Category Archives: Policy


iDream… October 1, 2010 Okay, in the spirit of awesomeness (which seems to be the theme this week here at ScienceGeist), let’s talk about robots, Rosie! Image credit: Hanna-Barbera Robotic technology has long been of interest to us mere mortals. Whether it’s driven by a military goal of replacing humans in battle, the surgical goal of replacing lost limbs with intelligent prosthetics (see a SjD previous article) or the more philosophical goal of creating machines in our likeness, scientists, artists, four-star generals and four-year olds alike have all dreamed of creating autonomous, artificial “life”. As with many of our coolest technologies, robotics have their roots in science-fiction. I’d like to believe (for better or worse) that if you can dream of it, with enough time and money, you can achieve it! As a point in case, the term “robot” is credited to Czech playwright, Karel Capek, in 1921 and “robotics” … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: Risk

The Game of Global Domination September 22, 2010 I went to a talk last Friday sponsored by the School of Communications here at American University. Some colleagues had alerted me to it and I was very intrigued by the topic, “The Perception of Risk: Why Our Fears So Often Don’t Match the Facts.” The seminar was given by David Ropeik, a consultant and author, whose new book “How Risky Is It, Really” looks at the interplay between perception and risk. Understanding how to effectively communicate scientific issues, like global climate change, is acutely dependent upon your audiences preconceived notions. Ropeik argues that when we start discussing a risk – for example: a clear, odorless liquid caused over 3,800 deaths in 2001, yet the government does not regulate its use – we stop thinking rationally. The example I used, of course, is drowning by water. An example that Ropeik used in … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: Green Jobs

Climate policy and job creation September 20, 2010 Readers of this blog should not be surprised that I love reading the Op-Ed pieces of Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. He is consistently one of the most engaging and knowledgeable media contributors in the world on topics of science education, technology policy, hi-tech employment, and issues surrounding global warming. One of his long held theses is that by downplaying the significance of man-made climate change, the United States is killing job creation for its citizens. His view is that through support of “green” initiatives, the US government has the ability to spur a vast amount of job creation and counteract the effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. His most recent piece in the Times, titled “Aren’t we clever” is no different. The basic premise of this story is that Americans are really amazing at dreaming up new technologies but, ultimately, … Continue reading

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Science du Jour-
Q: What do craters, tourists and gardens have in common?

A: The moon! September 17, 2010 (an aside) Coming up with a topic for Science du Jour is a strange process. I scan through the science/technology/policy news and BAM! there’s the idea I needed. But sometimes nothing really catches my eye. Sure there are plenty of interesting stories out there, but I’m just not in the mood to write about them. Sometimes an idea pops into my head in the morning and by evening, it’s practically written itself. Other times, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to put it all together into a coherent piece. Occasionally, I’m tipped off by a friend or ScienceGeist reader who saw something interesting and wants to know more about it! Those are my favorites because it means that we’re addressing topics that interest YOU! (also, I’m lazy sometimes and those freebees are a relief) So please keep those ideas flowing! Send … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: When Scientists Attack!

… or maybe just talk a lot of science with kids September 8, 2010 My kids are so curious. I seriously can’t keep up with them. My wife is a saint for coping with their whims (not to mention helping to develop their whims) on a daily basis. My youngest daughter seems to be interested in finding out what kind of things are dangerous. Like, what will happen if I stick my finger in that electrical outlet? Or, is that bookshelf stable enough to climb on? Usually her questions lead to a fit of crying. (Thank goodness she hasn’t gotten very far with the outlets. I mean, seriously, I don’t know where her fascination with those things comes from. Our oldest was never that interested in them. *sigh*) Recently she has been testing the coefficient of friction between the plastic slide in our back yard and the rubber soles of … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: Carbon Offsets?

Carbon offsets? September 3, 2010 Offset this! A few weeks ago I noticed a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. It said that “This car’s CO2 is balanced by TerraPass” so I looked closer, thinking that it was some sort of low-emmission/hybrid vehicle. It wasn’t. It was a fairly new Cadillac sedan. 3 days ago I saw another one. This time it was affixed to the back of a Honda Civic puling out of the local Trader Joe’s parking lot. And yesterday, on my way into lab, I saw yet another TerraPass bumper sticker on an older green truck! So what’s the deal? I went online and looked it up; TerraPass was launched in 2004 by Professor Karl T. Ulrich and is a company that sells “carbon offsets” to individuals and businesses to reduce carbon emission. This was a little confusing at first, but here’s how it … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: Sensational Socialized Medicine

When is medicine too expensive? August 30, 2010 One of the consequences of socialized medicine is that some public figure (or panel of public figures) is going to have to decide where to draw the line on when a procedure/medication is too expensive/ineffective/unproven. Re: Death Panels. And, let’s be honest here, this same problem is present with privately run health insurance. (We just don’t have the same scapegoats to blame when we don’t like something.) These issues are often exacerbated by the media/politicians who use sensationalized stories to advance their collective agendas. Who do you trust with your health care decisions? Can you trust any of these execs/ any of those beurocrats? Credit: John Darkow/The Columbia Daily Tribune These problems have manifested themselves in Great Britain recently in the debate over whether the government-run health care should pay the roughly $32,000 per patient for the drug Avastin. (My first thought … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: A Volt to the System

What good are subsidies? or What are good subsidies? August 4, 2010 President Obama recently announced a government subsidy to offset the price of electric vehicles. Specifically, these tax credits would be aimed at people purchasing the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf or Tesla Roadster. The hope is that the American market will buy into electric vehicles, spurring the economy and creating jobs and advancing hybrid technology into maturity. Chevy Volt While these are all very noble, a large chorus of commentators have come out to argue the logic behind this tax break: The savings are only going to go to the wealthy. The final cost of these cars after the rebate will be roughly $33K for the Volt and Leaf and closer to $100K for the Tesla Roadster. The government is trying to steer the market into a very small corner of an already small market without letting consumers and … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: Now What?

Well, now what? June 15, 2010 The president addressed the nation last night about the on-going disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Many aspects of President Obama’s address were expected. There was the expected umbrage at BP and the lack of precautions that caused the oil spill. There were the expected promises that the government was on top of the situation. The president also reframed his arguments to highlight the urgency of developing alternative energy sources …. which we all expected him to do anyway. Image credit Doug Mills/New York Times Let’s quickly go over some of the arguments. There is still plenty of oil left in the earth to last for a couple of decades. However, that oil is increasingly difficult to mine. This is very much the case for the Deepwater Horizon venture. We have all learned first hand that there is lots of crude to be had. … Continue reading

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Science du Jour: Get ‘em young

Get ‘em young June 14, 2010 Well, I sure feel like a slacker… Today’s Science du Jour post continues the discussion of science education and how we can foster greater interest in younger students. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency, created by Congress in 1950, that funds basic research at a variety of levels. Their mission is to “advance national health, prosperity, and welfare…” and they provide about 20% of all federally funded basic research at the American university level. In addition, the NSF has a longstanding interest in outreach programs. A recent example of an NSF-funded success story is embodied in the work of Julia Poje. Poje’s research uses the young field of molecular computing to design new detection methods for the Ebola and Marburg viruses. These filoviruses cause severe damage to human blood and organs, frequently resulting in death, and early detection would provide … Continue reading

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