Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Posts Tagged ‘AAAS

Science For All – Effective Science Communication and Public Engagement

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By: Agila Somasundaram, PhD

Image: By Scout [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

         In 1859, Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, laying the foundation for the theory of evolution through natural selection. Yet more than 150 years after that discovery and despite a large volume of scientific evidence supporting it, only 33% of the American population believes that humans evolved solely through natural processes. 25% of US adults believe that a supreme being guided evolution, and 34% reject evolution completely, saying that humans and all other forms of life have co-existed forever. Similarly, only 50% of American adults believe that global climate change is mostly due to human activity, with 20% saying that there is no evidence for global warming at all. A significant fraction of the public believes that there is large disagreement among scientists on evolution and climate change (the reality being there is overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus), and questions scientists’ motivations. Public skepticism about scientific evidence and scientists extends to other areas such as vaccination and genetically-modified foods.

Public mistrust in the scientific enterprise has tremendous consequences, not only for federal science funding and the advancement of science, but also for the implementation of effective policies to improve public and global health and combat issues such as global warming. In her keynote address at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, Dr. Jane Lubchenko described the Science-Society ParadoxScientists need society, and society needs science. How then can we build public support for science, and improve public trust in scientists and scientific evidence?

Scientists need to be more actively involved in science outreach and public engagement efforts. Communicating science in its entirety, not just as sensational news, requires public understanding of science, and familiarity with the scientific process – its incremental nature, breakthrough discoveries (that don’t necessarily mean a cure), failures, and limitations alike. Who better to explain that to the public than scientists – skilled professionals who are at the center of the action? In a recent poll, more than 80% of Americans agree that scientists need to interact more with the public and policymakers. But two major hurdles need to be overcome.

Firstly, communicating science to the public is not easy. Current scientific training develops researchers to communicate science in written and oral formats largely to peers. As scientists become more specialized in their fields, technical terms and concepts (jargon) that they use frequently may be incomprehensible to non-experts (even to scientists outside their field). The scientific community would benefit tremendously from formal training in public engagement. Such training should be incorporated into early stages of professional development, including undergraduate and graduate schools. Both students and experienced scientists should be encouraged to make use of workshops and science communication opportunities offered by organizations such as AAAS, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and iBiology, to name a few. Secondly, federal funding agencies and philanthropic organizations should provide resources, and academic institutions should create avenues and incentives, for scientists to engage with the public. Both students and scientists should be allowed time away from their regular responsibilities to participate in public outreach efforts. Instead of penalizing scientists for popularizing science, scientists’ outreach efforts should be taken into consideration during promotion, grants and tenure decisions, and exceptional communicators rewarded. Trained scientist-communicators will be able to work better with their institutions’ public relations staff and science journalists to disseminate their research findings more accurately to a wider audience, and educate the public about the behind-the-scenes world of science that is rarely ever seen outside. Engaging with the public could also benefit researchers directly by increasing their scientific impact, and influence research directions to better impact society.

While increasing science outreach programs and STEM education may seem like obvious solutions, the science of science communication tells us that it is not so simple. The goals of science communication are diverse – they range from generating or sharing scientific excitement, increasing knowledge in a particular topic, understanding public’s concerns, to actually influencing people’s attitudes towards broader science policy issues. Diverse communication goals target a diverse audience, and require an assortment of communicators and communication strategies. Research has shown that simply increasing the public’s scientific knowledge does not help accomplish these various communication goals. This is because people don’t solely rely on scientific information to make decisions; they are influenced by their personal needs, experiences, values, and cultural identity, including their political, ideological or religious affiliations. People also tend to adopt shortcuts when trying to comprehend complex scientific information, and believe more in what aligns with their pre-existing notions or with the beliefs of their social groups, and what they hear repeatedly from influential figures, even if incorrect. Effective science communication requires identifying, understanding and overcoming these and other challenges.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened two meetings of scientists and science communicators, one in 2012 to gauge the state of the art of research on science communication, and another in 2013 to identify gaps in our understanding of science communication. The resulting research agenda outlines important questions requiring further research. For example, what are the best strategies to engage with the public, and how to adapt those methods for multiple groups, without directly challenging their beliefs or values? What are effective ways to communicate science to policymakers? How do we help citizens navigate through misinformation in rapidly changing internet and social media? How to assess the effectiveness of different science communication strategies? And lastly, how do we build the science communication research enterprise? Researchers studying communication in different disciplines, including the social sciences, need to come together and partner with science communicators to translate that research into practice. The third colloquium in this series will be held later this year.

