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Science Policy Around the Web – April 30th, 2019

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By: Andrew Wright, BSc

Source: Pixabay

North American drilling boom threatens big blow to climate efforts, study finds

At a time when the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has determined that CO2emissions must be halved by 2030 to prevent irreversible climate change (and the consequences thereof), it would appear that energy investments are following an opposite trend. According to the Global Energy Monitor’s assessment on pipeline infrastructure, 302 new pipelines are under development, 51.5% of which are being developed in North America. This reflects a current pipeline expansion investment of $232.5 billion as part of a total $1.05 trillion in investments that include processing, storage, export, and other oil and gas related expenses. Even though 80% of these pipelines are dedicated to natural gas infrastructure, should each project be completed and be fully utilized in the United States they would approximately lead to an 11% increase in national CO2emissions by 2040 at a time when those emissions should be approaching a 75% reduction. 

            Ignoring the impacts on global climate, human health, and the associated societal cost, the authors of this infrastructure assessment argue that these pipelines may yield a poor return on their investment. To start, the output of the new North American pipelines far exceeds domestic energy demand and thereby will rely on exporting oil and natural gas to foreign markets.  However, these same markets are boosting their own capacity for fuel production and will likely be less reliant on imports from the North American market. Furthermore, renewable sources of energy have become as cheap or cheaper than their oil and gas counterparts and are expected to continue becoming more affordable as technology improves. Both of these factors threaten to upend the future market these pipeline investments will require in much the same way that cheap natural gas production disrupted the US coal market, which was relying on the same foreign export model before its collapse.

(Oliver Milman, The Guardian

Sexual harassment is pervasive in US physics programs

Sexual harassment is a problem across United States academia. For example, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)  report from 2018 found that within non-STEM majors roughly 22% of female respondents said they experienced sexual harassment, whereas within STEM majors that percentage ranged from 20% in the Sciences to 47% in Medicine.  However, research published in the journal Physical Review Physics Education Research shows that sexual harassment is particularly pervasive among women pursuing an undergraduate in physics. Of women who responded, 338 of 455, or 74.3%, reported experiencing harassment. In addition, 20.4% of respondents said they experienced all three forms of sexual harassment evaluated: sexual gender harassment, sexist gender harassment, and unwanted sexual attention.

            Much like the NASEM report indicated for all academic fields, the high incidence of sexual harassment observed in physics programs is correlated with negative academic outcomes for those experiencing it. This includes a negative sense of belonging and a higher propensity towards the imposter phenomenon, or attributing personal success to external factors. While large funding institutions, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, have made a stronger push recently to combat sexual harassment, it is clear that such efforts should be expanded and particular attention should be paid to certain academic fields.

(Alexandra Witze, Nature News



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April 30, 2019 at 10:46 am

Science Policy Around the Web – April 5, 2019

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By: Janani Prabhakar Ph.D.

Image by Cally Lawson from Pixabay 

Have you herd? It turns out cows have feelings, too.

The idea that nonhuman animals have feelings seems not only far-fetched, but a tad bit Disneyesque. We are used to anthropomorphizing nonhuman animals in movies and television, but the idea that a cow can feel emotions seems unbelievable. Part of this is because the concept of feeling rests on specific behavioral indices. Humans express feelings through facial expressions, through sound, and through language. We can infer others’ emotions by watching people’s actions and what they tell us. How can we possibly gain these kinds of insights from animals? How can we infer a nonhuman animal’s mental states?

With the rise of behaviorism came a focus on concepts of thoughts, feelings, and consciousness. The notion that these concepts are difficult to probe using standard empirical methods in nonhuman animals, behavioral scientists thought less of animals for several decades. Industrialization caused a further rift between humans and nonhuman animals such that the plight and treatment of nonhuman animals did not factor into the everyday ethos of behavioral science. This has since changed. 

Professor Frans de Waal, a primatologist from Emory University, has argued that nonhuman animals do indeed show emotions and in fact, they show emotions in similar ways to humans. The challenge is to determine what emotion they are conveying, when, and why. As Alexandra Horowitz, a canine cognition psychologist, points out, we cannot measure nonhuman animal emotion using the same methods we use to study human emotions. It would be too presumptuous to assume direct overlaps. Instead, she emphasizes that scientists must let the animal show us what the emotion is. This paradigm shift toward understanding how animals show emotion (and not if they do at all) has already had policy impact. Many countries have increased restrictions on using animals for research, with some outright banning use of primates in behavioral science. Restrictions on factory farms may be coming not too long from now.

