Archive for October, 2008

Nature Keeps its Endorsement Between Scylla and Charybdis; SEED Should Take Notes

October 31st, 2008

Posted by: admin

Per a request from the comments on my post criticizing SEED’s presidential endorsement, I have read the Nature endorsement from the 30 October issue.  For a scientific journal like Nature, offering an endorsement is perhaps a riskier effort than it is for a broader interest science magazine.  A scientific journal’s stock in trade is the research it prints and the rigor of the review process that controls what goes in its pages.  If a journal has something to say editorially, it usually limits itself to topics within its field.  An editorial that strays into partisan arguments risks a journal’s reputation as an arbiter of high-quality research.  That Nature felt the risk worth taking is notable.  That it did so in a much more explicit, and more transparent fashion is encouraging.  The endorsement is an example I would recommend to any and all organizations trying to be politically engaged and maintain the rigor, empiricism and other processes that science aspires to.

There is a lot in this endorsement that recognizes what SEED chooses to ignore or hide – that encouraging scientific thinking and science and technology advice in politics and policy is a value choice.  This is clear from the lede:

“The values of scientific enquiry, rather than any particular policy positions on science, suggest a preference for one US presidential candidate over the other.”

(The bold is Nature’s) (more…)

Seed Issues Presidential Endorsement; Editors Should Read The Honest Broker

October 30th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The editors of SEED issued their presidential endorsement online yesterday afternoon.  Given the timing of the election, it’s unlikely to appear in the print edition.  Anyone who’s read the magazine or its blogging army can guess whom they selected, and won’t be surprised by any of the arguments advanced in the editorial.  You could argue some of the reasons they list for their choice, or the certainty behind some of their assertions about science.  I want to focus on something else, the way SEED’s editors equate scientific thinking with proper democratic governance.  I begrudge no one the opportunity to participate politically, but some of the language in the endorsement suggests that the fine folks at SEED either failed to read Roger’s book or to absorb its arguments.

The questionable language is most of the second to the last paragraph, which you can read after the jump:


Mother Jones Interviews Pielke Sr.

October 30th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

There is a pretty good interview by Mother Jones magazine with my father on the complexities of climate science. Excerpts after the jump . . .


Technology and Economic Recovery

October 29th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The vague title may well demonstrate an aphorism for technology policy comparable to Dan Sarewitz’s observation that science policy is commonly assumed to be just science budget policy.  Technology policy is often assumed to be just technology industrial policy – what can be done to make sure technology is created, marketed and profitably commercialized as effectively as possible.  As with Sarewitz’s aphorism, it captures only a small piece of the whole phenomenon.

David Walker, former comptroller of the United States (head of the Government Accountability Office), managed to break away from this narrow commonplace of technology policy thinking in remarks this past Monday.  Speaking before an audience of government and industry technology managers, Walker, now president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (which is concerned about fiscal responsibility), noted that technology can be used to assist government in controlling spending on entitlements and in reducing the national debt.  His specific remarks are not yet available online, but this summary from NextGov hints at using Web 2.0 technologies to spread information to policymakers and citizens, and to use technology (in way not defined in the article) to develop supplemental accounts to complement Social Security.

This kind of thinking about technology and government, and technology and the economy, has been absent from the campaign, but the involvement of both candidates in legislation that would put more and more government information online suggests that it would be at least considered.  While a small gesture, it would be a good sign to see any government engagement with technology and policy that isn’t involved with industrial policy.

Election 2008 on the Web

October 28th, 2008

Posted by: admin

For those in the U.S. who haven’t already taken advantage of early voting, we are one week away from the election.  Some websites have leveraged web tools to make voting information more accessible.  There are, of course, the various sites that deal with polling and predicting election results, but let’s focus on the mechanics of voting for next Tuesday.

Google has a Maps tool that can tell you where your polling place is.

VerifiedVoting has collected information on which states and counties are using what voting technology (click on your state first, the more accurate data is at the county level).

Some jurisdictions may allow you to access your registration status online.  Search for your local board of election or your state election board/secretary of state to find out for your neck of the woods.

While this is sound advice in any situation, it’s particularly important to check the sources of your information when consulting election information online.  Snopes has a page set up for ballots and elections, but it should not be considered an exhaustive list of debunked election rumors.

UPDATE (10/30) - The Weather Channel has a page focused on election related weather, both historically and for this year.

ANOTHER UPDATE (10/31) – Google’s election tools are now available for mobile phones, and a Florida news aggregator website will stream turnout from seven precincts on Election Day.

