NextGen Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer this question:

How do political priorities (or political sensitivities to particular groups) affect your ability to do or communicate science?

In the 1 January 2016 issue, we ran excerpts from the many interesting responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those essays (in the order they were printed) as well as a selection of the other submissions we received (ordered alphabetically by author name).

Would you like to participate in the next NextGen VOICES survey? To make your voice heard, go to http://scim.ag/NG_18.

(Can't get enough NextGen? See the results of previous surveys at Future of a Generation, Definition of Success, Experiences that Changed Us, Big Ideas, Experiments in Governing, Science Communication's Future, Science Time Travel, Work-Life Balance, Enduring Ideas, Science Advocacy, Science Ethics, Global Collaboration, Missing Classes, Tools for the Future, Postdocs Reimagined, and Revolutionary Science )

Follow the NextGen VOICES survey on Twitter with the hashtag #NextGenSci.

Essays in print

New Zealand is known for its unique biodiversity and the efforts that are put into conserving it. We cherish and protect our native species and we are merciless in our fight against introduced species. However, political sensitivity toward hunting and fishing groups in New Zealand can interfere with conservation efforts. Whitebaits are the juveniles of five native species of Galaxiid fish that migrate from the sea upstream in spring. Three of them are considered as declining and a fourth species is classified as threatened. Unfortunately they are also delicious and a traditional spring meal. Because of the pressure to maintain the seasonal fishing activity and the associated market for this highly praised fish, conservation laws fail to protect them. At the other end of the spectrum, millions of dollars are spent every year to eradicate or control introduced mammalian species in New Zealand. But when mammals are big, tasty, and fun to shoot, as is the case for feral pigs and deer, then there are no plans to eradicate them. The fact that these species can disrupt native ecosystems and facilitate the spread other invasive species seems trivial compared to the value of the hunting industry.
Stéphane Boyer
Department of Natural Sciences, Faculty of Social and Health Sciences, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, 1025, New Zealand and The Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University, Lincoln, 7647, New Zealand.
E-mail: sboyer{at}unitec.ac.nz

If we are discussing how political priorities affect the activity of science, then we are assuming an existing scientific policy. This is not always is the case. Sometimes the government forgets about science. There is a story in Argentina that illustrates the attitude of the government toward science: Twenty years ago, the Minister of Economy sent a researcher to "wash the dishes" because she was studying the effect of their policies on society (and because she was a woman). Until recently, many scientists left the country for better conditions. Luckily, science has now become a political priority; the number of Ph.D. students and researchers has increased, more than 1000 researchers have returned to the country, and we have seen an extraordinary investment in infrastructure and scientific projects. Argentina's political priorities are essential for encouraging science.
Lilen Yema
Laboratory of Limnology, Institute of Ecology, Genetics, and Evolution, and Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences, University of Buenos Aires, C1428EHA, Argentina.
E-mail: lilen.y{at}ege.fcen.uba.ar

The field of microbiology is disproportionally represented by researchers that study disease, despite the true diversity of prokaryotes lying in non-pathogens. This disproportionality is driven primarily by funding institutions. Funding priority is given to projects that research the small subset of microbes that cause disease. This narrow mindset has impeded the search for industrially relevant microbes. Nonpathogenic microbes have revolutionized disease theory and treatment. For example, the discovery of restriction enzymes in the humble bacteriophage spawned the recombinant technology revolution and has allowed us to affordably produce drugs such as insulin in E. coli. Another example lies in the unicellular pond critter Tetrahymena, in which telomeres—the age monitoring caps on DNA—were discovered. The regeneration of telomeres is a hurdle all cancer cells must overcome. By studying this microbe we are unlocking the mysteries of aging and oncogenesis. I would implore others to see the importance of discovering what understudied microbes have to offer us. Amazing, yet-to-be-discovered model systems exist, and we should not simply stumble upon them. To advance disease theory and treatment, we must actively search the tree of life for the next organism that revolutionizes medicine and industry.
M. Clayton Speed
Department of Biochemistry, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA.
E-mail: cspeed{at}rams.colostate.edu

