Guardian: Researchers, journal editors, and those who provide funding have joined together to create the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA). The declaration argues that journal impact factors—rankings of journals determined by the number of citations they receive over a given period—do not necessarily reflect the quality of individual articles or authors and should not be used in hiring and promotion decisions. Impact factors are being blamed for having driven researchers to avoid potentially groundbreaking work in favor of work that is considered to be more publishable. Furthermore, researchers are more likely to favor highly rated journals over those that might be more appropriate for their work. In turn, what gets published, and even what gets submitted, can be affected. Those considerations can encourage participants to try to game the system, which can skew the ranking. DORA is part of a growing effort to increase scientific diversity and to evaluate research, researchers, and journals on their individual merits.
New York Times: Data science is a cross-disciplinary study that has developed alongside the enormous amounts of data—ranging from online behavior patterns to cancer tissue samples to crime rates—produced by modern technology. Data scientists use mathematical models to analyze the data, create visual or narrative descriptions, and then devise ways the data are understood or used. A report by McKinsey Global Institute suggests there will be a half million new data science jobs in the next five years, and 1.5 million executive and support staff jobs that require an understanding of data. Last year average salaries were nearly $90 000 for graduates just out of North Carolina State University’s Institute for Advanced Analytics, established in 2007. Many other universities have established similar degree programs to teach data science skills. To learn how to manipulate data, students take classes in computer science, statistics, math, and analytics, and to focus on the use of data in fields of study that interest them, they take science and social science classes.
Science: NSF recently released its biennial report Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Using the report’s data, NSF statistician Daniel Foley charted the demographics of US doctoral degree recipients employed in industry and in two- and four-year academic institutions. For the cohort of scientists who received their degrees between 2006 and 2010, white scientists are no longer disproportionately the majority. Non-Hispanic white people are approximately 63% of the US population as of 2011. That is roughly the same proportion of white doctoral recipients employed at both four- and two-year institutions. In industry, they are actually underrepresented, making up only about 50% of the population. Asians have had their largest growth in employment in industry and in four-year institutions, while underrepresented minority scientists—primarily African Americans and Hispanics—have made their largest gains in two-year institutions.
Science: To simplify France’s national education and research system and reduce competition among researchers and institutions, the country’s parliament has drafted a bill consisting of 20 measures. The proposals include the creation of regional groupings of universities and research laboratories, a stronger and clearer national strategic research agenda, an improved evaluation procedure for laboratories and education programs, and 8400 new permanent research staff positions. Funding for universities is still up in the air, however, as requests for budgetary guarantees have largely been ignored. “Many in the scientific community still hope to influence the Parliament to introduce last-minute changes,” writes Elisabeth Pain for Science.
Science: William Brinkman, who was appointed by President Obama as the head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science in June 2009, announced that he will resign the position on 12 April. In his letter to DOE staff, he cited personal reasons as his motivation for leaving government service. Although Brinkman says that he has no immediate plans, he is open to returning to Princeton University, where he was working prior to his appointment, or to working at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he and his wife will be moving. His resignation letter highlights several of the Office of Science’s achievements over the last four years, including the establishment of DOE’s 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers, which focus on the development of clean and alternate energy technologies. He also indicates his concerns over federal budget implications for research and development. His replacement, who will have to undergo Senate confirmation, has not yet been announced by the Obama administration.
Science: The next secretary of the US Department of Energy looks to be Ernest Moniz of MIT. Chosen by President Obama to succeed Steven Chu, Moniz has extensive White House experience; he has served as DOE’s undersecretary and as a science aide under President Bill Clinton. While mainstream science and environmental groups appear happy with the selection of Moniz, those who oppose nuclear power and fracking are less so, writes David Malakoff for Science. “Ernie’s a good choice—he has a very broad knowledge of DOE’s portfolio and he’s also a person who understands politics,” said Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society. If confirmed, Moniz will be the third scientist in a row to head DOE; before Chu, another MIT professor, Samuel Bodman, filled the post. Moniz has already served under Obama as a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Washington Post: Two tests, including Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), show that despite gains, US students “continue to lag behind many of their Asian counterparts in reading, math and science.” Though they outperformed “the international average,” they remained “far behind students in such places as Singapore and Hong Kong, especially in math and science.” Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said that given the “large and diverse population of kids to educate” in the US, he thinks “these results show that we’re doing pretty well.” In fourth-grade math, US students trailed counterparts from Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Northern Ireland, and the Flemish region of Belgium. In eighth-grade science, they trailed Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Slovenia, Russia, and Hong Kong. The results are interpreted to show that “across countries and subjects . . . students who have teachers with at least a decade of experience performed better, as did students who had teachers with high levels of career satisfaction.”
Chronicle of Higher Education: The yearly survey by NSF found that 49 010 research doctorates were granted in 2011, up 2% from 2010. About 75% of those doctorates were in science and engineering disciplines, up 4% from 2010. Although the number of humanities degrees went down by 3%, much of that decline was caused by the reclassification of doctorates-of-education as professional doctorates. Without the reclassification, the total number of research doctorates would have exceeded 50 000. Women made up 42% of the recipients of science and engineering doctorates, up from 30% in 1991. Black students increased from 4% to 6%, and Hispanic students from 3% to 6%, over that same time period. However, the proportion of new graduates who reported definite job or postdoctoral commitments was at the lowest level in 10 years.
Science: A French law passed in March designed to increase job security may have exactly the opposite effect. Researchers across France have been writing letters, signing petitions, and staging street protests over a new requirement that employers must offer a permanent position to employees working on short-term contracts (CDDs) for more than six years. Although the law may work well in certain areas of the public sector, France’s science funding system does not allocate its research institutions sufficient funds to offer their CDD employees permanent jobs. In response, some science organizations, including CNRS—France’s largest—are trying to limit CDDs to three years. Critics say the new law will hurt young researchers the most, by causing them to lose their jobs early on and not allowing them to gain the necessary job experience to seek longer-term positions. France’s higher education and research ministry is working to give CDD employees hiring preference for civil service jobs, and the protesters are pressuring the government to increase the total number of civil service positions.
New York Times: The Times’s weekly online Room for Debate forum “invites knowledgeable outside contributors to discuss news events and other timely issues,” with readers then commenting. This week’s forum is titled “Breaking the bias against women in science: Should there be affirmative action, or something similar, to advance women in science and related subjects?” Contributors are Nancy Hopkins, an MIT biology professor (“Let’s call it ‘affirmative effort’ ”); Janelle Wilson, who teaches Earth science to sixth graders in Georgia and conducts science outreach for NASA (“Get girls interested while they’re young”); Dennis Berkey, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (“Put female students in leadership roles”); Jeniffer Harper-Taylor, president of the Siemens Foundation (“Training and recognition can make a difference”); and Carrie Lukas, managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum and coauthor of Liberty Is No War on Women (“Don’t regulate individual decisions”). The choice of topic was prompted by a Yale University study that revealed pervasive discrimination against women scientists. Charles Day, Physics Today‘s online editor, wrote about the study in a recent blog post.