A Radio Program of Note: Rocketing Ahead

Running errands this afternoon I managed to hear bits and pieces of Rocketing Ahead, which may be running on your local public radio stations.  It focuses on the period of the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States, and how early space exploration efforts don’t meet common understandings of the period (amongst them the idea the Sputnik was not nearly the surprise it’s considered to be).  It also examines the increasingly closer interactions of scientists and politicians in the post-World War II period.  The piece makes the claim – and I think supports it well – that this period had significant impacts on the university in the United States, both for good and for ill.

Those in the Washington, D.C. area can check it out next Sunday morning at 6 (good luck with that).  The program is apparently cycling around various public radio stations, so if you’ve heard it already, please chime in.  Podcasts are supposed to be up at this website in mid-March.  I do recommend you come back then and give it a listen.

Keeping Commericalization Close to the Vest?

For some reason, there’s been very little released about the research commercialization conference held on February 24th at the National Academies.  Called “Catalyzing University Research for a Stronger Economy” it was hosted by the Department of Commerce and its Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  However, all I can spot of the event is a transcript of Commerce Secretary Locke’s prepared remarks.  Do not confuse this conference with a National Academies workshop on innovation clusters.  While Secretary Locke was at that event, as his remarks there indicate, it is a separate event.  At least for that event, you can review the Flickr stream to see who spoke.  We still don’t know that about the other event.

Cutting Infections by Cutting Antibiotics

This week in Popularly Counterintuitive comes from this report by Curious Cat.  Norway has, over the last couple of decades, aggressively fought infections in its health facilities.  Part of its strategy has been a strict reduction in the prescription and use of antibiotics.  As a result of this and other measures, Norway is the most infection-free country in the world.  Since the U.S. now has seen signs of drug-resistant tuberculosis, in addition to the spread of drug-resistant staph (MRSA), it could use some help.

The plan is relatively straightforward, and there are signs it could be replicated quite effectively.

• Norwegian doctors prescribe fewer antibiotics than any other country, so people do not have a chance to develop resistance to them.

• Patients with MRSA are isolated and medical staff who test positive stay home.

• Doctors track each case of MRSA by its individual strain, interviewing patients about where they’ve been and who they’ve been with, testing anyone who has been in contact with them.

Veterans’ Administration hospitals saw a fifty percent reduction in MRSA infections after instituting a screening procedure.  The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. have developed guidelines for infection reduction, but they lack the power to enforce them.  Hospitals are no doubt interested in reducing infections, but have to deal with demands from patients for antibiotics that make them feel better psychologically, even if it does nothing for them medically.  A little government regulation here might help.

So, How Do You Monitor For Tsunamis?

Appropriate to the devastating earthquake that struck off the Chilean cost (and the aftershocks in the area) it makes sense to highlight the tsunami monitoring network that was able to warn folks across the Pacific of the potential heavy waves coming their way.

For the U.S., the place to start is the tsunami section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.  NOAA administers two tsunami warning centers, one in Alaska and one in Hawaii. The Hawaii facility also serves as an international tsunami warning center.  Detecting the waves falls to tsunami buoys, earthquake detection tools and tide tables.  The network of buoys was expanded following the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, with thirty-nine currently deployed in the Pacific.  Similar networks monitor the U.S. Caribbean and Atlantic coasts.

There is also a Chilean project for tsunami monitoring.  As you can imagine, trying to access those websites right now isn’t possible.

Italian Google Case May Open Warehouse of Unintended Consequences

Recently an Italian court convicted three senior Google officials for violations of Italian privacy laws.  The officials were given six-month suspended sentences for not acting fast enough to remove video of an Italian boy being harassed.  The ruling is subject to clarification and appeal, which Google will pursue.

Let me reiterate an important part of the case.  Google removed the actionable video, just not fast enough for the Italian authorities.  Now fast enough is subject to interpretation.  The video was up for two months until Italian police requested Google remove it.  The company did so within two hours of the request.  However, because the company gained financially through the use of that content to generate advertising revenue (something done with no direct human interaction) Italian prosecutors argued that the company benefited materially from the content and was responsible under Italian law.

This ruling effectively makes Google responsible for monitoring all of the content uploaded to its services in Italy.  As over 20 hours of video are uploaded every day, it will be a serious undertaking.  Should other countries follow this lead, the services provided by Google would be effectively crippled.  They may well be crippled in Italy.

Continue reading

“The Poetry of Reality” From the Symphony of Science

The latest piece from The Symphony of Science came out yesterday (H/T Bad Astronomy).  I’ve noted some of their earlier work, which is been a bit trippier than this latest effort, “The Poetry of Reality” (but only a bit).

While even Kanye West would tell the Symphony to step away from the Auto-Tune, their work does try and communicate science-positive messages in their tunes.  Whether it has any influence on people who don’t know Carl Sagan from Carl Carlson of Simpsons fame is an open question.

Scientific Integrity Memo – Still Missing

Last fall I asked what was going on with the scientific integrity recommendations that President Obama requested from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  This was the lesser known executive action on science early in the Obama Administration.  Everyone was talking about the stem cell directive.  As of my post last November, the recommendations were overdue by at least two months.

Apparently they’re still not ready, as was revealed in a Congressional hearing by OSTP Director John Holdren (H/T ScienceInsider).  I can’t disagree with Holdren’s claim that preparing the recommendations has been difficult, especially trying to get those recommendations acceptable and applicable across all federal agencies.  (I’ve been on the sidelines of an interagency review for a minor data sharing agreement, and that was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.)  I’d rather see a well-developed document/law/regulation come late than something not well thought out due to deadline pressure.

What I can fault Dr. Holdren for is not being out in front of this.  When other government initiatives in this Administration were delayed, there was an effort to acknowledge the delay, apologize for it, and move on until the document was ready.  These efforts served as a reminder that while things weren’t coming through on time, they were still being worked on and taken seriously.  Given the absence of communication on the scientific integrity recommendations, it’s not hard to see why people would think the initiative wasn’t being taken seriously.  It’s also not hard to see why members of Congress would take advantage of the messaging failure to make all sorts of claims that look all the better for OSTP being unprepared.

Continue reading