Analysis: Senator’s attack on ‘cheerleading’ study obscures government’s role in training scientists

first_imgSenator Jeff Flake (R–AZ) says that the National Science Foundation (NSF) frittered away $1.1 million on an academic study of cheerleaders. But about the only thing that’s actually true in that previous sentence is the senator’s name.This past Tuesday Flake released an 85-page report entitled Twenty Questions: Government studies that will leave you scratching your head. The report, which pokes fun at 20 studies funded by NSF, the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies, is the latest in a barrage of attacks from Republicans in Congress against individual federal grants.Flake hopes the report will bolster his argument that federal agencies need “to make better decisions about how science money is spent.” Speaking to reporters covering the Capitol Hill rollout of the report, Flake wondered aloud: “Explain why, when we need research done—when we need a vaccine for Ebola or Zika—why are we spending money on cheerleaders?”Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*) The fact is, NSF didn’t actually spend a million bucks to find out, as Flake put it, “Are cheerleaders more attractive in a squad?” (For more detail on the study and the grant, see below).More importantly, perhaps, how NSF did spend the money illustrates an important point often lost in the sometimes highly partisan debates over government research spending: Most of those dollars go to educate the next generation of scientists. These students are trained in many disciplines and work on a wide array of projects—some of which might sound dubious to politicians. After graduation they use their knowledge to bolster the U.S. economy, improve public health, protect the nation from its enemies, and maintain U.S. global leadership in science. In short, while politicians focus on whether the government’s investment could lead to an economic blockbuster—a shot in the dark when it comes to basic research—a surer bet is that it will create more scientifically trained workers.No cheerleaders in sightHere’s the skinny on the paper and grant that Flake attacked. Edward Vul is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California (UC), San Diego, and the corresponding author of the paper. He’s also one of four co–principal investigators on the 2012 NSF grant that was aimed at developing “provably safe automotive cyber-physical systems (CPS).” In other words, Vul’s research is aimed at making self-driving cars safer by keeping humans in the loop.Part of Vul’s research involves finding ways to anticipate driver errors—“so that the control system knows when to take over,” he says. His model of their behavior suggests that drivers “distort individual elements of a scene toward the average of all the elements in that scene.”What does that have to do with cheerleaders? Vul explains that if his model “is a general description of perception, then it would predict that faces should appear more attractive in a group. … We called it the cheerleader effect.”The phrase comes from an episode of a popular television series, How I Met Your Mother, in which the main character opines on his dating experience. “The cheerleader effect is when a group of women seems hot, but only as a group,” says the character Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris. “Just like with cheerleaders. They seem hot, but take each one individually: sled dogs.”Vul wanted to test that idea before he joined researchers from UC Berkeley in submitting the CPS grant proposal to NSF. So he had a graduate student, Drew Walker, ask UC San Diego undergraduates to rate the attractiveness of hundreds of individuals, men and women, pictured both on their own and in a group. (In case you’re wondering, none was a cheerleader.)For the record, Vul and Walker found a small effect—“enough to bump someone from the 49th to the 51st percentile of attractiveness,” they explain in an October 2013 UC San Diego press release announcing publication of the results in the Association for Psychological Science’s online journal. The word “cheerleader” isn’t part of the title of the paper, but it appears in the first line of the abstract. So it’s no surprise it received considerable media coverage.Students firstNearly 3 years later, the paper also caught the attention of Flake’s staff because it was listed as one of the research products of the 2012 NSF grant. In reality, however, Vul says Walker, the graduate student, never worked on the CPS grant, for which Vul received $120,000 over 3 years. (The rest of the grant went to teams at UC Berkeley.)How the NSF money was actually spent arguably belies Flake’s suggestion of wasted federal dollars. More importantly, it shows that most federal research dollars actually support people, both the senior scientist on the grant and those working in his or her lab.The “cheerleader” study cost the government about $4000, Vul estimates, the cost of conducting an experiment with human subjects and the computing time needed to analyze the results. He also drew a summer salary—$29,000 over 3 years—from the CPS grant.The lion’s share—71%—of the grant helped to pay the salaries of two of his postdocs, Vul notes. And one of those postdocs, he points out, is now working for a company that has a contract with the U.S. Navy to improve human interfaces with submarines and underwater autonomous vehicles. That’s likely something that many members of Congress would cheer.Vul does not currently have an NSF grant, but his lab is continuing to study how people perceive similarities in their environment. That work is being supported by Google, which has made a huge investment in self-driving cars.Vul says he didn’t mind the barrage of media requests he fielded this week after Flake released his report. And he says he doesn’t regret using the eye-catching phrase in the 2013 study. “It makes it more likely that the media will notice it, and it helps the public understand what we did,” Vul says. “But I guess you also have to pay a price.”Trivial investigation?Of course, Flake and his staff could have learned many of these details by asking Vul (they didn’t), or the leaders of any of the 20 projects that he labels examples of “trivial, unnecessary, or duplicative experiments.” And he could have gotten the bigger picture by attending a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held the day after his 10 May press conference. The hearing focused on ways to improve the payoff of federally funded research, and lawmakers from both parties and witnesses agreed that perhaps the biggest benefit of such research is the skilled scientific workforce it creates.“Government funds basic research, and it also produces the talent that industry needs to take these ideas and turn them into commercial products,” explained Jeannette Wing, corporate vice president for research at Microsoft and head of the company’s basic research labs. And a dearth of talent limits Microsoft’s ability to innovate, Wing said in response to a question from the committee’s chairman, Senator John Thune (R–SD). “We face a huge demand and a limited supply of people to fill those jobs,” she said.One small footnote: Vul notes that his second postdoc supported by the CPS grant has taken a faculty position in India because U.S. visa rules require him to go back to his home country for a few years before trying to settle permanently in the United States.Witnesses at the Senate hearing said that federal immigration and tax policies need to be changed to make it easier for such U.S-trained foreign scientists to stay in the country if they wish after earning their degrees. For Flake, advocating for such changes might be a better way to help federal research agencies get the biggest bang for their bucks than his current efforts to ferret out bogus examples of wasteful spending.last_img read more

