News this Week

Science  18 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6194, pp. 244

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  1. This week's section

    Shaking out the U.S.'s earthquake risk

    New hazard maps highlight seismic hot spots.


    The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS's) seismic hazard maps influence hundreds of billions of dollars in construction every year. This week, USGS released its latest earthquake hazard map for the country. On a national scale, the U.S. earthquake hazard picture hasn't changed much since the last 2008 maps, says the report' s lead author, seismologist Mark Petersen of USGS in Golden, Colorado. The hazards are still high in California and the Pacific Northwest, and there's still a hot spot in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. But, Petersen notes, the devil is in the details. The maps include new ground motion models and lessons learned from powerful subduction-zone earthquakes around the world, such as the 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake of 2011. The new data lead to increased hazard estimation in southern Cascadia, as well as new models of fault ruptures across California. The new maps don't include induced seismicity—earthquakes due to human activities, such as reintroducing wastewater into injection wells—because mapping out those hazards to incorporate them into building codes requires “a different logic tree,” Petersen says. USGS is planning regional workshops for future map updates to include the controversial quakes. Stay tuned.

    A fresh look at the STEM workforce

    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 American Community Survey

    The U.S. Census Bureau has created a nifty interactive graphic showing the employment picture for college graduates with so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees. Both sides in the long-running debate over whether the country is producing too few—or too many—STEM workers have been handicapped by confusing data. So last fall the Census Bureau asked a team of graphic designers and statistical analysts to design a more compelling way to depict job flows: where the nation's 14.8 million STEM graduates are working and what training the 5.2 million people holding STEM jobs have received. The chord diagrams, using data from a study of the STEM workforce requested by the White House, paint a compelling picture, including nuggets such as where people with biology degrees are employed (see graphic). The original report came out last fall (, but you'll probably have more fun playing with the graphic, at

    Flying dino had long, feathery tail

    C. yangi's tailbis the longest of any flying dinosaur.


    Please welcome the latest member of the growing club of flying dinosaurs, Changyuraptor yangi, pictured here in an artist's reconstruction. This latest specimen, found in 125-million-year-old sediments in northeastern China, was about 1.2 meters long and is related to a noted group of flying dinosaurs called Microraptor, which has provided important insights into the evolution of powered flight. Like Microraptor, the new specimen had feathers on all four limbs; but its feathery tail, which takes up about 30% of its total length, is the longest known among flying dinosaurs. Changyuraptor, described this week in Nature Communications, weighed 4 kilograms, making it among the heaviest flying dinosaurs known. As for its long tail, the dino probably used it to slow itself down when descending, thus avoiding crash landings.

    Around the world


    Building 'big data' scientists

    In a deal brokered with China's Education Ministry, IBM pledged last week to donate $100 million in software to Chinese universities to help produce a new generation of data scientists. The agreement includes the creation of research centers focused on big data—data too large for traditional applications—at 100 institutions. The $2.3 billion big data technology and services market in China is expected to nearly quadruple in size in the next 2 years, according to CCID Consulting in Beijing. But China lacks sufficient scientists to handle that deluge of data. IBM's cash infusion could help fix that—and would give IBM valuable access to the Chinese market, notes Shi Yong, executive deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Research Center on Fictitious Economy & Data Science in Beijing. “It's a win-win situation.”

    Newcastle, U.K.

    Organic foods come up rosy

    Vegetables at a farmers market in Seattle, Washington.


    The largest meta-analysis of organic food studies to date has found that organic fruits and vegetables have higher levels of antioxidants compared with conventionally grown crops. The levels were up to 69% higher, which the authors say is equivalent to the amount in two servings. Pesticide levels were lower, which was expected because organic growers are not allowed to use most kinds. Cadmium, which can be toxic in high doses, was also lower in organically grown cereals. (Both pesticides and cadmium were below the levels of concern set by regulators.) The review, which appears this week in the British Journal of Nutrition, examined 343 studies—enough to allow the authors to weight each study according to its quality, says the review's lead author Carlo Leifert, an agronomist at Newcastle University.

    San Diego, California

    No Scripps-USC merger

    The Scripps Florida campus.


    Officials at the Scripps Research Institute announced 9 July that they've called off discussions with the University of Southern California (USC) on a possible merger. The world's largest private biomedical research institute, with campuses in San Diego, California, and Jupiter, Florida, Scripps has faced financial woes, in large part due to a 12% drop in research grants from the National Institutes of Health between 2007 and 2013. USC has deeper pockets and more diverse sources of income. Media reports about the proposed merger suggested USC offered $15 million over 40 years to absorb the 262-member Scripps faculty. But those researchers revolted: Ten department chairs and a dean sent a letter to Scripps's president and the chair of its board of trustees, saying the proposed terms were “not even close to what it would take to build faculty support.”

    Lyon, France

    First dengue vaccine limited

    The first phase III efficacy trial of a vaccine for the tropical, mosquito-borne disease dengue has produced a glass-half-empty-or-half-full conundrum. The vaccine proved safe, but immunization reduced incidence of the disease by only 56.5%, mostly due to limited efficacy against dengue 2, one of four serotypes of the virus. Researchers reported the trial results, involving more than 10,000 children in five Southeast Asian countries, online on 11 July in The Lancet. Sanofi Pasteur, which developed the vaccine, plans to deliver the first doses by the end of 2015, provided the vaccine obtains market approval, says Guillaume Leroy, head of the company's dengue program. Public health officials in affected countries now face a difficult decision: whether cutting the disease burden in half is worth the cost of including the vaccine in national immunization programs.


    U.K. science minister shuffle

    David Willetts resigned as U.K. universities and science minister on 14 July as part of a government reshuffle. U.K. scientists and policy leaders had praised Willetts as a strong advocate for research funding after the financial downturn: Under Willetts, appointed in 2010, science dodged expected cuts and was guaranteed £4.6 billion annually for the following 4 years—although, adjusted for inflation, the science budget lost £1.1 billion from October 2010 to 2015–2016, notes the U.K. Campaign for Science and Engineering. On 15 July, Greg Clark, a conservative minister responsible for cities policy and constitutional reform, took over Willetts's portfolio. The reshuffle is seen as an effort by Prime Minister David Cameron to bring in more women and younger ministers in his government ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.


    New E.U. committee head


    Following the E.U. elections in May, the European Parliament's research committee has a new chair: Jerzy Buzek, a conservative politician from Poland and a former chemical engineering professor. Buzek presided over the European Parliament from July 2009 to January 2012 and was prime minister in his country from 1997 to 2001. As chair of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, Buzek will have a strong voice in the union's science and innovation policies. Now that Horizon 2020, the bloc's 7-year science funding program, is under way, energy policy—one of Buzek's pet subjects—will be higher on ITRE's agenda, says Jerzy Langer, a Polish physicist who served as deputy science minister in 2005. Langer praises Buzek as an enthusiastic “gentleman professor” and a good listener with a knack for consensus. Buzek was elected by acclamation last week, meaning that he was the only candidate for the post. The committee also decided that after 2.5 years, former E.U. budget commissioner Janusz Lewandowski will take over from Buzek, who's 74.