Representative Bill Foster held off on creating his science support political action committee (PAC) Franklin’s List to return to Congress. But there’s now a science support Super PAC to carry that burden. First In Science PAC was launched in mid-February with the goal of raising $100 million to support candidates in the 2014 elections who want more federal funding for so-called basic research. There is an associated education organization, FirstInScience.Org, intended to educate Congress and the public on the value of basic research.
First In Science was founded by Jim Lantry and is based in La Jolla, California. Lantry, according to his LinkedIn profile, has a long career in lobbying and political consultancy with an emphasis on California issues. His most recent legislative accomplishment involves getting California law SB 946 passed, which mandates insurance coverage for behavioral therapy treatments connected to diagnoses of autism. Given Lantry’s experience, and the proximity of First In Science to San Diego, trends in life sciences (he has cited the departure of talent overseas) are a large motivator for him. It was a strong theme in his recent Congressional testimony.
The initial goals of First In Science are twofold (FISPAC is the campaign arm, FISORG the education arm).
“FISPAC’s initial goal is to support at least fifty targeted candidates, both challengers and incumbents, in the 2014 elections. FISORG, meanwhile, has the primary goal of educating Congress and the voting public on the importance of government funding of basic research.”
There will be nearly 470 House and Senate races contested in 2014. With the $100 million goal, the 50 candidates could average $2 million of support from First In Science PAC. But without some demonstration that Lantry has at least some of that $100 million close at hand, or some detailed strategies, I suspect he’ll come up a bit short. I just don’t see this effort rolling into a AAAS meeting and racking up Colbert Super PAC style donations. Not without some serious publicity and charisma.
I have heard Lantry speak as to his plans and specific interests. He strikes me as cognizant of the challenges he faces and is willing to proceed regardless. He is still working on finding key supporters for the board of these organizations. His success there likely affects the larger success of the Super PAC. As those names are announced, I’ll note them on the blog or the Twitter feed.
Yesterday the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a letter report to President Obama on climate change strategies. The letter indicates this was in response to a request for input from the President last November. The letter outlines for the President what PCAST considers should be the six key components of any comprehensive strategy on climate change.
(1) focus on national preparedness for climate change;
(2) continue efforts to decarbonize the economy, with emphasis on the electricity sector;
(3) level the playing field for clean-energy and energy-efficiency technologies by removing regulatory obstacles, addressing market failures, adjusting tax policies, and providing time-limited subsidies for clean energy when appropriate;
(4) sustain research on next-generation clean-energy technologies and remove obstacles for their eventual deployment;
(5) take additional steps to establish U.S. leadership on climate change internationally; and
(6) conduct an initial Quadrennial Energy Review (QER).
I think it worth noting that these components encompass both adaptation to climate change and mitigation of any potential damage from climate change. Mitigation, at least from my admittedly outside perspective, does not get as much attention in what passes for climate change policy discussions. (I’m sure Roger Pielke, Jr. has pointers to what I may be missing).
The national preparedness angle, for one, I find particularly overdue. However, I am concerned that such preparedness efforts could get sidetracked by debates over the ultimate cause of specific extreme events. I have similar concerns about the recommendation for an infrastructure renewal plan. The American Society of Civil Engineering has demonstrated the need for such a plan for years. And while the effects of climate change may add to the problem (something not explained in the 9-page letter), there is enough opposition to engaging with the issue that it could sidetrack policies that have plenty of justification without adding climate change to the mix.
The Quadrennial Energy Review, as explained in the letter, would be an extension of an Energy Department Quadrennial Technology Review. It also is a recommendation from a 2010 PCAST report. Such reviews, which started in the Defense Department, have been spreading over the last few years.
The ball is in the President’s court. While there have been rumblings that climate change will be a priority in the second term, the current legislative difficulties make it hard for me to see anything coming out of Congress of substance for a long time.
Last weekend I made mention of a release of new guidelines for biological research that may involve things like dangerous viral DNA (H/T ScienceInsider). Here are the details.
About three weeks ago the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a proposed policy on “Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern.” Comments are due on April 23, and you can read the proposed policy online. The institutions in question are non-governmental, and the proposed policy closely resembles the March 2012 policy that controls U.S. government funded and/or performed research. As OSTP noted, the internal policy on such dual use research was established roughly a year ago, in connection with some research papers that Science and Nature delayed publishing.
Under the proposed policy, universities and other research institutions that receive federal funding would be required to review life science research conducted under their roof to see if they fit under the specific definitions of research of concern. For the moment, that refers to a list of 15 particular toxins, and a few kinds of experiments with those toxins. The intent is to expand these policies as needed in the future.
In a sense life science fields are treading a similar path to other fields where there is dual use research of concern. Some of these efforts are tied to policies like export controls, which seek to contain the spread of technology that could be used for nuclear weapons or other nasty bits of business. While it is difficult to contain the spread of technology and/or scientific research, these policies can help decisionmakers better understand the consequences of research, and I think that’s beneficial.
Those who object to a new technological choice can be criticized as being against progress. While I don’t seek out these debates, the kinds of arguments around who is or is not against progress tend to oversimplify the issues underlying the diffusion and/or use of new technology. But being anti-progress, at least to me, does not yet have the negative connotations that have been attached to the denier label common to arguments over science.
That hasn’t stopped some from trying. On the Ideas Lab blog Robert Atkinson and Stephen Ezell of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation resurrect one of Atkinson’s favorite jibes – neo-Luddite. Named after the 19th century English labor movement that objected to new machines displacing skilled labor, neo-Luddites would argue against technology – some of them violently – based on the negative impacts of new technology.
Atkinson seems incapable of conceiving any possible negative impacts of new technology. Unfortunately, his arguments are consistent with many from his organization, favoring demeaning of the opposition and dismissal of their arguments by simple assertion. ”Scare quotes” seem to be a particular favorite tactic. For an organization that often produces analyses with substantive research behind it, the laziness of the ad hominem is a disappointment. Especially when they target the Postal Service.
In this particular instance, the arguments are little more than citing examples of authors, arguments and laws that they consider to be bad for business and/or new technology. They include California’s Proposition 37 (labeling genetically modified organisms – GMOs – in food), European privacy laws, and whatever they think net neutrality means as anti-technology stances that are bad for innovation. I guess the authors are really upset that Whole Foods decided to label GMOs in its food. The neo-Luddites they seem to see everywhere appear to me as full of straw. Continue reading
Yesterday President Obama announced two nominees for recently open science and technology positions. Given the current Senate backlog on nearly everything, expect these two to be sworn in sometime this summer at the earliest.
Ernest Moniz has been nominated to replace Steven Chu as Energy Secretary. Moniz has been on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 40 years, and currently directs the Institute’s Energy Program. This will not be his first time at the Department, having served as Undersecretary of Energy from 1997 to 2001. He worked in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for two years prior to his first stint at the Department of Energy.
Gina McCarthy, currently running the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Air and Radiation, was picked to serve as the new EPA Administrator. McCarthy came to the EPA in 2009 after decades of work in state environmental agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
It is likely that any opposition to the two nominees will focus on disagreement’s with the President’s strategies for energy independence and environmental protection. With the possible exception of new Secretary of State John Kerry, there have been hurdles for each major Obama Administration nominee this term. I don’t expect either Moniz or McCarthy to be an exception.
A lot of items worth noting.
Last year it was announced that Danica McKellar, actress and mathematician, will have a program on the Nerdist YouTube channel. She recently asked for video submissions, particularly from folks who use math in their jobs. See her blog for more details, but act quickly. Submissions are needed by March 11th.
Sometimes the connections between popular culture and science aren’t explicit, but indirect. See this White House response to President Obama’s crossing of the nerd streams when asked about the budget sequester.
Yesterday’s (March 1) edition of Science Friday had a larger than normal percentage of science policy content. The program, which is broadcast on many National Public Radio stations, can be heard online as well. Topics from this show included an interview with new House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chair Lamar Smith, a separate segment on the sequester, and a discussion of the meaning of ‘whole grain’ on food labels.
That edition of Science Friday also had a segment with MC Frontalot. Frontalot is the nom de rap of Damian Hess, who is credited with originating Nerdcore music. Regrettably the folks at Science Friday are woefully new to the nerdcore, or other science-oriented rap. They try and make up for it with the tracks sampled in the segment, which cover cryptography and spoilers (Baba Brinkman is not alone in working in fields besides science and technology). Brinkman, and other musicians with scientific material, are overdue for appearances on the show.
And because I mentioned science rap, here’s an astronomically themed music video from Danny Tieger (H/T Miles O’Brien) Continue reading
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has created a Science and Technology Advisory Council (H/T ScienceInsider). Its members were appointed by President Barroso in consultation with his Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Anne Glover. According to ScienceInsider, Glover will chair the council.
There are 15 scientists, all but one from Europe, in the Council, which will report directly to the President. It’s characterized as an independent and informal advisory body, suggesting it will function in a way similar to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in the United States. But that’s highly speculative prior to any meeting outcomes (the Council did meet in Brussels earlier today). The intention for the group is:
“to provide advice directly to the President on how to create the proper environment for innovation by shaping a European society that embraces science, technology and engineering. In particular, the Council will advise on the opportunities and risks stemming from scientific and technological progress. It will also advise on how to communicate these in order to foster an informed societal debate and ensure that Europe does not “miss the boat” and remains a global leader in cutting-edge technologies.”
A list of the Advisory Council members is at the end of this Commission press release. While I don’t know the background of all the members (aside from their respective countries), there is one Nobel laureate and one Fields Medal recipient among them.
Today the Research Councils of the U.K. (RCUK) released an update to its Policy and Guidance for Good Research Conduct (H/T Steven Hill). It replaces the 2009 version. The goals of the policy are:
- Sets standards of good research practice, with associated guidelines
- Specifies and describes unacceptable research conduct
- Provides guidelines for reporting and investigating allegations of research misconduct
- Clarifies the respective responsibilities of the Research Councils and Research Organisations in fostering and safeguarding the highest possible standards of research conduct
The document is intended for the research institutions that receive funding from any council in RCUK.
A quick comparison between the 2009 and 2013 editions suggests there have been some refinements. The sanctions for research misconduct that were ‘forthcoming’ in the 2009 edition are spelled out in the 2013 edition. Proper research conduct includes peer review practices in the 2013 edition. Overall, it seems fair to say that the 2009 edition was more focused on establishing a good system for ensuring proper research conduct, and the 2013 edition is more concerned with providing more detail on what it means to have good research conduct.
A collaboration of the fellow who got the rats out of Hamlin and the fellow credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland might resemble what the U.S. government is going to do in Guam. (OK, both of these examples are legends, but bear with me.)
There are nearly no native birds on Guam, a small island territory. Much of this can be traced to the brown tree snake population, which arrived on the small island with planes following World War II. In the six decades since, they have dined on the local birds and grown in numbers to approximately 2 million. The scenario could unfold in other Pacific islands, so the Department of Agriculture is looking to try something dramatic.
They will parachute dead mice over the island. The mice will carry acetaminophen, the active ingredient in many painkillers, which is toxic to the snakes. The parachutes are necessary to get the mice into the trees, where the snakes reside. The drop is expected to take place in April or May. Given the bizarre visuals that I can imagine from such an enterprise, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t publicized.
(And yes, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is not pleased.)
As it happens, animal paratroopers are not quite as rare as you might expect. There is a story of cats being dropped into Borneo in the 1950s following an increase in the local rat population (H/T Seattle Post-Intelligencer). It was an effort involving the World Health Organization and the Royal Air Force of Singapore. However, there are conflicting details of why the cats were dropped. Regardless of the specifics, it was another instance of dramatic responses to long-term destabilization of the local ecosystem.
Signifying that the executive branch review of open access policies is rapidly approaching a middle, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memo for agency and department heads on “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research.” This is the biggest step in a process that dates back at least three years, when the Obama Administration put forth a public comment period on the matter. This was followed by two requests for comment and an open access report. The petition submitted to We the People, which passed the response threshold (then set at 25,000 signatures) in early June, finally got its response yesterday – not quite nine months later.
For a Friday afternoon release, the action has gotten more attention that one might expect, with Washington Post articles up hours prior to today’s paper hitting the streets. Jack Andraka, the 2012 Intel Science Fair first place winner quoted in the piece, was part of the Administration’s State of STEM presentation last week, and will likely be part of the open access conversation moving forward.
Independent researchers like Andraka will benefit from the proposed policies, which reflect the open access legislation that has rattled around Congress since at least 2007. The memo focuses on agencies and departments with annual research and development budgets in excess of $100 million. The results of research (and the associated metadata) funded with federal dollars must be made available free of charge within twelve months of publication. This is consistent with the current timeframe for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy, but a longer period than what is proposed in the current open access legislation (six months). The memo notes that agencies and stakeholders may adjust the twelve month embargo to better fit the needs of the relevant research fields. Classified research is exempted from this policy.
While many open access advocates are happy to see executive branch action, some are disappointed. Or perhaps they are simply frustrated. From The Washington Post:
“It’s lame,” said Michael Eisen, a University of California, Berkeley, biologist and a vocal proponent of immediate free access to research papers. “It’s a major sellout to publishers.”