Best of Nature Network for Monday, August 4: Life on Mars, Patent Law for Scientists, Science and Humanities

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A summary of the week’s best discussions on Nature Network.

The recent discovery of water on Mars has flung wide speculation and discussion of the possibility of life on the Red Planet. In a most timely blog post, Joanna Scott features an upcoming seminar, “ExoMars: Europe’s Next Step in the Search for Life on Mars,” to take place on Tuesday, 5 August 2008 at 10am PDT, 6pm BST, on Nature’s island in Second Life. The seminar will be given by Jeff Marlow, part of a group developing instrumentation for the ExoMars probe. “Jeff’s specific role in the project is designing the instrument which will look for signs of life on Mars: could water just be the first step?” Check out the talk to hear about Jeff’s work on the ExoMars probe and his take on the discovery of water on Mars.

The path of a scientific discovery from bench to patent – and to the real world beyond – is often unclear to scientists, who are not routinely taught the basics of intellectual property law. A new group on Nature Network, Patent Law Primer, addresses this disconnect between the scientific and legal communities. A recent question about the rights and responsibilities of the investigator in a patent held by the institution was addressed by Rahan Uddin from Peer to Patent: “…institutions may work out some sort of royalty agreement with the investigator/scientist, again this really depends on how much of the investigators own time/resources has been invested in development.”

An understanding of humanities can make for a better scientist, argues Bob O’Hara. The public backlash to the introduction of genetically modified foods took many scientists by surprise. Study of people’s reactions and behavior patterns could lead to more effective techniques in presenting novel findings and developments. “Because science is done by people, we need to understand how people behave as individuals and in groups. This is the job of the humanities, so we need them if we are to be effective as science practitioners.””

Miguel Allende discusses pluses and minuses of two divergent approaches to science in Chile – the science that is carried out at large institutions and smaller, independent organizations. The larger institutions can sometimes be encumbered by bureaucracy and politics, while the smaller institutions lack access to students and teams diverse in their skills base. “A balanced view should see the merit in both approaches to research,” says Allende.

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