Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of June 29

FWIW, last Monday marked six years of posts here at Pasco Phronesis.  Apparently the proper anniversary gift is candy.

This week, with the Fourth of July holiday on Saturday, many programs are in repeats.  Those that aren’t running repeats this week will likely run them next week (the Comedy Central shows will likely not, with Jon Stewart departing The Daily Show on August 6).  Of this week’s repeats, you can check out bug chef David George Gordon’s recent appearance on The Late Late Show tonight (Monday).  Even later tonight you can see Zach Woods last appearance with Carson Daly.  Woods is one of the cast members of Silicon Valley.  On Tuesday Alicia Vikander’s recent appearance with Seth Meyers will run again.  For Thursday you can catch Bryce Dallas Howard on The Talk promoting Jurassic World.  Her co-start Chris Pratt’s last appearance with Jimmy Fallon will be rerun on Friday.

Two science and technology flavored shows, and one film are featured early in this week’s new guests.  Emilia Clarke is carrying promotional water for the new Terminator film, out on Wednesday.  She’s with Jimmy Kimmel tonight (Monday).    Extant‘s new season premieres this week, and star Halle Berry joins Jimmy Kimmel Tuesday night.  Earlier that day she joins her co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan on The Talk.

Kumail Nanjiani, from Silicon Valley, is on to promote the second season of his Comedy Central show The Meltdown.  Nanjiani will be on Conan Tuesday, and on @midnight with his Meltdown co-host and producer later that same night.  Time was when guests weren’t double-booked on the same night, but I’m old.

In content you may have missed, there were two segments on last Tuesday’s edition of The Nightly Show where Larry updated folks on the drought in California.

Adventures In Wildlife Infrastructure

While developing artificial means to help wildlife do what they need to do has been a thing for a while (see fish ladders in dams), there are two current projects that strike me as something new.

In Oslo work is underway for a ‘bee highway.’  It’s not an actual road in the sky for the exclusive use of bees.  It’s a series of rooftops with flowers and the bee equivalent of rest stops.  The project is a collaboration between state bodies, local homeowners and companies, and you can track its progress online (you’ll need a translator or a working knowledge of Norwegian).

In the State of Washington work has been proceeding on helping wildlife cross a section of Interstate-90 in the Snoqualmie Pass region.  Earlier this month the state’s Department of Transportation started work on a wildlife overpass along a natural migration route to Keechelus Lake (The Interstate follows the northeast side of the lake).  Large fences along the highway near the overpass should help nudge bear, deer, elk and other fauna over the highway and on to the lake.  The overpass should complement the wildlife underpasses already being used in the vicinity and make it easier for migration and a broader genetic exchange.  Think of it as analogous to the parks being developed along unused elevated train tracks, if those parks were over major highways or surface streets.

The projects are not solely for the benefit of wildlife.  The crossings will cut down on more traditional surface crossings of Interstate-90 and the associated destruction.  This also facilitates a widening of the Interstate.  The overpass should be ready for nature traffic in 2019.

Robot Stories Are Still A Thing

I suppose this could be traced back to the reboot of Battlestar Galactica over a decade ago, but robots and androids have become an increasing presence on film and television, particularly in the last 2 years.

In the movies, the new Terminator film comes out next week, and the previews suggest we will see a new generation of killer robots traveling through time and space.  Chappie is now out on your digital medium of choice (and I’ll post about any science fiction science policy/SciFiSciPol once I see it), so you can compare its robot police to those from either edition of Robocop or the 2013 series Almost Human.  Robots also have a role in the recent film Tomorrowland (of which I’ll have more to post later this week).

Starting tomorrow on AMC is Humans, a series focused on an alternate present where people can purchase a robotic servant, called a Synth.  The program has already premiered in the UK on Channel 4 (which co-produces the show with AMC), and is based on a Swedish program called Real Humans.  Episodes are supposed to be available on various digital platforms shortly after premiering on AMC.  The program is also cross-promoted on the Good Men Project, where you can read essays prompted by the issues broached in the show.

Early numbers from the UK airings are strong, and if they are replicated in the U.S., the show may run longer than the eight episodes airing this summer.  Once I get a few episodes in, I may have something to say here.

Committee Offers Guidelines For Promoting Transparency and Openness

Also in the Policy Forum section of this week’s edition of Science is a longer paper on how journals and scientific organizations might promote transparency and openness in their research.  The Transparency and Openness Promotion Committee developed the guidelines, which are also available on the website of the Center for Open Science, one of the parties involved in the project.  The committee met in November of 2014, and was organized by representatives from the Center for Open Science, Science magazine and the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences.

Signing on to these guidelines means the organizations and journals are expressing support for the guidelines.  It also represents a commitment to review those guidelines for possible adoption.

The guidelines have eight kinds of standards: citations, data, analytic methods, research materials, reporting research design and analysis, preregistration of studies and preregistration of analysis.  For each of these standards categories, there are three levels of disclosure.  Per the guidelines, “Level 1 recommends citation standards, Level 2 requires adherence to citation standards, and Level 3 requires and enforces adherence to citation standards.”

The appropriate level for each type is something that each journal and/or organization can decide for itself.  There are variations in scientific norms by field where citations are concerned, and there are also matters of infrastructure and expense to consider.

So this project has come to the beginning of the middle.  Over the next several months the many signatories should be reviewing their practices and determining which standards they will adopt and at what level.  If your field has signed on, see what you can do to ensure that a commitment is made to follow these guidelines.


National Academies Aims To Prime Pump For Self-Correction Discussion

In this week’s issue of Science the Policy Forum section includes an essay from several senior researchers and research administrators discussing the challenges to improving the incentives for ensuring high integrity in research.  The group was convened by the National Academies and the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnyland.

The essay covers a number of concerns about vetting research results that have been heard before (publishing negative results, need for additional mentoring, independent validation/replication, etc.) and the initiatives several journals and institutions are taking to improve those processes.  But one particular item caught my attention, and that of others: distinguishing between retractions due to fraud or misconduct and those needed for other reasons.  From the essay:

“[V]oluntary withdrawal of findings by a researcher eager to correct an unintended mistake is laudatory, in contrast to involuntary withdrawal by a duplicitous researcher who has published fraudulent claims. Alternative nomenclature such as “voluntary withdrawal” and “withdrawal for cause” might remove stigma from the former while upping it for the latter.”

In other words, the authors suggest folks aren’t so inclined to report unintended mistakes because of the stigma attached to the word retraction.  Whether or not withdrawal for cause has a more negative stigma than retraction is unclear to me.

Changing the nomenclature may help, but as the essay also notes, the infrastructure for checking research results has not matured at a rate comparable to either the increase in scientific research output or the increasing ease of committing scientific fraud and other misconduct.

What might be more effective, but possibly more challenging, is implementing this goal from the essay – “We believe that incentives should be changed so that scholars are rewarded for publishing well rather than often.”  I think this is an excellent goal, but there are two sets of stakeholders that have locked into a notion of scientific research quantity as a proxy for quality.  Not only is it embedded within the university reward structure, but it is also integrated into policymakers discussions of scientific research support.  With Nobel Prize winner numbers often cited (often as a scientific equivalent of ‘mine’s bigger than yours’) efforts to encourage fewer publications are going to be looked at a little oddly from those who hold the purse strings.

There will be a National Academies report coming later in the year that should give more details on some of the ideas broached in this essay.  Hopefully it can also prompt the dialogue desired by the authors.

Commissioner Moedas Wants A Funding Council For Innovation

As part of a conference on the European Research Area (ERA), Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas gave a speech (H/T ScienceInsider).  As part of his remarks, he discussed starting a second era for The ERA and the ‘Innovation Union.’

Commissioner Moedas is concerned about how effectively European Union member states have been commercializing the results of their research.  It’s not a problem unique to Europe.  Finding sufficient funding to take research results and create commercially viable products is always a challenge in part because the perceived investment risks often dissuade potential investors.

Institutional support can help facilitate commercialization, and one means the Commissioner would like to have at the ready is a European Innovation Council (possibly) modeled after the existing European Research Council.

I include the (possibly) because while I understand the urge to duplicate a successful organization for a slightly different purpose, a funding organization for research is not necessarily going to be as effective for funding innovation.  If the goal is to make it easier for private companies to invest in promising research, regulatory changes may be more effective than a funding council geared toward supporting potential innovators and/or innovative companies.  Hopefully this kind of examination will take place (if it hasn’t already) between now and 2017, when this possible Council will be discussed during the mid-term review of the Horizon 2020 research programme.

There are other things worth following in the Commissioner’s speech.  Two things that I will be very interested in watching are his proposal for a European Research Integrity Initiative and the idea of developing a research data repository for the EU.  (I don’t think putting it in the cloud is necessarily the greatest idea, at least not without serious access control provisions.)

Next PCAST Meeting Returns To NITRD And Ponders Getting Older

The next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) takes place on July 14 at the National Academies in Washington, D.C.  While this is not on a Friday (as has been the custom) the public portion of the meeting will still be from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern time.  No agenda is available at this time at the PCAST website, but the Federal Register notice provides some indication of what will be discussed.

The PCAST will discuss its review of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.  PCAST is obligated to do this review periodically, and the next report would be its third during the Obama Administration.  Also scheduled for the meeting are presentations on aging and for human spaceflight.  My past experience suggests that comments on space exploration will dominate the public comment session scheduled for the meeting.

You will be able to view the meeting live on the 14th, through the usual webcast provider.  A more detailed agenda should be available by the beginning of July.