This week, the House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee unveiled the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act. This legislation wants to prioritize the way the National Science Foundation funds projects in life and chemical sciences, computer science, and mathematics based upon how the projects specifically address national needs. To increase the muddling between science and politics, the NSF would be required to justify the projects funded to Congress and how each benefits the national interests. The measure comes as the Republican-controlled House is pressured to cut federal spending and this would filter out projects with no tangible or timely returns. The bill would also limit the NSF from funding projects that already have funding from other federal agencies in an effort to prevent mission creep and double dipping. The bill fails to address how some projects are complex and have components that have benefits at multiple levels.
This legislation is the latest in a long line of efforts the GOP has used to hinder the scientific community from using its internal peer-review process to advance research and development which in turn would lead to the next generations of innovation desperately needed to sustain the United States’ leadership in science and technology. GOP efforts to appease the extremists within their party by slashing spending no matter who is affected are naive and short-sighted to say the least.
Beginning with the powers of the oil and gas industries masquerading as a conservative, grassroots Tea Party movement, conservatives have fought tirelessly to create an absurd climate debate instead of working on a bipartisan effort to ensure the sustainability of our planet. Congressional leaders have used ‘data’ gathered by conservative think tanks and biased institutes to assert the ‘science is still out’ about the man-made cause of climate change. Ultimately, what are their interests, protecting those who fund their elections or protecting…well, the rest of us? Who stands to lose by enacting cap-and-trade, emissions limits, or biofuel standards? The public as a whole? However, who wins if these and other efforts are in place to fortify our environment for future generations?
Also this week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the latest National Climate Assessment stating climage change is no longer a future threat. It’s here. Climatologists have sounded the alarm about global warming for over 30 years. Now the science is as solid as diamond and the consensus is strong. It is very apparent Congress will not actively take measures to grant future generations the awesome pleasure of enjoying our national parks as we have or enjoy time on local lakes or rivers.
If there is something I’ve learned in the past couple weeks, it is the precious time we have with those we love can end at any moment. I cannot help but think what happens when I am gone? What do I leave behind? How can I show my children how much I loved them and wanted the best for them? It certainly is not doing everything possible to ensure I am victorious every election cycle by bowing to fundraisers.
What can we do to help?
It is past time to take back the power by electing members of Congress who can see the big picture by looking past this term in office to the selfless good they can do to help us all. The big picture is increasingly heating up as is our atmosphere.
For those who don’t know, I teach a health science research course at a local college. I love teaching this class because I am allowed to give students a foundation in scientific inquiry and build upon this up to current topics in health science like personalized medicine and systems approaches. All this builds up to an article summary the students prepare based upon a journal article of their choosing.
Two of the students pairing up to present a summary of their paper showed me last night a video they found that accompanied the research they were excited about presenting [see below].
First, I was surprised the principal investigator, Carl June, when asked if he was curing cancer, said unequivocally, “Yes”. I understand this is a promotional video produced by GE, but June really took the bait.
I truly recognize the enormous potential this type of therapy has. The week before being shown this video by the students, I gave a short lecture about science and the media. The main point was to be skeptical of the message portrayed by the media. It appears, I need to revisit this subject.
This promotion of research goes beyond the “Hidden DNA Code” press release that went viral as part of the ENCODE project from the University of Washington. Not only was the wording sketchy (using ‘HIV’ to cure leukemia), but the lead researchers are touting curing cancer (leukemia in this case). A very good article about this entire subject can be found here. In small clinical trials, the therapy has found success thankfully. However, the trials have been very small thus far and we are dealing with cancer; the correct term is remission, not cure.
I urge everyone, please do not read medical breakthrough stories and go away with a warm fuzzy feeling. Please take an extra step and dig a bit deeper. You will find the warm fuzzy feeling is not for the present story you just read but from the optimism you (and everyone else for that matter) should feel about the stories to come in the future when the science has been thoroughly tested and the therapy is real.
For ‘Emma’ in the above video and only Emma, today that therapy is real.