In Mexico, resources are biased toward "renowned" universities. For renowned universities, rules and regulations are more relaxed. Favored universities cover the costs of research and attendance for researchers and students, whereas those universities that do not receive enough resources prioritize certain areas or departments, neglecting many others. Which side of the coin you are on is what ultimately determines whether political priorities positively or negatively affect you.
Rigoberto Medina Andrés
Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias Básicas y Aplicadas, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos, Cuernavaca, Morelos, 62209, México.
E-mail: rigoberto.medinaa{at}uaem.edu.mx

Political priorities have significant influence on my ability to do science and also play a dominant role in communicating science. Most of the influences are positive for me, although they may negatively affect others. When I was a graduate student, I majored in Chemical Engineering in China. I found that I am not good at doing experiments, but I am good at simulation and optimization for sustainability. The political leaders of the local government of Chongqing, China, vigorously promote a low-carbon economy and sustainable development to mitigate environmental pollution. Accordingly, research grants focused on this issue were supported by the government, and our group obtained a grant for a project about industrial park planning and design. After this project, I determined my future research focus. I am now working as an assistant professor. In order to get more grants to sustain my future research, my research also focuses on the topics that are political priorities. In my view, political priorities based on correct decision-making and market requirements are beneficial for researchers.
Jingzheng Ren
Department of Technology and Innovation, Centre for Sustainable Engineering Operations Management, University of Southern Denmark, 5230, Odense M, Denmark.
E-mail: jire{at}iti.sdu.dk

Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals in the country, practicing at the first and last lines of healthcare. More than dispensers, pharmacists also serve to educate the public on health-related scientific matters. Do vaccines cause autism? Can I use peppermint oil to treat my headaches? What's all this stuff about essential oils? But Dr. Oz said… Pharmacists possess the scientific background and training to provide these services, and they do, after an average of 7 to 8 years of coursework. So, you'd think that they'd get paid for it. Therein lies the rub: American pharmacists are ineligible for reimbursement for such services under Medicare Part B. Legally, pharmacists are not recognized as providers under Section 1861 of the Social Security Act. Instead, the majority of their compensation is tied to drug sales and their traditional dispensing role. This political issue, unknown to many, limits patient access to these services. As a pharmacy student, I believe that we could do more given our extensive clinical and scientific training, and that our patients would see that benefit through fewer unnecessary hospitalizations, better quality of care, and decreased healthcare costs.
Joseph M. Cusimano
College of Pharmacy, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.
E-mail: cusimano.6{at}osu.edu

I became an expatriate to learn to do science. Simply, the Dominican Republic does not offer graduate studies in my field. The crude reality is that to do science I might have to remain abroad after finishing my studies. "We have neither conditions nor support for doing research here," the director of a national research institute once told me. I want to believe that things are changing, albeit slowly. For example, few years ago, the ministry of education was split into two institutions. The new ministry specializes in higher education, science, and technology, and it funds small scientific projects. Still, there is much to do, starting with having good education in science just as we have for baseball. I know that doing science is universal; it is not about patriotism. However, seeing how my country expatriates scientists, I know the need to develop conditions for doing science there. I'm convinced that conditions for science in Dominican Republic will improve as its people, especially scientists, make the move.
Luis B. Gómez Luciano
Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 11529, Taiwan.
E-mail: lbien{at}sinica.edu.tw

