News this Week

Science  04 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6154, pp. 20

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  1. Around the World

    1 - Oak Ridge, Tennessee
    National Laboratory to Cut Staff
    2 - Pachuca, Mexico
    Cholera Outbreak Puts Mexico on Alert
    3 - Haarlem, the Netherlands
    Flu Virologist Loses H5N1 Case
    4 - Madrid
    New Science Budget Disappoints Researchers
    5 - Washington, D.C.
    Senate Ends Helium Saga

    Oak Ridge, Tennessee

    National Laboratory to Cut Staff


    Oak Ridge Director Thom Mason (right) and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (center).


    Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee announced voluntary buyouts to pare up to 475 positions from its staff of 4450. The drawdown is the second in 3 years; if fully implemented, it would leave the lab with nearly 1000 fewer workers than it had in 2010.

    Oak Ridge is one of 10 national labs run by the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, whose budget this year fell 5% to $4.632 billion as part of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. Oak Ridge is preparing for a second round of sequestration that will occur in 2014 unless Congress agrees on another way to reduce federal spending, says Oak Ridge Director Thom Mason.

    "We've reached the point where people are telling me, 'I can't cut anymore because I've only got one expert in each of these different areas,' " Mason says. Directors of other DOE labs say they are also considering possible staff reductions.

    Pachuca, Mexico

    Cholera Outbreak Puts Mexico on Alert

    One person has died of cholera in Mexico, with 44 other cases reported in the state of Hidalgo in September. Thirty-three other suspected cases are awaiting laboratory confirmation. The Mexican Ministry of Health (SSa) has issued an alert instructing health authorities around the country to be on the lookout for the disease and to immediately report suspected cases to the ministry.

    The outbreak is centered in the Huasteca region of Hidalgo, which, like many other parts of Mexico, suffered from torrential rain and disastrous flooding when Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid hit both coasts simultaneously in mid-September. In an official statement, SSa said health care workers are fanning out across the region to screen households for cholera; deliver medication and training to local hospitals; and distribute disinfectants and prevention information, which includes washing your hands after using the bathroom and disinfecting uncooked foods. The last cholera outbreak in Mexico drew to a close in 2001, with only a handful of cases reported since.

    Haarlem, the Netherlands

    All that glitters.

    H5N1 viruses (in gold).


    Flu Virologist Loses H5N1 Case

    Virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, has lost a court case against the Dutch government over a controversial study that led to the creation of an H5N1 flu virus that's transmissible between ferrets. On 20 September, a district court in Haarlem concluded that the government was right to order Fouchier to apply for an export permit before sending a manuscript about his work to Science last year—a ruling that may complicate future flu work.

    Fouchier's study was one of two H5N1 studies that caused an uproar in late 2011 because of their alleged potential for misuse by bioterrorists. The Dutch government asked Fouchier to apply for an export permit before submitting his paper (Science, 20 April 2012, p. 285); Fouchier did so under protest—and received the license—but Erasmus MC went to court over the case.

    The district court rejected Fouchier's argument that the study fell under an exemption for basic research. Erasmus MC has not decided whether it will appeal.


    New Science Budget Disappoints Researchers

    Spain plans to slightly increase its science budget next year following several years of drastic cuts. The national budget for civil research is to reach €5.633 billion in 2014, representing a 1.3% increase over last year. Of this, €2.250 billion will be distributed as competitive research grants and lump sums to public research institutes, a 6.1% increase over 2013. (As in previous years, the remainder will support companies with loans.)

    But Spanish scientific societies, research centers, trade unions, and others have insisted that the survival of Spanish science requires bringing research spending back to its 2009 level by 2016, which would require an increase of €636 million a year. "The Spanish government has completely ignored the requests of the entire scientific society," says Amaya Moro-Martín, an astrophysicist who is a spokesperson of the researchers' organization Investigación Digna. The budget is now to be debated in parliament.

    Washington, D.C.

    Senate Ends Helium Saga

    The U.S. Senate ended a protracted pingpong match over the future of the helium market on 26 September, approving legislation that would allow the government to continue selling helium from a national reserve. The gas is coveted by scientists and high-tech companies alike. Many scientists who use helium in the lab will be relieved to see the matter settled. But a new law won't solve one problem, some say: Prices could stay relatively high for buyers of small quantities, stretching research budgets. The Senate's approval would clear the way for President Barack Obama to sign the bill.

  2. Random Sample


    Join us on Thursday, 10 October, at 3 p.m. EDT for a live chat on predatory publishers and open access.

    A Panorama of Corals


    Virtual divers, take a deep breath: An underwater world is at your fingertips. Last week, the Catlin Seaview Survey launched the Global Reef Record, a database of gorgeous high-resolution images of corals. The site ( will be a one-stop shop for images and data such as turbidity and water temperatures, says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Brisbane, Australia–based Global Change Institute and chief scientist for the survey. "It's what I'm calling the world's largest stocktaking of corals in history."

    Funded by international insurer Catlin Group Ltd., the survey uses a high-resolution camera that simultaneously takes images in three directions—right, left, and down—to make its panoramic coralscapes. So far, the survey—which began in September 2012 and will continue for 2 years—has recorded images of more than 32 reefs along Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Next up in 2014: the Coral Triangle, in the western Pacific Ocean. The goal is "to reveal the oceans to the world," says Richard Vevers, an advertising executive-turned-underwater-photographer who helped create the survey. One partner, Google Oceans, is already helping with that: In August, more than a billion virtual divers toured Google "street views" of the Great Barrier Reef.

    Other partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. The team began a new effort last week in the reefs around Bermuda, hunting for signs of coral bleaching, a hallmark of coral mortality due to prolonged seawater heating. Next, researchers at Scripps will use an image algorithm that can detect low levels of bleaching not readily visible with traditional transects.

  3. Newsmakers

    Three Q's



    Catherine "Cady" Coleman is a chemist, former Air Force officer, flute player, scuba diver, and astronaut. And, most recently, Hollywood adviser. In 2011, while aboard the International Space Station, Coleman helped Sandra Bullock find her motivation as an astronaut set adrift after a collision with space debris destroys her shuttle. The new movie, Gravity, opens 4 October.

    Q:What did Bullock ask?

    C.C.:We talked about a lot of things … how you moved, how you kept yourself in one place. We talked about … the emotional component of living someplace dangerous, and a place where you can be truly alone. That part of it is really challenging and hard, and this movie brings that home to me.

    Q:How realistic is the movie?

    C.C.:There are a lot of things that [the film does] really nicely—the look and the feel of living in low-Earth orbit, that isolation, and the specialness of having a view that not many people get to have. [But] there are a lot of coincidences—each is perhaps possible—but it's not probable that they would all happen on the same day, at the same time, or in the same order.

    Space jam.

    Astronaut Bullock is set adrift in Gravity.


    Q:What about space debris?

    C.C.:The reason NASA doesn't make documentaries that keep people in their seats is because each of the risks in this movie is real, but we work really hard to mitigate those risks. There's a team in Colorado that tracks every piece of orbital debris over half an inch. … These things are real, but we know how to deal with them.

  4. The Art of Eradicating Polio

    1. Leslie Roberts

    The world is close to wiping out the poliovirus, but Nigeria threatens to undo it all. Muhammad Ali Pate is on a mission to change that.

    Power of example.

    Muhammad Ali Pate gives oral polio vaccine to a Fulani child in Malumfashi in northern Nigeria.


    KADUNA AND KATSINA STATES, NIGERIA—The boy, who looked to be about 16 years old, was alternately defiant and tearful. His father had left early that morning with strict instructions not to let the polio vaccinators inside. So when the vaccination team came to his house on a dusty street in a town in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria, he turned them away, and he wouldn't budge when they tried to push their way through the curtain that serves as a front door. When the team left, they marked the mud wall "RX" with chalk—code word for "noncompliant."

    Now the boy was being summoned into the street by a very important man, at least judging from the TV cameras and the security detail surrounding him, although he was dressed simply, in a traditional white cotton robe.

    I am Muhammad, the man said in Hausa, the language of northern Nigeria, resting his hand on the boy's shoulder. He said he wanted to know what was wrong and why the boy would not let the children be vaccinated. Then he settled in to talk in the sweltering midday sun.

    For at least a half an hour, the man listened as the boy vented. The vaccinators had been rude, the boy said, insulting his mother as they tried to force their way in.

    I would be angry, too, if someone insulted my mother, Muhammad replied.

    Why do they bring only polio vaccine when we get no help with all our other problems? And are you going to force us to take it? the boy asked querulously.

    No, it is your decision. I will not force you, the man assured him. But I hope that you will change your mind. Then he patiently explained that the vaccine is safe—he had vaccinated his own kids—and it would protect them from devastating paralysis. And also, that the world has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to eradicate polio—and the boy, and Nigeria, should not stand in its way.

    Then the boy's older brother, who had been listening from behind the curtain, emerged with one more question: Will you be responsible if the children are harmed? Yes, the man promised, and the brother brought the kids out to receive the polio drops. The crowd that had gathered around the house burst into applause.

    And then the man, who at the time was Nigeria's minister of state for health, was back in the car as his heavily armed convoy sped off, lights flashing, sirens screaming, up the long straight highway that stretches from Abuja, the capital, through the increasingly desolate landscape of the north and then across the border into Niger.

    It's a small victory, he confides later in the back seat of the Land Cruiser. But that's what it takes to eradicate polio in Nigeria. "There is science to polio eradication," he says. "But making it happen is art."

    Colliding cultures

    Command central.

    From his office in Abuja, Pate has coordinated Nigeria's push to eliminate the poliovirus since 2008.


    Muhammad Ali Pate has been trying to do what no one has been able to accomplish before him—finally drive the poliovirus from Nigeria, one of the last and most stubborn reservoirs in the world. The stakes are high: The outcome of the 25-year-and-counting effort to wipe the virus off the face of the earth rests in large part on the effort that Pate and his handpicked team have put together here in northern Nigeria.

    You can't do it by fiat, Pate explains to me later during a 3-day car trip in mid-April through the north, where the virus is entrenched. Top down doesn't work in a country as complicated as Nigeria, an amalgam of colliding cultures and ethnic groups, with a discredited and powerless federal government and relentless insurgency and violence.

    Instead, Pate, who hails from a Muslim village in the north, works from the ground up, persuading one boy in the streets of Kaduna North, or the next day paying courtesy calls to emirs at their palaces, or shaming local government officials who are misusing funds, or vaccinating kids in a nomadic community near the side of the road.

    Campaign route.

    In mid-April, Pate drove hundreds of kilometers and made dozens of stops across the Nigerian states of Kaduna and Katsina, where polio is entrenched and resistance to vaccination is high.


    He didn't always think this way. He returned from the United States in 2008 with some decidedly Western views and a wonkish appreciation of health systems management. But Pate says he soon gained a respect for Nigeria's traditional culture and power structure—at about the same time he switched from wearing tailored suits to robes.

    Pate is convinced that the virus can be dispatched from the country by the end of 2014, the new deadline set by the leaders of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which has so far spent more than $10 billion trying to eliminate the scourge of polio worldwide. More data, more money, and more troops are being poured into the effort than ever before, thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other international partners and donors, who desperately want Nigeria to finish the job so the rest of the world can, too. And they have been betting big bucks that Pate, if anyone, can pull it off. He has come close before, getting cases down to a record low of 21 in 2010.

    But in an unexpected move, Pate stunned the polio community when he resigned his Cabinet position on 24 July. Pate, who won't say why he quit, insists his commitment is undiminished. He says he will continue to lead the fight against polio as chairman of the influential Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, as long as Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan agrees. And he will continue his monthly visits to the critical northern areas to keep the pressure on local leaders and vaccinators.

    The top brass of the global eradication effort are optimistic that Pate has built a strong enough program that the country's recent progress can be sustained. "Pate has been absolutely crucial," writes Chris Maher, senior adviser for polio operations and research at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, who has worked extensively in Nigeria, in an e-mail. "But there is too much momentum in Nigeria for things to be easily derailed now." Maher adds: "His personal influence with the northern governors is unlikely to have diminished. If anything, he may actually end up being a more effective influencer from outside the government system."

    Reinfecting the world

    Vaccine advocates.

    Legs paralyzed by the disease, polio survivors play an important role in persuading reluctant parents to let their children be immunized.


    Since it started in 1988, GPEI, run by a partnership of WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rotary International, and most recently, Gates, has driven polio cases globally down more than 99%. That last 1% has proved remarkably tough, but over the past 2 years, as global cases fell to an all-time low of 233 in 2012, the end has finally seemed in sight.

    Nigeria stands in the way. Last year, it had more cases than any other country, and it was the only one of the last polio strongholds where cases went up. Nigeria, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan, is one of just three so-called endemic countries that have never stopped transmission of the virus, even for a year. It is the only country in the world where all three types of the poliovirus are still circulating. It has had one of the largest and longest-running outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. And of the three holdout countries, it tends to be the one that keeps GPEI officials up at night.

    Nigeria has spawned more outbreaks in previously polio-free countries than the other two combined, earning its reputation as the country that reinfects the world each time the wild virus is almost gone. The latest such outbreak began earlier this year in Somalia and Kenya.

    It's not that the virus circulating in Nigeria is any more dangerous. The problem lies in the lousy rates of routine immunization across a large swath of Africa, which leave huge numbers of kids vulnerable whenever the virus jumps the border from another country. By contrast, Pakistan's neighbors India and China have erected a high "wall of immunity" through strong and continuing vaccination campaigns.

    Winning hearts and minds.

    A UNICEF community volunteer in Kano teaches a father about polio. In the end, he agrees to let his seven children be vaccinated.


    As in the other infected countries, polio in Nigeria is a disease of the poor and disenfranchised. By 2005, polio had been dispatched from the relatively wealthier southern half of the country, which is mostly Christian. It took up refuge in the Muslim north, which has some of the most abysmal health and development indicators in the world. More than half of the population lives in grinding poverty. According to recent UNICEF data, routine immunization rates in some parts of the north are as low as 13%. Many people there have no access to toilets and clean water, maternal and child mortality rates are off the charts, and diarrhea remains one of the country's biggest childhood killers.

    The Human Development Index ranks Nigeria 153rd out of 187 countries; Transparency International places it among the more corrupt countries in the world. Understandably, there is no love lost between the poor of the North and the government they feel has abandoned them.

    So when vaccination teams come around with nothing to offer but drops of oral polio vaccine (OPV), many people are suspicious and fall prey to rumors that the vaccine is contaminated with the AIDS virus or infertility drugs, part of a Western plot to decimate the Muslim population. Rumors and misinformation reached such a frenzy in 2003 and 2004 that four northern states banned all polio vaccination outright, sending cases soaring to 1122 by 2006.

    The challenges now are as great as ever. This year, the antipolio vaccination movement has resurged, with opponents circulating CDs and texting people in advance of campaigns, warning of the supposed dangers of the vaccine. The country's violence and terrorism took on a chilling new dimension with the murder of 10 polio workers in Kano in February.


    Nigeria is critical to the global effort to eradicate polio. It is just one of three countries, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan, where transmission has never been stopped. Since 2003, Nigeria has accounted for a significant share of cases worldwide, and virus originating there sparked outbreaks in 25 previously polio-free countries.


    That's why Pate is on the road for 3 days in April, as he has been every month since October 2012, visiting the worst places and using his signature brand of diplomacy to try to turn things around. The grueling trip shows, stop by stop, how he has again managed to bring cases down in 2013; it also gives a taste of the political and social complexities of working in a region that is so critical to the outcome of the global eradication initiative itself.

    On the road: Saturday, 13 April


    Under Nigeria's new emergency eradication plan, polio cases in the country have dropped about 45% from this time last year. Nigeria had 122 polio cases total in 2012; so far this year there have been 47, compared with 90 this time last year. Cases have shifted to the eastern half of the country, where the insurgency is intense and it is difficult to reach children during polio vaccination campaigns. There have been no cases of type 3 polio, showing gains against one of the two remaining wild serotypes.


    EN ROUTE FROM ABUJA TO KADUNA STATE: The first thing you notice about Pate are his eyes: Wide set in a round face, they have such dark circles that they appear bruised. He looks perpetually tired. He is soft-spoken, with a kind voice, and despite his many years in the West, speaks English with a heavy Hausa accent.

    When he picks me up at the Rockview Hotel in Abuja, where about half the guests seem to be aid workers or U.N. employees, he is wearing a plain white cotton robe, as he will throughout the trip. His fula, the traditional round cap, is next to him on the seat. His black socks and lace-up shoes add an oddly Western touch.

    We are going to Kaduna and Katsina states, which last year had about 40% of the polio cases in the country and where, despite the country's stepped-up effort, vaccinators are still missing too many kids. As we set out, Pate talks about the murders in Kano, another of the high-risk states. At about 9 a.m. on 8 February, gunmen on motorcycles stormed two clinics in rapid succession, killing 10 health workers and one client, all women. The vaccinators had just assembled before heading out for their "mop-up" day, when they try to find and vaccinate kids missed during the previous 3-day door-to-door campaign.

    Half a continent away.

    A young girl receives polio vaccine drops at a school in Mogadishu, where a new outbreak is raging, seeded by virus from Nigeria.


    Violence and terrorism in Nigeria are nothing new. The Islamist insurgency is so intense that the president in May declared a state of emergency in three northern states and sent in troops. Schools have been burned, students murdered, villagers massacred. Aid workers have not been immune. In August 2011, 23 were killed and scores injured when the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram bombed U.N. headquarters in Abuja. But polio workers had never before been directly targeted. No one has claimed responsibility.

    President Jonathan and Pate immediately condemned the killings, and Pate visited the grieving families in Kano. Vaccination rounds continued as scheduled the next month. "We are not going to stop or the militants will have gotten what they wanted, so we forge ahead," he says. Asked whether he feels in personal danger, Pate concedes, "sometimes, yes. I am a visible target for those who don't want the program to succeed. Boko Haram is not against polio per se, but it is a high-profile program, high visibility. If you want to attack the government, it is an easy target."

    KADUNA STATE BORDER: As we cross the border into Kaduna state, the convoy is flagged down by a dozen or so cheering men by the side of the road, emissaries of the governor and deputy governor, who will join us for the day. Donning his fula, Pate jumps out of the car to thank the welcoming committee, and the political drama begins.

    Meeting with senior state officials a few minutes later, Pate explains: "I am here as the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication to encourage you to see every child is immunized, that this be the best round of 2013. When I looked at the results [from last month], there has been a lot of progress, but in Kaduna state, there is lots of room for improvement." Then it is off to see the rounds.

    The convoy stops in the middle of a narrow street in the market in Kaduna South, and Pate is out, working the crowd. The ramshackle market, with its stalls stacked high with grains, fruits, and vegetables, is one of the "fixed posts" to vaccinate kids who aren't home—or whose parents say they aren't—when the teams go door-to-door.

    Pate is there to see the polio survivors, wearing their bright green vests emblazoned with "Kick Polio out of Nigeria forever," courtesy of Rotary International, which has volunteers in all the endemic countries and has so far contributed more than $1 billion to the cause. The men, whose legs are paralyzed, pull themselves along the street with their strong arms, using flip-flops as shoes on their hands. They smile broadly when the minister meets them, proudly showing Pate a shiny blue motorcycle they built as part of a rehabilitation program to give the survivors jobs. "Polio has left you with paralysis of the body, but your minds are active," Pate says as he thanks them for their help.

    At a time when polio has become all but invisible and few people have seen how it can ravage the body, the survivors are some of the program's most effective advocates. "Parents don't want their kids to be like that," Pate tells me when we are back in the car.

    KADUNA NORTH TOWN: There is no shade at the next stop, where Pate persuades the boy and his brother to let the kids be vaccinated, and the heat has easily topped 105. The car feels almost indecently cool when we climb back in.

    Pate is pleased. "This is important diplomacy." He concedes that in the grand scheme of things, one or two missed kids won't make a difference—and you certainly can't spend half an hour with each one. "But this family was contaminating the atmosphere," he says. And besides, he adds, he wanted to demonstrate the art of persuasion for the vaccinators.

    "I was very conciliatory. I feel the pain of poor people," Pate tells me. "They need so much. Why is it only polio we offer, why do we keep going back?" They may want vaccine against a deadly measles outbreak, or a new road that the government has promised. Refusing polio vaccine is the only leverage they have.

    That's why one of Pate's signature programs is called Saving One Million Lives. The goal is to avert 1 million deaths by 2015 by offering basic services such as routine immunization, rehydration salts and zinc for diarrhea, bed nets for malaria, and antenatal and newborn care—"Who could be against maternal and child health?"—and also polio vaccination. "It is not either or, polio or other health needs. We do both. It works very well."

    MEETING HALL, KADUNA NORTH DISTRICT: After opening prayers, Pate begins to speak, commending the district chairman, the equivalent of a mayor in the United States, and assembled officials for their efforts. It's a tough spot to work, he concedes; rumors are rife, refusals are high, the large migrant population is hard to reach.

    But then the gloves come off. Despite a "surge" of about 150 additional staff members from WHO, CDC, and UNICEF for this critical last stage (Science, 3 August 2012, p. 514), the district missed some 30% of kids in the last round. "With all these boots on the ground, why is there no progress in Kaduna North and Kaduna South?" Pate asks.

    "I don't want Nigeria to be forever remembered as the last country in the world with polio—it is an issue of shame. Even in Nigeria, there will be a last state and a last local government. I don't want Kaduna North to be the last local government."

    It's a drama he will enact repeatedly over the next couple of days—praise and then pressure. It's the only way he can work in the districts, which are autonomous and have long been the Achilles' heel of the program, he says. "I can't sanction them," he says. "So I have to cajole and influence."

    "It is up to you to see the funds are used prudently," says Pate, who has learned that the chairman has not yet released the district's contribution to the campaign and has not been attending the requisite planning meetings. "If money is diverted … you will have blood on your hands."

    KADUNA STATE GOVERNMENT LODGE: "Very few people upset me. I don't think there are difficult people, just different people. But he upsets me," Pate says over lunch at the government lodge. He is talking about Haruna Kaita, a professor of pharmacy at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and one of what Pate calls the "pseudoscientists" who have spread rumors about the polio vaccine. In 2004, Kaita announced he had analyzed samples of OPV and found traces of estradiol and other contaminants, feeding into the furor that led to the vaccination ban of 2003 and 2004.

