• 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.
• 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.
Physicists, rejoice! (Even more!)
Science magazine is reporting that Obama has chosen to nominate physicist John Holdren as his science adviser. The well-credentialed and -bearded Holdren is currently a professor of environmental policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, as well as the director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. A top adviser to Obama’s campaign and world renowned expert on climate change, energy policy, and nuclear proliferation, Holdren is the second physicist to join the president-elect’s team, following Nobel Laureate Stephen Chu’s appointment as Secretary of Energy.
Cosmic Variance: Steven Chu Nominated to be Secretary of Energy
Mother Jones has jumped on Obama for what may be the first “reneged promise” of his campaign: assigning a windfall tax to the profits raked in by Big Oil. According to MJ blogger Nick Baumann, a transition team staffer:
The President-elect’s transition team hasn’t explicitly announced it will drop the windfall tax plan, but a transition aide, commenting on the condition he not be identified, backed off the promise in an email. “President-elect Obama announced the [windfall profits tax] policy during the campaign because oil prices were above $80 per barrel,” he said. “They are currently below that now and expected to stay below that.”
Advocacy groups like the American Small Business League—which noticed almost immediately when the discussion of windfall taxes was removed from Obama’s Web site—are bemoaning the fallen tax as a disappointment, while economists (and common sense) note that it now seems far less necessary given that it would bring in substantially less money today than four months ago.
Still, the fact that this debate has arisen at all, before Obama has even taken office, is a testament to the dangers (or maybe just necessary consequences) of using technology for increased government transparency.
Ever since global warming awareness rose to the international level, there’s been quiet but persistent tittering among experts over whether climate change might actually be good for some regions. Given that the biggest of these regions has always been Russia, it’s not a huge shock that Russia Today jumped on the recent U.S. intelligence report “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.” In particular, the Russian press loved the report’s claim that within the next 17 years, Russia’s profit from climate change will be the biggest in the world.
From the article:
One of the reasons is the expected lengthening of the sowing term, but the key factor would be an easier access to oil and gas fields in Siberia and in the North, including the Arctic shelf. This will be a great success for the Russian economy, according to the NSC report, and the Arctic waterway would also open huge prospects for Russia.
However, the authors of the study warn of the possible threats: the infrastructure of Russia’s Arctic territories may be destroyed, and also new technologies may be needed to exploit fuel fields in the area.
Yeah, there’s always that downside…
Now that the worldwide euphoria over Obama’s victory is abating, it’s time to look at some dismal facts: The air is still thick with pollution, the globe is still warming, and the science community is in a frenzy over who the president-elect will choose to head up the battered, broken EPA.
The short and distinguished list of candidates includes include former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection head Kathleen McGinty; California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection head Ian Bowles; Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius; New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson; and, finally, environmental lawyer, activist, and prolific blogger Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
While all are talented and have the potential to breathe life into the foundering agency, the one receiving the biggest pounding is Kennedy. Across the Internet, science writers have lambasted the longtime environmentalist for his alleged “anti-science” views—in particular, his public criticism of vaccines.
There’s no question that Kennedy has been vocal in his campaign against the CDC, particularly regarding its stance on Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. In 2005, he published a controversial piece in Salon charging that the government had concealed data showing that Thimerosal-containing vaccines were harmful. Critics excoriated the article, and Kennedy has since been labeled a traitor to science and affixed with the anti-vaxer label.
Still, the reality isn’t quite so simple. While Kennedy has indeed pointed accusatory fingers at certain vaccine practices—and has fallen victim to the “hand-picked studies” effect on at least one occasion—the charges that he’s a full-on anti-vaxer are incorrect and arguably irrelevant.
The Democrats have retaken the White House for the first time in nearly a decade—and the happy afterglow is already fading. Gristmill reports that punches are being thrown between John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). The grand prize for this heavyweight bout is chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Dingell, the current chairman, tossed out a few left hooks at Waxman, his challenger, on the radio last week, calling Waxman an “anti-manufacturing left-wing Democrat” with a “serious lack of understanding of people in the auto industry and manufacturing generally.” Meanwhile, both men claim to have enough votes for the post.
This would all be yet another amusing example of political infighting, except that the committee at stake has principal responsibility for legislative oversight of things like public health, air quality, the environment, and the nation’s energy supply. Dingell, who is 82 and has been in Congress since 1955 (we won’t even get started on how different a place it was back then) is known for being significantly more moderate than Waxman, and for garnering the support of leaders in industries like autos and mining. Whether that’s a reason to support him or not remains to be seen.
None too soon, the experts have begun weighing in on what President-Elect Obama should do regarding climate and energy policy. Even better, Obama’s transition team has put together a list of around 200 Bush policies to be kicked to the curb ASAP. They include gems like reversing the limit on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and ditching a rule that stops U.S. aid-receiving family planning groups from informing women about the availability of abortion.
The biggest slashes, so far anyway, have been saved for Bush’s environmental policies. As the Washington Post reports, Obama has announced his intention to “quickly reverse the Bush administration’s decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.” There’s also the undoing of the executive order that opens public lands to oil drilling, as well as social/economic moves like closing Guantanamo and tossing a life preserver to GM (though whether that’s a good idea remains to be seen).
Stem cell researchers, re-start your engines.
Another huge winner last night: The Internet.
Also consider it a huge win for academia: The president-elect, his vice president, and both their spouses have all worked in higher education.
The Senate and the House didn’t do so badly either.
And we hate to do this, but here’s the bad news.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been posting thoughts from some of the biggest names in science regarding what the next U.S. president needs to do to promote/engender/rescue science in this country. And luckily, we’re not the only ones hammering away at this issue. Last week, scientists, business leaders, and policymakers gathered in Minnesota to discuss the future of science at the Innovation 2008 Conference. Here’s a report on what went down, from guest blogger and conference participant Darlene Cavalier.
“Everybody supports science, motherhood and apple pie, but when it comes to funding, it’s a different story,” IEEE-USA President Russ Lefevre told a national audience last week at Innovation 2008: Renewing America through Smarter Science & Technology Policy.
The event was co-hosted by Science Debate 2008 and the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. It presented public sessions on critical issues facing the next United States president, including: Innovation and Competitiveness; Renewing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education; Health Science Policy; Integrating Science and Technology in America’s Artistic and Civic Culture; and Energy Security and Sustainability.
“Energy and broadband are two critical fields where more attention is warranted,” Lefevre stressed. So what’s the sharpest thorn in these areas? Access.
The first step, the experts agreed, is to create Smart Grid technologies that can help manage the delivery of electricity better, and a national transmission grid to help open access to wind and solar resources.