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.

The Chan-Zuckerberg initiative: end all disease by 2100 #YAAAAS

THIS IS AWESOME! Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have launched the Chan-Zuckerberg initiative where they will be giving $3 billion to prevent, cure, or manage ALL disease by the end of this century. Their mission:

We want every child to grow up in a better world. Our hopes for the future center on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality. We’ll focus first on personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities. We will make long-term investments over 25, 50 or even 100 years because our greatest challenges require time to solve.

It is a beautiful thing when very wealthy people spend their money on scientific research and innovation. YAAAAAS.

Baracktrema Obamai- new parasite named after the president #LifeGoals

I guess when you become president, you get the honor of having a newly discovered organism named after you. Introducing Baracktrema Obamai, a newly discovered freshwater parasitic flatworm that is found in Malaysian turtles. The full discovery is published in the Journal of Parasitology. Enjoy!

Lots of talk about Science at day 1 of the DNC #ImWithHer #DemsLoveScience #Proscience

So overjoyed to hear so many comments about science at the first day of the DNC! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the speeches from science supporters Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders! Here are some snippets:

From Grist– what Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all had in common in their speeches: Climate change!

PHILADELPHIA — Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders each chose different words to unite their party on the first night of the Democratic National Convention, but there was a unifying theme to their speeches. In outlining the high stakes of the election, they all talked about the huge consequences for future generations.

Take Michelle Obama, who said, “In this election, and every election, it is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.” Warren later said, “Hillary will fight to preserve this earth for our children and grandchildren. And we’re with her!” And then in Sanders’ big finale, he noted “the need to leave this world in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations.”

Anyone who’s concerned about climate change should recognize this argument. Perhaps more than any big issue in this election, climate change is about the decisions we make now and their impact on future generations. Whether they were referring to climate change or not, Obama, Warren, and Sanders were pleading with the Bernie-or-bust section of their party using the same logic.

“This election is about climate change, the great environmental crisis facing our planet,” Sanders said, in remarks that were nearly word-for-word what he said when he endorsed Clinton two weeks ago. “Hillary Clinton is listening to the scientists who tell us that unless we act boldly to transform our energy system in the very near future, there will be more drought, more floods, more acidification of the oceans, rising sea levels. … Hillary Clinton understands that a president’s job is to worry about future generations, not the profits of the fossil fuel industry.”

Warren talked about how dysfunction in Washington, D.C., benefits the fossil fuel industry rather than the public. “Washington works great for those at the top,” she said. “When huge energy companies wanted to tear up our environment, Washington got it done. … When we turn on each other, bankers can run our economy for Wall Street, oil companies can fight off clean energy.”

Obama didn’t hit on climate change directly in her rousing speech, but she didn’t need to. It’s clear enough what inaction on global warming would do to hurt younger generations.

 

Trump and Clinton- VERY different opinions on science #ImWithHer

This comes as a surprise to NO ONE, but Clinton and Trump are worlds apart on their views of basically anything, but especially science. Also not a huge surprise, but Clinton is very pro-science whereas Trump is… well… Trump. Nature News explains:

Science is slowly coming into focus in the US presidential campaign. Although neither Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton has emphasized core research issues, the candidates — and their parties — are beginning to flesh out their positions on climate change, education, biomedical research and other topics that involve the scientific community.

Trump’s pick of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate on 15 July signalled a sharp turn towards the Republican party’s conservative base. Pence, a self-described Christian conservative, has questioned the existence of climate change, waffled on evolution and criticized President Barack Obama for supporting embryonic-stem-cell research. His new role aligns with the hard-line policy platform adopted at the Republican convention, where Trump officially became the party’s nominee on 19 July.

If Trump wins, Pence’s rise could embolden conservative Republicans to seek new limits on federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research. But predicting how Trump would govern is a dangerous parlour game, says Michael Werner, executive director of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, an advocacy group in Washington DC: “We really don’t know what a Trump–Pence administration would do.”

It’s a common refrain. Deciphering Trump’s views on core science issues has been difficult given the free-wheeling style of his populist campaign. He has often seemed to focus more on taunting the political establishment than on staking out policy positions. By contrast, the Clinton campaign has consulted dozens of scientists on topics that include health, education and the environment.

“Trump doesn’t have a prominent policy shop and a prominent set of policy advisers,” says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who counselled Republican senator John McCain (Arizona) on economic policy during his failed 2008 presidential bid. “Clinton has a vast bureaucracy and a ten-point plan for going out to lunch, so they couldn’t be more different.”

The two candidates — whose campaign staff declined multiple interview requests — also seem to think very differently about the role of science. Although Clinton has described science and innovation as a foundation for the future, science funding seems to be an afterthought for Trump, says John Karsten, coordinator of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington DC. Instead, the Republican has focused on issues such as national security, immigration and crumbling infrastructure.