Randomizing the news for science, transplanting genetically engineered skin, and the ethics of experimental brain implants

first_img This week we hear stories on what to do with experimental brain implants after a study is over, how gene therapy gave a second skin to a boy with a rare epidermal disease, and how bone markings thought to be evidence for early hominid tool use may have been crocodile bites instead, with Online News Editor Catherine Matacic.Sarah Crespi interviews Gary King about his new experiment to bring fresh data to the age-old question of how the news media influences the public. Are journalists setting the agenda or following the crowd? How can you know if a news story makes a ripple in a sea of online information? In a powerful study, King’s group was able to publish randomized stories on 48 small and medium sized news sites in the United States and then track the results. Listen to previous podcasts.[Image: Chad Sparkes/Flickr; Music: Jeffrey Cook] Chad Sparkes/Flickr last_img read more

Cong govt responsible for hampering Manipurs development:

first_imgSinghImphal, Feb 23 (PTI) Union minister Jitendra Singh today held the Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government in Manipur responsible for hampering the states development.Addressing a series of election meetings at Kumbi and Ningthoukhong near here, Singh said the people of Manipur have suffered continuous stagnation, exploitation and corruption for a decade-and-a-half.”But, in the last two-and-a-half years, after the Narendra Modi government took over at the Centre, the people of the state have begun to realise how they are being constantly deprived of the benefits of good governance and healthy development,” he said.Singh, the Minister for Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), accused the Okram Ibobi Singh government of stalling major initiatives from the Centre in the last two-and-a-half years.He said that soon after the formation of the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the setting up of a Sports University in Manipur, so that the natural talent of the youths of the state for athletics and sports could be groomed in a more institutionalised manner.However, in spite of two years of regular and rigorous follow up, the state government did not provide land for acquisition to the Union government simply because it did not want the youth of the state to get the benefit of the Modi reforms, the minister alleged.Highlighting the special impetus given to the growth of developmental activities by the DoNER during the last two years, Singh cited figures to state that while the Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) funding was only about Rs 45 crore in 2012-13 before the Modi government came in, in 2014-15, soon after the formation of the government under Prime Minister Modi, the same fund was instantly raised to Rs 115 crore.advertisementSimilarly, he said, North Eastern Council (NEC) funding for Manipur for 2013-14, before the Modi Government came in, was Rs 85 crore, while in 2015-16, it went up to Rs 154 crore. PTI ACB SMNlast_img read more

aAIDEN CARLINLORRAINE TAYLORMCGUINNESS CALLS FOR R

first_img aAIDEN CARLINLORRAINE TAYLORMCGUINNESS CALLS FOR RELEASE OF DERRY REPUBLICAN TONY TAYLOR ShareTweet “And I made it clear that, in the absence of due process, he should be released immediately.”MCGUINNESS CALLS FOR RELEASE OF DERRY REPUBLICAN TONY TAYLOR was last modified: October 14th, 2016 by John2John2 Tags:center_img Sinn Fein Foyle MLA Martin McGuinness with Tony Taylor’s wife Lorraine and solicitor Aiden CarlinSINN Féin MLA Martin McGuinness has repeated his call for the release of Derry man Tony Taylor.He was sent back to jail last year on the orders of the then Secretary of State Theresa Villiers for alleged breaches of his early release licence.Campaigners have called for his case to be heard in front of a judge so the alleged breaches can be examined in detail.Mr McGuinness said: “During my meeting with British Secretary of State James Brokenshire I repeated Sinn Féin’s call for the release of Derry man Tony Taylor.“Tony Taylor was sent to prison on the word of the James Brokenshire’s predecessor without bringing forward any evidence.“I raised this directly with James Brokenshire today and told him the continued detention of Tony Taylor is unacceptable.last_img read more