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The Section’s quarterly magazine features practical and timely articles on a diverse range of science and technology law issues. This issue focuses on biosecurity.
by andrew robertson
Policy and Politics
The "Reality-Based" Community
President-elect Barack Obama may have an impossible burden of expectation on his shoulders, but one fervent wish of many US scientists should be easy enough to fulfil: simply lead the nation back into the "reality-based community." New Scientist takes a look at how the Obama White House can help stem what many see as the "war on science" here.
Obama names top science advisors
Obama named four top science advisors in his radio address yesterday. Among the list are John Holdren , as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, will direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus and MIT genome biologist Eric Lander as the chairs of the Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology . Backgrounds of each appointee can be found in here.
Obama Is Urged to Open High-Tech Exports
When Barack Obama takes office as president, he should immediately change or even scrap many cold-war-era regulations on high-tech exports and on immigration by foreign scientists and engineers, an expert panel said early this month. Restricting foreigners’ access to strategically important technology might have been useful decades ago, when the United States was the undisputed world leader across the technological spectrum, but today the regulations do little for the nation’s security, the panel said, while significantly hampering economic growth and innovation. The NYT Press release can be found here.
Should nuclear fuels be taken out of national hands?
To discourage proliferation, calls are growing to establish a system where nuclear materials are managed under international auspices. Many governments, international agencies and arms control experts are calling for the establishment of international fuel banks, and eventually fuel production plants, that would pledge to supply nuclear materials to any country so long as it meets non-proliferation rules. The full story can be found in NewScientist here.
New Call for Global Science Corps?
In December, 2001 Dr. Harold Varmus (a Nobel laureate and former Director of NIH) gave a lecture at the Nobel Prize Centennial in which he proposed the establishment of a Global Science Corps. Varmus argued that scientific research, which has contributed so much to improve health in the rich countries, could do the same in the poor parts of the world. Now as one of the newly appointed chairs to Obama's Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology , this vision may be realized. A 2003 commentary by Varmus describing the call for Global Science Corps can be found here.
Health and Disease
Daschle Lays Out a Plan to Overhaul Health Care
Tom Daschle formally began the incoming administration’s arduous quest to overhaul the nation’s health care system on Thursday, telling former Senate colleagues that the task had become more urgent because many people were losing health insurance, along with their jobs, in the recession. The NYT article can be found here.
What You Don't Know About a Drug Can Hurt You
Findings from many clinical studies assessing prescription drugs never see light of day. That skews the basic scientific record that every patient, physician and researcher needs to judge whether treatments cause more harm than good. There is no easy way to discover how much knowledge we've been missing, raising the possibility that we may be taking medications that are less effective than we've been led to believe or may have undisclosed side effects. The full story can be found at the WSJ here.
Obama's Promise on Stem Cells Doesn't Ensure New War on Disease
Mr. Obama pledged during the campaign to use an executive order to swiftly overturn current federal-funding limits on research into human embryos that are created during fertility treatments. Yet this ambitions depend on the answers to two big questions: How much federal money will be made available for the research? And how quickly can America's major science-funding agency, the National Institutes of Health, take on a leadership role in a field where it has only modest experience and whose funding efforts have lagged behind several state initiatives. The WSJ discussion can be found here.
Nature and the Environment
Billions could go hungry from global warming by 2100
Temperatures at the close of this century could be above those that crippled food supplies on at least three occasions since 1900. Now, new research suggests that there is a 90% chance that 3 billion people will have to choose between going hungry and moving their families to milder climates because of climate change within 100 years. The NewScientist article on the study can be found here.
Bush Creates World's Largest Set of Marine Sanctuaries
President George W. Bush has designated three national monuments around 11 Pacific islands, White House officials said today. The marine preserves, which include the Mariana Trench, the Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and several islands in the central Pacific, spans 505,000 square kilometers--about the size of Spain--making it the largest area ever protected in one swoop. The full description can be found at Science.com here.
Male and Female Mosquitoes Synchronize Buzz
(I heard this on NPR this morning - I thought it was amazing.) Have you ever turned off your lights and heard a mosquito buzz? To you it’s a sound that signals bites in the night. But to a male mosquito it’s a love song, produced by a female seeking a mate. Now scientists from Cornell University find that males who answer that call join in the serenade. And the two sing in harmony as they check each other out. The full story can be found at Scientific America here.
Physics, Space and Math
Obama team to raise questions over Ares rocket
Why is NASA developing a new generation of space rockets when the US already has two that could do the same job? At stake is the Ares series of rockets, currently being built to carry crew and supplies to the International Space Station, the moon and possibly Mars. These rockets have been plagued by questions over their design and cost, and are unlikely to be ready until 2015, leaving a gap in astronaut-launch capability if the space shuttle retires in 2010 as expected. The full story can be found at Scientific America here.
New Tech Makes Classroom Computers a Reality Worldwide
Kids carry technology with them wherever they go, so why shouldn't this extend to the classroom? That's the idea behind budding programs designed to put low-priced simplified PCs into the hands of kids worldwide, especially in developing countries. The full story can be found at Scientific America here.
U.S. scientists learn how to levitate tiny objects
This is just cool - U.S. scientists have found a way to levitate the very smallest objects using the strange forces of quantum mechanics, and said on Wednesday they might use it to help make tiny nanotechnology machines. The full Reuters story can be found here.
Immoral advances: Is science out of control?
WHAT would our forebears have made of test-tube babies, microwave ovens, organ transplants, CCTV and iPhones? Could they have believed that one day people might jet to another continent for a weekend break, meet their future spouse on the internet, have their genome sequenced and live to a private soundtrack from an MP3 player? Science and technology have changed our world dramatically, and, for the most part, we take them in our stride. Nevertheless, there are certain innovations that many people find unpalatable. The full article can be found in NewScientist here.
This update is a quarterly member benefit of the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities of Scientists. Click here to join the committee for free.
Andrew Robertson, Ph.D., UC Berkeley School of Law, class of 2010