Each week, the Science family of publications—the print magazine, online news, Science Translational Medicine (STM), and Science Signaling—publish articles that are likely to be of interest to Science Careers readers. So, every Friday we're pointing our readers toward articles that hold some relevance to careers in science and other technical fields. Note that many of the articles appearing in STM, Science Signaling, and Science require AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers) membership, a Science subscription, or a site license.
► In late February in this space, we linked to Michael Balter’s story about Uganda’s homosexuality law and the misuse of well-intentioned scientific advisers by Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni. Museveni badly mischaracterized the views of the scientific committee he had empaneled, to justify support for a law that makes homosexual acts punishable by up to 14 years in prison; homosexual acts involving minors could draw a lifetime sentence. We cited the story as an example of the difficulties scientists face when trying to ensure that policy is informed by good science.
Last Friday at ScienceInsider, John Travis updated the story. A Ugandan court has nullified the law, he wrote, ruling that the legislation had been improperly approved by Uganda’s Parliament.
► Also on Friday at ScienceInsider, Eli Kintisch reported that tensions between the United States and Russia are causing U.S. scientists to abandon plans to attend several St. Petersburg conferences, including a big international fusion meeting scheduled to take place there in October.
► The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced its plan to comply with a White House mandate to make papers produced from U.S.-funded research free for anyone to read. DOE will create a Web portal that will link to full-text papers a year after publication, wrote Jocelyn Kaiser at ScienceInsider.
► On Monday, Kaiser noted the retirement of Story Landis, who has headed the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke since 2003. Landis joined the institute in 1995 as its scientific director. “I leave with a great sense of pride in what we were able to accomplish together,” Landis wrote in a farewell note to her staff.
► “Elsewhere in Science” has tracked the RIKEN STAP-cell controversy over several months. On Tuesday, Dennis Normile reported that Yoshiki Sasai, “a noted stem cell scientist at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, who co-authored two controversial and later retracted papers that reported a simple way of reprogramming mature cells,” was “found hanging from a stairway railing in the RIKEN complex in Kobe. Sasai was rushed to a nearby hospital but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. He reportedly left a suicide note, but it has not been made public.”
► In this week’s Science Careers-produced Working Life column, Lina Nilsson urges science trainees to “come out of the closet” an admit to their advisers that they don’t plan to pursue academic careers.
► An In Depth article in this week’s Science has fascinating implications for what it takes to be a successful scientist—except it’s about, well, bumblebees. In the article, Elizabeth Pennisi wrote about experiments by Nigel Raine of the University of Guelph in Canada that aim to understand variations in cognition in bumblebees, and the consequences of those variations in nature. Raine and graduate student Lisa Evans “discovered that in the wild there are trade-offs to being a fast learner. Bees that make errors in the color association test are also ‘more likely to assess new flower types,’ Raine says. In one experiment, these error-prone bees wound up collecting more sugar than their ‘smarter’ sisters, the team reported at the meeting and online on 17 May in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.” Those error-prone bees reminded me of the Science Careers interview with Tim Hunt earlier this year, in which Hunt said, describing his postdoc years,
… we were a bit anarchic and bumbling in a way, and I sometimes regretted that I never had any proper formal biochemical education. We all had to work everything out for ourselves. But after a while, I realized that I understood the rabbit reticulocyte lysate system much better than anybody else in the entire world, because I had made every single mistake that was possible to make and learned from them.
It strikes me that everything is much more formalized now, and I find myself reacting badly to this idea that there are skill sets you need to have, and you must pass your exams to get them. I would rather emphasize the importance of playfulness, and of making your own mistakes.
Slow-learners and error-prone scientists, take heart.