Think Tank Borrows Marketing Tactics From WWE

October 27th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, has borrowed a page from World Wrestling Entertainment in advertising a campaign debate on technology policy.  The Technology Policy Smackdown will take place on Thursday, October 30, from 12:30-1:45 Eastern time.  The event will take place between McCain chief economic policy adviser (and former Chief of the Congressional Budget Office) Douglas Holtz-Eakin and former FCC Chairman (and Obama supporter) Reed Hundt.  It will be webcast from the page linked to above, starting at 12:25.

UPDATE 12:35 Eastern – One of the campaigns had to cancel this morning, and no last minute replacement was found.  The debate is now a conversation, but still going on.

The Future of Arctic Shipping

October 26th, 2008

Posted by: admin

The November issue of The Atlantic has a map outlining future shipping possibilities if the Arctic – as currently anticipated – becomes ice-free in the summers starting five short years from now.  It’s worth taking a closer look at the whole thing.

Arctic Shipping MapGiven the expected timeframe for the clearing of traffic routes, the important policy questions are not restricted to how this might be prevented or reversed.  Countries like Denmark, Russia, Canada and the United States are are already starting to grapple with what policies need to change when shipping changes routes, requiring people, ports, defense and security in places where virtually none of these (and almost as few people) have been for a while.

William Proxmire is Alive and Well

October 25th, 2008

Posted by: admin

There will no doubt be a lot of reading between the lines here, and conclusions related to many of the other issues connected with the Presidential campaign.  This is too bad, because I think my main point, along with this story, may well get buried due to the vicissitudes of the news cycle.

Governor Palin gave her first policy speech as a Vice-Presidential candidate on Friday.  The emphasis of the speech was on support for children with special needs.  As Governor Palin’s youngest child has Down Syndrome and a nephew has autism, this is a particularly appropriate topic for her to give an address.  You can read it and see the video online.

Where Governor Palin gets to a perpetual challenge for science and technology supporters is later in the address where she challenges earmarks for various projects – citing a public policy center and fruit fly research in France.  As Senator McCain has complained about a bear study, this is not the first time this campaign has listed scientific research as part of their campaign against earmarks.


Scientific Prizes – a Supplement to Research Funding?

October 24th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Those following space activities are probably familiar with various forms of the X Prize, which offers healthy sums of cash for groups or individuals that manage to meet certain scientific or technical accomplishments.  The most known is probably the Ansari X Prize, which was awarded to the folks behind SpaceShip One, who demonstrated private, reusable, suborbital spaceflight.  You can thank them for your ability to soar up to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic sometime in the near future (should you have the $200,000 price to flight).  Other X Prizes focus on space, genomics, automobiles and now, health care (Hat Tip, Scientifc Blogging).  DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – has held several Grand Challenge events, where teams compete for prizes by demonstrating certain technological feats – most recently around autonomous driving.

Given the trend in this decade for flat (or close to it) government funding for research, alternative funding really is needed in order for the desired increases to happen.  However, I doubt that prizes can effectively bridge this gap.  They work – but are based on a fundamentally different economics than the scientific research that relies on the federal budget.  Prizes provide incentive, and the money and associated sales from the successful product or service can be used to fund other research, but the ’start-up costs’ (for lack of a better term) are born by the researchers.  They are also more application or problem focused, and while it’s not a stranger to academic research, it is not the focus of the majority of that research.

In today’s economic climate, it seems less than likely that universities will commit resources to support a speculative payoff.  However, private sector research has been on the decline for years, and it remains to be seen that there can be enough prizes to boost private sector activity to restore prior levels.  If foundation giving does decline, as it might given the current economy, prizes themselves may have difficulty expanding.  In short, it’s going to hurt all over.

NIH Reprimanded Employee Over Conflicts of Interest

October 23rd, 2008

Posted by: admin

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday about the case of Dr. Ned Feder, an NIH employee who wrote to several publications suggesting that NIH grantees disclose payments they receive from medical companies.  The payments are rarely made public, either in articles published from the associated research or in grant applications.  Given that the results of this research will influence what products are prescribed or used, the conflict of interest – at least the potential for it – should be clear.

However, the NIH does not require disclosure of these payments, or of consulting arrangements between researchers and companies.  The latter usually has to be disclosed to the researchers’ home institutions, but that information remains confidential. Dr. Feder argued for strong public disclosure of any kind of financial relationships between researchers and medical companies as a condition of receiving grant money.  The NIH recently had to deal with incidents where researchers failed to disclose payments from pharmaceutical companies.  It has risen to the point where Senator Grassley has been investigating the matter.  Their response to Dr. Feder was to formally reprimand him, an action that was rescinded after protest.  While I can understand the need for an agency to present a consistent stand on matters of policy, their unwillingness to embrace this kind of open accesss is disappointing.  Dr. Feder is no longer with NIH, and works now for the Project on Government Oversight.