Archive for March 31st, 2009

The New Global Warming Bill

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 31, 2009 9:00 pm

House Dems are taking climate change seriously.  The bill unveiled today would not only cap green house gases, but diminish our dependence on coal and oil (full text and summary available).  From the New York Times:

The draft measure, written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, sets a slightly more ambitious goal for capping heat-trapping gases than Mr. Obama’s proposal. The bill requires that emissions be reduced 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, while Mr. Obama’s plan calls for a 14 percent reduction by 2020. Both would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases by roughly 80 percent by 2050.

Joe’s got an interesting analysis:

Some version of this bill seems likely to get through the House. But it does not appear likely it could get 60 votes in the Senate. The two big unknown questions are:

  •  Will some of the moderate Democratic Senators who might feel they can’t vote for the bill also vote to filibuster it?

Read the details over at Climate Progress

The Push for Restarting the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment

By Chris Mooney | March 31, 2009 2:28 pm

I’m starting to detect some buzz on this very important front, which I wrote about in detail in 2005’s The Republican War on Science and elsewhere. Basically, the story is this: In 1995 the Gingrich Republicans, looking to slash budgets–and looking askance at science in general in many areas–got rid of their scientific advisory office, which had been in existence since 1972 and had become world renowned not only for accurate studies, but for far-ranging analyses that forecast future science and technology problems that we might someday have to grapple with. For our unfailingly presentist elected representatives, this was a vital source of perspective on where things are heading.

Technically OTA was merely defunded by the Gingrichites, rather than thoroughly dismantled. And one of its champions, my own legislator Rush Holt of Princeton, New Jersey, is now pushing to bring it back. See the details here from Science Cheerleader, who wants not only to reopen OTA but to include a more significant public participation component in its technological decisionmaking–an advance that I for one would thoroughly welcome.

Meanwhile, over at Science Progress, former OTA staffer Jerry Epstein lays out the case for why we need OTA to be revived: Decision-making is perhaps more dependent on scientific and technological knowledge than ever, and yet scientific misinformation also abounds more than ever thanks to the growth of ideological think tanks and the Internet. In this context, Congress is literally flying blind. There is no body of consensus information that our legislators can use for the purposes of decision-making; but there is a heck of a lot of nonsense being fed to them constantly. OTA served, as one legislator memorably put it, as a “defense against the dumb”; without it, Congress is defenseless.

So we most certainly ought to bring OTA back, and let’s hope that Holt succeeds–but it won’t be easy. Republicans defunded OTA, but Democrats have not yet revived it–and the politics of science have only become more tense since 1995. So to show your support, sign the OTA petition here–and contact your legislators!

Science In The News: A Useful Tool or Distracting Target in the Pursuit of Scientific Literacy?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 31, 2009 11:55 am

Yesterday, I briefly described my contribution at the STS Conference, but I’m more interested to highlight the terrific graduate student contributions from the education panel I moderated.  Today we begin with the work of Megan Anderson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  It’s a particularly interesting topic considering the discussion we had here last week on science literacy.

Megan’s focused on the way we interpret and evaluate science encountered in the news. She points out that traditionally research has looked at scientific and technological terms to evaluate public understanding.  (Sound familiar?)  In fact, our view of the relationship between science and society has probably been distorted by previous efforts to quantify what citizens ‘know‘ based on such analyses. So how might we improve methodology?  Megan suggests incorporating epistemic and social dimensions of scientific understanding into the evalution. In other words, we need to figure out when subjects are able to develop a general understanding of what they’re reading or viewing instead of testing their ability to memorize a series of facts or dissect a topic.  She’s looking to solve some very real challenges and I’ll be extremely interested to see where this leads.

In the mean time, do readers have your own ideas toward improving assessment?  It’s a critically important consideration given recent events leave me very concerned about the state of scientific literacy in this country…


Why Reason Loses

By Chris Mooney | March 31, 2009 10:04 am

Get this: Funded by an anonymous donor, the anti-global warming Heartland Institute has created a climate change “Skeptic’s Handbook” for mass dissemination, “helpfully printing 150,000 copies…for distribution across the US including 850 journalists, 26,000 schools, ‘19,000 leaders and politicians.'”

Over at DeSmogBlog, Mitchell Anderson convincingly debunks the nonsense contained in this Handbook–but, not exactly for the same sized audience.

This has long been my problem with the defenders of science and reason on issues like global warming. The other side is playing to win, spending a vast fortune to sway public opinion. But where is the example of people on our side supporting good books about global warming (of which there are many), trying to get them widely disseminated, into schools and classrooms and the hands of journalists and leaders?

Publishers do this to make money–and often fail. Talented individuals do their part by starting blogs, and so on. But I’m not aware of many parallel or systematic efforts by major philanthropists or donors. For the most part, they’d rather give their vast fortunes to think tanks and research institutes that do tons of high quality studies that, um, don’t reach large audiences. We do research, conservatives do propaganda.

Try doing a national radio show on the subject of global warming sometime, and the tenor of the calls will make it obvious to you who is winning.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 31, 2009 8:35 am

A good friend and former Sea Grant Fellow sent this photo from the White House yesterday just after watching President Obama sign the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 into law. This is an enormous victory for the ocean community as we’ve been waiting a long time for several initiatives within the bill to pass.  It’s another moment that mattered in the District leaving me hopeful for the future.  We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it appears the tide may be turning in terms of enacting sound marine policy.  Thank you Mr. President.



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