Concerned scientists tell Lamar Smith – HELL NO – to his overreaching McCarthyistic info request #science #intimidation @UCSUSA @BadAstronomer

Phil Plait has written a scathing take down in Slate of anti-science Representative Lamar Smith and his recent request for oversight over the Union of Concerned Scientists (ironically Smith is the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology). See the many, many, many previous CauseScience posts about Rep. Lamar Smith intimidating scientists and anti-science credentials.

Plait does a great job summarizing Smith’s history against climate change, as well as the recent controversy involving the  Union of Concerned Scientists – a quick and informative read:

To the surprise of no one, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is continuing his unfounded attack on science, ratcheting it up even higher than before. This time, he’s trying to tie up the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The good news? They’re having none of it.

 

Smith’s been ramping up a new(ish) tactic, trying to flush out what he thinks is a cabal of scientists fighting the fossil fuel industry. On May 18, 2016, he sent a letter to the UCS, an obvious attempt to create a chilling effect on their work to help scientists maintain the freedom they need to do their research.

See the ridiculous letter from Smith to UCS here. The letter and intent behind it are far overreaching Smith’s jurisdiction – as pointed out by Plait. The head of UCS responded by saying HELL NO, more or less. Below is the response… in fewer words, UCS will not be intimidated by Smith. AND UCS will not allow Smith to set a precedent of overreaching his jurisdiction when it comes to harassing scientists! Way to go UCS! Can’t wait to see the guaranteed McCarthyistic response from Smith and his Committee!

Several members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have sent letters to 17 state attorneys general, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other groups, requesting that they turn over documents and communications among the groups related to investigations into ExxonMobil. Attorneys general from California, Massachusetts, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are investigating whether ExxonMobil lied to its shareholders and the public about the threat of climate change.

Below is a statement by Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The premise of Chairman Smith’s letter is a farce. The attorneys general are not investigating ExxonMobil’s scientific research, but rather whether the company misled shareholders and the public about the dangers of climate change in order to continue profiting from a lucrative product. Documents uncovered by UCS and others reveal that scientists with Exxon and other companies knew about the causes and consequences of climate change by the 1970s, but company leaders chose to deny, disparage and downplay this evidence to avoid sensible regulation.

“We are unapologetic about our efforts to expose this deception, and we will not be intimidated by this tactic. Record temperatures, rising seas and unprecedented flooding affects people around the globe and they rightly expect carbon producers to be held accountable for their deliberate strategy to deceive the public, shareholders and policy makers.

“It’s ironic that Representative Smith sees our work as an attempt to stifle scientific discourse, when he has spent the last 10 months harassing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists whose research he doesn’t like. This abuse of power has been repeatedly and strongly rebuked by the scientific community.

“In keeping with Mr. Smith’s calls for transparency, the public should demand that oil companies fully disclose what their scientists knew about climate change and when. And more importantly, the public deserves to know which industry executives made decisions to mislead shareholders, policy makers and investors about the harm of their products.”

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@NIH observes #PRIDE month – How research impacts LGBTQ communities

NIH is observing PRIDE month this June with events on the NIH campus and the ‘telling our stories’ campaign. The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), along with the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities are bringing awareness this PRIDE month to how research impacts sexual and gender minority communities. See the NIH Director Francis Collins’ statement to NIH staff for pride month below.

Check out the NIH EDI website here for ‘Telling Our Stories’ and more. Or on twitter @NIH_EDI.

Dear Staff,

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is committed to the principles of equal employment opportunity, diversity, and inclusion in our research and workplace.  As part of that commitment, the NIH will be celebrating this year’s Pride Month with a variety of activities that highlight the meaning of including the sexual and gender minority (SGM) community in our work.  The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office, and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities are sponsoring several events that will address key areas of interest in working with SGM populations.  The goal of these activities is to understand, in very specific ways, how research impacts sexual and gender minority communities, and how best to conduct research with and for SGM populations.

The theme for this year’s NIH Pride Month is “Telling Our Stories, Claiming Our Power, Standing in Our Truth.”  This theme reflects our understanding of the importance of storytelling in the biomedical research setting.  In each of the four Pride Month events, we have the opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to look at research from a new and different perspective.

Throughout the month-long celebration, EDI will make available on their website video testimonials and written accounts of members of the NIH SGM community and their allies. Through this campaign, we will have the honor of hearing their stories and learning from their experiences.

Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to learn about, understand, and work for the interests of those groups that invite us and trust us to explore research opportunities within their communities.  I hope that during the month of Pride you will pause to reflect upon the diversity of the SGM population and the importance of including this community in our research and other related activities.  SGM research sits at the intersection of our ongoing commitment to equal employment opportunity, diversity and inclusion, and our mission of turning discovery into health.

