News this Week

Science  21 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6139, pp. 1384

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  1. Around the World

    1 - Madrid
    Protesters to Government: 'Save Spanish Science'
    2 - Tokyo
    Japan Considers Its Own NIH
    3 - Washington, D.C.
    Proposed Status Bump for Captive Chimps
    4 - Woods Hole, Massachusetts and Chicago
    MBL and University of Chicago Join Forces
    5 - Baltimore, Maryland
    More Eyes for 'Invisible' Trials


    Protesters to Government: 'Save Spanish Science'


    Spanish researchers arrived at a closed gate at the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness in Madrid on 14 June, where they had wanted to deliver a message to their government: Save Spanish science. Their march was one of 19 protests in cities across Spain against recent cuts in research budgets and delays in allocating government money. Protesters carried a 10-point wish list, signed by 45,000 supporters, that includes increasing national spending for research to 2% of the gross domestic product by 2016, improving opportunities for young researchers, and creating an independent funding agency.

    The demonstrators wanted to deliver their petition at the ministry, which is responsible for science; when reporters weren't allowed to accompany them inside, they taped it to the gate instead.


    Japan Considers Its Own NIH

    Japan's government may create its own version of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to foster medical innovation and bridge the gap between laboratory and clinic. The proposal is included in a draft Growth Strategy approved on 12 June by the administration's Industrial Competitiveness Council. The plan notes that a "Japanese NIH" could better meld governmental, academic, and private sector efforts "to strongly support the commercialization of innovative medical technologies." The new agency would be expected to "formulate a comprehensive strategy and prioritize goals and research targets for medical R&D."

    The plan also calls for giving the existing Council for Science and Technology Policy a stronger hand so that it can better coordinate research efforts across ministries. It also mentions a host of measures—including changes to patent laws and tax incentives—intended to help turn research at national labs and universities into economic gains and to support private R&D.

    Washington, D.C.

    Proposed Status Bump for Captive Chimps


    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last week announced a proposal to upgrade the status of captive chimpanzees from "threatened" to "endangered," the status that wild chimpanzees have had since 1990. The proposed rule would create a new permitting process for scientific research with captive chimpanzees, which would include the sale across state lines of chimpanzee cell lines, tissue, or blood. If FWS finalizes the rule, scientists would receive permits only if their work aimed to "enhance the propagation or survival" of the species.

    Scientists conducting biomedical studies with chimpanzees say that the rule change would do little to further conservation efforts and would hamper important research. "I am deeply disappointed," said John VandeBerg, chief scientific officer at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, which has one of the largest colonies of captive chimpanzees available for research.

    The need for chimpanzees in bio medical research came under close scrutiny in January by the Council of Councils at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the main funder of such studies. In the next few weeks, NIH Director Francis Collins is expected to follow the council's recommendations and significantly curtail future support for captive chimpanzee research.

    Woods Hole, Massachusetts and Chicago

    MBL and University of Chicago Join Forces

    The University of Chicago (UC) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) on 12 June announced an affiliation that will help keep MBL—the oldest private marine laboratory in the United States—afloat. Under the agreement, the Woods Hole, Massachusetts–based lab will remain an independent nonprofit and the University of Chicago will become the sole member of its corporation on 1 July, making the university ultimately responsible for MBL's budget. All MBL staff members will remain employees of the laboratory. The move comes after several years of falling revenues at MBL. According to tax documents, the private lab saw an 18% drop in income between 2008 and 2011. In 2011, the organization posted revenues of $47.5 million—and a shortfall of $798,000. Although the lab has done well in winning federal grant money over the last few years, the organization does not receive tuition funding and its alumni scientists haven't been big contributors. "It's not a sustainable business model anymore," says Joan Ruderman, MBL's president and director. Scientists at both organizations also see opportunities for collaboration in areas such as neuroscience, evolutionary and developmental biology, cell biology, and ecosystems science.

    Baltimore, Maryland

    More Eyes for 'Invisible' Trials

    Publish your data, or we will—that's the warning to drug companies from Peter Doshi, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and his colleagues. They want to convince researchers and journals to print unpublished data that is essentially privately held—but has become publicly available, such as through litigation or Freedom of Information Act requests. For example, Doshi's group at Hopkins has 178,000 pages of data on various drugs, many obtained from litigation against drug companies. An effort by the European Medicines Agency to share clinical trials data upon request led to the release of 1.9 million pages (since curtailed by lawsuits).

    Doshi's team calls its proposal RIAT, for Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials. It was published on 13 June in BMJ and endorsed by PLOS Medicine. The authors propose several steps: Those interested in publishing the data should first notify the drug company behind the research. If the company declines, those holding the documents should contact a RIAT-friendly journal about publishing the work themselves. While some may consider this "equivalent to intellectual property theft," the authors write, "you cannot steal what is already in the public domain."

  2. Random Sample

    Memories of Home Delay Learning New Language


    Reminders of home can hinder an immigrant's ability to speak a new language, suggests a new study by Columbia Business School psychologist Michael Morris and colleagues. The findings could help explain why cultural immersion is the best way to learn a foreign tongue and why immigrants who settle in ethnic enclaves acculturate more slowly.

    To determine how cultural icons affect language, the researchers recruited Chinese students who had lived in the United States for less than a year. They sat opposite a computer displaying the face of "Michael Lee," either a Chinese or Caucasian male. Lee spoke English.

    The team compared the fluency of the volunteers' English when talking to a Chinese versus a Caucasian face. Participants reported a more positive experience chatting with the Chinese Michael, but were significantly less fluent, producing 11% fewer words per minute on average, the authors report online on 17 June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And when asked to tell a story while viewing an image of the Great Wall, they were 85% more likely to use literal translations from Chinese for an object rather than the English term—for example, "happy nuts" instead of pistachio.


    Join us on Thursday, 27 June, at 3 p.m. EDT for a live chat with experts on a hot topic in science.

    Ocean Models Help Swimmer Navigate Florida Straits


    Many endurance swimmers have an eye on the treacherous, tantalizing waters between Cuba and Florida. Australian swimmer Chloe McCardel's 12 June attempt to cross the Florida Straits was not the first—but she had a secret weapon: oceanography.

    In 2012, Villy Kourafalou, a University of Miami oceanographer who leads the Coastal Modeling Group, heard about a previous swimmer's unsuccessful attempt to be the first woman to swim the 170-kilometer distance unaided. Penny Palfrey's problem was clear, Kourafalou says: She was thwarted by shifting swirls, called eddies, spawned by the Florida current as it flows through the straits. Success, Kourafalou realized, may be all in the timing: Depending on ocean conditions on a given day, the eddies can either give a swimmer a boost or push her back. And that, Kourafalou adds, is how modeling could help McCardel. "We wanted her to know the circulation she's going to encounter," she says.

    The Florida-based forecasting service ROFFS, which guides researchers, fishing expeditions, and commercial vessels through the straits, was also interested. "The current dominates the course rather than the swimmer," says founder Mitchell Roffer. "It's like a snake trapped between two walls, constantly wiggling and changing its shape." The science team provided McCardel's team with Kourafalou's group's high-resolution model currents and ROFFS streaming satellite data of surface ocean conditions, including infrared and water color imaging that show the density of plankton.

    Using the models, the team selected a 12 June departure date, and McCardel set out. But her swim was cut short just 11 hours later—through no fault of physical oceanography, but after "debilitating" stings from jellyfish.

  3. Newsmakers

    Transport Studies, Earth Modeling Earn Blue Planet Prizes





    The Blue Planet Prize, which recognizes research addressing environmental problems, will go this year to climatologist Taroh Matsuno, now at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, for leading the development of the Earth Simulator, a supercomputer tailored for work on climate change; and to engineer Daniel Sperling, of the University of California, Davis, for opening new fields of study into more efficient and environmentally friendly transportation systems. Each man will receive $527,000 at an October ceremony in Tokyo.

  4. How Long Can the U.S. Stay on Top?

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    Government funding has powered U.S. research universities to global preeminence. With that support now shaky, can philanthropy help them maintain their lead?


    This is the last of six stories about creating and maintaining global research universities. Previous stories have examined the role of mobility (7 September 2012, p. 1162), satellite laboratories (28 September 2012, p. 1600), European efforts to strengthen elite universities (2 November 2012, p. 596), the problems at a Saudi Arabian startup (7 December 2012, p. 1276), and how to make academic research pay off (15 February, p. 750).


    Johns Hopkins University bears the name of the Maryland banker who in 1873 made what was then the largest bequest in U.S. history, some $7 million, to create a research university and hospital. Today, the name of another record-setting philanthropist is nearly as ubiquitous on the Baltimore campus.

    The Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Bloomberg Children's Center hospital are prominent reminders of the $1.1 billion donated over the past 30 years by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul and outgoing New York City mayor. And his generosity goes well beyond bricks and mortar: In January, Bloomberg (Hopkins class of 1964) announced that he was donating $250 million to endow 50 new faculty chairs and $100 million to provide scholarships to needy undergraduates.

