News this Week

Science  19 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6216, pp. 1434

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  1. This week's section

    Planned mine threatens Apache archaeology

    Arizona's Apache Mountain may soon overlook a copper mine.


    Archaeologists and Native American tribes are protesting legislation to approve a controversial land exchange between the federal government and a copper mining company. Language inserted into the Senate's defense spending bill, passed last week, would transfer 980 hectares of Arizona's Tonto National Forest to the company Resolution Copper Mining, which seeks to open a mine there. The land has remained essentially unchanged since the Hohokam people lived there more than 500 years ago, and it contains rare Apache archaeological sites of value to researchers as well as places sacred to local Native American tribes. It's right next door to a cliff where Apache warriors plunged to their deaths rather than be taken by the U.S. Cavalry. The bill states that the land will be transferred 60 days after an environmental impact statement has been completed. But some archaeologists say that this language prejudges the environmental review, sidestepping the standard approval process. The bill now awaits President Barack Obama's signature, and archaeologists think there is little chance of changing or removing the rider.

    Beauty products blemish Antarctica

    An ice floe in McMurdo Sound.


    Scientists have found trace contaminants from sunscreens, skin products, and medicines in Antarctica's coastal waters—apparently from nearby research facilities. After previous studies detected pollutants, including fuels and flame retardants, some research bases sought to limit their environmental impact. But researchers from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand found new contaminants, at concentrations similar to those measured in cities, in a large swath of McMurdo Bay near the U.S. McMurdo Station and New Zealand's Scott Base. The contaminants, which showed up in clams, fish, and sea urchins, “are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and may impair organismal health,” says ecotoxicologist Da Chen of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The two agencies that run the bases say they strive to leave as small an environmental footprint as possible.

    “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it's very weak indeed.”

    Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for the World Wildlife Fund, on last week's contentious U.N. climate negotiations in Peru.

    By the numbers

    1—Rank of Facebook's study on secretly manipulating users' emotions via their news feeds, according to Altmetric's analysis of most shared papers of 2014.

    $400 thousand—Size of a new grant from the MacArthur Foundation to expand the website Retraction Watch into a comprehensive database of retracted papers.

    88.7%—Portion of the Darwin Awards for idiotic behavior won by men, according to a study in The BMJ.

    Around the world

    Detroit, Michigan

    PubPeer fights to conceal users

    The postpublication peer-review website PubPeer has moved to quash a subpoena from a scientist who wants to unmask some of its anonymous users. In October, cancer researcher Fazlul Sarkar of Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, filed a defamation suit against the users, who pointed out possible image irregularities in some of his papers. He claims their suggestions of misconduct caused the University of Mississippi to rescind a tenured job offer and has subpoenaed PubPeer for identifying information. Lawyers representing the site now hope to convince a judge that Sarkar's claim of defamation is invalid. With their 10 December motion to quash the subpoena, they submitted an affidavit from an expert in scientific image analysis, who also found “strong evidence” of image irregularities.

    Washington, D.C.

    New biodiversity institute

    The Smithsonian Institution announced last week that it will launch a virtual biodiversity genomics institute to help capture and catalog all the DNA from Earth's flora and fauna. With the goal of raising $100 million over the next decade, the Smithsonian's zoo; natural history museum; and conservation, environmental, and tropical research labs will expand their efforts to collect and store frozen tissue samples, as well as sequence and analyze their DNA. “The Smithsonian is one of the very few institutions around the world that are able to do this,” says Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who coordinated the sequencing of the genomes of 48 bird species.


    Climate talks yield modest deal

    After 2 weeks of negotiations (plus 33 hours of overtime), delegates from nearly 200 nations have signed an agreement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Lima Accord represents the first time that developed and developing countries have all pledged to cut emissions. But many believe the agreement is toothless, in that it doesn't set firm, legally binding requirements for reductions and fails to provide a global metric for measuring progress. The accord, finalized 14 December, will form the basis of the next round of climate negotiations in 2015 in Paris, where delegates hope to reach a binding global agreement to stem climate change.

    Mongla, Bangladesh

    Sundarbans soiled by oil

    Nearly 350,000 liters of oil spilled into the world's largest mangrove forest last week after a tanker collided with another vessel. The spill occurred near the Chadpai Wildlife Sanctuary, part of the 140,000-hectare Sundarbans—a mangrove-rich UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its exceptional biodiversity. The site is one of the country's three sanctuaries for the threatened Irrawaddy and Ganges river dolphins. Experts are concerned about the spill's ecological consequences, especially for the Ganges river dolphin, because the accident occurred within the least disturbed part of its range.


    Three Q's


    A U.S. National Academies committee issued a new report last week on the postdoctoral experience. Neurologist Gregory Petsko of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, who chaired the committee, told Science how its recommendations might be implemented.

    Q:The report says that the postdoc is specifically for training researchers, and not for other careers. Is this a fair reading?

    A:Exactly. We CANNOT, in my opinion, train too many [science, technology, engineering, and math] Ph.D.s. … But we can have too many people just defaulting into postdoc positions who don't need to do so.

    Q:If postdoc training is advanced research training, does that mean there should be at least a rough equivalence between the number of postdocs trained and the number of research positions available?

    A:Maybe, but that's not for us to say. … But it's certainly true that in a properly functioning labor market, there would be more of an equivalence than there is now.

    Q:How would we achieve that equivalence?

    A:The simplest way is to raise the minimum postdoctoral salary, thereby reducing demand until supply and demand are more nearly equal. I'm hoping all funders will look at that seriously.

    Full interview at

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