Posts about politics

Neil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

From the interview of Neil Degrasse Tyson from 3 July 2009.

“If you are scientifically literate the world looks very different to you. Its not just a lot of mysterious things happening. There is a lot we understand out there. And that understanding empowers you to, first, not be taken advantage of by others who do understand it. And second there are issues that confront society that have science as their foundation. If you are scientifically illiterate, in a way, you are disenfranchising yourself from the democratic process, and you don’t even know it.”

I agree, and, as I have said before, when a society allows a scientific illiteracy to continue then the potential for abuse by those that manipulate those that are scientifically illiterate leaves the society vulnerable to making very bad choices.

Related: Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the Sunposts on scientific literacyEvolution, Methane, Jobs, Food and MoreAstronaut self portraitCosmology Questions AnsweredSarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Today, during remarks at the National Academy of Sciences, President Barack Obama announced the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who will advise the President and Vice President and formulate policy in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people.

President Barack Obama said, “This council represents leaders from many scientific disciplines who will bring a diversity of experience and views. I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation.”

PCAST will be co-chaired by John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, former head of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel laureate.

Members of the council include: Shirley Ann Jackson, Craig Mundie, Eric Schmidt and Ahmed Zewail.

Related: Science and Engineering in PoliticsScientists and Engineers in CongressJohn Conyers Against Open ScienceChina’s Technology Savvy Leadership

Presidential Memo to Insulate Science From Politics

Presidential Memo to Insulate Science From Politics

When President Obama lifts restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research Monday, he will also issue a presidential memorandum aimed at insulating scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence, officials said today.

“The president believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals,” said Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

While officials would not go into details, the memorandum will order the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to “assure a number of effective standards and practices that will help our society feel that we have the highest-quality individuals carrying out scientific jobs and that information is shared with the public,” said Harold Varmus, who co-chairs Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The decision by President George W. Bush to restrict funding for stem cell research was seen by critics as part of a pattern of allowing political ideology to influence scientific decisions, affecting issues including whether to approve the morning-after pill Plan B for over-the-counter sales and climate change.

Related: Scientists Denounce Global Warming Report ‘Edits’76 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse ObamaScience and Engineering in PoliticsThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

John Conyers Against Open Science

Lawrence Lessig once again has written a good blog post: John Conyers and Open Access

Open access journals, such as, for example, those created by the Public Library of Science, have adopted a different publishing model, to guarantee that all all research is freely accessible online (under the freest Creative Commons license) immediately, to anyone around the world. This guarantee of access, however, is not purchased by any compromise in academic standards. There is still a peer-review process. There is still even a paper-based publication.

Pushed by scientists everywhere, the NIH and other government agencies were increasingly exploring this obviously better model for spreading knowledge. Proprietary publishers, however, didn’t like it. And so rather than competing in the traditional way, they’ve adopted the increasingly Washington way of competition — they’ve gone to Congress to get a law to ban the business model they don’t like. If H.R. 801 is passed, the government can’t even experiment with supporting publishing models that assure that the people who have paid for the research can actually access it. Instead, if Conyers has his way, we’ll pay for the research twice.

The insanity in this proposal is brilliantly described by Jamie Boyle in this piece in the FT. But after you read his peace, you’ll be even more puzzled by this. For what possible reason could Conyers have for supporting a bill that 33 Nobel Prize Winners, and the current and former heads of the NIH say will actually hurt scientific research in America? More pointedly, what possible reason would a man from a district that insists on the government “Buying American” have for supporting a bill that basically subsidizes foreign publishers (for the biggest players in this publishing market are non-American firms, making HR 801 a kind of “Foreign Publishers Protection Act”)?

the co-sponsors of this bill who sit on the Judiciary Committee received on average two-times the amount of money from publishing interests as those who haven’t co-sponsored the bill.

The damage done to science by dinosaurs fighting progress and corrupt or inept politicians is very disheartening. Thankfully we have been able to achieve great things in spite of politicians trying to favor their donors and harm the scientific community.

Related: Science Journal Publishers Stay StupidHoward Hughes Medical Institute Takes Big Open Access StepFrom Ghost Writing to Ghost Management in Medical JournalsThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Prevent Research

Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research

Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.

The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used.

The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.

So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.

Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building.