Emphasis on "evidence-based" policy and decision-making has become the buzz phrase for many political platforms, often implying that science will be used to inform policy. However, the commitment of political regimes to conducting and communicating science for the development of policies may be far removed from "evidence-based." It is no secret that Canada's previous government was blatantly accused of "muzzling" government scientists, reducing and reallocating funding to research institutions, and directly limiting and dictating how much research was conducted and in what areas research funds would be allocated. The previous regime's attitude toward research led to scientists who had less money to work with, research that was disproportionately skewed toward certain sectors of the economy, and most troubling of all, restrictions on communication. One could argue that research funding competition may have led to pressure for more productivity within favored sectors and the development of creative interdisciplinary research projects, but to what extent this is true, I am unsure (we would have to conduct a study). I don't think prioritizing research to drive political agendas is what science is all about. Science is about seeking truth.
Abraham Munene
Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, T2N 4Z6, Canada.
E-mail: abraham.munene2{at}ucalgary.ca

Disclaimer: I am not a proponent for partisan gridlock. The toxic environment of political brinksmanship that has grasped U.S. federal politics has caused anxiety for countless scientists regardless of funding source. However, I think it's important for us to acknowledge the shocking advances spawned from the current, and seemingly systemic, deadlock of Washington, DC. Physicists: In a unified theory breakthrough, DC has shown how two opposite and opposing forces cause "spooky inaction" regardless of scale. Ecologists: DC has provided a landmark case study in how self-sabotage can trump altruism, leading us to reinterpret The Selfish Gene yet again. Etymologists: Single-handedly, Washington has returned the word "sequester" back into the collective public dialogue, and as a case study bonus, they've turned it into a noun! Jokes aside, although the political climate in the United States has challenged many scientists' dispositions, when I read of Syrian scientists forced to withdraw seeds from Svalbard or Iranian scientists juggling a web of political and budgetary hurdles, I cannot help but be grateful. Although we may have a politically volatile climate here in the United States, the amazing consistency and reliability of resources and personnel is something to be treasured.
Keith C. Heyde
Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.
E-mail: kch2118{at}vt.edu

As a Ph.D. student in genetics, I am concerned about the political decisions being made in response to public sensitivity that extends beyond a layperson's awareness of science. For example, a national debate about genetically modified food (GMF) has arisen in my home country, China. At the beginning, it was simply about safety. However, due to inefficient communication between scientists and the public, many people began to be firmly convinced that GMFs are potentially hazardous to health. Shortly, it became a public crisis of trust in scientists, especially agriculturists and geneticists. I am no judge of GMF itself, but it is beyond depute that agriculture is closely bound up with our survival, and genetics is fundamental to our life and health. We cannot imagine a world without knowledge of agriculture and genetics. The consequences are so serious that funding from various sources has been cut, many laboratories have been closed, and many scientists are obliged to change their research focuses. How political priority coordinates the communication and awareness of science between the public and scientists still has a long way to go.
Fan Wu
Department of Cardiac Development and Remodelling, Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research, Bad Nauheim, 61231, Germany.
E-mail: Fan.Wu{at}mpi-bn.mpg.de

I have two choices when doing my research. I can do a plant sciences project in which the final product is a transgenic. I cannot use it as a technology because the Government policies are against genetically modified organisms, so all my funding and hard work will be wasted from an applicability standpoint. However, I will publish a high-impact research paper that will be lauded and I will be promoted with merit. On the other hand, I could use institutional funds to develop a technology as mandated by the organization and government policies. The work may have low international publication impact, and my promotion will be delayed, but it will be highly applicable to a marginal population. Which option would you take?
Name Withheld
India

In mainland China, the use of Internet is limited in the name of "maintaining stability" or "cyberspace purification." It is frustrating to use such a constrained Internet for searching academic information. China's Internet regulation shields or screens a lot of scholarly information. Quite a lot of academic information on the Internet is free to access abroad but inaccessible in mainland China. Even Google is disabled. The country's largest search engine, Baidu, which is extensively used by Chinese, fails to find much foreign information. Internet regulation supposedly contributes to the unified leadership in politics, ideology, and cognition. However, such a situation can harm academia, resulting in a decrease of pluralism and screening potentially valuable information that could foster creative and critical thinking. It is similar to the loss of biodiversity in an ecosystem, which makes the system depressed and monotonous, a tendency that is harmful for healthy development. China's Internet regulation should be eased to allow a broader scope for academia and scientific development.
Xin Miao
School of Management, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin, 150001, China.
E-mail: xin.miao{at}aliyun.com

The construction and operation of dams is often politically charged, and related controversies have fueled important scientific inquiries. What are the ecological effects of dam removal? How do dams affect fish populations? Policymakers and managers can help scientists ask nuanced, management-relevant questions that work toward addressing these controversies. For example, studies that quantify ecological responses to different dam management regimes are more meaningful when the dam operations tested are feasible in a larger policy context. Cooperation and collaborative exchange between scientists and policymakers can be mutually beneficial in this way; scientists formulate policy-relevant questions and policymakers get policy-relevant scientific information. I have experienced this type of exchange, and I believe my research is better for it. Still, hot button topics with politically-sensitive implications can polarize scientific debates and may even serve to marginalize certain scientific groups. Effective communication is key to both the formulation of management-relevant science and its integration into policy. When the topic is politically charged, every subtlety of this communication matters; a clear message can mean the difference between misinterpreted data and a relevant contribution to the issue at hand.
Bridget R. Deemer
School of the Environment, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA 98686, USA.
E-mail: bdeemer{at}wsu.edu

As a climate advocate working for a political organization, all of my communication has to be carefully constructed to work with political messaging priorities. Although we, as scientists, would hope that a sufficiently well-supported and clearly communicated argument would regularly convince policy-makers, this is simply not the case. In order to effect change, we have to work with the system we have, not the system we want, and that means communicating politically. Results that would be objectionable to certain groups need to be minimized through careful framing of studies, and we select only projects that are very likely to produce a politically beneficial result.
Name Withheld
United States

For various historical reasons, the Southeast region of Brazil is privileged in terms of financial resources and therefore responsible for most scientific publications, led by the University of São Paulo. However, for the past 10 years, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development requested that at least 30% of the total amount granted for science projects should go to institutions placed in less privileged regions. This political priority made a huge impact in expanding science production and graduate programs, giving opportunity to younger and talented scientists to make high-quality science in an environment of more equality, and decreasing the educational deficits in less advantaged areas. Northeastern institutions are now listed among the best national institutions, publishing in the most prestigious journals, filling a growing number of patents, and receiving international awards of excellence.
João Ricardo Oliveira
Keiso Asami Laboratory and Department of Neuropsychiatry, Federal University of Pernambuco, 50670-901, Recife, Brazil.
E-mail: joao.ricardo{at}ufpe.br

Online Essays

The lack of proper human resources planning in science is detrimental to the attitude of researchers and indirectly also to science. Not knowing whether or not you are going to be working in the field makes it less thrilling to think about long-term scientific questions. Rather, scientists focus on questions that can be tackled within the duration of a typical grant. Although this has produced an ever-increasing number of papers in the past decades, some of the most influential scientific works are those where a decade of research culminates into new insight. A second problem is related to the fact that there is too much competition in the academic system. The few tenured scientists are increasingly busy evaluating the large crowds of non-tenured staff (instead of writing seminal papers!) and junior researchers are increasingly busy writing proposals with dim chances for a short-term success. We need to come to the conclusion that science is a long-term endeavor and often requires a life-long dedication for a significant step to be made. More career prospects will lead to longer-term thinking, and reduced competition will free time for actually performing research.
Leonard Burtscher
Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, 85748, Germany.
E-mail: mangai.burtscher{at}mpe.mpg.de

American scientific policy is often lauded for the close connections it fosters between scientific funding and education. As a student of science, I appreciate and have benefitted from the fact that government funding frequently goes toward the education of young scientists in areas such as funding research experiences to expanding science departments at universities at the state level. The current political climate has prioritized science education at even earlier stages and has helped to bring students such as myself into the field by spurring discussions of scientific issues as well as stimulating the growth of resources available to students. It is imperative to the future of discovery and innovation that policy prioritizes science education and accessibility. Not only does funding science education generate better future scientists, but it also helps society as a whole face issues from climate change to genetics from a more literate perspective and enhances the ability of scientists to communicate why their work and results are significant to the general population.
Nikita Choudhary
Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: nikitach{at}sas.upenn.edu

As an undergraduate researcher in neurogenomics, I investigate the intersection of Alzheimer's Disease and genome editing. Recent advances in CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing have revolutionized potential uses of gene therapy to improve human health. Genome editing holds immense promise for curing genetic diseases but successful translation of CRISPR tools from benchtop to bedside requires validation and regulation before mass application. The current CRISPR Revolution could parallel the Industrial Revolution, a time when unbridled technological development and lack of checks-and-balances led to environmental degradation. As genome editing faces new bioethical challenges, prominent scientists have called on the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and institutions worldwide to establish a moratorium on genome editing of human embryos. I support the proposed moratorium as an opportunity for the scientific community to build strong foundations of knowledge on the mechanisms and implications of CRISPR before proceeding further. Better guidelines and funding from regulatory agencies to establish safety and efficacy of CRISPR will strengthen my ability to conduct research. Greater insight on human genome editing will optimize our ability to create neurodegenerative disease models and correct Alzheimer's-associated mutations. This is the best solution to keep genome editing safe and viable for future generations of scientists.
Michael Tran Duong
Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: mduong{at}sas.upenn.edu

I am a first year college student, a chemistry major, and a biological research assistant. However, I consider myself to be, first and foremost, a conservative Catholic, two adjectives which may appear to be in conflict with my other epithets. It is true that my traditional political views set limits on the types of research projects that I would be willing to undertake; I am forbidden from engaging in work that could challenge any precepts of my ideologies. For example, my orthodox convictions prevent me from delving into the domain of embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, my political and religious associations do not diminish my desire to get my hands dirty in searching through the unknown realms of science for a new discovery. I know that I am free to study any facet of the biological sciences that appeals to me, both intellectually and conscientiously, and that I have the ability to express the findings of my research in any manner I see fit, so long as my results are coherently transmitted to my target audience. Therefore, it is my goal, throughout my collegiate years, to prove to skeptics that the term "conservative scientist" is not an oxymoron.
Emily Christina Marie Hancin
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: ehancin{at}sas.upenn.edu

Political priorities are frontline limiting factors for the development of any nation, and India is no exception. An increased budget allocation doesn't guarantee quality science. Making matters much worse is political disparity among leading scientific groups, which compete for raising funds. Grandfathered research groups stay safe and play safe in raising funds, which may not give worthy outcomes. Such political sensitivities to particular groups in premier scientific institutes carry the threat of a fund-draining sink without major results. Absurd states of affairs during the grant selection process turn the competition into a wild goose chase for common scientists. The name, place, designation, and contacts of a scientist carry more impact than the content of the grant proposal. These scenarios mask the cutting-edge thinking abilities and freedom of common scientists. End results include waste of funds and delays in achieving important needs, such as affordable healthcare with sustainable development in science. Corruption and lack of accountability and transparency have now made India order premier labs to pay their own way. Thus, innovation demands freedom from illogical political priorities.
Vamshi Krishna Irlapati
Department of Biology, Dr. Reddy's Institute of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, Telangana, 500046, India.
E-mail: irlapativamshi{at}gmail.com

It might be redundant to mention that basic research is insufficiently funded compared with its importance to science and technology. It might be superfluous to argue that penicillin, x-rays, and polio vaccine would not have been discovered had it not been for basic research. However, given the perpetuation of underfunding and the persistence of politicians to degrade basic science in favor of applied research, it is worth bringing these points back to the forefront. Moreover, apart from its profound contributions to medicine, knowledge-generating curiosity-driven research is also very influential to our culture. Darwin had to rely on his own wealth to make one of the most important observations in human history and explain how the diversity of living organisms today has arisen during billions of years of evolution. Ironically enough, 150 years later, evolution studies are still severely under-appreciated by funding sources. We have a limited amount of time and we know close to nothing about life on our planet, let alone the whole Universe. It's important for the decision-makers to acknowledge the cultural, political, and scientific significance of knowledge-generating science and ascribe to it the deserving attention.
Nikolaos Konstantinides
Department of Biology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA.
E-mail: nk1845{at}nyu.edu

Although I wish it were not the case, much of science is a funding game. Some labs are able to privately fund themselves, but funding is primarily from the National Institute of Health. Even as a burgeoning scientist, not established on my career path, it scares me that funding for basic research may be massively cut by Congress. Something as crucial as research into how humans and the world around us function should not be subject to cuts made due to party lines. The government funding situation in the United States—albeit substantially better than in some other countries—leads me to worry that I may not be able to get into a lab or that my future research won't sufficiently interest grant reviewers. We live in a very forward-thinking country, but the allotment of budget is not always in the best interest of science, cutting funding to research and to education, with 54% going to defense, only 3% to all of science. The political parties and different politicians have different views on how money should be distributed, so I feel I must follow politics to predict the future for research.
Abigail Lemmon
Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: alemmon{at}sas.upenn.edu

The first priority of every politician is to get elected, a feat impossible without the support of the people. With voter apathy on the rise, it is unsurprising that so many American politicians pander to the small but zealous group of science-skeptics. Especially with the upcoming presidential election, politicians vying for votes are increasingly vocal about their belief in such falsehoods. This only propagates our national malaise of scientific illiteracy, contributing to the general public's distrust of science. This skepticism is troublesome for current and future scientists like myself. It is frustrating when discoveries are dismissed as lies simply because they are associated with political "hot topics" such as climate change, evolution, and stem cells. Seeing scientific truth rejected in favor of personal beliefs, and thus progress hindered, becomes disheartening. A more manifest consequence of this distrust is less funding for science. Already, the percentage of the federal budget devoted to research and development has significantly decreased in the past 50 years. As scientists, we can counter this problem by being politically active, from clarifying public misconceptions about science to supporting politicians who recognize the importance of science. We cannot afford to view politics and science as mutually exclusive realms.
Catherine Yicong Li
Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: catli{at}sas.upenn.edu

I am currently working toward my Master's Degree therefore, for me, it is not yet a matter of doing or communicating science, but rather the possibility of studying and growing in the fields of research that I have chosen. In a perfect world, my ability to explore the topics that I am most passionate about should not depend on external factors. However, in the real world, my prospective career must adapt to the most pressing problems with which the human population is faced and on the available funding. In regards to financial support, as a woman, I feel encouraged by the "positive action" favoring women for funded Ph.D. positions in several British and German research institutes. However, I feel that research funding can, at times, be influenced by the economic interests of industrial companies working in the field of applied sciences, trying to provide scientific support to benefit their products. Apart from external influences, I believe that our personal convictions are equally crucial when doing science: In fact, I hope that the interpretation of my future research results will not be biased toward proving what I want to be true.
Isabella Mataloni
University of Bologna, Loreto, Ancona, 60025, Italy.
E-mail: isa.mataloni{at}gmail.com

Political parties within democracies are necessary, as long as they do not interfere in the advancement of a knowledge-based economy, science, technology, or research and development (and business) models for a sustainable future for human resources in that country. Coming from India, as a plant biologist, I have problems when governmental policies cannot protect farmers by defend Bt-brinjal/cotton (GMOs). I am appalled by the inability of the existing political system (65 years independent) to detangle religion from science, glorifying mythological and biblical references as Indian "traditional achievements." In addition, I would rather prioritize poverty, pollution, and population over the Mars mission. Corruption in the political and bureaucratic system has put the academic and research system in jeopardy. There is a huge amount of extramural funding being diverted to elite institutions working in, say, nanobiotechnology, while funding is limited for researchers exploring food, fodder, and fuel at lesser known universities with negligible resources.
Biswapriya Biswavas Misra
Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA.
E-mail: bbmisraccb{at}gmail.com

