Archive for September, 2008

DISCOVER's Science Policy Project: Ann Druyan

By Melissa Lafsky | September 30, 2008 12:39 pm

What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. All past responses can be found here.

Author and co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios

Appoint a scientist of impeccable independence, inter-disciplinary expertise and vision who knows how to connect with the public as the President’s “Science Advisor.” Elevate the position to cabinet status and insure regular access to the President and to the public. (Is it too much to hope that a society completely dependent on science and high technology might have at least one person who really knows science at the highest decision-making level in the government?)

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Rumors Aside, Sarah Palin Is Still Butchering Science

By Melissa Lafsky | September 29, 2008 5:07 pm

dinosaurInternet slanders or no, Sarah Palin has reportedly spoken words demonstrating her dangerous lack of thought about evolution and education. Now it seems that Matt Damon’s dinosaur question may be more than just a puffed-up Internet rumor as well.

The L.A. Times has a source who claims to have spoken directly to Palin about dinosaurs in 1997, when she was mayor of Wasilla. Stephen Braun reports that the notoriously soundbite-ready VP nominee told Philip Munger, a music teacher at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, that “dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time” 6,000 years ago—an statement that’s so horribly incorrect on so many levels, yet still all too common in creationist lore. Munger said Palin insisted that “she had seen pictures of human footprints inside the tracks.” Were these pictures on display here by any chance?

Granted, Munger is no fan of the photogenic governor: He writes the actively anti-Palin blog ProgressiveAlaska, and has appeared on ultra-liberal Air America radio to speak out against her. Still, unless yet another blogger digs up evidence that he’s lying, there’s no proof that their exchange is a myth. And, of course, all this could be cleared up by a simple Q&A with Palin herself—if such a thing was possible.

Image: Flickr/williac

MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs, mccain, palin

DISCOVER's Science Policy Project: David Brin

By Melissa Lafsky | September 29, 2008 11:30 am

What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. All past responses can be found here.

Science fiction author and futurist

Restore the independent scientific panels that used to advise Congress on scientific and technological matters.

Going much further, let each member of Congress select one scientifically or technologically qualified person, to serve both as an adviser and as his or her representative on a “shadow scientific Congress” to thrash out complex matters of fact—so that Congress itself can concentrate on policy solutions.

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Weekly News Roundup: Get Ready to Rumble in Mississippi!

By Melissa Lafsky | September 26, 2008 3:20 pm

• The debates are on! Slate analyzes what each candidate must do to win, while a cognitive linguist says the key to victory is appealing to “values, not facts.” Clearly the GOP got that memo.

Eye-gate explained: A doctor-blogger discusses the controversy over McCain’s apparent facial ailment.

• If you’re going to be president in one of the world’s most volatile times, it’s good to have the Nobel winners on your side.

• January may not be soon enough: The director of NIH resigns, leaving the organization in purgatory until the next administration shows up.

• So signs of autism appear around the time of vaccinations, therefore vaccines must cause autism! Not so much. Here’s a far likelier (and actually logical) explanation.

• This is your brain on cell phones: More warnings from scientists to Congress on your cell’s potential danger.

• Facebook and the science of narcissism.

MORE ABOUT: cell phones, mccain, NIH, obama

Obama & McCain Answer DISCOVER's Questions on the Environment

By Melissa Lafsky | September 26, 2008 12:50 pm

While there’s little doubt the economy will be the defining issue in this election, the candidates’ positions on environmental issues can’t be downplayed (after all, what good are $700 billion bailouts if our coastlines are underwater). With the goal of keeping the environment front and center during this election season, best-selling author and DISCOVER contributor Thomas Kostigen put five questions to the two candidates, on topics including climate change, the dwindling water supply, hazardous waste, alt-energy investments, and the private sector’s role in contributing to the clean-up.

As you may recall, both Obama and McCain recently answered 14 questions on science policy from ScienceDebate 2008. While the Obama camp’s answers concerning climate change and alt-energy investments are largely consistent with what ScienceDebate received, this time he includes more detail, including his plans for allocation of the revenue generated by cap-and-trade auctions as well as his proposal to create a $10 billion venture capital fund to bolster clean technology development.

Similarly, McCain’s responses on energy and global warming echo what he told ScienceDebate, including his pledge to instate permanent alt-energy tax breaks (a promise that Obama makes as well) and a vow to “lead by example” in the “greening of the federal government.”

