LaboCine, An Online Science Film Magazine, Debuts

LaboCine is an online film magazine from the people behind Imagine Science Films.  The films in each issue come from artists and scientists from around the world.  They are not restricted to documentary films, and mix live-action, animated and computer film styles.

The first issue of LaboCine is now online, so you can view the short films, which are organized around a common theme.  For August the theme is Model Organisms.  The subscription mechanism is not clear from the website.  The language on the about page suggests they will charge for each issue, but the amount is not listed, and other subscription links on the site appear to be for the mailing list (unless that’s separate from the magazine subscription.

Regardless, if you’re looking for a new science video rabbit hole, LaboCine shows promise.

Draft Arctic Research Plan Open For Public Comment

Last week the White House released the draft Arctic Research Plan for 2017-2021.  It’s available for public comment through August 21.  The U.S. Global Change Research Program wants people to sign up online for an account at its website in order to comment.  It also appears that signing up for such an account is the only way to read the draft plan.

There are nine research goals for the plan:

  1. Enhance understanding of health determinants, and support efforts that improve the well-being of Arctic residents;
  2. Advance process and system understanding of the changing Arctic atmospheric composition and dynamics and resulting changes to surface energy budgets;
  3. Enhance understanding and improve predictions of the changing sea-ice cover;
  4. Increase understanding of the structure and function of Arctic marine ecosystems and their role in the climate system, and advance predictive capabilities of regional models;
  5. Understand and project the mass balance of mountain glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet and the consequences for sea level rise;
  6. Advance understanding of processes controlling permafrost dynamics and the impacts on ecosystems, infrastructure, and climate feedbacks;
  7. Advance an integrated, landscape-scale understanding of Arctic terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and the potential for future change;
  8. Strengthen coastal community resilience and advance stewardship of coastal natural and cultural resources by engaging in research related to the connections among people, and natural and built environments; and,
  9. Enhance environmental intelligence gathering, interpretation, and application to provide decision support.

If you’re still not sure whether or not to sign up for an account in order to review and comment on the plan, check out the FAQ page.  It describes how the draft plan differs from the existing plan, and outlines not only the research goals listed above, but the policy drivers for the plan.  Listed below, the drivers are the desired outcomes of the plan, which would be informed by the research goals.

  1. Enhance the well-being of Arctic residents. Knowledge will inform local, state, and national policies to address a range of goals including health, economic opportunity, and the cultural vibrancy of native and other Arctic residents.
  2. Advance stewardship of the Arctic environment. Results will provide the necessary knowledge to understand the functioning of the terrestrial and marine environments, and anticipate globally-driven changes as well as the potential response to local actions.
  3. Strengthen national and regional security. Efforts will include work to improve shorter-term environmental prediction capability and longer-term projections of the future state of the Arctic region to ensure defense and emergency response agencies have skillful forecasts of operational environments, and the tools necessary to operate safely and effectively in the Arctic over the long term.
  4. Improve understanding of the Arctic as a component of planet Earth. Information will recognize the important role of the Arctic in the global system, such as the ways the changing cryosphere impacts sea-level, the global carbon and radiation budgets, and weather systems.

This plan does appear to include more research on socio-economic impacts related to the Arctic.  Once the comments have been submitted, the intention is to submit the plan to the relevant federal agencies in September.  This may seem like a rush, but with the Arctic Science Ministerial scheduled for late September in Washington, D.C., I think it makes sense to have some form of the plan in front of the people likely to attend the Ministerial.

More On The UK Cabinet Reshuffle

Again, UK readers should feel free to move along, as there’s likely nothing you haven’t already read on the latest cabinet postings.

New UK Prime Minister Theresa May continues to appoint members of Parliament to her cabinet.  On Friday I noted the reorganization of the department formerly known as Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the appointment of MP Greg Clark to head the new Department of Business, Energy, and Investment Strategy.  Now we know the fate of the two ministers with responsibilities for science in the previous cabinet of former Prime Minister Cameron.

Jo Johnson has been reappointed to serve as Minister for Universities and Science.  However, the universities portfolio has been shifted from the former BIS to the Department of Education.  So Johnson will answer to two departments.  That’s not unheard of for a junior minister, but apparently it is unusual.  MP George Freeman, who had served as a minister for life sciences, was responsible to ministers at both BIS and the Department of Health.  He is no longer, having been asked by the Prime Minister to head her policy board.  I think this is an entity separate from the Number 10 Policy Unit, but I may be wrong on this point.

It is also worth noting that MP Nicola Blackwood has been named a minister in the Department of Health.  As a result, she will have to step down as chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology.  Hopefully that means at most a pause in the inquiry that committee is conducting on the impact of leaving the European Union on U.K. science and technology.

Party Balloon Industry Has Tanzania To Thank For The Future

Last month it was announced that a large helium reserve had been found in the African country of Tanzania.  Long time readers of the blog may recall that helium management used to be a frequent topic, as the U.S. had legislated itself into a manufactured shortage of the gas.  Helium is a critical element for its ability as a coolant, and the instability in prices and supply over the past several years have prompted some recycling and increased production.

The Tanzania fields were discovered through a new technique that may prove fruitful for further exploration.  Extraction might start as early as 2017, but the volcanoes and disputes over land leases may complicate matters.

No word yet on how the Tanzanian find may influence the operation of the U.S. helium reserve, which is currently slated to close in 2021.  It remains unclear, even with the dramatic rise in prices over the last 15 years, whether the market for helium has priced the gas at a value comparable to its scarcity.  How this new field is developed, and whether or not helium exploration expands, can help answer that question.

Appointment News: UK Cabinet Reshuffle + New Librarian

With Theresa May now officially the U.K. Prime Minister, there have been changes to the government’s cabinet.  This was certainly expected, but the part of this that I still haven’t gotten used to in parliamentary systems is how the departments can change along with whomever is appointed to head those departments.

Most notable of these changes is the reorganization (once again) of what was the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (where much of the science portfolio resided since 2009) to now include much of what was the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  The new name is Department of Business, Energy and Investment Strategy.  MP Greg Clark, who had served as Minister for Universities and Skills from 2014-2015, is the Minister in charge of the new department.  I have seen no word yet about junior ministers in the department, including the fates of Cameron life sciences minister George Freeman and universities minister Jo Johnson.  That information should come soon.

Here in the U.S. the Senate finally confirmed a new Librarian of Congress.  Nominated in February, Dr. Carla Hayden has been the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore since 1993.  She has also served as head of the American Library Association and is the first librarian to hold the job in decades.  Based on Hayden’s work in modernizing the Baltimore library system, I would expect her to focus, at least in part, on doing the same for the Library of Congress.  She will have a 10 year term (recently established in law) to work her magic.

Canadian Science Policy Conference Announces 2017 Date And Location

You may already have plans for the 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), taking place November 8-10 in Ottawa.  Now you can plan for next year’s conference as well.  The organizers recently announced that the 2017 Conference, which will be the 9th such event, will take place November 1-3 in Ottawa.  This would mark the third consecutive year (and fourth overall) the event will take place in Ottawa, and it certainly makes sense that if the conference is to have a permanent home city that it would be the nation’s capital.

2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada, and the CSPC organisers are encouraging those proposing themes and events to keep that in mind.  Themes should be suggested by August 29, and while there is no deadline for submitting events (which would apparently be coordinated with the 2017 CSPC), I would assume the sooner the better.

By point of comparison, here are the themes for the 2016 CSPC (explained in more detail on teh conference website).

  • A New Culture of Policy Making and Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Horizons and Challenges
  • A New Innovation Agenda for Canada: What are we building?
  • Science Funding Review: New Visions and New Directions
  • Clean Energy and Climate Change as Global Priorities: Implications for Canada?
  • Canada’s Return to the International Stage: How Can Science Help Foreign Policy?

Both this year’s and next year’s events should be worthwhile, especially for those interested in broadening their science policy expertise to include the Canadian experience.

Possible Zika Death In Utah; Still No Congressional Support

On Friday the Salt Lake County Health Department held a press conference on a recent death that may be linked to the Zika virus.  The person died in late June, and post-mortem tests confirmed that they were carrying the virus.  However, the person also had a separate health condition and it is unclear to what extent the Zika virus may have contributed to that death.

This would be the first Zika-related death in the continental United States, following a case in Puerto Rico were a man passed from a condition that resulted from antibodies to the Zika virus attacking his platelets.

As of July 6, there have been over 1100 cases of Zika virus infection in the continental United States reported to the Centers for Disease Control.  More than 2500 have been reported in U.S. territories.  By comparison, back in February there were all of 45 cases reported in the entire U.S.  Nearly all of the cases in U.S. territories are locally acquired, while none of the cases – including the person who passed in Utah – in the continental U.S. were locally acquired.  Congress remains unable to pass a funding bill for fighting the virus, which places additional demand on resources currently dedicated to fighting Ebola.  I’m skeptical that a possible fatality related to Zika would move members to act, but would be happy to be proven wrong.