Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Archive for October 2012

Science Policy Around the Web – October 27, 2012

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By: Jennifer Plank

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

EU acts against harm from biofuel crops – The European Commission has concluded that clearing land in order to plant food for generating biofuels minimizes the environmental benefit of using them. To circumvent this issue, the commission has placed a new cap on the amount food-based biofuel. As an alternative, they recommend using waste, algae, and straw for the production of biofuel.

Viral research faces clampdown – In an attempt to enhance public safety, US health agencies have added two new viruses to the list of select agents – a list of pathogens and toxins that have the “potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety”. However, researchers oppose the restrictions due to the implications posed for conducting research on the select agents. The labs working on these agents will either have to upgrade their biological safety levels, transfer, or destroy their stocks. The two pathogens in question are the SARS Virus and strains of H5N1 influenza that are transmissible to mammals. (Declan Butler)

Life at the Bottleneck – A recent graduate from the University of Vienna’s Department of Social Studies of Science shares the major findings of her research. Ruth Muller studied the current academic landscape and how it influences a postdoc’s career development and working practices. Her findings suggest that the pressure of the postdoctoral position decreases the opportunity to develop skills for future success such as lab management, creative collaboration, and visionary innovation.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Earthquakes and the (non-)science of risk prediction

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By:  Rebecca Cerio

One of the more scientifically bizarre stories lately has been the conviction of Italian scientists and engineers in the L’Aquila earthquake trial.  To summarize, during a swarm of small earthquakes, a government-sponsored panel told the people of the L’Aquila region that the tremors were nothing to worry about and that they were believed to disperse energy and reduce the chance of a larger earthquake.  (In the past, such swarms preceded only a tiny fraction of large earthquakes.)  Six days later, a large earthquake hit the region, killing over 300 people.  The scientists were tried for the deaths of about 30 of those people, who–reassured by the scientists’ words–stayed in their homes when the quake struck, instead of rushing outside to more open, safer ground.

Scientists, predictably, have shook their heads in dismay at the Italian court’s verdict (convictions of manslaughter and 6-year sentences).  They have, understandably, pointed out that there was no way that the scientists could predict an earthquake and that they should not be punished for giving the best advice they could given the data they had.  The prosecution has pointed out that the defendants were not being charged with incorrectly predicting an earthquake but instead incorrectly communicating the RISK of an earthquake.  In essence, the scientists were charged and found guilty of giving people a false sense of security that convinced the victims to change their behavior in an ultimately lethal way.

Whether the scientists gave people bad advice or whether they gave them good advice that simply turned out to be wrong is still unclear and is perhaps something that only Mother Nature would be able to testify about, but it gets right at the crux of a very pointed issue:  how should scientists convey risk and uncertainty about their data to the public, particularly in life-and-death scenarios?  How much responsibility do scientists have to convey that risk accurately?  And what legal blame do scientists have to accept when people interpret and use that data to justify acting in ways that lead to injury or death? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – October 18, 2012

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Photo Credit: Adamo Photo

By: Jennifer Plank

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

Parsing of Data Led to Mixed Messages on Organic Food’s Value – Recently two independent groups reviewed years of scientific data regarding the benefits of organic food and came to very different conclusions. A study published in 2011 by a group from Newcastle University in England found that organic food was generally more nutritious and contained more molecules that help people fight cancer and heart disease. However, while reviewing many of the same original studies, a group from Stanford University concluded that organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally grown food. Kenneth Chang of the New York Times reviews the methodology used by both groups that led to this discrepancy.

Science in an Election Year – President Obama and Governor Romney were recently asked 14 science-related questions regarding topics such as energy, climate change, and the future of research, and Scientific American evaluated the responses given by their campaigns. The candidates’ full responses can be found here. Additionally, sciencedebate.org asked leaders of congressional committees that impact science policy 8 of the 14 questions that were asked of the presidential candidates- The Top American Science Questions: 2012 Congressional Edition.

Pertussis: Get the Vax or At Least Listen To Why You Should – Tara Haelle, a Double X Science contributor, reviews several recent events regarding vaccines and vaccine exemptions. On September 30, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2109 which requires parents to sign a statement stating they received information about the risks and benefits of vaccines before excluding their children from immunization. The statement must also be signed by a health care practitioner. On September 24, a US District court in Ohio ruled that religious objections were not sufficient for vaccination exemption stating that “the mere assertion of a religious belief . . . does not automatically trigger First Amendment protections,” and that “it has long been recognized that local authorities may constitutionally mandate vaccinations.”  Finally, a study in the journal Epidemiology highlights the importance of family members being vaccinated to protect the health of babies who are too young to be vaccinated and may contract the disease.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – October 5, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

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

President’s Bioethics Commission Releases Report on Genomics and Privacy – Whole genome sequencing (sequencing of a person’s entire genome) is swiftly becoming more and more affordable and opens up tremendous opportunity to advance medical knowledge and give people a new grip on their own health.  However, there have been lingering doubts about how such intimate knowledge will be protected, collected, and used.  New guidance about issues of privacy, regulation, and public good has been released by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.  You can get the whole report here.

Learn to Read a Scientific Report – This post on Wired.com is tiny and likely overlooked, but it made my day.  Quick, easy tips that hit upon some important ways for the public to evaluate scientific information (and advertisements) that come their way.  (by Noah Gray)

Doctors just say ‘no’ to drug company studies – Drug companies routinely fund, produce, publish, and advertise studies investigating the efficacy of their products.  One audience is the general public, but a larger audience is doctors.  Do doctors take into account possible drug company bias when evaluating new drugs?  Yes, they do, and they don’t like it, says a new study from investigators at the University of Arizona. (by Jennifer Fitzenberger via Futurity.org)

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October 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – October 5, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

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


A $400,000 Drug and Why It Matters for Global Health – 
Amanda Glassman over at the Global Health Policy blog gives a thought-provoking economic and sociological analysis to the big business of expensive niche drugs and how they can skew health spending.  “…industry is increasingly seeing a profit opportunity in high-cost niche drugs, rather than low-cost, high-impact/volume medicines. Middle-income populations are aging rapidly but are better educated and living longer, demanding more healthcare from their governments. Further, individual rights can be increasingly litigated in countries where governments have long promised but failed to deliver comprehensive healthcare.  One possible result is excellent health care for a few, and implicit rationing for the rest.”

How helpful are dense-breast right-to-know laws? – Laura Newman gives a fabulous rundown on the recent legislative furor over screening of women with dense breasts and how this issue is still quite scientifically murky.   (via the Patient POV blog)

How to Communicate With Patients About Health Care Evidence – Chuck Alston and Patrick McCabe discuss their recent findings on how best to discuss medical evidence with patients who wish to be increasingly involved in their own health care decisions.  Some interesting tidbits:  many patients wish for more meaningful conversations with their health care providers, for health care providers to listen to them, and for providers to clearly explain the medical evidence behind their options…and also the option of not treating at all.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

October 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm