Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – October 31, 2013

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By: Chris O’Donnell

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Battle Over Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act – The America COMPETES Act, which was first approved in 2007, increased federal support for research and science education. The legislation is once again up for reauthorization this fall, but it appears this once bipartisan bill will now be the ground for a battle in the House of Representatives. Already, there are disagreements over the agencies to be included and how those agencies should function. A discussion draft was recently released by Democrats on the House science committee, but the committee’s Republican chairman, Representative Lamar Smith (TX), has yet to release his draft bill. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) discusses her draft bill and trying to find common ground with House Republicans. (Jeffrey Mervis)

Organizations Urge Lawmakers to Allow NSF to Advance Research in Social and Behavioral Sciences – Recently, over 70 organizations wrote a letter to House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) asking for lawmakers to continue to allow the National Science Foundation (NSF) to evaluate and fund research propels in a wide range of disciplines, including social science and behavioral sciences. This is in response to a recent editorial where Smith and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggested that certain grants in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences were not worthy of federal funding. There is concern that politics may interfere with the ability of the NSF to fund projects from all disciplines and negatively impact the scientific process as a whole. (Kathy Wren)

Wide Disparities Among U.S. States in Science and Math - A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests eighth-graders attending public schools in the U.S. are above average in science compared to their foreign counterparts in 47 of the 50 states. U.S. students did not fare as well in math, but students were still above the international average in 36 states. However, wide disparities were observed between states. For example, average state scores in science ranged from 453 in the District of Columbia to 567 in Massachusetts. And from states with an average science score of at least 500, the percentage of students with high or advanced scores ranged from 31% in Hawaii to 61% in Massachusetts. There is a desire for policymakers to find out why some states, like Massachusetts, are performing so well.  (Adrienne Lu)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 31, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – September 16, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost (sorry for the delay!), bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

A silent hurricane season adds fuel to the debate over global warmingHalfway through hurricane season, there have been no Atlantic hurricanes. One possible explanation is abundance or warmer, dryer air across the Atlantic leading to fewer disturbances. Furthermore, a Category 3 or greater hurricane hasn’t made landfall since 2005 (Wilma), and scientists are confused about the cause. A report published in 2007 predicted an increase in destructive hurricanes, however, the opposite has been true, and a newer report indicates that there was only a 20 percent chance of the 2007 report being accurate. The debate regarding the severity of hurricanes illustrates the ongoing debate about the effects of global climate change. (Bryan Walsh)

More than 1,100 have cancer after 9/11 – More than 1,000 people who lived or worked near the World Trade Center around 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer. To date, approximately 1,140 people who developed cancer after exposure to debris from the 9/11 attacks on the WTC have received health insurance from the World Trade Center Health Program. Although cancer was not initially covered by the program, in September 2012, 58 types of cancer were added to the list of illnesses covered by the program. The program was created following the passage of the Zagoda Act, which was signed by President Obama in 2011. (CNN)

The adjunct advantage – A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that new students at Northwestern University learned better from adjunct professors than tenure-track professors. The study considered many aspects of learning- not simply completion of the course. The results of the study suggest that hiring faculty with only teaching responsibilities to complement those who also have research responsibilities may be beneficial to students. (Scott Jaschik)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 7, 2013

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photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

By: Jennifer Plank

Our biweekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Federal officials allege Santa Cruz company misled animal welfare inspectors – Two animal rights organizations allege that Santa Cruz Biotechnology has repeatedly violated the animal welfare act and misled federal inspectors. These violations include not reporting the existence of 841 goats. In September, the USDA filed a complaint indicating several violations in regards to animal welfare and employing unqualified personnel. In addition, during a recent inspection, several goats were suffering from undiagnosed infections. (Jessica M. Pasko)

Girls lead in science exam, but not in the United States – A 2009 exam given to 470,000 students (15 years old) in 65 developed countries indicates that, on the global scale, girls perform better than boys in science. Interestingly, in the United States boys out perform girls with average exam scores of 509 to 495. According to Christianne Corbett, research associate at the American Association of American Women, one possible explanation for this outcome is that gender stereotypes regarding occupations begins early in life and less women are likely to go into science careers. (Hannah Fairfield and Alan McLean)

New analysis challenges study suggesting racial bias at NIH – A 2011 study indicated that black researchers face a racial bias when it comes to receiving NIH funding. In response to this report, the NIH announced a program to boost the number of young minority scientists. However, a recent study has analyzed the productivity and funding of minority and white researchers researchers at the same institutions. The study found that on average, the black researchers were less productive than their white colleagues. Additionally, when adjusted for a productivity index, black researchers received just as much funding as their white colleagues. (Jocelyn Kaiser)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – December 16, 2012

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photo credit: Walwyn via photopin cc

photo credit: Walwyn via photopin cc

By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Tests Say Mislabeled Fish a Widespread ProblemA recent study published by Kimberly Warner and colleagues indicates that approximately 39 percent of fish sold by establishments in New York City were mislabeled. In some cases, the incorrect labels were relatively harmless- some cheaper species of fish were inappropriately labeled as more expensive species of fish. However, in some cases, the inappropriate labels present health concerns. For example, several types of fish that contain high levels of mercury were labeled as red snapper which poses a risk for pregnant consumers. Additionally, in many cases, the fish that was sold as white tuna was actually escolar, a fish that contains a toxin that can cause diarrhea when too much is ingested. Currently, the FDA is working on several programs to eliminate the problem of improperly labeled seafood.  (Elisabeth Rosenthal)

