Elsevier Wants To Help With Your Metrics Research

The quest for better research metrics (as well as the quest for more accountable research) depends in part on available resources.  The publisher Elsevier is interested in helping out.

The company has announced a Metrics Development Program.  Researchers can apply for support in connection with primary research or the development of software tools and algorithms to capture different kinds of scientific activity and value.  The evaluation criteria strike me as pretty normal.  However, there’s no mention of the amount of available resources or whether Elsevier require any constraints on the publication and/or subsequent use of the research output.  Given the amount of data Elsevier has on research submitted to its journals, it strikes me as quite plausible that some control over the research output might be on the table.

Proposals are limited to a 1000 word project description, a link or website connected to any relevant software tools, and biographic information on the researcher(s) applying for support.  There is no announced deadline, and selected applicants will meet with senior company management before any final award.

Google’s Baseline Study – Will It Avoid 23andMe’s Pitfalls?

Last week The Wall Street Journal reported on a new project from Google.org – the Baseline Study (H/T ScienceInsider).  Starting with a pilot group of 175, the study would collect anonymous genetic and molecular information (according to the article) to construct a more comprehensive data-based model of what a human is.  Such a picture would ideally help researchers better identify symptoms and causes of various diseases.  A desired outcome would be the ability to find markers of various diseases much earlier in people than is currently possible.

Of course, such a long-term study is not new.  What would be different here is the potential scope of the project, should it expand beyond the initial population of 175.  The project is lead by Dr. Andrew Cohen, a molecular biologist whose previous major achievement has been in high-volume HIV tests of blood plasma.  Working in volume is something he’s comfortable with.  The project is mindful of the need to preserve anonymity, and has stated information will be used strictly for health and medical purposes and not shared with insurance companies.  Institutional review boards will be involved with the study, and once it grows beyond the initial group of 175, boards at the medical schools at Duke and Stanford Universities will be involved in controlling access and use of the information.

For reasons that escape me, I can find little mention of the project on the Google.org website.  Even the mentions found on Google + don’t connect to the organization.  It would seem to me that the Wall Street Journal article, and the subsequent press on it, could be part of an effort to gauge public interest and concerns with the project.  The lack of details (the articles have little more to go on than the information provided to The Wall Street Journal) are frustrating.

And then there’s 23andMe.  Continue reading

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of July 28

This is an odd week in that the repeats have more science and technology guests than the new episodes.  Tonight on Conan you can watch Melissa Rauch’s last appearance.  She is one of the scientists on The Big Bang Theory.  On Wednesday, watch Mackenzie Davis in her May visit with Mr. O’Brien.  Davis is one of the cast of Halt and Catch Fire, an AMC series on computing in the 1980s.

In new programming, one of the stars of Manhattan, Olivia Williams, will stop by The Late Late Show tonight.  She plays a scientist who joins her husband in Los Alamos but is not part of the atomic weapons research efforts.  On Thursday, Eric McCormack will be on The View.  He plays a neuropsychiatrist on Perception, a TNT program.

In content I didn’t post ahead of time, there’s the July 14th edition of The Colbert Report.  Besides having the fellows from Radiolab as guests, Stephen spent a segment on a dubious technical innovation called Vessyl.

PBS Is Bringing Frankenstein To The Web

Next Month PBS Digital Studios will premiere its first scripted series online starting next month.  Frankenstein, M.D. is a co-production of PBS and Pemberly Digital.  This will be the fourth series Pemberton has produced that was the adaptation of a classic novel (the other three are Jane Austen works).  Biologist and PBS Digital host Joe Hanson serves as science adviser to the program.  The first three episodes will drop on August 19.

This Frankenstein is updated in both story and delivery system.  Victoria Frankenstein is an M.D./Ph.D. student working on her research and a YouTube science show.  She has been on Twitter since May.  The press release makes the expected vague warnings of danger facing Veronica, her friends and her mentor.

The 24 episodes in the first season are relatively short, and scheduled to build toward a Halloween finale.  If you’re going to watch, you may want to also follow Victoria and her friends online.  It might prove interesting.

Tomorrow, Los Alamos By Way Of The West Wing

Tomorrow in the United States is the premiere of WGN America’s new drama Manhattan: A Nuclear Family.  Here’s a trailer:

Early publicity for the film has focused on the tensions the scientists and their families face working at Los Alamos as part of the Manhattan Project, which developed America’s first nuclear weapons.  The production seems to have done an excellent job of trying to portray both the setting and the time – early 1940’s New Mexico.  What I have no idea about – and what I’m most interested in – is the interactions between the scientists and the administrators in Washington.  But I suspect, given the trends in dramatic storytelling, that they will not be a major focus of the program.  The exception would appear to be the perennial hook of secrets, and how they’re (not) kept.  I’d love to be shown wrong.

Thomas Schlamme directs the pilot and is one of the show’s executive producers.  He directed several episodes of The West Wing, and isn’t the only connection with that other political show.  Richard Schiff can be seen in some of the early publicity, though I suspect that he’ll be a guest star.  Hopefully the program will manage to have at least a few light moments interspersed amidst the drama.  Otherwise Manhattan might turn out a bit too serious for its own good.

Oso Landslide Analysis Leads To Competing Theories And Possible Adaptation

In March a landslide in Oso, Washington destroyed a neighborhood, killing 43.  This week two scientific analyses were issued (H/T ScienceInsider).  On Tuesday the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance team (GEER, sponsored by the National Science Foundation), released its report.  Earlier today Science reported on the unpublished analysis from the U.S. Geological Survey and researchers at the University of Washington.  A notable difference between the two reports deals with the how of the slide.

The GEER team, which is set up to do quick analyses of natural disasters, theorizes that the slide happened in two phases.  The first slide was augmented by the collapse of a portion of the mountain when underlying support gave way.  One of the USGS researchers explained their theory of the slide (which was significantly larger than the smaller slides that frequent the area) as more compressed.  They believe the second spike in the seismic data is not a major event, and that an upper portion of the mountain broke off much sooner.  It comes down to debates over the proper analysis of seismic data.

What the GEER report highlights is the absence of systematic assessment of potential for landslides when planning construction.  Given what has been achieved for building in areas prone to earthquakes, it’s a little surprising that similar efforts have not taken place for areas with higher potential for landslides.  The failure to use detection systems and take advantage of historical data are similarly surprising.  Presumably the USGS report, whenever it’s released, won’t be as far apart from the GEER team in terms of recommendations.  We’ll have to wait and see.

What you might not want to wait on is to see if you nearest slide area is taking advantage of new detection and monitoring systems.  To have the tools and not use them strikes me as tragic, especially given the catastrophic nature of most slide losses (losing one house is a catastrophe – to that family).

The National Institutes Of Health Has An (Im)Modest Grant Proposal

The National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), issued a Request for Information (RFI) last week on a new kind of research funding program (H/T Science magazine – $ for full version).  The deadline for comments is August 15.

The input NIGMS receives from the comments and other input from stakeholders will inform a funding opportunity announcement for a pilot of this program, which would link funding to a lab/principal investigator more than to a single project. As the RFI describes it (in part) (a link has been removed):

“An NIGMS MIRA would provide support for a lab’s research program, which represents a compilation of the investigator’s NIGMS research projects (research areas supported by NIGMS are outlined at our website). Researchers would have the freedom to explore new avenues of inquiry that arise during the course of their work as long as those avenues are relevant to the mission of the Institute and do not require additional review for regulatory compliance (e.g., new human subjects research).”

Now, I’m not a research scientist, but this program would represent a notable change in how research funding is normally disbursed in the U.S.  Grants are typically considered primarily on the basis of scientific merit and broader impacts and associated with discrete research projects.  By aggregating support to the level of a research lab (and the associated principal investigator), NIGMS will be, if only indirectly, putting more stock into the past work and future promise of the lead researcher than it has before.

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