the quality of the methodology you’re applying,” says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and an advocate of registered reports.

    But until recently, concrete data to support the benefits of this publishing model have been thin. Today, Nosek and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Human Behaviour reporting that reviewers rate registered reports as more rigorous, and their methods as higher in quality, than similar papers published in the standard format. And despite concerns that the approach could stifle research creativity, the reviewers considered registered reports to be as creative and novel as the comparison papers. The findings join the first small wave of studies exploring whether the publishing format—now offered by at least 295 journals—lives up to its promise.

  • Claim that Chinese team hid early SARS-CoV-2 sequences to stymie origin hunt sparks furor

    a building that houses the Huanan seafood wholesale market

    Many of the first COVID-19 cases were linked to a seafood market (center) in Wuhan, China, but a new analysis of other early coronavirus sequences may point elsewhere in the city.

    Kyodo via AP Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    In a world starved for any fresh data to help clarify the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study claiming to have unearthed early sequences of SARS-CoV-2 that were deliberately hidden was bound to ignite a sizzling debate. The unreviewed paper, by evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, asserts that a team of Chinese researchers sampled viruses from some of the earliest COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, posted the viral sequences to a widely used U.S. database, and then a few months later had the genetic information removed to “obscure their existence.”

    To some scientists, the claims reinforce suspicions that China has something to hide about the origins of the pandemic. But critics of the preprint, posted yesterday on bioRxiv, say Bloom’s detective work is much ado about nothing, because the Chinese scientists later published the viral information in a different form, and the recovered sequences add little to what’s known about SARS-CoV-2’s origins.

  • Diversion of research money to buy oil refinery enrages Mexican scientists

    Aerial View of Deer Park Refinery

    Mexico’s plan to purchase the Shell Deer Park Refinery in Texas, in part with money from trust funds used to support research, has angered some scientists.

    Aerial Archives/Alamy Stock Photo

    Last year, researchers in Mexico were frustrated after the federal government moved to terminate dozens of trust funds that supported science, arguing the funds had been tarnished by corruption and the money was needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, after Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced this month that some of the money is being used to buy an aging oil refinery in Texas, many scientists are enraged. The purchase will not only divert money from research, they fear, but also make it harder for Mexico to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

    “It’s nonsense to use [money] that would bring the country forward … for something that takes our country backward,” says Martha Espinosa Cantellano, an experimental pathologist at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies.

    “It doesn’t make sense to invest in outdated technology,” says Lorena Ruano Gómez, a political scientist from the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics.

  • Delta variant triggers dangerous new phase in the pandemic

    Police officers stop cars at a checkpoint for control to stop unauthorised travel in Alverca, Portugal.

    Police officers stop cars at a checkpoint to prevent unauthorized travel into and out of Lisbon, Portugal, on 18 June.

    Pedro Nunes/Reuteres

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in late April. “Suddenly … it is dominant and completely sweeps away Alpha,” which until then was most prevalent in the city, says Anurag Agrawal, who leads the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.

    New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity, he says: “It went from a 10-foot wall around the city to a 2-foot wall you could just walk over.”

  • Through proposed climate labs, Department of Energy reaches out to urban communities

    Children playing in fire hydrant spray

    Hotter summers could hit city dwellers especially hard.

    BEN HASTY/MEDIANEWS GROUP/READING EAGLE/GETTY IMAGES

    Taking aim at two goals at once, the Department of Energy (DOE) wants to launch an initiative both to address the climate crisis and increase diversity in the U.S. scientific workforce. In its 2022 budget request to Congress, DOE requests funds to create urban integrated field laboratories (IFLs) that would gather climate data in cities and build bridges to urban communities, including by collaborating with minority-serving universities, such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

    “I was surprised but thrilled to see the IFL language,” says Lucy Hutyra, a biogeochemist at Boston University. “Urban areas are radically understudied.” David Padgett, a geoscientist at Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville, says, “This sounds like something I might want to collaborate on with my colleagues at TSU or Spelman” College, an HBCU in Atlanta.

    The effort is timely, scientists say, as evidence suggests the impacts of climate change will often fall hardest on poorer urban communities. But collecting climate data in cities poses major challenges, and Black researchers stress that to really boost diversity, DOE will have to help minority institutions grow their research capacity.

  • Australia’s inaction on climate puts Great Barrier Reef ‘in danger,’ UNESCO report says

    coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

    The Great Barrier Reef suffered major bleaching events in 2016, 2017, and 2020.

    Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images

    Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef should be inscribed on a list of World Heritage Sites that are “in danger,” according to a draft decision UNESCO released on 21 June. The Australian government opposes the recommendation, which was made partly to spur the country into action on climate change.

    The Great Barrier Reef suffered major bleaching events in 2016, 2017, and 2020. The UNESCO report cites Australia’s own studies in noting that the reef’s ecosystem has deteriorated “from poor to very poor” since 2015, and that deterioration “has been more rapid and widespread” than between 2009 and 2014, partly because of repeated coral bleaching driven by global warming.

    All of the 29 reefs found in World Heritage List areas have bleached multiple times, says marine ecologist Terry Hughes of James Cook University, Townsville, but UNESCO seems to be singling out the Great Barrier Reef because Australia is a laggard in addressing climate change. It has not joined the numerous other countries that have set a target of bringing net carbon emissions to zero, for example.

  • ‘Speed and scale.’ One year into the job, NSF’s director prepares for massive budget growth

    Sethuraman Panchanathan

    Sethuraman Panchanathan leads an agency suddenly in the limelight.

    National Science Foundation/Photo by Stephen Voss

    Sethuraman Panchanathan has a lot to celebrate this week as he marks his first anniversary as director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). President Joe Biden has asked Congress to boost its current $8.5 billion budget by 20% in 2022, and a bipartisan majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives has embraced the idea of making NSF the lead agency in a massive increase in federal research spending aimed at helping the United States outinnovate the rest of the world. Lawmakers also want to give NSF a new multibillion-dollar directorate tasked with developing new technologies.

    “This bill pushes NSF to be its own best self,” said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), chair of the House science committee, shortly before the panel voted unanimously on 15 June to approve legislation that would turn the agency into an $18 billion juggernaut by 2026. The committee’s top Republican, Representative Frank Lucas (OK), otherwise a staunch fiscal conservative, gushed about “preserving what makes NSF great” while giving it the resources “to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

    With those added resources, however, comes increased scrutiny of an agency that has traditionally flown under the political radar since it was created in 1950 to fund academic research. And although a rising budget—assuming Congress appropriates the money—might be a de facto measure of success, Panchanathan will likely spend the rest of a 6-year term that began on 23 June 2020 trying to show policymakers that he can manage new initiatives like the technology directorate as well as scale up existing programs. He must also align NSF’s mission with two hot-button political issues that legislators have made prerequisites for the agency’s growth: increased research security and greater geographic diversity in its funding patterns.

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