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Science Policy Around the Web – February 3, 2017

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By: Eric Cheng, PhD

Source: pixabay

Trump and Science

Scientists’ Lives Upended by Trump’s Immigration Order

New executive orders have been signed by President Trumpthat suspend immigration into the United States from “terror-prone regions.” The target countries listed are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. These new immigration orders have caused chaos at U.S. airports to people from these countries, including people with a valid U.S. visa or green card who were traveling outside of the U.S. when the order was signed. It is also affecting scientists who are currently in the United States, but are visiting from the affected countries. For example:

Ehssan Nazockdast was planning to attend his sister’s wedding in Tehran in March. One hitch: The specialist on fluid dynamics at New York University in New York City is an Iranian citizen. That leaves him vulnerable under an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday that calls for the rigorous vetting of applicants for U.S. visas from Iran and six other predominantly Muslim nations, and bars the entry of any citizen from those nations for 90 days while procedures for that vetting are put in place. Nazockdast has lived in the United States for nearly a decade, has a green card, and has two young daughters with a wife who is a U.S. citizen. But now that Nazockdast is branded with a scarlet letter, he dare not leave. “I’m living in a big prison called the United States of America,” he says.

A federal judge has issued an emergency stay that halts deportations of refugees with valid U.S. entry documents. Two days after executive order was signed, John Kelly, Secretary for Homeland Security, issued a statement deeming “the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest,” which was interpreted as allowing the re-entry of green card holders. from nations covered by the order, although they could receive extra scrutiny. The Council on American-Islamic Relations still intends to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Western District of Virginia challenging the constitutionality of what it calls the “Muslim ban.”

Over 7000 scientists of all nationalities and religions, including 43 Nobel laureates, have signed an open letter, warning that Trump’s order “significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research” and calls it “inhumane, ineffective, and un-American.” (Richard Stone and Meredith Wadman, ScienceInsider)

Science Policy

Scientists ‘Partly to Blame’ for Skepticism of Evidence in Policymaking, says AAAS CEO

In addition to access to high-quality technical experts to handle science-related global crisis, an United States president also needs to believe that scientific evidence is useful in setting government policy says American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO Rush Holt. At the winter meeting of the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C., Dr. Holt remarked how scientists are partly to blame for the decreased priority of scientific evidence in U.S. policymaking.  One potential explanation for this devaluation of evidence may be due to scientists’ way of presenting evidence that is too “condescending and hierarchical. We might say, ‘Let me try to explain this to you. Maybe even you can understand this.’ And that is not very effective. So we are partly to blame,” stated Dr. Holt.

Dr. Holt believes that “reverence for evidence” has been part of the nation’s political discussion since the United States was founded, and traditionally covers both parties. The biggest challenge now will be to try and empower policymakers to think about any scientific evidence presented to them and to evaluate the validity of the conclusion based on the evidence for themselves. (Jeffery Mervis, ScienceInsider)

Public Health

Senate Finance Committee OKs Tom Price, MD, for HHS Chief

The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-0 to approve the nomination of Rep. Tom Price, MD, (R-Ga), to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). All votes were from the Republican members of the committee because 12 Democratic members boycotted the executive session to confirm Dr. Price. Although the committee normally requires at least one member from each party present to reach its quorum requirement, the rule was suspended prior to the vote. Now Dr. Price’s nomination will go before the Senate for a vote, which will only need a simple majority of 51 votes for confirmation. (Robert Lowes, Medscape)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 3, 2017 at 10:01 am

Science – It’s Not Just for Scientists!

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By: Amie D. Moody, Ph.D.

Science, technology, engineering and math, i.e. STEM, topics permeate everyone’s daily lives, not just the people who work in STEM-related fields. Therefore, it is imperative to have effective science communication; informed discourse between the people who conduct the research and those whose lives are impacted by the research. The importance of childhood vaccines, the impact of climate change and the implications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are just a few recent science-related topics captured in national and international headlines. There has been a push in recent years, as evidenced by articles published in scientific journals like PNAS and Cell1-3, to understand the science of science communication. The goal of these studies is facilitating more effective communication between scientists and the general public.

