Scientists And Engineers Part Of Latest MacArthur ‘Genius’ Class

The MacArthur Foundation announced its latest class of fellows.  The so-called ‘genius grants’ provide 5 years of no-strings-attached funding to encourage the fellows to pursue the creative work that attracted the Foundation’s attention in the first place.

There are 23 fellows in this year’s group and eight of them work in scientific and/or technical fields.  Those eight are:

  • Daryl Baldwin, a linguist and cultural preservationist working to restore the culture of the Maayami (Miami) people to their descendants.
  • Subhash Khot, a theoretical computer scientist working on problems of optimization and approximation in computational complexity
  • Dianne Newman, a microbiologist studying the metabolic processes of ancient microbes
  • Victoria Orphan, a geobiologist exploring the microbial communities in extreme environments and their influence on the oceans
  • Manu Prakash, a physical biologist exploring how organisms work from a physics perspective and an inventor of low cost research tools suitable for fieldwork
  • Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer working on diagnostic technologies that can be used in low resource settings
  • Bill Thies, a computer scientist helping create communications and information technologies for use in low-income communities of the developing world.
  • JIn-Quan Yu, a synthetic chemist pioneering new techniques for breaking inert hydrogen-carbon bonds (a critical step in creating many complex compounds

Golden Goose Names Last 2016 Awardees In Advance Of Ceremony

The 2016 Golden Goose Awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, September 22 at the Library of Congress.  If you can’t make it there in person, the event will be streamed online starting at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.  This year the organizers have been teasing a documentary that will be premiered at the ceremony.

Three sets of researchers are being recognized tomorrow for their work on research projects that led to applications that could not have been predicted from the beginning of those projects.  Earlier this year the organizers announced two of these research teams: Edward Knipling and Raymond Bushland for their work on the sex lives of screwworm flies; and the team of Peter Bearman, Barbara Entwisle, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ronald Rindfuss, and Richard Udry for their work on a longitudinal study of adolescents into adulthood call the Add Health study.

The final group recognized this year are John J. Bartholdi III, Sunil Nakrani, Thomas D. Seeley, Craig A. Tovey, and John Hagood Vande Vate.  They worked on a problem in computing and utilized work in biology to find a solution – the ‘honey bee’ algorithm.  Over the course of years these researchers determined how to apply lessons from how bees allocate foragers for optimum nectar collection to computer networks.  With support from the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, they developed equations to express how these foragers are allocated – without a central authority.  From there Nakrani joined the group to try and determine how computer servers can most efficiently address the ever changing nature of Internet traffic.

An important part of this story in the context of the Golden Goose Awards is that the web server application was not the first attempt to find a useful application for the honey bee algorithm.  After coming up short in applying the model to ant colonies and transportation networks, Nakrani and Tovey collaborated to demonstrate the applicability of the model to web servers.  Besides helping Nakrani earn his Ph.D., this work has been highly cited in a variety of other fields, including the Web hosting services that benefit tremendously from biologically inspired algorithms like theirs.

Nominations are now open for the 2017 Golden Goose Awards.  Consult the website for the complete list of requirements, but the top criteria are that the research has led to significant social and/or economic impacts and that research has received federal research funds that contributed to the discovery.  As the honey bee algorithm story demonstrates, non-U.S. research funds are not a disqualification.  Consideration will be given to nominated work that led to benefits that were unforeseen at the time of the work, seemed ‘odd’ or unusual (which might have prompted criticism at the time of the work), and/or demonstrated some level of serendipity.

Health And Human Services Department Trying To Increase Access To Clinical Trial Data

On Friday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced actions that should increase the availability of clinical trial data.  This parallels an announcement from the Vice President focusing on clinical trials concerning cancer.

The overall goal of these policies is to make the clinical trial much more effective.  The announcements focus on making it easier to use clinicaltrials.gov and similar online resources for accessing and sharing clinical trial data.  Under the final rule issued by HHS, more trials involved with FDA-regulated drug, biological and device products will need to provide registration data and results on clinicaltrials.gov.  This should also make it easier to find clinical trials that need participants.  The rule takes effect on January 18, 2017, and affected parties must comply within 90 days of that date.

The NIH policy applies to all NIH-funded clinical trials, which means that some clinical trials not otherwise covered by the HHS rule will fall under the NIH policy (primarily early stage trials for FDA-regulated drugs, biologics and devices and small device feasibility trials).  It also takes effect on January 18, 2017.

Complementing the expansion of registration requirements are new compliance measures.  Both the HHS rule and the NIH policy allow for marking the clinical trial as non-compliant on ClincalTrials.gov and for withholding grant funds.  The HHS rule allows for monetary penalties, and the NIH policy would allow for non-compliance to be considered in future grant applications.

Additionally, the NIH is working to improve the usability of ClincalTrials.gov and may be using the recently released redesign of trials.cancer.gov.  While White House Innovation Fellows assisted with the trials.cancer.gov redesign, NIH intends to work with the 18F group at the General Services Administration to improve the clinical trials website.

Second INGSA Conference Announces Programs And Speakers

On the 29th and 30th of September the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) will hold its second conference in Brussels.  Earlier this month INGSA announced a draft programme with confirmed speakers.  While representatives from European science advice institutions and stakeholders are well represented, INGSA and its co-host, the European Commission, have made a point to include representation from around the world.  This reflects the spirit of the first INGSA conference held in 2014.  The stated objectives of the conference are to:

  • Identify core principles and best practices, common to structures providing scientific advice for governments worldwide.
  • Identify practical ways to improve the interaction of the demand and supply side of scientific advice.
  • Describe, by means of practical examples, the impact of effective science advisory processes.