    The ban was lifted only after intense national and international lobbying, with then-President Olusegun Obasanjo assembling several delegations to test the vaccine, and GPEI providing assurances that only vaccine made in Indonesia, a Muslim country, would be used in Nigeria.

    In January this year, Kaita teamed up with an influential cleric and made a CD, widely distributed, repeating many of the earlier assertions. Kaita alleged that the polio vaccine "contain[s] birth control and birth defect-causing substances … [and] that children could contract other diseases through the [vaccine], it could be cancer, HIV, or mad cow disease …" The cleric, Ibrahim Ahmad Aliyu, said, according to a translation: "Forceful oral polio vaccinations are an American-planned genocide against the Muslim populations in Nigeria."

    When Pate first came back to Nigeria, he debated the skeptics. "I thought I could reason with them scientist to scientist," he says. But since the February killings, Pate's stance has hardened. "They have gone too far," he says. He blames the opponents for indirectly inciting violence. Now, Pate says, instead of reasoning with them, "We will engage them one by one."

    With Kaita, Pate says he has some leverage: "If he is a professor at a public university, he is a government employee." In late April, Kaita released a two-part statement carried in the newspapers "clarifying" his position "following attempts in high and low places to ridicule my painstakingly cultivated reputation." He recognized "the existence of the polio epidemic and the mechanism of administering appropriate vaccines to prevent its spread in Nigeria" and backed off some of his more inflammatory claims. But he also complained that agents of the State Security Service had visited his home several times and the police had called him to Abuja in an effort to intimidate him.

    EVENING MEETING, KADUNA NORTH: The sun is down, but the heat is still insufferable in the packed room where the day's vaccination efforts are being reviewed. Even Pate is sweating.

    One by one, the supervisors report how many houses their vaccination teams visited, how many kids were in each, the number immunized, the number missed, why, and so on. One team leader says the women have no power. Another says some mothers want to vaccinate their kids but tell her that their husbands will divorce them if they do. It is hard to know how much is the truth, how much excuses. But it is clear many kids were missed, and many teams will be sent back into the field to mop up the next day. Similar meetings take place across the northern states after each vaccination day, part of a massive effort Pate has put in place to pinpoint trouble spots, where more effort is needed.

    HOTEL SEVENTEEN, KADUNA: It's late when we reach the hotel, an incongruously modern building that just opened and is still working out the kinks. As we wait for my room to be readied, Pate tells me the circuitous route that brought him to polio.

    The oldest of 10 kids, Pate, 45, grew up in a small town in Bauchi state. His father is Fulani, the largest nomadic pastoralist group in West and Central Africa; his mother is part Fulani and part Hausa, the main ethnic group in northern Nigeria. His father was the first in the family to graduate from university, and Pate remembers him telling him as a boy: " 'I can't give you wealth or cattle. All I can give you is an education. You have to go to school, that is your path.' "

    Pate took the advice to heart—as did his siblings, who have multiple advanced degrees among them—putting himself through college and medical school at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria's ancient center of learning. He was restless—"my nomadic genes," he says—and wildly ambitious.

    He landed a job as medical officer for the British Medical Research Council in The Gambia in 1993, then in 1995 went on to a residency in internal medicine at Howard University in Washington, D.C., followed by a fellowship in infectious disease at the University of Rochester in New York. Along the way he decided clinical work was "too reductionist." So while in Rochester he earned a master's in health systems management long distance from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Recruited to the World Bank in 2000, he worked his way up the ranks, ending up as country sector coordinator for human development in the East Asia/Pacific region in 2006. While at the bank, "I got the itch again," he says, so he commuted from D.C. to Duke University in North Carolina on the weekends and earned a master's in business administration.

    In 2008, he got a call: Then-President Umaru Yar'Adua wanted to see his resume.

    Nigeria had just been roundly condemned by the World Health Assembly for derailing the global eradication program. That year, Nigeria had some 800 cases. Humiliated, the president wanted to clean house. He offered Pate a job as CEO of the country's National Primary Health Care Development Agency, the equivalent of the U.S. CDC, in October. There was no question. "I wanted to be a player," Pate recalls. In November, after 15 years abroad, Pate was on the job in Abuja.

    Two years later, polio cases had dropped to 21, the lowest ever. In 2011, the president appointed Pate the minister of state for health. With Pate's attention diverted by his broader portfolio, cases began to climb, setting off alarm bells within the international community. By October 2012, Pate was back in charge, this time as chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, and on the road.

    On the road: Sunday, 14 April

    THE PALACE OF THE EMIR OF ZARIA, KADUNA: The gate to the emir's palace is a bright mosaic of greens, reds, blues, and golds, a stark contrast to the mud architecture of the rest of the old city.

    Resplendent in an intricately embroidered, cream-colored robe and gauzy tufted headdress, the emir receives Pate on his red throne while his councilors sit cross-legged on the floor. After prayers, Pate offers his condolences for the recent death of the emir's older brother. The emir, like other traditional leaders across the north, is a big supporter of the polio program, and Pate is full of praise and gratitude.

    It's the same drill the next day when Pate meets with the emir of Malumfashi. "You see the drama," Pate says later of the pageantry, the elaborate robes, and the effusive praise. You have to be an artist to move between Nigeria's traditional and modern worlds, he adds. "And for a long time the community will remember that the government, the minister came to them. And he is here for polio. That is the influence that is so vital to the global effort."

    "I used to have a different view of the emirs. I thought sometimes our traditions were holding us back," he tells me. That changed soon after his return when he went to a meeting called by a district chairman and almost no one was there. When he went to the emir's palace, it was packed. "That made clear the dysfunction of the [district] system," he says. "The district officials have the money, legal authority to tax. But they have no moral authority. The emirs have moral authority and a formidable network that you ignore at your own peril."

    Pate had another revelation soon after his return, when he decided to ditch his expensive suits for traditional garb. "I hadn't worn a robe since '95 when I got married. I came back here and wore suits. But then I realized I had to be part of the culture." And besides, he says, the suits were way too hot.

    EN ROUTE FROM ZARIA TO KATSINA STATE: Pate is something of a data geek. During the long car ride, he recalls having lunch with Bill Gates a couple of years ago. "He asked really tough questions" about our data. "I had questions, too, I felt like I was flying blind."

    Gates brought in the Seattle group Global Good to develop a model to assess population immunity, or what proportion of the population is adequately vaccinated against polio. With foundation support, Nigeria introduced geographic information systems and global positioning systems, and satellite mapping found thousands of settlements no one knew existed. It turned out that polio cases were increasingly concentrated along the borders between states and districts, where everyone thought it was someone else's responsibility, and along nomadic routes. Soon, digital maps replaced vaccinators' hand-drawn plans.

    Gates bankrolled the spiffy new Emergency Operations Center in Abuja, which now has offshoots in several high-risk states. For the first time now, the partner agencies work in the same building, where data feed in from the districts and states. "Now we have data so we can make decisions in real time," Pate exults.

    As we are talking, the convoy pulls over at a boisterous nomadic settlement near the side of the road in Malumfashi. Pate jumps out of the car and launches into Fulani, one of his native tongues. The crowd is thrilled as Pate vaccinates a baby and then good-naturedly lets himself be vaccinated. Laughing, he declines the candy given to the kids after their drops.

    He is pleased to see the encounter broadcast later on TV.

    KATSINA STATE GOVERNMENT LODGE: At dinner, Pate is tired, the circles under his eyes even more pronounced. He runs his hands across his face and close-cropped hair, then takes off his shoes and rubs his feet. Over chicken and fried rice, he tells me what keeps him on the road each month.

    "We passed the Rubicon when cases were so low in 2010," he adds. "We knew we could do it, so there is no excuse not to do it. It is a moral imperative." And beyond Nigeria, "eradicating polio will be huge for the global health community, like going to the moon. It will unleash a huge momentum."

    It is 10:30 when the protocol chief finds us a suitable motel and Pate quits for the day.

    On the road: Monday, 15 April

    KATSINA DISTRICT: "We are in a difficult area," Pate says the next morning as we begin our long last day in Katsina, Nigeria's barren, northernmost state. Polio opposition is strong in this area; Kaita is from here, and the CD is circulating widely.

    Pate meets briefly with the governor, then heads to the big event of the day: a ribbon-cutting ceremony for seven new buildings at the Federal Medical Centre in Katsina. Pate is the guest of honor, along with the emirs of Katsina and Daura, whose guards in their bright red and green turbans stand out among the sea of light-colored robes and who jostle with Pate's nattily clad security detail. The guards with their leather whips sit at the emirs' feet. Pate's crew, along with federal police armed with AK-47s, spread out among the crowd.

    Pate cuts the ribbon for a new laundry room that holds two new washing machines for the 515-bed hospital and the new intern housing, named the Muhammad Ali Pate Officers Quarters.

    Then the convoy departs for a dozen farflung districts—from Baure in the north to Funtua in the south. At each of the stops, Pate tells the local officials that he and 457 other scientists from around the world have just signed a declaration supporting GPEI's new plan to wipe out the virus by 2018. Nigeria should not be backwards, he says.

    Pate and I part ways at 6 p.m. He is heading back to Abuja. I am staying in the north to observe vaccination campaigns. He insists I keep a car, a driver, and an armed guard. "It is not that dangerous," he assures me. "But people sometimes take advantage of foreigners."


    On 9 May, the inevitable happened. A case of wild polio was confirmed in a 32-month-old girl near Mogadishu—the first there since 2007. Genetic analysis showed the virus came from Nigeria. A week later, another case was reported in Kenya in the Dadaab refugee camp near the Somalia border, the first wild case in that country in almost 2 years. Just when cases globally were at a record low, Nigeria had once again reinfected the Horn of Africa. By the end of September, cases in the Horn had soared to 191, more than double the number in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan combined. The outbreak, spreading fast because the conflict has left so many kids unvaccinated, is a devastating blow and a tough test of GPEI's recently announced plan to stamp out any new outbreak within 120 days. This time, they won't, program officials conceded in September.

    Nigeria itself seems back on track. The program took a hit in March after the killings in Kano, when vaccination coverage stagnated or declined in some places. The influential Polio Eradication Independent Monitoring Board, which has often been scathing in its reviews, in May 2013 gave the country high marks, noting that "[t]he pace of improvement in Nigeria's Polio Programme over the last six months has been greater than at any other point in its history." Cases are down 45% from this time last year.

    In the light of these successes, Pate's abrupt resignation as health minister on 24 July was met with an outpouring of praise and regret. "Pate has made a fantastic contribution … and it's disappointing to see him move on from his position as Minister of State for Health," wrote Michael Galway, Gates's point person for Nigeria, in an e-mail. "But I feel confident the program will continue to move in the right direction."

    Speaking on the phone on 21 August from his house outside Washington, D.C., where his wife and six kids now live, Pate declined to say why he quit. "I want to avoid speculation. … I feel the time for the transition had come, it was the right time in a way that doesn't hurt the program."

    Pate, who is an adjunct professor at Duke University, will likely take a new position advising the Gates Foundation. He says there's no reason to worry that the eradication will lose momentum. He points out there is a strong team in place, led by the executive director of the primary health care agency, the position Pate held when he first began to turn polio around.