Why the Best Stay on Top in Latest Math and Science TestsResults released by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) indicated that fourth and eighth grade students from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea have again received the highest test scores on the TIMSS exam. A total of 63 countries participated in the study. There are several reasons why these 4 nations maintain high test scores. For example, educators from Singapore constantly revisit and modify their math and science curriculum in a timely manner. Based on the 2011 results, the United States ranked 11th in 4th grade math, 7th in 4th grade science, 9th in 8th grade math, and 10th in 8th grade science. (Jeffrey Mervis)

Psychiatry’s New Rules Threaten to Turn Grieving Into a Sickness –  A new change to the official psychiatric guidelines for depression will now result in a clinical depression diagnosis for patients suffering from grief over the death of a loved one. Under the current guidelines, the “bereavement exclusion” exempts patients from a depression diagnosis for 2 months following the death of a loved one unless the symptoms self-destructively extreme. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published on December 1 and no longer contains the “bereavement exclusion.” Critics argue that the symptoms of depression are identical to the feelings experienced when one loses a loved one. However, American Psychiatric Association claims that grief-related depression is not fundamentally different than clinical depression, and the “bereavement exclusion” made it more difficult for clinicians to effectively do their jobs. (Brandon Keim)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

December 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – September 10, 2012

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Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Ethics of commercial screening tests – An opinion piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine raises concern about the perhaps misguided efforts of community groups to offer ultrasonography screening (for example, to measure bone density).  “When screenings are provided in a church and sponsored by a trusted medical organization, consumers may have a false sense of trust in the quality and appropriateness of services provided.  Consumers are generally unaware of the potential harms of screening…,” the authors state.  Such harms can include overdiagnosis and incurring needless and expensive medical care, as not all screening tests are effective at measuring what they say they’re measuring or useful to the public.  The authors go on to suggest that direct sale of such tests to the public is unethical, as the public is often not informed enough to give consent.  “Appropriate and truly informed consent cannot be obtained when the companies providing the test do not fully disclose the potential risks and lack of benefit before collecting payment and performing the tests.” (hat tip to Gary Schwitzer on Health News Review.org for pointing out this piece.)

Trash Can May Be Greenest Option For Unused Drugs – University of Michigan researchers have looked at the environmental consequences of three different disposal methods (flushing, throwing into the trash, and incinerating) and found that throwing unwanted prescription drugs into the standard trash stream seems to strike the best balance between keeping drugs out of the environment and requiring a lot of carbon-releasing transportation and burning.  Flushing drugs down the toilet was the worst option, causing the most environmental contamination and (surprisingly) the most greenhouse gas emissions.  (by Ted Burnham via NPR.org)

White House Announces Plans to Create a National Science, Math, Technology, and Engineering Master Teacher Corps – The plan will begin with 50 “Master Teachers” and eventually expand to 10,000 over 4 years.  These teachers will be chosen for their innovative and effective teaching methods and will make multi-year commitments to the program.  In return, they will receive recognition of their efforts, the chance to build STEM education infrastructure and policy, and $20,000 stipends in addition to their base salary.  The stipends are designed to “make their profession more competitive with alternative careers [and keep] the best teachers in the classrooms where they are needed.”  (by Aline D. McNaull on FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 17, 2012

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photo credit: ~Aphrodite via photo pin cc

By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

How should researchers talk about science to the public? – Anne Osterrieder discusses how researchers and academics can make their work more accessible. (via The Guardian)

And, via the excellent blog Brain Pickings, two links to videos that do very well at doing just that:

Every Child Is A Scientist – Food for thought from Neil deGrasse Tyson:  “I can’t think of any more human activity than conducting science experiments. Think about it — what do kids do? … They’re turning over rocks, they’re plucking petals off a rose — they’re exploring their environment through experimentation. That’s what we do as human beings, and we do that more thoroughly and better than any other species on Earth that we have yet encountered….”

Richard Feynman:  The Key to Science – “…we look for a new law by the following process: First we guess it; then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right; then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is — if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 17, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – April 13, 2012

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Artist’s conception of a brain cell from an Alzheimer’s disease patient.
Image courtesy of the National Institute on Aging/National Institutes of Health

By: Science Policy for All contributors

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Confusion reigns in Tennessee - Tennessee governor Bill Haslam has declined to veto HR 368, a new bill that  protects teachers from being prevented “from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”  The bill was a response to perceived pressure on teachers to not allow debate on “controversial” topics such as evolution.  HR 368 was opposed by scientific societies such as the AAAS, which stated that “implying that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are not will only confuse students” and that the bill is unnecessary because “[critical] thinking is already inherent in the way science is taught”.  (by Jeffrey Mervis via Science Insider)

Caution needed when curbing overuse of healthcare resources - When, exactly, does healthcare turn into “overuse”?  Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have published a study illustrating why simply cutting back in high-use areas is not an efficient solution.  Researchers found that regions with high or low rates of inappropriate imaging also had high or low rates of APPROPRIATE imaging, respectively.   “The investigators dubbed this finding the “Thermostat Model,” and concluded that imaging use appears to be determined strongly by regional practice patterns and affinity for imaging, rather than solely by medical indication.”  (via the NYU Langone Medical Center)

FDA Approves Possible Alzheimer’s Test – On the medical front, after clearing several regulatory hurdles, the US FDA has approved a new test that will allow doctors to rule out Alzheimer’s disease as a cause of patient cognitive problems.  The test reagent, a radioactive dye that binds to the amyloid plaques that often accompany Alzheimer’s disease, allows doctors to see whether such amyloid plaques are present in the brain or not.  The FDA required the test’s owner, Eli Lilly, to prove that trained doctors could consistently read the test and thus that it was reliable and useful.  (by Greg Miller via Science Insider)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm

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