Archive for the 'Science and Politics' category

The Democratic Party Not Going To Copenhagen To Negotiate International Climate Treaty.

Dec 10 2009 Published by under Science and Politics

The Democratic Party will not be traveling to Copenhagen to negotiate an international climate change treaty.

Surprised? Then you might not have as good an understanding of the Constitution of the United States as you thought. But don't feel bad - that puts you on par with Jake Sherman, and he's got a nice job as a reporter for Politico:

House Republicans are preparing for a trip to Copenhagen and looking to derail Democratic efforts to negotiate an international climate agreement.

There is no doubt that the Republicans are going to Copenhagen, and there is no doubt that they plan to try to derail President Obama's efforts to negotiate an agreement. But Sherman's statement is still insanely, dangerously wrong - and it's all because he used a single wrong word: Democratic.

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10 responses so far

Does anyone else see a contradiction here?

Apr 17 2009 Published by under Religion in Politics, Science and Politics

According to Matt Nisbet, the third ethical imperative when framing science is accuracy. Accuracy is important, he argues, because those who fail to accurately convey what's known about a subject risk losing the trust of their audience.

Also according to Matt Nisbet, a new Pew survey shows that Evangelicals are "little different from [the] rest of [the] public" when it comes to acceptance of manmade climate change. Evangelicals are 13% less likely to accept that humans are causing global warming as the population as a whole, no other group is less likely to accept manmade warming than they are, and the next lowest group is 5% more likely to accept what's happening than Evangelicals are. Evangelicals are also 10% more likely to believe that there's no warming taking place than the rest of the public, 9% more likely to believe that there's no warming than the next highest group, and there's no group where a larger percentage reject warming. Apparently, the phrase "little different" has a much broader meaning than I thought it did when it's used "accurately".

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The Torture Memos, Medical "Professionals", and the Hippocratic Oath

Apr 16 2009 Published by under Medicine, Science and Politics

I just finished reading the torture memos that were released today. I cannot remember ever in my life being as ashamed of my country as I am at this moment. The contents of the memos are so insanely wrong that I'd like to believe that they're fiction, but they're clearly not. While I understand President Obama's desire to move forward, I am appalled by his decision to rule out prosecutions for anyone who relied on the excuse that these memos said that what they were doing was OK.

Of course, prosecutions aren't the only possible consequences, and there are some disciplinary options that the President does not actually have any control over. In particular, the President doesn't have the right obligation that professional societies have to enforce the professional and ethical standards of their professions.

Reading these memos, it's very clear that there are quite a few CIA employees who are allegedly medical professionals. Those people need to find new professions. I would strongly suggest that you take a few minutes - particularly if you're a doctor or a psychologist - to suggest to your colleagues at the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association that it might be good to take some formal steps along those lines.

The first of the memos provides a good example of the role doctors played both in the torture and in the legal justification used to excuse the torture. That memo outlines the torture of one specific prisoner - Abu Zubaydah. The various torture techniques that the CIA was seeking permission to use were detailed in excruciating detail, as was the involvement of medical staff:

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The "Ethics" of Framing Science

Mar 30 2009 Published by under Science and Politics

Last night, Matt Nisbet posted a section from the first draft of a new book chapter he's working on. In this particular chapter, he says he's trying to "lay out a detailed ethical framework" for science communications. At least in theory, that's an interesting concept. Are there ethical responsibilities involved in communicating science?

The material that Matt self-quotes is a bit light when it comes to explaining just why we should think there are ethical responsibilities involved in science communication. About the closest he comes is this brief passage:

Surveys indicate that Americans strongly believe in the promise of science to improve life, deeply admire scientists, and hold science in higher esteem than almost any other institution. Scientists therefore enjoy tremendous communication capital...

I don't have the philosophical background or ethical expertise of some ScienceBloggers, but that certainly doesn't strike me as the worst reason to think that science communication involves certain ethical obligations. Science is a critical part of modern life. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that our entire current standard of living depends on science. Despite this, relatively few people have more than the most basic understanding of science (if that). I think that both the public's trust of scientists and the public's dependence on science entail some ethical responsibilities. If nothing else, it's important to make sure that the trust is not abused.

Let's take a look at what ethical responsibilities Matt thinks we have as scientists and communicators of science. He identifies four "ethical imperatives":

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Federal Judge Slaps FDA Around; Plan B will be Available Without Prescription to 17 Year-Olds

Back in 2005 and 2006, I wrote a few posts about the insanely arbitrary decision making process that the FDA was pretending to use to justify its obviously pre-determined conclusion to restrict the availability of the Plan B "morning after" pill as much as they thought they could get away with. The FDA ultimately decided to deny applications to fully move Plan B to over-the-counter status, but finally accepted a request to waive the prescription requirement for patients 18 years old or older. That was in August of 2006, and that's been the status quo ever since. Until this morning.

Earlier today, Judge Edward Korman of the Eastern District of New York issued a ruling on a lawsuit brought by individuals who had petitioned the FDA to make Plan B available without prescription or age limitation. It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Korman was highly critical of the FDA's alleged process in this case. The ruling stopped short of being everything that the plaintiffs asked for, but not by much.

Here's the bottom line:

1: Korman ruled that the entire Plan B over-the-counter decision making process was arbitrary and capricious. He also ruled that the FDA did not act in good faith, and that the process was clearly tainted by inappropriate political considerations. He vacated the FDA's denial of the petition to make Plan B available without prescription or age restriction, and has ordered the agency to go back and try to address the petition properly.

2: Korman also ruled that the FDA's decision to deny Plan B to 17 year olds was based on something so "implausible" that there is no need to order the FDA to review the decision. He's given the FDA 30 days to issue an order permitting the manufacturer to make Plan B available to 17 year olds without prescription.

The Judge Korman's decision provides an excellent overview of the politically tainted process that led to the treatment of the Plan B process. I'll probably have more to say about that tomorrow, after I have a chance to read the decision again while more fully awake.

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Mooney on Global Warming in the WaPo

If you're looking for a good read this morning, I suggest you pop over to the Washington Post's Opinion pages. Scibling Chris Mooney has an excellent op-ed in there today, in response to George Will's recent climate change denial escapades.

6 responses so far

Senate Update - Science Adviser, NOAA Administrator Confirmed (Finally).

Those of you who followed the recent (and prolonged) saga involving thed anonymous holds that were blocking confirmation of John Holdren (the President's nominee for Science Adviser) and Jane Lubchenco (the NOAA Administrator nominee) will no doubt be relieved to learn that the drama has officially come to an end. The New York Times is reporting that both nominees were confirmed by unanimous consent of the Senate this evening.

Thanks again to everyone who stepped forward to help when politics got in the way.

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Why Salazar's Wolf Delisting Decision Is Good - Or At Least Not All Bad

A couple of weeks ago, Interior Secretary Ken "Cowboy Hat" Salazar went ahead with a decision to remove endangered species protections from grey wolves in several western states. The decision in question was first proposed by the Bush Administration, and was extremely controversial. Needless to say, there are quite a few people who are unhappy with Salazar's decision to approve the delisting.

To be honest, I'm not thrilled with it myself. I looked at the issue last year, and there certainly seemed to be some very good reasons to think that the delisting is not a good idea. Salazar's decision faces an almost certain court challenge, and it may well wind up being overturned. Speaking as someone who is concerned about the environment, and who thinks that it's critically important for us to preserve as much biodiversity as possible, I'm appalled by the delisting. I'm glad that we've got groups like Defenders of Wildlife acting as watchdogs, and I hope they succeed in getting the delisting overturned.

Speaking as someone who is concerned about the political use of scientific information, and who thinks that it's critically important to de-politicize scientific decisions as much as possible, I'm actually kind of happy about this one. I may not like or agree with the outcome, but the process shows some promise.

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Holdren and Lubchenco Confirmation Update

Mar 10 2009 Published by under Science and Politics

As of this morning, the situation surrounding the Senate confirmations of John Holdren as head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Jane Lubchenco as NOAA Administrator is somewhat confused. A number of new news articles and blog posts have appeared over the last couple of days. Unfortunately, some of them seem to be presenting new information, while others are several days behind the current situation. In the interest of trying to inject a bit of clarity, I'm going to review the full chronology, not just the latest information.

20 December 2008: President-elect Obama names Holdren and Lubchenco as his nominees. The nominations were presumably not officially submitted until after the inauguration.

12 February 2009: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation holds a joint confirmation hearing for the two nominees. The two nominees are later described as "sailing" through the hearing. The only down note during the hearing came when Louisiana Republican David Vitter questioned Holdren extensively about statements made by Holdren some time earlier that Vitter felt were alarmingly alarmist.

3 March 2009: The Washington Post reports that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is holding up the nominations in an effort to gain leverage on an unrelated issue. Several other news organizations picked up on the WaPo article and released similar reports during the day. Near the end of the business day, CQ Politics reported - based on an interview with Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller - that there were in fact multiple senators blocking the nominations from proceeding.

4 March 2009: Talking Points Memo reports that they've confirmed the existence of multiple holds. I spoke with several Senate staffers, and received similar confirmation.

6 March 2009: Talking Points Memo and Climate Progress both report that Senator Menendez does not (as of that point in time) have any holds on any science nominees.

That's the timeline. Here's the current news:

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Science Advisor and NOAA Administrator Confirmation Update - Mon, 9 March

Mar 09 2009 Published by under Science and Politics

As many of you know, I've been closely following the complex situation involving President Obama's nominees for Science Advisor and NOAA Administrator. Early last week, we learned that both John Holdren (the Science Advisor designate) and Jane Lubchenco (the NOAA Administrator nominee) were stuck in Senate limbo, with no confirmation votes scheduled as a result of one or more "anonymous holds" that were placed on the nominations.

Initial reports indicated that holds had been placed by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), in an attempt to gain leverage for an unrelated issue. Later in the week, new reports suggested that there were multiple holds on the nominations. On Friday, both Talking Points Memo and Climate Progress reported - apparently independently - that Senator Menendez did not, as of that point in time, have any hold on any science nominee. They report, however, that the nomination is still being held up.

As I've already said - possibly to the point of inducing tedium - the scientific community needs to keep pressure on the Senate. There are so many other things going on in Washington right now that this issue is not going to get much more attention from the traditional media than it already has.

With no known culprit for the holds, the single best place to focus attention is going to be Majority Leader Harry Reid's office. Holds or no holds, he can schedule a vote on these nominees. Contact information can be found below the fold. Please take a minute or two to contact him and ask him to schedule a vote so that we can get these nominees on the job.

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