By: Elisavet Serti, Ph.D
International Science Policy
Scientific review labels U.N development goals as vague, weak or meaningless.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a major policy project being currently developed from the United Nations, “are fairly tales, dressed in the bureaucratese of intergovernmental narcissism” stated the editor of the Lancet scientific journal. A panel of scientists reviewed the 169 goals and appeared supportive of the general concept but concluded that the countries will struggle to achieve them unless the targets are clarified and quantified. These goals range from ending extreme poverty, securing equal access to justice and identifying sustainable energy sources to expanding marine conservation and ending poaching of wildlife. There has been good progress toward these goals, according to the United Nations; for example, the percentage of children under the age of 5 who were affected from poor nutrition dropped from 40% in 1990 to 25% in 2012. Child mortality has also declined almost 50% over the same period.
Only 29% of the 169 SDGs are well defined; the rest lack specific endpoints and time frames and a smaller proportion cant be measured accurately. For example, scientists support that some of these targets can be more specific, such as halving the number of people who lack enough water. Another example is goal 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” In this goal the access is not defined and is considered weak and potentially subject to loopholes. Overall, 54% of the SDGs need to be strengthened and 17% are weak or redundant. The whole project will be discussed by the full membership of the United Nations this summer and the announcement of the final SDG list is expected to be announced at a September summit. (Erik Stodstad, Science)
Advancing the science of vaccination
Vaccines are medical science’s most powerful weapons that have led to increase of lifespan and have eradicated numerous infectious lethal pathogens. Louis Pasteur, who discovered in 1879 the first vaccine against a disease called chicken cholera, is considered the father of vaccination.
Numerous reports that oppose the whole idea of vaccination, the link of vaccination with the development of autism by one study that proved to be wrong by following studies and the influence of anti-vaxers has significantly increased the number of parents that choose not to vaccinate their children. Also, it has brought back previously defeated illnesses like measles and mumps. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is determined to advance and promote the science of vaccination. That is why the AAAS devoted several sessions of its annual meeting on how vaccines can be tested and produced faster, better and cheaper and to estimate how many vaccines are in the pipeline. There is an effort for raising funds for the establishment of a Human Vaccines Project reminiscent of the Human Genome Project so that vaccine development is accelerated and expanded to pathogens such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. (The Economist, Feb 2015, pages 76-77)
Federal Research Funding
Two new House Representatives will craft the NIH and NSF budget for 2016.
After November elections, two new house representatives will oversee federal research spending and have already started crafting the budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) will head the subcommittee for the NIH budget and Representative John Culberson (R-TX) will head the panel for the NASA and the NSF budget.
Representative Cole has an academic background; as a graduate student at the university of Oklahoma, he moved to England on a Fulbright scholarship to study and write his dissertation British history, focused on the evolution of a working-class village in London’s East End. He believes that historians “have a pretty good sense of what type of research should be pursued.”
On funding issues, Cole says that he cant guarantee a healthy increase of the NIH budget and that the committee “will always be scrambling to maintain the programs we think they are important, at the expense of those of lesser importance.” Cole is a strong supporter of the NIH’s Institutional Development Award Program which funds states like Oklahoma, his home state, which get little federal science funding. He is planning on holding numerous committee hearings in order to hear all different opinions and promote cooperation.
Representative Culberson is very excited to become the chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittee that includes NASA and NSF funding. Although he has supported NASA missions in the past, many researchers will probably disagree with his opinions on climate change, social science research and his definition on wasteful research spending. Culberson grew up in a conservative family, he has represented a conservative district in West Houston and he is a member of the Tea Party Caucus. According to his statements, in 2002 he was offered a seat on the Appropriations Committee after assuring the then-Majority Leader Tom Delay that he was going “to say no to everything except science and national defense.” Culberson is really interested in astronomy and he vows to support NASA’s priorities missions, especially the trip to collect and return samples from Mars. On the other hand, researchers of climate change are likely to have a hard time getting funded since he cites “scientific evidence of dramatically higher temperatures that are completely unrelated to human activity.” On NSF’s funding, Culberson rejects specific grants that have been recently targeted by conservatives by stating that NSF should “avoid funding studies like shrimps on a treadmill or alcoholism among prostitutes in Thailand.” (Jeffrey Mervis, Science)
Have an interesting science policy link? Share it in the comments!