Increase Your Brain Power
Sonia in Vert
Shared Idea
Interesting Excerpts
Awards and Honors
This Week's Puzzle
Last Week's Puzzle
Interesting Excerpts
The following excerpts are from articles or books that I have recently read. They caught my interest and I hope that you will find them worth reading. If one does spark an action on your part and you want to learn more or you choose to cite it, I urge you to actually read the article or source so that you better understand the perspective of the author(s).
Come on, CDC, We Need You

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 4 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had a rough few weeks. At first, it was criticized for being too cautious about its mask guidance for vaccinated individuals. Then, when it abruptly changed its mask recommendation for those who had been vaccinated, it was criticized for acting suddenly and without clearly explaining the reason for the new guidance and what it meant for the unvaccinated….The CDC is in a difficult position: In the course of carrying out its appointed task of communicating science and promoting the best health practices, it can also appear to be making policy—and that is not supposed to be its job. But where do you draw the line between proffering advice and promulgating policy? Maybe the CDC and the administration need to step back and consider if there is a better way for the agency to protect public health.

      According to its website, the CDC “conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats” (italics mine). The first part is easy to understand. CDC scientists conduct research and marshal scientific information for public release. Although the muzzling, contradicting, and rebuking of the CDC by the Trump administration made this part of the mission hard to see, there’s no reason to think that the agency isn’t performing this task well.

      It’s the second part of the mission where the agency has been getting tripped up. The public cares much less about the details of scientific studies than about the upshot. Do they need to wear a mask? Can they go back to work? Can they hug their grandchildren? To scientists, it makes perfect sense that the answer to these questions is “it depends, and there is still some risk.” But caveats are hard to sell to a public hungering for specific directions.

      The CDC has been occupying a gray zone somewhere between the very different worlds of science and politics. Threading this needle requires serious chops in both communications and politics. Scientists get penalized—perhaps unfairly and unproductively—for reporting a finding that must be modified relatively quickly because of new results. The nature of science includes an unstated qualification that findings are subject to change. Political leaders, on the other hand, must often act on incomplete information. In the face of uncertainty, they are expected to make clearcut decisions. They get penalized if they get it wrong, but also if they fail to take action. So, is the CDC director a scientist or a political leader? If a scientist, then there are some pretty straightforward things to say. COVID-19 is a deadly disease caused by an air-borne virus, so masks work. Period. The vaccines are expected to provide outstanding protection and slow viral transmission, though we won't know with absolute certainty until studies are done in humans. The vaccines perform extremely well against the variants that have emerged so far, but there could always be a new one that changes the game.

      The politics—how to use the science to formulate public policy—are a trickier matter. Will seeing vaccinated people without masks cause unvaccinated people to let down their guard? Does the slight chance that vaccinated people might still spread the virus justify keeping mask mandates in place, especially to protect young children and immunocompromised adults who cannot get vaccinated or mount an immune response? Will explaining the nuances of the effectiveness of vaccines lead to more or less hesitancy?

      It’s time to think harder about the role of the CDC. If the agency is to continue its integrated mission, then it must be made very clear that it offers independent advice, not commands, and that the final word on public health policy comes from federal, state, and local political leaders. In this capacity, CDC must be given enough clout to hold its own among the forces in Washington, DC. As an alternative, the CDC could stand back and act strictly as a scientific research agency, but that would feel like a loss. Either way, we literally can't live without the CDC. We just need to sort out our expectations….

Moving Physics Forward

[These excerpts are from a book review by Marco Muzio in the 28 May 2021 issue of Sciencer.]

      In The Disordered Cosmos: A Jour-ney into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein balances on a knife’s edge, inspiring both awe at the elegant laws governing our Universe and fury at the field that has discovered them at great social cost. Readers will discover the fantastical realm of dark matter, quantum field theory, and curved spacetimes that modem physics has revealed, while also confronting uncomfortable truths about the social dynamics that have led to these discoveries. In a field often thought of as having a “culture of no culture,” Prescod-Weinstein emerges as a salient and uncompromising voice of progress too long delayed.

      From her childhood home in majority-Latinx East Los Angeles, Prescod-Weinstein would spend the 3-hour round-trip bus rides to high school regaling her peers with tales of the quarks and leptons that make up the world. Her mother, Margaret Prescod, a community organizer and activist, made sure to nurture Chanda’s passion for science, taktng her daughter comet hunting in Joshua Tree National Park and to see A Brief History of Time at age 10 ½….

      Prescod-Weinstein explores howAmerican and European histories have been framed and how these framings influence who receives credit for scientific progress. She also considers the implications of continuing the scientific enterprise in this mold. Why is it that we learn about so few Black and female scientists, Prescod-Weinstein wonders, for example. Is it because they are a modern creation or a historical afterthought?

      The book interrogates the ways in which colonialism and the ideas of colonized peoples have benefited both science and scientists themselves throughout history. Prescod-Weinstein asks readers to reconsider, for example, the credit given to white scientists for “discoveries” gleaned from the wisdom of Indigenous communities and exposes how scientists have routinely prioritized their quest for progress over the needs of people.

      Prescod-Weinstein also offers an insightful and incisive exploration into the way academic science exploits the labor of its least powerful: the underpaid graduate students who carry out the bulk of a lab’s research, the minority professors who spend their nights answering emails from marginalized students looking for hope and guidance, and the custodial staff who support the scientific endeavor at the most basic level. Her own journey, however, suggests that there is little relief, even at the top. As an assistant professor, she reports that she is “tired of the disjointed feelings of liking the ideas but finding it hard to breathe in the community in which [she has] to share them.”

      In the end, The Disordered Cosmos calls for a reimagining of physics that not only realizes diversity in science and physics faculties but also creates a future where Black children can gaze at the naked stars, free of smog and city lights. The book, which is challenging and, at times, upsetting, is nonetheless a worthwhile and rewarding read that is certain to earn its place on reading lists for activists and science enthusiasts. But its intended audience—physicists themselves—may prove to be the most difficult to reach.

Getting to the Root of Forest Symbioses

[These excerpts are from a book review by Jeremy B. Yoder in the 28 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      The role of mutual aid in the history of life has been a persistent countertheme to the survival of the fittest—from the earliest studies of animal sociality to the discovery that key eukaryotic organelles descend from intracellular symbionts. In Finding the Mother Tree, forest ecologist Suzanne Simard recounts a career spent seeking out the practical implications of life’s interdependencies.

      Plants’ symbioses with soil microbes are textbook examples of mutual aid. Plants may have first colonized land with the help of mycorrhizal fungi, which infiltrate roots to trade water or nutrients for the sugars produced by photosynthesis. Ectomycorrhizal fungi, a subset of mycorrhizae that establish commerce without penetrating root cells, are particularly important partners for a wide diversity of tree species. For a fragile seedling, linking into the web of fungal hyphae that lace through the richest layer of soil provides a sort of surrogate root system.

      Over decades of research, Simard has built a body of evidence that mycorrhizae do not simply support trees but actually connect trees to one another. Using radioactive isotopes, she has tracked the movement of nutrients through fungal linkages, both between trees of different species and between older “mother trees” and nearby seedlings of the same species. Simard argues that fungus-mediated flows of mutual aid and information let forests respond to their environments—communication and intelligence, if not as we know them.

      …Some of the book’s best passages are loving descriptions of time in the woods, drinking in the vanilla scent of ponderosa pine, tromping through thick-growing wildflowers, or burrowing into the soil to find a fungal body and trace its hyphal links from one tree to another.

      Simard gives similar attention to the design and execution of key experiments, from logistical setbacks to the thrill of early results….

      An early job with a logging company paved the way for her to join what bad become a family vocation, but Simard rapidly became disillusioned with industrial forestry. British Columbia licenses forests to loggers on the condition that they replant and ensure that replanted seedlings persist until big enough to be “free to grow” without serious competition from shrubs and trees that would otherwise spring up around them. Weeding and herbicide were prescribed to speed replanted tracts, but Simard recalls comparing sickly seedlings in a failing replanting to healthy young trees in nearby undisturbed forest: the former, barely any better rooted than when they were first put into the ground; the latter, deeply tied into the mycorrhizal web. Pushing for forestry that better parallels natural succession became her driving motivation.

      That drive can sometimes give Finding the Mother Tree a feeling of tunnel vision. Simard’s family history spans fascinating transitions in Canadian society, from the arrival of European settlers to the development of industrial forestry to an economy in which the descendants of loggers work as university professors. Yet, apart from brief references to First Nations peoples displaced by white settlers, this history goes largely unexamined. Similarly, the book’s discussion of scientific responses to Simard’s early discoveries mentions in passing that some objections were raised in the context of a larger scientific debate about the relative roles of competition and mutual aid in living communities, but that debate is left largely unexamined….

Local Management Matters for Coral Reefs

[These excerpts are from an article by Nancy Knowlton in the 28 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      The ability of corals to build reefs depends on a nutritional symbiosis between the coral animal and intracellular, single-celled microalgae. Coral bleaching is the visual manifestation of a breakdown in this relationship; it is a response to stress, including temperatures 1° to 2°C above normal mama. Global warming has resulted in sharp increases in the frequency and magnitude of bleaching events…which have already caused enormous damage to reefs worldwide. However, the importance of other factors in aggravating the effects of high temperatures has been disputed….the amount of coral loss 1 year after bleaching is highly correlated globally with other aspects of reef health, specifically the abundance of macroalgae and sea urchins. This suggests that local management can help to ameliorate the impacts of marine heatwaves.

      When high-temperature stress is severe, many corals die quickly even on healthy reefs far from human impacts….However, the potential for environmental conditions to shape patterns of coral survivorship during heatwaves has not been extensively studied in detail.

      After temperatures return to normal levels…, surviving corals can regain their syrnbionts, and reefs can slowly recover through the growth of these survivors and the establishment of new coral recruits….

      Given that temperatures will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, it is essential to know whether local management could improve reef prospects. Because poor water quality and overfishing are known to have killed many corals before bleaching became common…, it is widely accepted that reef recovery after bleaching could be improved by facilitating recruitment and regrowth; studies of the recovery of remote or well-managed reefs after bleaching…support this idea….

      …At Kiritimati Atoll, corals that acquired heat-tolerant symbionts after bleaching survived at higher rates, but this only occurred where anthropogenic stress was low….In Moorea, French Polynesia, higher nitrogen concentrations were associated with a doubling of bleaching severity at low levels of temperature stress….

      Despite the doom and gloom of media reports on the state of the ocean, and the enormous challenges that remain, there is grow-ing recognition that marine conservation actions have bad measurable success….Indeed, local actions can not only minimize damage from warming, but provide biodiversity and food-security benefits as well….

      This does not mean that taking the appropriate steps to, for example, reduce macroalgae and sea urchin abundance is easy in practice. Genuine stakeholder engagement is essential for conservation success…; this is not simply a matter of resources, because establishing the required trust among stake-holders takes time and effort. The urgent need to slow and reverse climate change to save reefs from ecological extinction is also clear. During upcoming global negotiations, governments should remember that in addition to setting ambitious targets for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, empowering local communities to manage reef (and other) marine resources is an important strategy to reduce tthe negative impacts of climate change.

Managing Colorado River Risk

[These excerpts are from an editorial by John Fleck and Brad Udall in the 28 May 2021 issue of Science]

      In the 1920s, E. C. LaRue, a hydrologist at the United States Geological Survey, did an analysis of the Colorado River Basin that revealed the river could not reliably meet future water demands. No one heeded his warning. One hundred years later, water flow through the Colorado River is down by 20% and the basin’s Lake Powell and Lake Mead—the nation’s two largest reservoirs—are projected to be only 29% full by 2023. This river system, upon which 40 million North Americans in the United States and Mexico depend, is in trouble. But there is an opportunity to manage this crisis. Water allocation agreements from 2007 and 2019, designed to deal with a shrinking river, will be renegotiated over the next 4 years. Will decision-makers and politicians follow the science?

      It has been said that climate change is water change. Globally, the effects on rivers vary widely, from increased risk of flooding in some places, to short-run increases in river flows in others as glaciers melt and catastrophes ensue once the glaciers are gone. The only constant is change, and our inability to rely on the way rivers used to flow. Like many snowmelt-fed rivers, for the Colorado this translates into less water for cities, farms, and the environment.

      Research published over the past 5 years makes the threat clear. Runoff efficiency—the percentage of rain and snow that ends up as river water—is down, with half the decline since 2000 attributed to greenhouse-driven warming. For every 1°C of warming, researchers expect another 9% decline in the Colorado’s flow. This year’s snowpack was 80% of average but is delivering less than 30% of average river flows. Hot, dry summers bake soils, reducing flows the following year. The Colorado is not unusual. Researchers have identified similar patterns in other North American rivers, as well as in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

      Coloradp River water management has a long and uneasy relationship with science. LaRue’s analysis of the early 20th century was brushed aside in favor of larger, more aspirational estimates of the river’s flow made by bureaucrats who wanted to build dams. Scientists who agreed with LaRue—there were many—were ignored. This left the river overallocated and put the basin at risk.

      Fortunately, there has since been progress in forging water management plans on the basis of science. For example, the US Bureau of Reclamation has been incorporating climate change into its analyses for more than a decade. Admirably, it overcame some of the political and technical challenges of incorporating the effects of climate change in the water allocation rules adopted in 2019….

      The scientific challenges are formidable. Although the direction of change—a shift toward less river water—is clear, the details can be murky. This is a challenge for the handoff from science to the world of policy and politics. But we cannot allow that murkiness to stand in the way of taking seriously what the climate science is telling us.

      …But only by planning for even greater declines can we manage the real economic, social, and environmental risks of running low on a critical resource upon which 40 million North Americans depend.

      The United States and Mexico—not just America’s West and Southwest—can’t afford to get this wrong. There are still political challenges that harken back to the struggles of E. C. LaRue a century ago—namely, as political boosters chose overoptimistic estimates of the river’s flows to make their jobs easier. Climate science indicates that there will likely be less water in the Colorado River than many had hoped. This is inconvenient for 21st-century decision-makers, and overcoming their resistance may be the hardest challenge of all.

Natural-Born Liars

[These excerpts are from an article by Aja Raden in the June 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …From caterpillars to con artists, everything living lies. The capacity for deceit is an important asset, honed over millions of generations, and it is an essential part of communication — one with sometimes deadly consequences.

      …In the evolution of deceit, language only came about quite recently, billions of years after more basic tools of the con. There’s even some debate that humans mayhave developed language specifically to manipulate each other in newer and cleverer ways. It’s just the latest innovation in a billion-year-old chess game….

      Consider: When you lie with your scent, your pattern or your petals, you can only lie about what you are, and you can only lie about the here and now. Lie with words, and you can lie about anything, anyone, anywhere; you can rewrite facts past, present, and future. Human speech allows deceptions to transcend space and time.

      …The default setting in humans is to accept the reality that has been presented to us, so much so that a little kink in our thinking called honesty bias constitutes one of 12 basic cognitive biases that circumscribe rational thought. These are systematic errors in cognition that occur in processing and deciphering information we glean from the world around us. They’re not mistakeS or logical fallacies; they’re hardwired limitations in our thought process.

      Honesty bias is a sort of mental shortcut our brains take where we accept anything we’re presented with as true, if there are no obvious contradictions. For exainple, if you ask someone the time and they look at their watch and tell you it’s 3 p.m., you will believe them. You don’t reflexively question whether they’re lying to you or whether their watch is wrong — unless, of course, it’s too dark out to be 3:00 or you have reason to suspect that the person wants you to be late.

      Though cognitive biases tend to skew our judgment badly in some situations, they exist for a reason. Social psychologists believe they help us process information more efficiently. Honesty bias may leave you open to being deceived, but, by the numbers, the vast majority of information you’re presented with is true. Not having to reason out every bit of data you encounter is a valuable neurological ability, a shortcut that allows us to function and learn.

      …Authority bias is also often at work. This mechanism compels is to trust and believe those who seem to have more power or influence (including mere social stature) than we do. Essentially, we’re wired to believe and trust our so-called betters.