In the age of the Internet, information can travel across the world in the blink of an eye. Yet, there are several challenges influencing the quality of science-related discussions1. First, a recent survey conducted by the National Science Foundation indicates that one third (33%) of respondents did not correctly grasp the concept of probability, and only 18% of respondents could correctly describe the components of a scientific study. Second, the rapid pace at which scientific advances are made further compounds the difficulty the general public has in keeping up with the potential dangers or policy implications of the findings. Finally, the general public is now more likely to turn to the Internet for information about scientific issues, rather than more traditional outlets, such as newspapers and television, which, in the past, were key sources for disseminating science-related news.

One naïve answer to these challenges is for scientists to put more effort into conveying knowledge to the general public (e.g. more museum exhibits or STEM-related web sites). However, this ignores the growing body of research that highlights it is not necessarily what scientists are saying that needs to change, it is how the topics are discussed that needs improving2. A 2013 PNAS article highlights certain tasks that will, if accomplished, address this shortcoming in science communication3. First, the science relevant to the discussion or decision being made must be identified. Then, the scientist(s) needs to understand what the gaps in knowledge are in order to develop communication tools that address those gaps. Finally, there needs to be a way to evaluate the effectiveness of the communication, with the idea of retooling the discussion to meet any unaddressed needs.

There are numerous resources available to scientists to help accomplish the tasks outlined above, and facilitate more productive communication with the general public. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offers traveling workshops to assist scientists with communicating complex concepts to general audiences. The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, at Stony Brook University, takes the unique approach of offering improvisation workshops, among several other programs, to help scientists become more confident public speakers. Carl Safina succinctly summarizes the importance of communicating science in a 2012 article for American Physical Society News, “If scientists decide not to engage, less-informed policy makers, pressured by less-objective advocates, will make decisions anyway. They’ll often do so without the benefit of the best advice they might have gotten, or without anyone arguing on behalf of the facts.4” So please, scientists, go forth and communicate!

 

1. Scheufele, D. A. Communicating science in social settings. 2013 PNAS. Vol. 110, p. 14040

2. Cormick, C. and Romanach, L. M. Segmentation studies provide insights to better understanding attitudes towards science and technology. 2014 Cell. Vol. 32, p. 114.

3. Fischhoff, B. The sciences of science communication. 2013 PNAS. Vol. 111, p. 14033.

4. Safina, C. Why communicate science? 2012 APS News. Vol. 21. http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201210/backpage.cfm

 

 

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

July 18, 2014 at 6:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 16, 2014

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc

photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

New Guidelines Reinforce Value of Anti-HIV Pills for Prevention – Recent findings suggest that an Anti-HIV pill, Truvada, can be taken to prevent HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, also called PrEP, is recommended for high risk individuals, such as homosexual men or heterosexuals in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner. However, very few high risk individuals are using PrEP and the number of new infections has not decreased. Therefore, the US Public Health Service has issued new guidelines recommending daily use by high risk individuals. Cost may be a limiting factor in Truvada use (it costs approximately $13,000/year), however, it is typically covered by insurance and assistance is available for uninsured individuals. (Jon Cohen)

Obama Administration Releases Major Climate Change ReportLast week, the Obama administration released a report detailing current and future effects of climate change. The National Climate Assessment, a collaboration of over 200 scientists, focused the affect of climate change on the United States. The NCA reported findings related to higher temperatures and increased incidence of fires, melting Alaskan glaciers and permafrost, coastline flooding, and long term agricultural problems. With this report comes renewed efforts by the Obama administration to reduce the effects of climate change. (Bryan Walsh)

Americans’ Aversion to Science Carries a High Price – Americans have many beliefs that are not founded in science including a link between vaccines and autism, the idea that taking vitamins is good for your health, fear of GMOs. Many factors, such as religion or culture, lead to these erroneous beliefs. In his opinion piece, Michael Gerson discusses the negative implications of denying science and how scientists can more adequately advocate for research. (Michael Gerson)

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

Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm