• Sigma Xi Speaks: April 2017

    by John Nemeth | Apr 19, 2017

    john_nemeth_preferred_photo240x187Sigma Xi staff is wrapping up final details as we ready ourselves to board our charter bus bound for the April 22 Washington, DC March for Science. We welcome you to  join us—a few available seats remain—but we also welcome active participation in the satellite marches in and around your hometowns. 

    As the first science organization to partner with the worldwide event and serve as a fiscal sponsor for several of the satellite marches, Sigma Xi is proud to stand as a mentor organization that will demonstrate ongoing commitment to the cause. The March is not a one-off. We believe it’s imperative that this apolitical and nonpartisan movement fosters the highest ethical standards and promotes the highest possible quality in all research endeavors, nurturing the basis for continued investment and trust in the scientific research enterprise.

    Sigma Xi’s deep involvement in the March for Science therefore resonates with  Citizen Science Day 2017, a monthlong series of regional events celebrating and highlighting ways everyone, young and old, can engage in science to make a difference. I encourage you to participate in the numerous  volunteer opportunities across the country to help the planet.

    Our very mission and vision require us to reach out with a sound and robust voice to everyone. Accordingly, growing and diversifying citizen science is one of Sigma Xi’s areas of emphasis. We do this through our  Affiliate Circle program for the public and young researchers, such as undergrads, and through our  Sigma Xi Explorer  program for K–12 students. We are also in the early stages of forming a pilot between our Sigma Xi Explorer program and the GlobalXplorer project, so stay tuned for more details.

    Citizen science projects are among the best ways I know to get kids involved in science and spur their enthusiasm. These books introduce youngsters to the concept of citizen science and may help them find projects that capture their interest.

    BatCount_CitizenScienceStory_coverBat Count: A Citizen Science Story, by Anna Forrester, illustrated by Susan Detwiler (ages 4–9): Readers follow Jojo and her family as they perform an annual bat count on their farm, helping res earchers learn about the impact of white-nose disease. 

    Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard, by Loree Griffin Burns, illustrated by Ellen Harasimowicz (ages 8–12): Focusing on projects involving frogs, ladybugs, butterflies, and birds, this inspiring book describes the work of citizen scientists of all ages and how their data can aid research.

    Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction, by Mary Ellen Hannibal (teens and up): A compelling memoir by a terrific storyteller. Hannibal describes how her work as a citizen scientist helped her cope with grief and live her life more fully.

    Those interested in getting the whole family involved as citizen scientists—an approach I heartily recommend—may want to check out Citizen Science Guide for Families: Taking Part in Real Science, by Greg Landgraf.

    Getting outside and making scientific observations together can be great family fun, while also helping kids see how their contributions can make a difference. “Citizen Science Saturdays” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

    Thank you for being a science advocate. Help us celebrate science by contributing in ways large and small, because it makes a difference in the world.

    Sincerely,

    john-nemeth-signature-200

    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Executive Director and CEO
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
    Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of information that we hope you share with others.

  • For Scientists, Public Engagement Means Finding Their Advocacy Comfort Zone

    by Jamie Vernon | Apr 17, 2017

    This is a guest post written by Aaron Huertas. 

    WomenInScienceTwitterImage

    Thousands of researchers are getting ready to march for science in more than 400 cities around the world. But even as the scientific community galvanizes in the face of censorship and deep budget cuts, researchers are grappling with how they should engage in the political process. As the march approaches, it’s important for scientists and engineers to think objectively about what advocacy means to them and to find their personal comfort zone when it comes to fitting activism, advocacy and political engagement into their careers.

    Uncharted territory

    It’s easy for scientists to talk past one another when they talk about advocacy.

    John Kotcher, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, is one of a few researchers who has put received wisdom about advocacy to the test. “Surprisingly very little research has looked into the topic of advocacy by scientist directly,” he says.

    He notes that scientists lack common language and definitions around advocacy. When he and his colleagues tested whether or not making advocacy statements would impact a scientist's perceived credibility, they relied on a rubric from Simon Donner, a climate researcher at the University of British Columbia. Donner argues that science communication tends to fall on a spectrum of advocacy, from needing to find support for one’s own work, to publicly sharing relevant science, to warning about risks, to helping policymakers weigh decisions, to explicitly endorsing specific policy outcomes, to backing specific tactics to achieve those outcomes.

    Using mock Facebook posts from a climate researcher, Kotcher and his colleagues found that study participants perceived a scientist as just as credible if they stuck to the facts, warned readers about climate risks, or endorsed emissions reductions from power plants. When the scientists’ Facebook post advocated for relying on nuclear power, they took a slight credibility hit, but Kotcher says it’s not clear why that was the case.

    Their research challenges the conventional wisdom that advocacy always comes at the cost of perceived objectivity. But attitudes toward advocacy also vary by field, Kotcher says. Health professionals, for instance, may have different expectations around advocacy given their dedication to improving people’s well-being.

    Indeed, when Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha - an honorary March for Science co-chair - blew the whistle on lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan’s water, doing so came with political risks. She took on a state government that had falsified data and she prevailed despite public employees’ attempts to dismiss her research. In such cases, the ethical imperative to warn the public about danger is clear. Dr. Hanna-Attisha, herself a first-generation Iraqi immigrant, has also spoken out against the co-called “Muslim ban,” pointing out that more than 10,000 U.S.-licensed physicians graduated from schools in the seven countries targeted by the Trump administration. More than 150 scientific societies have spoken out against the ban, too, noting how it harms not just scientists, but also the communities in which they work.

    Tell Your Own Story, Or Someone Else Will Tell it for You

    Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climate researcher, argues that advocacy is largely unavoidable. Even the idea that science should play a greater role in a policy lubBoilingwaterdebate can rest on a set of judgments that audiences outside the scientific community might not share. Schmidt urges his fellow researchers to be transparent about their beliefs, their values and their opinions and to draw distinctions between their scientific research results and their personal views. When scientists fail to tell their side of the story, he cautions, audiences can fill in the blanks with inaccurate ones, such as the idea that scientists are personally enriched by public grants.

    For Josh Shiode, a senior government relations officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), such accurate storytelling is critical for effective communication, regardless of where scientists sit on the advocacy spectrum.

    “Advocacy is engaging with people who are not part of your field and talking about why what you do is important,” he says, whether that’s talking to a Rotary Club or meeting with a Congressional staffer.

    Shiode often points to National Institutes of Health-funded research, which found that gently massaging rat pups with small brushes improves their health. It’s the kind of research some policymakers might deride as wasteful. But it eventually led to effective medical treatments for premature babies, cutting hospital stays for them by an average of six days.

    To develop a better story sense, Shiode urges researchers to follow science writers like Ed Yong and organizations like Story Collider. AAAS also works with Randy Olson, a scientist-turned filmmaker, who has written extensively about the power of accurate storytelling.

    Approaching Advocacy with Humility

    Peter Loge, a former Obama-era Food and Drug Administration appointee and a veteran of several Capitol Hill offices, says scientists who engage in the policy process should recognize that science is part of a bigger picture.

    Scientists, he says, commit the same “sins” many other interest groups do, insisting that policymakers should simply adopt their values. Scientists usually want to solve “cool, interesting problems,” he says, but the benefits of funding scientific research, while evident to scientists, can often seem far-off to elected leaders, their staff, and voters.

    It’s therefore a mistake, he says, for scientists to assume policymakers are being stupid or venal when they fail to prioritize a scientific view of the world. “Scientists have to be willing to believe the people with whom they’re working and they are advising are good people with the best interest of the country at heart,” he says. Policymakers “are weighing things that scientists may not fully appreciate and with which scientists may or may not agree.”

    Loge urges scientists to focus on the immediate benefits communities receive from their work - think jobs, investments, and clean water - as well as the long-term gains we all enjoy from publicly funded science and evidence-based policy.

    Indeed, the most important voices in the March for Science may not be the scientists themselves. It may be the people outside the scientific community who are joining them: farmers who work with agricultural extension offices, coastal business owners who rely on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, grandparents who remember life before the polio vaccine.

    And the people of Flint, who are still waiting for clean water.

    Because when scientists identify how their research benefits society, they can become not just advocates for their own work, but advocates for the communities they serve, too.

    Aaron Huertas is an independent science communicator who lives and works in Washington, DC. He runs ScienceCommunicationMedia.com, serves as co-boss for Nerd Nite DC and volunteers with the March for Science.

    Update: John Kotcher was originally listed as a graduate student and research assistant at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. His title has been revised.

    Image one: 500 Women Scientists rallying during the Women's March outside the National Air and Space Museum (Source: Christy Till, via Twitter)

    Image two: Former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco demonstrates the effects of carbon dioxide on ocean acidification during a Congressional hearing. (Source: Office of Sen. Ed Markey.)
  • Now is the Time to Speak Up

    by Heather Thorstensen | Mar 01, 2017

    This is a guest post written by Barry Mitsch. 

    Barry MitschIt is becoming clear that the scientific community is going to be challenged by the new administration in Washington. Appointees to agencies funding scientific research have expressed disdain for findings that do not fit their political agenda. It is the responsibility of everyone who values scientific research to  show the value science plays in future advancements that contribute to economic growth and improved quality of life.

    There are many ways to project a message in today's digital world.  It is easy to send a text or a tweet, author a blog, or submit a paper. But the real power of communicating an idea still resides in personal contact and sharing passion with both large and small groups who can then amplify the message through multiple mediums. Regardless of their field of expertise, now is the time for scientists to be speaking to schools, civic clubs, public meetings, and forums of all sizes.

    A powerful scientific message must be concise and relatable to a general audience. Forget all the complicated data. Drill down to what is practical and makes sense to the person on the street. A good example of a simple scientific presentation is the TED talk delivered by Al Gore  in February of 2016 on the status of climate change remediation efforts.  

    There are three techniques that Gore uses that any scientist can incorporate into a speech to a general audience.

    1) Set an agenda
    First, notice how he sets a very clear agenda that makes it easy to follow his content. He states that his talk will address three questions: Must we change? Can we change? And will we change? This gives the audience a roadmap and a clear identification of the topic categories in his speech. As he transitions into the segments of the presentation, he reminds the audience of which question he is addressing.

    This pattern of "threes" is simple and can form the framework of any scientific talk.  For example, you could first introduce the challenge your research is addressing with emphasis on how this has an impact on day-to-day life, then segue into what you are discovering and what these discoveries may mean, and finally talk about the long range impacts of the research on the general public.

    2) Use metaphors
    The second technique that Al Gore employs is the frequent use of metaphors to simplify his concepts and make them more relatable to a broad audience. For example, when he talks about the amount of energy released through burning carbon fuels, he equates it to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs going off each day. As gruesome as that sounds, people vividly know what the Hiroshima explosion looks like. When he talks about the potential for rapid adoption of new alternative energy technologies, he relates it to the speedy advancement of cell phone use. And when he talks about "grid parity" and the openness of markets to alternative energy, he uses the relationship of ice and water to emphasize the small difference in a frozen market and one with liquid capital.

     Scientist need to find metaphors that make their concepts relevant to a lay audience.  How can you relate technical topics to something familiar and understandable?

    3) Weave in personal stories
    Finally, Gore uses personal stories. He finishes his speech recalling his experience as a 13-year-old listening to John F. Kennedy challenge the country to land a man on the moon. Personal stories can be exceptionally powerful for scientists reaching out to non-technical audiences. Stories promote empathy and can create an intimate connection that makes their presentation more memorable.

    So the challenge is for scientists to use public speaking to launch a massive public relations campaign. It can be simple. Compartmentalize your research into three parts that tell a story. Look for metaphors and examples that make it easy for anyone to understand the importance of your work. And don't be afraid to bring your personal experiences into the presentation.

    Barry Mitsch, of the Pyramid Resource Group, has been conducting presentation skills workshops for more than 25 years and specializes in working with scientists and engineers. He has worked with individuals and groups using video-based programs, classroom workshops, and virtual coaching. He holds a Master's of Science in Public Health and his research was in the field of radiation physics. He provides communication coaching to Sigma Xi members. If you have a question or comment about this post, you may post it below or email Lisa Mumma, interim manager of communications, at lmumma@sigmaxi.org.  

  • Sigma Xi Speaks: February 2017

    by John Nemeth | Feb 21, 2017
    John Nemeth

    Where will you be on April 22? For many in the research community, the day is marked on the calendar for the March for Science in Washington, DC, or at one of the sister marches planned for cities around the country and around the world.

    Momentum for the marches is picking up steam, and Sigma Xi has joined in as a partner. The Society recognizes that this opportunity to promote research in an apolitical and nonpartisan manner is critical. We support the organizers’ goals of encouraging the use of science in policy decisions and encouraging scientists to speak out in their communities about the research they do and why it’s important.

    I encourage you to find a March for Science near you, and see how you can get involved. Perhaps your Sigma Xi chapter can work with local organizers to nominate public speakers, help with logistics, or provide scientific expertise. If you’re not in a chapter, spread the word about the march in your area.

    If you participate, tell the people you meet about Sigma Xi and encourage them to join our team, either as a member, an affiliate, or an explorer. We want to share the value of research. The more voices we have, the better. Remember, this is about being FOR SCIENCE, not against anything or anyone.

    Kids Science Reading Corner

    Big Questions from Little PeopleHow many unanswered questions might we have today if generations of scientists hadn’t had the freedom to conduct research and share their results? These books help convey the breadth of questions scientists strive to answer—and they can also serve as a catalyst for discussion.

    First Encyclopedia of Science (ages 5–10): This book aims to satisfy young kids’ curiosity, unraveling such mysteries as why objects fall as well as why some things float and others sink.

    Big Questions from Little People, by Gemma Elwin Harris (ages 8 and up): Scientists and science communicators, among others, answer kids’ questions, helping them understand the world as we know it, as well as the broader universe.

    The Handy Science Answer Book (ages 9 and up): A comprehensive science reference book, set up in a question-and-answer format.

    With luck, these books might lead kids to ask even more questions—ones they might research themselves someday.

    Sincerely,


    John Nemeth Signature





    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Executive Director and CEO
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
    Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of information that we hope you share with others. Find past articles on this blog.


     
  • Sigma Xi Speaks: January 2017

    by John Nemeth | Jan 17, 2017

    John NemethInfectious tropical diseases are spreading to new areas, partly thanks to climate change and to the ease with which we travel nowadays. It’s important that we are aware of the threats in our areas and that, as scientists, we can share sound, research-based information with those around us.

    Sigma Xi member Peter Hotez is a leader on research involving diseases that disproportionately afflict the world’s poorest people. As coeditor-in-chief of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, founding dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, U.S. Science Envoy for the U.S. Department of State, and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, he predicted that the Zika virus would come to the United States in 2016. Now he has published a list of global infectious disease threats to the United States for 2017. 

    Dr. Hotez, whose daughter has autism, also speaks out against the anti-vaccination movement. Due to the number of students who are not being vaccinated, he predicts that Texas will start seeing measles outbreaks as early as the winter or spring of 2018. 

    I hope you read his materials on diseases and share them with people around you. Without due vigilance, we may all be increasingly vulnerable.

    Kids Science Reading Corner

    The Secret Lives of Backyard BugsIt’s also important to share information about insect-borne illnesses with the kids in our lives, especially if they live in (or will be traveling to) affected areas. Those in Florida, Texas, and other Gulf-area states may want to check out this flyer from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how to talk to kids about Zika, as well as the CDC’s activity book “Mosquito Bites Are Bad,” designed to teach kids how to protect themselves from mosquito-borne illness.

    Although hearing about viruses such as Zika and West Nile can be worrying for kids, learning more about insects in general may help them react to these creatures with curiosity instead of dread. Here are a couple useful titles:

    For ages 4–8: Bugs Are Insects by Anne Rockwell and Steve Jenkins 
    For ages 9 and up: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards

    Armed with great books, kids can appreciate that there’s so much more to a bug than its bite!

    Sincerely,
     
    John Nemeth Signature



    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Executive Director and CEO
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
    Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of information that we hope you share with others. Find past articles on Sigma Xi's blog, Keyed In.

  • Technology as a Tool for Presentations

    by Heather Thorstensen | Dec 21, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Barry Mitsch.

     

    Barry MitschNowadays when technical professionals are asked to give a presentation, they typically begin their preparation by creating some slides using a popular software program that will be projected when speaking to an audience. But is this technology improving presentations or creating a barrier between the speaker and the audience?

    While technology has created exciting tools for speakers, the fundamental elements of a presentation have not changed since the days of Aristotle. Any successful presentation must be well organized, delivered by a credible speaker, and customized to a specific audience. 

    Customizing your presentation requires information gathering. Speak to the meeting planner to learn about who is expected to attend, and talk with colleagues who have presented to this group in the past. Ask questions related to audience expectations and the technical background of the typical attendee. It's also a good idea to know who is speaking before or after you as you may want to look for tie-ins with your subject matter. 

    So what about the technology? Technology is simply a tool. YOU are the presentation, not the technology. Great technology will not overcome poor content.  A great presentation can be delivered without a single slide. Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy … they all crafted memorable speeches without a laptop computer. The key is using the technology correctly to enhance your spoken words.

    A common mistake made by many speakers is to begin planning a presentation by first creating visual aids. Scientists often have data that are important to their talk and these data often drive the development of a presentation. The data for a given presentation should be selected only if it helps the speaker achieve the objective for a specific audience. Once the content of a presentation has been thoroughly developed, it is time to ask the question, “What data and supporting visual aids will enhance the audience's understanding of what I am saying?” 

    Any visual aid needs to meet four criteria in order to be successful. First, it has to be necessary. In other words, you have reached the conclusion that a visual aid will be helpful in delivering your message.

    Unnecessary
    Slide 1

    Slide 1 is an example of an unnecessary slide. It contains statements that could be made during the introduction to a presentation.


    Next, decide on the most appropriate format that will meet the criterion of clarity—the best way to show an idea. There are infinite ways to create effective visual aids, not all of which require technology. Demonstrations, displays, and photographs are all low-tech approaches. Be selective and continually ask if this is the best way to support your spoken words. The third criterion is simplicity—the best visual aids are simple. 

      Simplicity, bad example
    Slide 2
     Simplicity, good example
    Slide 3
    Slide 2 is an example of a slide that doesn't achieve clarity. It is describing a process, and the ideal way to demonstrate the concept would be to use pictures. Alternatively, slide 3 shows the content from slide 2 and improves its clarity by simplifying the words as much as possible and creating a diagram that indicates a process. Building each block of the diagram will also make it easier for listeners to follow the explanation of the process.


    simplicity, bad example
    Slide 4
     
    simplicity, good example

    Slide 5
    Slide 4 can be improved by showing the graphs on separate slides to improve its simplicity. Slide 5 shows only one of the graphs, adds a more descriptive title, and adds circles to direct attention to places on the slide having the most importance.


    And the fourth criterion is visibility— they must be clearly seen. Obviously a visual aid must be visible to be effective but how many times have you seen a presenter display a computer-generated slide and say, “I know you can’t read this, but let me tell you what it says.”


    Visibility, bad example
    Slide 6
     Visibility, good example
    Slide 7
    Simple changes can improve Slide 6. Improvements are shown in slide 7. Changing the color and adding bold font and shadow to the main text makes it easier to read, as does changing the font size and boldness in the minor text. In addition, a simple circle denotes the location on the deprotonated quercetin molecule where the chemical composition has changed.

    Here are some tips to help you meet the criteria of simplicity and visibility while using computer-generated visual aids:

    • Each slide should convey ONE main concept. Complicated slides lead to audience confusion.

    • Try to avoid text slides but if you must use them, limit the number of words per line to 5 and the number of lines per slide to 5.

    • If possible, limit the numbers of bars and lines in graphs, preferably no more than 5. Of course if your data require more than five, use only what is necessary to support your message.

    • Use only sans serif type styles such as Arial, Helvetica, and Tahoma—they project more clearly than serif styles.

    • Use the largest type sizes possible and try to avoid text that is less than 24 point.

    • For computer projection, stick to dark backgrounds with light text to increase visibility.

    • Limit the use of color—use color to direct attention to areas of a slide that are important.

    • Use computer "builds" (sequentially revealing information) to maintain focus on points as you present, but be selective in using this tool. Builds can also be used for charts, graphs, pictures, and complicated scientific slides.

    • Be consistent in using slide transition animations; varying the transitions from slide to slide can be distracting.

    Computers are the most valuable presentation tool yet to be invented, but speakers need to realize that they are just a tool. There is no substitute for solid content delivered with confidence and conviction. By applying the ideas presented in this article, you will maximize the use of technology in achieving success with all of your presentations.

    Barry Mitsch, of the Pyramid Resource Group, has been conducting presentation skills workshops for more than 25 years and specializes in working with scientists and engineers. He has worked with individuals and groups using video-based programs, classroom workshops, and virtual coaching. He holds a Master's of Science in Public Health and his research was in the field of radiation physics. He provides communication coaching to Sigma Xi members. If you have a question or comment about this post, you may post it below or email Heather Thorstensen, manager of communications, at hthorstensen@sigmaxi.org






  • Sigma Xi Speaks: December 2016

    by John Nemeth | Dec 20, 2016
    John Nemeth

    Sigma Xi is taking its first steps to help ensure that research in America will continue to attain the highest standards in the coming Trump administration. I call on you now for your participation.

    The Society and 28 other research associations signed a letter to President-elect Trump to request a meeting with his transition team. A top priority for the meeting would be to suggest candidates to populate a full array of science and technology posts, such as the positions listed here. See a full list of more than 8,000 positions involved in the transition in the Plum Book.

    I would like you to send recommendations of who could fill the research-related posts to transitionnames@sigmaxi.org. Please try to consider the following.

    • Name submissions should include succinct biographical information, qualifications, and if possible a business photograph.

    • Realistically speaking, names should also, if possible, carry the active endorsement of the more influential Republican senators (or other high-ranking members of Congress).

    An election does not change science. Climate change, for example, is having serious impacts around the world. Sigma Xi will continue to provide the best possible scientific research guidance to our government. One way to ensure the kind of research enterprise that we and the world have come to expect is to make certain that the highest quality people are performing federal research.

    Thank you for your dedication to Sigma Xi and to research. We look forward to your nominees. 

    Kids Science Reading Corner

    The Way Things Work Now

    As we look ahead to 2017, I hope you will continue encouraging the youngsters in your life to read about the wonders of science. We have a wealth of reading suggestions for both younger kids and older kids—everything from Babies Love Quarks  to Mind-Boggling Numbers.

    If you wish to choose only one, The Way Things Work Now  is among the most comprehensive and satisfying science titles for kids in recent memory. A revised and updated classic, it appeals to a wide range of ages with its clear, smart approach to scientific principles and illuminating, whimsical illustrations.

    Sincerely,

    John Nemeth Signature


    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Executive Director and CEO
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
    Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks  is a monthly series of information that we hope you share with others. 

  • Explore, Discover, and Move Forward

    by Heather Thorstensen | Dec 14, 2016

    By Paul R. Sanberg

    Editor's Note: The following remarks were written by Paul R. Sanberg for his John P. McGovern Science and Society Award lecture, which he presented at the Sigma Xi 2016 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Sanberg is the senior vice president for Research, Innovation, & Economic Development and a distinguished university professor at the University of South Florida. He is also the executive director of USF’s Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair and the president of the National Academy of Inventors. A main message of his lecture was that researchers have a meaningful role to play in society by sharing the benefits of their discoveries with other people.  

    Paul SanbergGood evening everyone! Thank you very much for that warm welcome and thank you for this tremendous honor.

    It is with deep gratitude and humility that I accept the John P. McGovern Award, and I thank the members of the awards committee, the board of Sigma XI and all its members for this very special recognition.

    There is no more gratifying moment in a career than when your colleagues and peers single out your work, and even more so when the award bears the name of a transformative figure in American medical research and healthcare philanthropy.

    The son of a surgeon who graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, John P. McGovern taught at George Washington University Medical School and Tulane Medical School. He established the McGovern Allergy Clinic in Houston and created the Texas Allergy Research Foundation. He held 17 professorships, received 29 honorary doctorates, and authored over 250 professional publications and books.

    His expertise in asthma and immunology was groundbreaking, and his exemplary leadership record included serving 15 professional medical societies.

    Sigma Xi McGovern Medal He was known far and wide as a “medical humanist.” Despite his many years immersed in medicine, he later would recount that the most important influence on his life had not been his father the surgeon or the many other great physicians he trained and worked for, but his grandmother who would feed the poor during the Great Depression.

    He once told the Houston Chronicle: "I learned from watching my grandmother that giving and receiving is the same thing. I could see in her eyes that it made her feel good. … I think everybody's got an empty spot inside, and I call it the God-sized hole that we have to fill. And you can't do that with Caesar's world stuff — money, property, prestige. That doesn't fill that hole. Love does ... Love, in the sense of deep caring."

    After his death in 2007 at the age of 85, his friends would say that Dr. McGovern’s motivation to make new discoveries in medical science, was never about prestige or wealth, but to honor and improve the human condition.
     
    I can think of no better thing to be said about someone who pursues a path in the sciences. This award takes on very special meaning for me because it reminds us all of the larger calling to serve humankind that is embedded in scientific discovery, invention and innovation.

    The urge to explore and discover is not always about the unknown.

    Sometimes it is about discovering what is inside of us. … Often, it is about embracing our own truths, and fully realizing that what means most is not the awards or recognition we achieve for ourselves, but in how our talents and abilities can serve others.

    ***

    Guidotti, Sanberg, CaidiScientists are born curious—at least I think I was, and I bet each of you has similar memories of being a child and exploring some of the same basic ideas that now are central to your research portfolio.

    You know that commercial with the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” whose tag line is: “Stay Thirsty, my friends”.

    I think a better line for people in the scientific professions is “Stay Curious, my friends”
    because it’s that curiosity that will lead to exploration, discovery, and innovation.

    You and I are fortunate to be alive in a time of such remarkable technological change, where global interconnectivity has transformed not only how we communicate and can collaborate, but allows discoveries to spread at the speed it takes to hit the “send” button.

    But sometimes, what produces the most meaningful science is what happens closest to home. And today I am going to talk a little bit about the journey: where it starts, where it can lead, and why, in the most desperate moments, you’ll find your path forward.

    This is my personal story, but I have found the experience is universal.

    This is my colleague at the University of South Florida, Merry Lynn Morris. Some of you might have seen her work in inventing a dance chair featured on Katie Couric’s show and in Reader’s Digest. Merry Lynn has revolutionized mobility for those with disabilities by working with engineering students to produce a wheelchair that moves more fluidly through redesigned engineering and wireless technology.
     
    Merry Lynn is actually a dance professor at USF, but she was motivated to develop this technology because, as a little girl, her father had been paralyzed in a car accident.

    She just wanted to be able to dance with him, and his bulky wheel chair wouldn’t allow it. Decades later, she would create the dance chair by working with our engineering students and incorporating it into a mixed-abilities dance group she leads.

    And this is my friend and colleague David Vesely at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. David has spent his career conducting breakthrough research on how cardiac hormones might control cancer. He was drawn to this work after his wife, Clo, died of breast cancer, leaving him with five children.

    David’s research had already shown these hormones prevented heart cells from growing too big, and in the aftermath of his wife’s death, he wondered what they could do to prevent tumor growth.

    In his lab, David has killed the deadliest forms of cancer with these hormones, including pancreatic, breast, lung, colon, prostate, and kidney cancers. In one experiment, his fourth son was working with him in the lab and witnessed the cancer cell destruction with his very own eyes. Can you imagine a more personal—yet scientifically triumphant—moment?

    Through this family’s tragedy, clinical trials and, hopefully, new drugs will emerge. Exploring. Discovering. Moving forward. Sometimes that’s all you know how to do.

    ***

    My story begins in Hialeah, Florida, and looking back on my earliest memories of being in school, I can appreciate those moments that steered me to a career as a research scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur.

    One of my early memories is being six or seven years old—right in the middle of the Space Race—and being asked to come on to a local Miami television show where they would give certain children math questions to solve. Looking back at that experience, it was incredibly encouraging.

    My family later moved to California. My mother and father worked hard to achieve the American dream for our large family, and I was the first in our family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
     
    I was a very typical teenager of the times: I was into music, loved sports and was interested in flying. But science had a constant tug on my attention.

    In high school I had a wonderful biology teacher, Mrs. Haddick, who introduced me to a subject that fascinated me and was the start of what I’ve worked on my entire life. Years later, when I was a professor at the University of Cincinnati, to my surprise, Mrs. Haddick came to hear me speak at a conference for biology teachers. Afterwards, she let me know that she was proud to see the accomplishments of one of her students. Her belief and encouragement made an impact on me as a teenager, and meant a lot to me as an adult.

    At York University, where I did my undergraduate degree, one of the jobs I took to pay my tuition was working in a physiological psychology lab where the researcher was running lab tests on rats. I was enthralled.

    By my third year, I was conducting my own research projects and publishing my work in very well-known journals. I greatly admired the professor whose lab I worked in, but I was surprised how that innate curiosity of a young man elicited the opposite reaction I’d expected.

    My new ideas were met with skepticism and derision. My discoveries were questioned, and it rocked my confidence.

    But you know what’s more powerful than criticism? Curiosity.

    I learned at an early age—and the hard way—that scientific research requires patience and perseverance.

    Looking back now, I realize how much those years shaped my outlook in wanting to build a supportive and encouraging community for innovators and inventors—to make those who challenge conventional thinking be appreciated for their talents and their drive to discover and invent.

    And then my world was rocked by an experience so personal, yet so universal, it put my whole career into new perspective.

    Paul Sanberg and his dad, Bernard SanbergMy father, Bernard Sanberg, suffered a severe stroke. At the time, I was already deep in neurological research, looking at Parkinson’s disease and how to treat the effects of this devastating condition.
     
    But even with all that expertise, I cannot tell you how powerless I felt in those seemingly endless hours and days by my dad’s bedside when the answer to every question was: “There’s not much we can do.”

    That was 1994, and my father was living in Houston when he suffered the stroke. The University of Texas Health Sciences Center, where he was treated, is an excellent hospital. But the treatment that was provided for him was pretty rudimentary—it was what the doctors had learned in medical school, and it hadn’t evolved much since they learned it. Every day I’d ask them: “Why don’t we try something new?”

    But there wasn’t anything new to try. How could that be? There are about 750 thousand people a year who suffer strokes in the United States, and it’s the leading cause of disability nationwide.

    There were millions of people standing by … with not much more than a clot-busting drug and hope that rehabilitation will work.

    I couldn’t help my Dad much sitting by his bedside, but I thought that if I could get back into my lab, I could find a better way.

    That’s when I refocused my work and began researching novel stem cells as a promising treatment for stroke.

    I took two approaches: One looking at the direct injection of stem cells into the brain and, also, at intravenous treatments. Incredibly, when the human brain has dying cells, it produces a protein that signals the body to send new stem cells—which can become brain cells—through the blood–brain barrier.

    Your body is actually doing it all the time. But in a stroke patient, the blood–brain barrier opens, but then it can close over time. We have a limited window after an acute stroke to take advantage of the opportunity to repair the brain.

    We looked at stem cells from bone marrow and then, later, umbilical cord blood, as well as adult stem cell sources, like mesenchymal stem cells, epidermal stem cells, and cells from other organs.

    By 1998, we were able to even use a tumor-derived cell for direct injections into the brain. The results were very encouraging. By 2000, we were testing cultured neural stem cells in stroke patients, and we were seeing good results.
     
    But there is an overwhelming challenge on getting these cells to the damaged area of the brain. Direct injections require expensive neurosurgery and, there are so many stroke patients who could use this therapy, that there simply wouldn’t be enough practicing neurosurgeons to perform the procedure, if it were available to all sufferers.

    Add in all of those with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or other neurodegenerative diseases who also might benefit from this therapy, and you’d see that the only way to make this treatment impactful on a global scale is to find an easier, less expensive, and equally effective method. That would be intravenous injection.

    Fifteen years after my father suffered his stroke, the first stroke patient was enrolled in a clinical trial to see if using his own bone marrow stem cells through an IV injection could help his recovery.

    Bud Heinrich was treated by my colleague and friend Sean Savitz—coincidentally at the very same hospital in Houston where my dad had been hospitalized.

    And if you think that is a notable coincidence, let me add one more twist that seems particularly special today: That hospital is the teaching hospital for the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas—named after the same John McGovern we celebrate today.

    At the time of that clinical trial, the journey for this research was just beginning—but, in a way, it had come full circle.

    The stem cells were harvested from the bone marrow in the iliac crest of Bud’s leg, and then separated and returned by IV to his body after several hours.

    When he arrived at the hospital, Bud could not speak and had significant weakness on his right side. When he was released, after nearly two weeks of hospitalization and rehabilitation, he was able to walk … and climb stairs unassisted … and said his first words.

    Unfortunately, my Dad had passed away a decade before that clinical trial started. I’ll never know if all this work could have helped him. But I know he would have been glad, and proud, that it helped others.

    ***

    Scientific discovery is just one part of the equation. If you want to have an impact on the world, getting your science to the people it can help the most is imperative.
     
    Knowing that these discoveries needed to get out to clinics and to patients, I looked to the entrepreneurial side of research: patenting new cell technologies and helping to start companies that could take new therapies to market.

    I was lucky to be at the University of South Florida—a young university that gave faculty latitude to pursue commercialization of their work, and later would become one of the leading universities nationwide in encouraging technology transfer.

    I founded a company in 1999 as an incubator company at USF. A year later, our current president, Judy Genshaft, arrived and set a tone in leadership to support and encourage faculty-led startups and entrepreneurial efforts.

    Today, USF is a Top 25 public research university and is in the top 6 percent nationally in license and option agreements and has been among the top 10 public universities in the U.S. for patents for the past six years.

    Leadership matters in creating an entrepreneurial culture. Everybody loves it when an academic researcher invents a great new technology that pushes the world forward and produces huge amounts of licensing revenue—but very few institutions have created an environment that truly supports the process that leads to those big breakthroughs.

    I thought it was important to change that.

    In early 2009, I wondered how many of my colleagues were inventors, so I sent out an invitation to the USF faculty, inviting those who were patent holders to come and have lunch. I thought a dozen people might show up, but more than 100 did.

    Think about that! I’d been at this university for more than 15 years at this point and didn’t even know how many academic inventors were in my own community. That’s how little we talked about our work, and shared our experiences.

    Soon after, the USF Academy of Inventors was established to recognize inventors on campus for their accomplishments in patents, licensing, commercialization, and startups.

    As I shared this concept with my counterparts at leading research universities around the country and the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, it quickly became apparent there was a national need to change the culture within academia, at a time when our society was struggling in the midst of the Great Recession, and needed to leverage the innovative power of its research universities.
     
    The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) just didn’t give us a “club” to call our own, it focused attention on the huge benefit of academic invention and the value it brings, not only to academic institutions, but to society at large.

    That was just six short years ago, and today, the NAI has more than 3,000 individual inventor members and more than 500 Fellows spanning more than 200 institutions, and growing rapidly.

    The NAI is home to some of the nation’s most prolific and impactful innovators, including Norm Augustine, the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, who is giving tonight’s Gold Key Award Lecture.

    National Academy of Inventors infographic

    Then USF did something truly radical almost five years ago: We worked on changing our tenure and promotion policy to give credit to faculty who have patented and commercialized new inventions.

    And we began a national conversation on changing the academic culture to recognize faculty patents and commercialization activity toward merit and promotion. At one NAI conference, we posed the question: “Would Thomas Edison Receive Tenure?

    Well, a 2012 survey found that only 25 of the top 200 national research universities considered patents and commercialization activities in tenure and promotion decisions. The answer to that question would be a “yes” only if Edison were lucky enough to work at a select group of American universities.

    The paper resulting from that panel discussion was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and, today, this important initiative continues to gain national attention.

    Several organizations and university leaders are recommending and reporting on best practices for university intellectual property management, including such groups as the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities.

    This movement is changing the culture, and every time I travel the country to talk about academic invention and innovation, I sense a rising tide of excitement about what the future holds.

    ***

    One of the first scientific organizations I joined, when I was a young man, was Sigma Xi. Standing here today, it’s a special memory of those years when I decided I wanted a career in scientific research and could join one of the oldest and largest scientific organizations in the world.

    It’s wonderful to see so many colleagues at this conference …  including students who are taking that great leap into a career that isn’t always easy and doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves … but has never been more important in the service to humankind.

    I sense a hunger for breakthroughs that will give the world better options than it has now. We need better medicines to fight diseases … we need better technologies to harness the power of cyberspace … we need to apply all the tools we’ve created … not to widen the gap between people … but to create more sustainable, and more equitable, communities.

    We need to be—as Dr. McGovern so notably identified—humanists.

    The biggest lessons I’ve learned in this career aren’t the discoveries in the lab or the new technologies I’ve patented. It’s that my experience as a person—those desperate hours, the frustration of not having better options, and the pain of feeling helpless as a loved one struggles—is really everybody’s life story.

    I was the fortunate one, I could go into my lab and look for answers, solve problems and discover better ways of doing things. And I could be a voice for other scientists, innovators and inventors, and bring them together to support and empower each other.

    Together, we could leverage both individual influence and institutional strength for the greater good.

    Some of you might think these are dark days for science and innovation—research funding is struggling and we live in a political climate where, at times, people prefer to construct their own facts.

    But we can’t retreat into our labs until it is safe to come out. We have to push forward. We have to support each other and advocate for each other.

    The discovery of new scientific facts, or the invention of new technology, or the application of existing research in new and exciting ways, is the external mission. But to have a truly successful career in the sciences, you must also have that internal journey—one to discover who you are, and why your life has meaning.
     
    Every scientist has a story. I hope, as you pursue your passion to discover, innovate and invent, that your journey is one that, not only brings you external rewards, but fulfills who you are inside … and the meaningful role you can play in our larger society.

    Thank you—for this wonderful honor, and for being truly great colleagues!

     

    Photo captions

    1st photo: Paul R. Sanberg. 

    2nd photo: The Sigma Xi John P. McGovern Science and Society Award's medal.

    3rd photo: Sigma Xi President Tee Guidotti, on left, and Annual Meeting Planning Committee Member Hayat Caidi present Paul Sanberg with his John P. McGovern Science and Society Award certificate. 

    4th photo: Sanberg with his father, Bernard Sanberg, who suffered a stroke.

    5th photo: An infographic on the impact of National Academy of Inventors Fellows, based on self-reported data by 582 current NAI Fellows, as of April 2016. 

  • Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society

    by Heather Thorstensen | Dec 13, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi President Tee L. Guidotti.

     

    Tee GuidottiWelcome to Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society. 

    “Well thank you very much,” you may reply, “but you know my name. I’m already a member (or affiliate) of the organization.” That may be true but what is different is our name. 

    Sigma Xi is changing its name from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society to Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society, in order to emphasize that it is an honor society for scientific research. In fact, it’s the largest multidisciplinary honor society in the world. This may seem to be a simple insertion of the word “honor” but as always with Sigma Xi there is a long and distinguished history behind the new name. 

    Sigma Xi, of course, is our basic name and has been since the organization was founded in 1886 as the scientific and engineering counterpart to Phi Beta Kappa. Like all “Greek letter” societies, whether professional or social, it is an acronym for the motto of the organization, Σπουδων Ξυνωνες (Spoudon Xynones), which translates as "companions in Zealous Research." For many years, we were referred to as “Society of the Sigma Xi.” 

    RESA EmblemIn the early twentieth century, some in the leadership wanted “Sigma Xi” to be dropped altogether in favor of some formulation such as “Scientific Research Society of America.” In a strange quirk of history, both names survived because the organization split in the 1940s into an academic honor society (Sigma Xi) and an honor society for applied research and engineering (the Scientific Research Society of America, called RESA). RESA was a separate entity, wholly owned by Sigma Xi, and represented engineers and scientists at non-academic institutions, such as government and industrial research laboratories. 

    In an even stranger development, Sigma Xi and RESA merged back together in 1974 and eventually began calling itself Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. A bit of Sigma Xi trivia is that although the second part of the name has functioned as a description of the first, it actually pays homage to RESA. 

    As a practical matter, the name Sigma Xi is a “brand” (in the good sense of an identity associated with tradition and respect) and carries great weight within the scientific community. It is too valuable and venerable to change, even though some people on first encountering the name think that we are a college fraternity. Actually, in a very real sense we are a “fraternity” (in the sense of fraternité) but one as it was understood in 1886, when professionalism, social competence, networking, maturity, and “character” were seen as virtues cultivated in young men and women by a community of young scholars (a brotherhood or sisterhood). As a side note, Sigma Xi inducted its first female members in 1888, at a time when almost all graduate programs in science and engineering excluded women. 

    Now we add “Honor” to our name to emphasize that we are an honor society, keeping in mind that honor is just the beginning of what it means to be part of Sigma Xi. Once elected, our members “pay back” the support they received in their career by mentoring up-and-coming researchers. In turn, the younger generation can pay this support forward by supporting their local chapter’s efforts to bring the research community together and to promote the public understanding of science. 

    Although it was a change, adding “Honor” to a name with this tradition was an easy decision for your Assembly of Delegates to make at the recent Annual Meeting. It is new but it is not a break in tradition at all. The new name clarifies our mission and honors both the main line of Sigma Xi and nearly three decades of RESA. Our name carries our history. 


     
  • Sigma Xi Speaks: November 2016

    by John Nemeth | Nov 29, 2016

    John NemethIn honor of Human Rights Day on December 10, I’d like to share an article by Jeffrey H. Toney, who for years has done a great job of representing Sigma Xi on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science and Human Rights Coalition. In “President-Elect Trump and the Human Right to Water,” Toney discusses the coalition’s January meeting that will focus on the human right to water, how Sigma Xi members can get involved, and what is known about Donald Trump’s plans to support access to clean water. 

    Kids Science Reading Corner

    George Washington Carver The United Nations lists the right to education among the basic human rights. A pair of new books, and a recently reissued gem, tell inspiring stories of youngsters from an earlier era who gained their education against the odds. Younger readers will find spirited accounts of a mathematician widely regarded as the first computer programmer in Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science, written by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Jessie Hartland (ages 4–8), and Ada’s Ideas, by Fiona Robinson (ages 6–9). Lovelace, born in 1815, flourished as an advanced mathematics student, an unconventional subject for young women then.

    George Washington Carver, by Tonya Bolden (ages 10+), brings the brilliant, multifaceted botanist to life. He found ways to obtain an education and had an outstanding research career at a time when such opportunities for African Americans were extremely rare. You can read a review of the book here.

    I hope you consider sharing these resources with the young readers in your life. 

    Sincerely, 

    John Nemeth Signature






    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Executive Director and CEO
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society
    Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of information that we hope you share with others. 

  • The 2016 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference: Seven Big Themes

    by Heather Thorstensen | Nov 16, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi President Tee Guidotti.

    Tee Guidotti

    Sigma Xi conferences are always wondrous affairs, bringing together speakers on outstanding science, extraordinarily talented students, their dedicated advisors, science policy wonks, and people who just plain care. The meeting that just ended featured these key themes:

    Opportunity: Procter Prize awardee Jan Achenbach spoke on waves and the development of nondestructive testing. He advised students seeking research projects to be like surfers: ride a sturdy board (of preparation and mastery) as far out as possible and catch the wave of a scientific problem and ride it back to the beach! 

    Groundedness (in the good sense, not the aviation sense!): Norman Augustine, the first recipient of the new Sigma Xi Gold Key Award, revealed that through a long career as an aeronautical engineer, CEO of Lockheed Martin, and years of public service in science, he thought of Sigma Xi as, to paraphrase his words, a scientific “home.”

    Entrepreneurship: McGovern awardee Paul Sanberg told how his career of developing and applying effective stem cell treatments was shaped by his father’s stroke. He encouraged us to embrace entrepreneurship as the most direct means of getting science used for the good. 

    Interdisciplinary: Young Investigator awardee Tiago Falk epitomized interdisciplinary research by fusing multimedia technology with medical applications with striking results, allowing both individualization of care management and socialization of profoundly disabled persons. 

    Perspicacity (as the capacity to see deeply into things): Chubb awardee Akhlesh Lakhtakia described foundational techniques of nanoengineering based on filamentous structures with unique and useful properties. Much of his work rests on understanding chirality, because the same thing, taken in a new orientation, yields different insights and possibilities. 

    Diversity and Inclusiveness: The creation of Sigma Xi's new Diversity Task Force, established during the meeting, stimulated much thoughtful discussion on reducing barriers as a matter of justice and on promoting inclusiveness to unlock the creativity and insight brought to science by diversity in life experience, perspective, and individual talent.

    Mentorship: High school, undergraduate, and graduate students brought enthusiasm and energy to the conference as they competed for poster presentation awards and attended career development sessions. The students were challenged with finding mentors at the conference, and the successful new STEM Mixer provided dedicated and valuable time for networking between student and professional researchers.

    The conference was also a cornucopia of ideas on science communication, science policy (both “policy for science” and “science for policy”), entrepreneurship, and career development. Effective science communication was vividly demonstrated by the special viewing of a stunning new film by Ross Spears: The Truth About Trees.

    Sigma Xi also celebrated its own leaders, honoring Cristina (Tina) Gouin-Paul with the 2016 Evan Ferguson Award. Dr. Ferguson’s life was dedicated to the Society and Tina’s contributions to the organization are in keeping with his memory. Tina played a key role behind a series of motions passed at the meeting to improve Sigma Xi’s management and efficiency, yet another step in putting the Society’s recent fiscal and management obstacles behind it.

    The meeting ended with a promise and a glimpse of the future. There will be no annual meeting in calendar year 2017, because Sigma Xi is aligning its meeting years with its elections and fiscal years meeting schedule. When we reconvene in 2018, the quality and excitement of the 2016 meeting will be remembered as a model and inspiration. 

    Running through the entire meeting was a growing sense of career-long preparation in Sigma Xi’s passions: a responsibility of paying forward, paying now, and paying back. 

  • Sigma Xi Speaks: October 2016

    by John Nemeth | Oct 18, 2016

    John NemethFrom the time our ancestors peered out from the cave until now, our fondest wish while watching birds has been achieving flight. Sadly, humans require significant evolutionary change before we achieve that without some mechanical help. Think of the hovering Red-tailed Hawk or Osprey…what they see. Watching drone video provides a freedom of view unlike any form of observation so far developed and implemented.

    In my career as an environmental scientist, much of it toiling in the field, I see that the research applications for drones, formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are legion. This capability is not just about easing workload. From monitoring remote regions to watching miraculous nature, it offers an unprecedented ability to observe and remarkably enhance our ability to develop solutions or ease minds.

    If you are using small UAVs for your research, make sure you know the new rules from the Federal Aviation Administration.

    Also, just for fun, watch University of Pennsylvania’s drones perform the James Bond theme song.

    Kids Science Reading Corner

    Bats_A World of Science and MysteryAround Halloween, kids are enthusiastic about all sorts of creatures that go bump in the night—and some creatures that don’t, thanks to echolocation. Yes, bats! There are plenty of great books to help satisfy a young reader’s curiosity about these flying mammals. Kids in kindergarten through second grade may enjoy Gail Gibbons’s classic, Bats, which describes how they live, what they eat, and why they’re vital to the ecosystem. Its striking watercolors include diagrams with anatomical labels. Bats: Shadows in the Night, for readers age 9 and up, is filled with terrific photos of the night flyers and was written by renowned author and essayist Diane Ackerman. Finally, those in their teens and above have Bats: A World of Science and Mystery, by biologist M. Brock Fenton and American Museum of Natural History mammalogy curator Nancy B. Simmons. Its trove of photographs is matched by its wealth of information: how bats evolved, their diet and habits, the mechanics of their flight, and much more. Happy Halloween!

    Sincerely,

    John Nemeth Signature







    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Executive Director and CEO of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
    Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks  is a monthly series of information that we hope you share with others.

  • October Madness: Raffle Announcement

    by Heather Thorstensen | Oct 11, 2016

    HeatherThorstensenThanks for following along with the second year of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society’s Nobel Prize prediction contest, October Madness. After collecting public nominations and holding four weeks of voting, we made our collective best guess of who would win this year’s research-related Nobel Prizes.

    Affiliate Circle logoWhile the October Madness picks for the Nobel Prize in Physics matched the Thomson Reuters predictions, the 2016 Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physics, or physiology or medicine did not match our predictions this year. The same thing goes for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences. Unfortunately, that means none of this year’s October Madness nominators win the prizes of a free year of Sigma Xi membership dues (for existing members) or a free year in the Sigma Xi Affiliate Circle.

    Even so, we hope you had as much fun as we did. Look for October Madness again next year here on Sigma Xi’s blog, Keyed In, and on Sigma Xi's social media with #OctoberMadness!

    A Look Back at October Madness

    Announcement of Champions

    The Finals

    Final 4

    Elite 8

    Sweet 16

    Call for Nominations

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

  • 2016 October Madness: Announcement of Champions

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 27, 2016

    HeatherThorstensenAfter collecting public nominations and holding four weeks of voting, we can now announce the champions of October Madness, Sigma Xi's Nobel Prize prediction contest.

    The October Madness champions are your most popular choices for who might win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine in 2016. We also named a champion for your top choice for this year's Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.

    The champions are listed below, along with voting results from the finals round. Congratulations to Sigma Xi member Kip Thorne for being named one of the champions in physics!

    Chemistry

    Your prediction for this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is Paul J. Reider for the discovery and development of approved drugs, including those for treating asthma and for treating AIDS.

    Chemistry Bracket
    Chemistry Voting Results, the Finals

    Economic Sciences

    Roland_FRYER_EconomicSciencesChampion 
     Roland Fryer


    Your prediction for this year's winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences is Roland Fryer for ground breaking quantitative analysis techniques that reveal causes and effects of economic and educational gaps based on racial discrimination and other inequities.

    Economic Sciences Bracket
    Economic Sciences Voting Results, the Finals

    Physics

     Rainer Weiss  Kip_Thorne_at_Caltech
    Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne are the physics champions, along with Ronald Drever.


    Your prediction for this year's winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics is Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever for the direct detection of gravitational waves. 

    The physics category ended in a tie at the conclusion of voting. The tie between Vera Rubin and Kent Ford vs. Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever was broken by looking at which group had the most votes in the previous voting round.

    Physics Bracket
    Physics Voting Results, The Finals
     

    Physiology or Medicine

    Your prediction for this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is Paul Quinton for significant contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms behind cystic fibrosis, particularly the discovery that the fundamental defect in cystic fibrosis is chloride impermeability.

    Physiology or Medicine Bracket
    Physiology or Medicine Voting Results, the Finals

    Can't get enough Noble Prize predictions?

    See who Thomson Reuters predicted for this year's winners.

    What's Next?

    The official Nobel Prize announcements will be made on the following days:
    Physiology or Medicine: October 3, 11:30 a.m. at the earliest
    Physics: October 4, 11:45 a.m. at the earliest
    Chemistry: October 5, 11:45 a.m. at the earliest
    Economic Sciences: October 10, 11:45 a.m. at the earliest
    Times listed are local time in Sweden.

    The winners of the October Madness raffle prizes will be announced on October 11. Participants who nominated someone who goes on to win a Nobel Prize this year are entered into the raffle. Winners who are not members of Sigma Xi receive a free year in the Sigma Xi Affiliate Circle. Members who win the raffle win a free year of membership dues. Check back on Keyed In or Sigma Xi's social media to see if anyone took these prizes. 

    Photo credit

    Roland Fryer, Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. No changes  were made.

    Rainer Weis,  Dhs at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made.

    Kip Thorne, By Keenan Pepper (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made.

    Heather Thorstensen is manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


  • 2016 October Madness: Finals

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 20, 2016
    Heather Thorstensen

    We made it to the finals for this year's edition of October Madness, Sigma Xi's Nobel Prize prediction contest. Thanks to all who voted last week! Everyone is invited to vote this week to help complete our predictions for the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine. We're also predicting the winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.

    Voting for this round will close at 11:59 p.m. PDT on September 25.

    Make sure to check back on this blog on September 27 for the announcement of our October Madness champions!

    Final 4 Results

    Chemistry

    Economic Sciences*

    Physics

    Physiology or Medicine

    A tie in Economic Sciences between Jennifer Hunt and Gary S. Fields was broken based on the number of votes each received in the Elite 8 round. Fields advanced to the finals. 

    Finals Voting

    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    Finals Chemistry

    The final chemistry match-up is:

    Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the CRISPR gene editing tool
    VS.
    Paul J. Reider for the discovery and development of approved drugs, including those for treating asthma and for treating AIDS


    Economic Sciences

    Vote here for your predictions for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.

    Finals Economic Sciences

    The final economic sciences match-up is:

    Gary S. Fields for contributions on the importance of efficient labor markets to fight poverty and foster economic development in low- and middle-income countries
    VS.
    Roland Fryer for ground breaking quantitative analysis techniques that reveal causes and effects of economic and educational gaps based on racial discrimination and other inequities

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

    Finals physics

    The final physics match-up is:

    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS.
    Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever for the direct detection of gravitational waves

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

    Finals Physiology Medicine

    The final physiology or medicine match-up is:

    Seiji Ogawa for the discovery of the principle for functional magnetic resonance imaging 
    VS.
    Paul Quinton for significant contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms behind cystic fibrosis, particularly the discovery that the fundamental defect in cystic fibrosis is chloride impermeability



    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

  • Sigma Xi Speaks: September 2016

    by John Nemeth | Sep 19, 2016
    John Nemeth

    By now we are aware of the dangers of the Zika virus, which the World Health Organization has classified as a public health emergency of international concern. When we face emerging health threats like this, it’s important that Sigma Xi members be the voice of clear and credible research to our family, friends, and communities. Below are reliable sources that I hope you will share with those around you to help them learn accurate information about Zika, and to act appropriately.

    I also urge you to subscribe to Sigma Xi SmartBrief as a resource. If you are a Twitter user, look for Dr. Peter J. Hotez (@peterhotez) for really salient and up to the moment updates and background information. Dr. Hotez is in the process of being inducted into Sigma Xi.

    Kids Science Reading Corner

    On A Beam of Light coverFor this month’s Kids Science Reading Corner, I’ll start with some history. On September 27, 1905, the journal Annalen der Physik received Albert Einstein’s paper “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon Its Energy Content?” This work introduced the formula E = mc2 to the scientific community. The anniversary offers a great opportunity to introduce this visionary formula—and the scientist who envisioned it—to young readers. 

    High schoolers (and grown-ups) may want to check out Einstein, an illustrated biography by Corinne Maier, with artwork by Anne Simon, which gives us a nuanced look at the physicist’s life and work. Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments, by Jerome Pohlen, is a great read for kids 9 and up. And even very young readers can learn about Einstein and his discoveries, thanks to the terrific On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. Berne and Radunsky show Einstein as an imaginative kid who follows his curiosity, growing up to become a great scientist who finds answers to questions many had thought unanswerable. This book is all about the spirit of inquiry, where it can lead, and the fulfillment it brings. What better way to kick off a new school year? 

    Sincerely, 

    John Nemeth Signature




    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO, Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of articles containing information to share. Find past articles on Sigma Xi's blog, Keyed In.

  • 2016 October Madness: Final 4

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 13, 2016
    HeatherThorstensen

    We are down to the Final 4 for Sigma Xi's Nobel Prize prediction contest, October Madness. See below for the results from last week and then vote! Everyone can vote for who they think should win the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine as well as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences. 

    Voting for the Final 4 round ends at 11:59 p.m. PDT on September 18. 

    Elite 8 Results

    Chemistry

    Economic Sciences

    Physics

    Physiology or Medicine

    Final 4 Voting

    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 

    Final 4 Chemistry

    The Final 4 chemistry match-ups are:

    1. 
    Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the CRISPR gene editing tool
    VS.
    Michael Grätzel for discovering dye sensitized solar cells, a new type of solar cell for powering portable electronic devices with applications for building integrated photovoltaics

    2. 
    Kim Lewis for the discovery of Teixobactin, the first antibiotic in 30 years
    VS.
    Paul J. Reider for the discovery and development of approved drugs, including those for treating asthma and for treating AIDS

    Economic Sciences

    Vote here for your predictions for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.

    Final 4 Economic Sciences

    The Final 4 economic sciences match-ups are:

    1.
    Jennifer Hunt for analysis on immigration
    VS.
    Gary S. Fields for contributions on the importance of efficient labor markets to fight poverty and foster economic development in low- and middle-income countries

    2. 
    Roland Fryer for ground breaking quantitative analysis techniques that reveal causes and effects of economic and educational gaps based on racial discrimination and other inequities
    VS.
    Esther Duflo for advances in applied economics through innovative field studies that examine how public policy affects microeconomic outcomes in developing nations

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics. 

    Final 4 Physics

    The Final 4 physics match-ups are:

    1.
    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS.
    William Borucki for leadership of NASA's Kepler mission, which uncovered planets and solar systems

    2. 
    Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever for the direct detection of gravitational waves
    VS.
    Sandra M. Faber for leadership in numerous path-breaking studies of extra-galactic astronomy and galaxy formation

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

    Final 4 Phys Medicine

    The Final 4 physiology or medicine match-ups are*:

    1.
    Seiji Ogawa for the discovery of the principle for functional magnetic resonance imaging
    VS. 
    Theodore Friedmann and Alain Fischer for the proposal of gene therapy and its clinical applications

    2.
    Matthias Gromeier and Gordana Vlahovic for using a genetically engineered polio virus (PVS-RIPO) to attack glioblastoma, a brain cancer, and discovering that it seeks out and attaches to receptors that are highly common across tumor types, while leaving normal cells alone
    VS.
    Paul Quinton for significant contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms behind cystic fibrosis, particularly the discovery that the fundamental defect in cystic fibrosis is chloride impermeability

    *The Elite 8 round resulted in ties between Seiji Ogawa and Jacques Francis Albert Pierre Miller as well as between Maurice Samuel Deveraj and Paul Quinton. The ties were broken based on how many votes each person received in the Sweet 16 round. 

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

  • 2016 October Madness: Elite 8

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 07, 2016
    HeatherThorstensen

    Thanks to everyone who helped the 2016 edition of October Madness get started! Today we're announcing the results of our Sweet 16 round and kicking off voting for the Elite 8 round.

    Are you new to October Madness? It's a Nobel Prize prediction contest from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.  It's easy: everyone can vote for who they think will win! Refer to our contest announcement for the schedule and prizes.

    Voting for this round will be open until 11:59 p.m. PDT on September 11. Check back on this blog or on Sigma Xi's social media on September 13 for the results. 

    Sweet 16 Voting Results

    Chemistry

    Economic Sciences

    Physics


    Physiology or Medicine

    Elite 8 Voting 

    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    Elite8_Chemistry_715x553

    The Elite 8 chemistry match-ups are:

    1. 
    Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the CRISPR gene editing tool
    VS.
    Jerrold Meinwald for his work leading to the establishment of the field of chemical ecology and his fundamental studies of how chemicals act as repellents and attractants between organisms, leading to the use of these chemicals in a variety of biomedical, agricultural,forestry, and household applications

    2.
    Michael Grätzel for discovering dye sensitized solar cells, a new type of solar cell for powering portable electronic devices with applications for building integrated photovoltaics
    VS.
    Andrew Holmes for his contributions to chemical synthesis at the interface between materials and biology and pioneering the field of organic electronic materials

    3.
    Kim Lewis for the discovery of Teixobactin, the first antibiotic in 30 years
    VS.
    Tobin J. Marks for contributions to understand catalysts, useful in the production of environmentally-friendly plastics and new materials

    4.
    Paul J. Reider for the discovery and development of approved drugs, including those for treating asthma and for treating AIDS
    VS.
    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry

    Economic Sciences

    Vote here for your predictions for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.

    Elite8_EconomicSciences_715x553

    The economic sciences Elite 8 match-ups are: 

    1. 
    Jennifer Hunt for analysis on immigration
    VS.
    Orley Ashenfelter for analysis on labor economics

    2. 
    Daniel Hamermesh for his contributions to the study of labor demand
    VS.
    Gary S. Fields for contributions on the importance of efficient labor markets to fight poverty and foster economic development in low- and middle-income countries

    3.
    Richard Blundell for his important contributions to labor economics, public finance, and applied econometrics 
    VS.
    Roland Fryer for ground breaking quantitative analysis techniques that reveal causes and effects of economic and educational gaps based on racial discrimination and other inequities

    4.
    Esther Duflo for advances in applied economics through innovative field studies that examine how public policy affects microeconomic outcomes in developing nations
    VS.
    Jonathan Gruber for his work in crafting public health policy

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

    Elite8_Physics_715x553 

    The Elite 8 physics match-ups are:

    1. 
    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS.
    Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe

    2.
    Michio Jimbo and Tetsuji Miwa for developments in integrable systems and their correlation functions in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory, making use of quantum groups, algebraic analysis, and deformation theory
    VS.
    William Borucki for leadership of NASA's Kepler mission, which uncovered planets and solar systems

    3.
    Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever for the direct detection of gravitational waves
    VS.
    Harald Rose, Knut Urban, and Maximilian Haider for their development of abberration-corrected electron microscopy, allowing the observation of individual atoms with picometer precision

    4.
    Sandra M. Faber for leadership in numerous path-breaking studies of extra-galactic astronomy and galaxy formation
    VS.
    Deborah Jin for her pioneering investigations of the quantum properties of an ultracold gas of fermionic atoms, and for the creation of the first quantized gas of fermionic atoms

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.



    Elite8_PhysMedicine_715x553

    The Elite 8 physiology or medicine match-ups are:

    1. 
    Seiji Ogawa for the discovery of the principle for functional magnetic resonance imaging
    VS.
    Jaques Francis Albert Pierre Miller for his work on the immunological function of the thymus and of T cells, which has revolutionized the science of immunology

    2.
    Peter Wells for pioneering the development of ultrasonics as a diagnostic and surgical tool
    VS.
    Theodore Friedmann and Alain Fischer for the proposal of gene therapy and its clinical applications

    3.
    Matthias Gromeier and Gordana Vlahovic for using a genetically engineered polio virus (PVS-RIPO) to attack glioblastoma, a brain cancer, and discovering that it seeks out and attaches to receptors that are highly common across tumor types, while leaving normal cells alone
    VS.
    Graeme Clark, Ingebord Hochmair, and Blake Wilson for developing the modern cochlear implant

    4.
    Maurice Samuel Devaraj for the discovery of a method of suppressing mutations in pathogens such as tuberculosis
    VS.
    Paul Quinton for significant contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms behind cystic fibrosis, particularly the discovery that the fundamental defect in cystic fibrosis is chloride impermeability

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

  • 2016 October Madness: Sweet 16

    by Heather Thorstensen | Aug 30, 2016
    HeatherThorstensen

    Voting begins today for the 2016 edition of October Madness, a public Nobel Prize prediction contest from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

    Please click the links below to vote for who you think could win this year's Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine. We're also voting for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences.

    Voting for this round ends at midnight PDT on September 5, 2016. We will announce the researchers moving on to the Elite 8 round on September 7. Weekly voting will continue until we announce our most popular choices for this year's Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences on September 27. 

    Thank you to everyone who submitted nominations. Let's start voting! 

    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    Chemistry_Sweet16_Bracket715x553

    The October Madness Chemistry Sweet 16 match-ups are:

    1. 
    Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the CRISPR gene editing tool
    VS
    Louis E. Brus for his discoveries in semiconductor nanocrystals

    2. 
    Alec Jeffreys for his work on variation and mutation in the human genome
    VS. 
    Jerrold Meinwald for his pioneering work leading to the establishment of the field of chemical ecology and his fundamental studies of how chemicals act as repellents and attractants between organisms, leading to the use of these chemicals in variety of biomedical, agricultural, forestry, and household applications 

    3. 
    Howard Morris for improving our understanding of living systems at the molecular level by pioneering work in biomolecular mass spectrometry
    VS. 
    Michael Grätzel for discovering dye sensitized solar cells, a new type of solar cell for powering portable electronic devices with applications for building integrated photovoltaics

    4. 
    Andrew Holmes for his contributions to chemical synthesis at the interface between materials and biology and pioneering the field of organic electronic materials
    VS.
    Martin Stahl for his impact on the field of drug discovery with novel contributions that are used routinely to develop new medicines

    5.
    Steven Ley for his research in organic chemistry and contributions to the methodology of synthesis
    VS. 
    Kim Lewis for the discovery of Teixobactin, the first antibiotic in 30 years

    6.
    Marvin H. Caruthers for contributions to the chemical synthesis of DNA and RNA that made it possible to decode and encode genes and genomes
    VS.
    Tobin J. Marks for contributions to understand catalysts, useful in the production of environmentally-friendly plastics and new materials

    7.
    Bruce D. Roth for he discovery, synthesis, and commercial development of the cholesterol-lowering medicine atorvastatin (Lipitor)
    VS.
    Paul J. Reider for the discovery and development of approved drugs, including those for treating asthma and for treating AIDS

    8. 
    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry
    VS.
    A. Paul Alivisatos, Chad A. Mirkin, and Nadrian C. Seeman for contributions to DNA nanotechnology

    Economic Sciences

    Vote here for your predictions for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences

    EconomicSciences_Sweet16_Bracket

     

    The October Madness Economic Sciences Sweet 16 match-ups are:

    1.
    Jennifer Hunt for analysis on immigration
    VS.
    Gene Grossman for work on the political economy of trade policy, using the environmental Kuznet’s curve to better understand the relationship between economic development and environmental quality

    2. 
    Orley Ashenfelter for analysis on labor economics
    VS.
    Jordi Gali for advances in New Keynesian macroeconomic modeling that indicate the relationship between inflation stabilization and output gap stabilization is more complex than previously understood

    3.
    Daniel Hamermesh for his contributions to the study of labor demand
    VS.
    John A. List for innovations in field experiments that have resulted in breakthrough analyses of microeconomic behavior

    4.
    Gary S. Fields for contributions on the importance of efficient labor markets to fight poverty and foster economic development in low- and middle-income countries
    VS.
    Charles F. Manski for work in prediction, judgment, and decision, including identification of discrete choice models and identification of social interactions, and how they connect to policy outcomes

    5.
    Richard Blundell for his important contributions to labor economics, public finance and applied econometrics
    VS.
    Lawrence Summers for his important contributions in many areas of economics, primarily public finance, labor economics, financial economics, and macroeconomics

    6.
    Roland Fryer for groundbreaking quantitative analysis techniques that reveal causes and effects of economic and educational gaps based on racial discrimination and other inequities
    VS.
    Thomas Piketty for work on wealth and income inequality

    7.
    Esther Duflo for advances in applied economics through innovative field studies that examine how public policy affects microeconomic outcomes in developing nations
    VS.
    Ernst Fehr for pioneering research on the role of fairness in markets, organizations, and in individual decisions

    8.
    Xavier Gabaix for insights into connections between behavior and macroeconomics, leading to breakthrough analysis on discerning the true economic effects of low interest rates
    VS.
    Jonathan Gruber for work in crafting public health policy

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

    Physics_Sweet16








    The October Madness Physics Sweet 16 match-ups are:

    1. 
    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS.
    Paul B. Corkum and Ferenc Krausz for pioneering attophysics, which uses lasers to detect molecular phenomena in a quintillionth of a second

    2.
    Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe
    VS.
    Herbert Spohn for his seminal contributions to nonequilibrium statistical mechanics as exemplified by his exact solutions of growth models and stationary states of open systems

    3.
    Charles L. Bennett for mapping the cosmic microwave background and helping us learn about our universe
    VS.
    Michio Jimbo and Tetsuji Miwa for developments in integrable systems and their correlation functions in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory, making use of quantum groups, algebraic analysis and deformation theory

    4.
    William Borucki for leadership of NASA's Kepler mission, which uncovered planets and solar systems
    VS.
    Alexander Polyakov for his discoveries in field theory and string theory

    5.
    Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever for the direct detection of gravitational waves
    VS.
    Zhong Lin Wang for the invention of nanogenerators, a self-sufficient power source that can harvest energy from the human body or environment

    6.
    Alexander Dalgarno for  his contributions to the development of the field of molecular astrophysics, which led to a better understanding of interstellar space and the formation of stars and planets
    VS.
    Harald Rose, Knut Urban, and Maximilian Haider for their development of abberation-corrected electron microscopy, allowing the observation of individual atoms with picometer precision

    7.
    Sandra M. Faber for leadership in numerous path-breaking studies of extra-galactic astronomy and galaxy formation
    VS.
    Yosef Imry for pioneering studies of the physics of mesoscopic and random systems

    8.
    Deborah Jin for pioneering investigations of the quantum properties of an ultracold gas of fermionic atoms, and for the creation of the first quantized gas of fermionic atoms
    VS.
    John Pendry for his seminal contributions to surface science, disordered systems, and photonics

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.



    PhysMedicine_Sweet16_Bracket

    The October Madness Physiology or Medicine match-ups are:

    1. 
    Craig Venter, Francis Collins, Eric Lander for the human genome sequence
    VS.
    Seiji Ogawa for the discovery of the principle for functional magnetic resonance imaging

    2. 
    Jaques Francis Albert Pierre Miller for work on the immunological function of the thymus and of T cells, which has revolutionized the science of immunology
    VS.
    Akira Endo for the discovery of statins and their development

    3.
    Peter Wells for pioneering the development of ultrasonics as a diagnostic and surgical tool
    VS.
    Tadamitsu Kishimoto and Toshio Hirano for the discovery of interleukin-6 and its application in treating diseases

    4. 
    Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter for identifying key components of the unfolded protein response
    VS.
    Theodore Friedmann and Alain Fischer for the proposal of gene therapy and its clinical applications

    5.
    Richard H. Scheller and Thomas C. Südhof for their discoveries in rapid neurotransmitted release
    VS.
    Matthias Gromeier and Gordana Vlahovic for using a genetically engineered polio virus (PVS-RIPO) to attack glioblastoma, a brain cancer, and discovering that it seeks out and attaches to receptors that are highly common across tumor types, while leaving normal cells alone

    6. 
    Napoleone Ferrara for the discovery of vascular endothelial growth factor and devising an effective treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration
    VS. 
    Graeme Clark, Ingebord Hochmair, and Blake Wilson for developing the modern cochlear implant

    7.
    Maurice Samuel Devaraj for the discovery of a method of suppressing mutations in pathogens such as tuberculosis
    VS.
    Brian Drucker, Nicholas Lydon, and Charles Sawyers for the development of novel treatments for chronic myelogenous leukemia

    8.
    Anthony S. Fauci for work on dissecting the mechanisms of pathogenesis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that has served as the underpinning for strategies for the treatment of HIV
    VS.
    Paul Quinton for significant contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms behind cystic fibrosis, particularly the discovery that the fundamental defect in cystic fibrosis is chloride impermeability

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.



  • Call for Nominations: October Madness 2016

    by Heather Thorstensen | Aug 22, 2016
    Heather Thorstensen

    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society led the first October Madness, a Nobel Prize prediction contest, last year. We had a blast (and even got a mention in Nature) as we crowdsourced nominations and ran weekly voting, moving researchers forward on our sports-style brackets until we reached our final predictions.

    Now we are back for the second year and looking for your nominations as we wait for the official Nobel Prize winner announcements in October. It's another chance to honor extraordinary research accomplishments. 

    Nominations will be accepted through August 28, 2016.
    We are calling for 16 nominations each for the:

    • Nobel Prize in Chemistry
    • Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
    • Nobel Prize in Physics
    • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    How to Nominate and Vote

    Send in your picks by 11:59 p.m. PDT on August 28 by using our nomination form or email me at hthorstensen@sigmaxi.org.

    Please include:

    • Your nominee's name (you can submit as many nominations as you would like and you can submit a group of researchers who worked on a project together)
    • Which Nobel Prize you think this person, or group, should win
    • The reason why you think the person or group should win (such as, "for the discovery of XYZ")
    • The institution of employment or affiliation for your nominee(s)
    • Your name and email address

    On August 30, we will announce the October Madness nominees* and open the four brackets for public voting on Sigma Xi's social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Remember to use our hashtag, #OctoberMadness. We will also have links to the ballots on Sigma Xi's blog, Keyed In. Vote each week on Tuesdays (except for Labor Day week, when voting will be held on September 7) until your top picks are announced on September 27! 

    You Could Win

    If you nominate someone who goes on to win a Nobel Prize, you will be entered into a raffle. If you win the raffle, and you're not a Sigma Xi member, you will receive a free year of membership in the Sigma Xi Affiliate Circle** for one year (a $70 value), which includes a one-year subscription to American Scientist  magazine. Members who win the raffle will have their membership dues paid by Sigma Xi for 2016–17. Those who already renewed their membership will have their dues paid for 2017–18. We will select one winner per Nobel Prize category for a total of four winners. 

    Contest Schedule

    August 22–August 28: Send in your nominations

    August 30: Nominees announced; Sweet 16 voting begins and runs through 11:59 p.m PDT on September 5.

    September 7: Sweet 16 winners announced; Elite 8 voting begins and runs through 11:59 p.m PDT on September 11. 

    September 13: Elite 8 winners announced; Final 4 (Semifinals) voting begins and runs through 11:59 p.m. PDT on September 18. 

    September 20: Final 4 winners announced; Finals voting begins and runs through 11:59 p.m. PDT on September 25. 

    September 27: Announcement of 2016 October Madness Winners. 

    October 3–10: Official Nobel Prize Winners named

    October 11: Winners announced from the raffle for a year in the Sigma Xi Affiliate Circle or a free year of Sigma Xi membership dues. 

    *If Sigma Xi receives less (or more) than 16 nominations per prize, then its staff will select the nominees who are put on the bracket. But we prefer to use your nominations! Please nominate anyone you feel is worthy of the prize. Potential candidates might be found here, here, here, or here. October Madness is not affiliated with the Nobel Prize.

    **Affiliate Circle membership does not quality one for full or associate membership in Sigma Xi's nomination-based honor society. 

    Example of last year's final bracket for Physiology or Medicine

    Champions PhysiologyMed
    See other 2015 brackets

  • Sigma Xi Speaks: August 2016

    by Heather Thorstensen | Aug 16, 2016

    This is a guest post by Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO John C. Nemeth. 

     

    Dear Sigma Xi Members, 

    John NemethI hope your summer has been going well. We are busy here at Sigma Xi, and I have a few new initiatives at the intersection of research and policy to share.

    Research Communications Initiative

    Sigma Xi recently launched the Research Communications Initiative (RCI) to help researchers and research institutions improve the way they spread the news about their work. Sigma Xi will work with its RCI partners to develop communication strategies, create content, publish the content in American Scientist  if they so choose (as a fully disclosed product of the partnership), and provide a data-driven assessment of the success of their communications. RCI content will be published under a Creative Commons license, making it free to be republished.

    This new program is central to the core values of Sigma Xi: honesty, integrity, and ethics in research. Our research is only helpful to society and public policymakers if we effectively communicate it, and that’s what this program aims to do. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and that you spread the word. You can find more details in the program announcement.


    Science Questions for Presidential Candidates


    This month, Sigma Xi joined ScienceDebate.org and 54 other nonpartisan organizations―including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine―in sending 20 questions about science to U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein. The candidates were asked to answer the questions in writing and the media were invited to pose the questions to the candidates in televised debates. Sigma Xi members sent in their ideas for the questions, and many of their themes made it into the final questions. Thank you to those who participated. Now let’s see how the candidates respond.


    Kids Science Reading Corner

    George and the Unbreakable Code coverWith this issue of Sigma Xi Speaks, I’m kicking off a new feature: the Kids Science Reading Corner. Each month I'll recommend a STEM-related book geared for kids. Over time, I expect to share books that will appeal to a range of ages, from the youngest readers through teenagers and young adults. I hope you and yours find the ideas fun and educational. If we can get kids interested in science and engineering, we can help them pursue it as a career or prepare them to support research as adults.

    This first time out, I am suggesting that an adventurous pair, George and his best pal Annie, from the George’s Secret Key  collection will become the dear friends of the kids in your life. Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy Hawking have written a marvelous series: George’s Secret Key to the Universe, George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt, and George and the Big Bang, available through Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Now, the fourth in the series, George and the Unbreakable Code, is due on bookstore and library shelves in September. Happy reading and learning!

    Sincerely,

    John Nemeth Signature



    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Sigma Xi Executive Director, CEO, and Publisher of American Scientist

    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of articles that connects research and policy. Find past articles on Sigma Xi’s blog, Keyed In.

  • Vox on "The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Science"

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jul 27, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi President Tee Guidotti.

     

    Tee GuidottiVox, the popular online culture and news content provider (“magazine” is so passé!), has just published “The 7 Biggest Problems Facing Science, According to 270 Scientists,” by three of its top science writers. Our aspiring students, graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty, future administrators, and many others in the Vox demographic are reading that “science is in big trouble” and “many scientists are afflicted with a serious case of doubt—doubt in the very institution of science.” 

    Briefly, Vox Media did a survey asking 270 scientists (including some unstated proportion of graduate students) from “all over the world” one question: “If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why?  The survey obviously has big methodological and sampling problems but the findings, reordered here for logical flow, will not surprise career scientists.
     
    1. “Academia has a huge money problem.”

    Well, duh. Vox  correctly identifies universities as the pinch point, because they are the home of investigator-initiated scientific research and the boot camp for basic training in research. Vox  describes the current funding situation well but stops short of the deeper implications for academia: Universities are essentially rental units providing housing and infrastructure to cottage-industry research enterprises that depend for survival on sponsors, chiefly the U.S. federal government. When support falters or is unpredictable, it shakes the entire system: research faculty appointments, evaluation and promotion, continuity of research and training, and return on investment in research infrastructure. Investigators naturally become averse to taking risks. Arguably, research grants from the major funding agencies are no longer a solid foundation for a serious academic career. In biomedical sciences, especially, the system now leaves most  talented scientists behind and often strands them in mid-career, diverting them from other careers or fields where their contributions might be greater. 

    2. “Too many studies are poorly designed. Blame bad incentives.”

    True again. A significant portion of published science is poor quality or misleading to uncritical readers, usually junior investigators or lay readers. The volume of mediocre work clogs the literature. 

    The pressure to publish is intensifying worldwide because research activity  is equated with quality  and value  in faculty advancement. At present, the only practical way to evaluate and grade research on a mass scale is for faculty to submit their work in the form of manuscripts for peer review and to use publication as a proxy measure for quality.

    3. “Peer review is broken.”

    Not exactly news. The fundamental problem behind mediocre studies debasing the literature is that there is only one acceptable way to evaluate quality, and that is peer review. STEM publications have become so specialized that peer review can only be done by a colleague in the same or a closely related field, which leads not only to conflicts of interest but to reviewer fatigue, cursory reviews, and bias born of heuristics (mental shortcuts), because few reviewers have time to look at the problem deeply from the investigator’s nuanced point of view. Other problems of peer review are equally manifest and well known. (As a journal editor, managing peer review is my single biggest challenge.) 

    4. “Too much science is locked behind paywalls.”

    Yes, there are commercial barriers to accessing much important science: user and pay-per-view fees, subscription costs, licensing fees and royalties, proprietary data restrictions, patents, and other obstacles. The open access movement is an attempt to break through all this, a revolution with the rallying cry “information wants to be free!” Sigma Xi supports open access. Still, before universal open access can flourish unfettered, important issues of the gatekeeper roles of editors, the quality assurance function of reviewers, and the interests of authors remain to be sorted out. 

    5. “Replicating results is crucial. But scientists rarely do it.”

    Kind of true, but strict replication is not always practical. It was once common for scientists to replicate their experiments themselves several times before publishing. 

    There are only two situations today in which scientists would want to replicate someone else’s study exactly and that is 1) when they are starting a new line of investigation and have to master the technique, and 2) when the original study is already suspect or incompatible with new evidence. Otherwise, replication is time and funding lost. More often today, scientists rely on convergent evidence, in which a study using different methods produces a similar result that supports the finding.

    The main factor that discourages replication today, however, is probably the strong management pressure and policies to avoid “duplication,” which seems wasteful and unnecessary to managers, funding agencies, and Congress. 

    6. “Science is poorly communicated to the public.”

    Absolutely, undeniably true. Sigma Xi has been addressing this problem for years through its magazine, American Scientist, and through events run by its chapters that bring science to the public. 

    7. “Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful.”

    Well, yeah. No argument there. 

     
  • Sigma Xi Speaks: July 2016

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jul 19, 2016

    Moving the Needle on Research

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO John Nemeth.

     

    John NemethA poll conducted earlier this year by Research!America found that only 17 percent of Americans could name a living scientist. We, as Sigma Xi members, can and should help move the needle in a more positive direction.

    This month, I encourage you to contact your friends, civic clubs, colleagues, and elected officials―all your non-scientist relationships―to let them know that you are a researcher and invite them to come to you and Sigma Xi when they have a question about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). If you’re on social media, spread the news using #AskAScientist.

    Putting that invitation out there is an important way that we can engage with our communities and help our neighbors put a face to research. It also opens the door to helping people trust in research results. That way, they can come to understand our work and know that research is a requirement for the wellbeing of humanity.

    Trust is a key issue here. Our societies need research to be used in the process of making public and private policies. In order to make that happen, research needs to already have a place at the table. The way we get there is by building relationships now.

    An example of what I’m asking of you might be to volunteer to give a presentation at your Lions Club or respond to a question on Facebook. I knew someone for 10 years before she realized I was a scientist, and then she started asking me questions. And you know what? It was fun to answer them. Perhaps by sharing your knowledge you will inspire a student to pursue a STEM career or help someone understand our world a little bit better.

    Don’t forget to encourage those you know to subscribe to Sigma Xi SmartBrief so they can get a free email regularly about research news. Sigma Xi also has Google Hangouts featuring distinguished researchers sharing their work, and we invite the public to participate in the live broadcasts or to watch the recordings.

    I’d like to hear the questions you receive from your community. Let me know at executiveoffice@sigmaxi.org.

    Sincerely,

    John Nemeth Signature


    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Sigma Xi Executive Director, CEO, and Publisher of American Scientist


    Sigma Xi Speaks is a monthly series of articles that connect research and policy. Find past articles on Sigma Xi’s blog, Keyed In.

  • Sigma Xi Speaks: June 2016

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jun 21, 2016

    Help Build the Voice for Credible Research

    This is a guest post by Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO John C. Nemeth.

    John NemethMany members want Sigma Xi to be the voice for credible research in the United States. And it should. Supporting the public’s understanding of research and influencing policy is central to Sigma Xi’s mission.

    I need your help to create that voice on a national, and even international, scale. You are Sigma Xi’s voice in your local area and beyond. If you learn of an interesting study or research finding, pass it on through social media, send an email, or bring it up in conversation.

    I encourage you and yours to subscribe to Sigma Xi SmartBrief, if you haven’t already. It will give you plenty of news to share. It is an email sent daily, Monday through Friday, with research news from sources such as Discover, the BBC, and The Washington Post. Anyone can subscribe and it’s free. Many count it as a major membership benefit.

    Very importantly, please invite your family, friends, and elected officials to subscribe to Sigma Xi SmartBrief.  We have a letter that you may send on behalf of Sigma Xi to invite them to subscribe.

    As researchers, we need the public’s support so they trust our findings and fund our projects. The more that people know what research does for them, the more likely they are to be research supporters. Collectively, we can demonstrate how research plays a critical role in all of our lives.

    Sincerely,
    John Nemeth Signature






    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO

  • A Role for Sigma Xi in Science Policy

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 03, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi President-Elect Tee Guidotti, who recently completed a term as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Environment and Sustainability at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society, and Policy.

    TeeGuidottiforBlog240x187Sigma Xi has two main missions, to protect and strengthen the research enterprise, including protecting its integrity, and to make science accessible to, and useful for, society. Both require active involvement in public policy. Members can expect to see more activity coming in science policy. 

    What is this “science policy” of which I speak? 

    Science policy is a well-established, coherent field of public service. It rests on the observation that there are two interacting relationships between science and public policy, commonly formulated (after Roger Pielke, Jr.) as “science for policy” and “policy for science.”  

    Science for policy is the application of scientific knowledge to problems in public policy. This implies that the scientific knowledge is understood, digested, and integrated into policy options by those who shape and make decisions. Acceptance of advice is profoundly influenced by public understanding, appreciation for, and acceptance of science, and even more by the level of comprehension and acceptance by decision-makers. 

    Policy for science is the formulation of public policy for the support and promotion of scientific research and STEM education. The natural tendency of governments and politicians is to look at research as an engine of economic growth and its output as the sum of its products, rather than the transformational power of science through awareness, understanding, and explanation. Funding agencies, scientific societies, and investigators in the basic sciences constantly resist pressure, usually from politicians, to judge all science solely on the industrial model of short-term return on investment, rather than the public good model of knowledge as a deep and growing resource.
     
    A key insight of science policy studies is that the two sides of science policy interact, so that what is known and available as knowledge upon which to draw to solve problems in the present (in other words, science for policy) is limited by what support there has been in the past for research (in other words, the previous administration’s or regime’s policy for science). Similarly, current public support for scientific research is largely determined not by the achievements of science as a way of knowing about the world, which is what inquiry-driven science was designed to do, but by what has been deemed useful in the immediate past and has yielded wonder or familiar practical benefit. 

    Detractors of science and policy skeptics, and they are legion, reduce this formulation to caricature. To them, “science for policy” means “take my word for it because you can’t understand” and “policy for science” means “budget more money” because “more research is needed.” This caricature leads to the pernicious perception that scientists and engineers are nothing more than an interest group like all other self-serving interest groups, whose concerns should be managed politically. This may seem like just ordinary anti-intellectual posturing but it is much deeper than that. It has its roots in genuine confusion over the role of science and who benefits from it. It also has roots in a pernicious intellectual argument still raging in the humanities (the attack on “logical positivism”) that was aimed at scientism (the belief that all problems can be solved by science alone) but hit an innocent victim (the concept of objective reality) instead. Overcoming this perception of science as self-serving, particularly at a time when trust in scientists is declining, is one of our biggest challenges. Professionals in the STEM disciplines usually have little patience and no desire to engage in such arguments and so abandon the field. 

    Great scientists have distinguished themselves in public policy, separate from the contributions made through their scientific work and distinct from just expressing opinions: Einstein, Polanyi, Bush, Haldane, and Newton to name a few. Too often, however, science policy is viewed with disdain by scientists and engineers, who consider it to be no more than “science politics.” 