Questions to Barack Obama

TK: Ensuring an adequate water supply is a huge issue, arguably a bigger challenge than energy. Recent estimates say we are going to have to increase our supply of freshwater by 20 percent in the next 20 years to meet world demand. Two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water shortages by 2025. Meanwhile, the Clean Water Act hasn’t been updated since 1972. What plans do you have for addressing the freshwater issue?

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Voting in America: Let the Pre-Game Mess Begin!

By Melissa Lafsky | September 25, 2008 5:05 pm

voting machineDespite all the wonders modern technology has dumped on us, it has yet to create a foolproof, fraudproof way for 150 million Americans to vote. But while the nation’s smartest computer scientists and cryptography experts have been busy churning out ideas to solve our voting woes once and for all, their efforts may be moot if we can’t figure out how to get eligible voters registered in the first place.

You’d think that after the last election’s slew of technological fiascoes, states would have ironed out their database woes. Not so: Wired (via ABC News) reports that glitches in states’ voter databases are as bountiful as always, and could wind up leaving thousands disenfranchised. The biggest issue is the haphazard creation of centralized databases, which were mandated for federal elections following the debacle of 2000. The law’s intent, as usual, was to do good—consolidating voter lists into a single database would presumably simplify the process and keep voters from being arbitrarily turned away at the polls.

Unfortunately, as with voting machines, the reality has been closer to chaos: The databases, which are unregulated by any federal agency, have been plagued by human error, confusion, cost overloads, and a smörgåsbord of other mess-ups.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: The 2008 Election
MORE ABOUT: mccain, obama, technology, voting

Google Battles the Christian Right On Abortion—and Quickly Rolls Over

By Melissa Lafsky | September 25, 2008 11:19 am

You still can’t get away with saying it in Hollywood, but after a lawsuit by a Christian anti-choice group, now you can smack it in the center of a Google ad. The New York Times reports that Google is now allowing religious organizations to buy ads in the search giant’s vast network that contain the keyword “abortion.” In the past, the search juggernaut had followed a policy of not selling the “abortion” keyword to religious groups—though it would allow other groups, including doctors offering abortions and resource sites like Our Bodies, Ourselves, to purchase ads with the keyword.

Enter Britain’s staunch anti-choice group the Christian Institute, which took its case to court after Google rejected its ad containing the following: “UK abortion law: Key news and views on abortion law from The Christian Institute.” The ad was referring to a bill before the House of Commons concerning potential abortion restrictions.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Goes to Washington

Obama Changes His View (Or, at Least, His Web Site) On Technology

By Melissa Lafsky | September 24, 2008 1:21 pm

If there’s one thing this election season has taught us, it’s that there’s no hiding in the Internet—and that includes politicians vying for the nation’s highest offices. For starters, of all the criticisms of McCain’s views, record, character, and policies, one of the stickiest so far has been his self-proclaimed inability to use the Web.

Then last week brought Yahoomail-gate, with the infamous hacker group Anonymous accessing VP hopeful Sarah Palin’s personal e-mail account, revealing to the world that she did indeed use her personal e-mail for official business, and that she liked to send and receive pictures of her kids. (Scandalous!) A quick and dirty FBI investigation soon indicated that the hacker may be none other than the son of Democratic Tennessee state representative Mike Kernell.

Equally diligent watchdogs also noticed some strange happenings over on Obama’s official campaign Web site—the prominence of which we’ve discussed before.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: The 2008 Election

DISCOVER's Science Policy Project: Buzz Aldrin

By Melissa Lafsky | September 24, 2008 11:27 am

What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. All past responses can be found here.


Commit to an expansion of federal funding for all U.S. federal scientific research (at least a 50 percent increase).

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God 0, Atheism 2: Hitchens Eats Another Religious Figure for Lunch

By Melissa Lafsky | September 23, 2008 1:42 pm

religionAre you there God, and if so, will you please provide an emissary that can go head-to-head with Christopher Hitchens without getting spectacularly flayed?

That was the pertinent issue during yesterday’s “Big Questions conversation” at the Pierre Hotel, hosted by On Faith and the John Templeton Foundation. The luncheon pitted Hitchens, the anti-theist poster child, against Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a physicist, theologian, and author of God at the Ritz: Attraction to Infinity.

Given the pro-God squad’s spectacular failure the last time it staged a debate like this, the buzz among the predominantly male and heavily tweeded crowd was, “Will Albacete bring his A game against a man known for his periodic disembowling of religious delegates?”

The answer, unfortunately, was a resounding no. While the monsignor presented a charismatic and sympathetic figure—his Isaac Hayes-esque vocal resonance was worth the trip alone—his arguments, if one could call them that, didn’t make it past a freshmen theology class.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
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