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.)

Continue reading

John Oliver discusses Scientific Studies

If you didn’t catch the latest episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, be sure to do so. Summary here:

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver debunked scientific studies that make outrageous claims. Oliver pointed to an example of an all too familiar subject of studies: Coffee. “In just the last few months, we’ve seen studies about coffee that claim it may reverse the effects of liver damage, help prevent colon cancer, decrease the risk of endometrial cancer, and increase the risk of miscarriage. Coffee today is like god in the old testament: It will either save you or kill you, depending on how much you believe in its magic powers.”

These studies can have serious consequences. Oliver explained that they are rarely replicated or fact checked, but that hasn’t stopped news organizations from actively reporting on the studies as truth. The contradictory nature of the these salacious studies can lead people to dismissing actual science that has been peer reviewed… like climate change.

There are always scientific experiments that haven’t yet been replicated or that are just waiting to be disproven. That is because science is a work in progress… we are always improving techniques, and learning more about subjects. I think the real problem lies with the media taking scientific evidence and portraying it as “fact” in order to boost viewership of the story. While scientists can always work harder to improve communication skills, this is a two-way street, and the media simply needs to do a better job of reporting on science.

What is the deal with @NERCscience’s RSS #BoatyMcBoatface?? #NameOurShip

In case you haven’t heard, a research vessel being built in the UK to the tune of $290 billion, may be christened the RRS Boaty McBoatface after an online poll to name the ship went viral.

When scientists in the U.K. asked the public to name their new $290 million polar research ship, they expected the name of an explorer such as Sir Ernest Shackleton or a naturalist like David Attenborough to eventually be emblazoned across the vessel’s bow.

However, they didn’t factor in the Brits’ oddball sense of humor

By 9 a.m. Monday (5 a.m. ET), more than 27,000 people had voted to name the ship “RRS Boaty McBoatface.”

The poll was launched Thursday by the National Environment Research Council, the government-funded body building the ship in Cammell Laird shipyard, near Liverpool.

The ship itself is amazing, and we look forward to the science that will come from its missions. However, we also can’t stop laughing at the potential future name of the ship. While it poses a conundrum for NERC, it has also resulted in TONS of press for the organization and its new ship!!

The name Boaty McBoatface was suggested by James Hand, who has since apologized for causing trouble on the poll, but refuses to deny the awesomeness of the name he submitted!!

CERN LGBT scientists targeted by other CERN scientists #science #hate

The CERN particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland has made huge discoveries in particle physics over the last few years. Unfortunately, it seems that CERN is also home to some hateful scientists (via Towleroad):

Kasich seems to have the right opinion on climate change #climate #GOP

In contrast to Marco Rubio last night, John Kasich seems to be moving in the right direction in terms of his stance on climate change. FINALLY someone in the GOP seems to be having somewhat rational thoughts on this matter (from Huffington Post):

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) knows human activity contributes to climate change, but that doesn’t mean he’s against it.

“I do believe we contribute to climate change,” he said. “We want all the sources of energy. We want to dig coal but we want to clean it when we burn it. We believe in natural gas, we believe in nuclear power, and you know what else I believe in? I happen to believe in solar energy, wind energy, efficiency, renewables.”

He later clarified that, “we don’t know how much humans actually contribute.”

YAAAAS Kasich… thank you for admitting that humans contribute to climate change, and that solar and wind energy are viable alternatives.