    Such attitudes equate to surrendering the future of science to those in positions of power who least understand it. Indifference to science policy is an abnegation of responsibility, an invitation for research and the interests of scholars in the STEM disciplines to be manipulated and exploited by politics, money, and power. 

    Rational public policy needs the input of science. Rationality in public policy requires a culture that appreciates objective truth, evidence, and logical thinking, in other words, the values of science. Science policy is therefore not just about good science well interpreted, but a culture of science. 

    Sigma Xi can play a constructive role in science policy in many ways. Sigma Xi can, if members support the idea, provide training for improving members’ skills in science communication, serving (not pontificating) as good, “honest brokers” for science policy, promoting nonpartisan political and sociotechnical awareness,  invigilating integrity in science so that our own moral position is firm, and demonstrating effectiveness in advocating for support of, and analyzing policies for, science.  

     
  • My Experience at the USA Science & Engineering Festival

    by Heather Thorstensen | Apr 28, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi member Thorsen Wehr, a freshman at the University of Washington. Sigma Xi sent Thorsen to the USA Science & Engineering Festival thanks to support from DIRECTV.

    ThorsenWehr_AtPodiumRecently I had the honor of representing Sigma Xi as a student researcher at the USA Science & Engineering Festival's X-STEM event in Washington, D.C.! The event is aimed towards educating K–12 students in current science endeavors as well as promote interest in STEM. It was absolutely amazing, full of great speakers from astronauts to startup company representatives.

    (A full speaker line-up is online.)

    My presentation to these students was to inform them on how to get into science research, including where to start and how to create a successful research experiment. My goal for this event was to inspire students that might have been on the fence about research to commit and try it out! The presentation went very well, with a crowd of students lined up to ask additional questions after the time ran out. I am still taking email questions from students and trying to help them all figure out where to take their interest in STEM. I even got to sign the trading cards they made of me like some sort of celebrity! 

    TradingCards1I was sure to mention the Chronicle of The New Researcher, Sigma Xi's online journal for high school research, which has been very beneficial for me, and am excited to see a flood of new, exciting research be submitted next year. I was excited when given this opportunity because after the success I have had with student research, I want every student to be aware of the plethora of support and recognition that is waiting for them. It is my honor to take my experiences through research and use them as an example for the future of student research. If my presentation convinced even just one student to take their passion for STEM and apply it towards research, I am glad that I went. 

    Through this presentation, I have learned just how engaged these students really are about science. I was expecting to see a room full of students brought in by their schools, unwillingly sitting through lecture after lecture. What I found was a room full of attentive students sitting on the edges of their seats, some even taking notes. I am very glad to see that there is such a large group of interested students for the future, and am glad I could be the one to help them on their road to success. The footage of my talk should be up soon on the USA Science & Engineering Festival site!

    ThorsenWehr_WhiteHouse

  • Connecting Science to Policy

    by John Nemeth | Mar 16, 2016

    John NemethI am pleased to welcome you to the second installment of Sigma Xi Speaks! This initiative provides you with policy-relevant information generated by the Society’s communications and publications staff. Sigma Xi Speaks is distributed on a regular basis to ensure that you have the most up-to-date facts and figures. I want to urge readers to pass the links (or even copy the articles) to family and friends through their social medium of choice. Let us know how you shared it and stay tuned.

    First, I’d like to draw your attention to the recent publication  of the areas of consensus and debate results from last year's Communicating Science for Policy conference. In August 2015, Sigma Xi and Institute on Science for Global Policy coordinated this event, which focused on linking scientifically credible information to the formulation and implementation of sound, effective policies.

    The conference organizers and participants identified three main areas of consensus:

    • Publicly funded organizations have a responsibility to report the results of scientific research in a meaningful manner to nonexperts (i.e., the public or policy makers) in a timely and accessible format, using nontechnical language and having relevance to the audience’s respective lifestyles and policy decisions.

    • Storytelling is a valid and credible method of communicating science. The storyteller needs to deliver an accurate, transparent, and ethical interpretation of the scientific data.

    • Efforts must be made to improve public literacy concerning science by (i) training individuals in how to effectively communicate scientific information and (ii) teaching individuals how to more rationally evaluate the validity and relevance of the scientific information conveyed.

    The March–April 2016 issue of American Scientist  includes research and insights on three major topics—the effects of a changing climate on forestry, agriculture, gardening, tourism, and ecology; the increase in production and use of nanoparticles; and the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

    In the article, “Spring Budburst in a Changing Climate,” (Mar–Apr 2016, pages 102–109) authors Richard Primack and Amanda Gallinat describe the challenges we face as climate change causes leaf emergence times to desynchronize from evolved bird and insect activity patterns. Researchers at botanical gardens around the world are collectively monitoring leafing out times to understand this heretofore under-appreciated aspect of natural history, so that we can make better predictions about forest ecosystems as the climate changes. The forthcoming changes will affect a number of key industries, including forestry, agriculture, and tourism.

    Spotlight  interview (Mar–Apr 2016, pages 70–72) with research chemist Bryant Nelson illuminates emerging issues related to the regulation of the booming nanoparticle production industry. Managing Editor Fenella Saunders spoke to Nelson about the possibility that nanoparticles may cause genetic damage. Nelson said that we need new methods and technologies to be able to detect and discriminate between the different types of nanomaterials that are potentially entering the environment.

    Students and the MS PHD's programIn the article, “How to Recruit and Retain Underrepresented Minorities” (Mar–Apr 2016, pages 76–81) Ashanti Johnson and Melanie Harrison Okoro share their experiences creating programs to attract people of color into marine science. Johnson, the assistant vice provost for faculty recruitment and associate professor of environmental science for the University of Texas at Arlington, and recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, and Okoro, a NOAA water quality specialist and Johnson’s former mentee, provide details about what works to attract and retain students, while emphasizing the need for additional resources to support underrepresented minorities in research.

    We hope you will use these resources to advance your science policy efforts. And let us know if you are looking for information about a particular policy issue.

    Sincerely,

    John Nemeth Signature

    John C. Nemeth, PhD
    Sigma Xi Executive Director and CEO 

     
     
  • Making Sense out of the Census: Diversity, Science, and Tomorrow

    by Heather Thorstensen | Feb 29, 2016

    This is a guest post written by Richard Watkins, the director of Sigma Xi’s Southeastern Region.

    Richard Watkins

    As the beneficiary of goodwill from my scientific mentors, I maintain a passion for increasing diversity in science and serving as a role model for future generations of scientific leaders. To this point, I owe my presence in the scientific community to those minority scientists who took me under their wing and introduced me to the broader scientific community. Now that I am advancing my own career, it seems natural for me to give back.

    Richard Watkins with Chancellor’s Science Scholars On several occasions while attending scientific conferences, I’ve been approached by aspiring minority scientists who unexpectedly thanked me. When I ask why they are thanking me, they respond by saying that seeing me—a young black researcher—reassures them that they too can become a scientist. Although this is personally fulfilling, I believe there is much more work to be done to improve minority participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. 

    Historically, white men have dominated the scientific enterprise, but over the past several decades, many initiatives have been undertaken to increase diversity in science. Despite major initiatives designed to address the disparity, it has been difficult to determine whether the state of diversity in science has improved. To evaluate the progress toward this goal, several organizations have collected data regarding diversity in science, most notably is the U.S. Census. 

    The 2010 U.S. Census data paints a very sobering picture of the lack of gender diversity in science. Women represent over 47.5% of the residential population of the U.S., but represent only 25.8% of the STEM workforce. These statistics are for the most part reversed for STEM-related occupations, a classification from the U.S. Census that includes jobs such as medical and health services managers, registered nurses, and dental hygienists. STEM-related occupations are held predominately by women (26% to 74% men to women respectively). It is well-known that systemic barriers prevent women from STEM careers (National Survey Conducted by AAAS and Science Confirms Continuing Obstacles to Women in Science, Ginger Pinholster, September 28, 2010); however defining and eliminating those barriers has proven difficult. As a result, men represent 61% of all science and engineering graduates, whereas women only represent 39%.

    Gender is not the only area of diversity in which the scientific community struggles to achieve balance; race is another glaring problem. According to the U.S. Census data, non-Hispanic whites and Asians are overrepresented in STEM occupations. While over 70% percent of the U.S. STEM workforce is composed of whites, less than 14% is black or Hispanic. Hispanics represent 14.9% of the total workforce but only 6.5% of the STEM workforce. Similarly, blacks represent 10.8% of the overall workforce but only 6.4% of the STEM workforce.     

    It is not clear why the representation of blacks and Hispanics in the STEM workforce fails to reflect their representation in the general workforce. The problem appears to manifest as a result of their underrepresentation in STEM degree programs. Blacks only represent 7.1% of those with bachelor degrees in science. Similarly Hispanics represent 6.8% of those with bachelor degrees in a science or engineering field. Therefore it seems there is a need to recruit at an early age and provide support as these students progress through STEM programs.

    Recruiting minorities into the STEM workforce is about more than equal representation. Given that the median income for STEM occupations is consistently higher than the median income for U.S. workers, minority groups are missing out on an opportunity to address economic disparity. According to the U.S. Census data, the median income for black families is $20,000 less per year than the American median income. However, a woman who receives a bachelor’s degree in science and goes into the STEM workforce on average earns $75,000 annually, whereas the average annual income of the total workforce is $58,800. That’s a difference of $16,200. Therefore, a career in science becomes a means toward economic stability and progression. This is essential for the empowerment of economically disadvantaged groups. Thus it is paramount that all groups are initially given fair and equitable access to programs that develop proficiencies in science and technology and, ultimately, pathways to STEM careers.

    The Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides a pathway to success for highly able students who aspire to become leading PhD and MD/PhD scientists in our increasingly interdisciplinary world. Aiming to increase the diversity among future science leaders, CSS is modeled after the nationally recognized Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program provides a head start and continuous support for superb students, allowing them to succeed in math and science at the highest level (http://chancellorssciencescholars.web.unc.edu).

    As the program coordinator for the Chancellor’s Scholars Program, I focus on preparing students for success in graduate school and beyond. Together with similar programs implemented at other institutions, we are working to cultivate and groom the world’s best talent. With an emphasis on diversity, the Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program is part of the University of North Carolina’s larger commitment to diversity in STEM (http://www.unc.edu/spotlight/diversity-in-stem/).        

    Richard Watkins is the program coordinator of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Photo caption: The author with students in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Chancellor's Science Scholars Program. 

  • How to Engage More African Americans in STEM

    by Heather Thorstensen | Feb 26, 2016

    What could help more African Americans be successful in science, technology, engineering, and math? Janelle Simmons, Sigma Xi's manager of programs, moderated a discussion on this topic that was held over a Google Hangout on February 22, 2016.

    The panelists were Ashanti Johnson, assistant vice provost for faculty recruitment and associate professor of environmental science for the University of Texas at Arlington as well as executive director of the Institute for Broadening Participation; Melanie Harrison Okoro, water quality specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its National Marine Fisheries Service West Region aquatic invasive species coordinator; and Danielle Lee of Cornell University, a TED fellow and a biologist who studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology.

    Lee also writes the blog, The Urban Scientist. Johnson and Okoro co-wrote "How to Recruit and Retain Underrepresented Minorities," an article published in the March–April 2016 issue of Sigma Xi's magazine, American Scientist.

  • Become a Voice for Science

    by John Nemeth | Feb 09, 2016

    John NemethOn January 13, 2016, I invited you to become a voice for science by participating in a communication experiment. Today, as promised, I am pleased to welcome you to the first installment of Sigma Xi Speaks! Through this new initiative, we will provide you with policy-relevant information generated by the Society’s communications and publications staff. We encourage you to share this information with your friends, family, colleagues, and local and national elected officials via social media, email, or in-person. Please let us know how you shared it and stay tuned. We’ll be distributing new installments of Sigma Xi Speaks on a regular basis.

    Sigma Xi’s magazine, American Scientist, often contains unbiased, scientific information that can be shared with policymakers at all levels to inform policy decisions. Articles from the November–December 2015 and January–February 2016 issues include research and insights on four national issues—consideration of future energy options, the environmental impact of dam building, the problem of sexism in science, and the secondary benefits of federally funded innovations.

    In the article, The Rising Cost of Resources and Global Indicators of Change,” (NovDec 2015, pages 410417) author Carey King, assistant director at the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, explains the importance of considering the biophysical and socioeconomic context in which we make decisions about our energy future.

    This may interest you because:

    • The author states that the turn of the 21st century marked an important societal milestone, as the time of the cheapest food and energy the world has ever known. However, the trend of increasing food and energy services consuming a declining proportion of our economic output (in terms of gross domestic product) seems to be over.

    • It is practically impossible for us to significantly alter many of the long-term causes of energy and food cost trends. As a consequence, the ability of our energy system to aid in the achievement of environmental and socioeconomic goals lies primarily in using technology to consume less energy and deal with the fact that Earth is a finite planet.

    • We have, and we will, continue to develop innovations in our food and energy systems, but we must be humble in what we expect to achieve in terms of the cost of these necessities.

    XinguWork that contributes to understanding the impact of future megadams on global biodiversity is featured in Where the Xingu Bends and Will Soon Break” (NovDec 2015, pages 395403). Mark Sabaj Pérez, interim curator of ichthyology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, served as co-principal investigator on the iXingu Project, a collaborative effort to help establish ecological and biological baselines for the Xingu River in Brazil. His team gathered a wealth of specimens and empirical data that, when combined with Brazilian-led studies, afford a valuable snapshot of the fauna and ecology of the middle and lower Xingu. Such knowledge is essential for assessing the eventual impacts of the Belo Monte megadam building project and will inform future efforts to conserve what remains of the Xingu.

    Pat Shipman, professor emerita of anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University, shares her experiences dealing with institutional sexism, in Taking the Long View on Sexism in Science” (NovDec 2015, pages 392394). Decades after Shipman’s departure from academic science, too many others are still leaving for the same reasons. She states that as long as the leadership in science is so overwhelmingly oblivious to discrimination, the fight to root out conscious and unconscious bias against women will continue.

    The applications of airborne LiDAR are growing ever more diverse. In their article, Archaeology from the Air” (JanFeb 2016, pages 2835), William Carter, Ramesh Shrestha, and Juan Fernandez-Diaz describe the scientific benefits of this technology. It was originally developed for use by state departments of transportation and environmental protection to reduce the time and cost of acquiring the information they needed to build new highways, measure beach erosion, delineate flood zones, and quantify damage from forest fires and other natural disasters. In addition to refining federal engineering projects, use of airborne LiDAR systems by archaeologists has revolutionized the mapping of remote ancient ruins hidden by vegetation. Today, airborne LiDAR is used to meet a range of research needs, from research designed to test geomorphic transport laws, map channel incision, explain hydrologic processes, define vegetation patterns and explore their controls, document snow accumulation, quantify floodplain sedimentation, document and discover active faulting, map landslides, predict fire hazards, characterize impact craters, quantify lava flow mechanics, document sediment transport and erosion, and monitor beach erosion. The prospects for LiDAR continue to expand thanks to continued investment by federal agencies.

    We look forward to hearing about how you’re spreading the word and the feedback you’re receiving.

    John C. Nemeth is the executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

    Photo caption: Brazil's Xingu River, the third largest tributary to the Amazon, harbors rapids among the most extensive in the world. The man in the photograph above is from the Juruna ethnic group and, although posed, is showing a traditional form of fishing with bow and arrow in the Xingu's rapids. Image courtesy of Verena Glass/Xingu Vivo.

  • Drawing a Crowd for Science

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jan 26, 2016

    This guest post was written by Christopher M. Graney.

    Occasionally science outreach works and expands the audience of people attentive to science. One such occasion was on the evening of December 9, 2015, in Louisville, Kentucky. The Louisville Chapter of Sigma Xi sponsored a program at the Louisville Free Public Library that drew 600 people. They came to hear two scientists from two different centuries speak. The event was titled: “Beneath the Same Sky: A Vatican Astronomer and a Civil War General Speak to Louisville about the Heavens.” 

    Ad715

    Beneath the Same Sky SpeakersOne of our speakers was Dr. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit Brother who Pope Francis recently appointed Director of the Vatican Observatory and who has written some very popular books on astronomy, including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ). The other was Kentucky-born Ormsby Mitchel, founder of the Cincinnati Observatory and a General in the Union Army in the Civil War (Mitchel was portrayed by teaching artist Tony Dingman of the Frazier History Museum).

    Dingman spoke first as Mitchel, describing the vast scale of the universe in a speech closely based on one given in 1847 by the real Mitchel. He noted that the universe was comprehensible by human beings, being governed by laws we can understand. Of the universe and its laws he stated, “God has given us these works for our examination, and He has given us this intellect by which we are enabled to comprehend their structures; and it is by this that we are able to rise—to climb—to soar, by our own efforts and by His aid.”

    Guy ConsolmagnoConsolmagno spoke about the Vatican Observatory and about the nature of science, focusing on ideas from the history of astronomy that were “almost correct”—ideas which ranged from the relationship between comets and meteor showers to the nature of the moons of Jupiter. “Sometimes,” he said, “science makes its most significant progress when it’s almost correct—which is to say, when it’s wrong.” He took questions from the audience, ranging from whether the recent flyby of Pluto changed his mind about the dwarf planet (he was on the committee that recommended that Pluto no longer be classified as a planet) to how he fit together his scientific knowledge and the book of Genesis. The speakers were regularly interrupted by laughter and applause, and the comments that both the library and our chapter received were unanimously positive.

    The full program can be viewed on Youtube

    Tony Dingman and crowdOur chapter wanted a program to raise Sigma Xi’s profile in the community, attract new members, and revive lapsed members. That meant a program featuring a noted scientist who would generate broad interest. Consolmagno is such a scientist. He has appeared on The Colbert Report. He received the American Astronomical Society’s 2014 Carl Sagan Medal for his ability to communicate with the public. Moreover, with the popularity of Pope Francis and the heavy media coverage of his recent U.S. visit, a Vatican astronomer seemed likely to draw interest (but we never expected to draw 600 people). Mitchel added a local connection and has also been compared to Sagan for his communication ability.

    I made the acquaintance of both astronomers through my research on astronomy’s history. A focus of that research has been the seventeenth-century astronomer  Giovanni Battista Riccioli. He studied gravity, gave lunar features the names we now use, and assembled strong scientific arguments against the Copernican system. He was also a Jesuit, which led me to a modern Jesuit astronomer: Consolmagno. 

    Tony DingmanAcquaintance with Mitchel came through a conference at the University of Notre Dame this past summer. There Trudy Bell, an editor with Sky & Telescope, talked on Mitchel and his speaking ability. That brought to mind the Frazier History Museum. Their teaching artists excel at portraying historical figures using their own words. Long-standing contacts with the library and the Frazier, and the support of my college, brought it all together.

    The program succeeded partly because of the partners—the Frazier and the library both had extensive community contacts. We also used chapter funds for advertising. But the biggest reason for its success was the speakers, who were scientists with “crossover appeal,” bringing in people whose interests lay in the areas of history, religion, oratory, and even theater (Dingman is known in the Louisville arts scene) as well as science.

    Tony Dingman and crowd overhead shotTwo other points are worth mentioning. The library had to limit the number of tickets (free) given out for the program because of space concerns. Otherwise, the crowd would have been larger. Also, this is not our chapter’s first program to draw hundreds of people: in 2011 we packed the local planetarium to beyond overflowing with another science-and-history talk.

    Thus the experience of our chapter suggests that one way to find success in science outreach and in expanding the audience of people attentive to science is to form partnerships with local institutions, to feature serious science speakers who also appeal to people with other interests, and to include history!

    Christopher M. Graney is president of the Sigma Xi Louisville Chapter, a physics and astronomy professor at Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, and author of the new book Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science Against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015). Pictures courtesy of Larry Gettleman, the Louisville Chapter's treasurer.

    Photo captions
    1st photo:
    The event's two speakers were Tony Dingman of the Frazier History Museum, left, who portrayed a Civil War general who founded the Cincinnati Observatory, and Guy Consolmagno, who Pope Francis recently appointed director of the Vatican Observatory and who has written books on astronomy. 

    2nd photo: Guy Consolmagno spoke of the Vatican Observatory, the nature of science, and ideas in history that were "almost correct."

    3rd photo: Tony Dingman presents to the audience of 600 people that came to the Louisville Free Public Library to hear about science and history.

    4th photo: Tony Dingman spoke first as Civil War General Ormsby Mitchel, describing the vast scale of the universe in a speech closely based on one given in 1847 by the real Mitchel.

    5th photo: The Louisville Free Public Library, which hosted the event, offered free tickets to make sure they had enough space for the audience. 

  • These Tips Will Help You Choose A Graduate Advisor

    by Jamie Vernon | Dec 09, 2015

    If my memory of graduate school serves me Student with advisorwell, first-year graduate students are currently in the process of rotating through research laboratories with hopes of finding the perfect home, a lab where they will spend countless hours conducting experiments and forming professional relationships. The stakes are high. They’ll have to consider what type of research they would like to do and who their advisor will be. 

    Their advisor will task them with a research project that will greatly influence their career trajectory and shape their personal and professional life for years to come. So, how should these students go about making this critical decision?  

    Considering that only 57% of individuals entering graduate school will complete their degrees and fewer will secure an academic position, students should be aware of the factors that contribute to their success. You might assume that the graduate advisor plays an important role, and you'd be correct. In a 2013 Cell article about selecting a graduate advisor, Ben Barres states, “Good mentorship is not only pivotal for career success, but it is pivotal for driving innovation and for the health of our universities.” He goes on to provide advice on how to pick a graduate advisor.

    "One of the most important tasks of an advisor is to help his or her student to formulate a good and tractable question and then to gently guide a student to formulate good experiments to address this question while encouraging the student to be increasingly independent over time," Barres writes.

