Attention Kids: White House Wants Your Science And Technology Input

At last month’s White House Science Fair, Jacob Leggette, one of the young people who presented their work to President Obama, suggested that the President have a kid science adviser.  President Obama was taken by the suggestion enough to mention in his remarks at the Fair.

Now there’s been some follow up.  While it’s probably not exactly what Jacob had in mind, the White House is seeking input from kid about science, technology, engineering and math.  Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren posted today that the White House wants to hear two things from kids:

What is your favorite thing about science, technology, engineering or math?

What one idea would you pitch the President about to make our country work better using science or technology?

The White House is taking comments until June 17.  No word in the post about how these ideas might be synthesized by the Administration and/or communicated back to the public.

While the post is written for an audience of kid scientists and innovators, I think any kid could (and should) submit his or her ideas.

First Arctic Science Ministerial Will Take Place In Washington This Fall

Last week Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren announced that the United States will host the first Arctic Science Ministerial on September 28, 2016 in Washington, D.C.  Representatives will attend from many countries as well as indigenous groups.

It’s not clear from the announcement which countries and native groups will be participating.  However, the Arctic Council, which the United States is chairing this year, has as its members the Arctic States (the Kingdom of Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, Norway and the United States) and six international groups representing indigenous people in the Arctic States.  I don’t know enough to guess at what other countries and groups might participate.  Perhaps there will be some representation of countries and people affected by Antarctic science.

The White House announcement named four themes for the Ministerial meeting,

  1. Arctic Science Challenges and their Regional and Global Implications.
  2. Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.
  3. Applying Expanded Scientific Understanding of the Arctic to Build Regional Resilience and Shape Global Responses.
  4. Arctic Science as a Vehicle for STEM Education and Citizen Empowerment. 

The overarching goal of the meeting is to expand collaborative efforts in Arctic science, including but not limited to: data sharing, research, monitoring, and observations.  With an increasing interest in the region, this first meeting has the capacity to address how new activities in the Arctic can add to the climatic changes already taking place.

UN Environment Programme Hosting First Science-Policy Forum

The second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is in Nairobi, Kenya from May 23-27.  The UNEA is the biennial meeting of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), and preceding the main assembly UNEP has organized a Science-Policy Forum for May 19-20.  Consistent with the agenda of the UNEA, the focus of the forum will be on the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  Specifically, the presentations will focus on the scientific and other knowledge necessary for informed decision making in support of the Sustainable Development Agenda.

There is a draft agenda available that lists some more specific desired outcomes for the event:

  • Better understanding of the Science-Policy Interface
  • Proposed actions for strengthening the Science-Policy Interface
  • Strengthened partnerships between the science community and UNEP
  • Policy-relevant assessment findings provided by the science community to policymakers
  • Increased focus on the importance of data for reporting against the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Increased networking among scientific organisations
  • Awareness raising of the science behind emerging environmental issues
  • Identification of frontier issues for UNEP 2017 Frontiers Report

Save for a keynote session, the first day will have tracks covering various development-relevant sectors of science.  The second day presentations are focused on identifying challenges and other items for inclusion in the Frontiers Report.  Sir Peter Gluckman, Chair of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), will give a keynote and be part of a panel including several current or former governmental officials involved in science advise and/or the environment and science and environment writer Andy Revkin.


National Academy Of Science Getting Popular With Its Public Welfare Medal

On Sunday, during its 153rd Annual meeting, the National Academy of Sciences will present several awards.  Among them is the Public Welfare Medal, which honors ‘extraordinary use of science for the public good.’

This year the Academy is awarding the medal to Alan Alda.  The actor has a long history of working with science and scientists, dating back to at least his stint hosting Scientific American Frontiers from 1993-2005.  Besides hosting that program, which ran on PBS, he has hosted other science programs, and performed and wrote scientifically themed plays.  He is the face of The Flame Challenge, which tests the ability of scientists to communicate concepts to young kids.  In what spare time he has Alda is Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at the Stony Brook University.

This marks the second year in a row the Public Welfare Medal has recognized the work of someone engaged in public science.  Last year Neil deGrasse Tyson was recognized for his work in science education and science entertainment.  That the award came the year after Tyson hosted the 2014 edition of COSMOS is not likely a coincidence.  Especially since Carl Sagan, who hosted the 1980 edition, also received the Public Welfare Medal (but not until 1994).

Two data points do not make a trend, and with only three recipients in 102 years having this kind of connection to popular culture, I don’t expect to see the MythBusters recognized with the Public Welfare Medal any time soon.  (Besides, such recognition would make more sense coming from the National Academy of Engineering, which doesn’t have a comparable medal.)

Congratulations to Alan Alda, who could make a lovely acceptance speech on Sunday.  Until *that* video becomes available, you can watch Tyson’s acceptance speech from 2015.

Bioethics Commission Looking Retrospectively In Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Commission) will be in Washington, D.C. on May 3.  There is one more Commission meeting scheduled after the May meeting, and that may be the last Commission meeting before it finishes its work (and President Obama leaves office).

I base that in part on this Federal Register notice the Commission released last month (which states the Commission has two more meetings) and on the agenda for the May 5th meeting.  That agenda is focused on the past, present and future influence of national bioethics advisory bodies.  The Commission will discuss the topic with several academics and the head of the Commission’s Mexican counterpart, CONBIOÉTICA.

The Commission is also interested in input from you.  The Federal Register notice the Commission released last month was a request for comments on:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of different models for national bioethics advisory bodies, e.g., standing or temporary, narrowly or broadly focused (examining one topic or issue or a variety of issues);
  • The lessons we can learn from national bodies in other countries to inform how U.S. bodies might work;
  • The influence of national bioethics bodies on bioethics as a field; other academic fields, such as science, medicine, and technology; and public policy;
  • The future of national bioethics advisory groups in the United States.

Comments must be received by July 1.

Presumably the Commission is consulting with the International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA), I certainly think that INGSA would be interested in the comments and any reports or other documents to come from them and the meeting on May 5th.

At Least One Participant In The White House Science Fair Was Thinking Science Policy

The White House Science Fair is as much about science and technology policy as it is about celebrating how our young people explore science and technology.  For instance, at this year’s fair the President noted some developments in supporting computer science education, and there were other announcements from the White House on education in all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  They include new government initiatives, pledges from private companies, and reports on the progress of several initiatives in many different agencies (not just the Education Department) to encourage more STEM learning.  (Even more details on these announcements and progress reports are available from the White House.)

While the White House was thinking about science and technology policy when organizing the White House Science Fair, the participants weren’t necessarily so inclined.  Certainly if the project being presented related to specific problems like making vaccination easier, the people may be thinking about policy.  But that isn’t likely to be everyone participating in the fair.

Then there’s Jacob Leggette.  He’s a nine-year old boy in the Baltimore area who has been interested in programming and making for longer than he can remember.  At the Fair he presented several of the toys and items he has designed and built with the help of a 3-D printer.  (He negotiated a printer in exchange for product reviews, further demonstrating his drive and imagination.)

So, while describing his work to the President, Legette asked if he had a child science adviser.  The idea stuck with the President to the point that he brought it up during his remarks later in the fair.  He said that

“[W]e should have a kid’s advisory group that starts explaining to us what’s interesting to them and what’s working, and could help us shape advances in STEM education.  Anyway, that was Jacob’s idea.  So way to go, Jacob.  We’re going to follow up on that.”

This idea certainly has merit, and I hope it gets the follow up that the President promised.  It would be great if Jacob had an opportunity to participate in such a group, but even if he doesn’t, kudos to Jacob for always taking advantage of the opportunities he’s made for himself.

PCAST Meeting Covers Indicators, Health And Cancer

Earlier today the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held a public meeting in Washington.  As is the recent custom, it was a half-day morning meeting on a Friday.  Also as custom, a webcast was made and the archive will be available within a few days.

The meeting began with a presentation on the latest edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, published every other year by the National Science Board.  The Board has continued to update the way the Indicators are presented, with the website for the 2016 edition demonstrating additional means of diving into report data, including state indicators and a digest.

The later presentations were about health.  The first of those focused on the One Health program, supported in the U.S. out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It is a global effort focused on disease processes in both animal health and human health and how they both relate to the health of the environment.  The other health presentation in the meeting concerned the frontiers of cancer research.  This was certainly influenced by the recent effort by the Obama Administration to address roadblocks in cancer research.

While no official announcement or Federal Register notice is out, I would expect the next PCAST meeting to take place in May, possibly early June.