    Such gifts aren't just eye-catching: In an era of stagnating U.S. government support for academic science, officials at Hopkins and other top research universities in the United States say that private philanthropy is increasingly essential in maintaining their elite status. In one popular ranking of the world's best universities, by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, U.S. institutions now hold 19 of the top 25 slots.

    A big thank you.

    Michael Bloomberg, who has donated $1.1 billion to Johns Hopkins University, was awarded an honorary degree in 2003.


    But many of those top universities worry that their ratings could slip if the largest single slice of their revenue pie, funding from the federal government, starts to shrink. Their anxiety is heightened by the increased spending on academic science elsewhere in the world, notably China and other Asian nations.

    To stay on top, many schools are aggressively pursuing a time-tested American strategy for fueling growth: asking affluent donors for money. Despite the recent global recession, that strategy is paying off handsomely. Last year, for example, Stanford University became the first nonprofit institution in the world to raise more than $1 billion in private donations in a single calendar year.

    Private institutions are by no means the only ones cashing in. Driven by declining support from their states, public institutions have also become aggressive fundraisers. "We are much more reliant on philanthropy than ever before," says Robert Birgeneau, outgoing chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, the state's flagship university. "I think we've survived the crisis and we've transitioned to a new model."

    This story is the last in Science's series on what it takes to be a top global research university. It examines threats to America's academic research prowess. Most university presidents believe that the new model is sufficient to keep their institutions on top. But some worry that countervailing trends could defeat that strategy.

    A rapid rise

    Although the average American may think that the United States has always led the world in academic science, its preeminence is a relatively recent phenomenon. To be sure, top-rated universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have been around for centuries. But others on the list, such as Hopkins and Stanford, date from only the late 19th century. And, as a nation, the United States didn't become the unquestioned leader in university-based research until the past half-century.

    "The center of intellectual excellence has moved very often over the centuries," says biologist Shirley Tilghman, who is stepping down this month after 12 years as president of Princeton University. "It started with Bologna and the great Italian universities. It moved to Germany, then to England, and only relatively recently across the Atlantic to the United States. That suggests that the center of gravity could easily move outside the United States if we stop paying attention to the ingredients that make our great universities the magnets they are today."

    Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, says that it's a mistake to think that the great schools rise and fall on the basis of some immutable historical clock. "There's something fatalistic and deterministic in saying that this is cyclical and we should just sit back and say that our cycle is done," says Faust, a historian. "The United States is still the strongest economy in the world and has the strongest university system. Whether one or both of those things persists depends on us, not on some predetermined fate."

    The top U.S. schools have achieved and maintained excellence through a combination of historical, economic, and political factors, says Princeton historian Anthony Grafton. Historically, "a really powerful national commitment to research" helped create great institutions, says Grafton, citing Germany and Great Britain as nations that saw the geopolitical advantages of funding science. "But that's not enough. Without World War II and Sputnik, [the United States would] really be nowhere. Those events created a feeling that our national security rested on a commitment to research."

    That argument was crystallized by engineer and White House adviser Vannevar Bush in Science: The Endless Frontier. His influential 1945 report, requested by President Franklin Roosevelt, emphasized the importance of federal support for academic research. "The approach required pumping in money across the board, rather than to the islands of excellence that already existed," Grafton explains. "Research became what the university is about." The report led to the creation of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and fueled the rapid expansion of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    "We need to have a conversation between the government and the research universities on how to live at steady state."



    Publicly financed tuition allowed millions of World War II veterans to go to college on the GI Bill in the first decade after the war. But once that wave subsided in the early 1950s, he says, institutions began to contract. It was actually their children, the so-called baby boomers, who provided the demographic push that launched today's academic research juggernaut. But a new set of demographic and economic trends are prompting U.S. research universities to once again rethink their strategies.

    Financing growth

    A look at how elite U.S. universities are funded explains why philanthropy is becoming so important to the bottom line. Just as a great white shark must keep moving through the water to extract enough oxygen to avoid drowning, a top-ranked research university must ingest ever-increasing amounts of money to pay for the new buildings, updated equipment and facilities, promising students, and world-class researchers required to stay on top. That imperative largely explains why, in recent decades, Stanford, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and other research powerhouses have grown at a rate that far outpaced the overall economy.

    Even as U.S. personal incomes stagnated over the past dozen years, the budgets of elite U.S. universities roughly doubled. And that increase has generally been poured into research rather than into creating a larger pool of undergraduates. While the overall budget of Stanford University, for example, has grown from $1.8 billion in 2000 to $4.4 billion this year, the size of its freshman class has remained at about 1750.

