U.S. Ebola Response Includes A CIO

Earlier this week the U.S. Government announced the steps it was taking to expand its assistance to African nations in responding to the Ebola outbreak.  The military, uniformed public health officers, the U.S. Administration for International Development (USAID), the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the State Department all have personnel assisting in the efforts.

Joining them soon will be Steve VanRoekel, the Federal Chief Information Officer.  Except he won’t have that title when he gets there.  So not long after the Chief Technology Officer departs for another position in the Administration (and outside of Washington), the Chief Information Officer will do the same.

VanRoekel is not a stranger to the USAID, where he will be the Chief Innovation Officer.  Back in 2011 VanRoekel assisted USAID in digital communications during its famine response in the Horn of Africa.  Until a permanent replacement as CIO can be named, one of VanRoekel’s deputies will serve as acting Chief Information Officer.

Latest MacArthur Fellows Include Scientists And Engineers

This week the MacArthur Foundation introduced its latest class of Fellows.  Unofficially the Fellows receive the ‘genius’ grants – unrestricted five-year awards totalling $625,000.  The Fellows represent a variety of disciplines and fields, and most are unfamiliar to the general public.  Of the twenty-one Fellows this year, more than one-third are engaged in work involving science and/or technology.  Those eight Fellows are:

Danielle Bassett – physicist working on the brain.
Tami Bond – environmental engineer focused on black carbon and its interaction with the atmosphere.Jennifer Eberhardt – social psychologist examining associations and biases in race and crime.
Craig Gentry – computer scientist working on cryptography.
Mark Hersam – materials scientist researching nanomaterials.
Pamela Long – historian of science and technology describing how technology and craft are embedded in the larger social culture.
Jacob Lurie – mathematician working on the development of derived algebraic geometry.
Yitang Zhang – mathematician accomplished in analytic number theory.

Senate Displays Rare Speed In Confirmations

On Tuesday the Senate managed to confirm two nominations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that were announced less than two months ago.  Their confirmation hearing was just last week.  Unlike several other science and technology appointments, the vacancies that new Commissioners are filling have been open for just a few months.

Stephen Burns comes back to the NRC from work at the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  (One of the recently departed Commissioners left to head that agency.)  He has over three decades of experience with the Commission.  Jeffrey Baran is the other new Commissioner.  He has over a decade of experience as a Congressional staffer in both the Energy and Commerce and Oversight and Government Reform Committees.

The confirmations mean that the Commission is back at it’s full strength of five.

SpaceX Probably Won’t Be Suing NASA Anytime Soon

While SpaceX’s effort to get what a fair shake in competing for some space contracts continues, NASA has awarded the company with a contract for its next crew vehicle.  Along with Boeing, SpaceX will fly at least one crewed test flight of its integrated rocket and spacecraft system.  When each company demonstrates that their respective systems has met with NASA requirements, it would then fly two to six missions to the International Space Station.  The vessels would also serve as lifeboats for the Station.

Each company can also sell use of their systems to other parties.  And that is where the fun should begin.  The ability of non-governmental entities to send humans to low earth orbit – compared to the suborbital flights soon to be available through Virgin Galactic – should encourage cost reductions and hopefully spur more activity 100 kilometers up.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of September 15

This week the big night is Friday, and the big guest is Morgan Freeman.  He will be on three times, though his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live is a recent repeat.  He’s promoting his latest film, Dolphin Tale 2, in which he plays a prosthetics researcher.  On Thursday he will be on The Talk.  Friday night starts with Freeman’s recent appearance with Jimmy Kimmel.  Freeman’s other appearance that night is with Craig Ferguson, and it stands an excellent chance of veering into weirdness.

There are other guests of note this week.  On Tuesday, Conan O’Brien will be all kinds of awkward with urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman.  Terry Gilliam, director of the new dystopic science fiction film The Zero Theorem, makes two appearances this week.  The film tells the story of a computer program seeking the meaning of life through his work.  On Wednesday Gilliam will be on The Tonight Show, and on Thursday he will visit with Stephen Colbert.  Also on Thursday, one of the leads of Manhattan, John Benjamin Hickey, will be on Bravo’s late night talker, Watch What Happens Live. 

How We Got To Now Almost Is At Now

It is almost one month to the day before How We Got To Now, Steven Johnson’s program on innovation and their histories, premieres on PBS (a BBC co-production, it should be available contemporaneously in the U.K.).  Johnson is a web entrepreneur and science writer, and this is not his first work engaged with the history of science and technology.

Prior to the October 15 debut, the tie-in book will be released.  There will also be an innovation hub linked to the program.  Back in April it was announced that the Knight Foundation would support the effort to the tune of $250,000.  The hub is intended to foster innovation in communities, trying to replicate the coffeehouses and salons where people met to share ideas and foster innovation during earlier eras.  What might be special about this hub, and how it might distinguish itself from similar spaces, might be its emphasis on civic spaces.  But that probably won’t become clear until the show (and the hub) launch next month.

Irregular Update Corner – Australia Still Differs From US Re Genetic Patents

This Nature editorial reminded me that Australia’s judicial system has approached the Myriad Genetics case about its patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2 differently than the United States.  The most recent decision in Australia affirms the 2013 decision by its Federal Court that the Myriad Genetics patents were valid. There remains an additional level of appeal, so this case ma not be fully resolved just yet.

As it happens, the patents have not been enforced in Australia by either Myriad or the company that licensed the patents in Australia.  Should that change, it is possible that another suit may arise to challenge this ruling, or the Australian Parliament may opt to revisit the underlying law.