To whomever reading this first post of a shiny, brand new year, A Happy New Year To You. May the year ahead bring you joy, peace and accomplishments galore.
Every year on March 24, World Tuberculosis (TB) Day is observed to commemorate the discovery of the etiological agent of this disease, the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis by noted German physician and microbiologist and Nobel Laureate, Robert Koch (1843-1910). The infection occurs via inhalation of the air-borne bug; therefore, the disease primarily affects the lungs, but it can spread to other parts of body as well, such as the central nervous system (brain and spinal chord), bone, and internal organs. If adequate treatment is not instituted (and sometimes despite therapy), a person with active TB disease will likely die. In the United States, in 2010 (the latest year for which statistics are currently available), of the nearly nine hundred deaths in which TB was suspected, TB was confirmed in roughly 4 out of 10 cases, and a total of 569 people died from TB. Globally, in 2012, an estimated 8.6 million people contracted TB, of which 1.3 million died.
For a while, I have been following and writing on the terrible science funding crunch situation in the US as a result of sequestration, whose ill effects were compounded by the period of government shutdown. I heard the alarm bells at the end of 2010 (when my blog was still a part of Nature Blogs); it scared me to find out how much even the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) seemed to agree with me on this. The danger became imminent in the fall of 2012, when a legislative alert from my professional body, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), laid out in great details the alarming impact of sequestration – an indiscriminate budget cut imposed on on science and public health programs, amongst other things. And going against all good sense, the sequester was implemented at the beginning of March, 2013; at that time, I caught a glimpse of the horrendous future impacts of the self-inflicted trauma that was the sequester, on the nation’s well-being.
Every so often, some paper happens to grab my attention for various reasons. As I read the paper, often I have questions. Not all of those questions, unfortunately, can be easily submitted for answers. In recent times, one such paper was published earlier this month in PLOS One. The great benefit of the Open-Access model of PLOS is that it allows a reader to ask questions directly of the authors. This level of engagement is very laudable, especially to someone like me who has an interest in the communication of scientific facts.
A quick post this morning. In the Guardian, I came across (courtesy my friend and erstwhile NatureBlogs colleague, Dr. Austin Eliott) this Open Letter to the Spanish Prime Minister from a Spanish researcher, an Astrophysicist no less, whom the current circumstances have forced to leave Spain and take her trade elsewhere. Dr. Amaya Moro-Martín’s letter (translated English text in the Guardian), written with brilliant, acerbic wit, paints a tragic picture of the status of scientific research in that country and how it is mired in countless bureaucratic impediments. She contends that this, along with an egregious lack of funding, is what has forced her and many others (link in the published essay) to abandon Spain in search of better futures elsewhere.
It is, indeed, a sad, sad situation. Dr. Moro-Martín’s position at the Spanish National Research Council bore the name of Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934), a Nobel Laureate pathologist and neuroscientist from Spain, who had transformed the study of the nervous system. I am sure he would have been devastated by this turn of events. As Dr. Moro-Martín wrote, what is even more galling is the resounding silence from the Mariano Rajoy government on this predicament of the Spanish scientists.
In the comments, at least two individuals have pointed out that a very similar situation exists in Portugal and Greece. Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well at all for the future of science in the EU.
I wish Dr. Moro-Martín all the very best for her transition to NASA. A transcontinental move, with family, isn’t the easiest thing to do, and having to start a professional life almost from scratch and rebuild relationships can be a daunting task. A distinguished researcher of her stature should be welcomed with open arms in any scientific community. In that respect, one niggling question that continues to bother me: is the situation with science funding much better in the US currently? I hope Dr. Moro-Martín is not stepping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.
Nature Medicine (December 2012 Volume 18, Issue 12) Table of Contents, delivered to my inbox yesterday, immediately drew my attention to an interesting news item written by Elie Dolgin, a science-writer and news editor at Nature. Kudos to Mr. Dolgin and/or whoever came up with the eerily engaging headline; I was riveted by it: Biomedical grant awarded by ‘American Idol’-style public vote.1
Ada Ao, a cancer and stem cell biologist, and aspiring science communicator writing for Nature Education‘s SciTable blog, has an interesting post put up today. She cautions that it is a tirade (according to her, of course; pffft!) against a recently-published PLoS Medicine article by Amélie Yavchitz and associates, titled “Misrepresentation of randomized controlled trials in press releases and news coverage: a cohort study” (Yavchitz et al., PLoS Med., 9(9):e1001308, 2012).
A couple of weeks back, a New York Times piece prompted me to voice my concerns about the future of science funding in the US. Today I came across a news release made around the same time by the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS), which reflected the same concern.