For more information on the Pride events happening on the NIH campus, please visit http://edi.nih.gov/pride and follow EDI on twitter and Instagram at @NIH_EDI.

Sincerely yours,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Director

Iowa Rep. Steve King’s claims on water quality get SciChecked – @factcheckdotorg

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SciCheck spills the scientific T on water quality data – and schools Rep. Steve King on his recent claims (including the snarky, but hilarious point that ‘bison’ is more scientifically accurate than ‘buffalo’).

During a recent congressional hearing, Rep. Steve King of Iowa underestimated what scientists know about the relationship between farming practices and water quality.

  • King said scientists don’t know about the quality of water in the U.S. “when the buffalo roamed” because there were “no water quality tests then.” Pre-1900 water quality data is relatively scarce, but experts can use techniques from paleolimnology to evaluate past water quality.
  • He implied that this lack of “baseline” data prevents scientists from knowing whether applications of crop fertilizer are “too much.” But experts say they don’t need 19th century data to know fertilizers have negatively impacted water quality. The 20th century provides plenty of evidence.

To start, the term “bison” is scientifically more accurate than “buffalo” when referring to North American populations.

White House launches #Microbiome initiative!

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing a new National Microbiome Initiative (NMI) to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems, and is hosting an event to bring together stakeholders vital to advancing the NMI.

Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain healthy function of these diverse ecosystems, influencing human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. Dysfunctional microbiomes are associated with issues including human chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma; local ecological disruptions such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico; and reductions in agricultural productivity. Numerous industrial processes such as biofuel production and food processing depend on healthy microbial communities. Although new technologies have enabled exciting discoveries about the importance of microbiomes, scientists still lack the knowledge and tools to manage microbiomes in a manner that prevents dysfunction or restores healthy function.

The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiome behavior and enable protection and restoration of healthy microbiome function. In a year-long fact-finding process, scientists from Federal agencies, academia, and the private sector converged on three recommended areas of focus for microbiome science, which are now the goals of the NMI:

  1. Supporting interdisciplinary research to answer fundamental questions about microbiomes in diverse ecosystems.
  2. Developing platform technologies that will generate insights and help share knowledge of microbiomes in diverse ecosystems and enhance access to microbiome data.
  3. Expanding the microbiome workforce through citizen science, public engagement, and educational opportunities.

The NMI builds on strong and ongoing Federal investments in microbiome research, and will launch with a combined Federal agency investment of more than $121 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and 2017 funding for cross-ecosystem microbiome studies. This includes:

  • The Department of Energy proposes $10 million in new funding in FY 2017 to support collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the microbiome.
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)proposes $12.5 million in new funding over multiple years to expand microbiome research across Earth’s ecosystems and in space.
  • The National Institutes of Health will invest an extra $20 million into microbiome research in grants in FY 2016 and FY 2017 with a particular emphasis on multi-ecosystem comparison studies and investigation into design of new tools to explore and understand microbiomes.
  • The National Science Foundation proposes $16 million in FY 2017 for microbiome research that spans the spectrum of ecosystems, species, and biological scales.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposes more than $15.9 million for FY 2017 to expand computational capacities for microbiome research and human microbiome research through the Agricultural Research Service, and approximately $8 million for FY 2017 to support investigations through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the microbiomes of plants, livestock animals, fish, soil, air, and water as they influence food-production systems.

In addition, following OSTP’s national call to action issued in January, more than 100 external institutions are today announcing new efforts to support microbiome science. These include:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $100 million over 4 years to investigate and develop tools to study human and agricultural microbiomes.
  • JDRF will invest $10 million over 5 years to address microbiome research related to type 1 diabetes.
  • The University of California, San Diego, is investing $12 million in The Center for Microbiome Innovation to enable technology developers to connect with end users.
  • One Codex is launching a public portal for microbiome data, allowing greater access to this data for researchers, clinicians, and other health professionals.
  • The BioCollective, LLC, along with the Health Ministries Network, are investing $250,000 towards building a microbiome data and sample bank, and the engagement of underrepresented groups in microbiome research.
  • The University of Michigan, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Procter and Gamble, will invest $3.5 million in the Michigan Microbiome Project to provide new research experiences for undergraduate students.

Click here to learn more about Federal involvement in microbiome research, and about all of the commitments and announcements being made today.

Why the Paris climate deal signing ceremony matters! @FR_Conversation

Paris climate deal signing ceremony: what it means and why it matters

Damon Jones, University of Cologne and Bill Hare, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

The world took a collective sigh of relief in the last days of 2015, when countries came together to adopt the historic Paris agreement on climate change.

The international treaty was a much-needed victory for multilateralism, and surprised many with its more-ambitious-than-expected agreement to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The next step in bringing the agreement into effect happens in New York on Friday 22 April, with leaders and dignitaries from more than 150 countries attending a high-level ceremony at the United Nations to officially sign it.

The New York event will be an important barometer of political momentum leading into the implementation phase – one that requires domestic climate policies to be drawn up, as well as further international negotiations.

It comes a week after scientists took a significant step to assist with the process. On April 13 in Nairobi, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreed to prepare a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This will provide scientific guidance on the level of ambition and action needed to implement the Paris agreement.

Why the ceremony?

The signing ceremony in New York sets in motion the formal, legal processes required for the Paris Agreement to “enter into force”, so that it can become legally binding under international law.

Although the agreement was adopted on December 12 2015 in Paris, it has not yet entered into force. This will happen automatically 30 days after it has both been ratified by at least 55 countries, and by countries representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Both conditions of this threshold have to be met before the agreement is legally binding.

So, contrary to some concerns after Paris, the world does not have to wait until 2020 for the agreement to enter into force. It could happen as early as this year.

Signing vs ratification

When a country signs the agreement, it is obliged to refrain from acts that would defeat its object and purpose. The next step, ratification, signifies intent to be legally bound by the terms of the treaty.

The decision on timing for ratification by each country will largely be determined by domestic political circumstances and legislative requirements for international agreements.

Those countries that have already completed their domestic processes for international agreements can choose to sign and ratify on the same day in New York.

Who is going to sign and ratify in New York?

It is perhaps no surprise that the countries which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and who championed the need for high ambition in Paris will be first out of the gate to ratify in New York.

Thirteen Small Island Developing States (SIDS) from the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific have signalled their intent to sign and ratify in New York: Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Seychelles and Tuvalu.

While these countries make up about a quarter of the 55 countries needed, they only account for 0.02% of the emissions that count towards the required 55% global emissions total.

Bringing the big emitters on board

China and the United States have recently jointly announced their intentions to sign in New York and to take the necessary domestic steps to formally join the agreement by ratifying it later this year. Given that they make up nearly 40% of the agreed set of global emissions for entry into force, that will go a significant way to meeting the 55% threshold.

We can expect more announcements of intended ratification schedules on 22 April. Canada (1.95%) has signalled its intent to ratify this year and there are early signs for many others. Unfortunately the European Union, long a leader on climate change, seems unlikely to be amongst the first movers due to internal political difficulties, including the intransigence of the Polish government.

The double threshold means that even if all of the SIDS and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) ratified, accounting for more than 75 countries but only around 4% of global emissions, the agreement would not enter into force until countries with a further 51% of global emissions also ratified.

Consequently, many more of the large emitters will need to ratify to ensure that the Paris agreement enters into force. This was a key design feature – it means a small number of major emitters cannot force a binding agreement on the rest of the world, and a large number of smaller countries cannot force a binding agreement on the major emitters.

The 55% threshold was set in order to ensure that it would be hard for a blocking coalition to form – a group of countries whose failure to ratify could ensure that an emissions threshold could not be met in practice. A number much above 60% of global emissions could indeed have led to such a situation.

The countries that appear likely to ratify this year, including China, the USA, Canada, many SIDS and LDCs, members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum along with several Latin American and African countries – around 90 in all – still fall about 5-6% short of the 55% emissions threshold.

It will take one more large emitter, such as the Russian Federation (7.53%), or two such as India (4.10%) and Japan (3.79%) to get the agreement over the line. The intent of these countries is not yet known.

Why is early action important?

The Paris agreement may be ambitious, but it will only be as good as its implementation. That will depend on the political momentum gained in Paris being maintained. Early entry into force for the treaty would be a powerful signal in this direction.

We know from the Climate Action Tracker analyses that the present commitments are far from adequate. If all countries fully implement the national emission reduction targets brought to the climate negotiations last year, we are still on track for temperature increases of around 2.7°C. Worse, we also know that current policies adopted by countries are insufficient to meet these targets and are heading to around 3.6°C of global warming.

With average global annual temperature increase tipping over 1°C above pre-industrial levels for the first time last year, it is clear that action to reduce emissions has never been more urgent.

We are already seeing more evidence this year: increases in the monthly global averages of February and March 2016 far exceeded 1°C, record coral reef bleaching, heatwaves, and unprecedented early melting of the Greenland ice sheet this northern spring.

Early entry into force will unlock the legally binding rights and obligations for parties to the agreement. These go beyond just obligations aimed at delivering emissions reductions through countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions to the critical issues of, for example, adaptation, climate finance, loss and damage, and transparency in reporting on and reviewing action and support.

The events in New York this week symbolise the collective realisation that rapid, transformative action is required to decarbonise the global economy by 2050.

Climate science tells us that action must increase significantly within the next decade if we are to rein in the devastating impacts of climate change, which the most vulnerable countries are already acutely experiencing.

For an up-to-date picture of which countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, see our Ratification Tracker.

The Conversation

Damon Jones, Lecturer, University of Cologne and Bill Hare, Visiting scientist, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Aurora Borealis from SPACE #HiDef #ISS #beauty

The current election climate in the U.S. has gotten me all annoyed and depressed. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a step back and appreciate the beauty in our planet. THANK YOU International Space Station for capturing this Ultra-High Definition time lapse of an Aurora Borealis from space. More details here. Enjoy!

Hey NY, don’t forget to vote in the primaries! #WhoSupportsScience

Big primary day for NY today, so be sure to go out there and vote! Not going to even bother discussing the republican candidates here, but for some info on the democrats, here’s just a nice post from US News about past actions from the candidates in regards to science.

In the Senate, Clinton and Sanders Didn’t Always Agree
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were on opposing sides of certain types of biomedical research while they served in Congress.

 

By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were on opposing sides of certain types of biomedical research while they served in Congress, differences that have gained notice by scientists and advocates on the forefront of stem cell research.

Clinton has pointed to her advocacy for groundbreaking medical research, from her push for more dollars as a New York senator for the National Institutes of Health to her long support for stem cell research that could eventually lead to regenerative medicine.

 

Sanders, a Vermont senator, has supported stem cell research in the Senate. But advocates within the scientific community cite his voting record in the early 2000s in the House when he repeatedly supported a ban on all forms of human cloning, including one called therapeutic cloning intended to create customized cells to treat disease.

“We were looking for signs that he is going to be a supporter of what science and technology can do and I think everyone in the country ought to be worried about that,” said Dr. Harold Varmus, the Nobel Prize-winning former NIH director under President Bill Clinton.

“I am quite concerned about his stance on these issues,” Varmus said. “This is a litmus test. It was 10 years ago — it’s still a test that he failed in the view of many of us.”

Sanders’ campaign policy director, Warren Gunnels, said in a statement Saturday that Sanders “strongly supports stem cell research, including research on embryonic stem cells. He understands that stem cell research holds the possibility of remarkable discoveries, even cures, for many illnesses — from Parkinson’s and diabetes to Alzheimer’s and arthritis.” He noted that Sanders supported 2006 legislation to lift funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

While serving in the House, Sanders voted to ban therapeutic cloning in 2001, 2003 and 2005 as Congress grappled with the ethics of biotechnology and scientific advances. Patient advocacy groups note that Sanders co-sponsored bans in 2003 and 2005 that included criminal penalties for conducting the research and opposed alternatives that would have allowed the cloning of embryos solely for medical research.

Clinton, meanwhile, co-sponsored legislation in 2001 and 2002 in the Senate that would have expanded stem cell research and co-sponsored a bill in 2005 that would have banned human cloning while protecting the right of scientists to conduct stem cell research.

Sanders said following a vote in 2001 that he had “very serious concerns about the long-term goals of an increasingly powerful and profit-motivated biotechnology industry.” In a later vote, he warned of the dangers of “owners of technology” who are “primarily interested in how much money they can make rather than the betterment of society.”

Gunnels said that “therapeutic cloning is a good thing, but only with proper oversight and regulations. The reality is that the corporate biotechnology industry is motivated almost exclusively by their quest for short-term profits and higher stock prices. There must be proper oversight over this industry.”

 

Some advocates for stem cell research said that overlooked the potential benefits of finding possible cures to Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s and other fatal or disabling diseases.

“Sanders and (then Republican House Majority Leader Tom) DeLay — some unlikely group — were just unyielding and they were part of the religious right’s attempt to shut down this whole critical new frontier of therapy for chronic disease,” said Robert Klein, chairman of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“It’s fine to say you’re for stem cell research but you vote against it and you vote against all therapeutic application, it doesn’t mean anything to say you’re for it,” Klein said. “Fine, he votes for it years later when it’s more popular and the pressure is off. We needed leadership then.”

Embryonic stem cells are master cells that can turn into any tissue of the body and researchers hope one day to harness that power for what’s today typically called “regenerative medicine.” Initially, they were derived by using leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics.

Therapeutic cloning is another method of deriving those cells.

Exactly what types of stem cell research to allow, and how to fund it, have been debated not only on the national level but in a number of states including Wisconsin, where researchers played key roles in some early discoveries. Wisconsin holds its presidential primary on Tuesday.

Federal law prohibits taxpayer funding of research that harms embryos so that early work was done with private money. But those types of cells can reproduce indefinitely in lab dishes, “lines” used for a variety of research projects.

After much controversy, the Bush administration declared that taxpayer money could be used for research using certain already-created embryonic stem cell lines and President Barack Obama expanded the number that qualify, a move that survived court challenges.