Beyond policy, independent farms and rescues have heard cry of these notions. VINE Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue mission in Vermont, has taken on this perspective in creating an open, free space for farm animals of different species to roam and mingle. This represents a “radically different way of life for domesticated animals.” According to Pattrice Jones, the goal of this mission is to liberate, in a sense, animals who have been tortured or held in captivity, allowing them to live in a safe space where their emotional well-being and their individual rights can be maintained. That is something we can all get on board with.

(Eoin O’Carroll, Christian Science Monitor


Copenhagen Wants to Show How Cities Can Fight Climate Change

By 2025, Copenhagen hopes to transition from an industrial town to a net carbon neutral city. To achieve this, it will have to generate more renewable energy than dirty energy that it consumes. If Copenhagen achieves this, it will be a big achievement and will set a great example for cities worldwide. If cities can change toward using less dirty energy, then our negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions will substantially drop. Copenhagen is a great test case for the extreme measures that this will require: it is a city with a small population that is rich and who care about climate change. 

Copenhagen has already made great strides toward this goal. It has cut its emissions by 42 percent since 2005. To go even further, it has to change the way people commute and their heating choices, and how the city deals with trash. To really make effective strides, the city needs the support of the national government. However, the national government, led by a center-right party, has been reluctant to impose restrictions on gas-fueled vehicles, which is the largest contributor to the country’s carbon footprint. Contrary to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the national government has lowered car-registration taxes, allowing more individuals to own cars. So, as many in Copenhagen would like to see a reduction in their carbon footprint, this footprint is increased with greater personal mobility through car ownership. This is a problem that is faced by many nations trying to reduce their emissions. 

Despite these hurdles, Copenhagen has implemented several key initiatives to help toward their goals. They have several bike lanes on busy city routes. Some of these lanes are three lanes wide, owing to how widely they are used. A new metro line connects more residents, allowing them to take the metro over driving their own cars. Garbage is beginning to be burned in a high-tech incinerator that contributes to heating sources for buildings. Furthermore, natural winds that are common in Copenhagen has made wind energy a viable renewable source. 

However, progress sometimes has a negative side to it as well. For example, the city’s power plants have begun to use wood pellets rather than coal. However, burning wood causes emissions, especially if the trees that were cut cannot be replaced by new trees. The new garbage facility comes with a year-round ski slope as well as a slew of trucks that must bring garbage to its furnaces daily. This also has a carbon footprint, but it may be outweighed by what it can give back in terms of heat to the city. The other part to all this is motivating behavioral change. So far, the city’s residents have utilized the bike paths to a large extent and this is good for the city’s goals. Generalizing this to other cities requires similar paradigm shifts in individual’s behaviors and the city residents to all be equally cognizant of how their choices impact climate change. When people are concerned, as are the residents of Copenhagen, it can help swing policy. Copenhagen, as such, is a perfect test case for this paradigm shift.

(Somini Sengupta, New York Times


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April 5, 2019 at 5:45 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 26, 2019

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By: Neetu M. Gulati Ph.D.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Sunscreen ban aimed at protecting coral reefs spark debate – among scientists

Corals around the world have begun “bleaching,” turning white and expelling the algae that live within them. After a 2015 study found that oxybenzone can harm corals, environmentalists have worked to bar the sale of sunscreens containing the chemical. Last year, Hawaii was the first US state to ban sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, as well as another harmful chemical octinoxate, which are found in up to 75% of sunscreens on the US market. The ban will go into effect in 2021. Florida and California are considering similar laws. However, while some are fighting to limit the use of these toxic chemicals, others say the major issue is not sunscreen – it’s climate change.

Evidence indicates that harmful chemicals and warming oceans due to climate change are both damaging corals and leading to bleaching. Scientists agree that the major contributing factor is climate change and the chemicals play a lesser role. Nevertheless, they disagree about what should be done. C. Mark Eakin, an oceanographer and the coordinator for NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program, commented “if we don’t deal with climate change, it won’t matter what we do about sunscreens.” Furthermore, some people believe there is not enough clear evidence explaining how damaging these chemicals can be. While many scientists share this viewpoint, others think that every step towards saving the corals matters. Some lawmakers agree with this philosophy; Teri Johnston, the mayor of Key West, Florida, said of banning the harmful chemicals, “if it’s something we can do to minimize damage to reefs, it’s one small step we’re going to take.” The city of Key West banned the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate last month, an act that will go into effect in 2021.

Damage to coral reefs is a complicated issue, with multiple stressors likely to be involved: not only climate change and sunscreens, but also pollution and other harmful chemicals. While many are worried about protecting the reefs, there is also concern as to how these bans will affect human health. In response to the Hawaii ban, the Skin Cancer Foundation put out a statement which said, “by removing access to a significant number of products, this ban will give people another excuse to skip sun protection, putting them at greater risk for skin cancer.” 

One possible solution is to expand the number of ingredients permitted in sunscreen, to allow for other protective chemicals that are less harmful to the environment. The FDA has not expanded its list of approved ingredients in approximately 20 years. Comparatively, Europe allows for more chemicals, hopeful that any one single chemical will have a less harmful environmental impact when more diversity of ingredients is allowed. Towards this end, the FDA recently proposed new regulationsto improve American sunscreens.

(Rebecca Beitsch, Washington Post

In a first, U.S. private sector employs nearly as many Ph.D.s as schools do 

The career landscape for burgeoning PhDs has changed drastically in the last 20 years; while the number of PhDs awarded has increased, especially in the fields of life and health sciences, the proportion of PhDs employed in tenured and tenure-track positions has declined. This is in contrast to what some current faculty members, who may assume that tenure track positions are the standard path for PhDs, and other career paths are “alternative.” According to the Survey of Doctorate Recipients from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), in 2017, for the first time, private sector employment of PhDs (42%) is nearly equivalent to employment by educational institutions (43%). This is in stark contrast to 1997, when educational institutions employed 11% more PhDs than the private sector. While the survey takes into consideration all PhDs under the age of 76 who are employed full-time in the US, it is expected that newer PhDs are less likely to secure tenure-track positions. 

As career trajectories change, some universities are using new information about PhD outcomes to improve programming for current graduate and prospective students. According to the Coalition for Next Generation Life Science, ten academic institutions have released data onlineabout the career outcomes of their PhD graduates, with more institutions planning to release similar data by the end of next year. The data indicates the traditional model of training, which treats graduate school like an apprenticeship to becoming faculty, is outdated. Other skills that transfer beyond educational institutions, may be necessary to successfully train the next generation of PhDs. 

(Katie Langin, Science)



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March 26, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – March 18, 2019

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By: Allison Cross, Ph.D.

Source: Pixabay

Scientists track damage from controversial deep-sea mining method

The extraction of rare and valuable metals and minerals from the deep sea is highly attractive to mining companies.  Scientists, however, have long raised concerns about potential harmful effects of these activities on marine ecosystems.  Next month, the mining company Global Sea Mineral Resources is scheduled to harvest precious metals and minerals on the seafloor in the remote Pacific Ocean for eight days with a team of scientists working alongside them.  The scientists will be using deep-sea cameras and sensors to monitor sediment plumes created by the mining activity.  

Scientists are concerned that sediment plumes created during deep sea mining could extend tens or hundreds of meters above the seafloor and “bury, smother and toxify” the marine communities in these regions.  The research exhibition scheduled for next month is intended to help scientists understand the potential impact of deep-sea mining and inform the development of an international code of conduct for deep-sea commercial mining.  

The code of conduct for deep sea commercial mining will be created by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an organization founded in 1994 to organize, regulate and control all mining activity in international waters.  The ISA is planning to finalize the code by 2020, allowing companies that have been granted licenses to extract minerals from the deep sea to begin full scale mining in the Pacific Ocean.  

Though the experiment scheduled for next month will provide key insight into how long it takes for sediment plumes to resettle, and how far they can travel, the experiment is just too short to gauge potential long-term effects of mining activities.  Craig Smith, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu cautions “We will not really understand the actual scale of mining impacts until the effects of sediment plumes from full-scale mining are studied for years”.

(Olive Heffernan, Nature Briefing)

U.S. blocks U.N. Resolution on Geoengineering

Last week, during the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil joined together to block a resolution aimed at studying the potential risks of geoengineering.  “Geoengineering”, also referred to as climate engineering or climate intervention, aims to mitigate effects of global warming using techniques like solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal.

Geoengineering technologies are not yet operational and while proponents believe these techniques could help curb the impact of climate change, opponents worry about the potential risks of these techniques on both people and nature. Notably, one proposed method of solar radiation managementinvolves using aerosols to reflect a portion of inbound sunlight back out to space. Research in this area is still in its infancy and some worry that infusing the atmosphere with aerosols could lead to undesired side effects, like severe weather.  

The proposal raised at the UNEA meeting last week, backed by Switzerland and nine other nations, aimed to direct the U.N. Environment Programme to study the implications of geoengineering and compile a report by next year on current scientific research in this area. 

While there is some consensus that issuesof geoengineering technologies need to be explored, countries disagree on who should be overseeing these efforts. It has been reported that the United States prefers questions about geoengineering to be dealt with by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rather than by UNEA. The IPCC is reported to be assessing geoengineering as a part of its next report set to be published in 2021 or 2022. 

(Jean Chemnick, Scientific America)

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March 19, 2019 at 7:45 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 22, 2019

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By: Janani Prabhakar, Ph.D.

Source: Pixabay

China Uses DNA to Track Its People, With the Help of American Expertise

Recently, global attention fell on China and its treatment of its Uighur people, a predominately Muslim ethnic group who live in the far west region of China and have enjoyed a fair degree of self-autonomy from the Chinese government. In an attempt take control of this ethnic group and region, the Chinese government has used intense surveillance, oppression, and detainment through “re-education” camps. In addition, the Government has been collecting DNA samples from this ethnic group to generate a comprehensive database of Chinese Uighurs. What is unknown is how the Chinese government intends to use this database in its oppression of Chinese Uighurs. To complicate matters, collection of DNA samples has been bolstered by equipment and data from US-based companies and researchers. For example, Thermo Fisher supplies technology to support DNA data collection and analysis. Yale geneticist, Dr. Kenneth Kidd, provided genetic material from global populations to Chinese researchers. In both cases, the US parties were unaware of how their contributions were used. This brings to bear larger questions about culpability, adherence to scientific norms, and the role of scientific collaborations at a global scale. China has included these DNA samples in global databases, but it does not seem that proper consent was received for these samples. In some reports, individuals were called by police for mandatory health screening and medical checkup, suggesting that the samples were obtained through coercion. It is unclear whether inclusion of these samples in databases or during collaborations reflects tacit acceptance of China’s surveillance program of Uighurs.

Researchers including Dr. Kidd have hosted Chinese researchers in their labs to gain techniques in analyzing DNA material. The output of these collaborations has resulted in publications that provide methods to distinguish between ethnic groups, wherein Chinese researchers utilize DNA samples obtained from collaborators as a comparison group to Uighurs. Chinese officials state that this would be useful to identify individuals at a crime scene, which on the surface, is not an incorrect application or use of the data. However, in light of the allegations on the Chinese government in their use of this technology to oppress certain minority groups, the role of scientific collaboration becomes murky. In addition to collaboration is the question about US corporate involvement. Thermo Fisher recently announced that they would stop selling their products that have been integral to forensic DNA analyses in Xinjiang, where the campaign to suppress Uighurs has been most intense. This is striking given that 10 percent of Thermo Fisher’s $21.9 billion-dollar revenue comes from China. While this is a big step, monitoring how technology and science is being used in this global environment must be a central focus given the large human rights implications.

(Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times

The Energy 202: One of world’s biggest coal miners caps production amid climate 

In response to increasing public pressure, Glencore, one of the world’s largest mining companies, has announced that it will cap the amount of coal it mines. Evidence of private companies responding to this global pressure to reduce greenhouse gases has emerged around the world. Most recently, the Tennessee Valley Authority voted to shut down two aging coal-fired power plants. These actions reflect big shifts in an industry that has largely debunked climate change theories, particularly when President Trump has promised to bring back coal.  The pressure on private companies came from more than 200 institutions worldwide that targeted the world’s largest emitters. This has led to a wave of corporations like Glencore to make similar reduction pledges. These commitments are multi-pronged. Glencore has agreed to limit coal production (and not increase it) annually, in a shift away from its original production trends. In addition, the company has considered tying executive pay with meeting these goals as well as ending partnerships with coal lobbies.

This move towards reduction has also come from a waning coal market and its economic promise for companies like Glencore. While many countries like the United States and other advanced economies have reduced their coal use, Asian countries like India and China have increased it. Glencore exports most of its coal to coal-using countries in Asia. As a result, it is actually in the economic interest of private coal companies to reduce coal production:  restricting supply as demand wanes will increase coal prices and increase Glencore’s revenue. Important to climate change activists, increase in coal prices would lead over time to a reduction in coal use. In this way, private companies can work in partnership with efforts to reduce greenhouse gases without compromising their own interests.

(Dino Grandino, New York Times

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February 22, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – December 21, 2018

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By: Mohor Sengupta, Ph.D.

syringe-1884784_1920

Medical Detectives: The Last Hope For Families Coping With Rare Diseases

Rare diseases affect far fewer people than other diseases, and consequently many are difficult to diagnose or may even not be identified yet. Current approaches seek to identify rare diseases by examining genetic mutations at one gene at-a-time, picking the gene by roughly informed guesses based on the symptoms. This method may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN). UDN is a research study on a never-ending scale. It collects genomic data from persons with rare diseases and identifies the culprit mutation/s. The findings are cataloged, and doctors encountering novel symptoms in their patient can go to the UDN database and dig out the disease that matches most with the symptoms. That would give them a possible starting point. In this respect, the sole purpose of UDN is to find solutions for rare medical challenges where doctors are not able to.

UDN is made up of three components: A coordinating center based at the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School, twelve clinical sites in the USA, including the NIH Undiagnosed Disease Program at Bethesda and core facilities. UDN is backed by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund that seeks to provide answers for patients and families affected by mysterious conditions.

There are more than 6000 known rare diseases, and combined these affect fewer than 200,000 Americans at a given time. Eighty percent of all known rare diseases are genetic in origin and half of all rare diseases affect children. Symptoms of a single rare disease may vary from patient to patient, and the disease itself is often masked by common symptoms. This confounds appropriate diagnosis of a rare disease greatly. For many rare diseases there is no knowledge of the underlying cause and information of disease progression is limited. Without the correct intervention, patients and their families experience a decline in the quality of life over time.

Research on rare diseases need to be collaborative across nations, and a global network of physicians and researchers is needed to facilitate knowledge sharing about these diseases. There needs to be a comprehensive approach in the understanding of rare diseases, analogous to virtual knowledge bases like the UDN database and Orphanet. Happily, progress is being made in this direction. Several countries have appropriate policies in place, and there are organizations that are the voice of patients with rare diseases, such as ERORDIS in the EU, the National Organization for Rare Disorders in USA and the Organization for Rare Diseases in India. It is imperative that these cohorts have greater interaction and knowledge sharing among one another.

Finally, public awareness is crucial. The patient community plays a crucial role in addressing awareness. They form the voice of the rare disease community and the starting point for development of policies. Rare Disease Day was created by EURORDIS in 2008, and February 28th, the rarest day, was chosen to mark our combat against rare diseases and our support for those living with it. On its tenth anniversary last year, 94 countries and regions from every corner on the globe commemorated the day, and 2018 saw the addition of five more countries into the group.

As a person afflicted with a rare disease myself, I would say, we may be only a few but with your support, we have the best shot at it!

(Original article by Lesley McClurg covers UDN, NPR)

 

Will We Survive Climate Change?

 

The holidays are upon us and many will head out to different directions outside the city. Writing the last blog for this year, I thought we could ponder over some rather worrying issues and offer solace to one another.

It’s December and today is winter solstice. The day with the longest night arrived amidst torrential rains. Each year we are seeing more storms than the last. Hurricanes like Florence and Mangkhut have rocked the world with damage and destruction. The temperature on Earth is already at 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Record number of people have experienced extreme heat wave in 2018. Countries like Canada and Japan got much warmer summers than they are used to, and July 2018 ranked as one of the hottest months in Europe. Changing wind patterns and drier climate have ravaged the state of California with wild fires. A total of 8,434 fires burnt an area of 1,890,438 acres (765,033 ha), the largest amount of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center, as of December 6. From June through mid-July, severe downpour in southwestern Japan caused devastating floods and mudflows, killing nearly 300 people. A month later, the southern Indian state of Kerala was slapped by an unusual monsoon, causing the worst flood in nearly a century in the state with traditionally high rainfall. It left nearly 500 people dead.

The Paris Climate Accord has set a goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. At 2 degrees above, things are this bleak:

Icebergs in the Arctic waters are ten times more likely to vanish in the summers.

Most of the world’s coral reefs are to disappear.

37 percent of all people on Earth are to experience extreme heat waves.

411 million people are to experience severe urban draught.

80 million people will be threatened by rising sea levels.

However, at 0.5 degrees Celsius lower, many of these situations seem slightly less devastating. Arctic ocean ice is more likely to survive the summers. Coral reefs will not be wiped out completely. 14 percent of people will be exposed to extreme heat waves and 20 million will be exposed to urban drought.