Quoting Dr. Dan Kahan of Yale University, “A central aim of the science of science communication is to protect the value of what is arguably our society’s greatest asset…Modern science.” As evidence-based science communication approaches are being developed further, it is critical that scientists make scientific dialogue a priority, and make use of existing resources to effectively engage with the public – meet people where they are – and bring people a step closer to science – why each person should care – so that ‘post-truth’ doesn’t go from being merely the word of the year to a scary new way of life.

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July 22, 2017 at 11:27 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 17, 2017

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By: Thaddeus Davenport, PhD

Source: pixabay

CRISPR

Decision in the CRISPR-Cas9 Patent Dispute

This week, Heidi Wedford from Nature News reported that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) made a decision on the disputed patents for the gene editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 in favor of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The CRISPR-Cas9 system has been widely publicized, and this publicity is arguably not out of proportion with the potential of this technology to simplify and accelerate the manipulation of DNA of both microbial (prokaryotic) and higher order (eukaryotic) cells for research and therapy. A simplified, programmable version of CRISPR-Cas9 for use in gene editing was initially described by Charpentier and Doudna, and it was rapidly translated for use in eukaryotic cells by Zhang and colleagues at the Broad Institute in parallel with Doudna, Charpentier, and others.

The USPTO decision follows a dramatic and ongoing dispute over whether the patent application submitted by the University of California on behalf of Doudna and Charpentier – which was submitted before that of the Broad Institute, and described the technology in broad terms as a method of cutting desired DNA sequences – was sufficient to protect the CRISPR-Cas9 intellectual property when the Broad Institute later filed a fast-tracked patent application describing the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for use in eukaryotic cells. Because the Broad Institute’s application was expedited, it was approved before the University of California’s application. In January of 2016, the University of California filed for an ‘interference’ proceeding, with the goal of demonstrating to the USPTO that Doudna and colleagues were the first to invent CRISPR-Cas9, and that the patent application from the Broad Institute was an ‘ordinary’ extension of the technology described in the University of California application.

On February 15th of this year, the USPTO ruled that the technology described in the Broad Institute’s application was distinct from that of the University of California’s. The importance of this decision is that the patents granted to the Broad Institute for the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in mammalian cells will be upheld for now. It also creates some complexity for companies seeking to license CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Because of the overlapping content of the CRISPR-Cas9 patents held by the University of California and the Broad Institute, it is possible that companies may need to license the technology from both institutions. The University of California may still appeal the USPTO’s decision, but this is a significant victory for the Broad Institute for the time being. For many scientists, this dispute is a dramatic introduction to the inner workings of the patent application process. We would do well to familiarize ourselves with this system and ensure that it works effectively to accurately reward the discoveries of our fellow scientists and to facilitate the transfer of technology to those who need it most, without imposing undue economic burden on companies and consumers. (Heidi Wedford, Nature News)

Scientific Publishing

Open Access to Gates Foundation Funded Research

Also this week, Dalmeet Singh Chawla reported for ScienceInsider that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had reached an agreement with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that will allow researchers funded by the Gates Foundation to publish their research in the AAAS journals Science, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. This agreement follows an announcement in January in which the Gates Foundation decided that research funded by the foundation would no longer be allowed to be published in subscription journals including Nature, Science, and New England Journal of Medicine, among others, because these journals do not meet the open access requirements stipulated by the new Gates open-access policies. The new Gates Foundation policy requires its grant recipients to publish in free, open-access journals and to make data freely available immediately after publication for both commercial and non-commercial uses. A similar policy is being considered by the nascent Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In the agreement with AAAS, the Gates Foundation will pay the association $100,000 in order to make Gates-funded published content immediately freely available online. Convincing a journal as prominent as Science to make some of its content open-access is a step in the right direction, but it is perhaps more important as a symbol of a changing attitude toward publishing companies. Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) open-access journals, was interviewed for the ScienceInsider article and noted, “[t]he future is with immediate publication and post-publication peer review, and the sooner we get there the better.” This sentiment seems to be increasingly shared by researchers frustrated with the hegemony of the top-tier journals, their power over researchers’ careers, and the constraints that subscription-based journals impose on the spread of new information. Funding agencies including the Gates Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Institutes of Health are in a unique position to be able to dictate where the research they fund may be published. A collective decision by these agencies to push the publishing market towards an improved distribution of knowledge – through open-access publishing and post-publication peer review – and away from the historical and totally imagined importance of validation through high-tier journal publication would enrich the scientific ecosystem and accelerate innovation. In this regard, the efforts by the Gates Foundation are laudable and should be extended further. (Dalmeet Singh Chawla, ScienceInsider)

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February 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 2, 2016

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By: Agila Somasundaram, Ph.D.

Map representing scientific collaborations from 2005 to 2009 using data from Scopus. International cooperation. Credit: Computed by Olivier H. Beauchesne and Scimago Lab

Science Policy on a Global Scale

Global science engagement

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will have its annual meeting in Washington DC, from 11 to 15 February 2016. World leaders in science and policy will discuss major challenges, such as food security and health, facing the global community. Dr. Geraldine Richmond, President of the AAAS, says that nations need to employ ingenious ways to find solutions to the ever-increasing demands for food, energy, water, and a healthy environment, which are complex and interconnected problems. Dr. Richmond emphasizes the importance of international research partnerships and innovative approaches that assimilate perspectives and lessons from all over the world, including the developing countries. Such ‘Global Science Engagement’ will be the focus of this year’s AAAS meeting. Dr. Richmond cautions that isolationist views that undervalue international initiatives are unwise. For example, the United States spends billions of dollars providing clean drinking water to its people, but 90 percent of that water is flushed down the drain. Valuable lessons could be learnt from countries such as Namibia where recycled water has been consumed since 1969 with no adverse health consequences. Diversity in opinions, ideas, and experiences is essential to furthering creativity and innovation that is required to solve complex global problems. But scientists in developing countries face difficulties connecting with their peers in more advanced nations, for e.g. due to limited journal access, and people in the United States who are interested in global engagement have limited ways to do so. While commending the efforts of AAAS and other scientific societies in facilitating international engagements, Dr. Richmond calls for more efforts and commitment to strengthen such collaborations. (Geraldine Richmond, Science)

Zika Virus

New Weapon to Fight Zika: The Mosquito

The Zika virus is rapidly spreading in the Americas, and has been linked to a severe defect in brain development, microcephaly, in babies. The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, mainly the Aedes aegypti species, which also transmits deadly infections such as chikungunya, yellow fever and dengue fever. Efforts to develop vaccines against the virus are underway, but it may take many years, even a decade, before an effective vaccine can be given to the public. Experts argue that new methods are needed since the traditional ones, involving insecticides and reducing stagnant water to prevent mosquito breeding, aren’t enough.

The British company Oxitec has developed genetically engineered mosquitoes that transmit a lethal gene to their progeny, which die before reaching adulthood. These engineered mosquitoes have been successfully used to lower mosquito populations by more than 80 percent in certain parts of Brazil. Oxitec says this is an ecologically friendly approach because only one species is targeted, as opposed to chemical spraying that affects many organisms. But the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment has met with opposition. Another approach is to infect the mosquitoes with the bacterium Wolbachia, which makes it harder for the mosquitoes to transmit viruses. The bacteria can be passed through eggs, making this a self-sustaining method. Initial results in Brazil appear promising, encouraging trials on a larger scale. A third powerful approach is the use of gene-drives. Gene-drives allow for the propagation of a desired trait, for e.g. sterility, through a wild population. Though gene-drives have been tested in laboratory scales, it might be not so easy to deploy it in public yet, mainly because of concerns that it would be very difficult to reverse things if something undesirable happens.

