Archive for January, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: The Ethics of Eight Babies

By Melissa Lafsky | January 30, 2009 4:28 pm

• Do humans have reproductive limits? And if not physical, how about ethical?

• Scientists give a big thumbs up to Obama’s environmental plan.

• A handy list of all the biggest “global cooling” hacks, now in bar graph form.

• Poor Tesla. The bad news just keeps on comin’.

• A universal flu vaccine nears completion—but will we have the cash to distribute it?

• Finally, some sliding profits news to be happy about. Oh no wait, never mind.

• Senate decides (thank goodness) that children and health insurance are two things that should really continue to go together.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate Change, Energy, Health Care

"PopeTube" Launches, Brings New Holiness to Internet

By Melissa Lafsky | January 23, 2009 1:35 pm

Pope BenedictAre You a Vatican, Or a Vatican’t? If you’re Pope Benedict XVI, the answer is clear. The 81-year-old Pope has shown no fear or hesitation when it comes to voicing his view on modern issues and embracing technology, culminating in the rather stunning announcement that His Holiness has now created his very own YouTube channel. According to the AP:

“The Vatican said it was launching the channel to broaden Benedict’s audience while also giving the Holy See better control over the papal image online.”

Nice to know his Holiness is as worried about his online reputation as the rest of us. The channel will be updated daily and include clips of papal news items, with content produced by the Vatican’s television station, CTV (not to be confused with the other CTV, which produces plenty of non-Pope-approved material). The clips will be broadcast in Italian, German, English, and Spanish.

To top off his technological embrace, Benedict also gave social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace his official blessing, calling them a “gift to humanity” in their ability to foster friendships and connections.

Of course, all this Internet love doesn’t come without a caveat:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science & Religion

Weekly News Roundup: Let There Be Stem Cell Trials!

By Melissa Lafsky | January 23, 2009 11:53 am

• And we’re a go, people: Get ready for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy.

• But first, bye bye absurd abortion laws!

• The Inauguration killed the Internets! No mere series of tubes can withstand the pressure of this seminal moment in history.

• “BarackBerry,” “ObamaBerry”—call it what you will, we still can’t get over the fact that he’s the first president ever to use e-mail while in office.

• An economist explains why all those hospital procedures cost what they do.

• The trees are dying! The trees are dying!

• OMG! We’re in the White House! Blogging, presidential style.

• No, Virginia, there’s no such thing as truly clean coal.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Energy, Stem Cells

Will an Obama Administration Be Good for Women in Science?

By Melissa Lafsky | January 22, 2009 3:48 pm

The scientific community has spent plenty of time rejoicing the new pro-science era, and our spanking new president has continued to give every assurance (including a shout-out in his inauguration speech!) that he will make good on his promises to prioritize science and base policy decisions on actual scientific evidence.

But could all this pro-science fervor have secondary benefits besides, oh, say, putting big dents in global warming and the looming health care crisis? The New York Times takes on this question, asking whether the new administration will enable scientists to “tackle a chronic conundrum of their beloved enterprise: how to attract more women into the fold, and keep them once they are there.”

The general hypothesis behind the supposed Obama-boost for women is that the rise of science awareness and “geek chic” will be good for all scientists, and thus women will eventually get some trickle-down benefit—a somewhat weak line of reasoning, particularly when you consider how well it worked in Reaganomics. And critics of the argument point out—quite rightly—that what could really give women a boost is if a single female scientist was appointed to the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Of course, the real capacity for a pro-female boost, which the article eventually hits on, lies in the new president’s ability to grant additional family leave and parental benefits to the recipients of federal grants—a group that includes a ton of research scientists, many of them women. Though whether that’ll have any affect on the dearth of female physicists is anyone’s guess.

RB: The Mommy Wars and Science Collide (Again)
RB: Note to Media: They Give Nobel Prizes to Women These Days
RB: Title IX Hits the Science World, But Will It Do Any Good?

MORE ABOUT: obama, physics, women

Welcome President Obama! Now About Those Stem Cell Laws…

By Melissa Lafsky | January 20, 2009 7:09 pm

So it happened: Barack Obama has officially taken his place as the country’s 44th President  (complete with a shout-out to science during the inaugural address!). And, with the country facing enough massive problems to sink a fleet of aircraft carriers, the word is he’ll waste no time  getting to work. But what can a new president accomplish in his first few days in office? Plenty, if you count issuing executive orders that reverse policies from the previous administration (which should by all means be counted). And when it comes to science and medicine, there are miles to go before the new POTUS sleeps.

So what are some top science priorities that President Obama can stick on his “ASAP” list? Here’s a few ideas, along with the likelihood that they’ll be addressed in the super/semi/not-so-near future:

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MORE ABOUT: abortion, obama, policy

The Inauguration Will Be Televised…And Facebooked, and Twittered, and Texted

By Melissa Lafsky | January 20, 2009 12:11 pm

In a little under a half hour, Barack Obama will officially take his place as the country’s next POTUS. And while the event will be brimming with historic firsts for the country, the coverage contains plenty of firsts for the integration of technology, politics, and major events.

Sure, there’ll be some people who actually attend the event in person—around 2 million brave souls have packed into the Mall in frigid temperatures, with questionable bathroom status (for comparison, around 400,000 showed up for Bush’s first inauguration). But for the rest of the world that didn’t make it to D.C. for the party, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of real-time coverage and information all over the airwaves. For those who still watch TV, you can see Obama take the reins on any cable or broadcast news station, or watch live feeds online from CNN, MSNBC, and just about every other news source. Then there are the liveblogs and Twitters, ot to mention Facebook statuses which, according to CNN (which has partnered with Facebook to offer simultaneous Web viewing and status-updating), are being updated at around 2,000 updates per minute, and 3,000 comments per minute. Not to mention the conversation rampaging among the 4 million fans on Obama’s official Facebook page.

Text messaging the event is rampant as well, to the point where the CEO of Shane Neman issued a press release saying he believes millions of text messages will be lost, on the level of New Year’s Eve.

So there you have it—500 different ways to find out what’s going on in D.C. And if you miss all of it, not to worry—the replays will show up on YouTube momentarily.

MORE ABOUT: obama, technology

Weekly News Roundup: Birds and a Plane

By Melissa Lafsky | January 16, 2009 2:32 pm

• The science of birds taking down a commercial plane—and how the danger could apply to NASA as well.

• “Scientific and legal integrity” to return to the EPA. And not a moment too soon.

• A ruckus brews over cookies at the White House—and we don’t mean the kind with sugar and sprinkles.

• Facebook graduates from a civil litigation tool to a crime-fighting tool.

• Recession? What recession? Pass the console.

• And not to spoil the pre-inaugural lovefest with bad news or anything, but that little salmonella outbreak has caused 2 more deaths, bringing the total to 5 dead and over 400 sickened.

MORE ABOUT: facebook, obama, technology

Drug Industry 1, Country 0: Big Pharma Can Now Hawk Unapproved Drugs

By Melissa Lafsky | January 14, 2009 7:14 pm

From the wires: The FDA has just completed a fresh set of guidelines that will permit pharmaceutical companies to tell doctors about unapproved uses of their medicines—in effect, giving big pharma carte blanche to hawk unapproved drugs.

Specifically, the new regulations allow drug companies to “distribute copies of medical journal articles that describe unapproved uses” of their drugs to all the doctors they want.

Technically this reg isn’t new; it was in place until 2006, then lapsed until industry lobbyists made sure it was proposed again last year, despite heavy criticism from Democrats and drug industry critics. And now, conveniently one week before the Bush administration draws its final, sputtering breath, the rule has made its way back into the final FDA guidelines.

Big pharma spokespeople pooh pooh the reg as nothing more than a formality: “Physicians need timely access to the latest medical information to keep abreast of the best practices in patient care,” said Alan Bennett, an attorney representing the pharmaceutical industry.

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MORE ABOUT: drugs, FDA, medicine

Illegal Immigrants, Beware: Satellites May Be Tracking You

By Melissa Lafsky | January 13, 2009 7:30 pm

As if people-sniffing robots weren’t enough: A satellite system called the “Sea Horse,” which was built to monitor migrant vessels from the coast of North Africa, will be used to track the movements of illegal immigrants making their way from Africa to Europe, particularly the shores of Spain and Portugal.

Funded by the E.U. and developed in Spain, the Sea Horse will, according to Russia Today:

enable police forces in the partaking countries to distinguish any illegal activities, namely illegal immigration and drug trafficking, by a single high-speed communications and data network. A coordination centre has been set up in Gran Canaria’s capital Las Palmas where officials receive information about immigration flows and suspicious ships sent from the individual surveillance stations established in coastline cities such as Praia in Cape Verde and Dakar in Senegal.  Police will then be able to plot charts and prepare the interception of illegal vessels.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Goes to Washington
MORE ABOUT: technology

Will Obesity Regulation Turn the U.S. Into a Police State?

By Melissa Lafsky | January 13, 2009 4:44 pm

With the economy tanking, it’s been easy to forget about that other little disaster lurking in America’s wings: the obesity epidemic. But it’s still raging on, popping up in places like Army recruitment offices and pediatric clinics at breakneck speed. Rather than let the problem run free and pray that it takes care of itself (a philosophy that worked oh so well for the economy) state and federal governments have been trying out various regulations aimed at curbing the rampant weight gain that’s sweeping the nation.

But is legislating how, where, and how much people eat a massive crimp in our civil liberties? Paul Hsieh at ABC News thinks so, and is tossing fire and brimstone at any and all food regulation lest it turn the U.S. into a fascist freedom-stomping regime:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Goes to Washington
MORE ABOUT: epidemic, obesity
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