Brazil's delicate political scenario and new corruption scandals have profoundly affected different sectors of the society. The recent investment in the Universities expansion and attempts to increase research funding, which is still scarce when compared with higher-income economies, were not able to place Brazil in a more competitive scenario worldwide. In order to generate meaningful and relevant data and therefore build up scientific knowledge, it is ironically important to synchronize three elements: patience, skills, and luck. It appears that just the improvement of skills, especially good management, would be critical for reversing the Brazilian lack of scientific competitiveness. Considering the improvement of skills, we believe that a few political measures could be undertaken to change the scientific and social scenario in Brazil, such as (i) creating positions in the University for Lecturers, leaving research for those who want and enjoy to make science; (ii) starting a serious tenure system for Universities and public service employees; (iii) investing in basic science with great potential for translational research, overcoming the main barriers to speed the knowledge translation, infrastructure, funding and derisking issues; and finally (vi) increasing the budget for science, through government, partnership with industries, and donations (rare in Brazil).
Guilherme Martins Santos
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Distrito Federal, 70919-970, Brazil.
E-mail: gsantos{at}unb.br

The U.S. government is projected to spend over $136 billion on research next year. As I look ahead to a career in science, I realize that simply broadening the horizons of human knowledge isn't enough to gain federal funding for research. There has to be something practical, or beneficial to political interests, in order to get major government support. Essentially, you have to talk applied science to enable pure science. Just imagine the great leaps in astrophysics and nuclear science that wouldn't have occurred were it not for the Cold War. Ponder how developments in emergency medicine, vaccines, and transplantation would have struggled to go on without wounded soldiers. This bears good tidings for the future of science, because, with an aging population, the most politically salient issues are becoming neural in nature. Through government-interested funding, I, along with scores of other future scientists, will more fully be able to pry open the mysteries of the human brain.
Michael Patrick Schwoerer
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19128, USA.
E-mail: mschwo{at}sas.upenn.edu

I am very fortunate to have been born in India, a country that upholds freedom of thought, speech, and action. However, despite this freedom, scientific thought is shackled in the politics of mediocrity. The children who are fortunate enough to receive respectable schooling enter science with wide-eyed fascination. But narrow social and educational mindsets bridle their creativity. Nonetheless, a majority end up in the basic sciences with a subconscious sense of failure. Science is further constrained by hierarchy, politics, and a race for papers. Students are often pushed aside for petty authorships and conference abstracts, dampening their enthusiasm and fostering unhealthy practices, which percolate down generations. Knowledge and skills become a currency for competition instead of teamwork. Worse still, mediocrity ensures that new ideas are discouraged out of fear of failure and lack of experience. Favoritism, political lobbying, and sycophancy threaten many careers. In the end, instead of the wide-eyed passion we begin with, science gets reduced to yet another job for most of us. This squanders countless creative minds and inventions that could make the world a better place.
Prashant Sood
Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen City, AB25 2ZD, UK.
E-mail: drprashantsood{at}gmail.com

In Argentina, science has, during the past decade, received strong support from policy, particularly on communication of science. This is great. Nevertheless, success metrics in academia continue to be (largely) based on number of papers, citations, and project funds. Researchers actively involved in communication of science—through radio, blogs, newspapers, interviews, and science festivals—receive little academic credit for their work. Also, resources allocated for communicating results to broad audiences (e.g., time and funds) are usually "borrowed" from research projects. To engage more scientists in communicating their science to the general public, journalists, and politicians, success metrics and resource allocation need to be reevaluated. It is great to have impact in science (in academia), but it is even better if science results affect society. This will, for example, motivate scientists to give their opinions, integrate science in political decision-making (e.g., passing laws and creating national parks), and inform citizens, who will then be able to debate science-political issues. Argentina will soon have presidential elections. Regardless of who wins, I hope that my country continues to improve its science policy, both promoting science and rewarding its communication.
Paula de Tezanos Pinto
Department of Ecology, Genetics, and Evolution, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
E-mail: paulatezanos{at}ege.fcen.uba.ar

