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Quantification Quandary

Michael Nielsen says it's "very, very difficult for even the best scientists to accurately assess the value of scientific discoveries," which partly explains why some of the most influential revelations — like Einstein's theory of gravity — "were initially underappreciated." Despite their participation in a discipline so deeply vested in metrics and statistical significance, scientists have not yet determined the best way to judge the value of research, Nielsen says. Still, while "it may be near-impossible to accurately evaluate scientific work, as a practical matter we are forced to make such evaluations," he says. "Every time a committee decides to award or decline a grant, or to hire or not hire a scientist, they are making a judgment about the relative worth of different scientific work." In an essay on his blog, Nielsen suggests that "heavy reliance on a small number of metrics," such as h-index values and citation counts, "is bad for science."

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.