      For instance, you’re more likely to believe a doctor who tells you you’re sick than a friend who tells you the same. This makes sense: We default to generally trusting and believing people we deem to be authority figures.

      But what’s really interesting is that you’d also be more likely to believe the doctor than your friend if they were to tell you how to program the computer in your car, even if you knew that they knew nothing out it. The same holds true for politicians and so-called “experts” of any kind – even celebrities. We unconsciously assume that they’re better informed than we are, and we are more inclined to take what they say on faith. It’s why cerebrity product endorsements are so valuable to companies: You’re hardwired to trust that a famous actress really does know which fruit juice will prevent aging, or that you, favorite musician really does have the Inside track on which charities are legitiniate.

      We don’t believe them based on substantial reasoning; we believe because our brain has taken a shortcut. And, like honesty bias, authority bias benefits us, individually and as a cooperative group – we don’t need to know everything about our math teacher to trust them when they show us long division.

      But it’s also an open loophore in our thought process that can backfire, or be deliberately taken advantage of by bad actors….

Tales from the Fringe

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Walter in the June 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …The whole affair reignited questions about what’s science and what’s pseudoscience — a discussion that precedes the coining of the latter word in 1796.

      You don’t have to look far to find ideas that seem scientific, but aren’t — think of astrology, flat-Earth theory, or the anti-vaccine movement, for starters. But how do we know when an idea is rooted in scientific fact, and when it’s a mirage? It can be tricky to tell. The wide umbrella of pseudoscience encompasses ideas that come from a variety of sources, and they generally have little in common except that they’ve been designated as such by members of the scientific community….

      …Many fringe ideas aren’t inherently dangerous, but in some cases, they spark valid concern from scientists, such as the claim that COVID-19 vaccines can alter your DNA. When unfounded and false information is presented as scientific to skew the truth or blatantly lie, it can cause real damage in the world….

      …it’s not the theories themselves that are the problem; its that they look true, but aren’t. Fringe groups will wield bias-affirming data, anecdotal evidence and the testimonies of people with academic credentials to make a convincing case. Even when these ideas aren’t rooted in facts, many people still latch on to fringe theories — and, in some cases, deny contradictory evidence — due to powerful emotional, political and cultural influences.

      …While it might be tempting to lump every fringe idea into one category and every scientific idea into another, the theories seldom fit into tidy boxes,And there is no single, universal way they arise.

      Take Bigfoot, for example. While myths of wild, humanlike creatures are present in cultures around the world, a newspaper columnist in the U.S. was the first to use the name when writing about Northern California loggers who spotted mysteriously large footprints in the woods. Despite that those footprints came from a jokester making marks in the mud with giant wooden feet, people continued to present videos and even corpses aimed at proving the creature’s existence. Today, cryptozoologists search for evidence of mythological creatures using their own methods, taking Bigfoot from folklore to pseudoscience.

      On the other hand, astrology and alchemy were once seen as legitimate scientific fields before drifting to the fringe as understanding about the natural world progressed….

      As astrology and alchemy suggest, the barrier between science and fringe isn’t a brick wall; ideas previously regarded as scientific have been disproved and dismissed. And in some rare cases, theories that were once disregarded have gained peer-reviewed evidence and support by the scientific establishment.

      Atomic theory, for example, was once part of the fringe. Though scholars had theorized since the days of ancient Greece and India that atoms existed, for centuries, the prevailing idea was that matter was continuous — essentially, you could keep breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces forever. It wasn’t until the 1800s that scientists began to record concrete evidence for the existence of atoms, and more and more research built onto that idea until the theory became widely accepted.

      Other scientific ideas we consider common sense today weren’t always respected. Physicist Galileo Galilei triggered the wrath of the Catholic Church and scathing rebuke from his 17th-century astronomy peers for proposing that Earth revolved around the sun.

      That’s also roughly the same time period when Europeans were in the midst of the Scientific Revolution. Though the roots of mathematics, chemistry and astronomy date back to ancient civilizations across the globe, Galileo and his peers began to codify the scientific method and lay the Lgroundwork for modern research institutions….

      …Scientists are constantly revising their knowledge through new studies, data and discussions….

      One textbook example is the repeatedly debunked claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The idea first arose in 1998 when former physician Andrew Wakefield and colleagues published a paper in The Lancet, alleging a causal relationship. The journal retracted the study 12 years after it was published when Wakefield and colleagues were found to have deliberately fabricated evidence for financial gain.

      In the aftermath of the initial report, though, entire communities began to stop vaccinating their children. Even though scientific reports have shown, over and over again, that there is no causal relationship between vaccines and autism, the damage has been done. Today, anti-vaccine groups abound, and once-eradicated diseases are making a comeback as large clusters of people IL continue to shun vaccination efforts.

      …While 97 percent of climate scientists agree there is evidence that humans are at least somewhat responsible for global warming, there is still a very small margin of experts who disagree. And when those dissenters are visible on TV debates and testimonies in Congress, theycan take an argument with nearly 100 percent consensus and make it seem like it's split down the middle.

      …It’s no secret that social media has become a breeding ground for false information. In many cases, online groups can become echo chambers where bias-affirming posts circulate, regardless of whether they’re true or not….

      And like fringe ideas, even a scientific consensus can lose favor. We often only hear about ideas that have stood the test of time and the rigor of repeated testing to gain wide acceptance by mainstrearri scientists. “Most things published in 2020 in science are going to be wrong in about 10 years. And that’s not a problem’” says Gordin. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

What’s in a Name? More Than You Think

[These excerpts are from an article by David Adam in the June 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …Most words have no apparent connection to what they signify. As the linguist Steven Pinker puts it, we call a dog “dog” because everyone else does. And that’s how it has to be. It would overwhelm our senses if every word we spoke or heard came with deeper semantic meaning.

      That rule applies to most words, but not all. The words pop and murmur sound like they, well sound. Try to shout the word whisper. Weird, right?

      Such onomatopoeic terms demonstrate what researchers call sound iconicity, or a resemblance between a word's form and meaning. Pinker and others argue that iconicity is rare in language, but plenty of psychologists and linguists disagree. The debate has swung back and forth through the ages.

      In the fourth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato wrote that certain words seemed particularly suitable to their meaning. Numerous words support his case. For example, if we assume that the made-up words mal and mil can both mean table, then which of the two do you think best describes a large table? You likely said mal — along with 75 to 96 percent of people in a classic study that discovered the effect in 1929.

      It seems more natural to associate the names of large animals, for example, with low-pitched sounds: say, elephant, compared with mouse. One classic finding, tested across decades and cultures, shows that people overwhelmingly associate the made-up words bouba with a round shape and kiki with a sharp and angular one.

      …Unfamiliar and free oflinguistic baggage, made-up words help scientists investigate iconicity. Drawing helps too. In trials and tests asking people to interpret the meaning of made-up words visually, researcheis can free volunteers from the constraints of trying to squeeze these inferred meanings into words of their own.

      In a unique 2019 study, psychologists combined the two ideas. A team tested how volunteers interpreted the meaning of nonsense words. They asked the volunteers to attribute characteristics to and draw pictures of imaginary creatures, such as a horgous, a keex, a bomburg and a cougzer….

      The psychologists presented adjectives — round, spiky, large, small, masculine and feminine — that the volunteers had to match with 24 nonsense words. The scientists then picked the top 12 words that got the most consistent and unique descriptions. Most people rated an ackie and gricker as small, an ambous as round, an axittic and cruckwic as sharp and a heonia as feminine.

      Another group of volunteers then drew pictures of animals inspired by these names. When a third group examined these drawings, and the possible names associated with them, they mostly made a match. Not every time, of course, but they did so more often than chance would predict.

      …one drew a boodoma as a large-breasted creature. Another interpreted the same word to be a sad-looking ladybug. While the pictures can appear a little random, look at enough of them and certain patterns or themes seem to emerge. Most people drew a keex as smaller and spikier than a horgous, for example.

      …we tend to expect people to have specific character traits based on how their name sounds. Just like the nonsense words, people associate the “round” sounds in people’s names with one set of characteristics, and names featuring “sharp” sounds with a very different set….

      Writers such as Charles Dickens knew the value of iconicity in character names to emphasize their personalities. Research shows even people unfamiliar with the story judge that Oliver Twist is likable and Fagin is not….

      “What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare asked us in Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, perhaps not.

Teaching in a World of Messy Data

[These excerpts are from an article by Chad Dorsey in the May 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …But what does it mean to prepare learners in this way, and how do we do it? These are key questions indeed. Certainly, what we’re doing now is not sufficient. Even in science class, data still sit on the margins far too often. If learners are to gain the facility—and fluency—with data that the future demands, they must have regular, meaningful experiences with data throughout their learning. In recalling that data are numbers with context, we must recognize that learners gain understanding by working across subjects through experiences with authentic data encountered in contexts relevant to their own lived experience.

      To provide what learners need, we must think differently. Preparing learners for a world drenched in data means changing how we teach and learn with data overall….

      Learners need to be literate with data. That term, however, calls to mind the ability to simply read and interpret data. But learners need to be able to do much more than simply find values in a table or interpret a visualization handed to them. They must be able to create Their own visualizations, exploring rich data sets until data itself becomes a medium in which they work fluently, with grace and mastery….

      Learners must be able to work with data in ways that allow them to make their own discoveries freely and openly. This means ensuring that they have the freedom to do so, through work with data sets with multiple variables and multiple options, and with data they may often have generated themselves….

      …Most importantly, real data is inherently messy. Grappling with errors, outliers, and missing values is essential, as is experience with accessing data through technology and data moves such as transforming, filtering, or joining data sets. Of course, time is precious and challenges always need to match learners’ abilities….

      When we empower learners with the right tools and give them sufficient agency, they become problem solvers. Offering learners the chance to generate and explore interesting, multivariable data means we can’t predict precisely what they will find. But we do know that there’s a much better chance that what they find, and the stories they tell with it, will be interesting to them. Such empowerment is at the heart of motivated and engaged learning, makes for rich, problem- and project-based learning, and forms the basis for equitable and culturally responsive pedagogical experiences.

      Shifting our perspective is never easy, but this new vision is vital as we move into an unpredictable, data-filled future. By rethinking the ways we approach data in science classrooms and across the curriculum, we will create learners who are truly prepared for the complexities of data in work and life.

What the 2020-21 School Year Taught Us about Science Teaching and Learning

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the May 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      The school year is drawing to a close for many of us. Many schools are extending learning into the summer to address the gaps in learning experienced this year due to COVID. Some schools have been face-to-face since August. Others have been remote for the full year. Others are part hybrid, part face-to-face. Others follow yet additional models of instruction. For many of us, the year was definitely surreal and felt like our first year of teaching all over again.

      What lessons did we learn this year? Those who were hybrid faced blackened screens instead of student faces. Students didn’t want to share the condition of their homes. Students didn’t want others to see their faces for fear of ridicule. Some students were just reticent to have their faces on the screens. The lack of equity quickly surfaced among schools. Some parents yelled in the background while others were supportive. Eighth graders babysat younger siblings while still trying to follow the class lesson. Babies in diapers walking behind the students were not an uncommon sight for many teachers; child care was front and center of some students’ lives, experiencing life way beyond their years. Just about every permutation of the lives of our students rose up for us throughout the school year….

      Let’s talk about successes. We embraced technology like never before….We saw our students embrace these changes in science delivery. They showed sides of their knowledge we do not always sec during our teaching careers. We saw students’ creativity, problem-solving skills, and innovative thinking in our chats and in our classrooms. Deep discussions of content ensued no matter the delivery. It is a time of celebration of these instructional feats given the conditions we faced.

      We took the science curriculum before us and made it more relevant than ever for our students. Simulations, virtual labs, data collection from online databases, analysis of media literacy, and homemade STEM challenges came alive in our classrooms and in our students’ homes….

      The COVID pandemic will impact Gen Z’s lives for years to come, much like the bombing of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 impacted those generations. Research is being done on the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of our students. Anxiety and depression levels have skyrocketed, along with suicidal ideation throughout the pandemic. Feelings of isolation spread throughout this generation. Mental health professionals are wondering how long the impact of the pandemic will last and how it will affect our teaching….

      …Teaching is the most complex profession, and this year tested all of our acumen dealing with complexities never before seen in the history of science teaching.

      We should be applauded and celebrated by school boards, administrators, and parents. We faced and overcame insurmountable challenges while keeping ourselves and our students safe throughout the year to the best of our abilities….

      With vaccines available now, some travel may rejuvenate us during the summer months. We must take time to address our own emotional needs. We must use the summer to revitalize, rest, and relax while waiting to hear what the next school year will bring….

What Mister Rogers Can Teach Us about Teaching

[These excerpts are from an article by Gabrielle Vogt and Ann Monroe in the May 2021 issue of Kappann.]

      Fred Rogers was never a teacher in the traditional sense — he did not work in a classroom or school — but he nonetheless educated generations of children. Affectionately known to millions of people as America’s favorite neighbor, he was the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired on public television from 1968 to 2001. Geared toward preschoolers, the show featured songs, conversations with friends of all ages, visits to interesting places, and stories of the puppets who populated the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

      Mister Rogers’ positive influence on children is widely acknowledged, but how many of us have considered the influence he can have on us as adults, particularly as educators?What, exactly, can Fred Rogers teach us about teaching and caring for children?

      …At the beginning of each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rogers would enter the set through the door of his Neighborhood home, take offhis coat, replace it with a cardigan, and change his shoes, while singing the show’s theme, “"Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” As the song suggests, he aimed to form a specific kind of relationship with the children who watched his program — not to be their friend, exactly, and certainly not to be their parent, but to be a kind, caring, trusted member of their community. And that sense of neighborliness is sorely missing from many schools today.

      Teachers have many roles: instructor, advocate, mentor, nurse, social worker, authority figure . . . the list could go on. Perhaps our most crucial role, though, is one for which we have no word (at least not in English), that of the person whose mission is to build relationships. Not only must we form and maintain an individual connection with every child we teach, but we must create a safe and comfortable environment in which children can form connections with one another.

      …When we experience fear, the amygdala goes into action and triggers other systems in the brain to release stress hormones that interfere with learning — including cortisol, which puts all learning on hold for about 20 minutes, and which can remain in the body for up to three hours. However, when we interact with those we trust, our brains release oxytocin, a bonding hormone, which prevents the release of cortisol and other stress hormones….

      …Because daily life in the classroom is so busy and hectic, we can easily become oblivious to the small, seemingly inconsequential, interactions — when we inadvertently put a student on the spot, when one child makes a nasty remark to another — that trigger moments of panic in students and diminish their trust in us and in their peers.

      We should certainly strive to become more observant in the classroom, doing our best to watch our own behavior and look out for subtle digs and microaggressions among students. Perhaps, though, the most important thing we can do to build trust within the classroom is to show vulnerability; allowing children to see us (and to realize that we see ourselves) as imperfect human beings….

      …when Rogers made mistakes during filming, he often included them in the final version of the show….

      He understood that healthy relationships don’t appear magically; they take a great deal of thought and effort….

      …Fred Rogers genuinely valued and respected children, and he conveyed this to each and every child through the television screen. Whether voicing the beloved Daniel Tiger puppet or speaking, as himself, in a deliberately calm yet purposeful manner, he aimed to communicate what he referred to as “an expression of care” to every child who participated in or watched his show….

      In an era when students’ behavior, needs, and achievements have come to be viewed as “data,” to be collected and reported by subgroup, we can easily forget to see and attend to the actual children in front of us. Rogers reminds us that “Children aren’t empty vessels into which teachers simply pour facts. Children come to the classroom with feelings, concerns, anxieties, and joys….”

      As teachers, we have a responsibility to show precisely the same level of attention to and care for every child, just as Fred Rogers did throughout every episode of his show. “Do you remember your favorite teachers?” he asked, in a 2003 interview with Education World. “They were probably the ones who wanted to learn your name; who had a warm smile; who made you feel that they were glad to be there to help you learn. No matter how old or young we are, we learn best from people who care ab out us….”

      Through his television show, Rogers helped children to better understand their own feelings and needs. We must continue this effort in our schools and classrooms by empowering children to take control of not only their own learning but also their feelings and needs….

