By: Mohammad S. Jalali, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ResearchFrom social to natural and applied sciences, overall scientific output has been growing worldwide – it doubles every nine years. The Conversation

Traditionally, researchers solve a problem by conducting new experiments. With the ever-growing body of scientific literature, though, it is becoming more common to make a discovery based on the vast number of already-published journal articles. Researchers synthesize the findings from previous studies to develop a more complete understanding of a phenomenon. Making sense of this explosion of studies is critical for scientists not only to build on previous work but also to push research fields forward.

My colleagues Hazhir Rahmandad and Kamran Paynabar and I have developed a new, more robust way to pull together all the prior research on a particular topic. In a five-year joint project between MIT and Georgia Tech, we worked to create a new technique for research aggregation. Our recently published paper in PLOS ONE introduces a flexible method that helps synthesize findings from prior studies, even potentially those with diverse methods and diverging results. We call it generalized model aggregation, or GMA.

Pulling it all together

Narrative reviews of the literature have long been a key component of scientific publications. The need for more comprehensive approaches has led to the emergence of two other very useful methods: systematic review and meta-analysis.

In a systematic review, an author finds and critiques all prior studies around a similar research question. The idea is to bring a reader up to speed on the current state of affairs around a particular research topic.

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Tagged

By: Bruce Weinberg, The Ohio State University

Science funding is intended to support the production of new knowledge and ideas that develop new technologies, improve medical treatments and strengthen the economy. The idea goes back to influential engineer Vannevar Bush, who headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. And the evidence is that science funding does have these effects. The Conversation

But, at a practical level, science funding from all sources supports research projects, the people who work on them and the businesses that provide the equipment, materials and services used to carry them out. Given current proposed cuts to federal science funding – the Trump administration has, for instance, proposed a 20 percent reduction for the National Institutes of Health – it’s important to know what types of people and businesses are touched by sponsored research projects. This information provides a window into the likely effects of funding cuts.

Most existing research into the effects of science funding tries to quantify research artifacts, such as publications and patents, rather than tracking people. I’ve helped to start an emerging project called the UMETRICS initiative which takes a novel approach to thinking about innovation and science. At its core, UMETRICS views people as key to understanding science and innovation – people conduct research, people are the vectors by which ideas move around and, ultimately, people are one of the primary “products” of the research enterprise.

UMETRICS identifies people employed on scientific projects at universities and the purchases made to carry out those projects. It then tracks people to the businesses and universities that hire them, and purchases to the vendors from which they come. Since UMETRICS relies entirely on administrative data provided by member universities (now around 50), the U.S. Census Bureau and other naturally occurring data, there are no reporting errors, sample coverage concerns or burden for people. It covers essentially all federal research funding as well as some funding from private foundations.

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While not the only source of science, government funded research plays a huge role in the lives of many individuals. From something as simple as the weather apps underpinned by the National Weather Service to the Food and Drug Administration’s work on preventing Salmonella, this tax-payer funded research shapes lives and helps provide knowledge to make crucial decisions.

On January 23, word came from the White House that almost all U.S. scientific government agencies had been temporarily barred from communicating with the public via press releases, blogs, and social media.

It’s not currently clear how extensive the gag order is – with some reports saying that explanations of just published peer reviewed research are barred, while others citing a much more lenient scenario – but it is confirmed that almost all agencies, from the U.S. Department of Interior to the Department of Health and Human Services, received a memo restricting – to some degree – outreach to the public.

Even after the gag order was put in place, federal agencies such as the Badlands National Park continued tweeting on its official account with a stream of facts pertaining to climate change. The tweets have since been deleted, though the park did address the president in a letter on Huffington Post.

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John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio UniversityImage: Ohio University

John Staser, professor of chemical engineering at Ohio University
Image: Ohio University

ECS member and Ohio University professor, John Staser, was recently granted $1.5M from the U.S. Department of Energy for biofuels research. Staser and his team will work to develop technology to make biorefineries more efficient and profitable, thereby reducing the cost of environmentally friendly biofuels.

Biofuels are combustible fuels created from biomass. Currently, they are the only viable replacement to petroleum transportation fuels because they can be used in existing combustion engines. Biofuels are typically produced from food crops (sugar cane, corn, soybean, etc.) or materials such as wood, grass, or inedible parts of plants. Ethanol and biodiesel are prominent forms of biofuels that offer an alternative to such transportation fuels as petroleum and jet fuel.

Staser will lead an interdisciplinary team to develop ways to process a class of complex organic polymers known as lignin, which is one of the many waste products produced in the biorefining process.

“It’s not really competitive with gasoline, especially if oil is $40 a barrel,” Staser says. “Before this biofuel becomes feasible, we have to find a way to reduce the manufacturing cost. One way to do this is to come up with a secondary revenue stream for the refinery. So, if biorefineries could waste lignin to do so, biofuel would become a more financially feasible option.”

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By: John W Wilson, University of Pretoria and Duan Biggs, Griffith University

PassportIt is becoming increasingly difficult for people – particularly those from the developing world and the global south – to move around the globe. The UK voted “yes” to Brexit. Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. Hungary is also mulling a wall to keep “outsiders” from crossing its borders.

The attitude of citizens in higher income countries towards immigrants is hardening. Visas are harder to come by, no matter the purpose of your travel. And, as research we conducted in late 2015 reveals, scientists from the developing world are among those caught in the cross hairs.

Barriers to travel

As part of the research we conducted an online survey to examine the impact of visa requirements on scientific collaboration. Some of the respondents were postgraduate students; others were active researchers and academics in fields like biology, earth sciences, applied mathematics and engineering. In total, 232 people representing 46 citizenships – from Canada, Chile, France, Malaysia, New Zealand and Kenya, to name a few – took part in the research.

We found that researchers from countries defined as developing by the International Monetary Fund perceive current visa rules as a major impediment to professional travel. Their peers from developed countries did not experience visa rules as a significant barrier.

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For-science or For-profit?

Overcoming barriers in scholarly publishing

ResearchIn 1995, Forbes published an article entitled, “The Internet’s first victim?” In the article, author John Hayes predicted the world of commercial, for-profit scholarly publishing would suffer under the thumb of the internet and begin the slow process of fizzling out for lack of ability to turn a profit.

Turns out he was wrong.

Commercial scientific publishing has adapted to the times, becoming a multi-billion dollar industry; a $25.2 billion industry to be exact.

The rise of the for-profits

According to CBC News, the top for-profit scientific publishers report profit margins of nearly 40 percent, making some of those margins even higher than that of companies like Apple and Google.

The divide between ECS publications and that of top commercial publishers has deep roots. In the early days of scientific publishing, most journals came out of nonprofit scientific societies like ECS. However, the digital age changed things. It did not stifle the commercial publisher as Hayes thought, instead it hurt the scientific societies. Because the cost to make the switch from print to digital was so high, many societies sold their journals to large, for-profit publishers.

The top five largest, for-profit, academic publishers now publish 53 percent of all scientific papers in natural and medical sciences, but ECS still remains as one of the last independent scientific society publishers, and is still committed to the initial vision of the journals: to disseminate scientific research to the broadest possible audience with the fewest barriers.

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RS2EThe French research network on electrochemical energy storage (RS2E) – a public research organization focused on batteries and supercapacitors – has just launched the Young Energy Storage Scientist Award 2016.

The YESS Award is geared toward young scientists in the energy storage field, focused on awarding research funds to innovative and significant projects in the field of electrochemical energy storage, coupled fields of electrochemical energy storage and conversion, or associated characterization techniques.

With this award, RS2E aims to encourage the next wave of energy storage researchers to be as innovative as possible and to say in private/publish energy storage research. The award aims to aid scientists 35 years old or younger from the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Two $11,000 awards will be distributed, as well as five $2,700 awards.

Deadline for project submissions is July 27, 2016.

Learn more.

In a push for more basic research funding for electrochemical science, past ECS President Daniel Scherson testified before a U.S. House subcommittee to discuss innovations in solar fuels, electricity storage, and advanced materials.

“I want them to understand where electrochemistry fits in many aspects of our lives,” Scherson, the Frank Hovorka Professor of Chemistry at Case Western Reserve University, said prior to the hearing.

During the hearing, Scherson emphasized to the subcommittee that in order to solve some of society’s most pressing problems, more federal funding to basic electrochemistry research is critical. He further explained that without efforts in electrochemistry, nearly all aspects of energy storage and conversion – including batteries, fuels cells, EVs, and wind and solar energy – would cease to be viable.

“Electrochemistry is a two century old discipline that has reemerged in recent years as a key to achieve sustainability and improve human welfare,” Scherson told the subcommittee.

In recent years, budget cuts in federal spending have adversely affected scientific research. In April of this year, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) launched an attack on federal research dollars in the form of the Wastebook – a report detailing specific studies that the senator believes to be wasteful spending.

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Battery conference

Debate Panel members – left to right: Professor Clare Grey (University of Cambridge), Dr Yann Laot (TOTAL, France), MEP Julie Girling (Chair), Dr Rosa Palacin, (ICMAB-CSIC, Spain), Professor Patrik Johnansson, (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden), Dr Anne de Guibert (SAFT, France)

The first 2016, biannual meeting of the ALISTORE European Research Institute of leading European battery technology scientists took place in the CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas) (National Research Council of Spain) European Office in Brussels across the 14th and 15th June 2016.

The two day event started with the theme “Future aspects of Materials Sciences & Electrochemistry research in the European Green Energy Economy: The role of the ALISTORE European Research Institute.” Discussion topics included : the current basic economics of energy storage technologies and those which can be coupled to renewable energy systems, the current bottlenecks in the improved performance greener battery supply chain and how we can create even better European – as opposed to national – efforts of R&D on energy storage solutions leading to faster product development and entry into the marketplace.

Member of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament Julie Girling chaired the debate by the scientific leaders in the first part of the meeting. The panel of scientific experts who led the debate included Dr. Anne de Guibert (SAFT, France, Industrial Club Member), Prof. Clare Grey (University of Cambridge, UK, Academic Member), Prof. Patrik Johansson (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, Academic Member), Dr .Yann Laot (TOTAL, France, Industrial Club Member), Dr. M. Rosa Palacin (ICMAB-CSIC, Spain, Academic Member).

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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is making his voice heard in the quest for open access of vital scientific research.

After losing his son to cancer in May of 2015, Biden has been on a mission to accelerate cancer research in search of a cure. In order to make those leaps and bounds in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, Biden is now pushing for an open access database to gain better understanding of the disease and advance innovation.

According to The Washington Post, Biden stated that the path toward breakthroughs relies upon increasing the number of researchers who can access data.

While the scope of ECS’s science may be different, our mission to accelerate innovation and open access to our research is the same.

ECS’s Free the Science initiative aims to make all of the research in our Digital Library free to publish and free to read – freeing the science for everyone.

Instead of putting money into the publishing industry, Free the Science is investing in research – allowing scientists to share their work with readers around the world and attracting more minds to think about how to solve some of our planet’s most pressing problems.

Learn more about Free the Science.

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