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Science Policy Around the Web – December 16, 2014

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By: Lani S. Chun

Marijuana Policy

Congress takes first step to federally decriminalize cannabis programs in states where they are legal

Despite its status as a Schedule I drug (defined as a substance with “no currently accepted medical use”), compounds derived from cannabis have been shown to have potential medical uses (e.g. PTSD, epilepsy, pain, spasticity, movement disorders, and urinary dysfunction). In addition, there has been increasing support from the public to legalize marijuana, which has resulted in the legalization of marijuana for various uses in 26 states. Responding to public sentiment and the conflict between state and federal laws, the Congress passed a spending bill that prevents prosecution by the Department of Justice for state-legal marijuana activities. How this bill affects future marijuana policy is yet to be seen, but it has the potential to further free up resources to study the compounds present in marijuana and is undoubtedly recognition of the need for better drug regulation and enforcement. (Matt Ferner, Huffington Post; Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Washington Post; Barbara Koppel, et al., Neurology; Denise Lu, Ted Mellnik, and Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post; Whitehouse.gov)

 

Environmental Health Policy

ICCM to meet this week on the regulation of hazardous chemicals which may persist in the environment

From Dec. 15-17, the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) will have its fourth annual meeting to discuss the implementation of a set of policies adopted in 2006 called the Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management (SAICM). The goal of the SAICM is to ensure that “by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.” Funding for the SAICM is provided by a mix of countries and inter-governmental agencies, and provides for the development and application of policies enacted under the SAICM. Policy discussions at the conference in Geneva will include subjects such as lead paint, nanotechnologies/nanomaterials, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), and a new proposed issue: environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants. These subjects are of particular interest because of the real-world effects seen in both human and non-human populations such as the progressively younger onset of puberty in girls, lead paint poisoning, colony collapse disorder, and EDC-linked cancer. (SAICM.org; KUOW.org; Megan Allison, Boston; Eric Mack, Forbes; Damian Carrington, Guardian)

 

Environmental Policy – Conservation

Scientists attempt to forecast species extinction rate, warning a sixth mass extinction may be imminent

While the debate on climate change and what to do about it rages on, there is no doubt that human activity is leading to the accelerated rate of species extinction. Current estimates now put the possible occurrence of mass extinction (defined as a >75% species loss) anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years from now. The top causes of extinction include exploitation, habitat degradation/loss, climate change, invasive species, pollution, and disease, with climate change expected to take up a bigger part of the pie as time goes on. Scientists are calling for the development of better computer models to better detect and understand current and future threats to species survival. This will aid conservation efforts by giving scientists the ability to stave off possible causes of extinction and rebuild endangered populations. (David Shukman and Matt McGrath, BBC News; Richard Monastersky, Nature; Robin McKie, Guardian)

 

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December 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 12, 2014

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By: Amie D. Moody, Ph.D.

photo credit: timtom.ch via photopin cc

Government Spending

How the NIH fared in the federal spending bill

On Tuesday evening, Congress finally reached an agreement for the 2015 federal budget. The NIH has been appropriated with $30 billion of the $1.013 trillion federal budget. This is a mere $150 million increase over the 2014 budget, and is insufficient to maintain pace with inflation. However, there are some key areas that are specifically earmarked for increases. The National Institute of Aging receives a 2.4% increase over 2014 levels, with an emphasis placed on studying Alzheimer’s disease. And, of course, some institutes will receive a $25 million increase for the BRAIN Initiative. In addition to these highlights, the bill funds a $12.6 million “jump start” for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act pediatric research initiative, a program that will otherwise be funded through contributions from tax returns.

 

Included with the budget was a report that contained certain directives that bear watching. The first of these directives echoes a proposal of Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), and urges the NIH to lower the age that investigators receive their first grant—the average age is currently 42. Although this is an issue on the NIH’s radar, the steps necessary to lower this age are unclear. A second directive voices lawmakers’ concerns that not enough emphasis is placed on disease burden when the NIH awards grants to study disease. Biomedical research advocates understand that the appropriations committee is expressing concerns and setting expectations. However, the advocates typically feel that the NIH should award grants based on the quality of the proposal, and not bias the award system towards criteria set by Congress. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

 

Environmental Policy – Conservation

Wildlife pathogens ravage the world around us

We live in a world where international travel is easy and common. Although this can be a strong positive for the global economy, it can also mean increased ease in the spread of wildlife pathogens. A. Marmaduke Kilpatrick, Ph.D., a disease ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, outlines the “big three” of these devastating pathogens. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is a fungus that has caused the extinction of hundreds of species of frogs across every continent but Antartica. The fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans causes white-nose syndrome in bats. White-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America, and is still spreading westward across the continent. Finally, there is the West Nile virus. Although not as deadly as the other two pathogens, West Nile virus can reduce local populations of some bird species by up to 90% and be transmitted to humans. Not surprisingly, the one of these three that poses a threat to humans, the West Nile virus, is the pathogen that receives the most research funding. But it is also the least devastating. This raises the question of, in these days of reduced research funding, do the plights of the ecosystem warrant the money and effort to better understand the causes of wildlife pathogens and implement management policies? The sentiment of Dr. Kilpatrick is yes. Although the pathogens may not always be communicable to humans, they can still have very real impacts on livestock and crops, and thus still impact the lives of humans. Thus, higher-risk conservation efforts are needed to better detect, track, and stop the global march of wildlife pathogens. (A. Marmaduke Kilpatrick, The Scientist)

 

Public Health

The effectiveness of debunking vaccine myths

There is a common belief that communication and education are “silver bullets” when it comes to swaying a person’s beliefs. A study published on Monday in Vaccine found that educating people about popular myths associated with the flu vaccine did reduce misbelief. However, this new information did not actually increase the likelihood of people actually getting vaccinated. In fact, it actually reduced the likelihood! If misperceptions are not driving force behind vaccine hesitancy, then what is? One key reason is “motivated reasoning,” a psychology concept explaining why people change their minds in an argument. Essentially, if a person believes strongly about a subject, even when a facet of their perception is challenged, they fill in the “gap” with other reasons. Brendan Nyhan, Ph.D., still believes that it is important to ensure that the accurate information is readily available to the public. Yet, we do need to better understand how to effectively convey accurate public health messages. (Tara Haelle, NPR)

 

 

 

 

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December 12, 2014 at 11:16 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 9, 2014

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By: Jennifer E. Seedorff, Ph.D.

Flu Season – Public Health

Potential for a deadlier flu season

This flu season has the potential to be an especially bad season. This year the predominant circulating flu strain is a H3N2 virus, and historically the H3 strains have been associated with more severe flu seasons, including increases in hospitalizations and deaths. This season may be especially bad because some of the circulating H3 viruses have mutated since the strains for the vaccine were chosen, and these mutations may mean that the vaccine may be less effective against the mutated strain. Despite the mismatch between the flu strains and the vaccine, vaccination is still highly recommended. The vaccine will still provide protection against other strains of flu, including the unmutated H3N2 strain that is also in circulation, and may still provide a “weak defense” against the mutated strain, according to the CDC.   Additionally, this year CDC recommends that anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamivir) be given to vulnerable patients with flu symptoms without waiting for a positive flu test, since these drugs work better when given earlier in the infection. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said that, “Flu is unpredictable, but what we’ve seen thus far is concerning.” (Donald McNeil, Jr. New York Times)

 

NASA

Successful test flight of the Orion spaceship

NASA’s Orion spaceship successfully completed its first unmanned test flight on December 5th. Orion is intended to replace the retired shuttle for manned spaceflight, including missions to the Moon and eventually Mars. Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager, commented on the successful flight and splashdown in the Pacific, “It’s hard to have a better day than today.” This 4.5 hour unmanned spaceflight was intended to test the performance of critical re-entry systems, including its thermal shielding. The Orion spaceship is being developed in parallel with a new launch rocket that will likely be ready around 2017-2018. Amos reports that commentators are “worried that the policy as laid out cannot continue in its current guise.” John Logsdon, a historian, commented that, “the first Orion launch with a crew aboard is 2020/21, and then nothing very firmly is defined after that, although of course NASA has plans. That’s too slow-paced to keep the launch teams sharp, to keep everyone engaged. It’s driven by the lack of money, not technical barriers.” Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientists said that, “We have all these technologies mapped out and we’re asking, ‘what is the most sustainable path we can get on (to acquire them)?’” Despite concerns about the pace of development and future missions, Friday’s launch was a reason for celebration. As mission control commentator Rob Navias said, “There’s your new spacecraft, America.” (Jonathan Amos, BBC News)

 

Regulatory Policy – FDA

New drug labels to include more information on risks of medications during pregnancy

In June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin to require labels on prescription drugs and biologics to include more information on risks to pregnant and breastfeeding women, and on the reproductive risks to both men and women. Prior to this rule change, drugs were given a letter grade based on known or unknown risks of the medication during pregnancy and breastfeeding. “The ABC system was useless. Every thing was C, and all it said was there was no known data during pregnancy but that wasn’t necessarily the case,” said Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the Office of New Drugs in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA, wrote, “Our new method provides for explanations, based on available information, about the potential benefits and risks for the mother, the fetus, the breastfeeding children, and women and men of reproductive age.” The new rule will require that the information packets included with medications approved since 2001 include subsections on “Pregnancy,” “Lactation,” and “Females and Males of Reproductive potential” and include a summary of risks and the data to support the conclusions.  The rule will not require companies to do studies on the risks during pregnancy and lactation, but will require them to provide the information, if it exists. “Oftentimes the research is out there in the medical literature,” Kweder said and that, “oftentimes companies know about it,” but may not include it. (Brady Dennis, Washington Post and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)

 

GMOs – EU

Compromise in debate over genetically modified plants in the European Union

Recently, a compromise was reached in the approval process of genetically modified (GM) plants for cultivated in the European Union (EU). Approval of genetically modified crops has been particularly controversial in Europe where resistance and support for GM crops varied greatly amongst the member states. Prior to this compromise, approval by the EU Commission would have allowed GM crops to be grown in all member states, some of which have laws that ban cultivation of GM plants. This compromise agreement will allow individual member states to overrule EU approval of GM crops in their state. This agreement should help to speed up the approval process, but still needs to be approved to come into force. The compromise of letting individual member independently decide on whether to allow GM crops to be grown has met with resistance from both supporters and defenders of GM crops. Still the EU commissioner of Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis called the deal “a significant step forward, after 4 years of intense debates . . . (The agreement will) give the democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice when it comes to important decisions concerning food and environment.” (Daniel Cressey, Nature News)

 

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December 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – December 5, 2014

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By: Thomas Calder, Ph.D.

Global Public Health

‘Superbugs’ Kill India’s Babies and Pose an Overseas Threat

A recent study has found more than 58,000 newborn infants died last year in India from bacterial infections due to antibiotic resistant bacteria. These infants mostly succumbed to sepsis or pneumonia. According to Dr. Neelam Kler, chairwoman of the neonatology department at a New Delhi hospital, “Five years ago, we almost never saw these kinds of infections [but] now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multidrug resistant infections. It’s scary.” Infants have undeveloped immune systems and therefore cannot fight these infections long enough for doctors to identify an antibiotic that effective kills the bacteria. The growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria in India has been linked to their overuse of antibiotic medication and their insufficient sanitary system. More antibiotics are sold over the counter in India than any other country in the world, which increases the risk of creating new resistant strains of bacteria. Additionally, over 50% of the population use outside toilets, which leads to the spread of bacteria in sewage water. According to Dr. Timothy R. Walsh, a microbiologist at Cardiff University, “India’s dreadful sanitation, uncontrolled use of antibiotics and overcrowding coupled with a complete lack of monitoring the problem has created a tsunami of antibiotic resistance that is reaching just about every country in the world.” Indeed, antibiotic resistant “superbugs” have emerged from India, suggesting this problem poses a risk to the entire world. (Gardiner Harris, The New York Times)

 

Energy

Natural gas: The fracking fallacy

In recent years, hydraulic fracturing has led to a “shale revolution” in the United States that has allowed the natural gas industry to extract millions of cubic meters of gas daily from fine-grained rock known as shale. The US Energy Information administration (EIA) has projected that US natural gas production will continually grow until it peaks in 2040, but this forecast might be overly optimistic. A team of geoscientists, petroleum engineers, and economists from the University of Texas in Austin led a three year study to evaluate this prediction and derived a much more conservative forecast. They predict natural gas production will peak in 2020 and then begin to decline. The methodologies used to create these projected numbers differ in a variety of ways. For example, the EIA projections were based on average well productivity on the county level, but the UT Austin team projections were based on smaller areas of one square mile, which they believe provides a more detailed resolution. Additionally, the UT Austin team excluded certain territories that EIA had included in their projection because those areas will likely be too difficult and costly to drill. Scott Tinker, co-leader of the UT Austin team, believes this approach helps to “mimic reality.” Understanding when gas production will peak is important because “there’s going to be a pretty fast decline on the other side [and] that’s when there’s going to be a rude awakening for the United States,” says Tad Patzek, member of the UT Austin team. Therefore, the more conservative forecast might require US officials to reevaluate future plans for the US energy strategy. (Mason Inman, Nature News)

 

HIV Vaccine

Are we on the road to an HIV vaccine?