    "It is not only one person" he says. "It is the role one plays on the team. I can continue in that role even though I am not minister and help to complete eradication." He expects to remain closely involved in the campaign and plans to spend time each month in Nigeria.

    Indeed, the day we spoke on the phone he was flying back to Abuja for another road trip to the areas where polio cases are now centered and the insurgency remains intense. Since our April visit, Kaduna and Katsina states have remained polio-free.

  5. The Rise of Open Access

    The accelerating pace of scientific publishing and the rise of open access, as depicted by cartoonist Randall Munroe.

    Click image for a larger version.

  6. The Seer of Science Publishing

    1. Tania Rabesandratana

    Vitek Tracz was ahead of the pack on open access. Now he wants to rewrite the rules of peer review.


    LONDON—"Nobody reads journals," says science publisher Vitek Tracz, who has made a fortune from journals. "People read papers." Tracz sees a grim future for what has been the mainstay of scientific communication, the peer-reviewed print journal. Within the next 10 years, he says, it will cease to exist.

    This prophecy ought to carry weight. Over the past 3 decades, Tracz, chairman of a conglomerate called the Science Navigation Group, has helped transform the world of science publishing. His most notable creation to date may be BioMed Central, the first for-profit open-access publisher. The pioneering site, founded in 2000 in London, has grown into an empire with more than 250 biology and medicine journals in its stable.

    BioMed Central earned Tracz a reputation as a visionary. "He's one of the most important publishers of the last decade," says Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), a nonprofit open-access publisher that launched its first journal in 2003.

    Tracz "always has many irons on the fire; he likes to experiment. That's unlike the rest of science publishers who are quite conservative and work on standardizing, consolidating, and reducing costs," says Matthew Cockerill, managing director of BioMed Central, which Tracz sold in 2008. By contrast, he says, "Vitek doesn't believe in business plans, but in ideas."

    Now, the revolutionary, who calls himself "shy" and "un-neat," is stirring up what could become one of the biggest controversies yet in scientific publishing. Tracz is setting out to shake the very foundations of contemporary science by abolishing anonymous peer review.

    Michelin Guide of science

    Tracz was born in 1940 in a Polish village then occupied by the Soviet Union, and soon afterward his family joined relatives in Siberia, where his father worked in a mine. After the war they made it back to Poland, where Tracz, as an undergraduate at the University of Warsaw, tried his hand at architecture for a year and then switched to mathematics. Before he completed his degree, Tracz's family emigrated to Israel, where he continued his math studies. A year later, he moved to London and studied cinematography at the Slade School of Art. He put down roots and launched Medi-Cine, a company that made educational films for medical doctors. His enthusiasm for film-making soon waned, however. Tracz sold Medi-Cine and started up Gower Medical Publishing, which printed full-color medical atlases (at a time when most textbooks were in black and white) and assembled slide collections for lecturers.

    Tracz grew bored of textbooks, too. In the early 1980s, he saw an opportunity to create something truly novel. That was the Current Opinion journals, publications that offer comprehensive reviews in biology and medicine. Tracz likens them to "Michelin Guides": "There is a problem with the quantity of literature, just like with the quantity of restaurants available out there. You need some [expert] advice and selection, especially when you're outside your territory," he says. He later sold Current Opinion's biology journals to Elsevier, and its clinical journals to Rapid Communications of Oxford, which became part of Thomson.

    Tracz was quick to grasp how the rise of the Internet in the 1990s could transform scientific communication. In 1996, he launched BioMedNet, an online club for biomedical researchers that included a library of scientific papers and a news service called HMS Beagle, named after the ship that Charles Darwin sailed on to South America. "We had a community of 1 million scientists, biologists, and doctors. It was incredibly popular," Tracz recalls. Two years later, at the height of BioMedNet's popularity, Tracz sold the site for an undisclosed sum to publishing giant Elsevier, which closed the site in 2004.

    Unleashing a juggernaut

    As Tracz formed and spun off companies, the "whirlwind," as one colleague calls him, understood that scientific publishing, as we knew it before the Web, was doomed. Instead of every library stocking a paper journal, a single freely accessible copy of an article or journal was "enough for the whole world," Tracz says. "The monopolistic power of the publisher suddenly disappeared. So we started thinking: 'What does it mean? What can we do?' "

    Tracz embraced open-access publishing, a movement that blossomed in the late 1990s among scientists and librarians who were angered by the high cost of journal subscriptions at a time when the Web was in principle lowering production and distribution costs. In that ferment, Tracz launched BioMed Central. "Our task was to demonstrate the [system's] viability for commercial publishers to take it on and switch their model," Tracz says. After dismissing advertising as a revenue source, the BioMed Central team hit upon the idea that has driven the growth of open-access publishing ever since: making up for lost subscription income by charging authors—or their funders—a publishing fee.

    It was a "shrewd" move, says Derk Haank, CEO of Springer Science+Business Media in Berlin. "Vitek made the very wise decision to harness the energy of a 'movement' and build a healthy, sustainable business based on it." In a sign of Biomed Central's robust health, Springer bought the venture from Tracz in 2008 for an undisclosed sum.

    Tracz not only made a business of open access; he also proselytized on its merits. He served on the board of PubMed Central, the U.S. National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) online repository of biology and medicine articles, gaining a platform from which he pushed governments and research funders to mandate and fund open-access publishing.

    With the open-access juggernaut gaining momentum, Tracz turned his attention to the "other big problems" in science publishing, starting with what he calls the "impact factor poison." Impact factor measures the average number of citations for each paper published by a journal, and is used as a measure of a journal's prestige. Critics like Tracz note that impact factor doesn't reflect the quality of individual papers and, as such, gives little guidance to scientists—or to those making funding or recruitment decisions.

    "The impact factor is both problematic and idiotic," Tracz says. PubMed's user research, he says, indicates that scientists search for papers that answer their questions, no matter which journal they are published in.

    As an alternative metric, Tracz in 2002 launched Faculty of 1000, a directory of biology articles selected, rated, and commented upon by a handpicked group of 5000 experts. This summer, Tracz's Science Navigation Group started a similar venture, F1000Trials, for clinical research.

    Scientists say that they use the site, which has since added medicine articles and changed its name to F1000Prime, to discover important papers outside their field of expertise, although the site's metrics for flagging and scoring articles have not caught on widely. But that may be about to change: In August, PLOS added F1000Prime data and scores to its article-level metrics—the citation data, social media usage, and comments that serve as indicators of quality and impact.

    A heretical idea

    In another bold strike, Tracz is taking aim at science's life force: peer review. "Peer review is sick and collapsing under its own weight," he contends. The biggest problem, he says, is the anonymity granted to reviewers, who are often competing fiercely for priority with authors they are reviewing. "What would be their reason to do it quickly?" Tracz asks. "Why would they not steal" ideas or data?

    Anonymous review, Tracz notes, is the primary reason why months pass between submission and publication of findings. "Delayed publishing is criminal; it's nonsensical," he says. "It's an artifact from an irrational, almost religious belief" in the peer-review system.

    As an antidote, the heretic in January launched a new venture that has dispensed altogether with anonymous peer review: F1000Research, an online outlet for immediate scholarly publishing. "As soon as we receive a paper, we publish it," after a cursory quality check. Peer review happens after publication, and in the light of day. F1000Research selects referees, who post their names and affiliations alongside their critiques. Papers become like wikis, with reviewers and authors posting comments and revisions as the need arises.

    F1000Research requires authors to submit the full data set underlying a paper—not just selected graphs or analyses. Readers "don't just want the narrative of what you think you found, but what you actually found," Tracz says. What authors get in return, he says, is ownership of data from the moment of publication. The price of publishing in a traditional journal now could be steep, Tracz argues, as scientists could lose priority for a discovery. He also sees a role for F1000Research in publishing orphan studies: negative findings (see p. 68) and incremental advances that most journals ignore.

    "When Vitek told me about it at the beginning, I told him it's kind of crazy," says David Lipman, director of the NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is home to PubMed Central. But Lipman says that he is starting to come around as F1000 Research takes shape. "You can see examples on the site of perfectly solid articles," says Lipman, who now calls it "a very attractive option" for researchers. Critics, however, have questioned the reliability of publishing before peer review. On The Scholarly Kitchen blog, Kent Anderson, a former executive at The New England Journal of Medicine, described F1000Research's publishing model as "surreal" and "topsy-turvy."

    Tracz acknowledges that in reshaping peer review, he's taking on a sacred cow. "There will be some growing pains," he says. But his maverick ideas tend to become mainstream over time. "At the beginning of open access," one colleague says, Tracz "was ridiculed by other [publishers]." No one ridicules open access now.

    "He's not radical," Eisen insists, "just sensible. Sensible doesn't [usually] happen in scientific publishing." The coming years will see whether open peer review is sensible—or too radical for most researchers to stomach.

  7. The Power of Negative Thinking

    1. Jennifer Couzin-Frankel

    Gaining ground in the ongoing struggle to coax researchers to share negative results.

    Glenn Begley was stymied. At the drug giant Amgen, where Begley was vice-president and global head of hematology and oncology research, he was struggling to repeat an animal study of tumor growth by a respected oncologist, published in Cancer Cell. One figure stood out as particularly impressive. But it was proving stubbornly resistant to replication.

    In March of 2011, Begley saw a chance to play detective. At the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, he and a colleague invited the paper's senior author out to breakfast. Across his orange juice and oatmeal, Begley floated the question: Why couldn't his group get the same finding as the oncologist?

    The oncologist, whom Begley declines to name, had an easy explanation. "He said, 'We did this experiment a dozen times, got this answer once, and that's the one we decided to publish.' "


    Begley was aghast. "I thought I'd completely misheard him," he says, thinking back on the encounter. "It was disbelief, just disbelief."

    As it turned out, the respected oncologist was in good company. A year later, Begley and Lee Ellis, a surgical oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, published a commentary in Nature about lax standards in preclinical research in cancer. They shared that Amgen scientists couldn't replicate 47 of 53 landmark cancer studies in animals, including the respected oncologist's. (Last year, Begley left Amgen to become chief scientific officer for TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals, a small company based in Malvern, Pennsylvania.)

    Striking as it is, Begley and Ellis's exposé is part of a pattern. In fields from clinical medicine to psychology, studies are showing that the literature is filled with papers that present results as stronger than they actually are—and rarely report negative outcomes.

    What makes it so difficult to portray negative results straight up? Along with the drive to prove one's theories right, "there is a wide perception that negative studies are useless, indeed a failure," says Douglas Altman, a statistician at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Journals, too, often "like big, exciting, positive findings," he says. As a result, negative results are often relegated to the dustbin, a problem commonly called the "file drawer effect." Or, by cherry-picking data or spinning the conclusions, a paper may make a negative study seem more positive. But those practices are being challenged.

    In some fields, "there's increasing recognition" that leaving negative findings unpublished is "not the right thing to do," says David Allison, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where he studies methodologies in obesity research. Furthermore, as journals move online, where pages are limitless, and as more pledge to treat positive and negative studies equally in the review process, the venues for publishing null findings are expanding.

    Still, many researchers and journals continue to cast results as a story that they believe others will want to read. They choose their words carefully, describing, say, an obesity increase as "alarming" rather than "modest," Allison suggests. Or investigators dig through mounds of data in the hunt for shiny nuggets. "Is there some gold in these hills? … We know if you sift through the data enough," Allison says, "you'll find things," even if by chance.

    A matter of emphasis

    Many who study negative results have focused on clinical trials, in part because biased results can directly affect patients, and because a published trial can often be compared with the original goals and protocol, which these days is often publicly available. That makes it easier to see whether a published study accentuates the positive.

    Altman and clinical epidemiologist Isabelle Boutron, working together at Oxford about 5 years ago, set out to explore these effects. They and their colleagues culled 616 randomized clinical trials from a public database, all of them published in December 2006, and focused on 72 whose primary goals hadn't panned out. The group hunted for "spin" in the papers, defining it as the "use of specific reporting strategies, from whatever motive, to highlight that the experimental treatment is beneficial, despite a statistically nonsignificant difference for the primary outcome."

    In 13 papers, the title contained spin, as did 49 abstracts and 21 results sections, Altman and Boutron reported in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Some authors compared patients before and after treatment, instead of comparing those who got the experimental drug and those who didn't. In one case, authors contrasted the treated patients not with their comparison group in the same trial, but with a placebo group from another study to argue that the treatment was superior.

    Boutron says the authors of these papers were upfront about the fact that their study's original goal hadn't been met. Still, "often they tried to spin" what had happened, says Boutron, now at Université Paris Descartes.

    She acknowledges that in clinical research, negative results can be difficult to interpret. If a well-designed trial finds that a new drug eases symptoms, it probably does. But finding the opposite doesn't necessarily mean the therapy is hopeless. When a therapy's superiority isn't statistically significant, it might still help—or the difference could be due to chance. "You won't be able to provide a black-and-white answer," says Boutron, who is now struggling to write up a negative trial herself.

    It's not just clinical research. So-called "soft" sciences, such as psychology, carry an even greater risk of biased reporting, according to Daniele Fanelli, who studies bias and misconduct at the University of Montreal in Canada. In August, Fanelli and epidemiologist John Ioannidis at Stanford University added an intriguing twist: They found behavioral research was more likely to claim positive results if the corresponding author was based in the United States.

    To probe why researchers spin negative studies, Altman, medical statistician Paula Williamson at the University of Liverpool, and others decided to ask them. They identified 268 clinical trials in which there were suspicions of selective reporting. Investigators from 59 agreed to be interviewed.

    The researchers offered diverse explanations for why they failed to report data on an outcome they'd previously pledged to examine. "It was just uninteresting and we thought it confusing so we left it out," said one in the paper by Williamson's group, published in 2011 in BMJ. Another said, "When I take a look at the data I see what best advances the story, and if you include too much data the reader doesn't get the actual important message."

    At the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), Editor-in-Chief Dennis Bier encounters this routinely. A study may be designed to measure whether an intervention will lead to weight loss, say, but the manuscript focuses on blood pressure or cholesterol—originally identified as "secondary endpoints" but now taking on a starring role. The weight loss outcome "may occur in one line in table 3," Bier says. For the most part, "these are not people trying to be duplicitous," he says. "They're trying to get as much as they can out of their data." Still, he says that he and his fellow editors "spend an awful lot of time trying to get things out of papers," and "getting the caveats in."

    Scientists rarely admit that these practices result in biased reports. Several whose work was cited in studies of bias did not respond to Science's requests for comment, or insisted that their work was statistically sound. After examining papers positing that reducing sugary drinks consumption decreases obesity, Allison, who takes funding from the soda industry, flagged several papers for "distortion of information." The senior author of one, Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, agreed that the abstract overstated the case, suggesting that swapping water or diet drinks for calorie-heavy beverages caused weight loss when that outcome was not statistically significant. Popkin blamed the journal, AJCN, for the sentence. "The journal process is an imperfect process," he told Science. "That's what the editors wanted to put in there."

    Bier agreed that the change had been urged by the journal—but only because, he said, the original version overstated the result to an even greater degree.

    Telling it like it is

    Forest ecologist Sean Thomas of the University of Toronto in Canada and his Ph.D. student spent 2 years traveling to and from the rainforests of Dominica testing whether, as long suspected, trees need more light the larger they grow. His results were lackluster, but not his publication strategy.

    In the end, the relationship between light requirements and tree growth was flimsy, Thomas found, but as with many negative results, he couldn't say for sure that the thesis was wrong. The Ph.D. student, despairing, switched topics. "But I was bound and determined to publish," Thomas says.

    "We thought about ways of positively spinning things," he confesses. Then he hit on another solution: submitting the paper to the Journal of Negative Results: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. A group of postdocs at the University of Helsinki conceived of the journal in the early 2000s and launched it in 2004. Its publication record is paltry; it gets only two or three submissions a year. "It could hardly get any lower unless they were publishing nothing," Thomas says.

    Undeterred, he sent his paper in, and it appeared in 2011. "We didn't have to package things in a way that might pull out some kind of marginal result," Thomas says. "This was an honest way of presenting the information that would also make it clear what the story was from the beginning."

    Are studies that tell it like it is the exception to the rule, or the cusp of a new trend? Most agree that journals for negative results—another exists for biomedical studies—are not a comprehensive solution. Some mainstream journals are getting in on the act: A study presented last month at the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication examined how eight medical journals had handled recently submitted papers of clinical trials and found they were just as likely to publish those with negative results as positive ones.

    Allison believes that making all raw data public could minimize bias in reporting, as authors face the fact that others will parse their primary work. A more lasting solution may come from a shift in norms: embracing and sharing null findings without regret or shame. "The only way out of this," Fanelli says, is that "people report their studies saying exactly what they did."

    Openness has its rewards. Although Thomas's Ph.D. student, Adam Martin, adopted a new thesis topic after the Dominican rainforest flop, as Martin dives into the job market Thomas is urging him to launch his job talk with that story. "It's an unusual enough thing," Thomas says, "that you'll stand out" in a crowded field.

  8. Hey, You've Got to Hide Your Work Away

    1. David Malakoff

    Debate is simmering over how and when to publish sensitive data.

    Not long after letters laced with anthrax spores killed five Americans in September 2001, a research team led by genome scientist Harold "Skip" Garner came up with an idea for probing such crimes. But the solution gave him pause. During a study that used new gene technologies to analyze several of the world's deadliest pathogens, the researchers realized that a unique genetic "barcode" could be discreetly inserted into laboratory strains, potentially enabling forensic scientists to track a bioweapon or escaped pathogen back to its source. It was just the kind of tagging that could have helped investigators identify the source of the weaponized anthrax spores tucked into the deadly letters, says Garner, now with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. But publishing the trick might also aid evildoers, he realized. "It was information that might be misused, to figure out how to evade detection," Garner recalled recently. "We had to ask: 'Is it wise to widely share this?'"

    That question is confronting many scientists these days. Every research field has findings so sensitive that scientists can spend countless hours fretting over when, where, and how to publish them—or whether to share them at all. For microbiologists and chemists, it might be a technique that could be misused to create a terrifying weapon. For biomedical and social scientists, huge databases of personal health and behavioral information pose threats to privacy. Archaeologists and wildlife biologists worry about pinpointing some study sites, fearful they could guide looters and poachers to priceless artifacts or vulnerable species.


    It's not a new conundrum. Academic researchers have long struggled to balance an ethos of openness with demands for secrecy. Most famously, perhaps, U.S. nuclear scientists in the late 1930s and early 1940s kept mum about findings that they worried might give Nazi Germany clues to building an atom bomb.

    Today's struggles over sensitive data may have lower stakes, but they are increasingly pervasive and complex. More scientists are engaged in work that requires secrecy in the name of protecting national security, intellectual property, and confidentiality. And researchers may not get to make the call; government regulators, corporate lawyers, and even ethicists are demanding a bigger say in deciding when to let information loose and when to lock it up. Ironically, some agencies publish classified journals for scientists with security clearances to have a place to share peer-reviewed secrets (see sidebar, p. 71).

    Such trends are forcing scientists to rethink how they publish papers and agencies to reconsider which studies to fund. And they are helping spur the growth of new bureaucracies designed to avoid the unintentional release of sensitive data—or even prevent such data's creation in the first place. Whether such controls will ultimately help or harm science and society, however, is the subject of vigorous debate. "Open communication among scientists is critical to the good that science can do, but concerns about the misuse of information are testing that ideal," says ethicist and molecular biologist Kathleen Kolakovich Eggleson of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. And with the Internet making it nearly impossible to recapture sensitive data once they have escaped, she says, "it's an issue that's just going to become even more problematic."

    Rude awakening

    For some scientists, the clamor that can arise around sensitive data comes as a shock. Influenza researchers, for instance, were largely caught off guard in 2011 when a global, yearlong controversy engulfed efforts by two teams to publish papers, in Science and Nature, which showed how to engineer the dangerous H5N1 influenza virus, which normally infects birds, so that it can also move between mammals (Science, 6 April 2012, p. 19). Officials in the U.S. government—which funded the studies—became concerned that a mutant virus could escape from a lab and cause a human pandemic, or that revealing details about the research could inadvertently aid terrorists seeking a bioweapon. They asked the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, set up after the 2001 anthrax attacks, to review the H5N1 studies. It initially recommended that the papers be published only if journal editors deleted key methodological details and shared them only with "responsible" scientists. In the end, however, such selective censorship proved both practically and legally impossible, and a divided advisory board ultimately supported full publication of both studies, which appeared in print last year.

    The episode has left a mark on science. For instance, it prompted the government of the Netherlands to take the unusual step of requiring researchers there to obtain an export permit before sending their final manuscript to Science in the United States—a precedent for government oversight of data sharing that worries some scientists. And it prompted the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world's biggest biomedical science funder, to impose extensive new rules. NIH-funded researchers and universities now must undertake special reviews of proposed studies that involve H5N1 and more than a dozen other risky biological agents and toxins. The goal: to identify experiments that might produce sensitive "dual use" findings that could be used for good and evil—and force alterations or even stop them before they begin. If NIH were to fund a study that meets the dual use definition, the agency announced in August, researchers must create "risk mitigation" plans that include strategies to control sharing sensitive results. And they must allow NIH to see manuscripts and abstracts at least 10 days prior to submission to a journal or meeting.

    Such prior review requirements are already common in academic studies funded by industry, which is keen to patent profitable ideas before they become public, and military agencies, which aren't eager to aid adversaries. Still, some researchers fear that NIH's adoption of prior review for a new swath of academic science could signal a creeping expansion of bureaucratic controls. Journal editors and legal specialists say it's not clear whether the U.S. government can legally block publication of NIH-funded data unless it takes the radical step of classifying them as secret.

    Such questions may not be resolved for some time. In the short term, the new rules are expected to affect just a handful of studies. Editors of major scientific journals say that they rarely see truly sensitive manuscripts. A 2008 study, for instance, found that just six of 16,000 manuscripts submitted to the 11 journals published by the American Society for Microbiology over a 5-year period raised dual use concerns. Just two weren't published because the authors wanted to withhold methodological details.

