My Picks in Science Policy March 17-24

By | March 26, 2017


1. What should the role of NASA be going forwards?

Federal funding plays a crucial role in high-risk, low-return discoveries. These lay the foundation for future research and industry, fostering economic growth. One of the best examples of this is with the space industry, while NASA conducted the initial research and exploration, it is now open to private companies who are leading the way. It’s interesting to look at this as a case study for the progression of other fields such as synthetic biology and biotechnology. While the initial basic research (exploration) is funded by the federal government, it’s the application of this knowledge by private industry that will create products with a huge impact on society and day-to-day life.



2. The state of Turkish science

This week, a correspondence in Nature brought an older article about science in Turkey to my attention. It’s easy to focus on the problems facing scientists in the USA, but it’s important to look outwards as well, both to see what we can do to help scientists abroad and to learn from their situations. This article is from February, and reports on the worsening environment facing Turkish scientists. Relationships between Turkish scientists and the government are grim, resulting in nervous scientists and a Turkish brain drain. After a failed coup attempt, thousands of academics were fired or imprisoned for political differences. The Islamist administration has seemingly begun to interfere with academics and the grant process, and recently proposed removing evolution from high school curriculums. In the increasingly disruptive political atmosphere in the USA, it’s easy to imagine events such as these coming to the United States.


Political upheaval threatens Turkey’s ambitious plans for research and development.



3. A new paradigm for Science Journals

The current way that scientists publish their findings is in academic journals, a practice that originated in the 17th century. However, with the development of the internet this is quickly becoming an outdated practice. Journals are expensive to publish in, expensive for readers to get access to, and are slow to publish. The ongoing reproducibility crisis is in part due to the fact that journals rely on volunteer peer review of papers and do not enforce best-practices by researchers, and the rise of predatory science journals make it easier for unethical scientists to pad their resumes or for naïve scientists to publish in and pay a journal that is unscrupulous and not respected.


This recent article in the Economist describes a new policy enacted by the Gates Foundation – that research they fund must be freely available to everybody when published. The free access of papers has long been a crusade for some academics. As most research is federally funded, it seems only fair that the United States tax-payers can access what they paid for.

Hopefully this policy change by the Gates Foundation will push academia to embrace the future and a more open dissemination of knowledge. The more widespread information is the faster we will be able to build upon it.

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