Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – January 13, 2015

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By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D

photo credit: rickz via photopin cc

The Economy and the Environment

What Low Oil Prices Mean for the Keystone XL Pipeline

Michael A. Levi, David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment

Congress is back in session and on the docket is whether or not the United States will move forward with the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline could potentially transport up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil a day down to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline brings promise of strengthening U.S./Canadian economic relations, U.S. job creation and even creating a safer way of transporting oil (rail versus pipeline). Opponents to the pipeline remark that the U.S. could potentially increase fossil fuel consumption by driving down the price of oil and making oil less of a scarce commodity. However, the price per barrel has dropped below $50 driving the price of oil way down and bringing into question the need to even continue the Keystone XL pipeline debate. The State Department Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) concluded that if the price per barrel dropped below $65 there would be no economic need for the pipeline despite that the pipeline would probably have no “substantial impact” on greenhouse gas emissions. Now that oil prices are low, another tier to the debate concerns the overall benefit of constructing the pipeline given present oil prices. One concern is that lower oil prices will reduce the odds that the pipeline will ever be fully used; thus creating jobs upfront, but not sustaining them. In another scenario the pipeline does get built and lowers oil prices but without a clear picture of its economic costs. Whatever scenario, it is clear that before proceeding, there should be a clearer idea of the combined impact on both the economy and the environment of the Keystone XL pipeline in the future where oil prices are low.


Health Policy

Newly discovered antibiotic kills pathogens without resistance

Greg St. Martin, Northeastern University

The arms race between antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is of great concern with the medical community and is a serious threat to public health. As new antibiotics have been developed to treat and defeat the nastiest bacteria, the rise of a new class of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has left clinicians with few therapeutic options in some cases. But in new research, a group out of Northeastern University in Boston Massachusetts presented a newly discovered antibiotic that eliminates pathogens without encountering any detectable resistance—a discovery that challenges long-​​held scientific beliefs and holds great promise for treating chronic infections like tuberculosis and those caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Researchers from Northeastern developed a novel method for growing uncultured bacteria leading to the discovery of the antibiotic, teixobactin. The exciting results were recently published in the journal Nature earlier this month. Teixobactin was discovered by new methodology that allowed unculturable bacteria (that make up 99 percent of all species in the external environment) to thrive in a lab setting. Their approach involves the iChip, a miniature device created by the group that is able to isolate and grow bacteria in their natural environment and thereby provide researchers with much improved access to uncultured bacteria. This remarkable finding brings promise of combating the public health threat of antibiotic resistance and could potentially bring onto the market a new class of “superior” antibiotics.


Research Interpretation

Polls of Future Past: A History of Public Expectations for the Future of Science

Kathleen Weldon, Research Coordinator for the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at UConn

Sometimes science fiction accurately portrays the actual state-of-affairs of scientific advancement. For example, we are living in the year that Marty McFly in “Back to the Future Part II” wore grey Nike hightops (now fashionable again) and accurately predicted the existence of flat panel televisions, internet video chat, and intelligent gaming systems in 2015. However, the changes that are anticipated are not always the ones that appear. For example, when Gallup first asked Americans in 1949 whether they expected a man to land on the moon within the next 50 years, only 15 percent responded ‘yes’. This was quite surprising given the great accomplishments such as the atomic bomb during that time. Since then, American opinion concerning the pace of scientific advancements has greatly changed. As compared to 1949, American expectations for medical breakthroughs are outpacing reality. There was a strong majority of Americans who had anticipated a cure for cancer by the end of the 20th century—and were severely disappointed by the lack thereof (despite increased advancements in cancer treatment and life expectancy). Some in the medical and science communities may see this as an unwanted aggravation to the field: additional pressure on top of an already pressurized system. Another perspective is that unlike the opinion of Americans in 1949, Americans in the 21st century believe in the ability of scientists to continually discover and innovate unhindered by the impossible.


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Written by sciencepolicyforall

January 13, 2015 at 9:00 am

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