Government Still Muddling Through Updating Critical Materials Policy

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) recently reported on the latest activities by the government related to critical materials.  As I might have expected, progress has been halting and modest.  The House did manage to consider a critical minerals bill (H.R. 1022) before its latest recess, but failed to pass it, perhaps due to members of the House who considered the bill harmful to the mining industry.  Read the full AIP report for additional details.  With this being an election year, what few Congressional working days remain will likely be filled with other bills, and maybe a budget.

Things are slightly better in the Executive Branch.  There is an open comment period on a recent request by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  It closes on August 31.  There is a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (which is coordinated by OSTP) focused on the strategic and critical minerals supply chain.  They are seeking input from the public to help the subcommittee develop a methodology for identifying critical materials and monitoring their status.  Ideally it would make it easier to predict shortfalls in these materials so that proper measures could be taken.  The specific questions in the request focus on all aspects of the supply chain for critical minerals and the associated demand.

Comments can be sent electronically, but must be received by August 31.

National Book Festival Gives Science Its Own Pavilion

The USA Science and Engineering Festival typically has a pretty healthy section on books, so I’ve not paid the National Book Festival as much mind as I have in the past.  This year it takes place at the Warren E Washington Convention Center in Washington on August 30 starting at 10 a.m.

Because the Book Festival is general interest, the offerings any given year may or may not warrant a special pavilion for science and/or technology.  But for this year the Festival has a Science Pavilion with nine authors presenting and signing.

Amanda Ripley – her latest book focuses on American children going through the education systems in the South Korea, Poland and Finland.

Sally Satel – A psychiatrist, her latest book focuses on the overselling of neuroscience.

Paul Bogard – He has written extensively on the light and darkness, both artificial and natural.

Lynn Sherr - A broadcast journalist, her latest book is a biography of Sally Ride.

Eric Cline – An anthropologist, Cline’s latest book focuses on the end of Bronze Age civilizations.

David Sibley – The ornithologist is promoting a new edition of his field guide on birds.

Michio Kaku – The theoretical physicist and ever-present talking head has a new book on neuroscience.

David George – The psychiatrist and internist will speak on his book about emotions and neuroscience.

Adrienne Mayor – An historian of ancient science, Mayor’s latest book concerns historical accounts and legends of warrior women.

Besides the Science pavilion, the science and technologically inclined may find some of the Library of Congress’s pavilion offerings of interest.  They include presentations on Braille, electronic books and copyright.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of August 18

Repeats dominate the schedule again this week, and some shows are pre-empted this week.  The repeat of note is of Eric McCormack’s appearance with Jimmy Kimmel from late July.  He plays a neuropsychiatrist on the TNT program Perception.

New programs are a wash.  No guests with obvious science and technology connections.  There are new episodes this week of Going Deep with David Rees and MythBusters, but you need the cable for that (or access to Hulu for Going Deep).  Or if you want something longer, give Dinosaur 13 or Mission Blue a try online.

USPTO Post-Myriad Guidance Prompts Concerns And Comments

In March the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a guidance memo on patents involving natural processes, natural products, or laws of nature.  This is the second such memo USPTO has issued connected to the Myriad and Mayo cases.  Those decisions dealt with medical tests (genetic in the case of Myriad and diagnostic in the case of Mayo) and whether or not the work done with various natural products and processes was sufficient to warrant patent protection.  The USPTO requested comments on the guidance memo, which were due by July 31.

Reaction to the guidance memo suggests many feel the memo goes much further than the Supreme Court intended with respect to its decisions.  To wit, the USPTO guidance would apply to patents involving natural processes, natural products or laws of nature outside of the genetic and medical testing contexts of the Myriad and Mayo cases.  This inference is made from the examples cited in the guidance, which include derivatives of natural products.  The Supreme Court has not ruled on such patents, and some comments argue that absent Supreme Court rulings on that subject matter, the USPTO should not provide guidance to its examiners that would constrain patent activity.

However, USPTO has recently taken more active measures in terms of evaluating what can be patented.  In the amicus brief (highlights by The New York Times) USPTO filed in the Myriad case the agency argued for distinguishing between products that were merely isolated from natural processes, natural products or rules of nature and those products that represented additional work. than mere isolation.  It may see this guidance as an extension of that approach in areas outside of genetic tests.

Again, I am not a lawyer.  Readers who are should feel free to complain in the comments.

It’s too soon after the close of the comment period to know exactly what USPTO might do in response to the comments.  It’s conceivable that parties opposed to the current guidance may take the office to court should any revisions are not to their liking.

Dive Deep Into Mission Blue

Fresh off the festival circuit and available for your Netflix queue is Mission Blue, an documentary about marine sanctuaries and one of their champions, Sylvia Earle (H/T Science Friday).  Earle is a leading explorer in oceanography, having studied the oceans since the 1950s.  Her latest effort is the Mission Blue of the title, an organization focused on establishing and expanding protected marine spaces around the world.  By telling her story, the film documents how human impacts on the ocean have unfolded in her decades of ocean exploration.  Here’s the trailer:

As Earle notes in her Science Friday segment, the United States has taken steps to establish and expand quite large tracts of marine reserves over the last several years (starting with President George W. Bush).  Mission Blue has identified several dozen spots around the globe that should receive comparable protection (though some of them already have protection).

Before She Was Sue

Opening today in theaters and newly available online and on demand is the documentary Dinosaur 13. (H/T Vulture)  It may not be your first exposure to the titular dinosaur, as she’s traveled the world.

But before Sue could be shipped to museums around the world, there was the matter of ownership.  Dinosaur 13 chronicles her discovery (though her gender is apparently not a certainty), the fight surrounding her ownership, and the associated legal battles.  Here’s the trailer:

For a written version of the story told in Dinosaur 13, check out Rex Appeal.  Both are informed by a particular perspective in the fight.  For a less partial perspective, Tyrannosaurus Sue may be the place to go.

PCAST To End Summer With A Report Doubleheader

While the next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) is September 19, there are some items that cannot wait.  Namely the release of two reports.

On August 28 PCAST will hold a public conference call in connection with the release of two new reports.  One will be a review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (periodically required by law) and the other focuses on educational information technology.

The call runs from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern.  Registration is required, and closes at noon Eastern on the 26th..