My picks in Science and Science Policy 6/25/17-7/2/17

By | July 2, 2017

1. The Trump Administration begins its war on climate change science in earnest

We knew it was coming, but in the past weeks the Trump Administration has truly begun its war on climate science. Starting with pulling out of the Paris agreement, and so far culminating in the past week with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announcing that the EPA will “evaluate U.S. climate science”, science that has already gone through the peer review process and is widely accepted by the scientific community.

The House also advanced a bill to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which follows the DARPA model of advancing risky (exciting) research projects in order to obtain big break throughs.

And finally, an op-ed from the UCS, describing in detail the problems with Pruitt’s EPA changes, and the catastrophic effects climate denial will likely have.

2. NIH reverses grant funding changes, institutes new program

I wrote earlier about a new NIH grant funding program which would restrict the amount of money obtained by large, highly successful labs in order to spread funding and grow a larger research community. That plan has now been scrapped, after NIH head Francis Collins discussed it with “NIH advisors”. In its place is the Next Generation Researchers Initiative, which is essentially the system we have now but includes a “reprioritization” of the funding in order to assist new investigators, but no new money. 10% of labs get almost half of all NIH funding, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the leaders of these labs have Collins ear. The NIH must do what is best for the scientific community as a whole, not just the largest most successful labs.

3. Govern like a scientist

I’ve long held that our politicians need to think more like scientists. They need to follow the scientific method when making policy, they need to propose policy that is backed by evidence, and they need to govern based on facts rather than their own thirst for power and money. This column from Nature eloquently expands on this, proposing that scientists must be more politically active both within and outside of their own institutions.

4. proposed science funding from house

If you talked to any budget experts about Trump’s proposed science budget (my favorite is Matt Hourihan, is the budget director for the AAAS), they likely told you that they weren’t as worried as you’d expect. Despite the goals of the administration, our actual Congressmen and Women support science research (for the most part) and understand that it’s good for their districts and for the country. This is what we see in the House’s proposed budget for 2018. There arere some cuts, but it is largely similar to the 2017 budget, and is nowhere near as drastic as what the Trump Administration proposed.

5. We should find hope in Science Diplomacy

Science is global, and scientific findings transcend borders, affecting everybody on Earth. Despite this, science often has to bow before politics, scientific findings are ignored, and discoveries are used or abused for financial or military means. However, this op-ed from Science & Diplomacy strikes an optimistic note. Its author explains that the values of science are strong and that scientists will continue to be crucial in interpreting reality to build a better society.

These themes are expanded on in this elucidating interview with Thomas Pickering, a retired U.S. Ambassador. Pickering explains that the fusion of science and diplomacy is crucial for international collaboration and how we respond to global challenges. Hopefully the field will continue to grow, ideally as an arm of the increased participation of scientists in politics and policy.

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