The 54…

My colleague and friend T, sent me this link to a Jeff Mervis piece in SCIENCE. Apparently 54 scientists have lost their jobs as a result of essentially hiding their connections to China while taking funding from the NIH. As with other funding compliance issues (for example protection of human subjects), violations can be career-enders. I am quite sure that other US funding agencies are taking a close look at their PI’s also.

The key issue here for me is not declaring a conflict of interest. If they had, then if I were on the enforcement side of the equation, I’d be looking at ways to manage that conflict. So if I were to hand out advice, it’d be to disclose as much as you possibly can to a funder all the time about anything that might have questionable optics. I suspect these 54 individuals would still be gainfully employed if that had pursued that approach.

That said, I’m disturbed by the implied national distrust of Asian scientists. The use of ethnic background as a trigger for suspicion has a long and sordid history, both here in the US and around the globe.

I’m also saddened by the de-coupling that’s occurring in science collaboration between nations–particularly between the US and China. That’ll be a loss for everyone because the really big science questions can’t be solved in isolation–Manhattan Project not withstanding.

Is academic life changing?

Here’s Mason’s provost, Peter Stearns, on the matter. My own sense is that he’s spot on. Even in the comparatively secure hard sciences, the “social contract” between institution and faculty is undergoing an evolution.

A caution however: one of the US’s enduring competitive advantages has been its ability to attract top flight scientists from all over the world. The perception that either tenure or research support is being eroded will not help, especially in a global environment where countries like China and Singapore are pouring massive amounts of money to bring the best and the brightest to their own shores.

Neuroscience in China

Nature Magazine has an excellent report here. US National Academy of Science member Moo Ming Poo is leading the way at ION in Shanghai.

Money quote from Poo:

“It’s more exciting, exhilarating here [than in the US],” he says. “They need me. I feel it’s the best use of my life.”

China’s Future

Time Magazine’s Michael Shuman has a really interesting piece on China here. In essence, he thinks the current state capitalism model in unsustainable because it sends inaccurate price signals which are creating huge distortions. Shuman sees China going the same way as Japan.

Shuman’s report is relevant apropos of yesterday’s blog entry┬áhere on Advanced Studies regarding some serious future challenges to international science.

Rare Earth Elements–the mother lode at the bottom of the Pacific

The report in Nature Geoscience is here. The geopolitical significance could be large. China has been adopting a neo-mercantilistic policy with regards to these commodities for some time. They are ubiquitous in modern gadgets of all sorts and until we have adequate resource substitution, technological supply chains will depend on a constant supply. Right now, the supplier is largely China. According to this report, that could change.