      We must also remember that our role as teachers is not to control children but to acknowledge their feelings and help them practice self-control. Instead of directing harsh language toward them or employing punitive discipline, we should actively practice nonviolent communication….

      Punitive discipline, including corporal punishment, fails to consider children's feelings or needs, yet remains an unfortunate reality in many of our nation’s schools. As educators, we must work to implement more positive approaches to managing student behavior, such as conscious discipline….

      Beginning at the elementary level, children are expected to master the same standards and skills and perform successfully on standardized assessments that do not take into account their unique development. Although children follow somewhat predictable developmental stages, each child’s development follows a different path and occurs at a different rate….For this reason, we must not continue to take a one-size-fits-all approach to education….

      How can schools ensure that children carry a good feeling with them throughout their education? We must acknowledge that children develop at different rates. We must design instruction that meets the needs of each individual learner rather than teaching to a test. We must create caring and supportive environments that strengthen students’ social and emotional skills. Like Fred Rogers, educators must value and accept the unique qualities of each child.

      …Not all of us have a personal connection to Rogers or his show, but we all have a responsibility to care for all children just as he did, and to ensure the children in our classrooms know that we like them just as they are.

The Case for Density

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrew Giambrone in the May/June 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      The coronavirus pandemic presents a cruel irony for urban dwellers. What good are cities if the very quality that makes them so dynamic—the ease of connecting with people and gathering in large groups for everything from a baseball game to an opera—now renders them more dangerous than before?

      That question lies at the heart of concerns over the future of cities in a post-covid world. Social distancing, mask wearing, and restrictions on mass gatherings will continue in many places, at least until enough people are vaccinated for communities to reach herd immunity. Downtowns remain largely dormant, their offices and transit hubs drained of nonessential workers. At the same time, municipal coffers are taking huge hits from lost tax revenue. Fewer visitors and sales mean less funding for vital city services, including public schools and sanitation, or for cherished amenities like parks.

      Adding to these economic hardships, it seems only sensible to shy away from cities during a pandemic. In the United States, didn’t covid-I9 first rage through New York, America’s largest city? Doesn’t the density of such places make them inevitable hot spots for highly conta-gious viruses? Haven’t people instinctively fled to the countryside during epidemics at least since the Middle Ages?

      Actually, studies show urban living may not as be as covid-risky as you might suspect….connectivity between counties through such things as travel mattered more for viral spread and mortality….while covid-I9 was more likely to show up sooner in denser counties, population density didn’t correlate with the overall number of cases and deaths.

      In other words, when it comes to the coronavirus, density isn't destiny. NewYork City was initially the US epicenter of the pandemic in part because of its status as an international destination, but its weeldy caseload dropped as safety measures took root….

      Rural counties in Alaska, Colorado, and Texas—far from dense population centers—were hit hard around the start of 2021, each with more than 100 daily cases per 100,000 residents, according to the New York Times. Yet high-density cities in Asia and Australia were able to rein in the coronavirus last year. Even China, where covid-19 was first discovered, effectively subdued the pandemic for its 1.4 billion people, 60% of whom live in cities.

      This isn’t to say density is irrelevant to covid-19 transmission, or that we fully understand how the disease propagates….

      …major cities like Seoul, Hong Kong, and San Francisco largely contained the coronavirus with quick, aggressive interventions like closing bars and clubs.

      No matter how you interpret these findings, it’s clear that urban density confers numerous benefits during a pandemic. For one thing, dense cities tend to have better hospitals than less populated areas. And it’s easier for city dwellers to access medical care. The same goes for preventive care, which, while still lacking in many places, has repeatedly been shown to lower chronic disease rates and emergency room visits.

      Urbanization was trending up before the pandemic, and despite the appeals of country life, this trend is likely to persist. As we recover from covid, it's worth remembering what drew us to cities in the first place. They host people of varying skills, backgrounds, and ambitions in the same location. Studies show that this proximity to others facilitates innovation, whether cultural or scientific. And as we've seen during the pandemic, telecommunication isn’t a perfect substitute for the face-to-face connections we all crave. (Neither does it provide the kind of educational environment some students need to succeed academically and socially.)

      At their best, cities distribute resources to their citizens efficiently and equitably. While many fall short of that ideal, as the pandemic has laid bare, the alternative paradigm for human settlement—sprawl—has significant disadvantages. Living farther apart from others imposes costs on economic productivity, the environment, and in some cases, people’s happiness. Climate change, which is exacerbated by car and airplane use, stands to compound those costs.

      Even if density isn’t a panacea for these challenges, it’s one of our best bets for overcoming them. After a year of disease and death, we should be reassured by another lesson of the pandemic: Cities are resilient, just like the people who live there.

Solving for the City

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Clark in the May/June 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      Urban technology projects have long sought to manage the city—to organize its ambiguities, mitigate its uncertainties, and predict or direct its growth and decline. The latest, “smart city” projects, have much in common with previous iterations. Again and again, these initiatives promise novel “solutions” to urban “problems.”

      The hype is based partly on a belief that technology will deliver unprecedented value to urban areas. The opportunity seems so vast that at times our ability to measure, assess, and make decisions about it almost feels inadequate. The message to cities is: You don’t know what you’re dealing with, but you don’t want to get left behind.

      After a decade of pilot projects and flashy demonstrations, though, it’s still not clear whether smart city technologies can actually solve or even mitigate the challenges cities face. A lot of progress on our most pressing urban issues—such as broadband access, affordable housing, or public transport—could come from better policies and more funding. These problems don’t necessarily require new technology.

      What is clear is that technology companies are increasingly taking on administrative and infrastructure responsibilities that governments have long fulfilled. If smart cities are to avoid exacerbating urban inequalities, we must understand where these projects will create new opportunities and problems, and who may lose out as a result. And that starts by taking a hard look at how cities have fared so far….

      This highlights a change in business models as well as in technology strategy. It also underscores what has been most challenging for the tech sector: not developing the technologies themselves, but understanding the market for smart city projects and the context in which they will unfold.

      Many of these projects have been driven by tech companies accustomed to making their own markets for emerging products. Virtually all of those projects have failed to adapt technology “solutions” to the needs of individual cities and regions….

      Since then, we’ve made substantial progress. Community involvement in planning is now the norm rather than the exception. Residents often help set priorities and define the scale and scope of urban projects through neighborhood planning units, public meetings, online platforms, and electronic mailing lists. This doesn’t happen for every project, or every time, and tensions between technocratic planners and community development groups remain. But it isn't the 1960s anymore.

      However, urban planners haven’t been driving the smart cities trend. Instead, it’s been driven by the tech sector, which has very different norms and goals….

      A lighter touch In previous eras, partnerships between cities and industries gave rise to new roads, bridges, buildings, parks, and even whole neighborhoods. These changes, from sprawling suburbs like Levittown to the vast Eisenhower-era Interstate Highway System to Boston’s Central Artery, drew plenty of criticism. But at least they involved real investment in the built environment….

      One real problem is that smart city projects, in their many manifestations, don’t look backward to see what must be modified, adapted, unwound, or undone. Functionally, cities sit upon layers of interconnected (and sometimes disconnected) systems. To stand on any downtown street corner is to observe old and new infrastructure (traffic signals, light poles) installed at different times for different reasons by both public agencies and private firms. (Regulations also vary widely between jurisdictions: in the US, for example, local governments have highly tailored land use controls.) But most of today’s projects aren’t designed to be backward compatible with existing urban systems. The smart cities idea, like the tech sector itself, is forward focused.

      …Whatever happens, covid-19 has shown that failing to invest in critical infrastructure is both an acute problem and a chronic one.

      Foreshadowing this disaster were tragic, That said, the but arguably limited, urban problems like the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where a 2014 switch in the city’s water supply caused pipes to leach lead into drinking water—an infrastructure failure that set off a public health emergency.

      Before 2020, people could tell themselves that such things happen only in other places. But the pandemic proved that systems—like the US public health system—can fail anywhere, and even everywhere at once. And it has shown that a decade’s worth of smart city projects weren’t primarily about upgrading existing urban infrastructure. They were more about developing a market for technology gear and services and the data that they generate.

      The pandemic has destabilized a loose truce between the tech sector and the cities it sought as partners in testing these products….

      The potential for technology to produce more sustainable, equitable, and resilient cities remains very real. The lesson of the last decade is that the emphasis was on the wrong word in “smart cities.” The attention must be on the city.

      We’re always making choices about how we organize cities and the economy to produce the outcomes we want. But it’s economics and politics, much more than techirology, that determine who benefits from (and who pays for) the systems we choose, and under what conditions….

Long Live Humankind

[These excerpts are from a book review by Alyson A. von Raalte in the 21 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      …After centuries of stagnation, life expectancy began to climb in earnest in northwestern Europe starting around the middle of the 19th century. The reason for this has for decades been the source of heated debates among scholars. Johnson discusses the most important of these factors, which include vaccination, the collection of vital statistics, pasteurization, drug regulation and testing, antibiotics, car and industrial safety, and agricultural innovations such as synthetic fertilizer.

      There are two main ways that this book is set apart from others that have previously touched on this subject. First, Johnson introduces the reader to a lively cast of characters involved in the most important innovations that have contributed to our longer life spans. These include both the discoverers themselves and their “amplifiers”—those with high social capital who were vital in promoting the innovation in question. Second, he gives almost equal weight to the usual proximate causes of mortality declinefor example, vaccination, antibiotics, improved nutrition, safe drinking water—and to “less tangible innovations,” such as the collection and analysis of data.

      As a result, well-trodden stories about Edward, Jenner discovering vaccination or Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur isolating bacterial strains are balanced with anecdotes about lesser-known statistical innovators. For example, readers are introduced to John Graunt, founder of the life table, which allowed ages at death to be compared across populations with different age structures, and to John Snow, who developed spatial epidemiological techniques to trace the waterborne source of the 1854 cholera pandemic in London. Readers also learn about the work of Austin Bradford Hill and Richard Doll, who introduced the randomized controlled trial in medicine, and William Foege, who put forward the ring vaccination approach to snuff out epidemic outbreaks.

      Why aren’t these individuals also household names? In Johnson’s view: “You can’t put the randomized controlled trial on display in a science museum.”

      …the public sector has made many positive contributions to public health over the long course of history, spurring innovation and creating effective institutions and regulatory bodies that have saved countless lives. The World Health Organization is singled out in particular for its successful eradication of smallpox during the heated Cold War political era.

      …It is no secret that life expectancy is one of the most poorly understood statistics in the world, and Johnson misses an opportunity to educate readers on why we use life expectancy, what it measures, and, importantly, what it does not….

      Precisely because of the moment we find ourselves in, Extra Life could not be timelier. Both the book and the series strike an uplifting tone, reminding readers of what humanity has accomplished by working together toward the common good.

What AI Can Learn from the Biological Brain

[These excerpts are from a book review by Kamila Maria Jozwik in the 21 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      …In 10 chapters, he describes a series of imagined conversations between four hypothetical individuals—a developmental geneticist, a neuroscientist, a robotics engineer, and an AI researcher—that offer readers insight into the information that is needed both to understand the workings of the brain and to create an artificial system that mimics the brain. These fictional conversations are followed by “seminars” in which the author discusses specific topics in greater detail.

      Hiesinger elegantly moves through a variety of topics, ranging from biological development to AI and ending with a discussion of the advances that deep neural networks have brought to the field of brain-machine interfaces. At each stage, he discusses the commonalities and differences that define developmental science and AI research.

      I appreciated, in particular, Hiesinger’s efforts to link information on different levels of abstraction, such as when he describes why linking genetic information to human behavior is complicated and reveals the caveats of attempting to do so. He uses this discussion to prompt the reader to ponder at what level we need to work to build an artificial brain, a topic on which he elaborates later.

      In the seminar “From Algorithmic Growth to Artificial Intelligence,” Hiesinger describes differences that exist in the training of artificial neural networks (ANNs) and the early development of brains, raising questions about the way we train ANNs. The network architecture and training rules are fixed during ANN training, and the network learns by exposure to large datasets. During human development, however, the brain changes as it grows, and the learning rules change too.

      The hypothetical dialogues that open each chapter successfully capture various disciplinary perspectives and illustrate tensions between the fields represented….

      The book’s last discussion and the accompanying seminar will be of particular interest to researchers who work at the interface between neuroscience and AI. Here, Hiesinger argues that in order to achieve Al comparable to human intelligence, we cannot take any shortcuts and must include information present on every biological level—a position that may be seen as controversial by both neuroscientists and AI researchers. He acknowledges, however, that the path to reaching artificial general intelligence may not necessitate humanlike intelligence.

      One shortcoming of this otherwise entertaining book is that it tries to cover many concepts but often fails to provide sufficient detail for the reader to fully grasp a specific issue. However, given that Hiesinger aims to engage a variety of people from different backgrounds, some context must inevitably be sacrificed to keep the narrative moving. Overall, this book accurately illustrates current debates occurring in this space and is likely to inspire future discussions at the intersection of neuroscience and AI.

“The Descent of Man,” 150 Years On

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Agustin Fuentes in the 21 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 1871, Charles Darwin tackled “the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist...the descent of man.” Challenging the status quo, Darwin deployed natural and sexual selection, and his recently adopted "survival of the fittest," producing scenarios for the emergence of humankind. He explored evolutionary histories, anatomy, mental abilities, cultural capacities, race, and sex differences. Some conclusions were in-novative and insightful. His recognition that differences between humans and other animals were of degree, not of kind, was trailblazing. His focus on cooperation, social learning, and cumulative culture remains core to human evolutionary studies. However, some of Darwin’s other assertions were dismally, and dangerously, wrong. “Descent” is a text from which to learn, but not to venerate.

      Darwin saw humans as part of the natural world, animals that evolved (descended) from ancestral primates according to processes and pat-terns similar for all life….Darwin thought he was relying on data, objectivity, and scientific thinking in describing human evolutionary outcomes. But for much of the book, he was not. “Descent,” like so many of the scientific tomes of Darwin’s day, offers a racist and sexist view of humanity.

      Darwin portrayed Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia as less than Europeans in capacity and behavior. Peoples of the African continent were consistently referred to as cognitively depauperate, less capable, and of a lower rank than other races. These assertions are confounding because in “Descent” Darwin offered refutation of natural selection as the process differentiating races, noting that traits used to characterize them appeared nonfunctional relative to capacity for success. As a scientist this should have given him pause, yet he still, baselessly, asserted evolutionary differences between races. He went beyond simple racial rankings, offering justification of empire and colonialism, and genocide, through “survival of the fittest.” This too is confounding given Darwin'’ robust stance against slavery.

      In “Descent,” Darwin identified women as less capable than (White) men, often akin to the “lower races.” He described man as more courageous, energetic, inventive, and intelligent, invoking natural and sexual selection as justification, despite the lack of concrete data and biological assessment. His adamant assertions about the centrality of male agency and the passivity of the female in evolutionary processes, for humans and across the animal world, resonate with both Victorian and contemporary misogyny.

      …Darwin was a perceptive scientist whose views on race and sex should have been more influenced by data and his own lived experience. But Darwin’s racist and sexist beliefs, echoing the views of scientific colleagues and his society, were powerful mediators of his perception of reality.

      Today, students are taught Darwin as the “father of evolutionary theory,” a genius scientist. They should also be taught Darwin as an English man with injurious and unfounded prejudices that warped his view of data and experience. Racists, sexists, and white supremacists, some of them academics, use concepts and statements “validated” by their presence in “Descent” as support for erroneous beliefs, and the public accepts much of it uncritically.

      “The Descent of Man” is one of the most influential books in the history of human evolutionary science. We can acknowledge Darwin for key insights but must push against his unfounded and harmful assertions. Reflecting on “Descent” today one can look to data demonstrating unequivocally that race is not a valid description of human biological variation, that there is no biological coherence to “male” and “female” brains or any simplicity in biological patterns related to gender and sex, and that “survival of the fittest” does not accurately represent the dynamics of evolutionary processes….

