Archive for the 'Intersection' category

"Holds" on NOAA Administrator & Science Advisor Confirmations. Call Senators Now.

UPDATE: 4 Mar 09 There are now reports that Senator Menendez is not the only Senator holding up these nominations. I've got a new post up with the updated information and new suggestions for ways you can help.

The Washington Post is reporting that Senate votes to confirm Jane Lubchenco as NOAA Administrator and John Holdren as Science Advisor are currently being obstructed by a Democratic Senator. Quoting multiple unnamed sources, the Post says that New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has placed an "anonymous hold" on the nominations in order to try to gain leverage for some issues related to Cuba that he's interested in.

Menendez's office, the Post reports, refused to confirm or deny the reports, saying only that it's their "policy" not to "speculate or comment" on matters related to anonymous holds. They also report, however, that a spokesman for Harry Reid said "We will work to try to address any concerns that he [Menendez] may have."

This is completely unacceptable. David Vitter might have been a jerk during last month's confirmation hearing, but even he declined to try to delay confirmation for these nominees. Both of these positions are important parts of the Obama Administration's environmental policy team. They are not unimportant positions, and both the nominees and the positions themselves deserve far more respect than Menendez is displaying. These people have agreed to serve their country. They should not be treated as pawns in whatever unrelated game the Senator is trying to play.

Please take a couple of minutes and contact Menendez's office. Tell him that science policy is too important to use as a pawn in whatever game he's playing. If you can, you should also contact the Majority Leader's office. Remind Senator Reid that science and the environment are important issues, and that you know he can, if he so chooses, push the nominations through over the hold. Contact your own senators, too, and ask them to bring whatever pressure they can on Menendez and Reid.

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama talked about restoring science to its rightful place. We can debate just what that should mean, but I'm sure we can all agree that the rightful place of science in public policy is not as a disposable pawn in an unrelated political game.

Contact information for the various Senators can be found below the jump.

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7 responses so far

Science Funding to be Slashed Under Stimulus "Compromise": Call Your Senators NOW!

TPM has a list of stimulus cuts that a group of senators led by Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Susan Collins have proposed. The cuts are at 77.9 billion and growing, and include a great deal of the science-related spending. On the chopping block:

  • 750 million - half the proposed increase - of funding for NASA exploration
  • 1.4 billion - from the NSF line. That's the entire proposed increase
  • 427 million - 1/3 of the proposal - from NOAA
  • 218 million - almost 40% - from NIST
  • 1 billion - 38% - from the DOE Energy Efficiency/Renewable Energy line
  • 100 million - from the DOE office of science line. That's the entire proposed increase.

In addition, the cuts include the vast bulk of the education funding.

I know I've been skeptical about the stimulatory effects of some of this funding, but it clearly would have some beneficial effect - and it would certainly have more of an effect than not spending that money would.

Missing from the cuts proposed by the moderates is anything at all from the "tax relief" provisions added to soothe the feelings of the Republicans that are voting against the bill anyway.

And here's the kicker:

Just yesterday, we learned that the treasury overpaid banks to the tune of 78 billion dollars under the TARP Program.

Please - contact your Senators, and contact them now. This could be voted on by the end of the day today, and will almost certainly be voted on by Sunday. Tell them that if they want their 78 billion fracking dollars, they should go look at Wall Street, because that's where they threw it.

UPDATE: ScienceDebate2008's Shawn Otto just emailed out a list of suggestions and talking points. I'm pasting a copy below the fold.
One additional suggestion: SPREAD THE WORD. Pass the message on to as many of your colleagues as you can - particularly to those who don't read blogs.

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11 responses so far

Hurricane Ike Storm Surge in Pensacola

If you have any doubt about how dangerous Hurricane Ike is likely to be, I've got some pictures for you. These pictures were taken within the past two hours, on the shoreline along the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola.

This is a sheltered shoreline, protected by both barrier islands and sandbars, and typical wave heights run under one foot. Currently, they're running at about 3 feet, on top of a water level that looks to be at least 3-5 feet above where it should be. So far, this storm has done more to reshape the beaches I looked at than Gustav did, and Gustav came closer and was moving toward us.

The conditions I was looking at were taking place at a time when the storm center was more than 350 miles to the south, and moving more or less parallel to the shoreline. This storm is moving a hell of a lot of water around. You do not want to be in front of it. If you've been told to get out of the way, get out of the way.

The pictures can be found below the fold.

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4 responses so far

Elephants, Mice, Red Flags, Bulls, and Science

Mar 06 2008 Published by under Intersection, Public Perception of Science

Henry Gee and I have been talking, on our blogs, about how the public views science, and what can be done to change that. That's hardly a new topic for scientists. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen or heard the topic discussed. It's a water cooler conversation topic at universities and government labs. It gets raised on email lists, discussion boards, and blogs. It's featured in journal editorials, at seminars, and at conferences. There's a widespread consensus that we could, should, and must do a better job of talking to the general public. On this issue, the consensus is wrong.

We don't need to do a better job of talking to the general public. We need to start talking to the general public.

OK. That last statement was a bit over the top - I was clearly indulging in hyperbole - but I probably wasn't as far over the top as you think. Here's why:

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9 responses so far

Somewhere, Yossarian is Laughing. Or: How Not to Fund Stem Cell Research at the NIH

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

The Bush Administration has once again managed to reach new levels of self-parody. This time, the subject is embryonic stem cell research, and they've taken a position on funding that quite literally incorporates a classic Catch-22 problem. Sadly, though, the Catch-22 lacks anything that bears the faintest resemblance to humor when it's used to block funding for potentially lifesaving research.

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12 responses so far

Coralline Algae and Global Warming

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
Over the last couple of decades, a great deal of research has been done on the effect of global warming on coral reefs. The vast majority of that research has focused on the currently observed and potential future effects of climate change on reef-building corals. Coral, however, are not the only organisms that contribute to building a reef. A group of organisms known as the "coralline algae" also secrete calcium carbonate, and contribute to building up reefs. In a paper available online in advance of publication at Nature Geoscience, a group of researchers report on the results of an experiment conducted to observe what will happen to coralline algae by the year 2100 if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the present rate.

The experiment was carried out at the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology's Coconut Island facility. The HIMB facility is extremely well suited to this kind of experiment, because it's location and facilities make it relatively easy to set up well-controlled experiments. Coconut Island is located in Kaneohe Bay, and is surrounded by a coral reef. There are both indoor and outdoor lab facilities available there, some of which are located within 10 meters of the reef, and the island has a seawater system that draws water directly from the reef. As a result, it's a lot easier to set up an experiment where you want to look at the effects of a change in one parameter on a reef environment at HIMB than it is in most other locations.

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The Science Advisor

Chris Mooney's recently-published article in Seed magazine has stirred a bit of discussion about the role of the Presidential Science Advisor, and just who would be a good choice for that position. Of the two questions, the first is probably the more important, but the second is more fun to argue about - at least for the few people who are more or less fluent in the who's who of the scientific community. Several people (including Chris) have already suggested names. I've got a few to suggest, too.

Of course, it really is necessary to talk about the job description first. The role of the Science Advisor has (rather unsurprisingly) been diminished in the Bush Administration. In prior administrations, the position carried the rank of "Assistant to the President". In the current administration, one wonders whether the Science Advisor has more or less access to the president than the pizza delivery guy (and, for that matter, which of the two has more influence on science policy). If that remains the case under the new administration, I'm going to find it very hard to care about who gets the job.

Like Mooney, I think that it's absolutely critical that the post, at a minimum, is restored to the prestige and access that it had in prior administrations. Science plays a role in almost every aspect of public life, including some that you might not normally think of - like transportation policy, for example. The voice of the Science Advisor probably shouldn't be the most decisive on many of these issues, but it should certainly be there.

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5 responses so far

"Framing" Al Gore: Matt Nisbet continues to pontificate about why Gore really isn't as cool as the Nobel Committee thought.

Apparently, Matt Nisbet didn't think that one poorly-reasoned critique of Gore's ability to communicate science was enough for the weekend, because he tossed out another a day later. You might recall that in his first critique, Nisbet claimed that Gore contributes to the partisan divide over climate change. His presentation of the issue is too alarmist, Matt claimed, which makes it easy for Republicans to dismiss the entire message. In this latest post, he claims that Gore has had "limited success" in getting the American public to be more aware of the problem because a lot of people have an unfavorable impression of Gore. Gore's low approval rating, Nisbet claims, means that there are a lot of people who aren't inclined to listen to anything Gore has to say on the topic.

Come on, Matt, which is it? Does Gore have "little success" convincing Republicans because his message uses the dreaded "Pandora's Box Frame" and can be dismissed as too alarmist, or does Gore have "limited success" convincing Republicans because they're not inclined to favorably listen to anything he has to say, regardless of how it's framed? Inquiring minds want to know.

9 responses so far

Al Gore, the Peace Prize, the Partisan Divide, and Communicating Science.

As you are undoubtedly aware, this year's Nobel Peace Prize is being split between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore, in recognition of "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Like almost everybody else here at Scienceblogs, I think this is absolutely fantastic. Gore has worked his butt off over the last few years. He's been tireless in his efforts to focus attention on climate change, and he's made a real difference. The potential effects of human-driven climate change do represent a real threat to everyone on the planet, and Gore has done more than his part to make sure that people - and not just policy makers - understand that.

As I just said, almost everyone here has nothing but praise and congratulations. But it's not quite unanimous. Matt Nisbet seems to have a few concerns about Gore's effect on the differences in the way Democrats and Republicans perceive global warming. Emphasizing the potential dangers, Matt believes, makes it easier for people to dismiss him as an "alarmist," and makes it harder to convince some people that there's a problem - particularly when the science is uncertain.

Personally, I think that Matt sees a problem when he looks at the very different levels of concern about global warming seen in Democrats and Republicans. There is definitely a problem there. I'm just not sure that it's the one he's identified.

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17 responses so far

The $83,000 question: how affordable is health insurance?

One of the alleged facts that President Bush loves to point at when he's trying to justify his veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) expansion is that the new bill would have allowed New York to enroll children from families making up to 400% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that works out to an annual income of about $83,000. The President and his staff appear to find $83,000 to be a very impressive number. It's certainly one that they talk about a heck of a lot - as far as I can tell, everyone from the White House who has said anything about the veto on the record has mentioned "$83,000" at least once.

The White House obviously hopes that if they say "$83,000" enough times with a shocked look on their face, they can get everyone to agree that it's entirely unreasonable to expect the government to help pay for health insurance coverage for families making that much money. They hope that if they keep saying $83,000, they can convince people that any family that makes $83,000 a year and doesn't have health insurance deserves to be left on their own.

They also hope, of course, that nobody actually takes a good look at $83,000, and what it can actually buy in New York. So let's do just that.

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26 responses so far

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