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Science Policy Around the Web – September 1, 2017

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By: Kseniya Golovnina, PhD

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source:pixabay

Science funding

Priorities emphasize both military and civil uses in R&D spending

On August 17, 2017, the White House established Research and Development (R&D) budget priorities for Pentagon’s 2019 fiscal year (FY).  According to an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo outlining these priorities, the Pentagon should emphasize investments in technology that have both military and civilian uses in its next budget.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is evidently under a similar push. DHS guidelines state that special attention should be paid to R&D in the field of safety, and that integration of new technologies can significantly contribute to U.S. economic and technological leadership. Moreover, the need to develop new technologies to protect critical infrastructure and to increase border security is a key Trump administration priority.

An important emphasis in the OMB memo states that Defense Department R&D investments should continue to be spent in a way to support the military of the future. the document urges the Pentagon to develop and utilize new quantitative metrics to evaluate effectiveness of R&D. Monitoring these statistics aims to eliminate any redundancies with effective private sector R&D programs. Thus if research can be done more effectively in the private sector, thereby attracting private investments, Federal involvement should not longer be considered needed or appropriate, providing a mechanism for transforming or closing redundant programs. these changes would allow priorities in R&D funding to be given to basic and early-stage applied research with too high a risk and level of uncertainty for private sector.

Two agencies will definitely benefit from new Budget Priorities, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx) group, which has the lead role in interacting with the commercial sector, specifically in Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, and the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) that is charged with taking existing technologies and developing new capabilities for their use. With the newly received authorities these agencies will get private companies on contract more quickly.

(Aaron Mehta, DefenceNews)

Science education

State-by-state interest in STEM indicators revealed by draft education plans

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is a curriculum that emphasizes educating students in four specific disciplines using an interdisciplinary and applied approach. This education is becoming an important part of K-12 schools in United States. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOEd), 14 out of 17 submitted State’s draft education plans (82%) include STEM-related school performance indicators. The proposed programs have been developed to meet the requirements of the ESSA (2015 Every Student Succeeds Act). That law, signed by former President Obama, is the successor to the Bush-era No Child Left Behind program, which encouraged the establishment of science-oriented performance metrics to augment school achievement metrics. ESSA also directed new federal funding streams for STEM education and established a new professional development program for teachers – the STEM Master Teacher Corps.

Including STEM indicators to evaluate the school program gives states the flexibility to incorporate science metrics into accountability systems along with the option to launch new STEM initiatives through ESSA funding programs. However, currently only a small minority of school districts are leveraging ESSA dollars to fund innovative STEM education efforts, mostly due to the small amounts of money available. Despite increased awareness of the need, the US primary and secondary education system has relatively few established and successful STEM educational initiatives.

The future of new STEM initiatives is unclear due to ongoing congressional negotiations over the fiscal year 2018 budget. On one side, the Trump administration has proposed the elimination of three major DOEd grants, they deem duplicative, poorly structured, or showing little impact. On the other, the House Appropriations Committee is recommending both cuts and increases to relevant education programs.

In early September, when the remaining (34) states have submitted their draft education plans, it will be more clear how much interest each state has in STEM education and how much funding they will get based on an accepted 2018 budget.

(Alexis Wolfe, Science Policy News from AIP)

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September 1, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – July 7, 2017

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By: Liu-Ya Tang, PhD

Source: pixabay

Autism

Is There Such a Thing as an Autism Gene?

Autism has become a global burden of disease. In 2015, it was estimated to affect 24.8 million people globally. Significant research efforts are underway to investigate the causes of autism. Autism is highly heritable – there is an 80 percent chance that a child would be autistic if an identical twin has autism. The corresponding rate is about 40 percent for fraternal twins.

However, is there such a thing as a single autism gene? Researchers haven’t found one specific gene that is consistently mutated in every person with autism. Conversely, 65 genes are strongly linked to autism and more than 200 others have weaker ties, many of which are related to important neuronal functions. Mutations in a variety of these genes can collectively lead to autism. The mutations could be from single DNA base pair, or copy number variations, which are deletions or duplications of long stretches of DNA that may involve many genes. Most mutations are inherited, but some mutations could also happen in an egg or sperm, or even after conception.

Besides genetic factors, maternal lifestyle and environmental factors can also contribute to autism. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy or a maternal immune response in the womb may increase the risk of autism. While there is speculation on the link between vaccines and autism, it is not backed by scientific evidence.

Since both genetic and non-genetic factors play a role in the development of autism, establishing the underlying mechanism is complicated. There is no single specific test that can be used for screening autism. However, some tests are available to detect large chromosomal abnormalities or fragile X syndrome, which is associated with autism. (Nicholette Zeliadt, Washington Post)

STEM Education

New Florida Law Lets any Resident Challenge What’s Taught in Science Classes

A new law was signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) last week, and has taken effect starting July 1. The law requires school boards to hire an “unbiased hearing officer” to handle complaints about teaching materials that are used in local schools. Any county resident can file a complaint, and the material in question will be removed from the curriculum if the hearing officer thinks that the material is “pornographic,” or “is not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group.”

There are different voices in the new legislation, which affects 2.7 million public school students in Florida. Proponents argue that it gives residents more right in participating in their children’s education. A sponsor, state Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Naples), said that his intent wasn’t to target any particular subject. However, Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Council for Science Education, is worried that science instruction will be challenged since evolution and climate change have been disputed subjects. A group called Florida Citizens for Science asked people to pay close attention to classroom materials and “be willing to stand up for sound science education.”

Like the new law in Florida, the legislature in Idaho rejected several sections of the state’s new public school science standards related to climate change and requested a resubmission for approval this fall. Since the Trump administration began, there has been “a new wave of bills” targeting science in the classroom. To protect teacher’s “academic freedom,” Alabama and Indiana adopted non-binding resolutions that encourage teachers to discuss the controversy around subjects such as climate change. A supporter of the resolution, state Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Centerville), told Frontline, “Whether it be evolution or the argument about global warming, we don’t want teachers to be afraid to converse about such things”. (Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post)

 

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July 7, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – November 4, 2016

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By: Courtney Kurtyka, PhD

Source: Flickr, by Wellington College, under Creative Commons

Science Education

Unexpected results regarding U.S. students’ science education released

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a nation-wide exam and survey used in the United States to ascertain student knowledge and education in key areas. Recently, the 2015 science education results from fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders in the United States were released, and showed some surprising outcomes. Out of seven different hands-on activities that students were asked if they completed as part of their curriculum, only one (simple machines) showed a positive correlation between activity participation and scores on the exam. Some activities (such as using a microscope or working with chemicals) showed no correlation with scores on the exam, while students who engaged in activities such as handling rocks and minerals actually performed worse than students who did not. Furthermore, not as many students engage in scientific activities as part of their curriculum as one might expect. For example, 58% said that they never used simple machines in class, while 62% say they never or rarely work with “living things”.

An anonymous expert on the assessment suggested that one potential explanation for these unexpected results is that the assessment asks whether students completed any of these activities “this year”. Therefore, for the results from twelfth graders, students who use rocks and minerals in class tend to be in lower-level science courses, and are more likely to not perform as well on the exam as students in higher-level courses that would not include that activity. However, this does not account for the low level of reporting of scientific activities overall.

Another concerning aspect of the exam is related to the reporting of the results. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which manages the NAEP, operates a website that is both difficult to use and incomplete. In fact, when using the drop-down menu of results from the survey, only the results of activities that have positive correlations with test scores are listed. NCES has said that they show results based on what they think are of greatest interest to the public.

While some cite the positive results as a reflection of the success of active learning techniques, others note that 40% of twelfth graders who took the NAEP did not have a “basic” knowledge of science. Additionally, these results are interesting for many because the twelfth graders reflect the first students to have spent their entire education under No Child Left Behind, which mandated annual assessment of reading and math for third through eighth graders. Since many have argued that this law leaves less room for teaching topics that are not tested (such as science), examining students’ scientific performance under these guidelines is important. (Jeffrey Mervis, Science Magazine)

Health Disparities

Sexual and gender minorities are officially recognized as a minority health population

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), one of the institutes and centers within the National Institutes of Health, recently officially recognized sexual and gender minorities (SGM) as a distinct minority health population. The SGM population is very diverse, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, as well as those from additional sexual and gender classifications that differ from various norms (such as traditional, cultural, etc.).

Multiple health disparities (meaning that the likelihood of disease and death from particular diseases and disorders in that group differ from the average population) have been identified in the SGM population. Some of these issues include a lower likelihood of women who have sex with women getting Pap smears and mammograms, and higher rates of depression, panic attacks, and psychological distress in gay and bisexual men.

Previously, the NIH requested a report on SGM health that was published in 2011, and later created the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) following the results of the report. Now, this official designation will allow researchers focused on SGM health to be able to apply for health disparity funding from the NIH, and Karen Parker (the director of the SGMRO at the NIH) said that she hopes that it will lead to increased interest in applications to support health research related to this population. (Nicole Wetsman, STAT)

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November 4, 2016 at 9:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – October 17, 2014

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By: Thomas Calder, Ph.D.

“photo credit:CDC Global Health via photopin cc

Ebola Outbreak – Public Health

New Ebola Case Confirmed, U.S. Vows Vigilance

Amber Joy Vinson, the second nurse found to be infected with the Ebola virus, was discovered to have flown on a commercial plane the day before showing symptoms. Ms. Vinson had been caring for the Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan, and was therefore exposed to the virus. According to Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, “Because at that point she was in a group of individuals known to have exposure to Ebola, she should not have traveled on a commercial airline.” Family members and flight crew are now being asked to stay home. Ms. Vinson, and the other infected nurse Nina Pham, may have been exposed to Ebola due to insufficient safety gear. To address this issue, the CDC announced changes to the required protected gear used by health workers when caring for Ebola patients in the U.S. The new stringent guidelines require hoods that cover the neck along and the addition of shoe and leg coverings. While there is concern among some of the general public about the government’s response to the Ebola crisis, President Obama provided this reassurance on Wednesday: “I want people to understand that the dangers of you contracting Ebola, the dangers of a serious outbreak, are extraordinarily low, but we are taking this very seriously at the highest level of government.” (Manny Fernandez and Jack Healy, The New York Times)

 

Science Publication and Communication

Copycat papers flag continuing headache in China

An article published in Science last year uncovered dozens of China paper-selling companies. These companies were exposed for fabricating data, adding authors to accepted manuscripts, and selling entire publications. Recently, a similar China-based company was discovered by two computational biologists: Guillaume Filion from the Centre for Genomic Regulation and Lucas Carey from Pompeu Fabra University. These researchers were originally mining Pubmed publication records from 2012-2014 to uncover new hot topics based on commonly used words. From their big data analysis approach, they found 32 papers that were meta-analysis or review articles with, as Filion describes, “disturbingly similar” wording. For example, one paper states, “Importantly, the inclusion criteria of cases and controls were not well defined in all included studies and thus might have influenced our results,” and another paper states, “Importantly, the inclusion criteria of cases and controls were not well defined in all included studies, which might also have influenced our results.” From their investigation, they found these papers originated from a website that sold papers with an impact factor of 2-3 for approximately $10,000. This big data analysis technique may be useful for uncovering other paper-selling companies in the future. (Mara Hvistendahl, ScienceInsider)

 

Science, Religion, and Education

Seminaries awarded $1.5 million to include science in coursework

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is striving to bridge the gap between religion and science by providing $1.5 million in grants to 10 U.S. seminaries with the goal of providing greater science education. According to Jennifer Wiseman, the director for AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, “Many (religious leaders) don’t get a lot of science in their training and yet they become the authority figures that many people in society look up to for advice for all kinds of things, including issues related to science and technology.” The seminaries receiving these grants will engage in a pilot program to incorporate curriculum that includes science educational videos, events, guest speakers, and other science resources. Additionally, AAAS is coordinating with surrounding universities to provide science advisors. This pilot program hopes to educate seminarians and reduce any perceived hostility between scientists and the religious. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, The Washington Post)

 

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October 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – October 31, 2013

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By: Chris O’Donnell

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

Battle Over Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act – The America COMPETES Act, which was first approved in 2007, increased federal support for research and science education. The legislation is once again up for reauthorization this fall, but it appears this once bipartisan bill will now be the ground for a battle in the House of Representatives. Already, there are disagreements over the agencies to be included and how those agencies should function. A discussion draft was recently released by Democrats on the House science committee, but the committee’s Republican chairman, Representative Lamar Smith (TX), has yet to release his draft bill. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) discusses her draft bill and trying to find common ground with House Republicans. (Jeffrey Mervis)

Organizations Urge Lawmakers to Allow NSF to Advance Research in Social and Behavioral Sciences – Recently, over 70 organizations wrote a letter to House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) asking for lawmakers to continue to allow the National Science Foundation (NSF) to evaluate and fund research propels in a wide range of disciplines, including social science and behavioral sciences. This is in response to a recent editorial where Smith and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suggested that certain grants in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences were not worthy of federal funding. There is concern that politics may interfere with the ability of the NSF to fund projects from all disciplines and negatively impact the scientific process as a whole. (Kathy Wren)

Wide Disparities Among U.S. States in Science and Math A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests eighth-graders attending public schools in the U.S. are above average in science compared to their foreign counterparts in 47 of the 50 states. U.S. students did not fare as well in math, but students were still above the international average in 36 states. However, wide disparities were observed between states. For example, average state scores in science ranged from 453 in the District of Columbia to 567 in Massachusetts. And from states with an average science score of at least 500, the percentage of students with high or advanced scores ranged from 31% in Hawaii to 61% in Massachusetts. There is a desire for policymakers to find out why some states, like Massachusetts, are performing so well.  (Adrienne Lu)

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October 31, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – September 16, 2013

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost (sorry for the delay!), bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

A silent hurricane season adds fuel to the debate over global warmingHalfway through hurricane season, there have been no Atlantic hurricanes. One possible explanation is abundance or warmer, dryer air across the Atlantic leading to fewer disturbances. Furthermore, a Category 3 or greater hurricane hasn’t made landfall since 2005 (Wilma), and scientists are confused about the cause. A report published in 2007 predicted an increase in destructive hurricanes, however, the opposite has been true, and a newer report indicates that there was only a 20 percent chance of the 2007 report being accurate. The debate regarding the severity of hurricanes illustrates the ongoing debate about the effects of global climate change. (Bryan Walsh)

More than 1,100 have cancer after 9/11 – More than 1,000 people who lived or worked near the World Trade Center around 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer. To date, approximately 1,140 people who developed cancer after exposure to debris from the 9/11 attacks on the WTC have received health insurance from the World Trade Center Health Program. Although cancer was not initially covered by the program, in September 2012, 58 types of cancer were added to the list of illnesses covered by the program. The program was created following the passage of the Zagoda Act, which was signed by President Obama in 2011. (CNN)

The adjunct advantage – A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that new students at Northwestern University learned better from adjunct professors than tenure-track professors. The study considered many aspects of learning- not simply completion of the course. The results of the study suggest that hiring faculty with only teaching responsibilities to complement those who also have research responsibilities may be beneficial to students. (Scott Jaschik)

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September 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 7, 2013

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photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

By: Jennifer Plank

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

Federal officials allege Santa Cruz company misled animal welfare inspectors – Two animal rights organizations allege that Santa Cruz Biotechnology has repeatedly violated the animal welfare act and misled federal inspectors. These violations include not reporting the existence of 841 goats. In September, the USDA filed a complaint indicating several violations in regards to animal welfare and employing unqualified personnel. In addition, during a recent inspection, several goats were suffering from undiagnosed infections. (Jessica M. Pasko)

Girls lead in science exam, but not in the United States – A 2009 exam given to 470,000 students (15 years old) in 65 developed countries indicates that, on the global scale, girls perform better than boys in science. Interestingly, in the United States boys out perform girls with average exam scores of 509 to 495. According to Christianne Corbett, research associate at the American Association of American Women, one possible explanation for this outcome is that gender stereotypes regarding occupations begins early in life and less women are likely to go into science careers. (Hannah Fairfield and Alan McLean)

New analysis challenges study suggesting racial bias at NIH – A 2011 study indicated that black researchers face a racial bias when it comes to receiving NIH funding. In response to this report, the NIH announced a program to boost the number of young minority scientists. However, a recent study has analyzed the productivity and funding of minority and white researchers researchers at the same institutions. The study found that on average, the black researchers were less productive than their white colleagues. Additionally, when adjusted for a productivity index, black researchers received just as much funding as their white colleagues. (Jocelyn Kaiser)

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February 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm