President Obama recognized the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier today in a ceremony at the White House. It’s the highest civilian honor a president can bestow for services to the country, and this year’s group include two people recognized for their contributions to science or science policy.
Katherine Johnson is a mathematician whose work for the government included service at NASA and its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Her 33 year career at both agencies included calculations critical to every human spaceflight program from Mercury through the Space Shuttle. As one of the first African American women who worked for NACA and NASA, Johnson has also worked hard to encourage other women and minorities to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Also recognized this week is William Ruckelshaus, a two-time Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He was the first to head the agency, serving from 1970-1973 under President Nixon. Ruckelshaus instituted the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT. He returned to the agency as President Reagan’s second EPA Administrator from 1983-1985. Ruckelshaus also served as Deputy Attorney General and Acting FBI Director during the Nixon Administration, and was involved in environmental protection matters during the 1960s in Indiana. Now living in Washington state, Ruckelshaus has kept active in local and national ocean and environmental matters, being appointed to various panels by both President Clinton and President George W. Bush.
Congratulations to both Ruckelshaus and Williams, and the other medal recipients.
Back in July the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced that it would be leading an interagency effort to review and update the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (Framework). Part of the effort would include soliciting public input on both updates to the Framework and the development of a long-term strategy for dealing with emerging biotechnologies.
Last week the OSTP published a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register seeking that public input. The submission deadline is 5 pm Eastern time, November 13.
Here are the questions listed in the RFI (the product areas and agency roles are summarized in the RFI and available in the Background section of the memorandum sent to agencies on this effort):
- What additional clarification could be provided regarding which biotechnology product areas are within the statutory authority and responsibility of each agency?
- What additional clarification could be provided regarding the roles that each agency plays for different biotechnology product areas, particularly for those product areas that fall within the responsibility of multiple agencies, and how those roles relate to each other in the course of a regulatory assessment?
- How can Federal agencies improve their communication to consumers, industry, and other stakeholders regarding the authorities, practices, and bases for decision-making used to ensure the safety of the products of biotechnology?
- Are there relevant data and information, including case studies, that can inform the update to the CF [Coordinated Framework] or the development of the long-term strategy regarding how to improve the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulatory system for the products of biotechnology?
- Are there specific issues that should be addressed in the update of the CF or in the long-term strategy in order to increase the transparency, coordination, predictability, and efficiency of the regulatory system for the products of biotechnology?
While submissions can be submitted by regular mail, electronic submission is preferred. Please see the Federal Register notice for additional information.
Big Blue Live is a co-production of BBC Worldwide and PBS that will air in the UK starting next Sunday, and in the U.S. starting August 31. The live broadcasts will focus on the Monterey Bay area and the aquatic life that usually travels through the region at this time of the year. As befits a live event in this era, there will be opportunities to watch online and comment on the action via social media. But with the staggered broadcast schedules (the event will end in the UK the night before it starts in the US), it won’t be quite as global as it could be.
The Monterey Bay is part of the eponymous National Marine Sanctuary, so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be part of the program, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Parts of the program will air live from the deck of a NOAA research vessel as well as the aquarium.
Big Blue Live will air in the UK on August 23, 27 and 30. In the U.S. it will air August 31-September 2, with live feeds for both the East and West coasts.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has produced three national climate assessments since 2000. The program is also developing a sustained assessment process to provide a more robust climate change information source. It would inform both the quadrennial assessments and other elements of the USGCRP.
To assist in that end, there will be an Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has chartered the Committee, and will forward its work to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Committee would provide advice on the engagement of stakeholders and on sustained assessment activities and the quadrennial National Climate Assessment report.
NOAA is seeking nominations for the committee, which will close on September 14. The call for nominations says that the committee should have people with the following areas of expertise:
- Communications, engagement, and education;
- Risk management and risk assessment;
- Economics and social sciences;
- Technology, tools, and data systems; and
- Climate change and variability, including impacts and societal responses
Individuals can self-nominate or nominate another individual. An application package is required, which includes the individuals contact information, institutional affiliation, area of expertise, short description of qualifications and a résumé (no longer than four pages). Consult the call for nominations for how to submit this information.
The Dean Kamen documentary Slingshot, which features his Slingshot water purification system, was officially released earlier this month with screenings in Los Angeles and New York City. The film continues to make the festival circuit, with screenings in Philadelphia today and Santa Fe next week.
It’s worth noting that while Kamen’s target markets for the Slingshot device are in the developing world, the drought in the Western United States may generate additional demand for the Slingshot. The water conservation tips on the film’s website are worth following, and perhaps some enterprising (or desperate) local government may try to address its water troubles through judicious use of technology like the Slingshot.
And if you’ve heard of some city or county already doing this, let me know!
While I find the timing suspect, on Thursday John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), announced (along with other senior White House staff) the Administration will be reviewing the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, the policy that designates agency responsibilities for overseeing the introduction of biotechnology products into the environment (H/T Grist). First developed in 1986, the last revision was in 1992. So, clearly overdue.
Holdren’s announcement accompanied a memorandum to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It (along with Holdren’s blog post) outlines the elements of the review process:
- Updating the Common Framework (with public input) to clarify the biotechnology product areas (not processes) for which each agency will be responsible. This will include how to handle situations where more than one agency may be responsible.
- Developing a long-term strategy (with public input) to ensure that the Federal regulatory process will be better prepared for emerging biotechnologies. This would include horizon scanning exercises and additional support of so-called ‘regulatory science.’
- An independent examination of the future landscape of biotechnology. The National Academies have already been engaged to start this analysis.
This all sounds great, but there are some aspects of this that give me pause. First, the announcement comes the afternoon before the July Fourth holiday weekend. It screams news dump – an effort to ensure that very few people become aware of the effort.
Additionally, while the revisions and the strategy will involve public input, Holdren asks for people interested in additional information to register. If this wasn’t already part of an announcement that seems timed to minimize public reception, I might not think much of it. But I can see the Administration limiting its subsequent publicity on this project to the people who register. If they are going to try and hold listening sessions around the country (the first one will take place this fall), I think they should spread their message far and wide.
Finally, I guess I’m still a bit chagrined from other efforts to revise (or develop) regulations related to science and technology research. The effort to revise the Common Rule related to human subjects research stalled out after a big public comment push in 2011. And it still seems as though the push on scientific integrity policies has failed mainly from a lack of coordinated follow-through from the OSTP.
I’d love to see this not happen with the revisions to the Coordinated Framework, but I’m not optimistic – especially with roughly 18 months to go with this Administration.
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.