Wood without Trees

[These excerpts are from an article by Daniel Ackerman in the May/June 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      Like meat production, logging and agriculture can exact a heavy environmental toll. Now an MIT team has proposed a way to circumvent that by growing certain plant tissues in the lab—an idea somewhat akin to cultured meat.

      The researchers…grew wood-like plant tissue indoors, without soil or sunlight. They started with a zinnia, extracting live cells from its leaves and culturing them in a liquid growth medium so they would metabolize and proliferate.

      Next, they transferred the cells into a gel and “tuned” them….By varying the levels of two hormones in the gel, the researchers controlled the cells' production of lignin, a polymer that lends wood its firmness. The gel itself acted as a scaffold to encourage the cells to grow in a particular shape.

      While the technology is far from market ready, the work points to a possible method for producing biomaterials with a much smaller environmental footprint.

      “The way we get these materials hasn’t changed in centuries and is very inefficient,” says Velasquez-Garcia. “This is a real chance to bypass all that inefficiency.”

      In other words: “If you want a table, then you should just grow a table.”

The Nose Knows

[These excerpts are from an article by David L. Chandler in the May/June 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      Dogs trained to sniff out certain telltale scents in urine are among the best cancer detectors known to science. Researchers at MIT and elsewhere are working to duplicate their remarkable abilities in technology that, while less cuddly, would be far easier to use on a large scale….

      Dogs have detected lung, bladder, ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers—and they've even been able to detect covid-19. What's more, some dogs trained to respond to samples from patients with one type of cancer have then identified several others, even when the similarities between the samples weren’t evident to humans.

      Over the last fewyears, Mershin and the team have been working on a miniaturized detector system that incorporates mammalian olfactory receptors stabilized to act as sensors, producing data that can be handled in real time with the computational capacity of a smartphone. The system, Mershin says, is actually far more sensitive than a dog’s nose in terms of detecting the presence of tiny traces of different molecules—but in terms of interpreting those molecules, “it’s 100% dumber.” So the researchers are using machine learning to trx to find the elusive patterns that dogs can infer from the scent, but that humans haven’t been able to grasp from a chemical analysis….

      In the latest tests, the team tested 50 samples of urine from confirmed cases of prostate cancer and controls known to be free of the disease, and the machine-learning program teased out any similarities and differences between the samples that could help the sensor-based system identify the disease. Both the artificial system and the dogs achieved accuracy rates above 70%....

      He envisions a day when phones are routinely equipped with scent detectors that could pick up early signs of disease far sooner than typical screens—and could {even warn of smoke or a gas leak as well.

Age of Opportunitys

[These excerpts are from an article by Lydia Denworthes in the May 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Versions of that story play out in real life all the time, although the age of the adolescents varies, and the goal could be anything from reducing bullying or depression to increasing engagement with math. With discouraging regularity, researchers find that what works with younger children is no longer effective with adolescents. Eighth grade seems to be the inflection point.

      …Thirteen-year-olds are concerned with status and respect—these kids do not want to feel patronized by adults. In a study published in 2019 in Nature Human Behaviour; instead of nutritional information, researchers showed more than 300 eighth graders in Texas investigative reports revealing that food company executives use unhealthy ingredients, target young adolescents in their marketing, and won’t let their own children eat their products. The students were outraged and began to see healthy eating as a way of taking a stand against being manipulated. For the next three months the students made healthier snack purchases in the cafeteria. And in a follow-up study, the researchers found that the students, especially boys, with higher levels of testosterone (a marker of pubertal maturation in both boys and girls) were most likely to respond well to the intervention.

      Over the past 15 years neuroscience has dramatically changed our understanding of the structural and functional changes in the brain during adolescence, which runs from around the age of 10 all the way into the mid-20s. It is a time of rapid brain growth and neuronal fine-tuning when young people are especially sensitive to social cues and rewards. More recent research has focused on how the adolescent brain interacts with the social environment. It shows that social context and acceptance strongly influence behavior. Adolescence might even constitute a sensitive period for social and emotional learning, a window of time when the brain is uniquely primed by neurochemical changes to make use of social cues for learning.

      A growing group of researchers and clinicians see these neuroscientific findings as a chance to do things differently. When a young brain is looking for experience, teachers, parents and other influential adults should seek to capitalize on the richness of learning and stave off negative experiences such as smoking or drug use….

      A sensitive period for social and emotional processing also suggests that certain phases of adolescence may be more opportune than others for certain approaches. Early adolescence in particular—from roughly age nine to 11—could be an opportunity to launch kids on a positive path by buttressing their sense of self and motivation to learn. The nutrition experiment shows the benefits of fine-tuning interventions for middle adolescents, who have been through puberty. And no one wants to suggest that it’s ever too late to help young people in trouble, especially given that the most serious behavioral and health problems of adolescence tend to occur at 16 and beyond.

      To meaningfully compare the results of which interventions work best at age 10 or 14 or 18 requires extensive longitudinal studies, which have not yet been done….

      …Neuroscientists showed that puberty ushers in a period of exuberant neuronal growth followed by a pruning of neural connections that is second only to the similar process that occurs in the first three years of life. They also showed that the maturation of the adolescent brain is not linear. The limbic system, a collection of brain areas that are sensitive to emotion, reward, novelty, threat and peer expectations, undergoes a growth spurt while the brain areas responsible for reasoning, judgment and executive function continue their slow, steady march toward adulthood. The resulting imbalance in the developmental forces helps to explain adolescent impulsivity, risk taking, and sensitivity to social reward and learning. From an evolutionary sense, much of adolescents’ behavior pushes them to leave the safety of family to explore the larger social world—a step on the way to becoming independent adults….

      These windows of rapid change create both learning opportunities and vulnerabilities. What adolescents are learning is all-important….Harmful experiences may lead to negative spirals from which it’s hard to recover. Research has shown that earlier experimentation with alcohol and drugs makes an adolescent more likely to become addicted….

      Protective factors in the adolescent's environment could support positive trajectories. What do protective factors look like? They include supportive relationships with family and caretakers and access to resources such as scaffolded opportunities to learn in positive ways. They also include some elements that have previously been underappreciated. Fuligni’s research shows that S is have a need to contribute to society and that doing so makes them feel valued and can safeguard against anxiety and depression….These contributions can occur within peer groups, the family, or at a larger societal level. It’s no accident that recent social protest movements for gun control and against structural racism have been led in large part by young people….

      The neuroscience also suggests that acting early could make sense….

      Others are wary of focusing too much on any one phase. They emphasize that what neuroscience contributes to the discussion is a reminder of what to prioritize….

      It is not surprising then that those interventions that look most promising take into account adolescents’ desire for status and respect, as well as their need to contribute and find a sense of purpose….

      In other words, now we know more about what causes adolescents to put up a wall and resist attempts to change their habits, beliefs and ways of coping. That same knowledge offers ways to break down that wall….

What Makes a Problem “Hard”?

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the May 2021 issue of Scientific Americar.]

      …Activities that most people find very hard, such as playing chess or doing higher mathematics, have yielded fairly readily to computation, yet many tasks that humans find easy or even trivial resist being conquered by machines.

      Twenty-five years ago Garry Kasparov became the first chess grand master to lose to a computer. Today computer programs can beat the world's best players at poker and Go, write music and even pass the famous Itring test—fooling people into thinking they are talking to another human. Yet computers still struggle to do things most of us find easy….

      AI researchers will tell you that chess turned out to be comparatively easy because it follows a set of rigid rules that create a finite (albeit large) number of possible plays. Predicting the intentions of a pedestrian, however, is a more complex and fluid task that is hard to reduce to rules. No doubt that is true, but I think there is a bigger lesson in the Al experience that applies to more urgent problems. Let’s call it the vaccine-vaccination paradox.

      …It is a brilliant piece of biotechnological work that bodes well for similar uses of mRNA in the future.

      Yet even several months after those vaccines were use, it is extremely hard to get the American population fully vaccinated. In the U.S., the difficulties have included the vexed politics of the past year, but the logistical challenges turned out to be great as well. Before the vaccines were authorized, some health experts were concerned that there might not be enough vials and syringes or cold storage. Others noted the problem of vaccine hesitancy. And since the vaccines became available, a host of new problems, including such quotidian tasks as scheduling, have plagued the program. The hard task of creating a vaccine proved (relatively) easy; the easy task of vaccination has proved very hard.

      Maybe it is time to rethink our categories. We view chess as hard because very few people can play it at a high level, and almost no one is a grand master. In contrast, there are nearly four million nurses in the U.S. alone, most of whom presumably know how to deliver inoculations. If we had to, nearly all of us could probably learn to drive a truck to deliver vaccines. But this perspective confuses difficulty with scarcity. As the AI example shows, many things that all of us can do are in some respects remarkably difficult. Or perhaps we are conflating what is difficult to conceive with what is a challenge to do. Quantum physics is conceptually hard; administering 600 million shots in a large, diverse country with a decentralized health system is a staggeringly difficult practicality.

      We call the physical sciences “hard” because they deal with issues that are mostly independent of the vagaries of human nature; they offer laws that (at least in the right circumstances) yield exact answers. But physics and chemistry will never tell us how to design an effective vaccination program or solve the problem of the crossing pedestrian….The social sciences rarely yield exact answers. But that does not make them easy.

      When it comes to solving real-life problems, it is the supposedly straightforward ones that seem to be tripping us up. The vaccine-vaccination paradox suggests that the truly hard sciences are those that involve human behavior.

Coroners Should Be Abolished

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the May 2021 issue of Scientific Americar.]

      How many people in the U.S. have died from COVID? We know it is more than half a million, but the official count could miss tens of thousands of deaths. In TV police procedurals, the people who investigate premature deaths are depicted as highly trained, objective experts. In reality, the system in the US. is far less rigorous. The majority of states rely at least in part on coroners to rule on the circumstances surrounding unexpected or suspicious deaths—and contrary to what most of us probably believe, coroners are often laypeople without training in medicine. What is more, they are frequently elected officials, which makes them susceptible to political pressure from people or organizations looking to influence their conclusions. This system needs to be abolished.

      The office of the coroner traces its origin to medieval England, where it was first established to help protect the financial interests of the crown. Death investigations were important because coroners collected the associated taxes, among other responsibilities.

      Today most probes of the deaths of people who are not in the care of a doctor—including those who die at home or in police custody—are carried out by medical examiners and coroners. Medical examiners are physicians who are often board-certified in forensic pathology. Coroners are usually not physicians. In fact, in many states, coroners need only be of legal age with no felony convictions to qualify for the job. Yet they often have the final say on how someone died. There is no federal oversight of death investigation systems and no national standard to uphold. Instead states decide whether they use medical examiners or coroners, or a combination of the two—and determine the qualifications for the job. Most states have coroners in some or all counties.

      To make matters worse, nearly 80 percent of the nation’s coroners are elected to the office. This arrangement exposes investigations to corruption and political influence. Elected coroners are beholden to voters, after all.

      This relationship can have serious consequences for public health….

      Voters are not the only source of influence on coroners. Death investigation has strong ties to law enforcement. Indeed, in many counties, the sheriff is the coroner. This arrangement poses obvious conflicts of interest. For instance, in 2017 public radio station KQED reported on the resignations of two forensic pathologists in San Joaquin County, California, who alleged that the sheriff-coroner interfered with their investigations into deaths that occurred during police arrest or custody to protect the officers involved. The sheriff assumes the duties of the coroner in 41 of California’s 58 counties, according to the California State Association of Counties.

      Leading medical and scientific organizations have long criticized the coroner system. As early as 1857, a committee of the American Medical Association recommended replacing elected coroners with court-appointed medical officials. In 1928 the National Academy of Sciences called for giving the medical duties of the coroner’s office over to the medical examiner’s office, which, the organization further argued, should be headed by a pathologist. The academy reiterated the need to move toward a medical examiner system in 2009. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that just 16 states and Washington, D.C., have centralized medical examiner systems.

      It is well past time to heed the experts’ advice. Adopting a medical examiner system is not without challenges. For one, there are not enough medical examiners to go around. But with some of society’s most pressing issues at stake, it has never been more important for states to lay the archaic coroner system to rest.

China’s Population Still Growing, Censys Shows—but Barely

[These excerpts are from an article by Dennis Normile in the 14 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      …China’s population will start to shrink in the next few years, the trends suggest, meaning fewer and fewer people in their working prime will have to support a rapidly growing cadre of elderly. That has triggered discussions about how to increase the country’s birth rate, which is far below the replacement level….

      China is now home to 1.411 billion people, according to the decadal census, up from 1.339 billion in 2010. The number of citizens increased by an annual average of 0.53% over the past decade, a drop from the 0.57% rate recorded between 2000 and 2010. It was the lowest rate of growth since the early 1960s, when famine caused the population to decline. Those age 60 and over now make up 18.70% of the population, an increase of 5.44 percentage points since 2010. The census also showed that illiteracy decreased, the sex ratio at birth became slightly less skewed toward boys, and the number of years in school and the number of university graduates increased.

      The top-heavy age pyramid has policy-makers worried that China may grow old before it grows rich….

      What to do at the other end of the demographic equation is more contentious. China’s total fertility dropped precipitously in the 1970s, from 5.8 births per woman in 1970 to 2.8 in 1979. The one-child policy, which took effect in 1980, drove fertility down further but also made it difficult to establish the exact rate because birtlis were underreported….Now, the statistics bureau estimates it at 1.3 in 2020. And unlike the United States and Europe, China has next to no immigration to offset low fertility.

      Since 2016, Chinese couples can have two children, and a new 5-year plan adopted in March calls for reducing the burdens of having, raising, and educating children by improving child care services and parental leave policies. Parents still face fines if they have more than two children, but there is now talk of allowing parents to have as many kids as they want.

      Some would go further….

Shipping Rule Cleans the Air but Dirties the Water

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 14 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      In an unwelcome twist, a global effort to curb pollution from the heavy fuel oil burned by most big ships appears to be encouraging water pollution instead. A 2020 regulation aimed at cutting sulfur emissions from ship exhaust is prompting many owners to install scrubbing systems that capture pollutants in water and then dump some or all of the waste into the sea.

      Some 4300 scrubber-equipped ships are already releasing at least 10 gigatons of such wastewater each year, often in ports and sometimes near sensitive coral reefs, researchers reported last month in the first effort to quantify and map the releases worldwide. The shipping industry says pollutants in the waste don’t exceed national and international limits, and that there’s no evidence of harm. But some researchers fear scrubber water, which includes toxic metals such as copper and carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, poses a rapidly growing threat, and they want to see such systems outlawed….

      The emerging debate is the result of a 2020 regulation put into place by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an arm of the United Nations that works with 174 member states to develop common rules for international shipping. By banning the use of sulfur-heavy fuel oil, the rule intended to reduce pollutants that contribute to acid rain and smog. WO estimated the rule would slash sulfur emissions by 77% and prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution in ports and coastal communities.

      But cleaner fuel can cost up to 50% more than the sulfur-rich kind, and the rule allows ship owners to continue to burn the cheaper fuel if they install scrubbers. In 2015, fewer than 250 ships had scrubbers (often to comply with local regulations); last year, that number grew to more than 4300, according to industry figures.

      A scrubber system sends exhaust through a meters-tall metal cylinder, where it is sprayed with seawater or freshwater, depending on the type, at rates comparable to gushing fire hydrants, to capture pollutants. In the most popular systems, called open loop scrubbers, seawater is discharged to the ocean after little or no treatment. Other systems retain sludge for disposal on land and release much smaller (but more concentrated) amounts while at sea….

      Researchers are particularly worried about discharges in areas that IMO has designated as ecologically sensitive. The Great Barrier Reef, for example, receives about 32 million tons of scrubber effluent per year because it's near a major shipping route for coal. Ships also release scrubber water around the Galapagos Islands.

      Ports see substantial discharges, too. Cruise ships dominate those releases, contributing some 96% of discharges in seven of the 10 most discharge-rich ports….Cruise ships typically need to burn fuel in port to continue to operate their casinos, heated pools, air conditioning, and other amenities. Most ports have shallow water, so pollutants are less diluted and can accumulate more rapidly….

      So far, few researchers have tested scrubber water on marine life. One laboratory study, published last month in Environmental Science & Technology, found that samples from three North Sea ships harmed the development of a common copepod (Calanus helgolandicus a tiny crustacean that is a key part of Atlantic Ocean food webs. At very low doses, young copepods stopped molting, and the animals died at rates three times that found in the wild. Such impacts could be “a big deal” for food webs in the real world….

More than the Message

[These excerpts are from a book review by Jonathan Wei in the 7 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong,”" argued Richard Feynman in 1964….”It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is.” While this may indeed be true of a scientific theory, the effective communication of that theory to a broader audience is a L bit more complicated….how a scientist presents his or her research can drastically affect how people outside of academia think, and especially how they feel, about a given topic….

      In Part I, Kearns describes the evolution of science communication, highlighting a 1951 Science article by William Hewitt…that established a road map for the future of scientific communication. Hewitt argued for the creation of a field of science communicators who would be charged with organizing the rapidly expanding body of research to establish productive communication channels between scientists and the public. Kearns describes this vision as prescient while noting that contemporary discussions about science communication often overprioritize finding ways to encourage or incentivize senior scientists to communicate about their work.

      Turning her attention to those who do pursue scientific communication as a career, Kearns notes that many such individuals are not in tenured positions and suggests that more infrastructure is needed to support this growing community. Institutions of higher education claim to value the role of public scholarship and engagement, she argues, and if that is the case, they should defend science communicators when they come under fire, just as they reap the rewards when communication efforts are successful.

      In the book’s second section, Kearns focuses on relational tools of communication, including how to listen, work through conflict, and understand trauma. She notes that in situations where emotions, conflict, and power are salient to communication, communicating effectively requires the cultivation of relationships and the use of tools such as listening and empathizing.

      Kearns argues that, until recently, scientists had mostly taken an agnostic approach to the identity of the communicator. She explains why this is worth rethinking, demonstrating how factors such as race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, class, and power can influence who asks questions, what questions they ask, and who benefits from the information being disseminated.

      The book closes with Kearns’s vision of what science communication can be, including how we can ensure that it is equitable, inclusive, and just and that communicators emphasize self-care and collective care. She encourages those who engage in this work to prioritize their emotional and physical selves and to incorporate practices such as establishing boundaries, taking time for reflection, and making space for joy.

      Kearns correctly highlights that there remains a disconnect between doing science well and communicating science well….

      It is possible that, as the science communication community grows, a plurality of communication efforts will need to be valued and incentivized, but it is worth making the effort to do so now If these challenges can be addressed, and future scientists learn how to effectively communicate their work, it is more than the lay community that stands to benefit. Scientists themselves will gain valuable insights by engaging in conversations with the people and communities that they hope to help.

Fatal Attraction to Light at Night Pummels Insects

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 7 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      Each summer, on bridges across the world, mayfly massacres occur. First, warm weather prompts the transformation of the insects’ aquatic larvae. Within hours, the short-lived, flying adults pop out of streams, rivers, and lakes, eager to mate and lay eggs by the millions.

      But bridges illuminated with artificial light can lure the newly emerged adults away from the water to a futile death before breeding. Others, fooled by the sheen of reflective pavement, drop their eggs on the bridge road instead of the water. Because mayflies control the growth of algae and are food for fish, the fate of these humble insects may reverberate through ecosystems….

      Mayflies aren’t alone in their fatal attraction to what researchers refer to as ALAN: artificial light at night. Studies from around the globe are finding worrisome impacts on insect mating and abundance….

      Some researchers think brighter nights may be a factor in recently documented insect declines….With insect numbers dropping by 80% in some places and 40% of insect species headed for extinction by some estimates, “Some researchers have started to make more noise about the ‘insect apocalypse,’” Ferguson says. “ALAN is almost certainly one of the drivers.”

      Even as they begin to raise the alarm, scientists are pointing to simple solutions. Egri, for example, has found that mounting bright lights low on the sides of bridges keeps the mayflies close to the water….

      Many insects and other animals are drawn to light because they depend on the Moon or Sun for navigation, Ferguson says. And light at night is increasing by up to 40% per year….

      Even dark areas are no longer very dark….On Moon-less nights, artificial sky glow now exceeds the combined light of stars and other natural sources on 22% of the globe's total land, with biodiversity hot spots disproportionately affected….

      Given the many other factors also hurting insects, such as habitat degradation and climate change, linking light to species’ declines is challenging….Researchers have estimated that at least one-third of the insects swarming around artificial lights die of exhaustion or are eaten by predators….

The Frontier Is Not Endless for All

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorpin in the 7 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      Recent weeks have seen numerous calls for more investment in research and development (R&D) in the United States. This is understandable with a new administration that is friendlier to science and with The Endless Frontier Act—a measure that could double the budget of the National Science Foundation in 5 years—under consideration in Congress. Proponents of the bill are heralding its potential to enhance America’s competitiveness: A large part of the new money would go for “use-inspired” basic research aimed at economic growth. Although the new money for science would be long overdue, and there are provisions in the bill to try to extend its geographical benefit, care must be taken. to ensure that funds are distributed more equitably than in the past. If science in the United States is truly to be an endless frontier, the benefits must extend equitably to all….

      We know that simply getting more research funding to these regions is not the whole answer. Of the top 30 universities in R&D spending, 11 are responsible for $11.3 billion in funding in the thriving coastal cities of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and San Diego. But the other 19 members of this group, which account for $20 billion in spending, include cities and states in regions that have not benefited from the economic resurgence of the coastal hubs. There are plenty of great and well-funded scientists in these areas, but nowhere near an equal share of fast-growing and innovative companies.

      In addition to poor geographic distribution, the number of women and people of color who are participating in the American innovation economy is dismal….

      …Science: The Endless Frontier (1945) and Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2005)….were patriotic jeremiads proclaiming that American leadership in science and technology would lead to American strength in economic and foreign policy. Neither dealt explicitly with systemic sexism and racism in science or the poor geographic distribution of opportunity. Rising Above the Gathering Storm addressed failures in science education. But it did not address how the prevention of women and people of color from earning science degrees and advancing in their fields affected American competitiveness.

      And that is what sets apart a recent report by the Council on Competitiveness, Competing in the Next Economy, which explicitly calls for widening the innovation economy in the United States to include more people and places….

      In other words, although China and Europe are formidable scientific competitors of the United States, achieving true competitiveness as a nation starts at home. As the United States plans for another welcome surge of research funding, it must work ever harder to expand the reach of this investment.

Opening the Path to Biotech

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Angeeta Bhatia, Nancy Hopkins and Susan Hockfield in the 7 May 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a study that documented how women faculty in its School of Science were afforded fewer resources and opportunities than men—a discrepancy it attributed to unconscious biases that had marginalized women faculty “even in the light of obvious good will.” The report inspired policy changes at universities across the country that have made faculty resources more equitable. But a study released last month by MIT members (including the authors of this editorial) of the Boston Biotech Working Group (BBWG) now documents a similar problem at the interface of academia and industry: Fewer women than men faculty at MIT move their research discoveries into companies, and fewer serve as scientific advisers or on boardS of directors. This disparity holds back women faculty and denies the full promise of innovation to the universities they work for, the biotech industry, and society at large.

      In 2019, the BBWG brought together a diverse group of biotech and biopharma participants to investigate the situation. The results are sobering, if not surprising. In contrast to their male peers, women in the biological sciences at MIT rarely start biotech companies or sit on their boards. This is true despite an increase in women faculty with qualifications equal to those of their male colleagues. A 2018 study from Stanford University, led by Ann Arvin, described a similar finding at that institution. The BBWG study focused on only 7 of the 14 departments in MIT’s Schools of Science and Engineering, but even so it arrived at a remarkable conclusion: Had the women in those departments participated in founding companies at the same rate as the men, they could have started roughly 40 additional companies helping to predict, prevent, and treat disease.

      Just as sobering are the stories of women faculty being passed over as cofounders and scientific advisers, and left out-of networking events, leaving them on the sidelines of an emerging ecosystem that is critical both to advancing their discoveries and to propelling the careers of their trainees. Some describe feeling “invisible” in spite of their expertise, and others have been advised to take along male students or post-does when pitching Lfor capital to be taken more seriously.

      …Women in the biological sciences with ideas ripe for the market clearly don’t enjoy equal access to these networks—in 2019 only 2.7% of US venture capital dollars, for example, supported women-founded companies. As concerning, the lack of network access is even greater for women (and men) of color.

      To address these imbalances, the BBWG launched several programs that could be easily replicated at other universities. Its Future Founders Initiative convenes boot camps where aspiring women academic entrepreneurs can get candid advice from experienced founders….The BBWG Data Groupl has created a framework to quantify faculty participation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and potentially reveal points of intervention. For example, MIT and Stanford data show that women and men faculty in some engineering departments are starting companies at similar rates, suggesting that adjusting departmental “microclirnates” may be helpful.

      The MIT study complements other efforts in academia and the broader ecosystem….

      These programs could address another challenge: underrepresentation of minority faculty in tech transfer. The discoveries women and minority researchers are making today have great potential as a force for good in the world—but reaching that potential is only possible if paths to real-world applications are open to everybody.

What Is Time?

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Keats in the May 2021 issue of Discover.]

      In 1826, time took a strange turn in New Haven, Connecticut. According to historian Michael O’Malley, over several months, a new clock installed atop Town Hall ran slow and then fast in comparison with the clock that had set the local standard time for decades, at nearby Yale College. After cursing the clockmaker, the citizens discovered that both clocks were accurate, but each kept time according to a different principle: The old clock at Yale had complicated gearwork that varied in speed with the seasons to emulate the time indicated on a sundial, which shifts with Earth’s annual orbital wobble. The more modern timepiece turned at a steady rate, like my wall clock does today.

      Time defies easy definition. Early fifth-century philosopher St. Augustine of Hippo famously wrote that he knew what time was unless someone asked him. Albert Einstein added another wrinkle when he theorized that time varies depending on where you measure it. Today’s state-of-the-art atomic clocks have proved Einstein right — there’s actually a detectable difference between a clock in an airplane and one on the ground. Even advanced physics can’t decisively tell us what time is, because, as the residents of New Haven learned, the answer depends on the question you're asking.

      Forget about time as an absolute. What if, instead of considering time in terms of astronomy, we related time to ecology? What if we stopped timing planetary phenomena from an outside perspective — expecting the world to run like clockwork — and allowed environmental conditions to set the tempo of human life? We’re increasingly aware of the fact that we can’t control Earth systems with engineering alone, and realizing that we need to moderate our actions if we hope to live in equilibrium. What if our definition of time reflected that?

      …In pre-Classical Greece, for instance, people “corrected” official calendars by shifting dates forward or backward to reflect the flowering of artichokes or the migration of cranes. Temporal connection to the environment was paramount to their survival. Likewise, river time — and other systems I’m developing that will pace clocks to match the growth of trees or the circulation of oceans — may encourage environmental awareness in a world increasingly alienated from nature.

      When St. Augustine confessed his inability to define time, he evoked one of time's most salient qualities: Time becomes meaningful only in a defined context. Any timekeeping system is valid, and each is as meritorious as its purpose.

Let’s Talk about Reef Grief

[These excerpts are from an article by Marta Zaraska in the May 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …one thing is clear: Worry and fear surrounding global warming is sharply increasing, taking a toll on many. An American attorney, David Buckel, tragically went so far as to set himself on fire in 2018 to protest the use of fossil fuels as a global pollutant.

      …Sixty-nine percent of Americans said they feel at least somewhat worried about the climate in a late 2018 survey by Yale and George Mason universities. Twenty-nine percent said they’re very worried, double the rate found in a similar study conducted four years earlier. Britons feel nearly as much anxiety about climate as they do about Brexit. Groups like the American Psychological Association have started to take note of the global trend….

      Yet apart from surveys and anecdotal data, we still lack much solid research on what exactly climate anxiety is and how it may differ from more traditional fears — like that of heights or general uncertainties….

      Susan Clayton, environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, compares it to anxiety felt befote a job interview — it makes perfect sense, simply because there are plenty of real reasons to worry. That said, climate anxiety could turn pathological in some cases. “If it makes it difficult for you to sleep, to socialize, to work — if it’s interfering with your ability to function in a general way,” you are in trouble, she explained. I’m not there yet.

      …A recent study, for instance, showed that nature and animal lovers face more overwhelming fear than, say, a skier worried about losing fresh powder on the slopes. People who just worry about climate cramping their lifestyle aren't feeling the stress in the same way. Research also shows that when concerned nature lovers act on their climate anxiety, it can prevent depression from setting in.

      …scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that climate change skeptics may be using their beliefs as a shield to deal with such an overwhelming threat.

      In one experiment, researchers polled partici-pants' thinking before and after reading either an apocalyptic-sounding article, or a similar story with a positive spin. People who believed in a just world were less convinced climate change was real after reading about impending doom.

      It’s really no surprise, since we know how threatening information can paralyze us….

      …eco-grief often comes in three varieties: grief over physical losses (like flood devastation or deforestation), grief associated with loss of identity, and grief over anticipated future ecological losses. And these feelings pose an extra challenge since were not used to talking about them.

      …In 2019, a community in Iceland came together for a funeral for a melted glacier.

      The coming together part is important. Clayton believes that talking to like-minded others makes it easier for climate scientists to deal with eco-anxiety. Climate researchers often use dark humor and develop thick skin to keep going. They also play up the positives — focusing on the meaning they get from their jobs, being part of a community and their love for science.…

      In fact, focusing on how to solve problems is one of the best ways to deal with stress related to global warming. One study found that, besides problem-solving, four key strategies work well to relieve environmental anxieties: expressing emotions, taking pleasure in nature, focusing on your own health and, rather bizarrely, wishful thinking, or hoping that things will somehow work out.

      …We need role models for how to talk about our climate worries and how to deal with them. We also need to start discussing these issues openly, admitting our fears without shame. We should do it together, almost like group therapy….

How to Save Planet Earth

[These excerpts are from an article by Timothy Meinch in the May 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …We’re more aware that ever of the mark our consumption leaves on planet Earth, which now sustains nearly 8 billion people. Somehow, humans are still pumping more than 30 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year into the atmosphere, despite the mountain of evidence that CO2 is the top contributor to greenhouse gases causing global warming. Similar conundrums apply to use of plastics and consumption of meat and other goods. We know we need to do better, but we feel helpless and overwhelmed. Let’s call this the eco-stential crisis; it applies on a deeply personal level for most environmentally aware humans, and on a global scale.

      …For example, your internet use is tied to extensive carbon emissions and energy consumption. The solution to this problem, however, is not for you to stop using the internet….

      In fact, being a good citizen on planet Earth has never been more complicated. On your own journey with climate concerns, you’ve likely asked or agonized over this question: What should I do? It’s easy to get lost in the blizzard of supposed answers swirling around social media, the latest data sets and “eco-friendly” marketing campaigns….Consumer responsibility —and guilt-ridden behavior modification — misses the mark.

      …There are just more meaningful and long-lasting ways to expend your energy in the climate fight. Most of them involve organization and collective action.

      …voluntarily shaving back your personal carbon output by some percentage — or buying actual carbon offset credits while you keep using fossil fuels — is a less significant fight. More specifically, it’s the fight that fossil fuel companies told consumers to take on.

      …The fossil fuel industry, particularly British Petroleum (BP), pushed this concept onto the masses in a hugely successful marketing effort roughly 20 years ago. Rather than try to defend its crude oil, petroleum and other fossil fuel products (which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now identifies as “the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions”), the industry handed its customers a method to feel bad about their consumption. Meanwhile, BP ranks sixth on the list of the world's top contributors of CO2, and methane, according to 2017 data from the Climate Accountability Institute. Just 20 energy companies were responsible for 35 percent of these pollutants worldwide.

p style="text-indent: 40px;">       Another campaign that began with fossil fuel companies? The modern approach to recycling that has been integrated across the U.S. for decades, despite persistent criticism and concerns about the broken model. Essentially, the petroleum-reliant plastics industry framed recycling as a fix, while continuing to create new plastics with petroleum, natural gas and their byproducts, and profiting off the business. Meanwhile, only a fraction of what you respon-sibly toss in the proper bin gets recycled….

      …Sure, eat less meat, get rid of your petroleum-guzzling vehicle or boycott plastics. Those things generally carry a degree of benefit to the environment. But the urgent priority is to change the massive industries, policies and fuel source at the root.

      …Part of the challenge with the environmental movement is the staggering list of things we need to change: agricultural practices, transportation systems and power grids, to name a few. There is no singular environmental cause that everyone should be tackling in their personaI life. Instead, try moving beyond the paralyzing view of everything that needs fixed. Pick something specific in your life….

      Your specific interests and skillsets should guide you. And you can typically incorporate your effort where you are alreadyworking, living or playing….

      …This same principle of doing one thing well can apply to consumer decisions, such as committing to alternative transportation or installing solar panels on your home. Do that one thing well, then realize the crucial shift happens when others witness your concern, decisions and behavior change….

      This is about shifting the daily narrative toward the climate. Leiserawitz says this requires talking often about the environment with others in your life. As a parallel, consider the public opinion on smoking indoors just 30 years ago. How would you respond today to someone lighting a cigarette in your house or car without asking? Leiserowitz says the culture at large needs to embrace a similar attitude about pollution.

p style="text-indent: 40px;">       These important conversations about climate can play out naturally and casually in your personal life. But they should also involve joining climate organizations. If you don’t have the time to volunteer and show up, Leiserowitz says to donate to local groups that are organizing in your community and applying pressure ito lawmakers. Better yet, do both.

      …People often overlook the weight their own neighborhood, city, county and state carries on the environment. To address this, we must maintain connection with our immediate community….

      Some-people today think local on food purchases or art, such as shopping at farmers markets and artist fairs. The same should apply to the democratic process. Local policies determine building codes, infrastructure for alternative transportation, public energy consumption and land use….Most of these matters are dictated by locally elected officials and public input, where you as a resident and voter have considerable influence….

      The experts also highlight how the adverse and immediate impact of climate change tends to hit the most vulnerable countries and communities first. So, even if you are not yet is suffering the effects, your neighbors might be, and so will generations to follow….

      Viewing land as kin, he says, generates respect and sustainability, where humans are more open to learn from the natural world, rather than dominate it….

Unlocking the Secrets of Self-awareness

[These excerpts are from a book review by Christian C. Ruff in the 30 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      For millennia, religious thinkers and philosophers have cited humanity’s self-awareness—that is, our ability to think about our own mind and character—as being key to the uniqueness of our species. Carl Linnaeus’s groundbreaking biological taxonomy…likewise characterized our genus by the words “Homo. Nosce to ipsum” (“Man. Know thyself”).

      Given our long-standing interest in self-awareness, it is surprising how little science has traditionally had to say about it. What features of our brains enable us to think about ourselves? What are our strengths and weaknesses in this respect and how do they influence how we decide, learn, and interact? Can we train self-awareness, and how does this improve our performance? In the past three decades, however, research addressing such questions has been picking up speed….

      Writing about self-awareness is challenging because concepts such as “self” and “awareness”—let alone the combination thereof—are hard to define. The book does not get lost in this epistemological Bermuda triangle but rather conceptualizes self-awareness as the set of mental and brain processes that keep track of our percepts, thoughts, and actions.

      Not all of these metacognitive processes concern the self in a philosophical sense, Fleming notes, and not all of them need to be conscious. A helpful metaphor in the book compares the human brain to a flying plane that is largely guided by autopilot technology but can be flexibly controlled by the pilot whenever needed. For our behavior, the autopilot is the unconscious, “implicit” part of metacognition, and the pilot is the “explicit” metacognition that we can consciously report.

      Fleming begins by summarizing the psychology and neuroscience of these metacognitive processes. Implicit metacognition, he notes, is evident in many seemingly low-level brain processes, ranging from the sensory braih cells that signal the uncertainty associated with particular percepts, to brain cells that activate when we commit action errors (think: mistyping on a keyboard). All of these implicit signals can be read out in the service of explicit metacognition, when, for example, we need to judge our confidence in having chosen the right action. This latter ability depends on specific brain areas in the prefrontal cortex and is independent of the basic perceptual and motor abilities it serves to monitor.

      Explicit metacognition, meanwhile, depends on our ability to think about the mental states of others—an ironic twist nicely summarized by the caption of a cartoon that appears in the book: “Of course I care about how you imagined I thought you perceived I wanted you to feel.”

      It is eye-opening to realize how many fields of human endeavor depend not just on our skills and knowledge but also on our ability to estimate our competence. Obvious examples can be found in education, politics, the legal system, corporate decision-making and leadership, news and social media, and, indeed, any collaboration in which people pool their expertise. The book illustrates the role of metacognition in these diverse fields with elegant combinations of philosophical considerations, basic science findings, and more applied examples.

      Fleming even ventures into the near future, sketching how artificial intelligence with superhuman computational abilities but no self-awareness may become disconnected from humanity at best and outright catastrophic at worst. Emerging ideas on how we may address this problem—for example, by endowing intelligent machines with coarse self-awareness or by ensuring that self-aware humans remain at the helm—only serve to prove how little we have appreciated our own prodigious metacognitive abilities.

      In the end, the book makes a convincing case that self-awareness is a key feature of human existence and that our growing knowledge about it will be important for addressing many of our societal problems….

Malaria Vaccine Achieves Striking Early Success

[These excerpts are from an article by Meredith Wadman in the 30 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      After decades of disappointing results, new findings have revived hopes for an effective vaccine against malaria, which kills some 400,000 people every year, most of them children. An experimental vaccine that targets the most dangerous form of the malaria parasite was found to have an efficacy of 71% to 77% after 1 year in children.

      The results, posted as a preprint last week, come from a trial of a vaccine…involving 450 toddlers in Burkina Faso, where malaria is endemic….

      …But he and others note the trial’s small size and that the vaccine's protection was really only demonstrated during the 6 months when malaria was most prevalent in Burkina Faso; scarcely any malaria cases occurred at other times….

      But the new study’s investigators are bullish and plan to launch a pivotal phase 3 trial later this year, enrolling 4800 children in Burkina Faso, Mali, Kenya, and Tanzania. In the best case, data from that trial could be submitted to regulators late in 2022 for approval in early 2023….

      …Of the 146 children whose vaccine included a high dose of an immune-boosting compound called an adjuvant, 39 developed malaria, versus 106 of 147 children in a control group who received rabies vaccine. (The rabies shots ensured the control group also received value from being in the trial.)

      The 77% efficacy against malaria dipped to 71% in children who got a vaccine with a lower dose of adjuvant. The children's levels of specific antibodies to malaria fell by two-thirds by 9 months, but the booster dose at 12 months restored them….

      WHO has called for the development of vaccines that can reduce malaria cases by 75% by 2030. But the malaria parasite's complex life cycle and shifting surface proteins have challenged vaccine developers. The highest efficacy previously published for a vaccine at 1 year after dosing was 56%, for Mosquirix….Mosquirix’s efficacy in a large trial dropped to 36% after about 4 years, and some scientists worry the same could happen with the Oxford vaccine: The vaccines are structurally similar and both target the parasite right after infection….

      The Serum Institute of India is making the Oxford vaccine for a planned phase 3 trial and has pledged to produce 200 million doses in the coming years….

      Others caution that many unknowns remain. In many countries, malaria transmission is continuous, not seasonal….

Man’s (Next) Best Friend

[These excerpts are from a book review by Joshua C. Gellers in the 23 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Darling begins by illustrating how animals have long held roles that only seem to elicit concern when robots enter the conversation. We have domesticated donkeys to plow fields, brought dogs into battle, and directed birds to deliver messages. Robots, she argues, like animals before them, will augment human abilities, not replace humans altogether.

      Whether humans become obsolete is a choice, not an inevitability, and this decision must be placed in the context of the institutions that structure our lives. Crucially, Darling identifies capitalism as the culprit responsible for encouraging “short-term corporate profits rather than long-term investments in humans.” Our “moral panic” about the robot invasion is misplaced, she argues. Instead, we should devote our energy to “holding our governments and corporations accountable and demanding that our economic and political systems do better for people.”

      The book’s second section deals with companionship between humans and robots….

      Darling’s chapter on animal companions is an enjoyable one that even those who have no interest in robots would likely relish. Here, she reminds us that humans have a long history of establishing meaningful relationships with animals. Therefore, in principle, there is no reason why we could not also forge important ties with robots….

      Darling believes we should be less worried about forming relationships with robots and more worried about how these relationships could be exploited. If we fail to take an “intentional” approach to robot design, she insists, we leave ourselves vulnerable to corporate coercion, reinforcing biases, and invasions of privacy. Strong regulations and enforcement mechanisms will be needed to avoid these potential pitfalls.

      The book’s final section addresses bow humans should treat robots. Here the literature on animal rights makes a late but essential entrance. While our treatment of animals is “rife with inconsistencies,” empathy, she maintains, might be the key to understanding our obligations toward robots. Perhaps to the disappointment of some, Darling suggests that our emotions, not our reason, might best guide the design of legal protections for intelligent machines.

      The New Breed offers readers an energetic and witty overview of how our relations with animals can deliver useful insights into bow robots might be incorporated into human society, but a couple of weaknesses might catch the attention of specialists. Darling’s emphasis on human needs and empathy, for example, reinforces the kind of anthropocentric thinking that has produced animal suffering and ecological devastation. In addition, her exclusive focus on Western philosophy and law gives short shrift to important ideas about the relational personhood of nonhuman entities and the fundamental interconnectedness of all life forms that are articulated in Eastern and Indigenous worldviews. Despite these shortcomings, this book succeeds in arresting the alarmism that has pervaded recent popular writing on robots.

      Darling ultimately makes a strong case that while our future will indeed include robots, it remains up to us to decide how to adjust our systems to accommodate our new companions. By examining the past and present of our relationships with animals, she shows bow we might learn lessons that will help us shape our technological future for the better.

Crafting a Culture of Secrecy

[These excerpts are from a book review by Kate Brown in the 23 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      Secrecy was a defining aspect of the creation of the atomic bomb and, 75 years later, nuclear secrecy remains a feature of American democracy. In Restricted Data, Alex Wellerstein examines the health of democracy in the face of big science, big government, and big weapons….

      Restricted Data explores the discovery of spies within the Manhattan Project, the denial of Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance, and the 1950s paradox of promoting peaceful uses of nuclear power while keeping nuclear weapons secret. The book adds to these histories an analysis of the “anti-secrecy” campaigns wherein Americans sought to break the Cold War code of classified nuclear knowledge.

      Wellerstein shows that the scientists who produced classified materials were consistently among the chief opponents of secrecy. They grasped, better than nonscientists did, that the bomb itself was its own greatest promoter. Every American detonation offered to Soviets an intelligence windfall in the form of radioactive debris that delivered information about the fuel used, the ratios of fission and fusion, and aspects of the bomb’s design.

      But not all secrets are equal. The essence of the Teller-Ulam hydrogen bomb (H-bomb) design, for example, was so compact that it could be handed over on the back of a napkin. Wellerstein shows how, in pursuit of the secret of the H-bomb, America shifted its security efforts from stopping the infiltration of foreign entities to scouting for double agents, scrutinizing insiders, and seeking continual affirmations of loyalty.

      As the American security regime metastasized, the desire to control classified information fell in step with desires to control ever-larger portions of the globe. With ballooning security budgets, American security officials clandestinely influenced international organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and nonprofit foundations such as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, while engaged in wars and coup d'etats in Asia and Lath America. After the release of the Pentagon Papers, Americans demanded transparency.

      …Peppered throughout this section are many quotable passages on the meta-relationship of government, societies, and individuals to state secrets. If knowledge is power, Wellerstein writes, “then nuclear knowledge is quite a lot of power.”

      One comes away with the impression that the only important historical actors in the. 20th-century United States were white men who were scientists, administrators, or politicians. There is little in the way of class, race, or gender in this book. This omission takes as a matter of course the question of who decides what is “secret,” who gets clearance, and who acts on behalf of everyone else, while failing to mention that the people making these decisions were almost always white, male professionals. Declassification campaigns, meanwhile, were often waged by nonwhites, members of the working class, Indigenous people, and women.

      By following only a small portion of the population, Wellerstein omits a major facet of nuclear security. The vast majority of people directly exposed to radioactive fallout were soldiers, prisoners, children, minorities, and colonial subjects. This was perhaps one of the most guarded secrets the US government held—that the public it had vowed to protect and defend was under daily bombardment from radioactive debris from the testing and production of nuclear weapons.

      Carl Schmitt, a political theorist and prominent Nazi, noted famously that during emergencies, the public hands over its rights to the state, and that the state rarely gives them back. Restricted Data illustrates that insight in spades….

Science Journalism Grows Up

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Deborah Blum in the 23 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      By the early 1920s, an unlikely pair—a powerful national newspaper publisher and a California-based zoologist—decided that they'd had enough. Enough of half-baked reporting on research results, enough of stories that left readers confused about even the basic principles of science. They wanted something better. They wanted reporting that encouraged a “scientific habit of mind,” a citizenry aware of the role of research in everyday life.

      …The two men shared a belief in science as the new century's most powerful transformative agent—and also a belief that scientists were doing a poor job of communicating this. By April 1921, they'd decided on a solution, a venture called Science Service, which would be dedicated to providing smart and positive science stories. to the public. The organization they formed a century ago would grow into Society for Science, publisher of Science News. True science journalism—independent inquiry into the scientific enterprise and the illumination of research with all its wonderfully complex human interactions—would come much later. But with the founding of Science Service, a new profession did take its first steps, albeit somewhat stumbling ones.

      …In 1934, a dozen American science writers formed a National Association of Science Writers, in part to build better relationships with their wary sources, promoting it as a way to identify elite, science-savvy writers from the other journalistic riff-raff….

      …Science writers were sometimes downright hostile when faced with the environmental downsides of technological development that appeared during the 1960s: air pollution, water pollution, Rachel Carson-driven warnings that unchecked use of pesticides was unsafe, and more. The best science stories, one leading journalist argued, resulted from co-operation with “enlightened industries.”

      Still, journalistic doubts concerning relentlessly cheery science coverage deepened, and emphasis on telling the whole complicated story also deepened as the profession continued to expand….

      …The last two decades of the 20th century saw a new emphasis on professional training, a growing number of female science journalists (although other forms of diversity have been slow to follow), and newly sharp-edged investigative reporting that looked at everything from the politics of HIV research to space shuttle failures to risky chemical contaminants….

      The rise of this century’s digital era of communication has served to accelerate change, both in the way writers tell stories, employing tools from podcasting to data visualization, and in their visibility. Science journalists now readily cover contentious areas of science—from climate change to vaccines to the long-standing culture wars around evolution—with clarity and, in turn, deal with furious pushback from skeptics on social media and other platforms.

      The original, science boosting mission of Science Service hasn’t been lost. Today, countless “science communicators”—from press officers to scientists themselves—work to foster a positive portrait of science. And there’s still a place for journalistic stories about the wonders of science. But the past century has proved that this is not the most important contribution of science reporters. Rather, it is to portray research accurately in both its rights and its wrongs and stand unflinchingly for the integrity of the story….

Changing Landscapes

[These excerpts are from an article by Tasha Kosviner in the Spring 2021 issue of EDF Solution.]

      …In a business where margins are thin even in the best of years, many farmers considered any changes to conventional techniques to be risky.

      But that story is changing. As climate change intensifies storms, fires and droughts, exposing the fragility of our global food supply, America’s 2.6 million farmers are urgently seeking new ways to protect their land and livelihoods.

      Whether that's no-till, which limits erosion and rebuilds depleted soils, planting cover crops to lock in nutrients or restoring wetlands to absorb excess rain, farmers are warming up to changes that can both fight climate change and protect their land and their bottom line….

      …The evolution in the fields is also resonating in Washington, D.C. In a historic first, the vast majority of America’s farmers, ranchers, forest owners and others who manage working lands have come together to lobby the federal government for support of climate-smart farming techniques….

      The movement will find an open door at the White House, where the Biden-Harris administration has pledged to make agriculture a cornerstone of its ambitious climate agenda. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, not historically a key player in climate policy, is poised to become a linchpin of the administration’s strategy….

      The administration is already exploring the creation of a carbon bank that would offer credits to farmers for sequestering carbon through sustainable practices. The White House is also looking to better direct the USDA’s billions of dollars in conservation funding toward practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture….

      At the same time, two popular bipartisan bills that EDF helped introduce in the last Congress are expected to resurface very soon. The Growing Climate Solutions Act would establish the role of independent, private sector certifiers to work with farmers to verify carbon credits. And the Cover Crop Flexibility Act would rethink federal crop insurance, so it no longer inadvertently disincentivizes cover crops….

      Climate-smart land management doesn’t ftst help slow climate change. No-till, cover cropping and other conservation practices also reduce drought impacts and erosion, improve soil health, reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizers, protect clean water and provide habitat for millions of migrating birds.

Friendly Skies, Living Forests

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Spring 2021 issue of EDF Solution.]

      …In a major move, ICAO, the United Nations agency that sets standards for global aviation, as part of a package of measures to cap emissions, allowed airlines to offset emissions by paying to protect imperiled tropical forests. This marks the first time that credits from funding forest conservation have been accepted as part of an international carbon market….

      …Before the pandemic, international aviation, if it were a country, would have been the sixth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, between Japan and Germany. More efficient airplanes, better operational practices and alternative jet fuels are on the way, but for now carbon offsets are key to ICAO's goal of carbon neutral growth….

      Tropical forests have an unparalleled capacity to store carbon and are home to 50% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They are also being destroyed at the rate of one football field every six seconds. Ending forest loss and pursuing restoration and reforestation efforts could reduce annual global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 25% with a concerted effort over the next couple of decades. Despite this enormous opportunity, forest preservation efforts receive less than 3% of global funding to reduce climate change….

America Goes Electric

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Spring 2021 issue of EDF Solution.]

      For years, Cantley, a field organizer for EDF affiliate Moms Clean Air Force, has been pushing her state to protect the climate and the health of children. In 2019, she helped build bipartisan support in the Nevada Legislature to fund the purchase of electric school buses. Now, she, EDF and others are taking the effort nationwide. EDF is advising the U.S. Department of Energy on how to design an equitable zero-emission school bus pilot program, while Cantley and Moms are urging Congress to pass the new Clean School Bus Act, which would invest $1.2 billion in electric buses and infrastructure….

      Turning yellow buses “green” is just one piece of a massive shift to electric vehicles that needs to happen in America — starting now In order to clear the air, stabilize the climate and save lives, we need to get millions of clean cars, trucks and buses on the road and prepare our electric system — built for fossil fuels and predictable weather to run them with reliable clean energy.

      With the administration committed to climate action, and the momentum that EDF and allies have already achieved with states and businesses, the dramatic shift to electrify America is poised to take off. EDF's goal is for all new cars sold to be zero emission by 2035 and all new Ltrucks sold to be the same by 2040.

      …President Biden has made clear his support for clean energy and clean vehicles to not only confront the climate crisis, but to create millions of jobs and reduce the long-standing burden of pollution faced by communities of color and low-income communities….

      Before the coronavirus hit, the clean energy sector was creating jobs 70% faster than the economy as a whole, and clean energy jobs were growing nearly five times faster than fossil fuel jobs. The administration estimates that its plans to tackle the climate emergency will create 10 million jobs overall, including 1 million jobs in the auto industry alone.

      …The fulcrum for transitioning to electric vehicles is the manufacturers. In 2017, even as automakers were lobbying the Trump administration to roll back U.S. and California clean car laws, EDF was hard at work urging them to deliver climate pollution reductions. By 2020, the tide had turned: Ford, Honda, VW, Volvo and BMW agreed to abide by California’s clean car standards, and Ford set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. And this January, General Motors, with help from EDF, announced that it would sell only zero-emission cars by2035. This decade, automakers plan to invest more than $257 billion globally to develop new electric models; more than $22 billion for new or renovated plants in the U.S.

      Equally important is the electrification of trucks and buses, which run largely on diesel and cause 28% of climate pollution and 57% of soot pollution from vehicies. California…now requires that about 60% of trucks and buses sold in the state be clean by 2035. New Jersey is considering adopting the same rule and has committed nearly $100 million to clean trucks and buses. Both states are part of a 15-state coalition, supported by EDF, that is working to make at least 30% of truck and bus sales clean by 2030 and 100% clean by 2050.

      To spur change, EDF is working with truck manufacturers and fleet operators. Today, at least 125 clean truck and bus models are in production or development….

      …Thousands of pollution-belching fossil fuel-powered trucks rumble in and out of warehouses and distribution centers every day, many of them— due to a history of discriminatory policies and disenfranchisement — situated in low-wealth communities and communities of color. The resulting air pollution worsens conditions from heart disease to diabetes to asthma and raises the risk of complications from COVID-19, contributing to thousands of premature deaths a year. EDF analysis in North Carolina shows that people living within half a mile of some warehouses were more than twice as likely to have health problems that could be exacerbated by air pollution. With the amount of freight goods expected to increase 25% by 2030, these inequities will get worse unless we take decisive action now.

      …This winter’s catastrophic Texas freeze exposed the grid’s vulnerability to weather extremes and the urgent need to make infrastructure resilient while cutting climate pollution. In order to stop adding pollution to the atmosphere by 2050, we'll need four times the wind and solar and 60% more transmission lines by 2030, according to Princeton University. We’ll need more energy storage to kick in during extreme weather or when wind and solar lag. We’ll need to develop more clean energy sources such as geothermal energy and use carbon-capture technology.

      …In order to ensure a clean, reliable electric system, utilities will need to pivot from being one-way suppliers of electricity to managing a two-way, decentralized system, with solar panels, wind farms and batteries providing local power and sending it back to the grid.

      Even electric vehicles can store and supply power and move where needed….

      If a storm knocks out power in some areas, electric trucks or buses can be deployed to plug into critical buildings and keep them running….

      Another essential for an affordable, reliable modem grid is broadband, but at least 14.5 million rural Americans don’t have it….

A New Day in Washington

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Fred Krupp in the Spring 2021 issue of EDF Solution.]

      Early in the Biden administration, it’s clear the United States not only talks about climate and environmental justice, but is determined to deliver. “Put simply,” a New York Times editorial declared, “the richest and most powerful nation in the world is back in the fight to rescue the planet from the fires, floods, fam-ines, rising sea levels, human dislocations and other consequences of a warming globe.”

      The imperative to act on climate permeates this administration. And American business is now coming on board. The investment community is increasingly focused, and recently General Motors announced its plan, which EDF helped develop, to manufacture only zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2035. This will accelerate the global movement toward electric cars and trucks.

      The upshot is that we now have the best opportunity ever to dramatically curb U.S. climate pollution, create millions of good jobs and assist low-wealth communities and communities of color that have suffered the most from climate change and industrial pollution. But we have to act quickly and decisively.

      To reduce U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, the administration, having rejoined the Paris Agreement, should begin by pledging to cut emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. To reach those goals, EDF is calling for electrifying transportation, decarbonizing power production and slashing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and agriculture. Too little attention has been paid to cutting emissions from trucks and buses, which represent less than 5% of registered vehicles but account for 28% of climate pollution from road transportation and 57% of the soot from vehicles.

      Transportation and power generation cause more than half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions….

      As always, EDF is creating pathways that bring people together. That helps ensure durable progress. Today, with Congress closely divided, we are building bipartisan majorities for legislation that President Biden will need to realize his climate vision. More than a half-century has taught us that this is the surest path to a better future.

Toward More Climate-Friendly Schools

[These excerpts are from an article by Maria Ferguson in the April 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      From his earliest days in office, President Joe Biden has made it clear that addressing climate change would be a top priority for his administration….

      I find it comforting to know that we finally have national leaders who acknowledge the urgency of climate change. Surprisingly, however, the education sector has been mostly absent, to date, from policy conversations on this topic. For example, the president’s recently established National Climate Task Force includes 21 federal agencies and entities, yet it did not initially include the U.S. Department of Education (which has since been added)….

      Our international counterparts acknowledge education's place in climate discussions, but the bulk of their efforts pertain to teaching and learning about the climate; little attention goes to the environmental impact of schools themselves, or to the schools’ potential role in carbon reduction….

      To be sure, climate education is, as UNESCO says, “central and critical” to any international response to L climate change….But why stop there? K-12 education in the U.S. has a massive footprint, including nearly 41,000 school buses, 130,000 schools, and (the COVID era notwithstanding) millions of students, teachers, and staff who travel to those schools and back home every day.

      …An example of such a transition would be the Biden administration's proposal to have all American-made buses —starting with school buses — achieve zero emission by 2030. Of course, the costs and complications of doing this will be considerable. But if iconic American companies like General. Motors can lay out a time line for all of their automobiles to be zero Lemission by 2035, then why shouldn’t school systems aim for the same goal?

      …Not only has COVID-19 disproportionately affected Americans from low-income communities of color, but children living in poverty have long suffered sky-high rates of pollution-related illnesses like asthma and lead poisoning. Aging school buildings don't just lack facilities, technology, and other resources that support learning, but they can also, quite literally, make students and educators sick….

      Given strong federal leadership around climate action and a clearer sense of the potential cost savings, state and local leaders should be able to see the long-term benefits of investing in greener schools….

      Before the pandemic, some federal leaders were pushing hard for a major investment in school infrastructure….The proposed legislation would invest $100 billion in grants and $30 billion in bond authority to address the needs of high-poverty schools with facilities that are putting students and staff at risk. Other provisions include job creation programs, data systems to support the monitoring of school facilities, and access to high-speed broadband.

      As communities around the country emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, its hard to imagine education leaders will have the will, let alone the stamina, to make the case for conservation and sustainability. At the moment, it may be a waste of time to ask them to focus on anything other than figuring out how to reopen their schools safely. But it won't be long before they can turn their attention to other priorities. And after yet another season of erratic and unpredictable weather, they may have no choice.

      As the saying goes, the first step in addressing a problem is admitting that you have one. System leaders who have already felt the pain of climate change understand that adequate planning and preparation require them to be not just reactive but also proactive….

A New Day for Education Research and Practice

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth N. Farley-Ripple in the April 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      For decades, education research and practice have had a frustrating and uneasy relationship. Long-standing narratives have lamented the quality and relevance of research and portrayed education decision makers and practitioners as having little interest in or the capacity to use research findings that might help them improve their schools. No doubt, both of these critiques have some truth to them. But they’ve been repeated so often as to create the unfortunate impression that things cannot improve….

      There are several million educators in the United States, working in more than 18,000 school districts, as well as in charter schools and private schools. By comparison, the education research community may seem relatively small, but it is significant all the same, numbering in the tens of thousands nationwide….

      In short, efforts to bring research to bear on educational practice add up to an enormous enterprise. And while its size and variety give it great potential to address critical challenges facing our schools, that size and complexity can also make it difficult for practitioners, and researchers themselves, to navigate the terrain. Thus, the responsibility to link research and practice is not limited to education researchers and practitioners alone; it requires nt from a wide range ofstakeholders….

      This broad engagement from across the education system suggests that the challenge at hand isn’t just to get more educators to use research, or to get researchers to produce more relevant work. Rather, building a stronger relationship between research and practice will take a collective and well-coordinated effort by a variety of important stakeholders. That work hasn’t been fully realized yet. Already, though, the education community has put itself in a much better position to connect research and practice than ever before.

      …Most conceptualizations of research use, including those often implied in federal policy, suggest a straightforward, linear process: Identify a pressing problem in K-12 education, turn to research to find an evidence-based solution, implement it, and, voila, practice has been informed by research!

      But, in reality, things are rarely so simple….

      Make no mistake, though. Even if it rarely follows a simple, clear-cut process, research use does happen in K-12 education….

      Organizations and media often play a critical role in connecting research to practitioners, as well….Often these are professional associations such as the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, publications like Kappan, or nonprofits such as Edutopia.

      These brokers between research and practice can play an important role not only in moving research into prac-tice, but also in moving ideas from practice to research….

      But while it’s clear that brokers matter for connecting research and practice, we don’t yet know the extent to which their work influences practice….

      Overall, these emerging approaches amount to a shift from emphasizing the research side of the research-practice relationship to putting more of the focus on practice. And they represent a sea change in assumptions about the forms of research and evidence that “count” the most to practitioners Land policy makers.

      …In recent years, a lot has been done to strengthen the relationship between educational research and practice, but we still have a long way to go….

      The good news is that more and more people and institutions are paying attention to these issues, working to answer these questions, and strengthening their understanding of what it will take to link research and practice, for the benefit of K-12 education. No matter your place in the educational ecosystem — whether you're a teacher, administrator, researcher, policy maker, publisher, funder, or play some other role — you have an opportunity to contribute to the work. Some of us may be advocates, others capacity builders, leaders, or investors, but all of us can help strengthen the Lrelationship between research and practice.

Research Meets Practice, Again and Again, in Kappan

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the April 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      …In April 1923, Kappan published an issue devoted to the topic of research in education. Authors in that issue noted that scientific researchers in education were making great strides in advancing our understanding of learning, but their research should not be confined to the lab. As Paul West explained…, research must also take place in the schoolroom….

      In fact, West noted, teachers engage in small-scale experimentation all the time by trying new teaching methods or introducing new textbooks. But they don’t necessarily have the time or the scientific expertise to make an objective assessment of the results of these experiments.


      Yet, Charles Peters…countered that a great deal of important research was being left on the shelf and, as a consequence, researchers were choosing to take on projects that would serve them and their careers instead of devoting time to studies that seemed more practical. At the same time, teachers were continuing with their own limited classroom-based experiments and generalizing the results without research expertise….

      In May 1947, Douglas Scates…called for a dismantling of the distinction between lab-based “pure” or “exact” research and classroom-based “applied” research. Both could have their place in the accumulation of knowledge, as long as everyone involved understood the potential for error….

      …Also, a study that is accurate in one situation might not apply in another because “every child and every group is unique. Every situation which is related to the learning process is unique. Procedures and methods may L be applicable to more than one group, but not necessarily…."

      Multiple authors in the March 1958 issue on “What research says about teaching and learning” echoed these concerns about applying research too broadly….

      …Creating replicable studies requires removing as many variables as possible, but variables always exist in schools, and if a study is to be useful, it should reflect the conditions in which children actually learn. In that case, Page asserted, generalizability should be given some priority over replicability.

      …trying to isolate a single variable in teacher behavior amounts to a fool’s errand, because no single variable is likely to have a significant effect on student achievement, given the many, many other variables at play. The path to responsible research use requires acceptance “that educational research is likely to be fallible, flawed, and open to criticism of one kind or another….”

      So once teachers have sifted through the research and found some promising ideas, what can they do? Sometimes, the next step is for teachers to do some research on their own. In the December 1982 Kappan on “Restoring the three Rs through research,” David Hopkins presented an example of a teacher who used research literature to create her own small, informal study. Dissatisfied with her ability to get her students to demonstrate higher-level thinking in response to her questions, she did some reading and learned about the importance of expanding wait time. So, over six months, she tried it out and saw positive results….

      …researchers lacked the close relationships with classrooms that would enable them to build meaningful theories. Instead of relying on studies of rats in mazes to build their theories of learning, they should get into the classroom….

      He went on to encourage school leaders to take the words of researchers like him, “who ply their trade from the rarefied air of the ivory tower,” with a grain of salt. And they should avoid letting their desire for easy solutions lead them to accept any promising idea as the answer to improving student learning. In short, we can't expect it to be easy to connect research and practice. If it were easy, we wouldn't have to spend a century on it.

AI Empires

[These excerpts are from a book review by Michael Spezio in the 16 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      Kate Crawford’s new book, Atlas of AI, is a sweeping view of artificial intelligence (AI) that frames the technology as a collection of empires, decisions, and actions that together are fast eliminating possibilities of sustainable futures on a global scale. Crawford, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft’s FATE (Fairness, Accountability, Transparency, and Ethics in AI) group, conceives of AI as a one-word encapsulation of imperial design, akin to Calder Willingham’s invocation of the word “plastics” in his 1967 screenplay for The Graduate….AI, machine learning, and other concepts are here understood as efforts, practices, and embodied material manipulations of the levers of global power.

