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.”

The many reasons scientists are not Republicans – @salon #science

REQUIRED READING!! This Salon piece by Sean McElwee and Philip Cohen is EVERYTHING – about why scientists and Republicans are so at odds … or more that the Republicans are at war with science. We at CauseScience post often about the many times Republican politicians say or do things that are anti-science, and this article highlights the reasons why. My three favorite points below:

Research placing shrimp on treadmills was lampooned by Republicans, but it is part of important research on how marine organisms react to ecosystem changes, which has important implications for food safety. But in other cases, there are less benign motivations for cutting research spending. For instance, big fossil fuel donors have an interest in the government doesn’t take action on climate change. The GOP has tried to slash the NASA budget to prevent it from researching climate change. ExxonMobil has continued to fund climate denial, even after promising not to and after evidence surfaced that it has known about the existence of global warming for nearly four decades.

The explanation is rather simple: Scientists are more broadly in line ideologically with the Democratic Party. But there are two other factors that are accelerating the trend. First, the increasing extremism of the Republican Party, and its fealty to the donor class has led it to embrace positions outside the mainstream. Second, both the GOP base and legislators take an increasingly antagonistic view of science and scientists. Their work to delegitimize science raises deep concerns about the ability of academics to influence important public debates.

Today: #3D matrix for growing neurons! And the result of senate GMO labeling debate #science

Just some cool stuff from twitter today!

NATURE Commentary – Current #SCIENCE productivity metrics have negative social impact on scientists… and society.

Stephen Harvey highlights the negative effect on scientists LIVES of the current metrics for judging the productivity of scientists. In a correspondence in this week’s Nature, Harvey points out that current metrics favor scientists willing to work crazy hours, that almost always come with a negative social impact.

Any quantitative measure of productivity will reward people who choose to work long hours, build large research teams and minimize their commitments to teaching, review panels and university committees.

The use of such metrics can discourage people from sharing responsibilities and time with their partners or spouses, from investing in and enjoying their children’s lives, and from participating in their local communities. Researchers can feel forced to sacrifice ‘unproductive’ recreational pursuits such as holidays, sport, music, art and reading — activities that other metrics correlate highly with creativity and quality of life (see also J. Overbaugh Nature 47727282011).

We need a more nuanced approach to academic evaluations for hiring, promotion and tenure. The emphasis on quantitative measures of productivity places unfair burdens on scientists and their families, and it discourages some students from pursuing academic careers.

President Obama White House announces #CleanPowerPlan to #ActOnClimate!!! #video

Yesterday, President Obama’s White House announced the Clean Power Plan to Act on Climate change!!

Today, as part of the President’s plan to cut carbon pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. The Clean Power Plan is an historic step in the fight against climate change. It sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.

#Science Quotable: Todd Pittinsky – America lacks faith in science #Scicomm

Fifty-three percent of Americans are not convinced that human activity is causing global warming (1). Why? The issue is faith, not facts.

We cannot see climate change with our own eyes, yet we (scientists) have faith in the scientific method. That is what gives science the right to an authoritative voice in public policy.

The real challenge for scientists and those who speak for them is to inspire the public’s faith in science.

Scientists do not typically think it is their business to inspire faith. Their job is to provide facts. But to solve the pressing problems that require public acceptance of well-established science—from global warming to vaccinations to the increasing overuse of antibiotics—scientists must indeed inspire more public faith in their methods and their mutually enforced trustworthiness.

– Selected quotes from a great letter in Science Magazine by Todd L. Pittinsky (America’s crisis of faith in science)

Pittinsky gives a terrific perspective on faith in science and the scientific method, including specific examples of how to inspire faith in science! While a part of me cringes at the use of faith and science in a single sentence, in this case I have been convinced! Check out the full letter here!!!

NOTE: Disappointing to see Pittinsky use ‘global warming’ instead of climate change… womp womp. Guess he isn’t a follower of Bill Nye.

#Science Quotable: @ResearchAmerica’s Mary Woolley!! #advocacy #scicomm

The media gets a bad rap – sometimes deserved – for sensationalizing, trivializing, and generally making mincemeat of good science. The negative consequences can be enormous, leading to science skepticism that bleeds into counterproductive public policy. But just as often the media gets it right, capturing science as the workhorse it is, explaining how science addresses human challenges and what that means for people we all can relate to. 

Effective communication is critical if science is to earn and maintain public support. More and more leaders of universities are talking about making it both a recognized and rewarded component of academic success for faculty to engage in public outreach.

Last week, I shared our updated fact sheet on Infectious Disease. This week, we release our newest updated fact sheet on Alzheimer’s disease (In 2014, $15.9 billion was spent on Easter in the United States.That amount could fund NIH sponsored Alzheimer’s research for more than 28 years!).

As many times as we repeat the alarming statistics on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s – with the human and economic toll it is taking on our families and our society – the message hasn’t fully broken through. The drum beat must become louder and louder, until we convince policymakers of the need for more research to drive medical progress.

-Selected comments from CEO and President of Research!America, Mary Woolley – Check out the full statement announcing the opening of nominations for Research!America Advocacy Awards!

The Dumbest Question You Can Ask A Scientist

From and published in “How to Fly a Horse“, the dumbest question you can ask a scientist.

The dumbest question you can ask a scientist — or any other creator, inventor, or discoverer — about his or her work is,

“What’s the economic value?”

One reason: In 1888, after eight years of experiments, Heinrich Hertz created electromagnetic waves in air. He died six years later, believing his work was theoretical and without practical value. (In an often repeated, probably apocryphal story, Hertz tells students the waves have “no use whatsoever.”) Then, after his death, inventors found Hertz’s waves could be used to communicate, renamed them “radio waves,” and started a revolution of immeasurable consequence. First came wireless telegraph, then voice broadcasting, two-way radio, radio telescopes, radar, television, microwave ovens, radio satellites, cellphones, radio-frequency identification, GPS, UAVs, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and, now, the Internet of Things — Hertz’s children all.

Another reason: In 1924, Gordon Dobson, working in his backyard in England, invented a device for measuring atmospheric ozone. In 1976, after deploying 100 of them globally, he died. His work helped save the world. Scientists discovered that CFCs, chemicals used in refrigerators and aerosols, could destroy ozone, exposing us to deadly radiation. The chemical company DuPont, which made billions of dollars selling CFCs, demanded “reputable evidence.” NASA satellites found nothing, but one of Dobson’s devices, in Antarctica since 1957, detected a massive ozone hole. CFC production stopped. Now the hole, once larger than North America plus China, will be gone by 2050.

Why does this matter? Because the dumbest question holds us back. In 2009, physicist David Kaplan gave a lecture on the Higgs boson. An audience member asked,

“What do we gain? What’s the economic return? How do you justify all this?”

Kaplan’s good-natured response appears in the movie Particle Fever:

“I have no idea.”

(Then he mentioned radio.)

The question must be especially painful for American physicists like Kaplan. Scientists discovered the Higgs boson — or something almost exactly like it — using Europe’s Large Hadron Collider. Members of Congress killed the American equivalent, the Superconducting Super Collider, in favor of what one, Don Ritter, called,

“making things people want to buy.”

Kaplan’s audience member was interested enough to show up at the lecture, and Ritter is an MIT alumnus who branded himself “the scientist-congressman,” yet both make the mistake at the heart of the dumbest question: confusing unknowable value with no value. History shows that basic science brings the greatest economic value of all — Hertz and Dobson are two of many examples.

Why? First, because of what economics is. Science begets technology, which begets goods, which beget value. Science is the principal source of value in modern economies. Second, because economies are chaotic, most of the consequences of any particular technology are unpredictable. An example: The watermill led to the automatic loom, which led to general literacy.

Add in the fact that the point of basic science is to know what’s unknown, and we see that the dumbest question requests the unknowable value of the unknowable consequences of an unknown thing. Note that only two of these are “unknowable.” The third, the “thing,” is only “unknown.” And the unknown, not the unknowable, is what should guide basic science. Kaplan ended his answer by saying,

“Basic science needs to occur at a level where you are not asking what is the economic gain, you are asking what do we not know? And where can we make progress?”

The work of basic scientists like Hertz, Dobson, and Kaplan can only be driven by curiosity, not purpose. What is the value of a particular curiosity? There is no way to know in advance. Discovery is curiosity’s product; everything else, including immeasurable economic value, follows. We cannot know the worth of something we have not yet discovered. The joy is the rainbow, not the hope of gold at the rainbow’s end.

Climate Change Fantasy Tournament #SassyObama

Alright guys, time to weigh in on who you think is the biggest denier of climate change!  Thanks to Mr. Obama, you can participate in the Climate Change Fantasy Tournament (it’s a different kind of March Madness).  First round is now. Is this funny, or all too real?

Despite the overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is real and man-made, these sixteen members of Congress prefer to live in a fantasy world, refusing to accept the basic facts. You can learn more about their denial here. Help us pick the worst of the worst. Vote now!


When Democrats and Republicans choose to ignore SCIENCE #listentoscientists

Researchers at UT Austin asked a small sample size of registered voters when they think its appropriate for politicians to defer to scientists for advice.  A good summary of the findings can be found here. The major (and not so obvious) points are that a) democrats are more likely than republicans to support and follow scientific advice and b) republicans aren’t as “anti-science” as the media would have us perceive.  For the most part, republicans also typically opted to accept scientific advice. Huzzah!