This is not acceptable. Regulators need to put safety above politically connected powerful groups. The bigger problem is we keep electing people more interested in who gives than money than the public interest. But part of the dynamic is embarrassing those that subvert the public good to reward those providing the politicians money. By shining light on what is being done the abuses are often reduced a bit.

Related: The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in ScienceProtecting the Food SupplyUSDA’s failure to protect the food supplyEthanol: Science Based Solution or Special Interest Welfare

76 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse Obama

76 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse Obama!. This is the largest number of Nobel laureates to endorse anything according to that post. Letter:

An Open Letter to the American People

This year’s presidential election is among the most significant in our nation’s history. The country urgently needs a visionary leader who can ensure the future of our traditional strengths in science and technology and who can harness those strengths to address many of our greatest problems: energy, disease, climate change, security, and economic competitiveness.

We are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is such a leader, and we urge you to join us in supporting him.

During the administration of George W. Bush, vital parts of our country’s scientific enterprise have been
damaged by stagnant or declining federal support. The government’s scientific advisory process has been distorted by political considerations. As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy.

We have watched Senator Obama’s approach to these issues with admiration. We especially applaud his emphasis during the campaign on the power of science and technology to enhance our nation’s
competitiveness. In particular, we support the measures he plans to take – through new initiatives in
education and training, expanded research funding, an unbiased process for obtaining scientific advice, and an appropriate balance of basic and applied research – to meet the nation’s and the world’s most urgent needs.

Senator Obama understands that Presidential leadership and federal investments in science and technology are crucial elements in successful governance of the world’s leading country. We hope you will join us as we work together to ensure his election in November.


Alexei Arikosov, Physics, 2003
Peter Agre, Chemistry, 2003
Sidney Altman, Chemistry, 1989
Philip W. Anderson, Physics, 1977
Richard Axel, Medicine, 2004
David Baltimore, Medicine, 1975
Baruj Benacerraf, Medicine, 1980
Paul Berg, Chemistry, 1980
J. Michael Bishop, Medicine, 1989
N. Bloembergen, Physics, 1981
Michael S. Brown, Medicine, 1985
Linda B. Buck, Medicine, 2004 Continue reading

Science Policy Research Virtual Intern is another web site that lists internship opportunities. I am surprised that virtual internships and externships have not grown much more popular in the last 5 years. Scientists and Engineers for America do have such a virtual internship:

Members of the first Scientists and Engineers for America (SEA) virtual intern class can be located anywhere in the world and will work remotely on specific SEA projects. Intern will research the positions elected officials and candidates for office take on science policy issues.

The internship is for between 10 to 20 hours per week and can be done anywhere, as long as you have a computer, internet connection, and telephone. The dates of the internship are flexible accepted on a rolling basis.

Also see the science internships and engineering internships. If you have an internship you would like included, please add it (there is not cost for the site, listing or using).

Related: Summer Jobs for Smart Young MindsPreparing Computer Science Students for JobsScience and Engineering Scholarships and FellowshipsScientists and Engineers in Congress

USA Science Losing Ground

I have written about the continued decline in the relative position of science in the USA compared to the rest of the world: Engineering the Future EconomyEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipThe Best Research UniversitiesU.S. Slipping on ScienceDiplomacy and Science ResearchScientists and Engineers in Congress. The USA continues to act as though the rewards for scientific excellence automatically go to the USA. That isn’t the case and as many other countries make smart investments in scientific centers of excellence the USA chooses to do very little.

Has U.S. Science Lost Its Competitive Edge?

Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, delivered perhaps the most stinging indictment of the current political system. “There will be winners and losers, and the losers are the ones who insist on looking backwards,” said Barrett. “We continue to subsidize 19th century technology–like in the $290 billion farm bill–rather than the 21st century technologies that will allow us to remain competitive. We’re fat, dumb, and happy.”

hefty increases at three science agencies–the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Last summer, legislation that incorporates many of those recommendations became law. But funding for most of the initiatives has yet to materialize.

Speakers repeatedly pointed to those anemic budgets as evidence that politicians haven’t realized the threats to American preeminence in science posed by the rest of the world.

As I have said many times the consequences of failing to take sensible action today will be large. Science and engineering centers of excellence have been a very important factor in the economic success of the USA.

Running Out of Fish

I have posted before about the overfishing problems: Fishless FutureSelFISHingChinook Salmon Vanish Without a Trace. Here is an emotional article on the problem – How the world’s oceans are running out of fish

Ninety years of industrial-scale exploitation of fish has, he and most scientists agree, led to ‘ecological meltdown’. Whole biological food chains have been destroyed.

In 2002, the year an EU report revealed that the Senegalese fish biomass had declined 75 per cent in 15 years, Brussels bought rights for four years’ fishing of tuna and bottom-dwelling fish on the Senegal coasts, for just $4m a year. In 2006, access for 43 giant EU factory fishing vessels to Mauritania’s long coastline was bought for £24.3m a year. It’s estimated that these deals have put 400,000 west African fishermen out of work; some of them now take to the sea only as ferrymen for desperate would-be migrants to the Canary Islands and Europe.

Protecting up to 40 per cent of the world’s oceans in permanent refuges would enable the recovery of fish stocks and help replenish surrounding fisheries. ‘The cost, according to a 2004 survey, would be between £7bn and £8.2bn a year, after set-up. But put that against the £17.6bn a year we currently spend on harmful subsidies that encourage overfishing.’

The Newfoundland cod fishery, for 500 years the world’s greatest, was exhausted and closed in 1992, and there’s still no evidence of any return of the fish. Once stocks dip below a certain critical level, the scientists believe, they can never recover because the entire eco-system has changed.

Autism, Science and Politics

Clinton and Obama parrot the “vaccine and autism connection inconclusive” line by Tara C. Smith:

Ugh. At least they don’t say there’s “strong evidence” to support it like McCain. I can certainly get behind more research on environmental factors in autism development (and of course, additional funding for biomedical research, period), but we’ve been there/done that for vaccines. I wonder if either of them are even aware of The National Children’s Health Study?

The National Children’s Study will examine the effects of environmental influences on the health and development of more than 100,000 children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21. The goal of the study is to improve the health and well-being of children.

Variables examined will include vaccinations received, and development of autism will be one of the outcomes examined. What more can you ask for? Obama and Clinton’s claims of ignorance on the part of the scientific community when it comes to vaccines and autism show that we don’t have any real science defenders in the running.

Related: Scientists and Engineers in CongressScience and Engineering in PoliticsThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

Scientists and Engineers in Congress

A list of Congressmen with science PhDs: Vernon Ehlers, Michigan, physics PhD; Rush Holt, New Jersey, physics PhD; John Olver, Massachusetts, chemistry PhD; Brian Baird, Washington, psychology PhD; and now Bill Foster, Illinois, physics PhD. Other scientists, engineers and mathematicians include: Ron Paul, Texas, biology BS, MD; Jerry McNerney, California, math PhD; Dan Lipinski, Illinois, mechanical engineering BS, engineering-economic systems MS; Nancy Boyda, Kansas, chemistry BS; Cliff Stearns, Florida, electrical engineering BS; Joe Barton, Texas, industrial engineering BS. Please comment with additions.

Another Scientist in Congress!

He is not just any old particle physicist, but quite an accomplished one, having been a co-inventor of Fermilab’s antiproton Recycler Ring. Once you’ve mastered antiprotons, the Washington political process should be child’s play. Congratulations!

Related: China’s Technology Savvy LeadershipScientists and PoliticsWhy Congress Needs More ScientistsAt Last, a Politician Who Knows Quantum Mechanics

Vernon Ehlers – “After three years of studying at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Ehlers transferred and received his undergraduate degree in physics and his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960. After six years teaching and research at Berkeley, he moved back to Grand Rapids to Calvin College in 1966 where he taught physics for 16 years and later served as chairman of the Physics Department. During his tenure at Calvin, Ehlers also served as a volunteer science advisor to then-Congressman Gerald R. Ford.”

Russ Holt – Rep. Holt earned his B.A. in Physics from Carleton College in Minnesota and completed his Master’s and Ph.D. at NYU. He has held positions as a teacher, Congressional Science Fellow, and arms control expert at the U.S. State Department where he monitored the nuclear programs of countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union. From 1989 until he launched his 1998 congressional campaign, Holt was Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the largest research facility of Princeton University and the largest center for research in alternative energy in New Jersey. He has conducted extensive research on alternative energy and has his own patent for a solar energy device. Holt was also a five-time winner of the game show “Jeopardy.”
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