Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of July 25

This week the Democratic National Convention takes place in Philadelphia, and that will prompt similar late night changes to what happened last week.  There should be an episode of Weekend Update on Wednesday night, The Late Show is live (to the East Coast) at least through Thursday, and there may be an extra episode of Full Frontal on Wednesday night.  I have no idea if science and technology matters will play a role in any of this, but it’s fair to say the situation is relatively fluid.

As for the convention, from what I’ve seen of the schedule, it appears that any science and technology issue discussion is limited to meetings that are not on the convention floor.  Some people are speaking about various medical conditions, but none of them are slated for evening spots that will receive much media attention (and therefore serve as fodder for the late night programs).

Last week I mentioned an appearance from Ron Suskind on Monday’s edition of The Late Show to discuss a documentary focused on his autistic son.  That did not happen.  It’s entirely possible that the interview was recorded and will be aired at a later date, because that happened with another guest scheduled for Monday night.  Her interview aired on Friday, which was mostly a ‘highlights’ show with in-studio introductions from Colbert recorded very early Friday morning.

Promotion continues for the new Star Trek film (again, I’m mentioning only those actors who play scientists or engineers in the film).  Zachary Quinto, who plays Science Officer Spock, was on Live with Kelly this morning and will be on Watch What Happens Live Tuesday night.

Tatiana Maslany, recently nominated for an Emmy recognizing her work as several clones on Orphan Black, makes the rounds this week as well.  She appears on The Late Late Show Tuesday and on the episode of Chelsea that Netflix premieres on Friday.  On that same episode is the science author Mary Roach.  Her latest book focuses on military science and technology and like some of her other books, embraces things that many would consider squeamish.

In other guest news, scholar of (among other things) behavioral economics Cass Sunstein, who is usually part of any discussion involving ‘nudges’ in public policy, is on The Nightly Show on Thursday.

No ‘missed content’ this week, mainly due to politics dominating the late night landscape (unless you were with Conan O’Brien at Comic Con).  That may happen again this week.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Is *Such* A Weasel

For whatever reason, my nephew never got into the Ice Age animated films, so I’m unfamiliar with them.  I was a bit surprised to find out that in the fifth installment – premiering this weekend in the United States – Neil deGrasse Tyson has a small part.  As a fictional weasel.

OK, all of the weasels in the film are fictional, but Tyson’s weasel is doubly so, as he appears solely in the imagination of another character.  Regardless, Neil deBuck Weasel appears in the mind of the weasel Buck (voiced by Simon Pegg, who coincidentally is in the Star Trek movie that premiered this weekend) to help Buck figure out a possible solution for the major crisis facing him and his friends.

Tyson apparently offered scientific advice while recording his part, and has complimented the movie on having some basis of scientific fact in some of its depictions of talking fauna.  Take from that what you will, or just see the film for yourself.

Congressional Inaction Doesn’t Stop FDA, NIAID And CDC From Dealing With Zika

Congress managed once again to do nothing when something was necessary, this time with a funding bill to deal with the Zika virus.  The executive branch, however, does not have the luxury of inaction, especially with a lack of resources.  And once Congress returns, the combination of a chronically broken appropriations process and the November elections makes it nearly certain that instead of a new budget there will be a continuing resolution.  Such a resolution would continue spending at the prior year’s levels, which typically means new proposals like Zika funding are shut out.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been active in the vacuum of Congressional leadership.  The FDA has taken steps on protecting the blood supply, supporting potential diagnostic tests, dealing with potential Zika-related fraudulent devices and addressing the mosquitoes that carry the virus.  But as of this writing there are no FDA-approved diagnostic tests, vaccines or treatments in the advanced stages of development.

The CDC has been active in developing resources for state and local health agencies, as well as various stakeholders.  They are assisting the Utah Department of Health in a case of virus transmission, and may assist other states as the number of U.S. cases grows.  The NIAID has been active in researching the virus since before the current outbreak, but started expanding that work in the beginning of 2016.

However, without additional resources (using Ebola funds that have not yet been spent could be counterproductive), the impact of this work will be necessarily limited.  With almost 800 pregnant women with Zika in the United States, perhaps the microcephaly associated with Zika births will motivate Congressional action.  But I’m not optimistic.



So I Guess There Was Some Technology Content At The Republican Convention

Science and technology matters are not top campaign issues, so to have very little discussion of them at the major party conventions is not a big surprise.

However, there was (as I mentioned on Monday) the appearance of retired astronaut Eileen Collins on Wednesday.   She spoke about American space exploration, and reiterated her disagreement with the current U.S. approach to returning humans to space (a view not universally held) without endorsing Mr. Trump.  That Trump has not committed to more space exploration in his public remarks seems beside the point, given how the convention was focused on painting a picture of a country in long decline.

On Thursday there was another speaker who had some connection to technology.  eBay co-founder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel.  Coverage of his remarks focused on Thiel’s comments about being gay, but his background in technology did come through.  He noted the prosperity of Silicon Valley and mentioned problems the government had with some of its technology.  But he offered no proposals.  Again, this strikes me as consistent with a convention more focused on painting a bleak picture of America than providing details about how it would address those problems.

Next week the Democrats will have their turn with the multi-night staged presentation of political theater.  I don’t expect them to be that different from the Republicans in the amount of attention paid to science and technology matters (outside of climate change), but I do hope to hear some policy proposals.  Check in next Friday to see if how cynical I get about it.

Wait Wait Talks With NASA Administrator

7/23 Update – Added the topic of the Not My Job quiz.

The NPR radio program “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” taped in the Washington D.C. area tonight, and the episode will air on NPR stations this weekend.  As occasionally happens when the show is near the capital, the show convinces a senior government official to appear on it’s Not My Job segment, where they are asked questions about things they know nothing about.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is this week’s guest.  The interview (which will likely be edited for broadcast due to length) covered Bolden’s extensive career in the Marines and NASA before spending a lot of time on Mars and the movie The Martian.  Again, it might not be reflected in the final broadcast, but all three of the guest panelists (Roxanne Roberts, Tom Bodett and Paula Poundstone) joined host Peter Sagal in asking questions.  Sadly, I have forgotten the subject of the Not My Job quiz, but we can all hear it this weekend.  (ETA: It’s about Scott Baio, who played Charles in the television show Charles in Charge)

SpaceX Sticks Second Ground Landing, Seeks To Triple The Touchdowns

Over the weekend SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral.  This followed the successful deployment of a Dragon cargo module to the International Space Station and marks the second time the company has landed one of its rockets on land (it’s fifth successful landing overall).  This company has yet to reuse one of these rockets, but that may happen by the end of the year.

SpaceX is planning a test of its Falcon Heavy rocket later this year.  While the first stage of the Falcon Heavy is the same as the first stage of three Falcon 9 rockets joined together, it probably won’t be reusing one of the previously launched rockets in its first test launch.  But it will be trying to land three rockets, if not simultaneously, then pretty close to it.

Let that sink in.  Star Trek’s getting closer every day.  And I’m not just talking about the new film.

Bioethics Commission To Continue Look Back In Next Meeting

The next meeting of the President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will take place August 31 in Philadelphia.  Building off part of the work in its last meeting, the Commission will continue its discussion of the impacts of bioethical advisory bodies, with an eye toward recommendations for future bodies.

While there is no agenda available as yet, the meeting comes after the Commission concluded a request for comment from the public on this topic.  Regrettably, I cannot find the submitted comments online, but I would expect the Commission to discuss them during the August meeting.

As more information becomes available, I’ll post about it.  But given my oversight of the May PCAST meeting, I don’t want to let this one slip through the cracks.