Posts about Funding

Anti-Science Politics in Australia, Canada and the UK

Age of Unreason by George Monbiot

The governments of Britain, Canada and Australia are trying to stamp out scientific dissent.

in Canada… scientists with government grants working on any issue that could affect industrial interests – tar sands, climate change, mining, sewage, salmon farms, water trading – are forbidden to speak freely to the public(17,18,19). They are shadowed by government minders and, when they must present their findings, given scripts to memorise and recite(20). Dozens of turbulent research programmes and institutes have either been cut to the bone or closed altogether(21).

In Australia, the new government has chosen not to appoint a science minister(22). Tony Abbott, who once described manmade climate change as “absolute crap”(23), has already shut down the government’s Climate Commission and Climate Change Authority(24).

Follow the link for sources. Sadly governments are fighting for the crown of how anti-science they can be. It isn’t a matter of the countries that are doing a good job and a better job of using scientific understanding to aid in policy decisions. It is a matter of how extreme the anti-science crowds are in each country.

Trashing the scientific method and the use of scientific knowledge to pursue a pre-determined political agenda is a foolhardy action putting political expediency above effectiveness. Making political judgement, considering the available scientific research is fine, and will result in some people being upset. But the extremely bad process behind ignoring and intentionally sabotaging the use of data and scientific thinking is extremely harmful to society.

Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
– Bernard Baruch (Daniel Patrick Moynihan said something very similar later)

Related: The Politics of Anti-Science (USA focus)Science and Engineering in PoliticsStand with Science: Late is Better than NeverScience and Engineering in Global Economics

Appropriate Technology Brings a $1.30/month Cell Phone Plan to Remote Village

I love this kind of stuff: smart use of engineering provides cell phone service to remote Mexican village, with 9,000 residents, for $1.30/month (1/13 of the price charge by traditional cell phone service in Mexico City).

The town that Carlos Slim forgot

It’s so remote that there was no cell service. In stepped Rhizomatica, a nonprofit with the goal of increasing “access to mobile telecommunications to the over two billion people without affordable coverage and the 700 million with none at all.”

The U.S. and European experts working with Mexican engineers got the network set up by March of this year. At first, they ruled that phone calls were not to be longer than five minutes each to keep the small network from getting saturated.

By May, local numbers in Mexico City, Los Angeles and Seattle were set up, meaning that Oaxacans in Villa Talea could call relatives in the capital or in California as if it were practically a local call, a few cents a minute.

Given the success they are buying equipment that can handle the volume and will donate the existing equipment to setup a new village (a smaller one, I imagine). This was the first village they setup.

Long-distance is go

After almost two months of fine-tuning, long-distance service is finally ready to launch. This means folks in the town will be able to call out of the coverage area (only around 5-10km) to any phone, anywhere. Likewise we purchased a few DID numbers which allow people to call a Mexico City, Los Angeles or Seattle number and connect right to the village.

This is one of so many great efforts to use appropriate technology to improve people’s lives. It is easy for me to get frustrated at the cash for votes mentality of the USA politicians which creates policies against improvement for society and for protection of obsolete business models (until the bought-and-paid-for politicians make the business models sustainable by legislating against better options). It is great to see these kind of examples for the good work being done outside of the political sphere.

Related: Pay as You Go Solar in IndiaProviding Computer to Remote Students in NepalReducing Poverty Using EntrepreneurshipMonopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make

Scientific Research Spending Cuts in the USA and Increases Overseas are Tempting Scientists to Leave the USA

Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity

Globally, the United States invests more real dollars in research and development than any other country. However, in terms of percentage of gross domestic product, the United States is reducing its investment in scientific research. In fact, of the 10 countries investing the most money in scientific research, the United States is the only country that has reduced its investment in scientific research as a percentage of GDP since 2011.

The study by 16 scientific societies surveyed 3,700 scientists in the USA. As a result of the difficult research funding environment 20% of the scientists are considering going overseas to continue their research careers.

I have written about the likelihood of the USA’s leadership position in science, engineering and technology diminishing. As I stated (see links below), it seemed obvious many other countries were more committed to investing in science now than the USA was (which is different than decades ago when the USA was the country most committed). Various factors would determine how quickly others would shrink the USA’s lead including whether they could setup the infrastructure (scientific, social and economic) and how much damage the anti-science politicians elected in the USA do.

