Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – July 24, 2015

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By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D.

Photo credit: reynaldodallin via pixabay.

Environment and climate change policy

At Vatican, Mayors Pledge Climate Change Fight

On Tuesday, approximately 60 mayors from around the globe gathered for a two-day conference convened in Vatican City. The Vatican organized the conference in order to encourage grass-roots action in support of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Laudato Si,” which calls on everyone to recognize the dangers of environmental degradation and climate change and to take action politically, economically, and culturally to protect the earth and those most-afflicted by development. With a view to the upcoming global summit on climate change planned for this December, the mayors declared they would pressure world leaders to accept a “bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives.” The mayors themselves recognized their own power as well. Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York stated, “We, the local leaders of the world, have many tools, more than we may have in fact realized, and we must use them boldly even as our national governments hesitate.” Mayors can often pass regulations to make buildings more energy efficient, encourage mass transit, recycling, and “green” thinking. Governor Jerry Brown of California called-out denialists, saying they were attempting to “falsify the scientific record” and stressed that “political and business leaders are not taking climate change seriously enough.” In their concluding declaration on Tuesday, the group recognized human-induced climate change as a “scientific reality” and declared ameliorating climate change a “moral imperative for humanity.” In order to more effectively deal with climate change, Gov. Brown acknowledged, “We need a moral dimension . . . and Pope Francis is providing that.” Pope Francis addressed the attendants saying, “We can’t separate man from all else. There is a mutual impact.” In closing, the pope expressed optimism for the future and subtly challenged the local leaders to continue to pressure for change saying, “I have great hopes for the Paris summit in December.” (Gaia Pianigiani, The New York Times)

Biomedical research training

Society asks NIH to act now to lessen biomed scientist glut

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) recently published eight suggestions to deal with the excess of young biomedical scientists being groomed for a prohibitively small pool of academic research positions. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study is the result of the analysis of nine previous reports containing over 200 recommendations issued by a variety of scientific groups. Not surprisingly, they call for a larger and more stable budget for the NIH and fewer administrative regulations for researchers. They go on to recommend an increase in postdoc salaries; limited financial support for graduate students and postdocs (restricted to 5 years each); a reliance on fewer temporary trainees in favor of more permanent staff scientists; and urge a reversal of the trend to support more graduate students and postdocs on research grants instead of fellowships and training grants. However, Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, warned about the effect an increase in postdoc wages could have on the overall research grant budget. In terms of the length of graduate and post-graduate training, she noted that NIH training grants and fellowships are capped at five years and that most graduate students earn their Ph.D. in fewer than 7 years anyway. Additionally, the NIH restricts eligibility for their K99/R00 awards, grants designed to transition from postdoc training into an independent research career, to applicants with less than 4 years of postdoc training. Rockey further cautions that shifting graduate students and postdocs currently on research grants to training grants would “ not be practical or feasible, at least in the short term” and that non-U.S. citizens or those who are not permanent residents (which equates to nearly 25% of graduate students and 50% of postdocs) are not currently eligible for training awards. However ASMB representative Chris Pickett and others suggest coordinated actions like simultaneously creating incentives to hire staff scientists while increasing postdoc salaries or supporting training grants for small as well as large institutions to ensure smaller schools are not disadvantaged in a shift away from research grant to training grant support. ASBMB hopes to follow-up by gathering authors of some of the reports, industry and advocacy leaders to “hammer out a defined advocacy plan” and consensus that will “give NIH the OK to move forward.” (Jocelyn Kaiser, Science Insider)

Health policy and education

Standing desks at schools: The solution to the childhood obesity epidemic?

An increasing number of schools are testing the use of standing desks in the classroom. Technically most are “stand-biased desks” that include stools at standing height. The goal is to get kids, who may spend 65-70% of their day sitting, moving more throughout the day. This could be a simple way to combat the growing obesity epidemic in the United States, improve cardiovascular health, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, and help transform classrooms into “activity-permissive environments.” Studies in Britain and Australia found that students with standing desks had about a 10% decrease in sitting time that carried over to time outside of the school day. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 1st graders with standing desks burned 17% more calories than those at sitting desks, and effect that was even more significant for overweight children who burned 32% more calories. Furthermore, surveys indicate standing desks are well liked by parents, teachers, and students alike. Mark Benden, a professor at Texan A&M University and published author on the topic, wrote a commentary for The Conversation noting that sufficient physical activity directly impacts one’s ability to focus on challenging cognitive tasks. According to Benden, “Children become more restless and distracted with prolonged sitting. Active workstations reduce behavior problems and increase students’ attention by providing them with a different method for completing academic tasks and breaking up the monotony of seated work.” Thus standing desks could theoretically benefit children both physically and mentally. (Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 24, 2015 at 9:00 am

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