    There is a general consensus that choosing a good mentor is critical to graduate student performance and that extends to the postdoctoral experience. In a recent American Scientist column, Rachel Levy explains that postdocs seeking academic careers appear to benefit professionally from well-designed professional development and structured oversight. One of the primary factors students should consider in choosing an advisor is the quality of mentorship they will receive.  But, is there more to that decision?

    In Sigma Xi’s member communities, Ali Baghchehsara, a student member from Iran, asked for advice from his fellow Sigma Xi members on finding an advisor.
    advisorquestion

    Sigma Xi members recommended these steps:

    1. Determine what you would like to research.

      Start your search by identifying the field of your discipline that is most interesting to you, then read the scientific literature to learn who is already working in that area.

      “Try to narrow your field of interests within the discipline by remembering what papers, what lectures, what projects made you interested enough to apply to grad school in the first place. Find out who in the world is publishing in these areas in the last five to 10 years,” wrote John Smith of East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

      Another way to find potential advisors is to become an active student member in the association for your field, suggested Ronald G. Shapiro, a speaker and consultant who works in career development.

    2. Contact potential advisors and get to know them.

      Don’t be shy. It’s up to you to get in touch with the person who you may want as an advisor and start building a relationship.

      “Get to know professors by talking to them after talks or during department social events or even by taking a class they teach,” said another Sigma Xi member.

      David A. Boothman of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas advises rotating through at least three labs before joining one.

      “Science is a people game, like everything else,” wrote Smith. “It requires interaction with a professor.”

    3. Talk to people who are already in the lab.

      Visit the potential advisor’s lab and pay close attention to how the graduate students who are already there act, even down to their body language, said Rajesh Ramakrishnan of Baylor College of Medicine.

      “Most of all, understand [this] group of people will be your surrogate family for the time you are in the lab,” he wrote.

      Philip K. Stoddard of Florida International University suggests taking the lab members out for a drink off campus, without the potential advisor, to get a sense of how they truly feel about their choice. 

      “If they start telling funny stories about their advisor, that’s a good sign; war stories are a bad sign,” Stoddard wrote.

    4. Ask to join the lab.

      If everything goes well up to this point, ask the advisor if space, and funding, exists for you to join the lab.

      “Once you find a professor you’ve hit it off with, let them know you’re potentially interested in joining their lab,” wrote one Sigma Xi member. “Be sure to ask what their funding situation is and to find out what projects they might have in mind for a new lab member.”

    What are your thoughts? Is mentorship the most important factor in choosing a graduate advisor?

    Active Sigma Xi members, to join the conversation in the Sigma Xi membership communities, go to: http://community.sigmaxi.org/home or add to this particular discussion thread

    Additional reading:

    http://www.phdcompletion.org/resources/CGSNSF2008_Sowell.pdf

    https://hst.mit.edu/sites/default/files/Barres%20BA.Neuron.80.275.2013.pdf

    http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/2014/6/postdoc-mentorship-can-launch-careers/99999

    Heather Thorstensen contributed to this post.
    Image: VIC CVUT/ Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0



  • October Madness: Raffle Winner

    by Heather Thorstensen | Oct 13, 2015
    HeatherThorstensen

    It's time to announce the inaugural October Madness raffle winner.
    Congratulations to Alexis Verger! Alexis won a membership to Sigma Xi's Affiliate Circle, with the annual dues waived for one year (a $70 value). Membership in the Affiliate Circle includes a one-year subscription to Sigma Xi's magazine, American Scientist.

     Anyone who nominated a 2015 Nobel Prize laureate to our October Madness prediction brackets could be entered in the raffle. In this first year, we had one successful nominator: Jamie Vernon, Sigma Xi's director of science communications and publications. Jamie nominated Arthur McDonald, who went on to share this year's Nobel Prize in Physics with Takaaki Kajita for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.

    Because Jamie is a member of our staff, he passed on his prize to one of the other nominators, and we picked Alexis randomly. 

    Congratulations again, Alexis! Look for my email for more details about joining Sigma Xi's Affiliate Circle. 

    Related Reading

    October Madness: Announcement of Champions

    October Madness: Final 4

    October Madness: Elite 8

    October Madness: Sweet 16 

    Are You Ready for October Madness?


    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

     

     

  • October Madness: Announcement of Champions

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 29, 2015
    HeatherThorstensen

    After crowd sourcing nominations and four rounds of voting, we have the inaugural October Madness Champions! Thanks to everyone who participated by voting in Sigma Xi's Nobel Prize prediction brackets for the 2015 prizes in physiology or medicine, chemistry, and physics.



    Physiology or Medicine

    Your prediction for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is Craig Venter, Francis Collins, and Eric Lander for the human genome sequence.

    Venter120x120
    Francis Collins  Eric Lander 
     Craig Venter  Francis Collins  Eric Lander

     

    How you voted in the final round:

    Craig Venter, Francis Collins and Eric Lander for the human genome sequence

     57.1%

    David J. Julius for investigations on the molecular basis for pain and thermosensation

     42.9%


    Champions PhysiologyMed









    Chemistry

    Your prediction for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, and Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry. 

    Gray120x120
     Lippard120x120  Holm120x120
     Harry Gray  Stephen Lippard  Richard Holm


    How you voted in the final round:

    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry 

     53.8%

     Michael Grätzel for solar cells

     46.2%


    Champions in Chemistry

     

    Physics

    Your prediction for the Nobel Prize in Physics is Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter.

    Rubin120x120
     Kent Ford
     Vera Rubin  Kent Ford


    How you voted in the final round:

    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter

     66.7% 

     Geoffrey Marcy, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for discovery of extrasolar planets 

     33.3%



    Champions in Physics

    Who Will Officially Win? 

    Watch for the official Nobel Prize announcements from NobelPrize.org. According to their website, the announcements will be made at these dates and times (times are listed as local time in Sweden):

    Physiology or Medicine: Monday, October 5, 11:30 a.m. at the earliest
    Physics: Tuesday, October 6, 11:45 a.m. at the earliest 
    Chemistry: Wednesday, October 7, 11:45 a.m. at the earliest 

     

    October Madness Isn't Over

    Anyone who nominated a researcher who goes on to win a Nobel Prize this year will be entered into our raffle for prizes. Stay tuned! We plan to announce winners on October 13. Plus, we will be back next year with the 2016 round of October Madness!

    Looking Back on Voting

    Sweet 16 Voting Results

    Elite 8 Voting Results

    Final 4 Voting Results

    Other Predictions

    We aren't the only one making predictions. See other's ideas in this article from Nature. 

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


  • October Madness: Finals

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 15, 2015
    HeatherThorstensen

    We're down to the finals in October Madness, Sigma Xi's public Nobel Prize prediction contest!  Vote through Sunday, September 27, until 11:59 p.m. EDT, for the researchers you think are worthy of becoming the inaugural October Madness Champions! We're predicting the Nobel Prizes for physiology or medicine, chemistry, and physics. 

    Final 4 voting results are at the bottom of this page. Please share this contest with anyone who may be interested. Remember to use #OctoberMadness on social media! 

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

    Physiology or Medicine Bracket
    The Finals October Madness Physiology or Medicine match-up is:

    J. Craig Venter, Francis Collins, and Eric Lander for the human genome sequence
    VS.
    David J. Julius for investigations on the molecular basis for pain and thermosensation

    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    Chemistry Bracket
    The Finals October Madness Chemistry match-up is:

    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry
    VS.
    Michael Grätzel for solar cells

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

    Physics BracketThe Finals October Madness Physics match-up is:

    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS.
    Geoffrey Marcy, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for discovery of extrasolar planets

    Final 4 Round Results

    Physiology or Medicine*

    Chemistry

    Physics

    *We had a tie between David J. Julius for investigations on the molecular basis for pain and thermosensation and Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter for unfolded protein response pathway. To break it, we looked at how the these researchers would have done if matched in the Elite 8 round. Julius had more votes, so Julius advanced to the finals.

    Looking Back

    Elite 8 Voting Results

    Sweet 16 Voting Results

  • October Madness: Final 4

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 09, 2015
    Heather Thorstensen

    We're down to the Final 4 in Sigma Xi's Nobel Prize prediction contest, October Madness. Check out the Elite 8 results, then vote in the Final 4 round until midnight EDT on September 13, 2015. Your votes will decide who will make it through to the semi-finals!

    Please invite your family, friends, and colleagues to vote. If you're using social media, our hashtag is #OctoberMadness. Check back with Keyed In next week for the semi-finals. 

    Elite 8 Results

    Physiology or Medicine*

    Chemistry

    Physics**

    *We had our first tie in the Elite 8 round's Physiology or Medicine bracket. Voters were split equally between Nicholas Lydon, Brian J. Druker, and Charles L. Sawyers for development of chronic myelogenous leukemia treatments and Joseph Altman and Elizabeth Gould for adult neurogenesis. For the tie-breaker, we looked at how the two would have done if matched in the Sweet 16 round. Altman and Gould received 28 votes compared to 22 votes given to Lydon, Druker, and Sawyers. Altman and Gould advance.

    **We also had our first unanimous winners! Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter in the Physics bracket advance to the Final 4 with 100% of the votes from the Elite 8 round. 

     

    Final 4 Voting

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.



    2015-08Final4_Physiology or Medicine

    The Final 4 October Madness Physiology or Medicine match-ups are:

    1. 
    J. Craig Venter, Francis Collins, and Eric Lander for the human genome sequence
    VS.
    Joseph Altman and Elizabeth Gould for adult neurogenesis

    2. 
    David J. Julius for investigations on the molecular basis for pain and thermosensation
    VS.
    Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter for unfolded protein response pathway



    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    Final4 Chemistry

    The Final 4 October Madness Chemistry match-ups are:

    1. 
    Mildred Dresselhaus for carbon chemistry
    VS.
    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry

    2. 
    Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke for organic light emitting diodes
    VS.
    Michael Grätzel for solar cells




    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics. 

    Final 4 Physics

    The Final 4 October Madness Final 4 match-ups are:

    1. 
    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS.
    Margaret Geller for mapping the universe

    2. 
    Geoffrey Marcy, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for discovery of extrasolar planets
    VS.
    John Pendry, David R. Smith, and Ulf Leonhardt for discovery of negative refraction

  • Communication, Literacy, Policy: Thoughts on SciComm in a Democracy

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 03, 2015

    Rick BorcheltThis guest post was written by Rick Borchelt, who participated in the Communicating Science for Policy Workshop held August 10–11, 2015, in Durham, North Carolina. The workshop was hosted by the Institute on Science for Global Policy and organized in cooperation with Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

    Veteran science blogger Ed Yong recently commented on live Twitter feeds originating from (yet another) conference on how to improve science communication:
    Ed Young's tweet



    Remarkably discerning for someone who wasn’t even in the room! I was in the room, as I often am for these kinds of conversations, and while the discussion is always passionate, and intense, and vibrant, it’s often (almost always) … um, kind of pointless. Here’s why.

    The conversations among the scientists and a surprisingly large number of science communicators almost always start with a reinvention of the wheel — the premise that more science communication is good. Can’t argue with that generally, assuming the quality is up to par and care is taken to make sure it’s an accurate reflection of the science involved. But then the discussants almost always go a step beyond to assert that better science communication will lead to increased science literacy. And other magnificent good things.

    Here’s where the conversation starts going off the tracks. Because there is not a shred of good data to support this assertion.  

    Science Communication for Policy WorkshopIn fact, there is little evidence that anything we have done as science communicators since the end of World War II has moved the needle one mark on the science literacy scale — we’ve poured lots of money in it and literacy hasn’t changed, we’ve gone through lean times with almost no funding and literacy hasn’t changed, science journalism has been in the catbird seat for a while and then in a tailspin for a decade and science literacy hasn’t changed, Bill Nye the Science Guy came and went on television and science literacy didn’t change, we’ve launched initiative after adult, informal science education initiative after initiative from NSF, NASA, NOAA and the rest of the known science funding universe and science literacy remains stubbornly low. And we continue to agonize over this.  

    What the data do support is that there is a minority — a large minority, granted, somewhere around 20 percent of the American public — that could be classified as “science attentive.” They seek out some kinds of science information proactively, most often on health-related matters. But the audience that we assume is there to read with joy and awe and optimism about the wonders of science writ large is, well … there isn’t one. Or at least there isn’t one large enough to write a check to do science writing or science communication on any kind of large scale. If willingness to pay for science content is any kind of indication, then adult Americans by and large would much rather watch Game of Thrones. Or Cait Jenner. Or soccer.

    We can write great stories, film PSAs, upload YouTube videos, host Google hangouts and Reddit AMAs, and send legions of scientists out into museums and science cafes until the cows come home and they’ll still only be talking to a very small number of adults. And usually the same people, over and over and over again. Nothing we are doing as science communicators is recruiting new people into the ranks of the science attentive. Or improving science literacy.

    For this, in our meetings and conferences we typically blame the audience. If only they were smarter or better educated to begin with, they would obviously want to pay more attention to science. If only they understood how critical a role scientists play in our everyday lives, they would pay more attention to what we do. If only they would stop paying attention to Kim Kardashian and watch more PBS, they would obviously want to pay more attention to science. And science literacy would skyrocket.

    And once we’re done blaming the audience, we blame the media, albeit there aren’t really enough traditional science media around to blame anymore. Media hype science stories, especially medical ones, until people don’t know what to believe anymore. PR people at federal agencies and corporations spin stories to make their missions and their products more important or more credible than they are, and the media eat this pabulum up like marmalade on toast. Even though we are sure people actually want to see hard-hitting, scientifically based nature footage of calm sharks going about their business in murky surf, the media persist in showing us Shark Week and Sharknado. If they didn’t, people would be more scientifically literate.  

    And for good measure, we whip the scientists a little too, lest we be accused of favoritism.  Scientists don’t understand how to talk to normal people. Scientists put the stink eye on any of their fraternity who deign to popularize science. Scientists have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from the bench to talk to the unwashed masses.  Scientists need to be taught how to tell a story rather than recite a thesis.

    These conversations are about 90 percent of the discussion at conferences on science communication — usually all but the last 15 minutes of a two-day talk-fest. Granted, there’s usually one evidence-based outlier invited in to talk social science findings, but that’s usually sandwiched somewhere between lunch and the time the first folks start heading for the door for an early airplane flight. Hence Ed’s Entmoot.

    No productive recommendations can come from these discussions, because they are flawed from the get-go. We need to face the facts that science is a low-salience issue for most Americans, Kim Kardashian is more salient, and very little we can ever do is going to change that. Wishing will not make it so. A legion of Carl Sagans will not make it so. A 40-page Tuesday Science Times delivered to your doorstep or to your iPad every week will not make it so. A mandatory two-hour block of science programming every night on the CW channel will not make it so. Adult Americans pay attention to science only when they think it directly affects them, not when we think they should pay attention. And their minds, lives, and careers are generally packed with plenty of other stuff that they think is more important. In no universe I know of will science out-compete this other stuff.

    The good news is, it’s been this way for three generations and the world has not come to an end. Federal science budgets, although every scientist will tell you we don’t have enough money ever to do enough science, are pretty robust. New technologies and innovations are rolling out of American universities and corporations every minute. The goose that lays the golden eggs of basic research that hatch into medical cures and energy supplies and the Higgs boson hasn’t run out of yolk yet.  

    The truth is, public science literacy is not now, nor has it ever been, the driving factor behind science budgets or national science policy. No national level election has ever turned on an issue of science. Grassroots action seldom translates into national science policy; policy is formulated as a compromise between different perspectives by different stakeholders at the policy table, and science is seldom dealt the cards that trump all other societal concerns.  

    So: We don’t know what kinds or quantities of science communication actually affect general scientific literacy. What little evidence we do have is that science communication and other informal science learning are at best of marginal value to boosting adult scientific literacy—way, way, way behind such factors as years of total educational attainment and number of college science classes taken. And even if there were better correlations between science communication and scientific literacy, we have no evidence at all that scientific literacy is connected even loosely with the quality of scientific decision making, science budgets, or science policy. And of course we lack any evidence that civilization as we know it will crumble the next time Dr. Oz hawks a vitamin supplement.
     
    If I take issue with Ed Yong’s tweet — which provided a moment of levity and welcome self-reflection after two days of debate — it’s that there is no war raging except among our own ranks. There is no anti-science conspiracy, we haven’t become a nation of Luddites tossing our iPhones into the nearest dumpster, and we are in no danger of running out of adolescent geeks — male and female — ready to lead the next generation of scientists.  

    So why do I continue to engage in this discussion about how to do better science communication, raise scientific literacy, and improve science policy? It’s because they are all worthy goals in a democratic society in their own right, not as flagstones along a straight path toward the day that “scientific truth” is the arbiter of every policy outcome.  Science will always need to jostle and spar with other parts of society to be heard, understood, and listened to — and even then won’t always prevail. But we owe it to ourselves to make sure that when we want to understand science, there is compelling and engaging science communication to inform us. When we want to engage in a policy or funding debate, we owe it to ourselves to have at our fingertips — if not already in our brain cells — the data and the perspectives to bring the issues into focus.  

    And when we want to watch Kim Kardashian instead of Neil deGrasse Tyson, well… that’s a choice a democratic society respects.  

    Rick Borchelt is communications director for science at the U.S. Department of Energy. He has enjoyed a 30-year career in federal — including Congressional, White House, and agency service — and university science writing, science communications, and science policy. He is a past president of the DC Science Writers Association and serves on the editorial board of the journal Science Communication.  

    Photo captions:
    Top: A screen shot of Ed Yong's tweet. 

    Bottom: The Communicating Science for Policy Workshop included three speakers who debated their ideas with participants. Here, Liz Neeley, executive director of The Story Collider, shares her ideas about using narrative persuasion for ethical science communication. 

  • October Madness: Elite 8

    by Heather Thorstensen | Sep 02, 2015
    HeatherThorstensen

    Results are in for the Sweet 16 round of October Madness, Sigma Xi's 2015 public Nobel Prize prediction contest! Thanks to everyone who voted for your top picks for the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, chemistry, and physics. 

    See who made it through to the Elite 8 round, then vote to secure your favorites in the Final 4. Voting for the Elite 8 ends on midnight EDT on Monday, September 7. Due to the Labor Day holiday, we plan to post results and kick off Final 4 voting on September 9.

    Sweet 16 Voting Results  

    Physiology or Medicine

    Chemistry*

    Physics

    * William Moerner, Michael Orrit, and Richard Zare won the popular vote for the chemistry prize for single-molecule spectroscopy and application of lasers. However, because we realized Moerner already won a Nobel Prize in 2014 for his work on super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, which relates to his work in single-molecule spectroscopy, his group does not advance to the Elite 8 round.

    Elite 8 Voting 

    Physiology or Medicine

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    Elite8_PhysiologyMedicine

    The October Madness physiology or medicine Elite 8 match-ups are:

    1. 
    J. Craig Venter, Francis Collins, and Eric Lander for the human genome sequence
    VS.
    Arthur Horwich and F.-Ulrich Hartl for protein folding

    2. 
    Nicholas Lydon, Brian J. Druker, and Charles L. Sawyers for development of chronic myelogenous leukemia treatments
    VS.
    Joseph Altman and Elizabeth Gould for adult neurogenesis

    3. 
    David J. Julius for investigations on the molecular basis for pain and thermosensation
    VS.
    Ronald D. Vale for work on molecular motor proteins kinesin and dynein

    4. 
    Mark Ptashne for molecular studies of gene recognition
    VS.
    Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter for unfolded protein response pathway

    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    Elite8_Chemistry

    The Elite 8 October Madness chemistry match-ups are:

    1. 
    Mildred Dresselhaus for carbon chemistry
    VS.
    Sir Alec Jeffreys for DNA profiling

    2. 
    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry
    VS.
    John B. Goodenough for lithium-ion batteries

    3. 
    Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke for organic light emitting diodes
    VS.
    Christopher Walsh and JoAnne Stubbe for mechanistic enzymology

    4. 
    Michael Grätzel for solar cells
    VS. 
    Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the CRISPR gene editing tool

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics

    Elite8_Physics


    The Elite 8 October Madness physics match-ups are:

    1. 
    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter
    VS. 
    Sir Michael Berry and Yakir Aharonov for quantum mechanics 

    2. 
    Margaret Geller for mapping the universe
    VS. 
    Alain Aspect, Anton Zeilinger and John Clauser for quantum entanglement

    3. 
    Rob Schoelkopf and Michel Devoret for superconducting qubits and microwave photons
    VS.
    Geoffrey Marcy, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for discovery of extrasolar planets

    4. 
    Art McDonald for neutrino oscillations
    VS.
    Sir John Pendry, David R. Smith, and Ulf Leonhardt for discovery of negative refraction

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

  • October Madness: Sweet 16

    by Heather Thorstensen | Aug 25, 2015

    HeatherThorstensenVoting begins today for October Madness, Sigma Xi's just-for-fun, public Nobel Prize prediction contest! We're kicking things off with the Sweet 16 round. Please click the links below to vote for who you think will win this year's Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and Physics.

    Voting ends for this round at midnight EDT on Monday, August 31. We will announce our top picks from each round and kick off the following round of voting every Tuesday until September 29. On that day, we will announce our most popular choices for this year's Nobel Prizes.

    Thank you to everyone who submitted nominations. Let the voting begin! 


