# News this Week

Science  21 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6054, pp. 294
1. # Around the World

1 - London
Royal Society: Plan Ahead For Nuclear Power
2 - Sriharikota, India
Monsoon Satellite Promises Data Deluge
3 - Indian Ocean
Tsunami Warning System Passes Critical Test
4 - Moscow
Russian Scientists Rally to Protest Funding Freeze
5 - Klong Luang, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Thai Floods Spare Research Park
6 - Washington, D.C.
House Panel Lays Out Spending Preferences

## London

### Royal Society: Plan Ahead For Nuclear Power

Despite projections of low nuclear power growth in Europe and the United States, a renaissance of nuclear power construction in China, Southeast Asia, and Russia is likely, Britain's Royal Society notes in a report released 12 October. As a result, the report says, governments and international bodies need to develop long-term policies to account not only for safety but also for security, proliferation risk, and fuel cycle management.

“Spent fuel can no longer be an after-thought and governments worldwide need to face up to this issue,” Roger Cashmore, head of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority and chair of the Royal Society working group that drafted the report, said in a statement.

The panel recommends that countries place their civil nuclear programs under international safeguards run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), so that spent fuel cannot be diverted for weapons use. Countries that already have nuclear weapons should separate their civil and military nuclear programs. It also suggests setting up a World Nuclear Forum, made up of CEOs and government leaders, to discuss nuclear developments and responsibilities. http://scim.ag/nuclearUK

## Sriharikota, India

### Monsoon Satellite Promises Data Deluge

The Indo-French satellite Megha Tropiques, tasked with helping scientists understand the water and energy balance that controls monsoons, launched successfully 12 October from the Indian space port Sriharikota on the Bay of Bengal.

The $125 million mission will study the dynamics of cloud formation over the tropics, and how climate change could be affecting the monsoon. As it circles Earth near the equator, Megha Tropiques will revisit the same regions more than a dozen times each day, simultaneously measuring water vapor, clouds, precipitation, and radiation. These multiple measurements, mission scientists say, will give unique insights into the minutiae of how clouds are born and die during the monsoon. India and France have agreed to make scientific data from the satellite freely available—a welcome prospect for atmospheric scientists, says Christian Kummerow at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. “It is a very exciting mission and we do look forward to receiving the data from its instruments.” ## Indian Ocean ### Tsunami Warning System Passes Critical Test Twenty-three Indian Ocean nations came together on 12 October to test a new warning communications network that might save lives the next time the region is pummeled by a tsunami. The$100 million Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System performed well, though not flawlessly, during a simulation modeled on the devastating tsunami of 26 December 2004 that killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries. Several countries also conducted dry runs of their own emergency response plans. India, Kenya, and Malaysia conducted evacuation drills. An actual warning will depend on rapidly analyzing data from numerous seismic stations, instrumented buoys, and sea-floor pressure sensors deployed over the past 6 years, and spreading the word through the networks tested last week.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, a part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which coordinated development of the system, declared the test a success. Australia, India, and Indonesia will now take responsibility for issuing warnings to the region. The Japan Meteorological Agency and the United States' Pacific Tsunami Warning Center have issued regional warnings since 2005.

## Moscow

### Russian Scientists Rally to Protest Funding Freeze

Hundreds of researchers, many in lab coats, rallied in Moscow's Pushkin Square 13 October to protest a funding freeze at Russia's two grant organizations and on procurement regulations that they call major obstacles to research. The rally was organized by the trade union of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the Young Scientists Council, together with associations of Moscow State University students, and young scientists.

## Washington, D.C.

### House Panel Lays Out Spending Preferences

A climate-science satellite, some technology commercialization efforts, and a chemical risk assessment program are all among the federal R&D programs that Republican leaders of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology would cut to rein in the U.S. budget deficit. The ideas, which also include protecting the core budgets of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, were highlighted in an unusually detailed 14-page letter that the lawmakers sent on 14 October to Congress's bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which must devise a plan to trim at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit over 10 years. In general, the Republican lawmakers took a back-to-basics approach, arguing for protecting traditional science programs while trimming many newer efforts championed by the Obama Administration. They took an especially dim view of climate-related research; taxpayers could save$149 million over 5 years, for instance, by axing NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, designed to map greenhouse gas emissions. They would phase out DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), saving $180 million. All told, they proposed cuts totaling$1.5 billion.

