RIP Challenger. Remembering the explosion, 30 years later #NASA

RIP to all seven crew members aboard the Challenger, which devastatingly blew up 30 years ago today:

(CNN)Much like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, or the morning of September 11, 2001, most Americans remember where they were when they heard the news of the Challenger disaster.

It was NASA’s first in-flight tragedy. Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 28, 1986. Shortly after liftoff, the space shuttle’s external fuel tank collapsed, causing what looked like an explosion, and the shuttle broke apart and fell.

CNN dives into How the Challenger Disaster changed NASA.

and NPR also remembers the disaster: 30 years after explosion, engineer still blames himself.


Neil deGrasse Tyson vs B.O.B = not really a contest #gravity #TheEarthisRound

This is HILARIOUS and AWESOME. Definitely one of the funnier things to happen to science. Enjoy as Huffington Post summarizes the entire ordeal:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Literally Drops The Mic In B.o.B Feud

“And, by the way, this is called gravity!”

You ever feel like B.o.B. actually thinks airplanes are shooting stars?

The rapper showed off his hatred for science and “facts” recently, getting into an argument (and subsequent rap battle) with Neil deGrasse Tyson over the Earth being flat. Well, now the rapper’s point appears to have flat-lined after Tyson’s appearance on “The Nightly Show” on Wednesday.

The scientist responded to a B.o.B. diss by schooling the rapper on exactly why he’s wrong, making points about Calculus and B.o.B.’s “size” relative to Earth. (Yeah, dude went there.) But the best part came when Tyson gave us this gem:

“Isaac Newton, my man, said, ‘If I have seen farther than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Can I get an amen? So that’s right B.o.B. When you stand on the shoulders of those who came before, you might just see far enough to realize the Earth isn’t fucking flat!”

He added, “And, by the way, this is called gravity!”

Cue the mic drop.

Pardon us while we go lose our minds.

Doing a disservice to the future heroes of crispr? More on the #crispr debate!

In light of the recent Heroes of CRISPR article by Eric Lander in Cell (and subsequent backlash), Gary McDowel (for The Spectroscope) weighs in by saying the article does a disservice to future scientists.  In addition to discrediting the work of females in developing the technology, Gary brings up a good point that several of the scientists who did the work (junior scientists- grad students and postdocs) were not given the full credit they deserved:

Two weeks before leaving Harvard Medical School, I went to a symposium on the recent breakthrough discovery of CRISPR. It was 2013. Le Cong, Luhan Yang, Patrick David Hsu (graduate students working with George Church and/or Feng Zhang) and Hui Yang, a postdoc with Rudolf Jaenisch, all gave talks on their most recent work. The room was packed with graduate students and postdocs; the talks were exciting and engaging; the excitement about science happening right around us in Boston was truly palpable. Indeed, the world was taking notice: Patrick David Hsu, at the age of 22, was named one of Forbe’s 30 scientists under 30 (by a panel including Jennifer Doudna). Hui Yang has been cited 950 times in one paper alone.

However, none of these heroes of CRISPR, junior scientists who did crucial work in uncovering the workings CRISPR-Cas9 system, are mentioned in Eric Lander’s perspective, “Heroes of CRISPR”, published recently in Cell. In fact, all of the “Heroes of CRISPR” are Principal Investigators in academia only, and not any other level or kind of investigator. The omission is not unusual (such work is usually described as being that of the Principal Investigator in scientific discussions) except for a point Lander attempts to make about young scientists:

It is instructive that so many of the Heroes of CRISPR did their seminal work near the very start of their scientific careers (including Mojica, Horvath, Marraffini, Charpentier, Vogel, and Zhang)—in several cases, before the age of 30. With youth often comes a willingness to take risks—on uncharted directions and seemingly obscure questions—and a drive to succeed. It’s an important reminder at a time that the median age for first grants from the NIH has crept up to 42.”

Through this very piece Eric Lander exemplifies the effects of hypercompetition caused by this rising grant age. The patent-, prize-, and PR-wrangling surrounding CRISPR is a microcosm of the pressures that many young scientists feel: a perceived need to spin your science out of proportion, to make an impact, get the high impact factor papers and so get the increasingly competitive grant funding.

Speaking from my perspective as a young scientist, this piece just reinforces and exemplifies so many of my disappointments with the way science is now. The work is biased to favor a particular narrative in a patent battle over a biological process. In this biased perspective the work inevitably draws comparisons between the sidelining of Doudna and Charpentier and the marginalization of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of DNA.

To write a history of CRISPR — a true, unbiased history of CRISPR — it would have been appropriate to fact-check thoroughly, even have multiple authorships, on this piece. Indeed, part of the history of CRISPR itself will no doubt be the patent battle and the implications that has for future scientific endeavors. Cell has lost a great opportunity produce a clear, collaborative history of the origins of CRISPR. Lander and Cell must have known that this piece would be recognized by the scientific community as a revisionist “Whig history”, and that makes it all the more astounding that a leading scientist would write it, and that a high-impact factor journal would publish it. Or perhaps I am just a science romantic, and this truly is a sign of the scientific times.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Jessica Polka for helpful comments and critiques.

Conflict of Interest Statement: This piece is written in a personal capacity and is my own opinion. However, I am involved with the Future of Research organization which has an interest in addressing issues facing young scientists.

NFL meddling in NIH researcher selection?

This is a timely topic since there are some important football games today and it’s almost the superbowl. Last year the NFL donated $30million to the NIH for brain research on the impacts of football. Very necessary since a) there’s a lot of evidence linking brain injury to football and b) the league has been under scrutiny lately because of this. However, it seems as though the NFL may be trying to influence the type of research being conducted. ESPN reports:

Three of the NFL’s top health and safety officers confronted the National Institutes of Health last June after the NIH selected a Boston University researcher to lead a major study on football and brain disease, Outside the Lines has learned.

The new information contradicts denials by the NFL and a foundation it partners with that the league had any involvement or input in the fate of a $16 million study to find methods to diagnose — in living patients — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease found in dozens of deceased NFL players.

Outside the Lines reported in December that the NFL, which in 2012 promised an “unrestricted” $30 million gift to the NIH for brain research, backed out of funding the new study over concerns about the lead researcher, Boston University’s Dr. Robert Stern, who has been critical of the league. In the story, a senior NIH official said that the NFL retained veto power over projects it might fund with its donation, and it effectively used that power in the Stern study. Almost immediately, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy deemed the report “inaccurate.” The league and the foundation both said the league’s overall donation comes with no strings attached.

But Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Outside the Lines this week that the NFL raised several concerns about Stern’s selection during a June conference call that included Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety; Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee; and Dr. Mitch Berger, chairman of the sub-committee on the long-term effects of brain and spine injury.

The NFL alleged that the review process that led to Stern’s selection was marred by conflicts of interest, Koroshetz said. In addition, league officials charged that Stern was biased because he had filed an affidavit opposing the settlement of a lawsuit in which thousands of former players accused the NFL of hiding the link between football and brain damage.

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