White House Festival Sprinkles In Some Science And Tech

The Obama Administration will host a South by South Lawn festival at the White House on Monday, October 3.  Meant to evoke the South by Southwest festival (which the President attended this year), South by South Lawn will include the winners of the latest White House Film Festival, musical performances, art displays and other interactive exhibits.

But from the marquee discussion with Leonardo DiCaprio throughout the festival, science and technology are part of the event.  DiCaprio will speak with the President and climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe before the domestic premiere of Before the Flood, a climate change documentary produced by DiCaprio (among others), who also appears in the film.

Aside from the conversation and film premiere, there are several sessions in the afternoon that at least brush up against innovation, science and/or technology.  Along with the interactive exhibits, attendees can learn more about the Cancer Moonshot, design for everyone, addressing food (in)security and using technology and innovation to address societal problems.

The event will be streamed through Facebook and the websites of the White House and South by Southwest.

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Scientists And Engineers Part Of Latest MacArthur ‘Genius’ Class

The MacArthur Foundation announced its latest class of fellows.  The so-called ‘genius grants’ provide 5 years of no-strings-attached funding to encourage the fellows to pursue the creative work that attracted the Foundation’s attention in the first place.

There are 23 fellows in this year’s group and eight of them work in scientific and/or technical fields.  Those eight are:

  • Daryl Baldwin, a linguist and cultural preservationist working to restore the culture of the Maayami (Miami) people to their descendants.
  • Subhash Khot, a theoretical computer scientist working on problems of optimization and approximation in computational complexity
  • Dianne Newman, a microbiologist studying the metabolic processes of ancient microbes
  • Victoria Orphan, a geobiologist exploring the microbial communities in extreme environments and their influence on the oceans
  • Manu Prakash, a physical biologist exploring how organisms work from a physics perspective and an inventor of low cost research tools suitable for fieldwork
  • Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a bioengineer working on diagnostic technologies that can be used in low resource settings
  • Bill Thies, a computer scientist helping create communications and information technologies for use in low-income communities of the developing world.
  • JIn-Quan Yu, a synthetic chemist pioneering new techniques for breaking inert hydrogen-carbon bonds (a critical step in creating many complex compounds

White House Seeking Stories For This Year’s Manufacturing Day

The first Friday of every October is Manufacturing Day in the United States.  The 2016 edition takes place on October 7.  Co-produced by manufacturing organizations and the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Manufacturing Day is intended to publicize manufacturing in the country and help people better understand the state of manufacturing in the country.

The Obama Administration is looking to publicize Manufacturing Day with stories and incentives to establish and/or strengthen connections between manufacturers, makers, and educators.  They are looking for stories, but they have to be submitted by tomorrow, September 16.  I suspect the input will help the Administration create the list of government and private sector commitments they like to announce with some of their big science and technology events.  Think of it as a science and technology flavored use of the ‘bully pulpit’ of the Presidency.

If you’re interested in participating in Manufacturing Day activities (which are not limited to October 7), consult the event listings on the Manufacturing Day website.

White House Frontiers Conference To Look Forward And Back

On October 13, President Obama will travel to Pittsburgh for the White House Frontiers Conference.  Co-hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University the event is intended to “explore the future of innovation here and around the world” and focus on building the nation’s capacity in science, technology and innovation.

Frontiers as defined by the conference are quite broad, broken out into personal, local, national, global and interplanetary frontiers.  Some of the attendees will be taken from a list of those nominated by the public.

Given how close we are to the election and the transfer of power to a new administration, it’s unclear to me what initiatives, if any, we might expect from this event.  Certainly there will be mention of the Administration’s innovation work to date, and there will likely be announcements of new innovation commitments by federal agencies and private organizations.  Having another conversation about innovation has some value, certainly.  But without linkage to future action, how valuable will the conversation be?

Cancer Moonshot Experts Submit Recommendations

Today the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel submitted its report to the National Cancer Advisory Board (H/T The Guardian).  Appointed in April, the panel was tasked with providing recommendations on how to best advance the broad goals of the Cancer Moonshot, which is focused on improving detection, treatment and prevention of cancer.  Specifically, the Moonshot is focused on better using the existing resources of public and private entities involved in cancer research and treatment to make it accelerate advances against the various forms of the disease.

The panel divided the topic into seven broad topics, and there are recommendations in the report from each area.  They are:

  • Clinical Trials
  • Enhanced Data Sharing
  • Cancer Immunology
  • Implementation Science
  • Pediatric Cancer
  • Precision Prevention and Early Detection
  • Tumor Evolution and Progression

Where practical, some recommendations were merged into the final draft.  A common theme in many of the recommendations was the sharing of information and the increasing of communication between parties that aren’t currently doing so.  Another common theme was the development of promising research resources as well as specific therapies and/or technologies.  The recommendations (consult the report for additional details) are:

  • Network for Direct Patient Engagement
  • Cancer Immnotherapy Clinical Trials Network
  • Therapeutic Target Identification to Overcome Drug Resistance
  • A National Cancer Data Ecosystem for Sharing and Analysis
  • Fusion Oncoproteins in Childhood Cancers
  • Symptom Management Research
  • Prevention and Early Detection: Implementation of Evidence-Based Approaches
  • Retrospective Analysis of Biospecimens from Patients Treated with Standard of Care
  • Generation of Human Tumor Atlases
  • Development of New Enabling Cancer Technologies
The panel also identified some policy issues that will pose challenges to implementing the recommendations.  The issues aren’t part of their report, but they have been forwarded to the Vice President’s task force and other relevant entities.  Those policy issues aren’t discussed in detail in the report (you can find some discussion of them in the recommendations), but are:
  • Coverage and reimbursement
  • Privacy and consent with regard to patient data
  • Fragmentation of the delivery of patient care in the community
  • The need to improve the clinical trials system
  • Incentives to encourage pediatric drug development
  • New federal research funding models
  • Barriers to data sharing
Critical to all of these issues and recommendations is funding for the Cancer Moonshot.  But that may not come.  As ScienceInsider reports, neither the House nor the Senate appropriations legislation contains anything resembling the $680 million requested by the Obama Administration to support the Moonshot.  Depending on how this year’s kabuki theater/budget brinksmanship unfolds, there may be a new President by the time Congress has fully funded the government for the 2017 Fiscal Year (which starts this October 1).
While developed by cancer experts, the recommendations are presented in a way that should be accessible for all audiences, even the lay public that does not have direct or indirect (through family or friends) experience with the disease.  I’d encourage other report-generating bodies to copy that style when practical for their own work.
The National Cancer Institute has more material on the report and the panel at its website, including videos for each of the recommendations.

Next PCAST Meeting Not Just About Forensic Science

The next scheduled meeting of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) will be on September 30 from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. Eastern in Washington.  No official draft agenda has been released, but the Federal Register notice announcing the meeting offers some details.  As usual, there will be a webcast and it will be archived shortly after the meeting.  Online registration is open for those intending to attend in person.

PCAST also held a conference call this week, specifically to vote on pending reports on forensic science and biodefense.  The forensic report has caused a stir, in part because a Wall Street Journal reporter has written an article (possibly behind a paywall, or at least made really hard to read) based on a review of a draft report.  The article suggests that the PCAST report will come to conclusions comparable to those reached by a National Academies study back in 2009 that called into question the strength of the underlying research supporting many forensic science techniques.  So the news is likely not that this is a new problem, but that it is still a challenge.  The federal government has been working on building the research base, and continued concerns prompted PCAST to start its work on the report in late 2015.

But there are other items that PCAST will discuss on September 30th.  Besides the forensic science report, the Council will consider reports on biodefense and water science and technology.  Also scheduled for the meeting are sessions from experts on data and justice, as well as agriculture preparedness and soil sciences.  Once details on exactly who these experts are is made available, I might be able to provide context for why PCAST is hearing from them.

You Know You Want To Tell NSF About Its Strategic Plan

Every few years most agencies revise the agency’s strategic plan.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) is preparing for the next revision of its strategic plan, which will take place in the 2017-2018 timeframe.  The feedback mechanism is relatively informal, and comments are requested by September 27.

The strategic plan is a high-level document, and the next one will cover 2018-2022.  The plan includes Strategic Goals (along with the Objectives for achieving each goal), Core Values and overall Vision for the agency.  There are other items in the plan, but it is for these four elements that the NSF seeks feedback.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d recommend the NSF Vision:

A Nation that creates and exploits new concepts in science and engineering and provides
global leadership in research and education.
I’d argue that’s a vision for the nation rather than for the agency (which isn’t the only science agency), but you may have different concerns about the Vision and the other elements of the Plan intended to make such a vision a reality.  Perhaps you have questions that you don’t think the Plan addresses (What value do you bring to the public?  How do your core values translate to the public?).  Bring those items to the Foundation’s attention.

This FYI post from the American Institute of Physics has more details on how and when the NSF (with the National Science Board) will develop the new plan.  There will be additional opportunities for agency staff, Congress, and traditional stakeholders to provide input.  However, this appears to be the one time that the public has an opportunity to weigh in.  Make it count.