The panel's ranking Democrat, meanwhile, penned a less specific plea for sparing the knife and fattening the federal purse. When it comes to funding science, it is “critically important” for the committee to “include serious revenue enhancements in its set of recommendations,” wrote Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX). Neither letter is likely to have a major impact on the deficit committee, which faces a 23 November deadline for delivering its plan.

2. # Random Sample

## They Said It

“If I'm going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I'm going to take that money to create jobs. So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don't think so.”

—Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on 10 October.

Hanging over all of this is the question of money, as the United States particle physics budget has been stuck at $800 million for years. Virginia Tech's Ramaswamy Raghavan is developing the Low Energy Solar Neutrino Spectrometer detector, which would study solar neutrinos and, with a radioactive source, could look for sterile neutrinos. It would cost$50 million to $75 million. “Can you predict in the current fiscal situation in the U.S. that this is going to happen?” Raghavan says. To help make the case for funding, conference attendees plan to write a white paper laying out the options. There's some urgency, says Huber, the Virginia Tech theorist who helped organize the meeting. “I don't want to do sterile neutrinos my whole career,” he says. He doesn't say whether the ephemeral beast will continue to entice him if no definitive answer is quick in coming. • * Sterile Neutrinos at the Crossroads, 26–28 September. 5. Human Subject Research # Social Science for Pennies 1. John Bohannon Social scientists are turning to online retail giant Amazon.com to cheaply recruit people around the world for research studies It's a problem that all social scientists face. You have a brilliant idea for a study. You have the experimental design all worked out, and your university's review board has approved it. But you still have to recruit hundreds of people as subjects for the experiment. Gabriel Lenz, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, faced this problem last year when he and collaborators wanted to follow up on another group's study of voting behavior (Science, 10 June 2005, p. 1623). For that study, Americans were shown photographs of past U.S. congressional candidates and asked to rate the politicians on various characteristics, such as competence and attractiveness. Even though the study subjects had no information beyond an image of the candidates' faces, their snap judgments were a significant predictor of who actually won the races. Lenz wanted to see if that surprising result collapsed when those evaluating the photos come from cultures different from those of the candidates. But how to recruit people living in multiple countries? Lenz and his research assistant Michael Myers had an idea: Why not order research subjects through Amazon.com? The company runs an online marketplace called Mechanical Turk for people across the world available to do work on computers. (The name is a reference to an 18th century chess-playing “machine” that actually worked by virtue of a man hidden inside.) For tiny sums, anyone can hire people to perform almost any kind of simple task, such as tagging items in images. Lenz's experiment required people to look at photographs of Brazilian political candidates and fill in a data sheet. But first, he and his colleagues had to decide on how much they would pay each participant. Those offering a job through MTurk, known as requestors, compete with each other to recruit Turkers, the 500,000 people currently registered with the MTurk site as available for work. The task of rating the political candidate photos required about 4 minutes. “We played around with various payment rates,” Lenz says. For Turkers based in India, the researchers started low, offering 15 cents. In just 4 days, they received data from 100 people. Then for a control group, they recruited more than 300 Americans for between 20 and 50 cents each. The total cost? About$160, and that includes the 10% fee Amazon charges.

In just a few weeks, Lenz had all the data his group needed. In spite of the cultural differences, the snap-judgment effect persisted: American and Indian subjects predicted the winners of Brazilian political races based on nothing more than a mug shot, the researchers reported last year in the social science journal World Politics.

As others follow Lenz's lead, many more social science papers using MTurk will appear in the coming years, predicts Adam Berinsky, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Everyone I know is using it,” he says. For example, social scientists used 10,000 Turkers to create a tool for tracking the emotional content of Twitter messages (Science, 30 September, p. 1814).

