DAILY DOSE: Howard Hughes Medical Institute does the right thing for diversity; The low-impact paper epidemic.


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The lack of representation of women and people of color in laboratories has garnered a lot of attention recently. Rightly so. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute has decided to tackle diversity issues head-on. According to Science, “Today, HHMI announced it will award $8.6 million over the next decade to each of 150 life scientists in tenure-track positions. The unprecedented amount of funding for early-career researchers is expected to draw thousands of applicants. Winners, who will also become HHMI employees, do not themselves need to be from a group underrepresented in science. (In fact, federal law prohibits the use of race or gender as a criterion for hiring.) But a commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) work environment is essential. ‘Excellence comes first,’ says Leslie Vosshall, HHMI’s chief scientific officer, who notes that the winners will be required to spend at least 80% of their time at the bench. ‘But we’re also looking for people to whom students representing all metrics of diversity will flock, making their labs hotbeds of diversity within the department.’” This is a very good start. Hopefully, more institutions follow suit and make decisive efforts to increase the diversity of its research workforce. https://bit.ly/3lHBbJD


The appearance of Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19, prompted a massive influx of scientific articles focused on the virus and disease. A good amount of the research was done by scientists whose actual field of expertise had nothing to do with virology or coronaviruses or epidemiology. On top of that, scientific journals jumped on the bandwagon and dedicated significant real estate to Covid-19. This has resulted in a lot of sub-par papers making it into circulation. According to a study in Science, “One recent analysis suggests such fears are not unfounded. Two-thirds of authors who had at least one publication on COVID-19 in 2020 had no previous papers on a related topic, Dashun Wang of Northwestern University and colleagues reported in an arXiv preprint in July 2021… In addition, by using a metric it developed, the team found that papers published on ­COVID-19 in 2020 had lower impact on average than non–COVID-19 papers published during the same year. Using a different metric that measured a paper’s novelty, the group found that the further a researcher had pivoted from their usual area of expertise, the lower the impact of their COVID-19 publications.” The number of Covid-19-related papers has decreased lately. One possible cause of declines in papers published is that editors have just started being pickier about Covid-19 articles they choose to publish. https://bit.ly/3wQXhOP


Everyone knows cities have been rough places to live during the pandemic, especially during the early months when uncertainty suddenly made shared spaces feel much more claustrophobic than in the past. As a result, many city-dwellers made their way to less cramped pastures. A recent study documented the population ebbs and flows from America’s cities. Per the Associated Press, “Eight of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. lost population during the first year of the pandemic, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago leading the way. Between July 2020 and July 2021, New York lost more than 305,000 people, while Chicago and Los Angeles contracted by 45,000 residents and 40,000 people, respectively. Although San Francisco’s not among the 10 largest cities, almost 55,000 residents left that city, or 6.3% of its 2020 population, the highest percentage of any U.S. city.” However, some experts believe that the numbers represent a temporary trend, “Brooking Institution demographer William Frey said he believes the population declines in most of the largest U.S. cities from 2020 to 2021 are “short-lived and pandemic-related.” https://bit.ly/3sXZg2Q


The largest city in China is creeping toward normalcy after months of being in Covid-19 induced lockdown. Per Reuters, “Pandemic-hit Shanghai, China’s financial hub, unveiled more post-lockdown plans on Thursday as it moves towards a return to normalcy, but a nationwide economic recovery is still a distance away, heightening a sense of urgency for more support. China’s biggest city by economic output has suffered from the lockdown imposed in early April. Other cities not under lockdown but still hemmed in by COVID curbs, including Beijing, have also struggled, with the highly transmissible Omicron provoking stronger responses from health authorities this year.” City officials said on Thursday that students in junior and senior high school could return to offline classes from June 6, following word earlier in the week that shopping malls and department stores would be allowed to reopen, although in batches, from June 1. It goes without saying that this is good news. https://reut.rs/3wWQYtk


Sometimes, nature conservation efforts seem like cases of too-little-too-late. Nonetheless, it’s always appreciated when governments try. In England, efforts are now under way to transform land in order to address human-induced wildlife loss. Per The Guardian, “Up to 99,000 hectares of land in England, from city fringes to wetlands, will be focused on supporting wildlife in five major ‘nature recovery’ projects, the government has said. The five landscape-scale projects in the West Midlands, Cambridgeshire, the Peak District, Norfolk and Somerset aim to help tackle wildlife loss and the climate crisis, and improve public access to nature. They will share an initial £2.4m pot from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Natural England, for work to create new habitats, manage land for nature and carbon storage and increase footpaths and connect with communities, with further funding expected from other sources and partners.” https://bit.ly/3NFUleT

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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