    Parents paying ever-rising tuition costs might think that they have been fueling that growth. But they would be wrong. Even at an elite private school like Stanford, with an undergraduate sticker price of $60,000 a year, student income is providing only 17% of this year's overall revenues. And with the public and politicians questioning the value of an education and demanding greater accountability, raising tuition by more than a small percentage each year has become a risky proposition.

    Other revenue sources are also under siege. Caring for patients provides a significant income for universities with medical schools and hospitals. But efforts to rein in the cost of health care, including provisions in the 2010 law known as Obamacare, are putting the squeeze on academic medical centers.

    At public universities, state funding historically paid a large portion of the bills. But that source has steadily declined over the past 2 decades. Many flagship research universities now describe themselves as "state-assisted" or even "state-allied" to reflect the diminished role of government.

    "When I joined the law school faculty 35 years ago, the state appropriation made up about a third of our budget," says Mark Nordenberg, who has been chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania since 1995. "It's now well under 10%. If the board of trustees had been judging me on that measure alone, they would have found a new chancellor a long time ago."

    At elite research universities, the two biggest revenue streams are typically sponsored research (overwhelmingly from the federal government) and investment income (meaning philanthropy and the income generated from a school's endowment). Traditionally, however, research dollars are more prestigious because they are awarded through competitive peer review by funding agencies such as NSF and NIH. Those dollars are so important that federal funding has become a de facto measure of overall quality for a university.

    "The United States is still the strongest economy in the world and has the strongest university system."



    Nordenberg, for example, notes with considerable pride that his institution ranks fifth on a list of U.S. universities receiving NIH research dollars. "Penn [University of Pennsylvania] is fourth, and we're going to catch them," he predicts. Thanks to its renowned medical center, Pittsburgh also ranks 10th in overall federal research funding.

    At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos touts the fact that Vanderbilt's research portfolio has grown five times faster over the past decade than the budget of NIH, its primary source of research funding. To Zeppos, that rate of growth helps explain a parallel rise in the university's performance on national surveys of overall excellence.

    Zeppos also points to the fact that Vanderbilt ranks among the top 10 of more than 100 U.S. medical schools in the amount of federal funding received per square foot of space devoted to research. That metric, he says, means the university provides the government with a bigger bang for its buck than most institutions—an important selling point in today's fiscal environment.

    Such efficiency requires considerable attention to detail, he admits. But Zeppos, a former lawyer and law professor, says he sees no problem applying such management practices to an enterprise that has historically resisted calls for greater accountability. "Remember, as a lawyer I used to have to account for my time in 6-minute increments," he notes.

    Philanthropy to the rescue?

    Uncertainty over the future of major revenue streams is helping supercharge interest in philanthropy at major research universities. For some, it's a return to their roots: Bequests from wealthy individuals created and sustained many of today's elite U.S. research universities, which, in turn, adopted the family names of their donors. Hopkins was on the leading edge of a cohort of industrial barons turned philanthropists who include Cornelius Vanderbilt, Ezra Cornell, Leonard Case Jr., Andrew Carnegie, and Richard Mellon, all now memorialized on sprawling campuses bearing their names.

    It's hard to overstate the historical importance of academic giving, says Subra Suresh, who this spring stepped down as NSF director to become president of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "In 1900, Andrew Carnegie gave $1 million to the city of Pittsburgh and then Andrew Mellon created the Mellon Institute of Science. And in 1967 they merged," says Suresh, who starts his job on 1 July. "So Carnegie Mellon came into existence as a result of philanthropy, as did lots of other institutions."

    Such stories reflect a uniquely American tradition that, fostered by tax and estate policies, continues today. Last year, for example, academic giving totaled $31 billion, according to the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), a New York–based nonprofit that tracks private giving to education. The amount is just $600 million below the all-time high set in 2008 before the global financial crunch hit home.

    For 29 of the past 30 years, either Harvard or Stanford has been ranked No. 1 on the list of top fundraising universities, according to CAE. And it's probably no coincidence that they also rank first and second, respectively, in the Shanghai rankings.

    "Philanthropy is hugely important to us," says Harvard's Faust. "Our endowment generates about 35% of our operating budget. And it's the result of centuries of philanthropy."

    At Stanford, investment income (donations and the interest from its endowment) this year generated $1.1 billion, one-quarter of the school's $4.4 billion operating budget. That amount almost matches the $1.27 billion in research grants that Stanford's faculty attracted. But the two funding streams are trending in opposite directions, with donations gaining momentum and research grants likely to be squeezed by the tightening federal budget.