For now, most researchers are using MTurk for pilot studies, quickly and cheaply testing online versions of experiments that they then perform with subjects face to face. But the use of MTurk subjects will eventually become mainstream, Berinsky says. The obvious advantage is the speed and cost. “Generally, we pay $8 for a 15- to 20-minute experiment in a lab. We can run the same study on MTurk for 75 cents to a dollar.” There are other advantages. “Turkers are amazingly focused research subjects,” Berinsky says. Unlike the typical university undergraduates used for social science studies, Turkers get paid only if they generate usable data. This is necessary to eliminate not only people who don't understand the task but also “spammers,” people who try to exploit MTurk by skimming through the jobs and giving random responses wherever possible to accelerate the process. For example, Lenz had to reject about 20% of his American and 50% of his Indian Turkers for those reasons. But that is a manageable problem, Berinsky says. A counterintuitive solution is to keep the price low. “If you offer more than a dollar, you attract the spammers who sort jobs by level of pay,” he says. “You have to find the sweet spot where the payment is not too high but still attractive enough for most Turkers.” So far, that sweet spot seems to be between 15 and 50 cents for a 10-minute job. Even if MTurk is cheap and fast, doubts will linger about interpreting data from research subjects whom you never meet. To address those concerns, Berinsky and Lenz are teaming up with Gregory Huber, a political scientist at Yale University, to study the Turker population. And of course, they are using MTurk to do so. They recently replicated two classic survey experiments and a political science experiment. In each case, the data obtained with MTurk were consistent with published studies that tested people in laboratories. The scientists have found some differences, too. Turkers “are younger and more ideologically liberal than the U.S. public,” Berinsky says. However, they are more representative of the U.S. population than a typical cohort of university undergraduates. There is one long-term concern: the “super-Turkers,” people who are essentially professional workers on MTurk, some of them logging more than 20 hours per week. Many social science experiments rely on the subjects not knowing the researchers' intentions. Berinsky says super-Turkers could potentially skew experiments if they try too hard to please researchers. There is incentive to do that because MTurk uses a reputation system. If a Turker does not have at least a 95% positive approval rating from their requestors, they'll often go unhired. “Mechanical Turk seems like the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs,” Berinsky says. “But I worry that in the rush for cheap research subjects, we're going to trample the goose to death.” 6. Network Science # Open-Source Ecology Takes Root Across the World 1. Erik Stokstad A new collaboration of volunteer research sites is running simple yet powerful experiments to shed light on global change in grasslands. In 2005, a handful of young researchers in Santa Barbara, California, were fed up with their inability to answer a major ecological question by reviewing the literature. So they decided to take matters into their own hands and created a network of small experiments. In the past 6 years, the network has spread to six continents and is now poised to make substantial contributions to ecology. “We're on the edge of something big,” says John Orrock of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a network co-founder. The half-dozen Ph.D. students and postdocs were part of a workshop at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara. The group was investigating fundamental influences on the structure of grasslands, such as herbivory and nutrients. Trying to analyze data from far-flung places, the group was stymied by a common obstacle. “It's really frustrating because everyone does their studies differently,” says Elizabeth Borer, who is now at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. During a coffee break at NCEAS, Borer and a few others hatched a plan: They would each set up a small research plot, use the same methods, then pool their data. The vision was a network of sites that would be quick and cheap to set up without the need for major grants, enabling simple experiments around the world. “It's like big science on a shoestring,” says Scott Collins of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, who later joined the network. The collaboration, called the Nutrient Network—now known as NutNet—has grown far beyond initial expectations, with scientists volunteering at 68 sites in 12 countries. In part, it's popular because the simple experiments are designed to answer a broad set of questions about how grasslands respond to global change—without disproportionate effort by any one individual. “It's not a brand-new idea, but it's novel that they've pulled it off,” says Alan Townsend of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who is not involved. The network also provides an easy way for young faculty members, postdocs, and grad students to get involved in a large collaboration and contribute to high-profile papers. So far, the effort has been funded with just a single$322,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) for coordinating data and analysis, yet already the first few papers have been published over the past year. The most recent, which appeared in Science last month (23 September, p. 1750), challenged a long-standing idea in ecology about plant diversity and productivity. Dozens more papers are in the works, and ecologists enthuse about the network's potential for cost-effective, rapid results. “NutNet has tremendously improved on the way we've done things,” says Alan Knapp of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, another ecologist who is not involved. “I've been incredibly impressed.”

## Keep it simple

Research networks aren't new to ecology, of course. The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, for example, is composed of 26 research sites and stations, almost all in the United States, that have been collecting data for 30 years. And construction began this fall on some of the 20 U.S. observatories that will make up the \$434 million National Ecological Observatory Network. These hefty networks require a fair amount of money to operate, because staff members collect hundreds of types of data, often year-round.