Political priorities affect me a lot. As in many other countries in the world, the Chinese government is pouring huge sums into science, due to political factors. Therefore, as a Ph.D. student majoring in atmospheric environment of Tibetan Plateau, I am inevitably affected by this big background and benefit a lot. For example, when helping my adviser and group members to apply for scientific research project, I often need to closely tie to the country's 5-year or 10-year development plans. When we do project evaluations, we invite experts or scholars from the relevant government departments. They can help facilitate the development of scientific research and effective resource allocation. As a result, we can better carry out the project and avoid unnecessary waste of resources. Of course, the government provides adequate funding for us to do the research. Our institute can help the government do some research on the environment and climate change of the Tibetan Plateau under their strong support. As a result, the experts in our institute have made great contributions to the Third pole environment study. All in all, political priorities support science, and science serves political priorities.
Xin Wan
Key Laboratory of Tibetan Environment Changes and Land Surface Processes, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, Beijing, 100101, China.
E-mail: xin.wan{at}itpcas.ac.cn

As the Chinese proverb says, "No housewife can cook a meal without a food and vegetables." I think the biggest influence from national politics on my ability to do science is the scientific funds assistance as well as the achievement evaluation. The assistance needs to focus on funding for innovation and breakthrough of young scientists rather than those who drift. More funds can provide fundamental conditions for investigation, experiments, and collaboration with the scientific community. It is also necessary to create a free, equal, and cheerful surrounding for making breakthroughs in respective research fields. Furthermore, scientific and reasonable politics for achievement evaluations play a vital role in motivating the enthusiasm and confidence of young scientists to explore the unknown area, tackle scientific problems, and promote the commercialization of scientific achievements. Although research paper publication is one of the best tools for communication and exhibition, it should not serve as the only basis for the achievement evaluation. Therefore, both adequate scientific research funds and the excellent achievement evaluation system are crucial for the development and guidance of my (or young scientists) innovation ability and scientific research.
Hou Wang
College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Hunan University, Changsha, Hunan, China.
E-mail: huankewanghou024{at}163.com

Reforming the Science & Technology System is a top political priority in China. As a young scientist working in the field of sustainability, I would say that our ability to do science will absolutely be affected by this political priority. For example, our scientific performance is mainly evaluated based on publication records. Providing support to policymakers and local governments is usually considered as zero-contribution when it comes to academic title promotions. Our ability to write scientific papers has been improving rapidly, making China the second largest country in publishing SCI-indexed papers. Yet we all know that the so-called policy implications proposed in our papers are far from reality, and we should be ashamed of that. Research on sustainability should be interdisciplinary. We should be focusing on the exchange of scientific information and social dialogue at the intersection between research, politics, civil society, and media, not on writing more papers.
Bing Xue
Program of Air Quality in Global Climate Change, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, D-14467, Potsdam, Germany.
E-mail: bing.xue{at}iass-potsdam.de

I think that in my country there is a strong impact of political interest in every aspect of life, and the academic sphere is no exception. Despite the fact that there are efforts to address problems, political impact is maybe more pronounced in the past few years. Plenty of money is coming from the European Union, but the distribution of this money is unequal. Basic research has always operated on a slim budget, and although the European Union provides support, there is no change. The majority of money goes to research and development funding, which ideally can be okay, but the fulfillment is not. Usually the companies of interest-groups are granted and in the end, they are not producing any valuable science-related work. As a researcher with good CV but without "good friends," there is very little chance to get a grant to support a project or manage my own group. (It is even harder if you are women, since Hungarian science is still male-dominated.) The situation is even worse in the Ministry-related research institutes: The priority is really not the scientific competence, and the basic research is getting filtered and confined.
Name Withheld
Hungary