Greenpeace Puts UW Fisheries Professors in Its Crosshairs: In a letter to University of Washington president Ana Mari Cauce last Wednesday, environmental NGO Greenpeace filed a complaint against prominent UW fisheries professor Ray Hilborn, alleging that a public records request had revealed he failed to disclose industry funding in academic publications on numerous occasions. Following the accusation and Hilborn’s response, Greenpeace struck again, filing a second funding record request for Hilborn’s UW colleague Trevor Branch. Though Hilborn in particular has courted controversy in the past by questioning broad claims of overfishing as overblown, fellow scientists seem to largely support him in the face of Greenpeace’s criticism. At stake is the broader question of under which circumstances scientists should disclose industry funding, an increasingly important source of support as public funding for basic research has declined.
A Belated Look at the Sasquatch Genome Project: Back in 2013, a team of researchers made headlines for purporting to have sequenced the genome of Sasquatch, the cryptic bipedal hominin I’ll assume needs no introduction to Pacific Northwestern readers. Under scrutiny, the group’s conclusions quickly fell apart, with most critics agreeing the DNA sequences in their study were a hodgepodge of contaminated samples from humans and common North American woodland creatures. Recently, however, a discussion among scientists on Twitter highlighted a curious fact overlooked in the original press coverage: The Sasquatch genome paper, eventually self-published by the authors in a journal of their own making, was twice sent out for peer review at the prestigious journal Nature.
Why does all this matter? First, because Nature is inundated with submissions, the journal rejects a large number of manuscripts well before peer review, making even this tacit endorsement of the Sasquatch Genome Project sting to the many scientists whose work was less lucky. Second, it provides evidence in support of a widely held suspicion that high-profile journals can be more concerned with how splashy research is than its quality, something tentatively borne out in data showing higher-profile journals issue more retractions. And third, as my labmate CJ pointed out, it matters because most of the authors on the study are forensic scientists, and the quality of their analyses can determine whether or not someone goes to jail.
When Did the Americas Meet? It’s Contentious: Under the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift, the connection between North and South America is a geologically recent affair, traditionally believed to have originated only 3.5 million years ago. This date, suggested by numerous lines of evidence, has broad implications across scientific disciplines. Biologists, for instance, rely on it to study the timing and consequences of the event known as the “Great American Interchange,” where distinctive species of plants and animals that had evolved in reciprocal isolation expanded into each other’s ranges. (South America gained a host of its distinctive placental mammals, like llamas and jaguars; we gained the humble opposum.
But now the discovery of fossils of South American species on the North American side of the gap, millions of years before they should have arrived, is casting this traditional consensus into doubt. With long-held assumptions on the line, it’s proving a heated and fascinating debate. Wired correspondant Lizzie Wade has the details.
Science Event of the Week: The Puget Sound Mycological Society is hosting its annual “Mushroom Maynia” event this Sunday, May 22, at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Running from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., PSMS stresses that the celebration is a very family-friendly affair.