I’m sorry. I can not personally stand for politics in science. The climate hearings a few years back are what gave the Koch brother/Big Oil-backed “scientists” their first national recognition which opened the flood gates for what we see today within the general public who believe there is still a debate among scientists about the effect of human activity on climate change. Giving this additional talk time to the politically-charged deniers more spotlight makes it even more difficult for sane people to keep up. Unfortunately, those who know and try to speak the truth can’t shout. If we do, the politically biased members of the debate just call us bleeding hearts and tree huggers. This is one reason climate scientists quickly backed down in 2008ish.
One of my top goals in life is to help the general public understand something very plain and simple. A vast, almost unanimous, number of scientists do not pursue science for riches or become a celebrity. Becoming a scientists takes years of very hard work and dedication that can not be understood unless you have been through it. There is flexibility in your schedule in grad school. You are able to pick which 80 hours a week you work. Even after receiving a Ph.D., scientists still must wait years (usually) before having a steady job, ie faculty position or equivalent. The postdoc is a long, arduous job with long long hours. There is no money or security incentive for a majority of scientists until well into their 40s. Does this seem like a glamorous path to riches and celebrity?
I digress. My point is; the reason scientists do what they do is because they have a passion, a curiosity which compels them to figure out how Nature works and finding answers for their/our questions. Period. Scientists are objective. We have to be. Going into an investigation with pre-conceived, subjective ideas will lead to ruin as no other members of the scientific community will consider your results valid. Therefore, no publications will occur making funding impossible. Objectivity is a must. I sound very made in this post and maybe I am. Misconceptions don’t sit well with me.
This is a call to the sane, logical members of society, scientists or not, to help. We need a national voice, a portal to convey the truth. I have a headache.
I want to start by saying I am part of the national labs system. I’m at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and work as a science writer for a small group that publishes for the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE. That being said, I’m still a concerned citizen as well. I want my daughter to experience this planet as I have. This opinion article in the Washington Post by Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California at San Diego, is brilliant and articulate. Straight at the heart of what the Executive Branch can do without going through the cluster f#ck that is Congress. However, as always, it comes down to money and reapportioning funding for the suggested changes in this article would essentially have to go through Congress. Here are the suggestions in the article:
●Alternative energy. The climate problem is fundamentally an energy problem. While strides have been made — by both industry and government — in developing alternative energy sources, renewables still provide only a sliver of the U.S. energy profile. The scale of renewable energy research and development needs to be radically increased.
●Carbon capture and storage. Shale gas development in the United States and Canada is generating jobs and revenue and could substantially decrease our reliance on petroleum. But shale gas is still gas — methane: a fossil fuel that when burned produces carbon dioxide. Large-scale development may exacerbate the climate problem if inexpensive gas undercuts the market for renewables. If, however, shale gas development could be coupled with carbon capture and storage, trapping the carbon dioxide produced, then this resource might be usable without worsening climate change.
●Energy storage. Wind and solar are real sources of energy, but only when the wind blows or the sun shines. Yet many wind and solar projects produce excess capacity that could be used later or elsewhere if it could be stored. Ideas for renewable-energy storage need to be developed and expanded.
●Social obstacles to energy efficiency. Numerous studies show that Americans could cut energy use by 30 percent or more through efficiency measures and save money at the same time. Yet most of us don’t. This is a bit of a mystery for economists; social science research in the laboratory system should be mobilized to figure out why we don’t save energy and money even when we could.
●Climate engineering. Deliberate alteration of the climate to compensate for inadvertent modification is a technically and ethically troubling concept, but it may be one of the only available means to slow climate warming and buy time while other solutions are implemented. Physical scientists should expand their work in this area, and social scientists and humanists should be enlisted to address the ethical dimensions and governance issues.
Curiosity-driven science has not yet provided the solutions to global warming, and universities are not well situated to address a single, overarching problem. Moreover, the president does not have authority over our nation’s universities. But he does have authority over our national laboratory system. The labs have been mobilized before; the time has come to mobilize them again.
The last part (in bold) is a great remark and one I completely agree with. These suggestions should be sent to the White House, perhaps through the petitions website. Are you with me?
This is a great, well thought out take on what is happening and what needs to happen. I like the emphasis on the ethical issues involved with changes in climate. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.