science

Cybersecurity for the travelling scientist

Virtual private networks, tracking apps and ‘burner’ laptops: how to protect sensitive data when you take your research on the road.

Mark Gerstein has had his fair share of scares when it comes to losing track of his electronic devices — and, along with them, access to his private information and research data.

“I’m very security conscious, but also a bit of an absent-minded professor,” says Gerstein, a bioinformatician at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Read more in Nature.

A scientist elected to Canada’s Parliament shares his hopes as Trudeau prepares to take power

One scientist will be among the new faces in the 338-member House of Commons: Richard Cannings, a bird biologist, author, and former curator of the vertebrate museum at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Cannings, a member of Canada’s left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP), will represent British Columbia’s (BC’s) South Okanagan—West Kootenay riding, or district. The NDP now holds the third-largest number of seats in Parliament, behind the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Cannings recently took a break from a Sunday afternoon mayonnaise-making session to talk with ScienceInsider about how he hopes to improve the lot of science and environmental issues during his time in Ottawa. Read more in Science.

Academia gets social

Brian Owens examines the rise of academic social networking websites, such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate, and asks researchers how these sites are shaping their careers.

A few years ago, Jorge Castillo-Quan, a post-doc studying the biology of ageing at University College London, UK, wrote a report about how insulin and cortisol interact to affect brain function. It didn’t seem to make much of an impression on the scientific community, and was not highly cited, so Castillo-Quan moved on to other topics. But recently Castillo-Quan has seen a sudden resurgence in interest in his work on cortisol, in the form of people reading and downloading the paper from his profile on the academic social networking site Academia.edu. “The cortisol work has been seen by probably 50—100 people so far this year”, he says. “And they’re not looking at my newer work.”

The attention has come from various researchers around the world, he says, indicating that the topic might be becoming interesting again to the field. Now because of that resurgence in interest Castilllo-Quan is considering whether he should go back and perhaps pick up where he left off. “I’m looking at what would be interesting to revisit”, he says. Read more in The Lancet.

Scientists are citizens, too

One of the common themes at last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference in Halifax was the role of scientific evidence in policymaking, and specifically how scientists should go about providing it.

I was disappointed to hear several of the politicians and policymakers – and no small number of scientists – repeat the same tired mantra that researchers should just provide data, and keep their nose out of the politics. Read more on Science Borealis.

Canadian government accused of destroying environmental archives

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Researchers fear that valuable documents will disappear as libraries close and merge.

Scientists in Canada are up in arms over the recent closure of more than a dozen federal science libraries run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment Canada.

The closures were mostly completed by last autumn, but hit the headlines last week when pictures of dumpsters full of scientific journals and books began circulating online. Some of facilities that have been closed include the library at the century-old St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, which had just completed a multi-million-dollar refurbishment a year earlier, and the library at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The libraries housed hundred of thousands of documents on fisheries and aquatic science, such as historical fish counts and water-quality analyses. Read more in Nature.

A Grab Bag of Surprises in General Science

Welcome to the General Science category on Science Borealis. This is the place where we put all of the blogs that defy categorization – or whose authors just can’t stick to one subject.

In this category you’ll find a dose of every scientific subject, from astronomy to zoology, with big helpings of policy, politics, science in society and discussions of the science communication community. We’ve got the CBC’s Quirks and Quarks blog and the Canadian Science Writers Associationgroup blog, and many independent blogs written by individuals. Read more on Science Borealis.

Does parliament need a science watchdog?

The NDP's Kennedy Stewart and Laurin Liu pose with Canadian Science Policy Centre president Mehrdad Hariri and science minister Greg Rickford at CSPC 2013.

The NDP’s Kennedy Stewart and Laurin Liu pose with Canadian Science Policy Centre president Mehrdad Hariri and science minister Greg Rickford at CSPC 2013.

The NDP is making a play for the science vote. At last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference the party’s science critic, Kennedy Stewart, unveiled the third plank in the opposition’s slowly developing science policy: an independent Parliamentary Science Officer (PSO).

Stewart will table his proposal in the house this week as a private member’s bill – it would create a position whose job would be to both provide independent, nonpartisan scientific information to MPs on demand, but also to scrutinize and pass judgement on the scientific basis for any proposed bill or policy. Read more on CSWA blog.

Pitch-drop custodian dies without witnessing a drop fall

Photo courtesy of University of Queensland.

Photo courtesy of University of Queensland.

John Mainstone, who for 52 years tended to one of the world’s longest-running laboratory experiments but never saw it bear fruit with his own eyes, died on 23 August after suffering a stroke. He was 78.

Mainstone had been looking after the pitch drop experiment at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia since he arrived at the university as a physics professor in 1961. The experiment, set up in 1927 by the university’s first head of the physics department, Thomas Parnell, consists of a sample of tar pitch slowly running through a funnel (see ‘Long-term research: Slow science‘). Read more in Nature.

Slow science

The world’s longest-running experiments remind us that science is a marathon, not a sprint.

Although science is a long-term pursuit, research is often practised over short timescales: a discrete experiment or a self-contained project constrained by the length of a funding cycle. But some investigations cannot be rushed. To study human lifespans or the roiling of Earth’s crust and the Sun’s surface, for instance, requires decades and even centuries.

Here, Nature takes a look at five of science’s longest-running projects, some of which have been amassing data continuously for centuries. Read more in Nature.