    Physiology or Medicine 

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    Sweet 16 Physiology or Medicine

    The October Madness physiology or medicine Sweet 16 match-ups are:

    1.
    Craig Venter, Francis Collins, and Eric Lander for the human genome sequence 
    VS. 
    Graeme Clark, Ingeborg Hochmair, and Blake S, Wilson for the cochlear implant

    2.
    Arthur Horwich and Ulrich Hartl for protein folding
    VS.
    Pierre Chambon, Ronald Evans, Björn Vennström for nuclear hormone receptors

    3.
    Dennis J. Salmon for discovery of HER2Neu gene
    VS.
    Nicholas Lydon, Brian J. Druker, and Charles L. Sawyers for development of chronic myelogenous leukemia treatments 

    4.
    Shoukhrat Motallipov for spindle-chromosomal complex transfer
    VS.
    Joseph Altman and Elizabeth Gould for adult neurogenesis 

    5.
    Giacomo Rizzolatti, Leonardo Fogassi, and Vittorio Gallese for the discovery of mirror neurons 
    VS.
    Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter for unfolded protein response pathway

    6.
    Myron Essex, Robert Gallo, and Luc Montagnier for the discovery of HIV
    VS. 
    Mark Ptashne for molecular studies of gene recognition 

    7.
    Robert S. Langer for drug delivery/tissue engineering
    VS.
    David J. Julius for investigations on the molecular basis for pain and thermosensation

    8.
    Alim-Louis Benabid and Mahlon R. DeLong for Parkinson's disease research
    VS.
    Ronald D. Vale for work on molecular motor proteins kinesin and dynein 


    Chemistry

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    Sweet 16 Chemistry

    The Otober Madness chemistry match-ups are:

    1. 
    Sir Edwin Southern for the Southern blot
    VS.
    Mildred Dresselhaus for carbon chemistry

    2.
    Sir Alec Jeffreys for DNA profiling
    VS.
    Ruslan Medzhitov for discovery of mammalian Toll-like receptors

    3. 
    William Moerner, Michael Orrit, Richard Zare for single-molecule spectroscopy & application of lasers
    VS.
    Harry Gray, Stephen Lippard, Richard Holm for work in bioinorganic chemistry

    4.
    Marvin Caruthers and Leroy Hood for techniques in DNA synthesis 
    VS.
    John B. Goodenough for lithium-ion batteries 

    5. 
    Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke for organic light emitting diodes
    VS.
    Maximilian Haider, Harald Rose, and Knut Urban for transmission electron aberration-corrected microscopy

    6.
    Jean M. J. Frechet and C. Grant Willson for chemically-amplified photoresists
    VS.
    Christopher Walsh and JoAnne Stubbe for mechanistic enzymology

    7. 
    Michael Grätzel for solar cells
    VS.
    Takeshi Oka for work in astrochemistry

    8.
    Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the CRISPR gene editing tool
    VS.
    Carlos Bustamante for Single Molecule Kinetics

    Physics

    Vote here for your predictions for the Nobel Prize in Physics

    Sweet 16 Physics

    The October Madness physics match-ups are:

    1. Stephen Hawking for black hole death 
    VS.
    Vera Rubin and Kent Ford for dark matter

    2. 
    Sir Michael Berry and Yakir Aharonov for quantum mechanics
    VS.
    Lene Hau for electromagnetically induced transparency

    3. 
    Deborah Jin for fermion condensates
    VS.
    Margaret Geller for mapping the universe

    4. 
    Roberto Peccei and Helen Quinn for the Peccei-Quinn Theory 
    VS.
    Alain Aspect, Anton Zeilinger and John Clauser for quantum entanglement

    5.
    Allan Guth for the Inflation Theory 
    VS.
    Rob Schoelkopf and Michel Dvoret for superconducting qubits and microwave photons 

    6. 
    Nicola Spaldin for multiferroics 
    VS.
    Geoffrey Marcy, Michael Mayor and Dider Queloz for discovery of extrasolar planets 

    7. 
    Art McDonald for neutrino oscillations 
    VS.
    Atsuto Suzuki for the Super-Kamiokande experiment 

    8. 
    John Pendry, David Smith and Ulf Leonhardt for discovery of negative refraction 
    VS.
    John R. Clay for ionic current mechanisms underlying neuronal bistability

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

  • Are You Ready for October Madness?

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jul 24, 2015

    HeatherThorstensenJoin us on the road to Stockholm! Here at Sigma Xi, we want to keep doing what we do best—recognizing incredible research—while having some fun as we wait for the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize winners in October. The Nobel Prize has a deep connection with Sigma Xi: More than 200 members are, or have been, Nobel laureates since the Society formed in 1886.

    Let’s see who we think has made the greatest benefits to mankind! We’re going to run October Madness, a contest in which we, the people, get to vote for our picks for this year’s science-related Nobel Prize winners. You do not need to be a member of Sigma Xi to participate. 

    We’re looking for 16 nominations each for the:

    • Nobel Prize in Physics
    • Nobel Prize in Chemistry
    • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    Our Prizes (pun intended)

    If you nominate someone who goes on to win a Nobel Prize, you will be entered into a raffle. If you win the raffle, and you're not a Sigma Xi member, you will receive all the benefits of the Sigma Xi Affiliate Circle* for one year (a $70 value), which includes a one-year subscription to American Scientist  magazine. Members who win the raffle will have their dues paid by Sigma Xi for 2015–16. Those who already renewed their membership will have their dues paid for 2016–17. We will select one winner per Nobel Prize category for a total of three winners. 

    Submit Your Nominations 

    Send in your picks by August 11 online or directly to me: hthorstensen@sigmaxi.org

    Remember to include:

    • Your nominee’s name (send in as many as you want)
    • Which Nobel Prize you think this person should win
    • His or her area of research
    • His or her institution or affiliation
    • Your name and email address


    On August 25, we will announce October Madness nominees** and open the three brackets for public voting on Sigma Xi’s social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Keep your favorites in the running with weekly voting on Tuesdays until our top picks for each prize are announced on September 29! 

    SRCMedal

    Yeah, I know. This picture doesn't show the Nobel Prize. It's the medal that top presenters will earn this October in Sigma Xi's Student Research Conference. Close enough, right?

    Contest Schedule

    July 24–August 11: Send in your nominations

    August 25: Nominees announced; Sweet 16 voting begins.

    September 1: Sweet 16 voting ends, winners announced. Elite 8 voting begins. 

    September 8: Elite 8 voting ends, winners announced. Final 4 voting begins. 

    September 15: Final 4 voting ends, winners announced. Semi Finals voting begins. 

    September 22: Semi Finals voting ends, winners announced. Finals voting begins. 

    September 29: Sigma Xi’s October Madness Picks announced.

    October 5–12: Official Nobel Prize Winners named

    October 13: Winners announced from the raffle for membership in the Sigma Xi Affiliate Circle or a free year of membership dues.


    * Affiliate Circle status does not qualify one for full membership in Sigma Xi's nomination-based honor society. 

    ** If Sigma Xi receives less (or more) than 16 nominations for any of the prizes, then its staff will select the nominees who are put on the bracket. That’s not as fun. Please nominate anyone you feel is worthy of the prize. If you need some inspiration, potential candidates might be found here, here, here, or here. October Madness is not affiliated with the Nobel Prize.

    Heather Thorstensen is the manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

  • There are No Alternatives

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jul 08, 2015

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi Past President Kelly O. Sullivan. Keyed In invited her to write the post based on a Twitter conversation


    When I was in high school a friend’s father came and talked to our chemistry class about his career as a chemical engineer. It sounded interesting and thus I decided I’d major in chemical engineering in college and go work for a large company. That would be my career.

    Then in college I found out what I liked about what he did was the chemistry and not the engineering part—I liked thinking about the fundamental question “why?” and so I decided I would major in chemistry and I would be a high school teacher. That would be my career.

    Kelly O. Sullivan's Graduation DayThen I found out that I’d have to add a bunch of courses to my chemistry paradigm to get teaching certification and that I’d only be certified in one state. I didn’t want to live in one state forever and by this time I found out I was really fascinated by quantum mechanics. So I decided to get a PhD and become a college chemistry professor at a primarily undergraduate university. That would be my career.

    I did go do that. For a while, that was my career.

    Kelly O. Sullivan Entertainer Then I got an offer to join a national laboratory and handle the administrative arm of their internship programs. It was a new and interesting challenge and I accepted. Suddenly, I had an “alternative career.”

    Over the years since I joined the national lab, I have changed positions and roles multiple times—building partnerships, managing our postdoc program, and now working on managing our internal discretionary investments and developing institutional strategy. All of these things build on the same strengths I had as a scientist. I can see the big picture and I can look at data and tell a story about what it means.

    And over the years I’ve been invited multiple times to speak at conferences about my “alternative career” in chemistry. At first I agreed with the implied fact—my career was “alternative.” After all, I wasn’t a professor any more. Clearly I had moved out of bounds.

    But then I really thought about it. If there are on the order of 25,000–30,000 new PhDs in science and engineering each year (true according to National Science Foundation data), where are they all going? 

    There are certainly not that many academic positions each year. The majority of PhDs are working in industry. So why is that an “alternative career?” No doubt this perception is in part (possibly in large part) because we are trained by people who are in academia. Many (most, probably) of those people have been in academia their whole career; it’s what they know and consider to be “normal.” It’s what they model as the ideal career path. In fact, my advisor considered my move to a primarily undergraduate institution an “alternative” path because it wasn’t a major research institution.

    New Faculty Positions versus New PhDs



    New Faculty positions vs PhD



    Graph reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: [Nature Biotechnology] (Maximiliaan Schillebeeckx, Brett Maricque, Cory Lewis. "The Missing Piece to Changing the University Culture." 31 (10): 938—941. doi:10.1038/nbt.2706) Copyright 2013.



    After realizing all of this, I’ve stopped asking “where do you see yourself” kinds of questions when interviewing job candidates. Why? Because quite honestly ten years ago (or even five) I could not have answered accurately because I didn’t even know this career existed. Instead I try to learn people’s passions, and I think about how those might match up with the position we’re looking to fill.

    I had a young postdoc talk to me once about the various options she had in front of her. She was concerned people would think less of her for the choices she made. I gave her the best advice I have probably ever given anyone and I continue to work towards this myself:

    No matter what you do, someone somewhere will be disappointed. Make sure it isn’t you.

    There are no “alternative” careers. There are careers. Make your own path and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    Photos: Top, Kelly O. Sullivan, with her advisor Greg Gellene, on the day she earned her PhD. Bottom, the author when she was a professor and director of a chemistry demonstration show. “It was choreographed and set to music; we didn’t actually talk at all,” she said.

    Kelly O. Sullivan is the interim director of institutional strategy at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. She was president of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society from July 1, 2012–June 30, 2013.

     

  • Calling for a Presidential Debate on Science

    by Heather Thorstensen | Jun 11, 2015

    This is a guest post written by Sheril Kirshenbaum. Keyed In invited her to submit this post as part of a series of guest posts focused on solutions to the “war on science.”

    “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." ~ Thomas Jefferson, Scientist-statesman

    The recent discussion among Sigma Xi members about the so-called “war on science” underscored the importance of science to the policymaking process. In the Fall of 2016, Americans will vote for the next president of the United States. He or she will be responsible for making critical decisions related to science policies that will influence the way we—and our children—live in the coming decades. 

    ScienceDebateBut will we have a chance to hear the candidates’ science-related priorities before going to the polls? That’s the primary mission of ScienceDebate. Launched in 2008, this 501c3 nonpartisan, nonprofit initiative works to encourage presidential candidates to attend live science debates. We are not interested in quizzing those seeking office about specific scientific facts, but we do expect to hear what their science policy priorities would be if elected.

    The issues that ScienceDebate focuses on, from energy and climate change to health and drought, are not only “science” challenges, they are humanity’s challenges, inherently connected to how we live and who we are. Regardless of party affiliation, the future of food, water, human health, and safety will affect every one of us.

    Today over 44,000 supporters including Congresspeople, Nobel laureates, over 100 university presidents, actors, writers, and many organizations—including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academies—have added their names to this nonpartisan statement:

    “Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for public debates in which the U.S. presidential and congressional candidates share their views on the issues of science and technology policy, health and medicine, and the environment.” 

    ScienceDebate has had some success already. During the past two presidential elections, President Obama, Senator McCain, and former Governor Romney responded in writing to 14 questions cultivated and reviewed by our team on science and technology policy. The candidates’ answers were widely distributed in print and online prior to the elections through partnerships with popular magazines and journals. President Obama formed his science policy team to help him respond. Voters made decisions with knowledge they would not otherwise have had, and the president arrived in office with a clear idea of how science fit into his overall strategic objectives. 

    What’s different about 2016?

    Consider: When we launched in 2008, just six of 2,975 interview questions to presidential candidates mentioned "climate change" or "global warming." (For comparison, three mentioned UFOs). 

    Now as the next election approaches, candidates from both major parties are already talking about climate change. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s is the first major presidential campaign to make it a central campaign topic on day one. 

    In other words, times are changing, culture is changing, and we are changing…ScienceDebate is currently scaling up our efforts and we want your support. By signing on at www.sciencedebate.org, you can help leverage the national conversation toward real solutions to our most pressing national and global challenges. By adding your name to the growing list of supporters on our website, you can help us make the case that science isn’t just a special interest group, but important to a significant portion of the American public and should be part of the campaign trail conversation. You can find more at our Facebook page as well, which features regular updates. We also encourage you to submit questions you would like to hear presidential candidates address on such topics as science education, climate change, food security, mental health research, drought, oceans, and human health in general.

    Science isn’t a special interest, but central to how we live and the kind of world we’ll leave for children over the coming decades. So let’s work together to make sure that we know where candidates stand on significant science policies before Election Day.

    Sheril Kirshenbaum is executive director of ScienceDebate, director of The University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll, and co-author (with Chris Mooney) of  Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.


    Update:

    Sheril recently spoke to Huffington Post Live about ScienceDebate.org:
    To watch the video, click here

    Sheril Kirshenbaum

  • Seeing the Future of Science

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 31, 2015

    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society gave a boost of support on May 14 to four teams of high school students at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Collectively, the teams received $6,000 from Sigma Xi for their outstanding demonstrations of interdisciplinary research.

    Twenty-five Sigma Xi members volunteered to select which teams would get the Society’s Team Science Awards. They served as judges for two days in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, evaluating team projects to narrow 286 hopefuls down to four winners. 

    What was it like to judge at the largest pre-college science competition in the world? Ask the Sigma Xi members who were there and they will tell you it was inspiring, a glimpse into the future of science, and a privilege. Here is more of what some of them had to say about their experience. 

    Photo of winners715

    Photo: Sigma Xi sponsored the Special Award for Team Science at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The winners, pictured above with Jamie Vernon, Sigma Xi director of science communications and publications, received a total of $6,000. They ranged in age from 15 to 17 and traveled from Thailand, Virginia, Texas, and Singapore to participate.


    Dr. Stephanie Tristam-Nagle:
    I have been a member of Sigma Xi, Carnegie Mellon Chapter, since 1983, when I joined as a postdoc at CMU. My father, a Ph.D. organic chemist at Merck for most of his career, was also a member of Sigma Xi. As I rose up through the ranks to my current position of research professor, I began to participate in local science fairs. One was the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair (PRSEF, now SciTech) and then I founded a Sigma Xi award at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Sciences (PJAS) science fair in 2002. 

    In 2012, I volunteered to judge at the Intel ISEF (Intel International Science and Engineering Fair), where I was overwhelmed with the quality of the projects. Both of my daughters had participated in the local science fairs, and one of them was selected for the Intel ISEF as a 10th grader, held that year in Detroit.  

    This year, the quality of the projects at the Intel ISEF was stellar, and I was proud to judge again for Sigma Xi.  As our group of judges left the hallway at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 13, the parents waiting for their kids were applauding—not only for their children but for us, the judges, and they thanked us. That really warmed my heart.  

    Dr. Tristam-Nagle is a member of the Carnegie Mellon University Sigma Xi Chapter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a research professor of physics at CMU. 


    Dr. Gloria Silva:
    This has been a unique and unexpected experience for me. It was not only the quality of the work presented but also the culture and ingenuity these kids brought to the event. I always preferred to work with advanced college students and graduate students but this event showed me that there is a lot of inspiration and serious devotion to science in high school students. It was inspiring!

    Their presentation skills were outstanding, their work showed creativity, innovation, knowledge, serious research, good note-taking and documentation of their observations and progress; a quality of work that justifies their inclusion in this event. 

    I took my husband to the Special Awards ceremony; he was so impressed that he was looking for more information to help students from our home country to achieve the needed quality to participate in the Intel ISEF some time in a near future.

    I hope I can help again next year!

    Dr. Silva is a member of the Carnegie Mellon University Sigma Xi Chapter. She is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry at CMU.

    Intel ISEF judges

    Photo: These are some of the Sigma Xi members who volunteered to select the winners of the Society’s Team Science Award.

    Dr. Linda Winkler: The 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair was a place of overwhelming excitement and talent, brimming with diversity, awash in talent and creativity, and a tremendous privilege to be a part of. The awards that Sigma Xi gives to team projects represent the tremendous potential of interdisciplinary work in the sciences. 

    As a scientist, I have spent much of my adult career supervising student research at universities and being energized by it. Therefore, I expected to greatly enjoy serving as one of the volunteer life judges at the Intel fair.

    However, it quickly became apparent that this was an opportunity to see beyond the present, a spotlight into the future. As I wandered the fair exhibit halls, I was absolutely struck by the incredible wealth of potential. It was a window into the future of science and the scientists who are emerging as leaders and entrepreneurs. As I read poster after poster created by high school students from across the globe, I was struck by the similarities in “doing” good science: observation, hypothesis generation, hours of dedicated careful research, results, and interpretation. However, many of these high school students did far more in using their science to explore solutions to global problems, to seek sustainable solutions for the environment, energy and for human needs, and to create novelty.

    I was in awe of all of the possibilities and new directions that were represented in the work of these 1,700 students. I would gladly volunteer again for this or other similar events and recommend that other Sigma Xi members consider it. 

    Dr. Winkler is a Sigma Xi member and a professor in international affairs at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 


    Mr. Craig Everhart:
    It's breathtaking to appreciate the incredible sweep of the students' work, but what surprised me was how congenial it is to work with colleagues that I met only through Sigma Xi and the judging process. 

    Mr. Everhart is a member of the Carnegie Mellon University Sigma Xi Chapter. He is a principal engineer at NetApp and lives in Pittsburgh. 


    Dr. Jamie Vernon:
    Sigma Xi sponsors this event as part of our mission to enhance the health of the research enterprise for the purpose of improving the human condition. By supporting these young scientists, we are contributing to vibrant research in the future.

    Dr. Vernon is Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society’s director of science communications and publications, based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. He is also editor-in-chief of its magazine, American Scientist, and the Society’s interim co-director of operations.

  • Northeastern Sigma Xi Members Gather at Western Connecticut State University

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 28, 2015

    This post was written by Theodora Pinou.

    On April 18, approximately 300 guests from more than 22 Sigma Xi chapters came together for the 2015 Sigma Xi Northeastern Regional Research Conference at Western Connecticut State University. The meeting was held to celebrate interdisciplinary scholarship.

    NE Regional Conf2_715pg










    Photo: Participants sign in to the Northeastern Regional Research Conference April 18 at Western Connecticut State University.  

    Three keynote speakers—Dr. Kavita Ramanan of Brown University, Dr. Adam Williams of The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, and Dr. Kent Holsinger of University of Connecticut—reinforced the importance of mathematics and computer science in scientific reasoning. 



    NE Regional Conf3_715


    Photo: Dr. Kavita Ramanan, a professor of applied mathematics at Brown University, gave a keynote address on the power of randomness. 

    Researchers of more than 100 investigative projects in math, science, and engineering—and their students—shared ideas and insight that promoted science and the spirit of mentorship. Awards were given for student research posters. 



    celebration of award


    Photo: The College of Mount Saint Vincent sent students and faculty to the Sigma Xi Northeastern Regional Research Conference. Valerie Khayyo, who is holding her award, earned second place in the physical sciences category.

    This regional meeting unified stakeholders from community colleges, undergraduate programs, graduate schools, and industry. The meeting highlighted the importance of the American Journal of Undergraduate Research, edited by Dr. Kestas Bendinskas, and emphasized the journal’s role in promoting the next generation of researchers. 

    The Western Connecticut State University Sigma Xi Chapter honored two Sigma Xi members. Dr. Bendinskas was honored for founding the Northeastern Regional Meeting and coordinating seven of these meetings. Dr. Howard Russock, professor emeritus in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Western Connecticut State University, was honored for his 40 years of service to Sigma Xi. 



    NE Regional Conf1_715

























    Photo: Dr. Howard Russock, on right in back, was honored during the regional meeting for his 40 years of service to Sigma Xi and his continuous support for the Western Connecticut State University Chapter.

    The Institute on Science for Global Policy was represented at the meeting. Sigma Xi partnered with this institute in April to help put on two conferences so that credible scientific information could be part of the creation of effective policies. 

    The 2015 Northeastern Regional Research Conference was an opportunity for local scientists to come together and discuss their work. Thank you to all who attended!  

    Theodora Pinou is president of the Western Connecticut State University Sigma Xi Chapter and was the planning committee chair for this year’s Northeastern Regional Research Conference. She is a professor of biology at Western Connecticut State University. 


  • Why Should They Trust Us?

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 20, 2015

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi member David Garfinkle, pictured below. He wrote this post to expand on his input to a conversation among Sigma Xi members about the "war on science."

    David Garfinkle

    These days we scientists tend to bemoan the fact that large segments of the general public don’t believe our findings on such topics as evolution, climate change, and the safety of vaccines. Sometimes this disbelief is described as a "War on Science" but I don’t think that is quite the right term. It might be helpful to note the following: We talk a lot about reason and the scientific method, and mention that the data relevant to such issues as evolution and climate change is freely available. However, the vast majority of the general public has neither the time nor the ability to sift through those data and arrive at an independent and reliable conclusion. 

    Plaque that reads 'Trust'Thus, when we ask that the general public believe scientific conclusions about evolution and climate change, we are essentially asking them to trust us. And we are asking for two kinds of trust: (1) trust that we (collectively) do have the expertise to come to reliable conclusions on these issues and (2) trust that we are being honest about our conclusions.

    Why wouldn't they trust us to be honest? Well, this is an age of general distrust, and we shouldn’t expect science to be exempt. But there is another reason why (some segments of) the general public might not trust us: Polls show that on average scientists are both more liberal than the general public and less religious than the general public. It's not too large a step from that fact to the suspicion among the public that some statements by scientists might be politically or (anti)religiously motivated rather than dictated by reason and evidence. Nor does it help when such suspicions are exacerbated by various politicians and talk radio hosts. 

    As for suspicions about vaccines, moon landings, and genetically modified foods, it seems to me that these are based on the following well known trait of human nature: money can provide a motive for dishonesty. The large amounts spent on NASA, and the large amount of profit in the pharmaceutical industry and in agribusiness can be used to hire (or fund) many scientists. (Though admittedly the salaries and grant amounts provided to individual scientists are not large, the motive to keep that salary or grant should not be underestimated). 

    Cover of Three Steps to the UniverseWhat should be done to allay these suspicions?  Certainly we should do more to explain how science is done. I have written a book titled Three Steps to the Universe which explains black holes and dark matter to general readers, and also has a lot of explanation of how science is done. However, in terms of reducing suspicion, it might be even more useful to emphasize that science is not monolithic, that on the contrary scientists are a fractious bunch who often like nothing better than to prove other scientists wrong. Because of that fractiousness, in the long run it is very difficult to get away with scientific fraud. Any attempt at fraud will eventually be found out and exposed. The general availability of data and the independence of scientific researchers make it very difficult to have a “conspiracy of scientists.” Someone not part of such a conspiracy will always be in a position to find out about the fraud and blow the whistle.

    This general principle is well illustrated by the recent arguments between biologists and the forensic scientists of the FBI. Identification using DNA is very reliable due to the digital nature of sequences of nucleotides in DNA. Earlier methods of identification, such as fingerprints, hair samples, ballistics, etc., are much less reliable because they rely on subjective pattern recognition. Recently, FBI testimony in old cases based on hair samples has been reviewed, and the testimony of the forensic scientists in those old cases has been shown to be unreliable. This debunking of hair sample analysis is similar to the debunking done by an earlier generation of biologists and psychologists of the use of polygraph machines as “lie detectors.”

    When we ask the general public to trust conclusions arrived at by scientific consensus, we are not asking them to believe that each and every scientist is a person of such sterling character as to be completely unswayed by any considerations of political ideology, religious belief, or money. Rather, we are just saying that any erroneous conclusions brought about either by mistakes, bias, or dishonesty will eventually be corrected. Thus, when a consensus in the scientific community is widespread and longstanding, it can be treated with a greater degree of trust despite the fact that individual scientists are just as subject to ordinary human failings as anyone else. 

    Therefore, I contend that the concept of a "War on Science" actually reflects a dichotomy of what the public thinks science is and what scientists know science to be. New scientific results are simply data for other scientists to prove false or confirm. It’s through this process that science can be trusted over time. 

    David Garfinkle is a life member of Sigma Xi and a professor in Oakland University’s Department of Physics in Rochester, Michigan. 

    Photo credit for the picture of the plaque that reads "trust": By Terry Johnston from Grand Rapids, USA (Trust) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. No changes were made. 

     

  • Why Sigma Xi Needed to Participate in Women’s History Month

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 15, 2015

    Shirley Ann Jackson quote box“Sigma Xi supports women in STEM”—that was the tagline you saw, placed beneath quotes from six Sigma Xi female members, on the Society’s social media accounts in March. Why did the Society need to participate in Women’s History Month? 

    A pillar of Sigma Xi’s culture is diversity. The Society has recruited women to become members since its very beginning, dating back to the 1880s. That’s more than 30 years before American women could vote. Women, and other underrepresented minority groups, bring their unique backgrounds and perspectives to scientific questions.Different perspectives can lead to new theories and new results

    We know there is a gender gap in all of science and engineering. In 2013, women held 46 percent of all U.S. occupations but were in only 29 percent of the science and engineering jobs. To address this, Sigma Xi’s magazine, American Scientist, has published multiple articles about the issue. 

    Despite the fact that Sigma Xi supports diversity, and we’ve been talking about it, we still observe a gender gap in our own membership. Approximately 25 percent of Sigma Xi’s active members are women. 

    We participated in Women’s History Month, a time to honor the contributions women have made to society, to help spread the word that women not only belong in science and technology, but are desperately needed. And, we want girls to see these women in STEM so more can begin to see themselves there, too. 

    We asked these six female members to share their career experiences, explain why they love science, and share their thoughts on being a woman in their field. You can read their responses on our Women in STEM page.  

    While I was working on this project, I was contacted by one of our participating members’ staff writers. She told me that when she was growing up, people said “women don’t do science.” Separately, in her responses, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a life member of Sigma Xi, addressed this head-on. She said, “Young women are not encouraged sufficiently to pursue scientific careers; sometimes they actively are discouraged.” 

    There are reasons for optimism. Despite gross underrepresentation in the fields of computer and math science (25.4 percent in 2013), engineering (14.8 percent), and physics and astronomy (11.8 percent), women in the U.S. dominate certain scientific career paths, like psychology (73.8 percent). Understanding why women are more prevalent in certain fields may lead to programs that achieve greater representation in others.

    The recent focus that has been put on this problem suggests that solutions may be on the horizon. Research has identified biases that women encounter in STEM. Reports such as Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering found women were more likely to stay in their jobs if they have supportive supervisors and colleagues as well as clear paths for advancement, among other things. We need more actionable recommendations like this to achieve institutional change. Who is going to do it? It will be a team effort, and Sigma Xi will continue to do our part. 

    Heather Thorstensen is manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

    Additional reading:

    Diversity in STEM: What It Is and Why It Matters” By Kenneth Gibbs Jr. 

    What is Gendered Innovations?” Schiebinger, L., Klinge, I., Sánchez de Madariaga, I., Schraudner, M., and Stefanick, M. (Eds.) (2011-2013). Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment (genderedinnovations.stanford.edu).

  • Canada’s War on “Inconvenient Science”

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 12, 2015

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi member Alan Emery. He wrote this post to expand on his input to a conversation among Sigma Xi members about the "war on science."



    Canadian flag

    Science is only threatening when the results are inconvenient to government or special interests. 

    Canada’s economy has always been primarily extractive, but the current governmental focus is on fossil fuels, especially northern Alberta’s tar (oil) sands, rapid development of which has provided enormous economic benefit to Canada. Scientists noted the pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples, global warming effects, and the effects that will come of plans to situate pipelines across prime aquatic habitats and forest regions. Despite early warning signals, Canada’s present government has relentlessly promoted growth of this valuable resource. At the same time, voices of Canadian government scientists have almost been silenced on climate change, environmental protection and conservation policies or legislation, fossil fuel use, and especially on Canada’s tar sands, Arctic policies, nuclear safety, fisheries, tar sands leaks, even maternal health. 

    We watched as many large and important governmental research libraries were shuttered. Reports, books, and records were taken to dumps and burned. Advisory councils and positions were eliminated in scientific areas relevant to ecosystems and global warming:  circumpolar ambassador; Canadian ambassador for the environment; national science advisor. Advisory councils on science, biotechnology, and technology were consolidated into one council, which now reports only confidentially. We lost Arctic ozone research and monitoring, maintenance of ice core archives, of ocean contaminants, many experimental farms, our marine toxicology program, and so on. 

    Elimination of the Experimental Lakes Area attracted worldwide attention. It is an internationally renowned freshwater research facility. Fortunately other sponsors stepped in, and it is presently run by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, an NGO.

    Canada’s aggressive destruction of such “inconvenient science” has included changes to laws that favour select industries but are destructive scientifically. For example, changes to the Canada Fisheries Act eliminated environmental protection from all aquatic species except those valuable economically, and effectively removed ecosystem-based management of Canadian aquatic resources. A new act removed habitat protection from hundreds of thousands of lakes and rivers. 

    But “war” on science? There’s no war unless both sides are fighting. Remarkably, science is not fighting back. Instead, we complain about and protest the aggressive destruction of science the government believes is inconvenient to its interests. We took to the streets wearing white lab coats, wrote open letters to politicians, spoke on TV and radio, and reacted on social media. It didn’t work. We can’t fire or muzzle politicians, and we can’t unilaterally take away their funding. So how can science defend itself when it has no power, authority, or even inclination to retaliate in kind?

    What would a real war look like if scientists were to fight back? Science needs powerful allies that do have the power to support science and to effect changes in policy and funding. Science must reach out to create allies by proactively developing public discourse that enlightens and enlivens without creating impossibly polarized positions. It is not enough to speak only with students, granting agencies, and university administration. Science may not be the arbiter of social justice, moral values, economic ideals, or spiritual values, but as scientists we can provide solid factual information and informed predictions based on logic and evidence. We can provide realistic risk assessments and “what if” scenarios. We can personally contribute at all levels and in all aspects of decision-making. To do that, we must bring the public into a two-way, even personal conversation about our activities, our hopes, fears, results and their implications. We can ally with science museums, and offer science education on a popular basis to the broad general public from a foundation of research, professional-level interpretation, exhibits, and outreach programs.

    Some, but not many scientists are both active and effective with the public. Each time one of us interacts with news media, science has an opportunity to gain allies. But academia has not recognized we should be at war. Instead, the very structure of academia discourages public interactions. Academia rewards formal teaching, refereed technical papers, and internal committee work for hiring, promotion, and tenure. Time spent on outreach subtracts from a professor’s ability to move through the ranks. In fact, academic staff who attempt to reach out to the public are often pilloried by their colleagues, accused of losing touch with real research, or of misrepresenting the principles of science by over-simplifying. If science is to defend itself, it must dramatically restructure to effectively reward those who can and do develop alliances with broad interested and supportive publics.

    Fortunately there is a not-so-impossible mechanism to restructure our reward system so that we can effectively fight back. Those folks who sit on hiring committees, judge grant proposals, decree promotion and tenure – they’re not bureaucrats, they are all academics! We can decide that science outreach is vitally important and must become a part of the criteria for hiring, promotion, and granting tenure. 

    As Pogo wisely told us, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” 

    Alan Emery is an emeritus member of the University of Toronto Sigma Xi Chapter. He lives in Ontario, Canada. 

    Attribution for photo of Canadian flag: By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States (Canadian Flag) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

     
  • A Quick Perspective on "The War on Science"

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 08, 2015

    This is a guest post written by Sigma Xi member John Fennick. He wrote this post to expand on his input to a conversation among Sigma Xi members about the "war on science."

    Smokingandhealthcover2

    For roughly the first two thirds of the last century, scientists were heroes held in high esteem. The staggering increase in human longevity, practical elimination of tuberculosis, the miracle of antibiotics, the race to the moon, all made science wonderful. So what happened? A look at what the public hears, reads, and gets their attention will shed some light.

    The fruits of science just mentioned met all requirements for public acclamation. Then, around the period of the Apollo missions, those fruits became old hat and new candidates arose. Epidemiology crept into the spotlight with the likes of The Seven Countries Study, the surgeon general's report on smoking, and the Framingham Heart Study. People fathomed: "This stuff is about my health and my life." Science was still one of the good guys.

    What the public read and heard was not one or more journal articles or the surgeon general's report, but summaries and interpretations written by science reporters, screened by editors and published in the mass media. Reporters, though scientifically literate, are not experts, they must assume the scientist's reports are accurate, candid, and honest. In that time period there were few, if any, problems surrounding that assumption. The reports and their conclusions invariably considered weaknesses in the data, alternate reasons for results and frequently, caveats such as "more studies are needed." These kinds of statements properly tempered headlines and context in the daily paper and so, the reader's reactions.

    Though U.S. science funding was increasing at that time, the number of scientists rose faster. For example, from 1960 to 1970 total doctorate degrees awarded increased 205 percent while constant dollar funding in research and development went up only 45 percent. In short, competition became fierce while the public became thirstier for the latest health news. Requests for journal space exploded, editors preferred shorter papers and became choosier. They developed a strong preference for articles with positive results, showing little interest for those refuting earlier studies. So reports shrank in size, candid discussion became ever more abbreviated, caveats morphed to imply beneficial or harmful consequences from meat, dairy products, pattern baldness, wine, coffee, etc. Exacerbating this was the fact that something cited as beneficial today could be declared harmful tomorrow and vice-versa. Studies with barely marginal positive results were dressed in unwarranted claims, e.g. "This work demonstrates . . ." The public was enthralled—for a time.

    After years of spin-off remedies stumped by bandwagons that ultimately crashed, the public came to believe what "studies show" was rarely, if ever, true. That quoted phrase became a synonym for charlantry. The Forbes "Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Statistics" article of 1995 dramatically characterized this new attitude. 

    The war on science is an understandable rebellion fueled by the public's perceived "damned lies." In fact, the "lies" do not differ in character from early research reports in any discipline. They require further work and subsequent verification or rejection. But because they deal with our health and wellbeing they capture our attention and, though they emanate mostly from one branch of science, epidemiology, a scientist is a scientist is a scientist, so all scientists suffer the heat.

    So who's at fault? Anyone examining this mess quickly finds the blame is wide-spread. Scientists, pushing for publication and grant renewal, squeezed for funding by competition and for space by journal editors, start the ball rolling with abbreviated reports and exaggerated claims. Journal policies reward a style that, while certainly not fraud, is marginal because of what is implied and what is left out. (What happened to conscientious reviewers?) Editors in turn are hard pressed to choose among the multitude of submitted papers, rising costs of publishing and more recently, by the proliferation of open access journals and similar online freebies.

    Finally, science reporters and their editors, the public's source of health information, are squeezed by decreasing readership and falling revenue. Reporters have little choice. Pressures for column-inches are large so science news gets exaggerated as well as abbreviated. Other media suffer similar constraints.

    Most curious in all this is the fact that scientists blame a "scientifically ignorant" public and we see a great push to make the public literate in science. Even if that were accomplished, would they then correctly interpret what is seen in the press or heard over the air? Of course not.

    The desired return to acceptance will take a generation at least. But it must begin by scientists—in particular, epidemiologists whose work is of such public interest—returning to impeccable integrity in their writing as well as their research. They must keep in mind their audience is not just other scientists. And remember, while John Q. really doesn't care about cold fusion, vaccinations causing autism is another matter! Reports must once again be complete with all the ifs, ands, and buts accompanying all research. Funders will not penalize integrity. Editors must change their ways lest their products vanish to the likes of open access journals. Science reporters, craftsmen of the interface, have the toughest row to hoe. When these three groups reassess their tasks, this current fashion of war may revert to acclamation.

    John Fennick is a member of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Sigma Xi Chapter. He is a retired member of technical staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories. Current interests include medical statistics and epidemiology. He lives in Roanoke, Virginia. 

     

    Photo: The cover page of the first report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. This was released in 1964 and helped epidemiology take the public spotlight.

    Additional reading:

    The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study: 
    http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g7015 

    The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change:
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503&http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503

  • Sigma Xi Members Discuss the War on Science

    by Heather Thorstensen | May 08, 2015

    National Geographic’s March cover called out “The War on Science,” leading to an article written by Washington Post science writer Joel Achenbach. In it, Achenbach explained why is there so much trouble with the public accepting the scientific community’s consensus on topics such as climate change, genetically modified food, and vaccines. 

     “It’s very clear the world of information has changed,” Achenbach said while recently talking about his article on the Diane Rehm Show. “There has been a disintegration of the old gatekeepers of knowledge. And now people get their information from the Internet, they get it from a variety of sources; it’s a small “d” democratic information world out there. And they often find exactly what they already believe and they end up in these echo chambers.”

    The article prompted Dorothy Dunning, a retired member from West Virginia University’s biology department, to start a discussion in Sigma Xi’s online communityfor active members, The Lab: Members to Members. 

    The main themes of the discussion were:

    1. Scientists want to be part of the public conversation about science but outreach efforts generally aren’t rewarded. 

    “Do we have a moral obligation to explain how science works?  I certainly think so,” wrote Sigma Xi member Allen McGrew, of the Department of Geology at University of Dayton. “Regardless of obligation, however, we certainly have a vital stake. Why? Because the general public votes. And their votes affect every aspect of science from education to funding to public policy on things ranging from wetland preservation to whether we subsidize fossil fuel exploration or solar cells.”

    Still, the academic mindset hasn’t accepted fully that engaging the public is a valuable effort, wrote Alan Emery, of Sigma Xi’s University of Toronto Chapter.

    2. The public has come to distrust science but scientists might be able to do something about that. 

    Sigma Xi members Philipp Kornreich, of Syracuse University, and John Fennick, a member of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Chapter, pointed out that public distrust in science is nothing new. Negative articles about science, such as the 1995 Forbes article “Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Statistics” remind the public that science isn’t always right. And, like any sector, scientists aren’t, unfortunately, always ethical. 

    But scientists can change that by improving integrity in research, Fennick said

    “We should campaign for scientific reports that contain just the facts, uncluttered by speculation or fanciful observations and kept in perspective with honest caveats,” he wrote. 

    Too often today, he added, researchers, reviewers, and journal editors leave out caveats in scientific papers such as “preliminary finding” or “more work is needed.” The claims and interpretations of studies can be sensationalized and passed on to the public by science journalists, Fennick said, citing an article by Drs. David F. Ransohoff and Richard M. Ransohoff, in Effective Clinical PracticeSensationalism in the Media: When Scientists and Journalists May be Complicit Collaborators.” 

    3. Sigma Xi members didn’t agree on who is responsible for distrust in science. 

    Journalists, journal editors and reviewers, the public, and scientists were all named as groups that need to do things differently. 

    4. Teaching the public about science will probably help. 

    While some members said that there will always be some people who will not change their beliefs, many said it is important to better educate the public about scientific results and how science works.
     
    Kristi Multhaup, a professor of psychology at Davidson College, wants to see more dissemination of accurate information based on carefully conducted studies and, in some cases, efforts to give the public the outcome of the research they paid for with their tax dollars.

    Multhaup cited Robert Sommer’s proposal of dual dissemination in which scientists would continue to publish peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals but also publish versions of their articles intended to be read by the public and published in popular outlets. 

    David Garfinkle, of Oakland University’s Department of Physics, added that one thing the public should know is how much the scientific community scrutinizes the findings of other scientists. 

    “…any erroneous conclusions brought about either by careless mistakes or by bias or dishonesty will eventually be corrected,” he wrote. “Thus, when a consensus in the scientific community is widespread and longstanding, it can be trusted despite the fact that individual scientists are just as subject to ordinary human failings as anyone else.” 

    5. Canadian members are already seeing a War on Science. 

    Canadian member Alan Emery, of the University of Toronto Chapter, said that a war on science is already happening in Canada—with cut funding, loss of science positions, and destroyed reference materials—and the only way to fight it is to work with the public. 

    “To combat this effectively requires that scientists and science writers engage the public in discourse that enlightens and enlivens without creating impossibly polarized positions,” Emery wrote.

    We invited many of these Sigma Xi members to expand on their comments by submitting a blog post to Keyed In. We published these posts to extend this conversation to a broader audience and invite additional feedback. Read the guest posts by John Fennick, Alan Emery, and David Garfinkle.
     
    We hope you’ll join in the conversation by sending us a comment via social media (Twitter, Facebook) or submitting your own blog post to keyedin “at” sigmaxi “dot” org.


    Heather Thorstensen is manager of communications for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

  • Connecting the Research Community

    by Jamie Vernon | May 07, 2015

    SigmaXiKey240x187Welcome to Keyed In, the blog of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. This will be the go-to place for Sigma Xi members and others to learn about what’s happening in the science and engineering industry. We will share thoughts and perspectives related to Sigma Xi’s mission, including ideas that deal with the health of the research enterprise, integrity in science and engineering, and public understanding of science, as they contribute to improving the human condition. We will give updates about the remarkable work conducted by Sigma Xi chapters, which are spread across the globe. We will report on trends in research and anticipate where the industry is going. And, we will offer advice to young scientists and engineers. Our ultimate goal is to provide useful information that will lead to a more connected and more effective research community.

    Over time, we expect this single blog to expand into multiple specialized blogs that address more defined topics. We look forward to that period of growth. For now, we will regularly publish posts on a variety of topics that we hope you will find to be interesting.  

    This blog will be a team effort, written by Sigma Xi members, staff, and others who volunteer to bring this information to you. Some of the blog posts will be based on conversations happening in Sigma Xi’s online Member Communities. We expect Keyed In to provide an opportunity to engage a broader audience and invite additional feedback on these matters. We will treat this as a conversation among friends and colleagues, so please leave a comment or send us a message via social media (TwitterFacebook). 
     
    We will monitor the conversations surrounding the blog posts and we will remove comments and block commenters who use profane, obscene, abusive or otherwise inappropriate language. Our community guidelines will reflect those of our American Scientist blogs

    Content provided by non-staff authors will be treated according to Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivs license. Posts by Sigma Xi staff are protected under Sigma Xi copyright, but may be shared under the same attribution-required-no-derivatives conditions as the Creative Commons license.  

    The opinions expressed in Keyed In blog posts are those of the author(s). Blog posts do not reflect Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society’s policy, endorsement, or action, and Sigma Xi does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog. However, we reserve the right to disqualify or reject a blog submission under our editorial discretion. 

    If you’re interested in writing for this blog or would like for us to address a specific topic, please send a message to us at keyedin “at” sigmaxi “dot” org.

    Now, let’s get the conversations started!


    Photo: This blog is named after Sigma Xi's key, an iconic symbol of the Society.

    Jamie Vernon is Sigma Xi's director of science communications and publications. He is also editor-in-chief of the Society's magazine, American Scientist.

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