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.
Science: Editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts calls for scientists to work with teachers to “research the effect of current curriculum materials and teaching methods on students” and to “develop new, validated, Web-based curricula” for “inspiring, in-depth lessons.” He proposes that scientific societies in biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth and space sciences be “recruited” for the validating. Alberts sees a “superficial, skin-deep approach to science learning,” an approach that resists change and has a “disastrous, long-lasting effect” on students’ attitudes toward science. He charges that overly broad coverage of science subjects “kills student interest and makes genuine comprehension almost impossible.” He criticizes “state-based textbook adoption policies,” high-stakes examinations, and “a scientific community that largely fails to understand teachers’ needs.” Alberts uses an extended example from biology to illustrate how dull memorization undermines students’ chances to see, and to be motivated by, the beauty and fascination in science. “Badly needed,” he declares, “are materials for teachers that guide students to confront a phenomenon such as embryo development and then, working in small groups with skillful coaching, to imagine potential ways to explain it.”
New York Times: Oxford energy policy professor Dieter Helm argues that although effective new energy technologies are being developed, what’s needed fundamentally “across Europe, the United States and China is a global agreement on a proper carbon price” that does not “discriminate between locations,” given the rise of coal planetwide. The US “is actually on a much better path than Europe,” thanks to a transition from coal to gas, investments in new technologies, and carbon emissions that are falling faster. But because present renewable-energy sources including wind and biofuels are inadequate, the planet will need new technologies while “slowing the coal juggernaut.” Sensible steps are to “tax carbon consumption (including imports); accelerate the switch from coal to gas; and support and finance” new solar, geothermal, nuclear, battery, and ocean-tidal technologies; smart grids; and electric cars.
New York Times: Legal scholar and former Obama administration official Cass R. Sunstein asserts, “Economists of diverse viewpoints concur that if the international community entered into a sensible agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits would greatly outweigh the costs.” He invokes cost–benefit thinking that led President Ronald Reagan to make the US “the prime mover behind . . . the phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals.” Sunstein argues that Reagan saw past Republican and conservative ridicule of concerned scientists and recognized the payoff in cancer avoidance alone. He quantifies prospective payoffs from auto fuel-economy mandates, claims that “monetary benefits dwarf the costs” of improving electrical appliance efficiency, and presumes a human-induced general increase in enormously costly hurricane intensity. He adds that “cost-effective” US climate measures ”should spur technological changes and regulatory initiatives” in foreign nations as well. “The big question now,” Sunstein says, “is whether today’s Republicans will follow Reagan’s example.”
Science: In an editorial, Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, warn that in the current fiscal crisis, those “not heard from will probably have the most to lose.” They caution that hearing from scientific societies and advocacy groups “is simply not enough” and add that it is “essential that every member of the science and engineering community personally convey to policy-makers and the U.S. public the great importance of strong science funding.” They report that the National Institutes of Health could lose up to $5.5 billion and that NSF, with a $6 billion annual budget, could lose up to $1 billion. Leshner and Woolley stipulate that scientists should acknowledge the need for tax and entitlement reform to ensure “new revenues and the elimination of unnecessary, duplicative programs and regulations.” All scientists “must assume that policy-makers are unaware” of science funding’s importance, they write. “That’s what we have to change through our actions, now.”
BBC: The investigation into the 2009 hacking theft and publication of email from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has been closed. Facing a three-year deadline for bringing charges, Detective Chief Superintendent Julian Gregory, the officer in charge of the investigation, said that the international, online nature of the crime left the investigators with “no realistic prospect” for solving the case. The initial release of the documents, dubbed “Climategate,” misrepresented the scientific data for climate change and harmed the public’s trust of scientists. However, independent investigations have verified the data and cleared the researchers of any misbehavior.
Slate: The increased use of technology in secondary math education is proving to be a hindrance rather than a help, writes Konstantin Kakaes for Slate magazine. While software and gadgets can make mathematical computations easier, students are not learning the fundamental problem-solving skills needed to be truly proficient. In his thought-provoking article, Kakaes argues that the real shortfall in math education can be solved not by more advanced technology but by better teachers.
Guardian: Although it has long been accepted that scientists must provide enough information in their publications that others can replicate the results, the torrents of data now being generated are often not included in their final papers. To address that issue, the UK’s Royal Society has published a report, “Science as an open enterprise,” in which it “considers how the conduct and communication of science needs to adapt to this new era of information technology.” Recommendations include scientists being more open among themselves and the public, increased recognition for data gathering and analysis, the development of common standards for sharing information, and the creation of new software tools to analyze the ever-growing amounts of data. However, one essential aspect has been overlooked, notes John Naughton, writing for the Guardian: The software written by the researchers to process the data also needs to be published so that it, too, can be checked.
Science: In 2011, Brian Schmidt, Adam Riess, and Saul Perlmutter were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae”. The Nobel may not be shared among more than three people, and the three men wanted to recognize the colleagues who had worked alongside them for decades toward the discovery. Schmidt and Riess decided to invite the remaining 17 members of the High-z Supernova Search Team to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony. Perlmutter invited the 30 members of the Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP). Each laureate was allowed 14 tickets to the various events organized by the Swedish Academy, and Schmidt and Riess had enough tickets to accommodate everybody and their spouses. They gave their spare tickets to Perlmutter. Altogether, the laureates spent roughly $100,000 from the $1.5 million prize to pay for their guests’ airfares, hotel rooms, tuxedo rentals, and other expenses.
Nature: In a Nature opinion column, Ryan Meyer, a science integration fellow at the California Ocean Science Trust in Oakland, discusses the revamping of a government agency’s strategic plan. For the past 20 years, the US Global Change Research Program has spent more than $30 billion on climate change studies. Although the program has improved our understanding of climate systems, Meyer writes, it has been less successful at providing decision makers with useful information. So the program has added three more objectives: to inform decisions, to sustain assessments, and to communicate and educate. Meyer points out that problems may arise regarding the reallocation of funds among the new priorities and that there may be tradeoffs between the increasing complexity of climate models and the need of policymakers for simplicity. Nevertheless, he applauds the program administrators for “taking such an important conceptual step in the right direction.”