Petitions And GMO Labeling – Waiting For The FDA

One of the petition responses released this summer from the Obama Administration concerned the mandatory labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  I want to emphasize the mandatory part of the last sentence, as the Administration’s response emphasized the voluntary labeling that presently exists.

The Administration’s response also deferred to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is presently considering two petitions about mandatory labeling for food containing GMOs.  As best as I can tell, no final decision has been made in the 10 weeks since the Administration released its petition response in late July.

The Administration also deferred to the FDA and other agencies concerning the ongoing effort to update federal regulations on biotechnology.  As I posted in July, that process has just started, so the Administration’s response, while seemingly supportive of the concerns over making sure consumers know what food is produced without GMOs, the policy actions have not (yet) supported that sentiment.

Friday is Manufacturing Day

October 2 marks the fourth annual MFG Day (or Manufacturing Day).  Started in 2012 by a collection of industry and government bodies involved in manufacturing, MFG Day is a way for manufacturing companies to promote what they do, what jobs are available, and the need for people to join the skilled trades that makes up a large percentage of these jobs.

This year one of the organizers, the Science Channel, has been promoting the day pretty heavily with spots during its programming.  They have scheduled a marathon of How It’s Madea program that shows the manufacturing involved in a number of different things, for Friday.  2015 apparently is the 10th anniversary of the program airing on the Science Channel (it is a Canadian production), as the first episode dates to 2001.  I’m hard-pressed to come up with a program more apt to use in cross-promotion with MFG Day.

If you are interested in participating in MFG Day, check the website to see what you might participate in near where you live.

New Australian PM Leads To New Australian Science Minister

The recent Liberal Party reshuffle in Australia produced a new Prime Minister, and PM Malcolm Turnbull has since announced his cabinet ministers.

Among them is MP Christopher Pyne, who leaves his education portfolio to become Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.  Pyne takes over for Ian Macfarlane, who no longer has a ministerial position.  Pyne has been involved with Australian science policy through his participation in the Commonwealth Science Council.  He remains Leader of the House in the Australian Parliament.  This is the government minister that runs how the government (the executive branch) manages its business in the legislature.  (For those in parliamentary systems, pardon the pedantism.)

Pyne’s training is not in science or engineering – not a particular surprise for a position like this.  He’s been in Parliament for 22 years, and between that tenure and his current legislative position, he stands in a good place to insert science policy into the legislative agenda.

Whether he will is unclear to me.  As the recently departed Yogi Berra has said, you can observe a lot by watching.

Next PCAST Meeting Needs You To Lend An Ear

The next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will hold its public session next Friday, September 18, in Washington.  The meeting will run from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time.  As is customary, there will be a live webcast that you will be able to watch if you can’t catch it live.

Per the current agenda, the public session will focus on at least one study in progress and hear from the new(ish) Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Willie May.

Before hearing from the NIST Director, there are two panels scheduled where PCAST members will discuss ongoing work.  One panel is on technology and the future of cities and the other focuses on hearing technologies.  The second panel is not explicitly connected to a report on the agenda, but appears to be part of a larger discussion or project on technology to help people as they age.

Human Subjects Research Rule Revisions Finally Proposed

More than four years after the federal government introduced an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on federal regulations on human subjects research (called the Common Rule), there has been another regulatory step (H/T ScienceInsider).

The Federal Register has a draft edition of the notice of proposed rulemaking it will publish on September 8.  Comments will be due in 90 days from the date of publication, which would be around December 6.  The draft notice is over 500 pages, so I will have additional posts on the subject once I have the chance to review this in more detail.

Quick thoughts on a first glance.

If this is implemented as written, it will affect researchers in a number of different fields (16 federal agencies are listed in the proposed rules, but not the Office of Science and Technology Policy), and it seeks to define areas of activity that would or would not be covered under the proposed rules.

(Two agencies – the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Consumer Product Safety Commission – will update their Common Rule regulations through separate proceedings.  The Department of Labor is not currently covered by the Common Rule, but has joined this rulemaking in order to adopt those regulations.)

The proposed changes are necessary to do the heavy lifting required to update a 24 year-old rule.  With the continued changes in technology, whatever final rule that emerges will become dated quickly.  Having a means of effectively assessing and adapting to future changes in technology and research capabilities would be nice to have.

Even if you don’t think work you’re engaged with isn’t covered by federal human subjects research regulations, read the notice.  You might be surprised.

Latest PCAST Report Encourages New Categories For IT Investments

Earlier this month the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its latest report, focused on the Network and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.  PCAST is required by law to evaluate the program, which coordinates federal investment across the government in information technology research.

As is regrettably the case with many government programs in technology, the organization of NITRD reflects what was close to cutting edge thinking of the time it was created.  A major recommendation of this report is to reorganize the NITRD program to better reflect the state of research in information technology and the current priorities for the government.

The report focuses on the following areas of information technology: cybersecurity, health, Big Data and data-intensive computing, IT and the physical world (any IT connected to something that isn’t a computer or a phone), privacy protection, cyber-human systems, high-capability computing, and foundational computing research.  The authors consider each of these areas as critical to success in any national priority related to information technology research.  However, there remain gaps in access to large-scale infrastructure and other resources that make it harder to effectively support federal research in these areas.

In order to establish a more nimble NITRD program, the authors recommend establishing new program component areas (PCAs) that are used to organize NITRD funding.  Most of these categories have remained unchanged for twenty years.  What the report recommends is establishing eight new PCAs for the 2017 budget cycle, and that these PCAs should be updated every five or six years.  The PCAs recommended in the report are:

  • Large-scale data management and analysis;
  • Robotics and intelligent systems;
  • Computing-enabled networked physical systems (such as distributed sensor networks);
  • Cybersecurity and information assurance;
  • Computing-enabled human interaction, communication, and augmentation;
  • IT foundational research and innovation;
  • Enabling-IT for high-capability IT systems; and
  • Large-scale research infrastructure.

The recommendations would need to be implemented by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget.  Both agencies have expressed support for such changes.  They would also need to develop, with other NITRD stakeholders, the process for judging when and how to modify these PCAs based on changes in the field.

White House Demo Day Strategy Seems Counterproductive

Earlier this year the White House announced (earlier than I thought) a White House Demo Day, scheduled for August 4.  This is not to be confused with the Demo Day held at the White House today, which was focused on disaster response and recovery.  Entrepreneurs will be demonstrating their products and/or services with an eye toward a

The Demo Day, per this White House post on Medium, ties into a larger Administration effort to encourage entrepreneurship, especially in underrepresented communities.  Like the Science Fairs, the messaging around the Demo Day (at least for me) runs counter to the pre-screened nature of who is present (selected from nominations accepted over a three-day period in April).  A quick search of the White House recommended Twitter hashtag (#WHDemoDay) shows a lot of people still just finding out about the event, and interested in participating.

But the people have already been selected, and the livestream of the event may not reach beyond the already engaged audience that the White House is interested in expanding.  I wouldn’t blame any entrepreneurs who felt frustrated by a White House that on the one hand seems to encourage participation in something that has been closed off for a while.  I think the messaging needs to be more consistent, thorough, and for longer.

What am I missing here?  It’s never been clear to me after any of the Science Fairs how someone watching could work to be one of those presenting, and I think the same thing will happen after next week’s Demo Day.  That seems like such a lost opportunity.