    Stanford's billion-dollar fundraising year, for instance, came shortly after the university concluded a 5-year capital campaign, labeled The Stanford Challenge, which raised $6.2 billion. That total exceeded Stanford's goal by nearly $2 billion and set a record for any university. But the record may not last long. This fall, Harvard will launch a capital campaign that, according to rumors, could aim to raise more than $7 billion.

    Private angels have helped the University of California, Berkeley, offset reduced state government support. State funding as a percentage of the university's overall budget has dropped from 30% to 11% since 2004. "If philanthropy disappeared, that would have a huge negative impact on us," Chancellor Birgeneau says.

    Generous donors may be even more important to Cornell NYC Tech, a startup university that hopes to spur innovation in and around New York City. A $350 million donation from alumnus Charles Feeney helped Cornell win a competition to establish the school, and Cornell officials are counting on philanthropy to generate most of the $2 billion needed to build a modern campus on the city's Roosevelt Island.

    This spring Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm, and his wife, Joan, gave $133 million toward the largest component of the new university, the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. The gift earned the couple naming rights and was tangible evidence that the institute's vision could be realized, says Craig Gotsman, who directs the new institute.

    A computer scientist and serial entrepreneur at Israel's Technion, Gotsman believes that the institute's approach to training high-tech workers and researchers with an entrepreneurial bent matches Mayor Bloomberg's vision for a new type of graduate science university. But its future was not at all assured when Cornell won the competition over a Stanford-led team in December 2011.

    "I think we've survived the crisis and we've transitioned to a new model."



    "At that point we were living on love and fresh air," Gotsman confesses. But "we never really considered having to close up shop." Acquiring a dependable and substantial revenue stream through philanthropy was a given, he says. And Jacobs's gift is not sufficient, he acknowledges. "We're not out of the woods."

    Although huge individual gifts may garner the most publicity, institutional fundraisers spend most of their time cultivating smaller donors (see sidebar). Community-based foundations can also play a vital role.

    "There are several large foundations in our area that see a link between strong universities and a vibrant regional economy, and they have made support for universities a high priority," Pittsburgh's Nordenberg says. He cites a 1984 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation that established the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, which has become an NIH-funded comprehensive cancer center.

    Amid such philanthropy successes, there are hints of concern. Nordenberg, for instance, worries that declining government support could make it harder for universities to keep winning major foundation grants. "Foundations have looked to the federal government to leverage their investments," he says, "and I'm not sure they would make the same investments if they didn't believe the federal government was going to do its part."

    Princeton historian Grafton sees a deeper problem. He thinks that university presidents are taking a big gamble by counting on philanthropy as a long-term solution to fueling growth, especially with the actual cost of an education lagging behind what students pay. "The top schools, especially the privates, have this very precarious structure," he says, "which basically rests on the assumption that we subsidize everybody now, and then we get the money back 40 years later when they're rich. And nobody knows if that's right."

    What if growth stops?

    Ultimately, such discussions come down to a fundamental question: Can U.S. research universities retain their preeminence if their public and private funding flattens out?

    A no-growth scenario would be traumatic, several presidents told Science. "There are very important new areas of exploration into which we need to move," Harvard's Faust explains. "And if that occurs without growth, then there are important things we're doing that we'd need to stop doing. We would need to make tradeoffs to free up resources for areas where there are expanding opportunities. And those tradeoffs will be very costly in terms of our research and education missions."

    "Our continued growth, to a large extent, is dependent on philanthropy."



    Nordenberg agrees. "Our continued growth, to a large extent, is dependent on philanthropy," he says.

    Princeton's Tilghman would like to see her colleagues spend less time on plans to keep growing and more time contemplating a no-growth universe. "It's very hard to go onto any research university campus, particularly one with an academic medical center, and not see a new building going up," she says. "So what is the expectation for how research in that building is going to be funded?

    "If you ask any medical school dean, they will say that it will be paid from a combination of direct and indirect costs funded by the federal government," she continues. "Given the constrained prospects for increases in federal funding for the next, who knows, 5 to 10 years, that dean has to believe that, in order to pay for the building, his or her institution is going to outcompete, to an even greater extent than they do now, every other academic institution.

    "But this just can't be true for every academic medical center," she says. "It does not compute. I think we need to have a conversation between the government and the research universities on how to live at steady state. I don't see that conversation happening right now."

    "How do the best universities know they have the best talent unless someone is … trying to recruit them away?"



    The assumption that their institution will be able to continue to indefinitely expand contributes to what Tilghman sees as an even bigger problem. "The greatest risk to American universities," she says, "is complacency and self-satisfaction."

    The global challenge

    Despite her concern over growth, Tilghman joins her peers in offering an upbeat assessment of several other developments often seen as potential threats to U.S. preeminence in academic research. Some analysts predict the booming science budgets of China and other Asian countries, for instance, will make it harder for U.S. institutions to recruit the best and brightest. But California's Birgeneau sees Asia's academic growth as a welcome addition to the global research enterprise.

    "We're about creating knowledge, and the more people there are who create knowledge, the better," he says. "Likewise, the more educated the world is, the better off civilization will be."

    Having more world-class universities will increase the competition for faculty members, the presidents acknowledge. But elite U.S. universities are accustomed to holding bidding wars for the best researchers.

    "I find it peculiar when people ask if I'm going to hire someone from another university," Vanderbilt's Zeppos says. "What big, ambitious institution doesn't do that? And how do the best universities know they have the best talent unless someone is knocking on their door trying to recruit them away?"

    The increased capacity in other countries has also made international collaboration even more attractive, several presidents say. "I'm really heartened by the type of intellectual partnerships that are happening all over the world that allow us to fund really expensive science," Tilghman says. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN outside Geneva, Switzerland, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile are two examples of several countries pooling resources to do research that none could afford on its own, she notes.

    Closer to home, the dramatic growth in the past 2 years of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, is a trend that every university president is watching. But none think that this new technology will undermine the quality of education on their campus, a development that could make it harder to attract talented students, especially from other countries.

    "If you talk to those students, a big part of what they want to do is to be in America and learn from interacting with Americans," Nordenberg says. "And you can't do that effectively without being here. And when students look back at their experiences and say how much they learned, it's often because of the interactions outside of the classroom, with a faculty member or other students, or through some extracurricular activity."

    Making the future

    Such optimistic assessments may come naturally to university presidents, Grafton says. "If you're asking people for money, you have to pretend that everything is fine," he says. "Because if your institution looks like it's in trouble, nobody will give you money."

    Birgeneau is taking such can-do thinking a step further: After he steps down from the top job at Berkeley, he'll devote much of his time to raising funds for a $10 billion initiative, called the Lincoln Project. The plan is to pool federal, state, and private money to create 10,000 new endowed chairs at U.S. research universities, he says. Reaching that goal "will require a redirection of funds," he admits. But "when legislators tell me there's no money, my answer is that there's lots of money. It's just a question of what we spend it on."

    Grafton says he wants to believe that is true. "Every fiber of my being hopes that this world can go on," he says, and that U.S. research universities can sustain their heady success. "But it's hard to extrapolate a happy future 20 years down the road."

  5. Grateful Patients Can Lead to Gracious Gifts

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    Fundraising is a science at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute.

    For most alumni, university fundraising may seem to be uncoordinated and lacking in focus—an assortment of phone calls, solicitous letters, and invitations to a class reunion. But for Steven Rum, it's a science. And the goal is to carry out more research.

    Rum is senior vice president for development and chief fundraiser for Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Last year, his team had a banner year, raising $318 million. Their approach places the physician scientists at Hopkins on the donor front lines. The goal is to turn the positive feelings of "grateful patients" into support for new research, faculty chairs, academic scholarships, bricks and mortar, or simply defraying the cost of running a multibillion-dollar medical center.

    "What most appeals to donors is research," says Rum, a former professional baseball player who has spent 25 years raising money for nonprofit organizations. "They want to be involved in changing the way we treat or eliminate disease. Most donors don't want to see their names on a building. They think the institution should be responsible for the physical plant. They want to support people."

    High touch.

    Johns Hopkins's Harvey Singer shares his research on pediatric neurological diseases with parents.


    Rum has 65 full-time fundraisers on a staff of 165. Each one is responsible for meeting weekly with physicians—their "caseloads" range from a dozen to more than 30 docs—to discuss which of their patients might be potential donors. The conversation is designed to help them identify what Rum calls a donor's "qualifying interest" and connect it to their "capacity," that is, the ability to make a donation.

    More often than not, Rum's team finds that sweet spot. Despite generating an impressive annual yield of $225 million—last year was a record—Rum thinks that universities could do even better if they tried harder. "Charitable giving has been at 2% of GDP for years," he says. "And the reason that figure has been flat is the lack of investment on the development side."

    Rum says studies have found that a well-run development office can yield a 10-fold return on the university's investment, that is, on salaries and benefits. And he thinks that figure is probably low.

    "Ideally, I'd like to have one gift officer manage no more than six doctors," he says. "If managed properly, that office would generate a list of 125 qualifying names a year. By the end of the first year they would have paid for themselves, and by year 4 or 5, when they've hit their stride, they would be raising 4 or 5 million a year."

    However, achieving that level of payoff requires a long-term commitment to fundraising that not all universities are willing to make, he says. "It takes years to develop this culture. And if a doctor is offended by talking with a development officer, or by discussing money with a patient, then you won't be successful."

  6. Climatology

    Monsoon Melee

    1. Jane Qiu*

    The rhythms of life across South Asia depend on the Indian monsoon. Climate scientists are locking horns over the cause of the summer deluges.

    Peaks of contention.

    Modeling climate in the Himalayas and other mountainous regions is notoriously difficult.


    BEIJING—The Tibetan Plateau is a study in extremes. It's the world's largest expanse of elevated terrain, covering 2.5 million square kilometers. Frigid in winter, it bakes in summertime: Because the average altitude tops 4000 meters, the vast landscape absorbs far more solar energy than land at sea level. As a result, models predict that in summer, the air layer above the plateau can be much warmer than air at a similar altitude over the oceans or over land lying at sea level.

    It's like "having a gigantic heat pump at over 4000 meters," says Wu Guoxiong, an atmospheric scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Atmospheric Physics here. The temperature differential is the engine that drives the spectacular summer deluges in South Asia known as the Indian monsoon—or so say textbooks. A new spate of research is challenging existing dogma, sparking a debate over the Tibetan Plateau's role in the Indian monsoon. How it's decided could have effects reaching far beyond the climate science community.

    Dueling theorists.

    Wu (right) says the "heat pump" of the Tibetan Plateau drives the Indian monsoon. Boos (left) disagrees.


    At stake are how to "predict when [the monsoon] will start, how long it's going to last, and how it will respond to rising carbon dioxide and aerosols," says David Battisti, a climate scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle. "That matters hugely to millions of people." A resolution could prove elusive, however, because of the challenges of modeling climate in mountainous regions.

    This much is agreed upon: In the summer, the air over and around Tibet is much warmer than air at the same altitude over the Indian Ocean. Consensus breaks down on whether that heating effect has broad consequences. In the 1950s, atmospheric scientists Ye Duzheng and Hermann Flohn independently proposed that the temperature differential creates winds that blow moist air from the sea into the interior of the Indian subcontinent. There, the air warms and rises, creating monsoonal rains. The hypothesis, which has stood for decades, is supported by climate modeling: The monsoon's strength—the total rainfall on the Indian subcontinent, that is—and how far north it reaches are greatly reduced when Tibet and the Himalayas are removed from climate models.

    But those modeling studies have got it wrong, argues William Boos, a climate scientist at Yale University. They fail to "distinguish the role of the Himalayas from that of the Tibetan Plateau," he says. In 2008, he and Zhiming Kuang, then both at Harvard University, after examining temperature and humidity records in India and Tibet, uncovered what they claim are inconsistencies in the monsoon paradigm. One is that the upper atmosphere in the region is hottest over northern India and along the Himalayan ridge—not over Tibet. The finding "contradicts the view that Tibet is the heat center," says Peter Molnar, a geoscientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Secondly, Boos and Kuang showed that this hot air blankets the land surface with the highest energy level—a calculation based on temperature and the energy released by water vapor when it rises and condenses into liquid. That means heating of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, rather than Tibet, is driving the monsoon, Boos argues.

    Supporters of a diminished role for the Tibetan Plateau also point to precipitation models, which hold that the hotter the surface is and the more moisture it contains, the more likely it is that water vapor will rise. Heat is released as water vapor condenses and rain falls, thereby transferring the energy of air near the surface to the upper atmosphere. More water vapor means a warmer upper atmosphere—exactly what Boos and Kuang saw.

    In a series of papers, the most recent of which appeared in February in Scientific Reports, the two scientists argue that Tibet is irrelevant to the Indian monsoon. Instead, they say the monsoon is caused by a "barrier effect": the Himalayas blocking cold, dry winds from the north. In a global climate model, the duo showed that the Himalayas alone could generate a monsoon pattern that is largely similar to that pattern predicted when the Tibetan Plateau is included. When the mountain ranges were absent, they ended up with much lower energy in the air over northern India and got a weaker monsoon.

    To further support their hypothesis, the researchers tweaked the model such that the Tibetan Plateau reflected all incoming solar radiation back into space, without heating the atmosphere. This "effectively turned off the heating source of Tibet without changing the Himalayas' blocking effect," Boos says. The result: The monsoon pattern hardly budged.

    Climate counterpoint

    The new take on Tibet has shaken the foundation of how climate scientists understand the Indian monsoon, Molnar says. But not everyone is convinced. Wu, for one, argues that the reduced monsoon rainfalls that Boos and Kuang saw in their model could result from heating of the Himalayan slopes rather than from a barrier effect. To test this, Wu and colleagues performed another simulation in which they removed Himalayan heating. They came up with much less rainfall in the northern branch of the Indian monsoon—the rain belt stretching from the Bay of Bengal into Bangladesh, northern India, Myanmar, Nepal, and northern Pakistan. In a May 2012 report in Scientific Reports, the researchers concluded that the southern branch of the monsoon, which covers southern India, is mainly driven by land-sea thermal differences, while heating of the Himalayas is necessary for drawing moisture further inland.

    Others have leapt to the defense of the plateau heating hypothesis. Peter Webster, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, questions whether the upper atmosphere over northern India is hotter than that over Tibet: The weather data that Boos and Kuang relied on are flawed, he asserts, but an equally fundamental issue is that "a hot surface isn't enough to give you a monsoon," he says. "The most effective way to heat up the upper atmosphere is through large, elevated land." The heat and moisture that give the air high energy levels over northern India, Webster says, come from the warm ocean near the equator. This depends on a big temperature difference between the equator and the elevated terrain in a midlatitude swath of Asia, Tibet included, which sets up the winds that blow inland. The high energy of air over northern India "is a result, rather than the cause, of the monsoon," Webster says.

    Weather forecast.

    Unraveling the monsoon's cause should sharpen predictions of its start date and duration and how it will respond to climate change.


    To Brian Hoskins, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, the argument of Boos and Kuang rests too heavily on models of vertical air and energy flow in an idealized atmospheric column. It neglects the dynamics of air flow and monsoon structure in the real world, he says: "You probably would get a monsoon without Tibet, but it would look very different. The issue at stake is how the plateau affects monsoon onset, duration, and rainfall distribution."

    Other critics say that the argument highlights fundamental problems of modeling climate in mountain regions like Tibet and the Himalayas—which is notoriously difficult because of their complex topography and the complicated ways it could affect climate. In addition, the models used by Boos and Wu have a resolution of 200 kilometers, which are too coarse to separate out the effects of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau or to delineate the details of heat and moisture distribution, says Moetasim Ashfaq, a climate scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The models' coarseness means that the plateau can't be fully removed from simulations, Ashfaq says. "It's difficult to know exactly what you are seeing in such models," he says. Boos and Wu acknowledge that the coarse resolution is a major constraint.

    Ashfaq says that the Weather Research and Forecasting Model, a relatively new regional model that uses massive computing power to simulate processes at 10-kilometer resolution, is superior to global climate models for such simulations. Moreover, the model is nonhydrostatic—meaning that it factors in vertical movement of air and moisture—and is more capable of simulating cloud formation, says Matthew Huber, a climate scientist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. When Ashfaq removed the Tibetan Plateau in this model, leaving just the Himalayas, the monsoon's northern branch "is all gone," he says. "What the topography does is bring moisture from the equator further inland," says Ashfaq, who is writing up the results for submission.

    Ground truths

    Those in the barrier effect camp concede that Himalayan heating plays at least some role in monsoon formation, but maintain that the low-lying plains in northern India are the primary driving force for the downpours.

    Molnar and colleague Balaji Rajagopalan, also at the University of Colorado, correlated heating of Tibet and monsoon characteristics in a report in February in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. "If you heat the Tibetan Plateau, the monsoon starts earlier and you get more rain," Molnar says. The effects are mostly at the beginning and at the end of the monsoon season. "But we don't see much of a correlation when we look at the main part, between June and August, when the rain is the heaviest," he says. According to their study, variations in heating over Tibet might affect a third of the monsoon season and account for only 30% of total rainfall.

    Others say that the jury is still out on which model, if any, is correct. Yang Kun, a climate scientist here at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, notes that the plateau is notorious for its lack of climate observations, which cripples the predictive power of global climate models for the region. "Even basic weather stations are very sparse, let alone data on soil moisture, which is the most important parameter for energy exchange between land and atmosphere," he says. He thinks only high-resolution climate models, ground-truthed with robust long-term data, can hint at the correct answer.

    In the past few years, Yang and his colleagues have been gauging soil moisture at more than 100 sites across Tibet. The measurements will be used to calibrate satellite data, allowing scientists to calculate energy flux on the plateau. In addition, China has earmarked $441 million for stepping up research and establishing state-of-the-art climate observatories and long-term research stations in Tibet and neighboring countries. The data, Yang says, will help elucidate climate processes and validate models. "Until then," he warns, "any conclusions about the role of the Tibetan Plateau in regional and global climate would be premature."

    • * Jane Qiu is a writer in Beijing.