The spread of HIV is still a major problem globally as 2.1 million people were newly infected in 2013, bringing the total to about 35 million people. According to Dr. Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, “Most people that transmit it don’t even know they have it. To get that epidemic, to say you’ve controlled it, requires vaccination.” Scientists are optimistic about the vaccination approach since a recent vaccine has showed some protective ability in a large clinical trial of 16,000 volunteers in Thailand. This vaccine consisted of two vaccines, ALVAC-HIV and AIDSVAX, administered sequentially to prime the immune response and maintain the response over time. The protection rate was only 31.2%, but this was the first vaccine to confer any protection to HIV. Creating a vaccine against HIV has been difficult because the virus frequently mutates. Researchers are now trying to develop vaccines that target regions of the virus particle that are more conserved, or constant. Additionally, researchers have discovered that a specific type of antibody termed “broadly neutralizing antibody” may be the most effective antibody type at targeting and sequestering the virus. Therefore, scientists are working to create vaccines that stimulate these antibodies. (Meera Senthilingam, CNN)

 

 

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December 5, 2014 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – December 2, 2014

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D

photo credit: AJC1 via photopin cc

 

Federal Funding and Dual Use Research of Concern

U.S. urged to clarify extent of funding moratorium on risky virus research

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) has called upon the US government to clarify its position and urged it to give guidelines to scientists affected by a recent funding moratorium on certain types of infectious disease research. The NSABB statement was intended to give voice to some of the concerns of scientists and uncertainty surrounding the October 17th announcement and ask for “clear definitions and pathways to exceptions where they are needed” said NSABB Chair Samuel Stanley, president of Stony Brook University, New York. The pause in new federal funding applies to gain-of-function (GOF) research on influenza, MERS and SARS viruses that could potentially make these pathogens more transmissible in mammals or more pathogenic. The moratorium on new research is intended to give experts, such as those at NSABB, a year to advise on and help formalize a U.S. government-wide policy for reviewing the risk and benefits of GOF studies. Researchers whose studies are already funded or have non-U.S. support are encouraged to join a voluntary moratorium while the policy is under development. Concerns over the possible misuse of viral research arose in 2012, after the publication of two NIH-funded studies of H5N1 transmissibility and pathogenesis in ferrets.  (David Malakoff, ScienceInsider)

 

Open Access Publishing

Gates Foundation announces world’s strongest policy on open access research

Beginning January 1st, 2015, researchers with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be required to agree to some very, very open access publishing requirements! According to the open access policy announced on November 20th, authors funded in whole or in part by the foundation, must make their resulting papers and underlying data-sets open with unrestricted access immediately upon publication and allow reuse of their data for commercialization. During a two year transition period, authors may still apply for a 12-month embargo on the open publication of their data. This year-long delay in open access is similar to other life sciences funding sources, such as the NIH. However, after 2017, this option will no longer be available and could potentially prevent Gates Foundation researchers from publishing in top-tier journals such as Science and Nature, which currently make the delay mandatory. The ability to re-use data for commercial purposes also goes far beyond what is required by most open access policies. The Gates Foundation has taken a major stance on open access – and time will see just how far journals will go to continue to publish and distribute research or who else might follow suit. (Richard Van Noorden, Nature News Blog)

 

Public Health Policy

More public health interventions required to tackle grim reaper of ‘lifestyle’ diseases

A new paper published in the journal Critical Public Health, pushes the idea that public health policy should focus more breaking the (bad) habits of the public on the whole, rather than focus on an individual’s behavior as a way to better overall public health. Common behaviors, such as eating while watching TV or walking the dog after dinner, represent “social practices” that could be targeted for potential intervention with policy. The lead author, Dr. Stanley Blue says, “Smoking, exercise and eating are fundamentally social practices, therefore we need to re-shape what is deemed socially acceptable and normal in order to change them.” The authors cite changed attitudes towards smoking as one example of practice-oriented public health – as the social relationship with smoking changed, public health policies emerged that target the “practice” of smoking such as bans on smoking in restaurants or bars or in cars with children. “Current public health policy is dominated by the presumption that individuals are capable of making ‘better’ choices for themselves on the basis of information given to them by the government or other agencies. This does not account for the fact that practices like those of smoking and eating have histories of their own. Public health policy will have to find the courage to break away from its traditional mold if it is to stand a chance of confronting the grim reaper of lifestyle diseases.” (Science Daily)

 

 

 

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December 2, 2014 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 28, 2014

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By: Varun Sethi, Ph.D

photo credit: El Bibliomata via photopin cc

Interdisciplinary Science

Gut-brain link grabs neuroscientists

Gut bacteria benefit mental health. Do they? This is what companies selling probiotics have long claimed. Though traditionally skeptical to the theory, many neuroscientists are becoming interested in the clinical implications of the gut microbiome. The National Institute of Mental Health spent more then US$ 1 million this year, on research aimed at studying the microbiome-brain connection. Studies presented at the recent SFN meeting in DC reported this as a paradigm shift in neuroscience. Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are genera that have been reported to show beneficial effects on anxiety and depression related behavior. Gut bacteria and bacterial waste products may regulate stress, anxiety and cognition, especially in early life. Mechanisms and therapeutic potential of these associations are the focus of research in the field. The interaction between the gut associated immune system, enteric nervous system and gut based endocrine system has led to intriguing speculations about the impact of the bi-directional signaling between the mind, brain and gut. Are psychobiotics and melancholic microbes going to be the prescription to happiness? Though majority of the studies are in rodent models, the implications of microbiota in our intestines is being increasingly looked at with interest. There maybe some science in the use of the term ‘gut feeling’ after all! (Sara Reardon, Nature)

 

Health Care Policy

Medicare’s Chronic Care Management Payment — Payment Reform for Primary Care

A fee-for-service system, wherein payments for primary care are restricted to office based visits, is unable to provide good support for the core activities of primary care outside the office visit. These include tasks such as patient care co-ordination, patient communication, medication refill and care provided via electronic or telephonic channels. In 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be introducing a non-visit-based payment for chronic care management (CCM). This is an important and broadly applicable change to primary care payment and reflects an investment in creating a value-oriented healthcare system. The system will allow a practices to receive a monthly fee of $40 for beneficiaries with two or more chronic conditions, that are expected to last at least 12 months and confer a significant risk of death, decompensation or functional decline. Practices will have to use electronic health records (EHR), provide round the clock availability to staff able to access EHR and maintain a designated practitioner amongst other things. The implementation of this policy will, however, have to deal with many challenges. Beneficiaries will be expected to pay a 20% co-insurance for CCM, a fee for a service they have so far received free. They will have the choice to consent, and in the event that they refuse, how will the practice continue to care for such patients ? Smaller practices with limited resources may have trouble meeting the requirements and may perhaps be rendered ineligible. The details of the implementation are unclear as yet. While the payment will provide additional resources to the primary care system, it may not achieve the transformation in practice as per the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) initiatives. (Samuel T. Edwards, Bruce E. Landon, New England Journal of Medicine)

 

Translational Science

Changing the Mindset in Life Sciences Toward Translation: A Consensus

Basic discoveries in biomedical science continue to a fast pace, however, the translation of this knowledge into clinical use lags behind significantly. Biomedical translation is challenged with scientific, financial and political speed-breakers. In May 2014, Translate, a meeting in Berlin, brought together stakeholders from around the world with the common goal of improving biomedical translation. Infrastructure, funding and de-risking issues in biomedical technology were major factors identified as barriers in biomedical translations. An appalling 80 to 90% research projects fail before they are tested in humans, and those that do proceed require up to 15 years to find a clinical use. A multidisciplinary approach involving clinical scientists, researchers, patent agents, industrial partners and regulatory authorities is required to create expert professional translators, who have the expertise to capture those discoveries that have the potential to make it to the clinical market. A change in academic funding and education is warranted. Academic reward systems should focus on not only the publication quality, number and journal impact factor, but also on tangible impacts of research on medical treatments and patient benefits. Cross-talk between scientists from different specialties, with different ideas, perspectives and expertise needs to encouraged and facilitated. The importance of professionalizing translation was emphasized at the meeting. Adequate economic incentives and market forces are essential in driving and directing successful translation. While industry is eager to take over projects beyond phase 2, funding for early phase development is complicated by larger risks and remains an uphill task. This paper discusses the role of a translational researcher in recognizing these challenges and invoking the industry, networking to form partnerships that are essential to collect market data and find solutions. A change in scientific mindset with a greater emphasis on interactive and collaborative relationships is needed. In future articles of this series, funding barriers and derisking will be discussed. Biomedical translation, is not a passive process and is a very crucial step in improving the value of health care, health outcomes and the quality of patient life. (Duda et al., Science Translational Medicine)