Climate change is one of the few science topics that has grabbed the campaign spotlight — in part because of Republican anger over Obama’s regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, vehicles and oil and gas development. Clinton’s climate and energy proposals would largely maintain the current course; by contrast, in a major policy speech on 26 May, Trump promised to roll back Obama’s “totalitarian” regulations and withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Trump, who has long denied mainstream climate science, also said that his administration will focus on “real environmental challenges, not phony ones”.

Split tickets

This yawning philosophical divide is apparent in the party platforms that the Republicans and Democrats developed ahead of their nominating conventions this month. Environmentalists have criticized the Republican platform for labelling coal a “clean” energy source, even though it produces more carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy than any other fossil fuel. Democrats, meanwhile, are poised to adopt a platform this week at their national convention that calls for using “every tool available to reduce emissions now”.

“Climate is going to be talked about in this campaign, because the candidates have distinctly different positions,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey who is advising the Clinton team. Although his workload was light during primary season, Oppenheimer anticipates questions from the campaign about how global warming might affect certain regions, or the extent to which an extreme weather event might be related to global warming.

Some experts say that the Democratic party’s adoption of science as a campaign issue — which Obama kick-started in 2008 — risks further polarizing thorny policy debates around scientific issues such as global warming. “The Democrats found that science was a good thing for them, just like historically strong support for the military was good for the Republicans,” says Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes in Washington DC (and a regular contributor to Nature). “If the Democrats are the party of science, and you are a Republican, what does that make you think?”

But Holtz-Eakin says that the Trump campaign’s apparent decision to forgo science advice is a reflection of Trump himself, not of Republican priorities. In 2008, he notes, the McCain campaign consulted scientists to formulate its positions on issues such as global warming — just as Clinton has done.

With just over three months until the election, there is still a chance that Trump will assemble his own coterie of science advisers, says Andrew Rosenberg, who heads the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doing so not only informs policy positions, it builds relationships that are useful after the election, when the winning candidate begins to assemble a government.

“These things widen the network,” Rosenberg says. “I know it’s happening with the Clinton campaign, and at some point I would expect it would happen with the Trump campaign.”

Mukherjee’s controversial piece on epigenetics #Drama

The scientific community is in uproar over Siddhartha Mukherjee’s latest piece for the New Yorker titled: Same but Different (you may know him from his novel Emperor of all maladies: a biography of cancer). His article highlights the study of epigenetics, and how recent findings may blur the line between nature and nurture. So why is the scientific community outraged? Vox explains:

 

Here’s the beef scientists have with Mukherjee and the New Yorker

The article is the type of piece the New Yorker usually is very good at: diving deep into a crevice of science and connecting it to veins of either history, politics, or the poetry of everyday life.

Mukherjee starts off with a personal tale. His mother and aunt are identical twins, and he muses on how their life experiences made them different people later on. He then connects this personal mystery with other mysteries in nature: Why are two ants genetically near identical but one is a worker and one is a boss?

In the story, what links these mysteries is the science of epigenetics, which, basically, explores how the environment can leave a lasting mark1 on how our genes work.

DNA is the instruction manual for life. So epigenetics may determine how likely those instructions are to be read. Understanding epigenetics is important because it could help us understand how we become more susceptible to disease (or not) over our lifetimes. And there’s some not-yet-conclusive evidence that epigenetic information is inheritable. As Vox’s Susannah Locke has explained, epigenetics means a person may pass on genes as well as experiences to a child.

But the article seems to have hit a nerve with some researchers who feel “epigenetics” has become a buzzword that’s distorting the science.

What Mukherjee (mainly) gets wrong, according to the scientists, is his explanation of how this process is thought to work. Mukherjee’s explanation is anchored in a discussion of histones, which are tiny proteins that act as a kind of a scaffolding for DNA. He leans heavily on the work of David Allis, a researcher at Rockefeller University, who has foundthese histones open and close specific sections of DNA, which he says changes the output of the genes.

“The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications — inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life,” Mukherjee writes.

Next, Mukherjee notes (more vaguely) that scientists have found “other systems, too, that could scratch different kinds of code on the genome.”

There are two main points the scientists are clamoring over.

One is that they say Allis’s theory that histones actually change the output of genes is far from proven. In a second post on Coyne’s blog, Greally and Mark Ptashne, a biologist at Sloan Kettering, write, “there is no evidence that coiling and uncoiling of DNA has a causal effect on gene activity.”

The second is the critics say those glossed-over “other systems” are actually the prevailing theory on how it all works, and should be at least discussed at greater length.

The big, overarching, concept Mukherjee missed is “transcription factors,” which are proteins that can turn specific genes on and off. It’s these factors that scientists say should be the main focus of the explanation of how our genes are differentiated. And despite decades of research on them, transcription factors are hardly mentioned at all in the piece.

Steve Henikoff, a molecular biologist, writes on Coyne’s blog:

Mukherjee seemed not to realize that transcription factors occupy the top of the hierarchy of epigenetic information, that this has been widely accepted in the broader chromatin [i.e. DNA] field, and that histone modifications at most act as cogs in the machinery that enforces the often complex programs specified by the binding of transcription factors.

(To note: The scientists have other concerns with the piece. You can read more about those here.)

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