Remarking on the three approaches, Dr. Peterson, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “We don’t know about the efficacy of any of them on a wide enough scale… For now, we’ve got to deal with what we have.” Experts say that the traditional methods of mosquito control need to be intensified, till we have proven the large-scale efficacies of the new approaches and/or developed an effective vaccine. (Andrew Pollack, The New York Times)

Scientific Integrity

How cases like Flint destroy public trust in science

While the Flint water crisis is being investigated, disturbing reports emerge about how studies that showed a problem in Flint’s drinking water were dismissed. In Fall 2015, a team of researchers in Virginia Tech, led by Dr. March Edwards, examined the lead content of drinking water in Flint homes. The study revealed that the 90th percentile reading was 27 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency considers 5 parts per billion a cause for concern, and 15 parts per billion as the limit above which the problem should be fixed. However, tests conducted by the city showed lead levels within safe limits. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality responded saying that the state was perplexed by the study results, but not surprised, given that Dr. Edwards’ “group specializes in looking for high lead problems.” According to reports, the city’s water testing results had been “revised by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to wrongly indicate the water was safe to drink.” The state officials attempted “to use power instead of logic and scientific reasoning to defend and hide their actions,” says Dr. Edwards. Similarly, studies done by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrics program director at Michigan’s Hurley Medical Center, were also initially criticized. Her study showed that the percent of children with elevated blood lead levels doubled, or tripled in some areas, after the change in water source. When the state later analyzed its data using the same approach as Dr. Hanna-Attisha, the results matched.

Dr. Naomi Oreskes, science historian at Harvard University, says that though these events may not classify as “science denials,” they constitute a less-defined category of “no one likes bad news.” “Why didn’t government officials take it seriously when scientists tried to raise an alarm?” she asks. When government officials responsible for people’s safety commit acts like these, it crushes the public’s faith in science, and exacerbates problems such as denial of climate change or the safety of vaccination. How do we prevent problems like Flint from reoccurring? The answer is not clear yet, but some suggestions include conducting better checks and balances by independent researchers not affiliated with the government, and not overlooking the role of universities in protecting public welfare. According to Dr. Aron Sousa, the work by Edwards and Hanna-Attisha should reinforce the public’s faith in good science. (Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post)

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February 2, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 6, 2015

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By: Varun Sethi, MD, Ph.D

photo credit: El Bibliomata via photopin cc

Research Funding – Human Brain Project

Human Brain Project votes for leadership change

Europe’s ambitious 1 billion Euro project, the Human Brain Project (HBP), was launched in October 2013, and aimed to boost digital technologies such as supercomputing, working together with neuroscientists. Many high-ranking neuroscientists have voiced their discontent in the way that the HBP has been managed and its scientific progress therein. In response, the Board of Directors met on 26th February and voted narrowly to change the governance structure, disbanding the three person executive committee. This decision is expected to be supported by about 85 of the HBP’s partner universities and research institutes, later this week. The initial sparks of discontent were noted when the HBP had revealed plans to remove cognitive neuroscience from the initiative. 150 top neuroscientists had signed a protest letter alleging that committee was autocratically running the scientific plans off the course. The neuroscientists stated that they would boycott the HBP if their concerns were ignored. While the issue is being resolved, the responsibilities of the committee have been taken over by the Board of Directors. Recommendations from a mediation committee and a Commission interim report will be taken into account. With the Board of Directors in the driving seat, scientists believe that the HBP is getting itself in order. However the recommendations of the mediation committee, and their implementation, remain to be seen. The HBP’s announcement also confirmed reports that while the major funding body for the HBP is the European Commission and its research partners, the HBP has a larger vision to evolve into an international organization with a permanent infrastructure. (Alison Abbott, Nature News)