Additionally, the work of this conference will help in the ongoing project to develop principles and guidelines for science advice.  The goal is to have a document ready for delivery at the 2017 World Science Forum.  If you’d like to help, INGSA is collecting resources on the subject and welcomes contributions.

The programme lists a combination of plenary and parallel sessions, many of which continue discussions held during the 2014 conference.  There is also the opportunity to learn more about the new European Union Science Advice Mechanism.

Registration for the event is closed, but there will be efforts to publicize the conference as it happens via Twitter (Hashtag – #EUINGSA16), and the conference website.  A conference report will be prepared as well.  In addition, there will be the official launch of this collection of papers on scientific advice to government.

 

White House Seeking Stories For This Year’s Manufacturing Day

The first Friday of every October is Manufacturing Day in the United States.  The 2016 edition takes place on October 7.  Co-produced by manufacturing organizations and the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Manufacturing Day is intended to publicize manufacturing in the country and help people better understand the state of manufacturing in the country.

The Obama Administration is looking to publicize Manufacturing Day with stories and incentives to establish and/or strengthen connections between manufacturers, makers, and educators.  They are looking for stories, but they have to be submitted by tomorrow, September 16.  I suspect the input will help the Administration create the list of government and private sector commitments they like to announce with some of their big science and technology events.  Think of it as a science and technology flavored use of the ‘bully pulpit’ of the Presidency.

If you’re interested in participating in Manufacturing Day activities (which are not limited to October 7), consult the event listings on the Manufacturing Day website.

White House Frontiers Conference To Look Forward And Back

On October 13, President Obama will travel to Pittsburgh for the White House Frontiers Conference.  Co-hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University the event is intended to “explore the future of innovation here and around the world” and focus on building the nation’s capacity in science, technology and innovation.

Frontiers as defined by the conference are quite broad, broken out into personal, local, national, global and interplanetary frontiers.  Some of the attendees will be taken from a list of those nominated by the public.

Given how close we are to the election and the transfer of power to a new administration, it’s unclear to me what initiatives, if any, we might expect from this event.  Certainly there will be mention of the Administration’s innovation work to date, and there will likely be announcements of new innovation commitments by federal agencies and private organizations.  Having another conversation about innovation has some value, certainly.  But without linkage to future action, how valuable will the conversation be?

Cancer Moonshot Experts Submit Recommendations

Today the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel submitted its report to the National Cancer Advisory Board (H/T The Guardian).  Appointed in April, the panel was tasked with providing recommendations on how to best advance the broad goals of the Cancer Moonshot, which is focused on improving detection, treatment and prevention of cancer.  Specifically, the Moonshot is focused on better using the existing resources of public and private entities involved in cancer research and treatment to make it accelerate advances against the various forms of the disease.

The panel divided the topic into seven broad topics, and there are recommendations in the report from each area.  They are:

  • Clinical Trials
  • Enhanced Data Sharing
  • Cancer Immunology
  • Implementation Science
  • Pediatric Cancer
  • Precision Prevention and Early Detection
  • Tumor Evolution and Progression

Where practical, some recommendations were merged into the final draft.  A common theme in many of the recommendations was the sharing of information and the increasing of communication between parties that aren’t currently doing so.  Another common theme was the development of promising research resources as well as specific therapies and/or technologies.  The recommendations (consult the report for additional details) are:

  • Network for Direct Patient Engagement
  • Cancer Immnotherapy Clinical Trials Network
  • Therapeutic Target Identification to Overcome Drug Resistance
  • A National Cancer Data Ecosystem for Sharing and Analysis
  • Fusion Oncoproteins in Childhood Cancers
  • Symptom Management Research
  • Prevention and Early Detection: Implementation of Evidence-Based Approaches
  • Retrospective Analysis of Biospecimens from Patients Treated with Standard of Care
  • Generation of Human Tumor Atlases
  • Development of New Enabling Cancer Technologies
The panel also identified some policy issues that will pose challenges to implementing the recommendations.  The issues aren’t part of their report, but they have been forwarded to the Vice President’s task force and other relevant entities.  Those policy issues aren’t discussed in detail in the report (you can find some discussion of them in the recommendations), but are:
  • Coverage and reimbursement
  • Privacy and consent with regard to patient data
  • Fragmentation of the delivery of patient care in the community
  • The need to improve the clinical trials system
  • Incentives to encourage pediatric drug development
  • New federal research funding models
  • Barriers to data sharing
Critical to all of these issues and recommendations is funding for the Cancer Moonshot.  But that may not come.  As ScienceInsider reports, neither the House nor the Senate appropriations legislation contains anything resembling the $680 million requested by the Obama Administration to support the Moonshot.  Depending on how this year’s kabuki theater/budget brinksmanship unfolds, there may be a new President by the time Congress has fully funded the government for the 2017 Fiscal Year (which starts this October 1).
While developed by cancer experts, the recommendations are presented in a way that should be accessible for all audiences, even the lay public that does not have direct or indirect (through family or friends) experience with the disease.  I’d encourage other report-generating bodies to copy that style when practical for their own work.
The National Cancer Institute has more material on the report and the panel at its website, including videos for each of the recommendations.