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(COVID-19) Underpromise, overdeliver – Science (Editorial – H. Holden Thorp | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on April 27, 2020

The majority of crises that most of us have lived through have not looked to science for immediate answers. In many cases, much of the scientific analysis came after the fact—the effects of climate change on extreme weather events; the causes of nuclear accidents; and the virology of outbreaks that were contained such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002–2003 or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012. Now, science is being asked to provide a rapid solution to a problem that is not completely described.

Rather than being just being for the COVID-19 work that is currently very much in the public’s eye at the moment, we suggest this maxim is useful for all media commentary by researchers about their research.

I am worried that science may end up overpromising on what can be delivered in response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This isn’t because I think the scientific community has bad intentions or will purposefully overhype anything, but because of what science can report in real time. It is difficult to share progress with adequate caveats about how long things might take or whether they will work at all. The scientific method is a very deliberate process that has been honed over time: Basic research, which describes the problem, is followed by applied research that builds on that understanding. Now, scientists are trying to do both at the same time. This is not just fixing a plane while it’s flying—it’s fixing a plane that’s flying while its blueprints are still being drawn.

On the testing side, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology is allowing folks to know quickly whether they are infected with SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of COVID-19. However, a negative PCR test result may lead a person to erroneously conclude that they’re in the clear, which is a danger to controlling the spread. We urgently need serology tests that show whether someone has had the infection and recovered. And we must be able to identify individuals who have some immunity to SARS-CoV-2 because understanding their biology may contribute to helping the world recover.

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(US) She Blew the Whistle on Pathogens That Escaped From a Government Lab. Now She’s Being Fired – Vice (Maddie Bender | February 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on April 10, 2020

A scientist who manages a biosafety lab in Washington State says she’s being retaliated against for reporting a leak of an unknown quantity of unknown aquatic pathogens into Lake Washington.

A career scientist who works for the U.S. government is alleging that her supervisors have retaliated against her for sounding an alarm about biosafety and workplace hazards. Her lawyers claim that she has been unfairly targeted for complaining about a litany of issues at a government science research center since 2017, including requesting an investigation after an unknown quantity of pathogens were released from her organization’s biosafety laboratory into the second-largest body of water in Washington State.

Evi Emmenegger worked at the Western Fisheries Research Center (WFRC) in Seattle since 1996 until this January, when she was placed on administrative leave and served with a notice of proposed separation. The center is a branch of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which studies natural resources and environmental and ecosystem health, water use, and Earth science.

Emmenegger managed an aquatic biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) lab, one of the few in the U.S. built for studying aquatic pathogens that pose a high risk to the environment. She also conducted research on fish diseases in a BSL-2 facility and the BSL-3 lab contained within it.

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“I was shocked. I felt physically ill.” And still, she corrected the record – Retraction Watch (Adam Marcus | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 30, 2020

Two years ago, Julia Strand, an assistant professor of psychology at Carleton College, published a paper in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review about how people strain to listen in crowded spaces (think: when they’re doing the opposite of social distancing).

Finding a mistake in your lauded research can be devastating.  But as this case demonstrates, responding well and publicly can enhance not damage your reputation.

The article, titled “Talking points: A modulating circle reduces listening effort without improving speech recognition,” was a young scientist’s fantasy — splashy, fascinating findings in a well-known journal — and, according to Strand, it gave her fledgling career a jolt.

The data were “gorgeous,” she said, initially replicable and well-received:

‘We planned follow-up studies, started designing an app … for use in clinical settings, and I wrote and was awarded a National Institute of Health grant (my first!) to fund the work.”

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Want to do better science? Admit you’re not objective – Nature (Angela Saini | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 19, 2020

When science is viewed in isolation from the past and politics, it’s easier for those with bad intentions to revive dangerous and discredited ideas.

One of the world’s leading universities — University College London (UCL) — has completed an inquiry into its support for the discredited pseudoscience of eugenics. Funds linked to Francis Galton, a racist who believed it was possible to improve the British population through selective breeding, and who founded the Eugenics Records Office at UCL in 1904, continue to line the university’s coffers to the value of more than £800,000 (US$1 million).

An important idea, which should inform practice – especially when we comment on social factors.

The inquiry’s report, released on 28 February, recommended renaming lecture theatres and buildings bearing Galton’s name and that of another prominent geneticist. Although this is welcome, it does not acknowledge just how much yesterday’s mistakes survive in modern science.

As I found while writing my 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science, geneticists today rightly treat eugenics as a laughable proposition, and the concept of biological race — the belief that humans can be subdivided into distinct groups with meaningful differences between them — as easily debunked nonsense. But this ignores how these ideas manifest in the real world. They can only be truly understood as age-old intellectual threads, embedded in politics as much now as ever.

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