Scientific Societies – Social Responsibility

AAAS Questionnaire: Most Scientists feel duty to society but priorities vary

Most professional bodies agree that serving society is an important part of their mandate, however, there are differences regarding what exactly these social responsibilities are thought to be. To investigate, the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law program, together with AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, conducted a pilot study collecting responses to a questionnaire from 2153 scientists, engineers and health professionals across the world. The questionnaire presented examples of social responsibilities and asked participants to grade them, ranging from ‘critically important’ to ‘not at all important’.

Some of the highlights of the findings were that 80% of the respondents considered the proposed responsibilities as important, with some differences in response based on age, discipline and geographical locations; there were no differences by gender. While younger respondents were keen to explain their work to the public, senior respondents emphasized the need to report suspected misconduct. Respondents from health and social/behavioral sciences were most likely to select ‘critically important’, while engineers were least likely to consider a responsibility as important, very important or critically important. Respondents from Europe, North America and the Pacific concurred with an emphasis on considering the risks of potential adverse consequences associated with their work. Respondents from Africa, the Arab states, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean tended to respond in  ways similar to each other and prioritized the impact of each research project on social well-being.

This is a pilot study and reflects responses only from a small group of respondents, who were associated with AAAS in some way. A larger scale survey focusing on a broader international audience is the next step and will explore differences in the perception of what social responsibility is. (Kathy Wren, AAAS News)

Immune Defense

Does a high salt diet combat infections?

The adverse effects of too much salt in your diet are well known and have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and in some cases even to autoimmune disorders. In a recent study, researchers are now finding that high levels of salt in the skin are helping mice fight infections. While immunologists are intrigued by the possibility that salt storage has evolved as a host defense mechanism, they remain skeptical. Experiments in mice have demonstrated that extremes of salt intake allow for additional accumulation of salt in the skin and this appears to boost the immune defense. Research using MRI techniques that measure sodium in the skin has found large accumulation of salt in bacterial skin infections even in humans who consumed a high salt diet. Scientists warn that these findings do not authorize a high salt diet to boost immunity. It is possible that prior to the era of antibiotics, and before the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, a high salt intake might have benefited our ancestors. However, today, the detrimental effects of a high salt diet out weigh any potential immunological benefits. A more realistic application of these findings might suggest that local application of high salt wound gels or dressings on wounds. It makes you wonder if there is some truth in ‘rubbing salt on your wounds’ – perhaps fueling the immune system against the infection? (Kate Wheeling, Science News)

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March 6, 2015 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – March 1, 2015

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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)

 

Vaccine 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)

 

 

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March 1, 2015 at 1:11 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – January 30, 2015

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By: Amie D. Moody, Ph.D.

photo credit: Matti Mattila via photopin cc

Federal Budget – Science Funding

Next week, the annual hemming and hawing over the allocation of the precious federal dollars begins with the Obama administration sending its 2016 budget requests to Congress. Researchers are eager to see how this year’s fiscal drama unfolds, particularly with both houses being controlled by a Republican majority for the first time since President Obama was elected in 2008. In anticipation of these events, Jeffrey Mervis of ScienceInsider is writing a series of articles to offer some perspective on how this process works. In the three part series, Mr. Mervis talks with Representative John Culberson (R—TX), the new chair of the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS), and Related Agencies spending panel for the House of Representatives; Tom Cole (R—OK), a Ph.D. historian who now oversees the budget of the NIH; and the final essay will actually track the money (not available as of this writing).

