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”.

 

WHY does climate denialism still exist?

I became outraged earlier when the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology posted the following tweet:

https://twitter.com/HouseScience/status/816356348443193344

First of all, we’ve mentioned several times how frustrated we are with the people in charge of this committee. Second, it is absolutely inappropriate for a government establishment to spread misinformation in this manner. Third, WHY is the climate change “debate” still happening?

I think we can blame a lot of this on denialism, and I think Wikipedia does the best job explaining it:

In the psychology of human behaviordenialism is a person’s choice to deny reality, as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.[1] Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of an historical experience or event, by the person refusing to accept an empirically verifiable reality.[2] In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favor of radical and controversial ideas.[3] The term climate change denialist is applied to people who argue against the scientific consensus that the global warming of planet Earth is a real and occurring event primarily caused by human activity.[5] The forms of denialism present the common feature of the person rejecting overwhelming evidence and the generation of political controversy with attempts to deny the existence of consensus.[6][7] The motivations and causes of denialism include religion and self-interest (economic, political, financial) and defence mechanisms meant to protect the psyche of the denialist against mentally disturbing facts and ideas.[8][9]

Denialism occurs as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth, and often out of self-interest. We know the uncomfortable truths that come with accepting climate change: the need to revamp and alter energy production, which inherently leads to the loss of many jobs (coal industry, oil, etc), loss of wealth and income for many, and loss of votes for the members of congress who represent these people. As a result, it’s easy to try to not accept climate change as a way to avoid these truths.

However, I think the largest problem with this issue is that the government is trying to turn the conversation into a scientific debate trying to delegitimize climate change research instead of focusing their energy on the political debate.

Politicians don’t want to lose votes, and americans don’t want to lose jobs. The easiest way to maintain the status quo is to make false claims that climate change doesn’t exist because the “science doesn’t add up”.

There are VERY FEW politicians who are educated in the subject enough to assess for themselves the validity of climate change data. This is why they often will have aides, who are educated in the topic, to help inform their decisions. And, this is why scientists have the process of peer review and data reproduction. Results go through a harsh critique and review process from highly qualified scientists in the field, and then are validated through reproduction from other groups. This way, there are several levels to gauge whether data are legitimate or not. As a result of this process, there is a VERY HIGH CONSENSUS among scientists that man-made climate change is occurring.

I think it is our duty to shift the focus AWAY from this post-truth, false idea that climate change science is a “debate”, and instead focus on the real debate: the policy decisions on how we tackle climate change. There is a clear difference here. The debate is not on the validity of the science (because lets get real here, most politicians are not equipped to comment on that), but what you do with the data that exists (the real job of politicians- take the data, and make informed policy decisions).

If that’s the case, I think it’s fair for conservative politicians to be upfront and honest with what their REAL intentions in this matter: Climate change is real, but tackling that problem from a policy point is a nightmare, so they don’t actually about the future, and will not handle the problem. They’ll be long gone before the full repercussions of climate change affect humanity anyway.

Science update! What’s happened in the world of science since we last posted #alot

So, a LOT has happened since our brief hiatus. We’ll try to fill you in on some of the major news in science:

  1. Scientists isolate and measure antimatter for the first time! Published in Nature, summary in Nature News, and another good summary of the discovery here.
  2. The EM Drive– while controversial, NASA scientists show that the EM drive, an engine that does not require propellant, does indeed work (but there’s no explanation for how it works). Either way, could be an important step in the future of transportation and space exploration!
  3. Human Cell Atlas launched– a collaborative worldwide effort to create reference maps of all human cells in effort to understand human health and diagnose, monitor, and treat human disease.
  4. RIP John Glen– first astronaut to orbit the earth. Video obituary from The Guardian.
  5. 2016 Nobel Prizes!
    1. Nobel Prize in Physics: David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”
    2. Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines”
    3.  Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Yoshinori Ohsumi“for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy”

  6. 5th annual breakthrough prizes awarded. 
  7. First proven vaccine against Ebola! Still in testing stages, but fast-tracked through the FDA. Summary in the Washington Post.
  8. And in some negative news, Donald Trump was elected president of the USA. While we cannot say for sure what will happen, we know his pick for budget director doesn’t think there’s a need for govt funded science, his pick to head the EPA is a climate change denialist, and his choice to lead health and human services does not believe in women’s reproductive rights.Slate provides a grim perspective for the outlook on science. There’s so much anti-science Trump-related news in the media, that we simply don’t have the physical space or mental capacity to display it all.  This being said, CauseScience is even more dedicated than ever to promote science and advocate for science literacy.

While a wonderful few months for scientific discovery and progress, we are faced with bleak prospects for the future of science in this country. In times like this, I think this quote from Astronaut Edgar Mitchell about going to the moon is most appropriate:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'”

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all from CauseScience!

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CauseScience celebrating New Years Tiki style!

Sorry for the brief hiatus from posting! Here at CauseScience, we’ve been busy with lab work, stressed about our futures, and a little depressed about the state of the world. The good news is that the progress of science is inevitable, and this should give us hope for the future. We’re back now, so stay tuned for the latest in the world of science!

NASA media call on activity on Jupiter’s moon, Europa

NASA will host a teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 26, to present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. (Details here)

Astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa. Participants in the teleconference will be:

  • Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore
  • Britney Schmidt, assistant professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
  • Jennifer Wiseman, senior Hubble project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

To participate by phone, media must contact Dwayne Brown at 202-358-1726 or dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov and provide their media affiliation no later than noon Monday.

Audio of the teleconference will stream live on NASA’s website at:

http://www.nasa.gov/live

For information about NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble