Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of nature.com blogs, SciLogs.com and Scitable: 20 – 3 May

What Can Be Done About Glass Ceilings in Science?

This week’s Soapbox Science guest post is by freelancer Ben Thomas, he looks at  biases in scientific fields and how they can develop against men or women:

According to many experts, the unifying principles that inform these biases aren’t always intentional, and they  emerge when differing professional expectations and corporate cultures meet.

“A lot of bias-influenced decisions aren’t malicious decisions or even discriminatory decisions,” says Betty Shanahan, executive director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers. “But the net result is the same: they prevent some talented people from getting ahead.”

So how can differences, for example, in communication styles,  bubble up into concrete distinctions among career paths and promotion levels?, A 2010 study funded by the National Science Foundation learned that recommendation letters written by women tended to focus on adjectives like “affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, nurturing, tactful and agreeable,” whereas recommendation letters composed by men leaned towards behavior-oriented descriptions and adjectives like “confident, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring, outspoken and intellectual.”

Do you agree with Ben? Share your experiences in the comment thread.

Cancer vaccine pioneer

The Nature Jobs Blog hosts a Q&A with Dr Helen Sabzevari, a pioneer in the field of immuno-oncology and Senior Vice President of Immuno-Oncology at pharmaceutical company EMD-Serono:


Dr Helen Sabzevari

What are you working on at the moment?

I head-up the immuno-oncology reseach at EMD-Serono, and part of the portfolio is cancer vaccines. We already have one in the clinic and we are working on second and third generation vaccines.

What are the biggest challenges in developing a cancer vaccine?

Unfortunately, I think the biggest challenge for the cancer vaccine has been the failures so far over the past two decades. There is a stigma as a result of these failures which has led to the thinking that immunotherapy in general cannot work for cancer. But this isn’t unique to immunology or cancer vaccines – if you look at the history of drug development or even scientific achievements in general, usually it starts with tremendous amounts of failures and then those failures become lessons and generate a lot of knowledge. This leads to progression and eventually success – and this is exactly what we are seeing right now.

Hear more from Helen on the possibility of developing a vaccine for cancer in the post.

Obama calls for peer-review autonomy

Beth Mole reports in the News Blog, in a brief 15-minute speech this week, US President Barack Obama championed independence for the peer-review process, in front of an audience of elite researchers at the 150th annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC:

Find out more in Beth’s report. 

Melanoma drug joins ‘breakthrough’ club

Elie Dolgin explains in the Spoonful of Medicine Blog, the drug company Merck announced some news about its investigational cancer drug, lambrolizumab:

How anti-PD-1 therapy works

How anti-PD-1 therapy works


…drug giant Merck announced this morning that its investigational cancer drug lambrolizumab (MK-3475) had received the breakthrough blessing in recognition of the dramatic clinical benefits observed in an open-label, phase 1 trial involving people with advanced melanoma. The FDA’s new development path is specifically designed for experimental agents that produce large and unprecedented treatment effects in early clinical trials.

According to preliminary data presented at an international melanoma meeting last year, 43 of 85 patients with inoperable and metastatic melanoma who received lambrolizumab showed an objective anti-tumor response after 12 weeks, including eight who experienced a complete response. The average duration of response was 7.6 months, and most of the reported side events were minor, although seven people experienced potentially dangerous immune-related complications.

“It’s never a good time to be a patient. But at this point, if you are, it’s the dawning of a new day where we have the return of hope of having a significant therapy,” says trial investigator Omid Hamid, director of the Melanoma Center at the Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Further details can be found in Elie’s post.

Crowdfunding: Another Form of Science Outreach

Jeanne Garbarino, Director of Science Outreach at The Rockefeller University, talks about the power of crowdfunding as a form of outreach, in a special Soapbox Science guest post:

121114_6184_garbarino_c-150x150Science crowdfunding changes the equation by adding a powerful new incentive for scientists to engage the public with science: the potential for raising money for research directly from the public. What makes crowdfunding such a powerful potential lever to connect science and society is that the amount of money that can be raised in this way is directly proportional to the size of the audience that has been built.

Because the basic tenet of successful crowdfunding is built upon the “strength in numbers” philosophy, broad dissemination of the message is inherent to any crowdfunding campaign. For scientists who crowdfund, this also implies a broad dissemination (and hopefully understanding) of scientific information to communities that include non-scientists. In other words, science crowdfunding is science outreach.

 Wise Words (From Other People) on Science Writing and Social Media

SciLogs blogger Matt Shipman, in his latest post highlights some great resources on science writing and social media:

But even people who are social media enthusiasts often wonder if they could be doing a better job. Are there tools out there I should be using to improve my science outreach? Are there more/better/different ways I could be using the tools I already work with? [Note: I’m not addressing the question of whether you should be doing science outreach in the first place. That’s a whole different kettle of fish. Seehere, or – for lots more discussion – here.]

Last week, Nature’s SpotOn team began rolling out a series of case studies on how various people and organizations have used social media as science outreach tools. [Full disclosure: I wrote one of them.]

It’s a fantastic resource for helping to identify tools and techniques that you can bring to your own science communication efforts. Some of the case studies involve the long-term efforts of individuals (like SciCurious’ piece on creating and maintaining a blog), others focus on specific time-limited events (like live-tweeting an expedition) and still others reflect social media efforts at an institutional level.

Share your resources in Matt’s post.

Papers like movies: Lassie

Finally, Viktor Poór’s latest comic highlights how frustrating it can be to publish your research:



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