A lawyer and a science enthusiast, Culberson was elected to Congress from a conservative district of Houston in 2000. Culberson comes from a family that was “fiscally conservative, devoted to the Constitution, and believed the American republic is a special inheritance.” With Thomas Jefferson as his role model, Culberson believes in a small federal government. However, because the Constitution states that “promoting the progress of science” is in the pervue of the federal government, he is comfortable supporting multibillion-dollar science investments in NASA’s space exploration efforts and the NSF’s efforts to improve science and math education. Culberson does follow the party line, though, in that the behavioral and social sciences and climate change funding are not priorities for the federal budget. (Mervis – ScienceInsider)

Since joining the House in 2003, Representative Tom Cole has served on both the Appropriations and Budget committees and sits on the rules committee and is a deputy whip for the Republican Steering Committee. Now, Dr. Cole is set take control of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) subcommittee appropriations panel, which includes funding the NIH. While growing up, Dr. Cole’s mother impressed on him that everywhere she lived that had a competitive two-party system was governed better than locations where power was concentrated in one party. Thus, he became a Republican largely because Oklahoma was a Democratic haven when he entered politics. Thus, despite his conservative credentials, Dr. Cole has a reputation for listening to all sides of an argument and working cooperatively with both sides of the aisle to achieve goals. “Legislators are students too,” says Cole, and thus he endeavors to learn more about the NIH and how it functions before making any bold declarations. Yet, he does state that some of his priorities include maintaining a strong military, protecting the weather forecast office in Norman, OK, and advocating for the Indian Health Service. (Mervis – ScienceInsider)

There are always seem to be plenty of sensationalist headlines to go around about the “anti-science Republicans.” However, there are certainly high-ranking Republicans who are staunch advocates for funding different branches of science. The biggest hurdle in the months of arguing to come is that the federal budget, in general, remains tight. Thus, it is likely that even with the best discussions and compromises, there will still be plenty of disappointments once the final 2016 budget is passed.

 

Science Communication – Scientists vs the General Public

The results of a new poll administered by the Pew Research Center are in, and they confirm there is a large gap in opinions between the general public and scientists on many popular topics. The poll, conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), asked 2,002 US adults and 3,748 AAAS members the same set of questions about scientific achievements, education, and controversial issues. Some of the few things that the two groups agree on are that the International Space Station has been a good investment for the US and that we should not increase the use of fracking. Yet, as many people are aware, there are large differences in opinion on whether is it safe to eat genetically modified foods (51% gap in opinion), the extent that climate change is mostly due to human activity (37% gap), or whether humans have evolved over time (33% gap). Although scientists tend to point to their own poor track record of interacting with the general public and deficits in scientific education, this is likely an over-simplification of a complex issue. In many cases, the people being polled are educated, scientifically literate individuals. Yet, according to one study published in American Sociological Review, one in five US adults are deeply religious, and those individuals often disregard scientific findings that clash with their beliefs. Alan Leshner, the leader of AAAS, believes that scientists need to make a greater effort in engaging small, grass roots, type of venues like retirement communities or library groups to help the general public understand that “scientists are people too.” (Graham – BioMed Central, Funk and Raine – Pew Research Center)

 

Environmental Policy – Offshore Drilling

Perhaps receiving less attention than the more widely touted Precision Medicine Initiative, on Tuesday the Obama Administration announced a proposal to open the Atlantic coast to offshore drilling. The administration seems to be offering this proposal as a compromise for limiting drilling efforts in the Arctic, where President Obama called for wilderness protection of 12.4 million acres of oil-rich lands in Alaska. Environmentalists are concerned about the potential of oil spills and other environmental disasters, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. And even the fossil fuel industry has complaints about the proposal. It is unclear how much oil and gas are even accessible off of the Atlantic coast. Based off of the most recent surveys, which are 30 years old, the Atlantic holds only a fraction of the reserves available off of Alaska. Adding further to the fossil fuel industry’s displeasure is the fact that the proposal does not call for drilling in the Arctic until 2017 at the earliest. The Arctic is an area becoming quite popular in the international community due to the melting of the polar ice caps making the region more accessible and increasing available shipping lanes. Industry advocates say the delay jeopardizes the US’s energy security, since countries like Russia and Denmark are already aggressively exploring the region. (Koch – National Geographic)

 

 

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January 30, 2015 at 11:54 am