Seems slightly better? Yet, no industrialized nation is expected to meet the 2 degrees goal, let alone the 1.5 degrees mark, as per their current consumption of fossil fuels. The effects of today’s atmospheric carbon dioxide will be felt by generations to come.

Enough of grim talk. As stated in John Schwartz’s article, “there is no scientific support for inevitable doom”.

Reducing the amount of greenhouse emissions could address the most troubling issues of global warming. Many countries are making efforts to rely on renewable, cleaner energy sources like solar energy. There are increased efforts to use public transportation in some countries. Cars run by electricity are trending. The world is changing. Only not as fast as we want it to.

Let us resolve to consciously cut down on fossil fuel consumption in 2019. No one way is the perfect solution for this self-created menace and not everyone will be touched by this problem in the same manner. But collective awareness and efforts can go down a log way for everyone and for the Earth.

(John Schwartz, New York Times)

 

 

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December 21, 2018 at 11:20 am

Science Policy Around the Web – November 30, 2018

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By: Allison Cross, PhD

Global-Warming-Change-Climate-Change-Climate-Desert-2063240.jpg

Source: Maxpixel

 

Fire, drought, flood: Climate challenges laid bare in US government report

On Black Friday, and amid the news of deadly wildfires in California, the federal government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4).  This report, detailing global warming and climate change, is mandated every four years as part of The Global Change Research Act of 1990.  The report was released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program which includes scientist and policy experts from 13 federal agencies.  It affirms that the effects of climate change are already being felt across the country, and that current global efforts to combat it, as well as regional efforts to adapt to it, do not reach the levels needed to avert substantial damage to the US economy, environment, and public health.

The NCA4 describes the latest in climate-change science and examines how global warming is likely to differentially effect regions across the country and the economy.  The report explains how higher temperatures and drier conditions will result in more large fires across the west coast.  The southwest and midwest can expect persistent droughts to continue, while the east coast will suffer from increased flood risks. These conditions will disrupt agricultural productivity.  The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that the 2017 economic loss in the US from major storms, floods and droughts was $290 billion, and the NCA4 declares that storms are expected to become even more powerful as global warming continues.

The report states that if the current trends in global greenhouse-house emissions continue, some US economic sectors can expect to experience annual losses of hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

Though the report was intended to inform policy-makers, it makes no specific policy recommendations to address the issues outlined in the report.  With President Trump having removed the US from the Paris climate change agreement after he took office, and repeatedly blaming the deadly California wildfires on poor forest management, many scientists are concerned that the government will not take action to address the grave findings outlined in the report.

This report released by the  U.S. Global Change Research Program  comes after, and is in agreement with, a report released in October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that major and costly changes would be needed to avert the disastrous effects to come from climate change.

 

(Jeff Tollefson,  Nature Briefing)

 

FDA plans overhaul of decades-old medical device system

Just 24 hours after a global investigation into medical device safety was published, the Food and Drug Administration announced they will be overhauling the medical device approval process.  The FDA says the changes were planned before the new stories broke, referring to the Medical Device Safety Action Plan: Protecting Patients, Promoting Public Health issued by the FDA back in April. The investigation into medical device safety that made the headlines was led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and found that, over a 10-year period, the FDA received reports of more than 1.7 million injuries and close to 83,000 deaths suspected of being linked to medical devices.

Under current regulations, most medical devices can undergo an expedited approval process if the manufacturers can prove the devices are similar to those already on the market.  This approval process was implemented by the FDA in 1976 and is known as the 510(k)clearance process.  This process means that extensive clinical safety and efficacy testing is only required for a handful of new devices. It has been reported that under this clearance process almost 20% of products are approved based on similarity to devices that are more than 10 years old.  Critics of the expedited clearance process point out that this system has allowed defective devices to be cleared included hip replacements that failed prematurely, and surgical mesh linked to pain and bleeding.

The FDA has said that under the modernized 510(k) clearance process, medical devices that come to the market “should either account for advances in technology or demonstrate that they meet more modern safety and performance criteria.”  The proposed changes to the approval process include pushing companies to compare their devices to more up-to-date technology.  The FDA also plans to pursue actions to allow them to retire outdated base-products when safer, more effective technology emerges.

The FDA has set a deadline of early 2019 to finalize its guidance on establishing an alternative accelerated pathway for medical device approval but the reforms being proposed may take years to implement.

 

(Matthew Perrone, Associated Press, Stat News)

 

 

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November 30, 2018 at 3:46 pm