The week in Science and Science Policy 7/9/17-7/16/17

By | July 17, 2017

1. The importance and future of Fetal Bovine Serum

Fetal bovine serum is one of the most common reagents I use in lab every day. As a cancer biologist working with immortalized human and mouse cell lines, it’s a key component of the cell growth media that I feed to my cells to keep them growing, and it’s something that I barely think about. I found this article to be sensationalist, but also believe that it’s important to know the origins of our reagents. I often think about the huge amount of trash I generate in lab every day, but forget about the animal origins of many of my reagents. As we look to science to solve more of our problems, we have to remember that it’s not a zero-waste endeavor.

2. What will Earth look like post-climate change?

This much discussed New York magazine cover story envisions the future after devastating climate change. The scientific community often talks about how we as scientists need to improve our own abilities to tell stories instead of explaining data through dry scientific papers, and in this article David Wallace-Wells accomplishes this, resulting in something I wish was science fiction. I’m linking to the annotated form of the article, take a look at the post on as well for more criticism by climate scientists.

3. Disruptive vs. incremental R&D

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is arguably one of the most interesting research organizations in the United States. DARPA is focused on taking big risks, and moving science forward in jumps instead of steps through projects that would be unachievable under normal funding situations. This has led to the development of many of the technologies shaping the 21st century, including the internet. This strategy was repeated with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which is focused on high-risk, high-reward energy projects (although its future is uncertain, the proposed 2018 budget eliminates ARPA-E).

In a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the GAO suggests that there should be a more explicit distinction between disruptive research (like DARPA) and incremental research. The GAO believes that separating different research projects along these lines would improve innovation, as it would result in separate strategies for long-term research that will result in large innovations and short term, “maintenance” research that produces incremental advancements in existing technology or research fields.

4. Are Republican politicians pivoting on climate change?

Buzzfeed reported last week that Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Science Committee, recently travelled to Alaska and Greenland on a “Science Tour” of climate change research. Smith is perhaps best known for bringing a snow ball to the house floor as evidence that global warming does not exist, and this acknowledgement and demonstration of interest in climate change science is an interesting turn for one of the most virulent climate change deniers.

Even more interesting, the House voted to approve an amendment to the 2018 defense funding bill stating that “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States”, and dictating that defense officials should begin to study which military facilities will be most affected. This may demonstrate that Republicans are beginning to realize that climate change is our reality, and combined with Smith’s recent trip may mean a broader change in Republican climate change doctrine.

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