During the NCEAS workshop, NutNet's founder s quickly sketched an alternative vision: Each researcher would conduct the same few experiments in several plots of 25 square meters. They would add combinations of three crucial plant nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—and they would fence part of the plots to exclude deer, zebras, kangaroos, and other herbivores.

By measuring changes in biomass and species composition, they would try to tease apart the relative impact of herbivores and nutrients on the structure of the community. “Ecologists have been fascinated by this question for a long time,” Orrock says. Moreover, the experiments simulate the impacts of anthropogenic global change. Nutrient levels have been boosted dramatically by fertilizers and pollution from fossil fuels. At the same time, humans have altered the density of herbivores in many places through farming or indirectly by hunting of predators.

Several attendees at the NCEAS workshop immediately volunteered to participate. One of the first was Helmut Hillebrand of the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany, who set up a NutNet site, even though he's a plankton ecologist. “I think it's the next generation of ecological experiments,” he says. The site he started is located in an old field 5 minutes from his parents' house, so he drops by to collect data while visiting.

Borer and the others also invited a few colleagues to join, and the idea began to spread by word of mouth. Sensing potential, the group sent an e-mail in November 2006 to just about every grassland ecologist they knew. By the time data started arriving the next year, there were 51 sites.

Members of the network agree to submit data immediately to a central database. All participants—now about 100, including a dozen or so graduate students—have access to the data. Simply by contributing data, they can be an author on high-profile papers that address the project's big questions. The network is already making a mark: Last month's paper in Science showed that a textbook idea about the relationship between plant productivity and species richness in fact occurs rarely. Other key papers, based on the experimental results of adding nutrients and excluding herbivores, are still being written.

NutNet participants must propose papers on additional ideas to the whole group. The goal is to avoid duplication and allow other members to contribute to analysis or writing the manuscript. Jennifer Firn of the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, for example, wanted to look at invasive species in the plots. “The process of turning this idea into a paper was the best learning experience I have ever had,” says Firn, who became an assistant professor in February. “I had more than 30 authors and co-authors, so it meant so much advice and expertise were available.” Published in Ecology Letters in March, the paper showed that non-native plants, some invasive, don't all spread like the worst weeds. Instead, most species in the NutNet plots were about as common in their new environment as in their native range. That suggests that regulators of plant imports might want to focus on screening out plants that are highly abundant overseas.

Network members decide among themselves what kinds of additional data to gather. “This is like an indie garage band, a cooperative without all the top-down headaches,” says co-founder W. Stanley Harpole, an assistant professor at Iowa State University in Ames. (Others make analogies to the development of open-source software or start-up companies.) Eighteen members are analyzing regular deliveries from other participants, who collect everything from soil microbes to arthropods and leaf litter. “It is simple, mail-order sampling,” says co-founder Eric Seabloom of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. “The person in the field doesn't have to do that much.”

## Facing the future

An all-volunteer approach may have its limitations, however. So far, the majority of sites are in the United States. Peter Adler of Utah State University in Logan, a co-founder, says the group tried to recruit scientists in South America without much success. “Maybe it's just [bad] luck,” he says. Townsend expects that more researchers in less developed countries will eventually sign up, as word spreads about the network and its publications. Earlier this month, several sites in India agreed to provide observational data, and a few more will also conduct experiments.

A larger question is how long a volunteer effort can be sustained. “In absence of external funding, I fear that the good will of those individuals and their institutions may not persist,” says Michael Willig of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, who is not a participant in the network. But co-founder Melinda Smith of Yale University predicts that interest will remain high as long as the network produces high-impact papers. Harpole points out that each plot has space reserved for experiments not yet planned. “We're banking for the future,” he says.

The looming danger is the expiration of the NSF grant in January 2013. These funds pay for collaboration meetings and for a postdoc, Eric Lind of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who runs the central database. “The death of the Nutrient Network will be when the funding for that postdoc position runs out,” Adler says. The steering committee hopes to cover those expenses with future research grants for more ambitious analyses.

Even if the NutNet peters out, the founders hope it will be a model. To Borer, the success so far shows that individual scientists at any stage of their career can help answer big questions even if they haven't landed a major grant. “We're out to change the culture,” she says. “The success of this model could empower other groups to address equally important ecological problems at a global scale.”