New funding effort will deploy a corps of scientist ‘scouts’ to spot innovative ideas

Read the full story in Science.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineer Kristala Prather is relishing the chance to present her work in person at scientific meetings now that the pandemic has eased. But starting this month, she will head to the airport with an added goal in mind: to serve as a “scout” for an unusual new funding program.

Prather’s mission is to spot colleagues with an intriguing research idea so embryonic it has no chance of surviving traditional peer review—and, on her own, decide to provide some funding. “I’m looking forward to giving it a try,” she says. “I’m a people person, and I like learning new things.”

Prather’s new task comes thanks to the Hypothesis Fund, a nonprofit launched today that has an intriguing approach to funding climate change and health studies. Instead of inviting scientists to submit proposals, the fund will find recipients through 17 scouts—scientists, including Prather, chosen for their curiosity, creativity, diversity, and interest in the work of others. Each will get 12 months to award a total of $300,000 to fellow researchers with promising early-stage ideas.

To know if citizen science is successful, measure it

Read the full story in Horizon.

It’s never been easy to accurately measure the impact of any scientific research, but it’s even harder for citizen science projects, which don’t follow traditional methods. Public involvement places citizen science in a new era of data collection, one that requires a new measurement plan.

We commercialized a methane capture technology in ten years — here’s how

Read the full story in Nature.

Lessons from launching a spin-off company: invest in collaborations and engineering, and protect intellectual property to speed up tech development.

Texas A&M shut down a major climate change modeling center in February after a ‘default’ by its Chinese partner

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in February mailed letters to 22 U.S. universities: Cut ties with Chinese institutions that have previously “ensnared” scholars in schemes to steal valuable information, he wrote. China’s military, he said, is attempting to acquire and develop cutting-edge technology, sometimes through theft under the guise of academic collaboration.

Texas A&M University and its governing system responded one day later with a letter to the Florida senator. They had already “mitigated” or eliminated 200 A&M “instances of activity” with evidence of foreign influence, including a climate modeling center called the International Laboratory for High-Resolution Earth System Prediction, according to the letter written by administrators.

The university system coordinates with the FBI on a “near daily basis,” the administrators said. And one affiliation that Rubio specifically questioned—Ocean University in Qingdao—is being severed, according to the letter.

The correspondence provides the clearest picture to date on the Texas A&M University System’s attempts to extensively monitor other countries’ involvement in its research. But more broadly, it raises questions about the conflict between universities’ research goals and policymakers’ concerns about foreign interference in U.S. research and technology.

Universities must reject fossil fuel cash for climate research, say academics

Read the full story from The Guardian.

Universities must stop accepting funding from fossil fuel companies to conduct climate research, even if the research is aimed at developing green and low-carbon technology, an influential group of distinguished academics has said.

Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, the Nasa data scientist Peter Kalmus, and prominent US climate scientist Michael Mann are among close to 500 academics from the US and the UK who have written an open letter addressed to all university leaders in the two countries, calling on them to reject all funding from fossil fuel companies.

Accepting money from fossil fuel companies represented “an inherent conflict of interest” and could “taint” essential research and “compromise” academic freedom, they wrote. For the companies, it was a chance to “greenwash” their reputations and skew the findings of research in a way favourable to them.

The role of research at universities: Why it matters

Read the full story at Forbes.

Teaching and learning, research and discovery, synthesis and creativity, understanding and engagement, service and outreach. There are many “core elements” to the mission of a great university. Teaching would seem the most obvious, but for those outside of the university, “research” (taken to include scientific research, scholarship more broadly, as well as creative activity) may be the least well understood. This creates misunderstanding of how universities invest resources, especially those deriving from undergraduate tuition and state (or other public) support, and the misperception that those resources are being diverted away from what is believed should be the core (and sole) focus, teaching. This has led to a loss of trust, confidence, and willingness to continue to invest or otherwise support (especially our public) universities.

High-profile trial begins for chemical engineer accused of hiding China ties

Read the full story in Nature.

Franklin Tao’s trial is the first since the controversial China Initiative ended, and could set a course for the prosecution of future research integrity cases.

See also ‘I lost two years of my life’: US scientist falsely accused of hiding ties to China speaks out, also in Nature.

Winter Grab: Dozens of Great Lakes scientists join rare February sampling campaign to study ‘the changing face of winter’

Read the full story from the University of Michigan.

Nearly all scientific sampling of the Great Lakes is done between May and October, when the lakes are free of ice and the water is warmer.

But this month, scientists from more than a dozen U.S. and Canadian institutions will brave the elements to sample all five Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair in a first-of-its-kind coordinated campaign called the Winter Grab.

Teams will drill through ice to collect water samples, measure light levels at various depths and net tiny zooplankton as part of a broader effort to better understand the changing face of winter on the Great Lakes, where climate warming is increasing winter air temperatures, decreasing ice-cover extent and changing precipitation patterns.

The specific goal of the Winter Grab is to help fill key wintertime knowledge gaps about ice properties, water movement, nutrient concentrations and lake biology. The event is funded in part by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan, a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In science, small groups create big ideas

Read the full story from the University of Tsukuba.

In research and development, new topics are always emerging, maturing, and converging. Some of them quietly fade away, but others become the fundamental driving forces of innovation. Research organizations want to encourage the development of emerging topics, but small groups of scientists can find it risky to spend time on an unproven approach. Even if a new topic turns out to be important, it might be co-opted by larger research groups with more resources, which may discourage some researchers from exploring them further.

However, it is exactly these small groups that are more likely to discover emerging topics, according to researchers from the University of Tsukuba in a study recently published in Scientometrics. The researchers clustered PubMed data and keywords to identify past and current emerging topics in life science and medicine. They then looked at how individual researchers engaged with these topics using author lists of related articles published between 1970 and 2018.

Unblock research bottlenecks with non-profit start-ups

Read the full story in Nature.

‘Focused research organizations’ can take on mid-scale projects that don’t get tackled by academia, venture capitalists or government labs.