Ongoing CRISPR battle

CRISPR, in addition to being the hottest new gene editing technique, has also been at the heart of a vicious patent battle between the Broad Institute and Berkeley. In a recent update, the US Patent Office has deemed that the patents issued to the Broad Institute (Feng Zhang) valid, which is a major blow to Berkeley (Jennifer Doudna).

Ahhh, science drama.

NPR and Science do a good job summarizing the verdict.

Jon Cohen for Science has written a fantastic article going into the background of how CRISPR technology was discovered and developed, and what has led to the current patent battle.

Mark your calendars: Science March Apr 22nd

MARK YOUR CALENDARS. On April 22, we will walk out of our labs and into the streets.

https://www.marchforscience.com/

We are scientists and science enthusiasts. We come from all races, all religions, all gender identities, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all political perspectives, and all nationalities. Our diversity is our greatest strength: a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process. What unites us is a love of science, and an insatiable curiosity. We all recognize that science is everywhere and affects everyone.

Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels – from local schools to federal agencies – throughout the world.

Is Science is making a comeback?!

We’ve posted frequently about the decline in public support for science over the past several years. One reason for this decline is that the general public just doesn’t understand science or finds it boring (let’s be real, we’ve all have that dreadful chemistry/physics/biology/etc professor). Another reason is due to the current trend of dismissing facts and evidence-based decision making.

The scientific community has been trying to combat this by working to improve science communication in many ways. And seems like some of this hard work has paid off? Is Science (slowly beginning to) making a comeback with the general public?! Here are THREE examples why I think science is on the up and up:

Bill Nye is BACK! Bill Nye, our favorite science guy (tied with Neil deGrasse Tyson), is coming back with a Netflix series called Bill Nye Saves the World. I CANNOT WAIT. This series will feature celebrities and highlight some important topics in science today (climate change, health, etc). From what I can tell, it seems like “Bill Nye the Science Guy” but made for adults. This type of public-oriented science show is EXACTLY what science needs. A way to inspire and demonstrate cool science while also informing about the principles of how research is done and how scientists draw conclusions.

Magic School Bus is ALSO back! And thankgawd. The new series “The Magic School Bus: Rides Again” will debut on Netflix later this year. This was absolutely my favorite show as a little kid, and it’s incredibly important that the future generation receives a strong foundation in science. As a plus, our favorite SNL star Kate McKinnon will voice Mrs. Frizzle.

Dan Rather and the Science Communication Lab. I love it when non-scientists in positions of fame advocate for science. Dan Rather is doing just that. He is collaborating with iBiology to bring science to the general public. In his statement:

I have a deep curiosity about the mysteries of life, and an unwavering respect for the women and men expanding the horizons of knowledge, and I am collaborating with a nonprofit science communication group called IBiology to extend their mission from the professional science community to you, the general public. We’re calling this effort the Science Communication Lab.

We will be announcing future projects soon, including a feature-length documentary on which we have just begun production. For all the importance of politics these days, we would do well to remember that there is a larger world that can fill us with wonder and awe.

I am really looking forward to all three of these efforts to expand science to the general public!

Follow @AltNatParkSer on Twitter- response to the EPA gag order #resist

If you haven’t already, be sure to follow @AltNatParkSer on twitter: The Unofficial “Resistance” team of U.S. National Park Service. Not taxpayer subsidised! Come for rugged scenery, fossil beds, 89 million acres of landscape.

This account is in response to a gag order placed by Trump banning agencies like the EPA from using twitter accounts or other forms of media to inform reporters of news. While Trump can prevent the official agency accounts from being in use, he cannot prevent personal twitter accounts from being used.

 

 

AAAS helps us with the transition

AAAS has a nice website detailing information on the president-elect’s transition into the White house:

The 45th President of the United States will confront a broad range of global challenges, including addressing climate change, securing our energy future, and sustaining investments in scientific research efforts. AAAS has created this website to display information on the President-elect’s Transition and Cabinet appointments; white papers, transition statements, and letters from the scientific community; and news and other resources. It will be updated throughout the transition, inauguration, and the New Administration’s First 100 Days.

CHECK OUT THEIR WEBSITE. But be warned, there’s not a lot of promise for the future of science.

How to talk about climate change with a denier

While ranting and complaining about climate change deniers and denialism is perhaps cathartic, it may not be the most effective way to bring about change. Luckily, Science Friday and NPR have a fantastic piece about how to talk about climate change with a denier (and here is a link to the full podcast):

Many of us have debated the threat of climate change with our friends, family, and strangers on the internet. But not everyone believes that anthropogenic climate change exists or views it as a problem relevant to their everyday lives. And, as we’ve seen lately in the political world, facts aren’t always enough.

Luckily, we recently invited a panel of climate scientists, a psychologist, and a couple callers to join us on Science Friday and share advice on how to have a conversation about climate change that could change a skeptic’s mind. Here are their tips:

For thermal sciences professor John Abraham, climate change’s relevance to the average person doesn’t come down to cute and cuddly animals from far-off places. It comes down to the real changes that are happening in people’s backyards.

“I will talk about wildfires in Tennessee that are affecting Americans’ lives this winter. I will talk about the drought in California, which is the worst in 1,200 years. I’ll talk about the changes to habitat for hunters, fishermen, and farmers. These people’s lives are being affected by climate change. And when you can bring the impacts to their lives, it’s a much more compelling case to be made.”

“The fact of the matter is, solar and wind production costs have dropped incredibly over the past three decades,” said Abraham. “And they’re still dropping. And they’re now almost on par with coal.

“So if we can have energy that is clean at the same price as the dirty energy, well, it’s just a no-brainer: Throw the climate change and the polar bears out the window. You just make the decision based on economics.”

“My argument that I used with my family was spinning the morals that they put on me as a child against them,” said Amber, who called in during the show. She told them: “You always told me to take care of stuff and to leave something better than what I was presented with. So if I’m presented with the earth, then I need to leave it better than as you gave it to me. And it’s my earth, so I need to take care of it.

“And if you want to throw in religion, you could also say because God created Earth. So when I presented it that way, all of a sudden, there wasn’t much of an argument.

“We take care of our earth. End of discussion.”

Vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to lead commission on vaccine safety? #wtf

The real news is starting to sound more and more like the Onion. Today, it was announced that Trump has asked major vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. to chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity. Full details on WaPo.  REALLY?!

The nightmare keeps going on. I don’t know how many more times this blog is going to have to discuss that there is no link between vaccines and autism or how many more times we need to advocate for vaccination. I’ll save my full rant for another day, but it’s infuriating that in this “post-truth” world, scientists have to spend SO MUCH TIME convincing politicians that a discredited study is actually false and that it is inappropriate to make political decisions based on this false claim.

I still don’t understand how politicians come to these scientific conclusions such as vaccine skepticism when the overwhelming majority of established scientists argue otherwise. If 99% of dentists told me I had to get my tooth pulled, but 1 businessman told me no need, guess who I’d listen to? The dentists. Even though it will hurt, it’s going to be best in the long run.

In the case of climate change denialism, I can at least somewhat understand that accepting climate change means having to accept some very uncomfortable realities (as I discussed previously), and politicians and society may not want to accept that out of their own self-interest. But what is the financial, political, or personal gain in overturning vaccination laws and denying the efficacy of vaccines? I DO NOT get it. Seems like everyone will lose.

 

*note- As a scientist, obviously I think it is incredibly important to ensure quality control and safety when it comes to vaccine design, production, and testing. And that there’s always room for improvement in these areas. However, I’m worried that the intentions of skeptics like Robert Kennedy Jr. is not to improve and enhance vaccines, but to debunk and overturn progress under the guise of “safety”.