The advantages of being the leader in scientific and engineering research and development are huge and long term. The USA has been coasting on the advantages built up decades ago and the benefits still poor into the USA economy. However, the USA has continued to take economically damaging actions due to the anti-science politics of many who we elect. That is going to be very costly for the USA. The losses will also accelerate sharply when the long term investments others are making bear significant fruit. Once the economic impact is obvious the momentum will continue in that direction for a decade or two even if the USA finally realizes the mistake and learns to appreciate the importance of investing in science.

The good news is that many other countries are making wise investments in science. Humanity will benefit from those investments. The downside of the decisions to cut investments in science (and to actively ignore scientific knowledge) in the USA are largely to move much of the economic gains to other countries, which is regrettable for the future economy of the USA.

Related: Economic Strength Through Technology LeadershipScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyGlobal Scientific LeadershipCompetition to Create Scientific Centers of ExcellenceEngineering the Future EconomyWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data (2005)

Medical Study Findings too Often Fail to Provide Us Useful Knowledge

There are big problems with medical research, as we have posted about many times in the past. A very significant part of the problem is health care research is very hard. There are all sorts of interactions that make conclusive results much more difficult than other areas.

But failures in our practices also play a big role. Just poor statistical literacy is part of the problem (especially related to things like interactions, variability, correlation that isn’t evidence of causation…). Large incentives that encourage biased research results are a huge problem.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science

He discovered that the range of errors being committed was astonishing: from what questions researchers posed, to how they set up the studies, to which patients they recruited for the studies, to which measurements they took, to how they analyzed the data, to how they presented their results, to how particular studies came to be published in medical journals. The systemic failure to do adequate long term studies once we approve drugs, practices and devices are also a big problem.

This array suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

Another problem is that medical research often doesn’t get the normal scientific inquiry check of confirmation research by other scientists.

Most journal editors don’t even claim to protect against the problems that plague these studies. University and government research overseers rarely step in to directly enforce research quality, and when they do, the science community goes ballistic over the outside interference. The ultimate protection against research error and bias is supposed to come from the way scientists constantly retest each other’s results—except they don’t. Only the most prominent findings are likely to be put to the test, because there’s likely to be publication payoff in firming up the proof, or contradicting it.

Related: Statistical Errors in Medical StudiesMedical Study Integrity (or Lack Thereof)Contradictory Medical Studies (2007)Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?

Drug Company Funding Taints Published Medical Research

Science provide the opportunity for us to achieve great benefits for society. However, especially in medical research money can make what are already very difficult judgments even less reliable. Add that to a very poor understanding of science in those we elect and you have a dangerous combination. That combination is one of the largest risks we face and need to manage better. I wish we would elect people with a less pitiful appreciation for science but that doesn’t seem likely. That makes doing a better job of managing the conflicts of interest money puts into our current medical research a top priority.

How Drug Company Money Is Undermining Science by Charles Seife

In the past few years the pharmaceutical industry has come up with many ways to funnel large sums of money—enough sometimes to put a child through college—into the pockets of independent medical researchers who are doing work that bears, directly or indirectly, on the drugs these firms are making and marketing. The problem is not just with the drug companies and the researchers but with the whole system—the granting institutions, the research labs, the journals, the professional societies, and so forth. No one is providing the checks and balances necessary to avoid conflicts.

Peer-reviewed journals are littered with studies showing how drug industry money is subtly undermining scientific objectivity. A 2009 study in Cancer showed that participants somehow survived longer when a study’s authors had conflicts of interest than when the authors were clean. A 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a “strong association” between researchers’ conclusions about the safety of calcium channel blockers, a class of drugs used to reduce blood pressure, and their financial relationships with the firms producing the drugs.

Most of those in the system have an interest in minimizing an effort to clean this up. It is just more work they don’t want to do. Or it goes directly against their interest (drug companies that want to achieve favorable opinions by buying influence). The main political message in the USA for a couple decades has been to reduce regulation. Allowing research that is tainted because you find regulation politically undesirable is a bad idea. People that understand science and how complex medical research is appreciate this.

