I pull off my Converse and step into a pair of rather ordinary-looking brown leather sandals.
I begin to walk slowly around the room, and that's when I experience the most peculiar sensations. The sound of my footsteps changes, and suddenly my lower legs feel lighter and longer. My knees feel looser, and I begin to raise them higher and higher as I walk. My walking speed increases until it's all I can do not to break into a trot. I feel slimmer, stronger, and full of energy. These are unlike any shoes I have ever worn.
Such footwear sounds fantastical, but these shoes are just one of a number of new experiments revealing how the noises we make have an immediate and profound effect on the way we experience our bodies, on our emotions and our behaviour. The trick here is not in the shoes themselves, but in the way they change the sound of my footsteps.
Faculty members often chafe at high overheads, because they see them as eating up a portion of the NIH budget that could be spent on research. And lack of transparency about how the money is spent can raise suspicions. “Sometimes faculty feel like they’re at the end of the Colorado River,” says Joel Norris, a climatologist at the University of California, San Diego. “And all the water’s been diverted before it gets to them.”
Nature compared the negotiated rates, as provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, to the actual awards given to more than 600 hospitals, non-profit research institutions and universities listed in RePORTER, a public database of NIH funding (see ‘Overheads under the microscope’). The analysis shows that institutions often receive much less than what they have negotiated, thanks to numerous restrictions placed on what and how much they can claim. Administrators say that these conditions make it difficult to recoup the cash they spend on infrastructure.
In addition, new administrative regulations have meant that universities have had to increase their spending, even as federal and state funding for research has diminished. “We lose money on every piece of research that we do,” says Maria Zuber, vice-president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, which has negotiated a rate of 56%.
But many worry that the negotiation process allows universities to lavish money on new buildings and bloated administrations. “The current system is perverse,” says Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University in Athens who studies university financing. “There is a tendency to promote wasteful spending.”
What are indirect costs?
Indirect costs — often called facilities-and-administrative costs — are expenses that are not directly associated with any one research project. This includes libraries, electricity, administrative expenses, facilities maintenance and building and equipment depreciation, among other things.
The United States began reimbursing universities for indirect costs in the 1950s, as part of a push to encourage more research. An initial cap was set at 8%, but that had risen to 20% by 1966, when the government began to allow institutions to negotiate their rates. Institutions were assigned to negotiate with either the US Department of Health and Human Services or the Office of Naval Research, depending on which supplied the bulk of their research funding. And the agreed rate holds across all federal funders, irrespective of where the negotiations took place.
A common misconception is that indirect-cost rates are expressed as a percentage of the total grant, so a rate of 50% would mean that half of the award goes to overheads. Instead, they are expressed as a percentage of the direct costs to fund the research. So, a rate of 50% means that an institution receiving $150 million will get $100 million for the research and $50 million, or one-third of the total, for indirect costs. But there are multiple caps that lower the base amount from which the indirect rate is calculated, or that limit the amount of money that a research institution can request. So very few institutions receive the full negotiated rate on the direct funding they receive.
Adhikari's accomplishments are rooted in more than his own determination and wit; they also draw on support from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), an organization based a world away in the picturesque Italian seaside town of Trieste. Set up in 1964 by Pakistani physics Nobel laureate Abdus Salam and Italian physicist Paolo Budinich, it aims to advance theoretical physics in the developing world. Salam, who died in 1996, wanted the centre to be “a home away from home” for researchers from the poorest regions of the world. After they passed through the ICTP's programmes of training and research, he hoped that alumni would establish scientific communities in their home countries, rather than settling abroad as so many scientists did. Adhikari, who completed the ICTP's one-year postgraduate-diploma programme in 1998, is one of the institute's success stories.
