Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of September 30

A few repeats this week, and one of them involves Buzz Aldrin.  You can re-watch the second man on the moon talk with Carson Daly really late on Wednesday.

Sandra Bullock continues the promotional push for Gravity, which premieres in the U.S. on Friday.  She’ll visit with Jon Stewart Wednesday night, and talk with Kelly and Michael the next morning.  (It should be noted that George Clooney is in the movie, but not part of the promotional blitz.)

In totally new programs this week, we start with Craig Ferguson.  Simon Helberg, who plays an engineer on The Big Bang Theory visits tonight (Monday).  It’s also possible that Craig will mention in his monologues any Nobel laureates announced this week.  I don’t know how much the science of Breaking Bad will be discussed, but creator Vince Gilligan will visit with Stephen Colbert on Monday night.  On Tuesday attention shifts to another frequent guest on these posts, The Daily Show.  Author David Mitchell appears.  He recently helped translate the memoir of a 13-year-old autistic boy.  The book provides insights into autism not readily available.

I have to conclude with some items I missed the first time around.  Astronomer Mario Livio was a late addition to The Daily Show on September 4.  He was promoting his book on how sometimes scientific errors can be very beneficial.  On September 12, The Daily Show had a segment on Monsanto Corporation’s efforts to enforce its seed patents.  Aasif Mandvi was the correspondent standing up for…well you just have to watch the piece.

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SpaceX No Longer Unique, And In A Good Way

Earlier today the Cygnus craft docked with the International Space Station (ISS).  The craft may appear to be ordinary, see for yourself:

The novelty here is that Cygnus was created, launched and managed entirely by Orbital Sciences, marking the second private company to successfully link a craft to the ISS. SpaceX docked one of its craft with the ISS in May of 2012, and completed its third flight to ISS in March.

Cygnus demonstrates that such efforts can be done with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology.  Five years after NASA signed agreements with Orbital and SpaceX to resupply the ISS, both companies have succeeded.  The next step is to be able to do this often enough that I won’t bother to post about it.

SpaceX is not resting on its laurels, and conducted a demonstration flight today with an updated version of its Falcon 9 spacecraft.  Part of the payoad was a Canadian space weather satellite.  Nice to see some healthy competition in commercial space.

Antibiotic Resistance Not Just A Probem Of Excess Demand

When I’ve posted about trends in antibiotic resistant bugs, it’s usually to join the chorus who argue that antibiotics are overused.  But this item from Gregory Daniel at the Brookings Institution helped remind me that matters of antibiotic demand are not the only economic forces at play.

Daniels uses a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report on antibiotic resistance to outline several proposals for addressing the challenges facing antibiotic drug development.  The CDC report identifies 18 different bacteria that pose varying levels of threat due to their resistance to certain antibiotics.   Daniels focuses on two major thrusts – adjustments to the drug development process and changes in the business model.  Both were addressed during a February 2013 Brookings workshop on the topic.  The first is familiar to many who have followed drug development policy, and the second was new to me.

But, frankly, I should have seen it.  I’ve noted at length about how production capacity for a variety of minerals, drugs and elements dried up over the last few decades.  Similar forces appear to have been at play for antibiotics.  Whether swayed by excessive development costs, or what was falsely seen as a limitless future for certain antibiotics, I don’t know.  But we have yet another item that we are ill-equipped to manage when it comes time to either make more, or make a necessary substitute.  Advances in technology have, perhaps perversely, made us worse in certain respects, about managing resources (or at least their supply chains).

Attention Science Spielbergs – Contests For You

Two video contests are coming around for their latest competitions.

FASEB – the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology – has announced its second Stand Up for Science video competition.  The window for submissions opens October 1 and closes November 30.  Videos should be between 1 and 4 minutes and target the general public.  The subject of the video should be one of five science agencies and answer three of a list of questions about that agency.  In February FASEB will announce the winner, who will receive $5,000.  Here’s the winning video from the first competition, which focused on a more general theme.

As I’ve mentioned earlier (if inaccurately), the USA Science and Engineering Festival also supports the Kavli Science Video Contest. This year’s competition runs from November 1 to March 30th, and is for students in grades 6 through 12.  Videos need to be between 30 and 90 seconds and focus on science in fiction.  The entry should examine an aspect of science portrayed in TV, films and games and either compare it to existing science, or determine what discoveries are needed in order to realize whatever was imagined.  Top prize is $2000, and all winners will be recognized at the Festival Expo in April 2014.

We Are All Driftists Now – Science Rap Battle

Brahe’s B.A.T.T.L.E.S. strikes again this week, focused on the (now-settled) controversy over continental drift. You can catch up on the science via Tom McFadden’s website, but the video gets you most of the way there.

What was new to me was Alfred Wegener’s background as a meteorologist.  Clearly the advent of the television weatherman was not the first time the field had respect issues.

And yes, that is the voice of The Science Guy, Bill Nye, in parts of the video (Big ups indeed).  As always, you can keep track of the project via Tom’s website.

Geniuses Young and Old Emerge This Week

This week brings announcements from two science fairs and the still unofficially named ‘genius’ grants.

On Saturday the 30 Broadcom MASTERS science and engineering competition will take place in WashingtonThe 30 finalists are sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the United States.  There will be roughly $60,000 in prizes awarded in various categories, including a $25,000 grand prize.

The Google Science Fair announced its 2013 winners Monday night (although the Science in Action Award winner was recognized earlier this year).  The fair is open to individuals and teams ages 13-18.  There was a big awards gala, which you can view below.

The age category winners are:

13-14 – Viney Kumar of Australia, for a method to improve signalling to emergency response vehicles

15-16 – Ann Makosinski of Canada, for a flashlight that runs on body heat

17-18 – Eric Chen of the United States, for discovering new flu inhibitors that could be used in vaccines.

Chen is also the Grand Prize winner.  The Voter’s Choice Award went to Elif Bilgin of Turkey, who also won the Science in Action Award for her helping develop bioplastic from banana peels.

Finally, on to the older set being recognized this week.  The MacArthur Foundation announced the recipients of its 2013 class of Fellows.  These people are considered recipients of ‘genius’ grants, five year stipends of $625,000 (recently increased from $500,000) that have no strings attached.  Of these year’s class of 24, fourteen of the Fellows are working in some field of science and/or technology.  The grants are intended to encourage additional creative work in their fields.

Science Committee Gets In On Open Access Legislative Dance

Last Thursday Representatives James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin) and Eddie Berniece Johnson (Texas) introduced the Public Access to Public Science Act, H.R. 3157.  They are both members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the bill was referred to that committee for review.  Like every other public access bill I’ve followed for the last several years, I expect to go nowhere.

The bill is mostly an update of the legislation introduced earlier in the year in both the House and Senate.  But the major difference is that the bill attempts to put in place much of the guidance in the Policy Memo released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in February.  Unlike the Policy Memo, but like the CHORUS plan advanced by scholarly publishers, H.R. 3157 focuses primarily on research publications.  While there are references to metadata and supplementary information, the bill reads to me as focused on research articles rather than research data.

Another important distinction in this new bill is that it’s narrower in scope compared to other legislation.  The standard has been to require public access policies from any agency with at least $100 million in annual research and development spending.  The new bill covers only the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Science and Technology, the National Weather Service and NASA.  I suspect this is an effort to make sure that only the science committees in each house of Congress approve the bill prior to passage.  Given the track record of public access legislation and the current legislative calendar, it feels to me like an empty gesture.

As I promised for the other open access bills introduced in this Congress, as hearings are scheduled, I will post about them here.  You may notice I haven’t made any posts about hearings this year.