    A dearth of worrisome manuscripts doesn't mean people aren't making worrisome discoveries; researchers may simply be sitting on sensitive results. In a paper to be published later this year by the Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law & Policy, David Franz, former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland, recalls that, in the 1990s, scientists there unintentionally created a virus strain that was resistant to a potential treatment. After a discussion, "we decided to put the entire experiment into the autoclave," Franz tells Science. "That was it. We didn't hear anyone say: 'Wow, we could get a paper in Science or Nature.' "

    Garner took a similarly cautious approach with his barcoding technology. "We wrote up a white paper for some of the government agencies, but didn't distribute it widely," he says. "Seemed better that way."

    Censorship or discretion?

    In other fields, scientists are learning that they may give away sensitive data without being aware they'd let it slip. Archaeologists have posted pictures of new finds on websites only to discover that savvy thieves have tapped metadata digitally attached to images to discover location information—and then looted the site. Conservation biologists often refrain from saying exactly where they've spotted a rare species, for fear an overzealous collector or landowner will hunt it down. Genome researchers and social scientists have been stung by computer wizards who have shown that they can take databases that supposedly have been stripped of information allowing the identification of individuals and "re-identify" study participants, violating privacy rules. In theory, such techniques could reveal a trove of problematic information, such as embarrassing Web surfing habits, stigmatizing mental health issues, or genetic traits that could affect employment or insurance.

    As plant biologist Rodrigo Gutiérrez of the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago puts it: "We are gaining the capacity to generate lots of sensitive information, but not necessarily the capacity to handle it appropriately."

  9. Cloak-and-Dagger Publishing

    1. David Malakoff

    Classified journals aim to solve a thorny problem: how to rigorously peer review and share sensitive government-funded findings that officials don't want sent to regular journals.

    A hot new journal debuted last month, but you can't read it—or publish in it—unless you have a security clearance from the U.S. government. The Journal of Sensitive Cyber Research and Engineering (JSCoRE) is the newest addition to the shadowy shelf of "dark," or classified, journals that aim to solve a thorny problem: how to rigorously peer review and share sensitive government-funded findings that officials don't want sent to regular journals.

    "Even though the community of researchers doing sensitive work has the same needs as those doing unrestricted research, the absence of a peer-reviewed publication … impedes the quality and progression of sensitive science," wrote JSCoRE co-editor William "Brad" Martin of the U.S. National Security Agency and colleagues in a poster on the journal's origins that they presented at a meeting last year. To help researchers in the booming field leap that obstacle, the poster promises that JSCoRE will "feature an editorial board consisting of cyber luminaries from inside and outside of government" and "qualified peer reviewers."

    JSCoRE may reside where few can lay eyes on it, but it has plenty of company. Worldwide, intelligence services and military forces have long published secret journals that often touch on technical topics. The demand for restricted outlets is bound to grow as governments classify more information; the United States alone has dozens of categories of controlled information, including "top secret," "for official use only," and "sensitive but unclassified." But going dark doesn't mean keeping the general public entirely in the dark: JSCoRE has asked authors to provide titles and abstracts that don't have to be kept secret, so the journal can appear in public indexes.

  10. Lock Up the Genome, Lock Down Research?

    1. Eliot Marshall

    Researchers say that gene patents impede data sharing and innovation; patent lawyers say there's no evidence for this.

    "Your Genes Have Been Freed." declared a website banner posted on 13 June by Ambry Genetics, a small California firm that analyzes DNA. Earlier that day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that raw human DNA is not patentable. Ambry cheered the decision because it wiped out some intellectual property claims on genes "owned" by other firms. Now it seemed that anyone could roam the human genome and use any genes—without a license from the owner.

    Ambry and another small company—Gene By Gene, based in Houston, Texas—immediately began to offer to test U.S. clients for two gene variants linked to breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Prior to the court's ruling, those sequences had been the exclusive property of Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City. Myriad was the first to isolate the genes, won U.S. patents on them in the mid-1990s, and launched and fiercely defended a BRCA testing monopoly that charges more than $3000 per test. Last year alone, Myriad earned close to $500 million. Myriad's business, however, was built on the view that naturally occurring DNA can be patented. The company lost that argument in a lengthy legal battle—Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad—that went all the way to the Supreme Court (Science, 21 June, p. 1387).


    Many academics and clinicians submitted court briefs opposing Myriad, arguing that no company should have so much control over human genetic information. Even Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), said he liked the court's ruling because it would benefit research.

    Myriad is already engaged in a fresh court battle in Utah with Ambry and Gene By Gene. But the Myriad ruling has rekindled debate over just how the U.S. patent system—and gene patenting in particular—affects the conduct of science. The combatants agree that, in principle, the U.S. patent system is intended to encourage the free flow of new knowledge so that society can benefit. In exchange for revealing the details of discoveries so that others can build on them, inventors get patents that give them the right to charge fees to users for up to 20 years—and to go to court if they think someone is infringing.

    In practice, however, critics say the system can work against innovators. Instead of promoting the sharing of ideas, it is often used to dam up knowledge. A handful of recent studies, for instance, have concluded that gene-related intellectual property has created a legal thicket that stymies biomedical science and locks away data that could improve clinical tests. Similar, but more muted, complaints have emerged in other fields, from computer science to engineering. That's far from the innovation and sharing that the patent system is supposed to encourage, critics add.

    On the other side, champions of the patent system, including many lawyers and a former patent court chief judge who spoke with Science, say such attacks are unsupported by the evidence. Claims by gene patent critics, they argue, are based on emotion. "The idea that scientific researchers are being sued or threatened with lawsuits [for doing research] is a fiction," says Paul Michel, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the top patent review body below the Supreme Court. "I don't know where this myth comes from."

    Some researchers, meanwhile, are working to sidestep patent battles by making sure that gene sequences and other kinds of data are quickly entered into public databases, where they are free to all.

    Skeptics and believers

    Bio-patent critics include some high-profile advocates. One is Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, an economist at Columbia University. At its heart, the former Clinton administration official wrote in a 14 July New York Times editorial blog, the BRCA conflict is about whether patients must pay steep fees to access life-saving technologies and clinicians must get licenses to do research. The fees that Myriad charges for its tests are a reward for invention, he noted. But the price isn't worth it, he argued, because "the two genes would likely have been isolated … soon anyway, as part of the global Human Genome Project." And as part of that publicly funded effort, the sequences would have been entered into a free database.

    Stiglitz was retained as an expert by the groups that sued Myriad in the Supreme Court, and he is consulting for Ambry Genetics and Gene By Gene in the ongoing Utah case. (He has donated his fees from these cases to charity.) In a statement filed with the Utah court, Stiglitz argues that DNA patents "impede the dissemination of information." In general, economists argue that the "transaction costs" of acquiring privately held data—such as signing an agreement to use a patented gene—discourage use. Recent studies that Stiglitz cited examined whether research papers cited proprietary genes less often than those that were "free." A 2013 study by economist Heidi Williams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge found that protected DNA was cited 20% to 30% less, and that genes in the private database of the biotech firm Celera Genetics were 20% to 30% less likely to be used in clinical tests than free genes.

    Ambry Genetics and Gene By Gene also submitted a statement to the Utah court by geneticist and bioethicist Mildred Cho of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. She wrote that her own NIH-funded research had concluded that patents on clinical genetic tests "inhibit scientific research." A 2001 telephone survey of U.S. lab directors working on gene tests, for instance, found that 53% reported deciding not to develop a new clinical genetic test because of a gene patent or license; two-thirds believed that "gene patents resulted in a decreased ability to do research." Such data have helped persuade Stiglitz that patents and other property claims on genes have done harm by "discouraging further innovation" or even "not allowing any usage of the scientific information at all."

    A case in point, critics say, is Myriad's refusal to make public data on potentially harmful BRCA variations that it has discovered through its exclusive control of DNA used in gene testing. The company argues that U.S. law requires it to protect patient privacy and control how test results are used. Spokesman Ronald Rogers points out that Myriad has collaborated with dozens of "non-commercial, academic" research labs. But it doesn't put data in public repositories, which he says don't guarantee privacy or the quality of clinical interpretation.

    In contrast, Gene By Gene Chief Scientific Officer David Mittelman says that his company is "a big fan" of making public the new gene variants it discovers and is ready to launch an initiative promoting this cause, at

    Defenders of the patent system argue that all the attacks on gene patents add up to a weak indictment. They say that although researchers may perceive otherwise, there's no direct evidence that intellectual property owners have impeded anyone from doing research. Michel, for instance, says companies rarely sue scientists; one reason is that it would guarantee bad press but be unlikely to win a big settlement.

    Still, to clarify matters, Michel and others would like Congress to enact a law saying that a researcher who uses patented material for science—and not for commerce—is protected from infringement lawsuits. Other nations have such "research exemptions," and U.S. case law has recognized this rule as a practical matter. But Congress has balked at enshrining it in a statute.

    Removing fences

    While experts debate the effects of patent law, some researchers are taking direct action to liberate genetic data. To prevent patenting or other limitations—as well as improve standards—they're scooping up any gene variants they can get from clinics and patients and dumping them into a public database. The repository, known as ClinVar, is maintained by NIH's National Center for Biotechnology Information. In time, leaders say that they should be able to compile a list of all known human gene variants (such as those for BRCA1 and BRCA2) and their health effects, edited to remove personal information.

    Geneticist Heidi Rehm at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston is a key ClinVar contributor. She heads the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine, which provides gene tests and analysis to clinics in the Partners HealthCare network in Boston, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. The lab has already donated about 7000 variants for 155 genes. In all, 56 groups have signed up to collaborate. But several large gene-testers have not, Rehm says. One of them is Myriad.

    "There's no doubt in my mind that lack of data sharing is harmful to patients," Rehm says. The lack of a universal data bank of gene variants, for instance, could slow the development of more accurate gene tests. When Rehm's lab recently worked with two others to see just how well their different genetic tests matched when used on the same genes, they found "a 20% discrepancy," she says, suggesting the results "can't all be right." Public data could help find and resolve such discrepancies, and ultimately improve health care.

    To speed that outcome, the International Collaboration for Clinical Genomics—which includes early ClinVar submitters—met last month at NIH to work out plans for curating information, protecting privacy, and granting database access. NIH has awarded three lead institutions, including Rehm's, nearly $25 million over the next 4 years to get the project under way. The aim is to set high standards for data collection and annotation. In addition, it could make some private gene variant collections, like Myriad's, redundant.

    In the meantime, court battles over patented genes continue as judges digest the implications of the Myriad decision. Last month, the Utah court heard arguments on Myriad's request for an injunction to stop its rivals in California and Texas from offering BRCA tests. A decision was pending at press time. It's not likely to be the last word, and the legal battle could rumble on for months—or years.

  11. The Annual Meeting: Improving What Isn't Broken

    1. Jeffrey Mervis*

    Annual meetings are moneymakers for most scientific societies, and scientists continue to flock to them. But as the world changes, how long can the status quo hold?

    Nearly 22,000 scientists converged on San Francisco last December for a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Local hotels and restaurants feasted on the biggest annual gathering of physical scientists on the planet, and AGU turned a tidy profit on what was its largest meeting ever. But in a world in which the main currency of information is now bytes, have such megaconclaves become an endangered species?

    There are plenty of reasons to question the future of the traditional annual scientific conference. U.S. agencies have less money to spend on travel, research budgets are tighter, scientists are busier, and Web-based technologies for accessing meetings remotely are improving. But there are few signs that extinction is around the corner.

    In fact, the familiar 5-day smorgasbord of talks, poster sessions, exhibition booths, job fairs, and public outreach seems to have lost none of its appeal for scientists. Meeting attendance has held steady or risen in recent years, according to executives at more than a dozen scientific societies who spoke with Science. So, too, have the number of requests to present at meetings, which officials say is a good barometer of overall interest. And compelling presenters continue to pack auditoriums (see p. 78).


    At the same time, a one-two budget punch to federal agencies is taking a toll. The first blow was a May 2012 directive from the White House that ordered every agency to cut its spending on travel by 30% from 2010 levels. The cuts, triggered by over-the-top spending by one agency that prompted a public outcry, also come with a $500,000 cap on the cost of any government-sponsored meeting and closer scrutiny of all travel. The changes have made it much harder for federal scientists to gain permission to attend their favorite conferences.

    The second blow is a 5% cut this year in the overall budgets of most agencies. That reduction, known as sequestration, kicked in this spring after the breakdown of a 2011 agreement between the White House and Congress to reduce the federal deficit.

    Society officials say they have felt the effect of sequestration and tighter travel budgets. For example, some 14% fewer federal scientists attended last fall's AGU meeting, says the organization's CEO, Chris McEntee. In response, societies are trying to make meetings more enticing to both participants and those unable to attend in person. The revised fare includes Web-based features such as electronic posters, live-streaming of some events, and archiving much of the content for later viewing.

    But devotees say those new wrinkles are no substitute for what they consider the real thing: the chance to hear firsthand about new research, present their own findings, meet potential collaborators or mentors in person, and feel part of the tribe. Neural scientist Thomas Carew, dean of arts and sciences at New York University in New York City and a former president of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), compares the experience of attending the society's annual meeting to a sporting event.

    "You can feel the floor vibrate in the exhibit hall," he says about a meeting that last year attracted 28,574 people, good for 10th place on a ranking of the largest U.S. medical meetings. "There's a buzz that infuses the entire conference. For young scientists, it can be a transformative event in their careers."

    Given all that a meeting offers, none of the society leaders anticipates switching to a virtual-only format in the foreseeable future, as NASA did this year with its annual Lunar Science Forum (see p. 75). "At least for me, there's nothing that could replace sitting and listening to a young scientist or a very prominent scientist explain his or her research to a group of people, all of whom are trained to ask hard questions and be skeptical," says Joseph McInerney, executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics, whose annual meeting draws about 7000 scientists.

    Geophysical attraction.

    The American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco keeps growing.


    For most societies, the annual meeting is also a moneymaker. Registration and exhibitor fees can contribute significantly to an organization's bottom line. SfN's annual meeting, for example, generated 43% of its overall revenue of $29 million last year and netted $3.8 million after expenses, according to the society's 2012 report.

    The two major meetings put on by the Materials Research Society (MRS) each year do even better for the organization. Fueled by a record combined attendance of 13,750, the meetings produced 68% of the society's $11 million in revenues last year, contributing $4.6 million to its bottom line.

    AGU's fall and spring meetings added $1.5 million to the organization's coffers in 2011, a big help in a year in which overall expenses of $39 million exceeded revenues by almost $5 million. The allure of such profits, meanwhile, has created a growing number of "predatory" scientific meetings that appear to exist solely for making money (see p. 76).

    Not all meetings are money spinners, of course. The general science meeting organized each year by the AAAS (which publishes Science) is not "anyone's principal scientific meeting," CEO Alan Leshner acknowledges. That secondary status limits how much the organization can charge registrants and exhibitors. As a result, he says, revenues are insufficient to cover many no-charge activities "that are central to our mission," such as a family science day and programs relating to international events and human rights.

    Even societies with profitable meetings are doing what they can to make their meetings more accessible. The path is not always smooth, as Bob Braughler, virtual engagement manager at MRS, can attest.

    The society's first major initiative was live streaming a 5-day symposium on energy and sustainability held during its November 2012 meeting in Boston. However, that decision ran afoul of scientists who balked at having their slides and words captured for posterity and made available to anyone. "We needed to go to each one of the presenters and request their permission," Braughler says, "but not everybody was willing to do that." The result was unsightly: a video with a 15-minute blank every time an author demurred.

    The society's experience highlights the tension between wanting to open up a meeting to all while preserving the intellectual property rights attached to the content. Presenters were concerned about sharing information that might wind up in a journal article or become part of a patent application. "If my talk is going to be archived, then I can't transfer the copyright or file a patent," explains Husam Alshareef, a professor of materials science and engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. "And MRS is petrified of being sued," says Alshareef, who is co-chair of the program committee for the society's 2014 fall meeting.

    Until the society can work out those IP issues, it is proceeding with caution. For example, MRS has shifted its emphasis to what Braughler calls "video capture"—recording a session and then making the video available on demand, for free, to both attendees and those who agree to register. That platform gives the society more control over content before it is posted. "We'll probably live stream at least one event this fall," he says, while some two dozen symposia will be captured and put into the archives.

    Likewise, the American Society for Microbiology drastically curtailed live streaming of last month's annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. The decision was based on a membership poll showing that 90% of the people who wanted online access to information from a meeting they could not attend chose the "archived with no live" option. "Live streaming is also the most costly option," says Connie Herndon, the society's director of meetings, speaking before the meeting, "so if our attendees don't really want it, then we'll probably reduce it to a minimal amount."

    Logistics are another reason the venerable annual meeting is likely to persist. Organizers book meeting venues up to a decade in advance, so any changes would necessarily take a long time to show up. "We're so big that we only fit into a few cities," says Nancy Todd, conference manager for the American Chemical Society (ACS), which holds large meetings in both the spring and the fall. Combining the two meetings, she says, would only worsen the space crunch.

    But perhaps the biggest deterrent to change is the inherent conservatism of the community. "We've had two meetings [a year] since the beginning of time," Todd says. "It's what our members want." Neither federal cuts nor the Internet seem likely to change that winning formula for ACS and its sister organizations anytime soon.

    • * With reporting by Nisha Giridharan and Senah Yeboah-Sampong, 2013 Pitts Family Minority Science Writers interns.

  12. What's Lost When a Meeting Goes Virtual

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    This summer, NASA's Lunar Science Forum became the largest scientific gathering to embrace the new world of cyber meetings. The experience drew mixed reviews.

    Mihály Horányi has been a regular at NASA's annual Lunar Science Forum since its debut in 2008. But when the University of Colorado, Boulder, plasma physicist registered for this summer's conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, he didn't bother booking a plane ticket or a hotel room. That's because the meeting had gone virtual.

    Horányi, who also directs the Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies, was on the program to describe an instrument that was launched last month aboard a NASA probe to study the moon's dust and thin atmosphere (Science, 13 September, p. 1161). But instead of stepping onto a stage in front of hundreds of colleagues, Horányi sat down at his computer at 1:45 p.m. on the first day of the conference and began talking into a webcam perched above the screen.

    "Last year it was a performance," he says about an invited talk he gave at the July 2012 forum. "This year it meant staring at myself, being annoyed that I kept leaning in and out of the picture, and thinking, 'Boy, am I getting old.' ;"

    The switch makes the forum the largest scientific gathering to embrace the new world of cyber meetings, says Greg Schmidt, deputy director of NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. (That's the new name for the Lunar Science Institute [LSI], which reflects the Obama administration's decision to substitute an asteroid for the moon as a target for human exploration.)

    NASA officials decided to go virtual because of budget pressures—most participants in the forum are either NASA employees or scientists on NASA-funded projects. Schmidt doesn't know how much money was saved, although he says that the cost of the additional bandwidth and servers needed to conduct the live streaming was much less than that of hosting a physical event.

    Institute officials tried to cushion the shock by preserving the forum's usual format. But instead of welcoming some 500 scientists to the Ames campus, the hosts invited participants to log on each day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific time. In addition to the scientific talks, the forum included virtual poster sessions with an introductory video or audio from the author and a chat window to submit questions and get feedback. Participants were also encouraged to create virtual "hubs" at home to facilitate interactions. The forum even offered a virtual version of its traditional 1-day mini meeting for graduate students and postdocs.

    By all accounts, the virtual forum escaped most of the glitches that can plague a typical webinar. "My hat is off to LSI," Horányi says. "I was expecting a hell of a lot more technical problems. But they pulled it off."

    Even so, he and other participants say the virtual conference was a pale imitation of the real thing. At previous forums, Horányi says, "You see your friends, you ask about their kids, and then the discussion flows into the science." He confesses that he participated much less this year—"2 hours a day would be a generous estimate." In addition to the physical challenge of sitting at one's computer for hours on end, participants say that their day jobs competed for their attention. Schmidt estimates that some 150 to 200 people "attended" the forum at any one time.

    Even without distractions, the quality of the interaction was much lower than in person. "I received a handful of short comments [from my talk] and had maybe one e-mail exchange," Horányi recalls. One scientist who didn't present this year—and who listened to only one talk after the fact—said that he much prefers an in-person meeting because "you get a much better sense of how the audience is reacting to what you're saying, especially any negative feedback."

    Schmidt agrees that a virtual meeting has serious limitations. "It funnels people into a very narrow setup," he admits. At the same time, he says that the institute welcomed the chance to test the idea because it relies on virtual interactions among institute members.

    But there's a big difference between a virtual institute and a virtual meeting, says David Morrison, a senior scientist at the lunar institute and a former director of NASA's virtual Astrobiology Institute, also based at Ames. "I do not think the virtual approach works well for science conferences," says Morrison, who believes that a virtual institute makes sense only if collaborators also have regular face-to-face meetings throughout the year.

    NASA hasn't decided on the format for next year's forum, Schmidt says, and its decision will be influenced by the responses to a survey asking participants what they liked and disliked. Despite the grumbling, Schmidt says one thing is already clear: "If virtual is the only option, they say they would rather have that than nothing."

  13. Meetings That Flatter, but May Not Deliver

    1. Jon Cohen

    "Predatory" conferences—meetings, sometimes sparsely attended, that seem to come into being primarily to make money—have become a cottage industry in scientific communication.

    The e-mails come from Amber, Rainy, Dora, and Arlene. "How are you doing now?" some begin. "Hope this e-mail finds all the best on you." Flattering and solicitous and written in bewitchingly mangled English, the e-mails have the hallmarks of spam offering carnal pleasure—except they are actually far tamer. They are invitations to attend scientific meetings in China organized by a company that bills itself as the "World Leading Provider of Intelligence Exchanges in Life Sciences."

    BIT Life Sciences, based in Dalian, a seaside city in Northeast China, stages conferences on a staggering array of topics, from vaccines and biodiversity to diabetes, cancer, cloud computing, HIV/AIDS, and algae. The meetings, which are often billed as an "Annual World Congress," sometimes coin names for new disciplines, such as "Endobolism" and "Drug Designology." BITeomics, the parent company, says it has 400 employees and holds at least 70 conferences a year that "tens of thousands of people" have attended since 2001.

    Welcome to the bizarre world of what some call "predatory" conferences: scientific confabs, sometimes sparsely attended, that seem to come into being primarily to make money. Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, who monitors a subset of open-access journals that he calls "predatory," sees a similar phenomenon in BIT conferences. "They have the same conflict of interest as predatory publishers," he asserts. While predatory journals charge fees to publish papers, these conferences make money through registration fees that are bundled with charges for accommodation, meals, and program materials. (Typical bills run in the $2000 range. BIT, which stands for Bio Integration Technology, also has a subsidiary that offers to help book air flights, hotels, and tours.) "The more papers they accept, the more money they make," Beall says, as people with accepted talks are more likely to attend. While most scientific conferences have a similar financial equation, the vast majority are organized by nonprofits with members drawn from the scientific community, rigorously peer review submissions, and strictly limit the number of presentations. "Predatory" conferences, on the other hand, Beall says, "are accepting papers that may not be valid science: They bear the imprimatur of science even though they never go through the same quality control."

    While BIT Congress claims to be "the largest-scale conference company in Asia Pacific," it has competition in what Beall says is an expanding industry. "They're just one in the landscape," he says. He has also taken aim at the OMICS Group, a company based in India that stages conferences and publishes open-access journals that Beall considers "predatory" (see p. 60). (OMICS strongly objects to being deemed "predatory" by Beall and has threatened to sue him for $1 billion.)

    In an e-mail to Science, Francis Wang, who works in the business development office of BIT Life Sciences, rejected the charge that the company stages predatory meetings and lowers the quality of scientific discourse. Their business, she stated, is information sharing: "We are a bridge to the professional world." Wang explained that the firm does not use spam or robots to send out e-mail invitations, and noted that only about 40% of participants use its travel subsidiary's services. She suggested that some of the criticism occurs because BIT Life Sciences reaches out to up-and-coming researchers. "We will try very hard to create more platforms to give young experts or junior scientists more visibility and encourage their motivation to engage in the competition in professional world," Wang stated.

    Derek Lowe, a medicinal chemist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has ridiculed BIT Life Sciences invitations on his blog, noting that he believes he's been invited to speak at meetings because he can breathe, speak, fill a slot on a schedule, and presumably pay the registration fee. "This stuff reminds me of the Who's Who business model," Lowe says. "You can be in this book of luminaries if you'll just pay for the book."

    A typical e-mail from BIT begins by offering a slot to give an oral presentation or chair a session at a meeting that may not even intersect with your expertise. It will add that the program coordinator has invited you for your "invaluable experience and knowledge" or maybe because "you are an outstanding expert and have enjoyed great fame." The note will list other "world-class experts" and renowned speakers who have attended BIT conferences, including Nobel laureates. Program committees may well feature names you recognize from respected institutions. If you do not promptly accept, a reminder e-mail—"to ensure that you do not miss out"—is sure to follow. "Maybe there some problems with my mailbox and I haven't received your kindly reply," it will humbly suggest.

    BIT conferences indeed have attracted Nobel laureates and other prominent speakers, some of whom vouch for the meetings they attended. "I did not learn much new, but the organization, et cetera, was OK," says immunologist Rolf Zinkernagel, a Nobelist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who gave a keynote lecture at an HIV/AIDS meeting in Tianjin in 2006. Alan Stone, a biochemist in London who previously chaired the International Working Group on Microbicides, attended the same conference and gave it a ringing endorsement. "The scientific presentations were well-chosen and the sessions I attended were effectively chaired," he wrote the organizers in a review of the "excellent" meeting that he shared with Science. Malaria specialist David Warhurst, a professor emeritus at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, gave a keynote speech at the 2nd Annual World Congress of Microbes-2012 and says it was a "valuable" meeting. "I had not been to an international meeting held under purely Chinese auspices there and enjoyed the experience," Warhurst says. "I was able to meet some of the Chinese workers active in the fields I was interested in."

    Others, however, express serious misgivings about BIT. Some scientists—including officials such as Janet Woodcock, who directs the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Roger Glass, director of the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health—say they had no clue they were listed as advisory board members of a program committee until they were notified by Science. Immunologist Jeffrey Bluestone at the University of California, San Francisco, was billed as a "renewed" speaker for a meeting in 2011 that he did not agree to attend. "I have never and will never go to a BIT conference," Bluestone says. "I have been trying for years to get them to stop including me on their lists."

    Attendees of some BIT conferences say they felt duped. "None of the colleagues that were supposed to be there were at the meeting," says Mario Clerici, an immunologist from the University of Milan in Italy who chaired a session at a World AIDS Day meeting in 2011. "Ninety percent of the audience and of the speakers were Chinese, the rest a curious collection of people from exotic places. The general feeling was that of being stranded on a raft in the sea with a bunch of people who had never been sailing. In short: great opportunity to visit China, forget about science."

    Obstetrician/gynecologist Danny Schust of the University of Missouri, Columbia, says that he was honored by an invitation to chair a session at a BIT conference and also curious to visit China. When he arrived at his session, there were only three other people there—including one from his own institution. "I don't tell that story to many people because it's kind of embarrassing," Schust says. "I think lots of people are getting sucked into it. It kind of cheapens the whole research agenda." To his surprise, BIT Life Sciences now lists him as a program committee advisory member of an upcoming meeting.

    Wang told Science that BIT Life Sciences' conferences list people as advisory board members only if they have agreed to serve that role. Speakers sometimes back out, she stated, which may explain why they are wrongly listed on a program. She acknowledged that on occasion, researchers receive invitations to speak at conferences outside their fields. "Some mismatched invitations can't be avoided," she wrote. Such issues are "the problems of a young organizer's fast growth." And she argued that it's "absurd" that people would attend BIT Life Sciences meetings purely out of vanity. "Do you really believe, each year, those 10,000 professional professionals from more than 70 countries are all stupid? They are so easily hoaxed? And will they pay a good price and fly all the way to China just because they are flattered?"

    At the end of some BIT Life Sciences invitations, researchers can opt out of future solicitations. "We will definitely unsubscribe requests from the bothered experts in our database," Wang stated. The company is young, growing quickly, and trying to improve, she stressed: "In the garden of conferences, BIT is only a new flower bud with unyielding life power."

  14. Great Presenters

    Lighting Up the Auditorium

    1. Jon Cohen

    Bonnie Bassler and Larry Smarr have a gift for enthralling audiences. They share advice on how to make powerful public presentations.


    Bonnie Bassler likes to show off bacteria that live inside the gorgeous Hawaiian bobtail squid. The bacteria, by communicating with one another en masse, decide the proper time to light up like fireflies. The benefits are mutual: The bioluminescence helps camouflage the squid by eliminating its shadow on the ocean floor when moonlight bathes it from above, and the bacteria get nutrients from their host. It's a cool story, says Bassler, a molecular biologist at Princeton University, who studies a close relative of the squid bacteria that also luminesce. "My bacteria glow in the dark—no human being doesn't like that."

    Studies of this symbiosis and Bassler's own glowing bacteria have helped decipher quorum sensing, a system of chemical communication between bacteria that she compares to individuals casting a vote and then making a group decision. She and her co-workers have shown that quorum sensing exists in all bacteria and controls myriad activities, from luminescence to toxin release.

    The secret lives of bacteria makes for a compelling presentation, and Bassler does the topic justice. She says bacteria speak a lingua chemica with their own species, while also using a second Esperanto-like vocabulary that all bacteria use. If scientists figure out a way to muffle this chatter and in doing so hamper toxin release, she says, that could lead to new antibiotics. More profound still, quorum sensing informs us about human social interactions, like emotions rippling through a crowd. "How do you think we got those behaviors?" she asks, with mock incredulity that everyone doesn't know this. "It's because the bacteria invented them!"

    Bassler, who looks like the late actress Gilda Radner with a splash of Lily Tomlin, loves an audience. "My job is to teach someone something they never knew, but it should not be like you're in a prisoner-of-war camp," she says. "I'm supposed to be teaching you but also entertaining you. You're giving me an hour of your time. It should be lively. We're on a hunt, it's a mystery, and it's amazing."

    Bassler's Rules of Presentation

    Stick to the big picture.

    "We know this stuff in excruciating detail," she says. "You want to drive a metal stake through your head listening to our lab meetings."

    On slides, use few words and make one point.

    "People can read faster than I can talk," she says. "If I put the words there, I'm irrelevant."

    Tell stories.

    "These are detective stories with mini mysteries that all point to the same thing."

    Don't strive to be the smartest person in the room.

    "Sometimes people are like, 'Wow you don't sound scientific,'" she says. "The data are on the slide."

    But the most important advice that Bassler has to offer has nothing at all to do with style: Prepare, prepare, prepare. "I've spent a gazillion hours to cull these nuggets from the morass," she says.

  15. Gut Instinct

    1. Jon Cohen

    Bonnie Bassler and Larry Smarr have a gift for enthralling audiences. They share advice on how to make powerful public presentations.

    When Larry Smarr pulls out a plastic model of his colon that he made with a 3D printer and simultaneously projects on a screen behind him a magnetic resonance image of his guts, it becomes abundantly clear that he believes a presentation benefits from a most personal touch.

    Smarr started out as an astrophysicist and has followed an intriguing career arc from probing black holes to his own bowels. Three decades ago, he helped establish a network of supercomputer centers in the United States and was a cyber pioneer. (His grad student made the first Internet browser.) Today, the University of California, San Diego, professor runs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), a multidisciplinary center meshing nanotechnology with wireless communications, genomics, and computer science. Calit2, Smarr hopes, will become a force in personalized medicine—and his colon has become the centerpiece of a campaign to show the world how patients can take a more active role in their own health care by exploiting technological advances to collect genomic, biochemical, and physical data.

    For several years, Smarr has intensely monitored his health, a preoccupation that in 2010 helped him diagnose, ahead of his doctors, inflammatory bowel disease. In a talk he has given everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Smarr shows startling graphics that chart myriad biochemical and physical perturbations in his body linked to what he believes is a condition with features resembling Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. He paid a company to measure blood markers that standard tests ignore, and, with the help of the J. Craig Venter Institute's genomic analysis of his fecal samples, he has documented how his body has killed off many beneficial bacterial species in his gut while allowing harmful ones to thrive. His plastic colon and the MRI scans fill out the sad picture of a gut gone haywire.


    By blending systems biology and personal drama, Smarr's talks bowl audiences over. He speaks plainly; is passionate about his data (without bathing in self-pity about his disease); and makes the abstract concrete with his plastic colon, a prop that he passes around the audience. "I've given hundreds if not thousands of talks on so many different topics, and I've never had the kind of reaction I've had in the last few years," Smarr says. "When you talk about what's going on inside the human body, everyone relates."

    A critical moment in his talk comes when he emphasizes that 90% of the DNA in our bodies is bacterial, and we can now sequence that foreign material to understand our health. "A lot of the reaction is, 'How did I miss the memo that 90% of the cells in my body aren't human?' " Smarr says. "It's a moment of massive discovery essential to every single human on Earth. These moments don't come along more than a couple times in a century."

    Few scientists have the luxury of drawing on data from their own bodies to captivate an audience, but one technique of Smarr's is widely applicable: Don't miss the forest for the trees. He suggests scientists imagine themselves as a baker—not a flour specialist—explaining how to make a fancy cake. "It's the integration of several ingredients over time," he says. "We aren't trained to think that way. We're trained just the opposite."

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