Adhikari is hardly the only one. In the 50 years since it was established, the ICTP has trained more than 100,000 scientists from 188 countries through its workshops and courses. Researchers who studied there have contributed to major discoveries in fields ranging from string theory and neutrino physics to climate change, and have racked up a trophy cabinet of academic prizes, including shares in a pair of Nobels. Most physicists credit the institute with stemming the brain drain and bolstering academia in the developing world. The institute is “widely admired”, says Martin Rees, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and former head of the Royal Society in London, who hopes that it will “inspire the creation of similar institutions covering other scientific fields”.
The ICTP has evolved over time. What started out as a small project focused narrowly on Salam's discipline — high-energy physics — has morphed into a broader programme. In 1998, the institute expanded its brief to include mathematics and Earth-systems physics, including climate and geophysics, and in 2014 it added quantitative life sciences. The institute is still changing. In the past two years it has opened satellite campuses in Brazil, Mexico and Turkey, and it is currently establishing branches in Rwanda and China. Plans to expand into more countries and disciplines are being considered.
Graduate level science and beyond requires much more local intensity and person to person focus than MOOCs and other online mechanisms provide.
There is mounting evidence that physical activity is good for your brain - even in later life.
In this review we have briefly summarized the expansive and ever-growing literature on the effects of physical activity on brain health and plasticity. We can conclude from this overview that physical activity has consistent and robust effects on the brain, which mediate improvements in cognitive performance and reduce the risk for neuropsychiatric disorders. The beauty of this research is that the effects appear consistent across species and populations indicating an exceptional level of translation that is rare to find in other disciplines.
He went on, “I recently saw a retired executive of an international company. He got a life coach to help him, and one of the pieces of advice the coach gave him was to get on a gluten-free diet. A life coach is prescribing a gluten-free diet. So do podiatrists, chiropractors, even psychiatrists.’’ He stopped, stood up, shook his head as if he were about to say something he shouldn’t, then shrugged and sat down again. “A friend of mine told me his wife was seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression. And one of the first things the psychiatrist did was to put her on a gluten-free diet. This is getting out of hand. We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa”—people who progressively withdraw different foods in what they perceive as an attempt to improve their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it. Worse is what parents are doing to their children. It’s cruel and unusual treatment to put a child on a gluten-free diet without its being indicated medically. Parental perception of a child’s feeling better on a gluten-free diet is even weaker than self-perception.”
The initial appeal, and potential success, of a gluten-free diet is not hard to understand, particularly for people with genuine stomach ailments. Cutting back on foods that contain gluten often helps people reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates, bread, beer, and other highly caloric foods. When followed carefully, those restrictions help people lose weight, particularly if they substitute foods like quinoa and lentils for the starches they had been eating. But eliminating gluten is complicated, inconvenient, and costly, and data suggest that most people don’t do it for long.
The diet can also be unhealthy. “Often, gluten-free versions of traditional wheat-based foods are actually junk food,’’ Green said. That becomes clear after a cursory glance at the labels of many gluten-free products. Ingredients like rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch are often used as replacements for white flour. But they are highly refined carbohydrates, and release at least as much sugar into the bloodstream as the foods that people have forsaken. “Our patients have jumped on this bandwagon and largely left the medical community wondering what the hell is going on,’’ Green said.
“You know, people are always dropping off samples of gluten-free products at our office. And when I eat them I regret it. I get heartburn. I feel nauseous. Because what are the things that sell food? Salt, sugar, fat, and gluten. If the makers take one away, then they add more of another to keep it attractive to people. If you don’t have celiac disease, then these diets are not going to help you.” People seem to forget that a gluten-free cake is still a cake.
Cigarette smoking: an underused tool in high-performance endurance training
The review paper is a staple of medical literature and, when well executed by an expert in the field, can provide a summary of literature that generates useful recommendations and new conceptualizations of a topic. However, if research results are selectively chosen, a review has the potential to create a convincing argument for a faulty hypothesis. Improper correlation or extrapolation of data can result in dangerously flawed conclusions. The following paper seeks to illustrate this point, using existing research to argue the hypothesis that cigarette smoking enhances endurance performance and should be incorporated into high-level training programs.