Sadly when we elect people that by and large are scientifically illiterate they don’t understand the risks of the dangerous practices they allow. Even if they were scientifically illiterate but understood their ignorance they could do a decent job by getting scientific consultation from experts but they don’t (to an extent they listen to the scientists that those that give them lots of money tell them to which does help make sure those giving the politicians cash have their interests served but it is not a good way to create policy with the necessary scientific thinking needed today).

Related: Problems with the Existing Funding System for Medical ResearchMedical Study Integrity (or Lack Thereof)Merck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalAnti-Science PoliticsStand with Science, Late is Better than Never

Roominate: Inspiring Artists, Engineers and Visionaries

Roominate is a cool new toy created by 3 engineering students aimed at giving young engineers a way to learn, experiment and create. The 3 women used kickstarter to get the funds needed to launch their product. They raised $85,000 (the goal was $25,000).

We’re more than just a toy company. We want to inspire your daughters to be the great artists, engineers, architects, and visionaries of their generation. We intend to give them every tool to reach that potential.

Founders:

Bettina Chen: CalTech BS in Electrical Engineering, masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.

Alice Brooks: MIT BS in Mechanical Engineering, currently at Stanford pursuing masters in Mechanical Engineering design.

Jennifer Kessler: Bachelor degree from University of Pennsylvania, currently an MBA student at Stanford.

This is yet another example of entrepreneurship shown by Standford students. The USA is hugely benefited by Stanford (along with a few other schools: MIT, Caltech, etc.). There is little a country can do that is as helpful economically as encouraging the type of entrepreneurship Standford does.

Related: Awesome Gifts for the Maker in Your LifeFootballs Providing Light to Those Without Electricity at HomeGirls Sweep Top Honors at Siemens Competition in Math, Science and TechnologyFix it Goo

New Physics Prize Gives 9 Physicists $3 million Each

A new physics prize created by Russian billionaire who started a PhD in physics before switching to an MBA and getting rich (investing in Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and Groupon) has announced the first 9 winners. The award includes awards worth $3 million; the Nobel prize paid $1.1 million last year.

Yuri Milner awards make nine fundamental physics pioneers rich

The nine will now form a committee to select a winner, or winners, for next year. The prize will be given in the first quarter of each year

According to Milner, the new prizes are not intended to compete with the Nobels, and differ in crucial ways. They can go to younger researchers because experimental verification of theoretical breakthroughs is not required. And, unlike a Nobel prize, which can be shared by three scientists at most, the Milner prize imposes no limit.

Alongside the main prize, Milner’s foundation will give two further awards, the first being an annual New Horizons in Physics prize for promising junior researchers, and a special ad-hoc fundamental physics prize that can be awarded at any time, forgoing the usual nomination process. Milner said the latter prize might, for example, recognise experimental results that are clearly and immediately groundbreaking.

Milner, 50, left Moscow State University in 1985 with an advanced degree in theoretical physics. He later abandoned a PhD at the Russian Academy of Sciences for an MBA at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

winners:
Nima Arkani-Hamed, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. For original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realisations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes.

Ashoke Sen, Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad. For uncovering striking evidence of strong-weak duality in certain supersymmetric string theories and gauge theories, opening the path to the realisation that all string theories are different limits of the same underlying theory.

7 of the 9 winners are currently working in the USA (1 in India and 1 in France). 4 are at Princeton and 1 each at MIT, Cal Tech and Stanford.

Related: 2011 Nobel Prize in PhysicsShaw Laureates 20082008 USA Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation

High School Student Creates: Test That is Much More Accurate and 26,000 Times Cheaper Than Existing Pancreatic Cancer Tests

Seeing what these kids come up with is so refreshing after being so disappointed by the actions fo our leaders (politicians, business leaders, financiers, law enforcement [spying on citizens because they feel electronic privacy is fine to invade, taking away liberty…], health care in the USA [twice as expensive as elsewhere with no better results, 10 of millions without coverage]…). These kids make me feel hopeful, unfortunately the actions of the powerful leave me less hopeful.

Jack Andraka created a new paper based test for diagnosing pancreatic cancer that is 50% more accurate, 400 times more sensitive, and 26,000 times less expensive than existing methods. His method uses carbon nanotubes and can catch the disease in very early stages which is critical to treatment success. The test also covers other forms of cancer very effectively (he concentrated on the results for pancreatic cancer given the low survival rates for that cancer). Jack Andraka: “I actually love single-walled carbon nanotubes; they’re like the superheroes of material science.”

His results are great. Often initial results can be difficult to actually turn into such positive results in the real world. But this is a great step and it is great to see what young minds can do. The claims for how much better, cheaper etc. are wildly different in various places on the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) site.

Jack Andraka was awarded $75,000 for his development of a new method to detect pancreatic cancer as the winner of the top prize at the Intel ISEF (I believe it is new this year to call the winner the Gordon E. Moore Award).

Related: 2009 Intel Science and Engineering Fair WebcastsIntel International Science and Engineering Fair 2007Intel Science Talent Search 2012 AwardeesGoogle Science Fair 2011 Projects

A Novel Paper Sensor for the Detection of Pancreatic Cancer by Jack Andraka
North County High School, Glen Burnie, MD

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Largest Google Summer of Code Ever

Google summer of code allows college students to work on open source software projects during the summer and get a $5,000 stipend from Google.

Google Summer of Code 2012 by the Numbers

This 8th year of Google Summer of Code is the largest yet. More mentoring organizations received more applications from more students than ever before. We received a record number of applications – 6685 – from 4258 students from 98 countries to work with the 180 selected mentoring organizations.

We also accepted more students this year: 1,212 from 69 countries. This year India supplied the largest number of students, 227.

USA has 172 students, Germany 72, Russia 56 and China 45. This year set the highest percentage of women (self identified) yet. Guess what percentage. If you guessed 8.3% you are right.

Projects from the following organizations/software projects are included this year: Apache Software Foundation, Debian Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation/The Tor Project, GIMP, haskell.org, The JRuby Project, OpenStreetMap, Python Software Foundation, R project for statistical computing, Twitter, Wikimedia Foundation.

Google provides a stipend of 5,000 USD to the student and $500 to the mentoring organization. That puts Google’s support at over $6,500,000 this year.

Related: Google Summer of Code is Accepting Applications (2011)Google Summer of Code 2009Google Summer of Code 2007

Using Nanocomposites to Improve Dental Filling Performance

After a dentist drills out a decayed tooth, the cavity still contains residual bacteria. Professor Huakun (Hockin) Xu says it is not possible for a dentist to remove all the damaged tissue, so it’s important to neutralize the harmful effects of the bacteria, which is just what the new nanocomposites are able to do.

Rather than just limiting decay with conventional fillings, the new composite he has developed is a revolutionary dental weapon to control harmful bacteria, which co-exist in the natural colony of microorganisms in the mouth.

“Tooth decay means that the mineral content in the tooth has been dissolved by the organic acids secreted by bacteria residing in biofilms or plaques on the tooth surface. These organisms convert carbohydrates to acids that decrease the minerals in the tooth structure,” says Xu, director of the Division of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering in the School’s Department of Endodontics, Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry.

The researchers also have built antibacterial agents into primer used first by dentists to prepare a drilled-out cavity and into adhesives that dentists spread into the cavity to make a filling stick tight to the tissue of the tooth. “The reason we want to get the antibacterial agents also into primers and adhesives is that these are the first things that cover the internal surfaces of the tooth cavity and flow into tiny dental tubules inside the tooth,” says Xu.

The main reason for failures in tooth restorations, says Xu, is secondary caries or decay at the restoration margins. Applying the new primer and adhesive will kill the residual bacteria, he says.

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Harvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal Publishers

For a decade journals have been trying to continue a business model that was defensible in a new world where it is not. They have becoming increasing abusive with even more outrageous fees than they were already charging. As I said years ago it has become obvious they are enemies of science and should be treated as such. The time to find mutual beneficial solution past years ago.

Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices

Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.

A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.

he memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.

More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

Research Libraries UK negotiated new contracts with Elsevier and Wiley last year after the group threatened to cancel large subscriptions to the publishers. The new deal, organised on behalf of 30 member libraries, is expected to save UK institutions more than £20m.

These journals have continuously engaged in bad practices. Scientists should publish work in ways that enrich the scientific community not ways that starve the scientific commons and enrich a few publishers that are doing everything they can to hold back information sharing.

In 2008 Harvard’s liberal arts faculty voted to make their research open source.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Commons: Making Scientific Research Re-usefulMIT Faculty Open Access to Their Scholarly ArticlesMerck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalOpen Access Journal Wars