 

 

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November 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 25, 2014

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D

photo credit: jvoves via photopin cc

International Scientific Workforce

Updated: Science gets a nod in Obama’s immigration plans

The United States gladly welcomes foreign-trained scientists for temporary research positions, but when it comes to transitioning many of these well-trained foreign scientists to permanent positions, it is exceedingly difficult. To their chagrin many foreign-trained scientists have to leave the U.S. for more permanent positions due to the difficulty in obtaining longer-term work permits. President Barack Obama’s latest speech concerning immigration policy addressed some of these issues within the research community. His speech suggested new policy that would make it easier for foreign students studying at universities to gain temporary work permits and for Chinese and Indian researchers who already have U.S. work permits to change jobs and apply for permanent residency. The latest piece of policy provides a positive outlook for permanent job positions for those Chinese and Indian researchers who have spent countless hours in the research laboratory. However, there is still work to be done as President Obama did not state that he and his administration would increase the number of work permits for highly-skilled foreign researchers. This is indeed a problem for the high-tech industry when looking for new employees as they have complained about the chronic shortage of permits that would allow foreign highers. Additional work on this matter is the onus of the new Congress. (David Malakoff and Jim Austin, ScienceInsider)

 

The Environment

Climate Change Threatens to Strip the Identity of Glacier National Park

Although we experienced the ‘Polar Vortex’ of Winter 2014 and we may have even been buried in the latest winter storm, overall the climate change trend is towards a warmer, rather colder world. The rate of glacial melting has risen sharply since the 1980s. In the past, glaciers have come and gone, but it is more alarming given the location of these glaciers among a Rocky Mountain landscape surrounded by sprawling cities, farms, and industry. More importantly, these areas rely on more than 80% of the glacial water supply. So, what will be the result of this shrinking ice reservoir? Dr. Fagre, the resident expert on snowpacks, glaciers and climate change, says, “When that happens, this whole area will dry up a lot. A lot of these alpine gardens, so to speak, are sustained entirely by waterfalls and streams like this. And once this goes, then some of those plants will disappear.” Moisture loss from early snowmelt is worsening a record hydrological drought on the Colorado River, which supplies water to about 40 million people from the Rockies to California and Mexico; by 2050, scientists estimate, the Colorado’s flow could drop by 10 percent to 30 percent. This could lead to very passionate discussions over water rights as a growing population competes for a shrinking resource. As a nation, we are all starting to accept more and more the validity of climate change and that we are obligated to change our behavior to reduce the rate of climate change. As parts of the country will witness drought climates, other parts may be subjected to floods. Attention to water resource sharing activities and investigations into water relocation efforts may be a possible mechanism to maintain safe, water levels throughout the U.S. (Michael Wines, The New York Times)

 

Climate Change – Communication

How to Talk About Climate Change at Thanksgiving: Recipes for Good Conversations

Hopefully work is winding down and you are about to travel somewhere near or far to enjoy Thanksgiving. This holiday is unique in that the emphasis is focused on epicurean delicacies such as turkey, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes that draw people together in intimate scenarios. As a result, there is an overall increase in the possibility of a contentious conversation arising between individuals as they both serve up some succulent turkey with gravy. And given our current weather patterns, it will possibly be about climate change. This article outlines how to discuss climate change without sacrificing the delight of the meal and the company it keeps. The first course points out to ‘serve up questions, and not arguments’. There is so much misinformation surrounding climate change (the most popular being why is it much colder outside if the earth is warming up), it will be helpful to be able to discuss fact from fiction. The second course suggests identifying individuals that are important to the person’s values to address their concerns. For instance, if a person believes that addressing climate change will hurt the economy try to suggest an economist that has investigated that same issue. In course three, the discussion may have lead to a full-blown argument, but try to find similar solutions. Regardless if the person believes that climate change is a scientific conspiracy or not, we all want to save money on our energy costs. Try to find similar needs and desires surrounding overlapping similarities. But, do not give up discussing this important issue with family and friends. The goal is not to ‘win’ but to educate about the effects of climate change in a friendly, respectful, and calm manner. And also, to enjoy some pumpkin pie, friends, and football! So, have a happy time discussing very important issues, such as climate change, and have a happy Thanksgiving! (Aaron Huertas, The Equation blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists)

 

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November 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

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