      By taking power and materiality seriously and leaving aside questions of what intelligence is, Crawford maps answers to how AI is made and how we are trapped by its making. The primary thesis of her book is that AI has nothing to do with understanding or seeking intelligence but is a “registry of power,” a metaphor meant to encompass social, political, and economic power as well as the insatiable demands AI places on electric power grids and on nonhuman nature.

      Why an “atlas” of AI? Because those in control of AI have a desire for AI “to be the atlas—the dominant way of seeing,” to be the single way in which humans understand and run the world. Crawford’s anticolonial manual advances an alternative mapping, one that resists AI’s extractive, exploitative, and destructive aims. To comprehend Crawford’s argument is to understand that AI's danger lies not in a hypothetical future superintelligence but in the reality of its current manifestation.

      The book begins with a stark chapter (titled “Earth”) on the destructive power of lithium and rare earth element mining that provides the raw materials that underlie artificial processing power. In “Labor,” a visit to an Amazon fulfillment center in New Jersey inspires reflection on the crushing effects of the “logics of production” that undergird just-in-time synchronization of humans by machines and their builder-owners.

      In “Data” and “Classification”—two of her most effective chapters—Crawford traces the pragmatics of predictive analytics, which she argues are rooted in promises of beneficence without attention to nonmaleficence. Here, she describes how AI constructs digital gates that lock us into data cages fixed to a mismeasured atlas over which we have no consent or other control….

      In “Affect,” Crawford applies the lessons I of the previous two chapters to highlight the dangers of automating human emotion detection. She effectively strikes down the notion that machine classification of human emotion in policing, security, law, hiring, education, and psychiatric medicine will be bias-free, given its existing track record of othering persons from already marginalized communities.

      Crawford’s final chapter (“State”) describes the US Department of Defense’s Project Maven, an initiative in which a weaponized AI would be used to expand the scope of drones. Google, the project’s first host, tried to keep its work on the project secret, but when the company’s employees found out, more than 3000 signed a letter expressing ethical concerns about the company's involvement in such a program. After Google did not renew the initial contract, Project Maven moved to Palantir, a. start-up whose funding was partially derived from a CIA-affiliated venture capital group. Crawford shows how Palantir’s business model has already made its way into domestic deportation efforts, local policing, and supermarket chains, arguing that the imminent threat of weaponized AI must supersede nagging worries about automated weaponry.

      With Atlas of AI, Crawford has written a timely and urgent contribution to the interdisciplinary projects seeking to humanize data science practice and policy. One might reasonably object to her view that “we must focus less on ethics and more on power” or push back against her recurrent use of “myth” and “mythologies” to mean “falsehood” and “lies,” yet such qualms in no way diminish the value of this book.

The Cost of Scientific Patronage

[These excerpts are from a book review by Christine Keiner in the 16 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      What do Cold War military fimding, the golden years of postwar oceaography, the appalling state of our oceans today, and agnotology—the study of the cultural production of ignorance—have to do with each other? Plenty, as historian of science Naomi Oreskes makes clear in her impressive and authoritative new book, Science on a Mission.

      Over the past two decades, Oreskes has helped transform how scholars understand the history of scientific and political debates over continental drift and anthropogenic climate change. Her latest work weaves together insights from these and other intellectual spheres to deliver a crucial message: Patronage of knowledge production—that is, who pays for science—matters deeply.

      Scientific work at sea is expensive, and military financial and logistical support has enabled researchers to elucidate long-standing mysteries of the deep such as abyssal circulation, plate tectonics, and seafloor hydrothermal vents. Yet Oreskes shows that Cold War navy bureaus paid to solve specific problems, especially Lconcerning submarine warfare….

      Not all US oceanographers accepted the strings attached to navy largesse. Debates erupted even before the Cold War at Scripps and again in the early 1960s at WHOI over the costs of having to work on classified operational projects. However, trustee budgetary priorities eclipsed faculty concerns about autonomy and military control of “big science” at sea.

      Oreskes uses fascinating historical episodes to reveal serious, underappreciated consequences of oceanographers’ prolonged reliance on secret, mission-driven navy projects. Two chapters examine the complex history of the famous Alvin submersible, which, contrary to subsequent whitewashing, did not start out as a research vessel. Another chapter tells the disturbing story of a prominent WHOI sedimentologist who spent most of the 1980s and I990s trying to convince the US government to bury nuclear waste in the deep sea, despite his earlier codiscovery that the seafloor lacks seismic stability.

      The narrative culminates in the 1990s, when Scripps oceanographers pivoted toward climate change research. Blind to their own arrogance and obliviousness about the impact of underwater sound on marine mammals, the scientists provoked public distrust by casting themselves as climate heroes while dismissing concerns about the threats posed to whales by acoustic tomography, which the researchers sought to use to investigate ocean temperatures.

      Epistemic effects of “military defense oceanography” continue to ripple outward today. Internalizing the navy's view of the ocean as a theater of submarine warfare, rather than as a dynamic ecological system, led Scripps, WHOI, and Lamont leaders to brush off ocean biology and ecology. By the time comprehensive marine biological inventories finally started, around the turn of the millennium, it was, Oreskes laments, “much too late” to determine baseline conditions owing to massive changes caused by overfishing and other anthropogenic activities….

      We need more historical scholarship on how powerful entities produce ignorance as well as knowledge, and Oreskes provides a model for doing so. As an intellectual and institutional history of postwar oceanography, Science on a Mission will interest historians and practitioners of the marine sciences, historians of Cold War science, and scholars of epistemology, and it deserves a wide readership. Moreover, as an exposé of how navy-sponsored oceanographers wound up constraining their own research agendas and believing their own myths, the book should give pause to all scientists who consider themselves immune to the potential influence of their binders, or who romanticize the golden age of military scientific patronage.

Scientists’ Lanes and Headwinds

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 16 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      COVID-19 will be remembered for many things, including the pandemic that changed science communication….In the rapidly evolving situation, hearing directly from the scientific community was more important than ever. But former president Donald Trump and former vice president Mike Pence did enormous damage in the United States by appointing themselves scientists, logisticians, and chief economists and taking control of the information flow. The vaccine arrived, despite all the bungling, but in the meantime, many lives could have been saved had messages about dangers, challenges, and solutions come through more clearly. We still seem to be learning. Although the Eiden administration appears to have a firmer grip on the crisis, it now faces a new surge of infections brought on by the variants and an increase in the number of states loosening restrictions. How can science be better communicated in the future, given what we have seen during the pandemic?

      …Early in the pandemic, Kayyem was one of the first voices assuring the public that the supply chain would hold up and that there was no reason to raid the grocery-stores for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I asked her what scientists could do better in the future. The main message: Stay in their lane.

      Kayyem consumes health intelligence the same way she consumes foreign intelligence or climate intelligence and then uses it to create a message for politicians and the public. She thinks scientists did not do enough to acknowledge the economic devastation that was ushered in by shutting down the economy, which left an opening for the anti-lockdown voices to fight back. She believes scientists could have offered more hope along with the warnings. And she believes that the extreme voices on cable news and social media distracted scientists from seeing that most of the American public could understand the nuances of the situation better than they gave them credit for.

      As for the early garbling of the mask message, she feels that some science experts ventured too far into logistics, rather than sticking to what they know….She was also critical of what she saw as a panic over vaccine supply….As we approach 200 million shots in 100 days, Kayyem’s admonition rings true….

      …Kayyem believes that overall, it is good for scientists to join the debate on social media, a point made in an editorial earlier this year. She was also very complimentary of the scientists who became household names on social media and cable news, but she cautioned that “rockstar status can make you think that everyone wants your opinion on everything.”

      One of those scientists who became well known in the pandemic, Georgetown University virologist Angela Rasmussen, agrees that some ventured too far afield….

      These are important admonitions, but it is also salient to remember that the headwinds caused by President Trump were intense. We can only hope that in the next pandemic, the messages will have smoother sailing.

Rethinking Alexander Graham Bell’s Legacy

[These excerpts are from a book review by Jessica Trussell in the 9 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      Alexander Graham Bell is well known as the inventor of the telephone. He is lesser known for his role in promoting audism, or prejudice against deaf and bard of hearing (DHH) people. Yet both endeavors have had lasting impacts on humanity. In The Invention of Miracles, Katie Booth revisits Bell’s legacy, exploring his creative genius and his misguided efforts to eradicate Deaf culture….

      Bell, known to his family as Aleck, was born into a family immersed in the communication strategies of the deaf. His mother, Eliza Grace Bell (nee Symonds), an accomplished pianist who was deafened after she acquired language and speech, taught Aleck British Sign Language. His father, Alexander Melville Bell, created a phonetic alphabet called Visible Speech, designed to aid the deaf by illustrating the proper position of the lips, tongue, and throat in various language sounds. Following the family's lead, as teenagers, Aleck and his brother Melville built an automaton that could simulate human speech.

      As the Bell family began promoting Visible Speech to potential investors, Alexander encouraged Aleck, approaching adulthood, to pursue elocution over invention. An educator named Susanna Hull became aware of the system and wondered whether it could be used to teach DHH children to speak Working with Hull’s DHH students, in 1868, Aleck succeeded in teaching the children to speak using the system. Oral schools for the deaf and well-off families began to seek out Aleck’s expertise, fueling his passion for teaching. He would eventually become a professor of vocal physiology and elocution.

      Meanwhile, Bell’s interest in creating a machine that would faithfully transmit sound and speech endured….

      During this period, Bell married Mabel Hubbard, a former student who lost her hearing as a child, and together they started a family. But defending his various patents frequently took him away from his family and from his work with the deaf.

      In 1883, Bell established a school for the deaf in Washington, DC. Even as many in the Deaf community began to advocate signed language over oralism, Bell and the school remained committed to teaching DHH students to speak aloud and to read lips. Soon, however, he began to realize that oralism privileged learning how to speak over learning other sorts of information. He closed his school and began to rethink his beliefs about the DHH population.

      The isolation of the deaf meant that DHH individuals were more likely to marry one another. Having observed that unions in which both partners were deaf had a higher likelihood of producing deaf offspring and fearing that the deaf would eventually outnumber the hearing, Bell began to encourage DHH people not to intermarry. His new stance was embraced by eugenicists, who eventually succeeded in passing a law in the United States that made it illegal for DHH people to marry one another. Bell did not support the law; and he attempted to align himself with other leaders in deaf education who opposed it but he would nonetheless come to be perceived as the movement’s leader.

      In the waning years of his life, Bell distanced himself from deaf education. However, his curriculum would go on to become the predominant method for educating DHH children for many years to come. Today, many DHH people who work diligently to preserve the Deaf community's language, culture, and institutions blame Bell for the generation of DHH children whose education emphasized speaking over true learning.

      At the end of the book, Booth discloses that Bell died signing into his wife's hand. She reminds readers that Bell—who feared the intergenerational perpetuation of deafness—married a DHH woman and bad children with her. Booth summarizes this central tension that defined Bell's life using Mabel’s words: “You are very tender and gentle to the deaf children,” she once wrote to him, “but their interest to you lies in their being deaf, not in their humanity.”

When Modern Humans Met Neanderthals

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 9 April 2021 issue of Sciences.]

      The four-story labyrinth of galleries in Bulgaria's Bacho Kiro cave has long been a magnet for all sorts of humans. Neanderthals came first, more than 50,000 years ago, and left their characteristic Mousterian stone tools among the stalagmites. Next came modern humans in at least two waves; the first littered the cave floor with beads and stone blades stained with ochre, about 45,000 years ago. Another group settled in about 36,000 years ago with even more sophisticated artifacts.

      Now, a new ancient DNA study shows the first group of modern humans at Bacho Kiro carried a recent legacy from Neanderthals: Those people's ancestors had interbred with our extinct cousins as recently as six generations, or 160 to 180 years, previously.

      However, another study out this week, of what may be the oldest modern human in Europe, shows the first wave of moderns had diverse Neanderthal legacies. The genome of a dark-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed woman from Zlaty kun cave in the Czech Republic included only 3% Neanderthal DNA, which likely came from a long-ago tryst in the Middle East, not from recent contact, the study suggests.

      Taken together, these genomic snapshots offer a glimpse into the identities of the mysterious modem humans who first set foot in Europe and their relationship to Neanderthals, who vanished about 40,000 years ago….

      The new revelations fill out the story of these ancient encounters….

      After modern humans trekked out of Africa 60,000 to 80,000 years ago, they interbred at least once with Neanderthals, most likely in the Middle East about 50,000 years ago, previous ancient DNA research has shown. Those studies include analyses of two early modern humans from Eurasia: a 45,000-year-old thigh bone of a man from Ust'-Ishim in Siberia, and the jawbone of a young man from Pet.5tera cu Oase cave in Romania, dated to between 37,000 and 42,000 years ago. The Oase man inherited as much as 6.4% of his DNA from a recent Neanderthal ancestor. But he lived at least 5000 years after modern humans had arrived in Europe….

      …In the new study, the researchers sequenced genomes from a molar and bone fragments from that middle layer and directly dated them to 42,580 to 45,930 years ago. They also sequenced DNA from bone found in a younger layer and dated it to 35,000 years ago. Remains from both lay-ers were modern humans, but from different populations….

      The genomes show the three oldest modern humans at Bacho Kiro were distantly related to a 40,000-year-old partial skeleton from Tianyuan in China, as well as to other ancient and living East Asians and Native Americans. That suggests they all descended from an early population that once spread across Eurasia, but whose descendants in Europe seem to have died out. The lineage survived in Asia, later giving rise to people who migrated to America.

      Those modern humans had also inherited 3% to 3.8% of their DNA from Neanderthal ancestors. The chunks of Neanderthal DNA were long, which suggested they arose from mixing only six generations earlier, because with each new generation, recombination breaks stretches of DNA in shorter fragments. That mating must have been different from the one that gave the younger Oase man his larger Neanderthal legacy….

      …The woman’s Neanderthal DNA likely came from the first known interbreeding, between Neanderthals and the ancestors of all living Eurasians, as modem humans expanded out of Africa and moved into Eurasia, Krause says.

      Researchers hadn’t been able to directly date the Czech skull, which was discovered in the 1950s, because bovine glue used lc_ to repair it contaminated the bones….The chunks of Neanderthal DNA in the genome from the Zlaty kun skull suggest the woman was born 60 to 80 generations (roughly 2000 years) after her ancestors mated with Neanderthals, they conclude. The 45,000-year-old Siberian male inherited his shorter Neanderthal DNA chunks about 85 to 100 generations after that same encounter. That suggests the Czech female lived before the Siberian male and could be as old as 47,000 years—the oldest known modern in Europe….

      The new data show that all of the modern human lineages vanished by the advent of the last ice age, which reached its peak about 20,000 years ago. After the ice melted, other modem humans from Eurasia repopulated the continent….

The Story behind COVID-19 Vaccines

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Anthony S. Fauci in the 9 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      Amid the staggering amount of suffering and death during this historic pandemic of COVID-19, a remarkable success story stands out. The development of several highly efficacious vaccines against a previously unknown viral pathogen, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in less than 1 year from the identification of the virus is unprecedented in the history of vaccinology. A frequently asked question is bow such an extraordinary accomplishment could have been realized in such a short time frame, when timelines for other vaccines are measured in years if not decades. In fact, concern about this truncated timeline has contributed in part to the hesitancy in accepting these vaccines. What is not fully appreciated is that the starting point of the timeline for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines was not 10 January 2020, when the Chinese published the genetic sequence of the virus. Rather, it began decades earlier, out of the spotlight.

      Two activities predate the successful COVID-19 vaccines: the utilization of highly adaptable vaccine platforms such as RNA (among others) and the adaptation of structural biology tools to design agents (immunogens) that powerfully stimulate the immune system. The RNA approach evolved over several years owing to the ingenuity of individual scientists….

      The discovery of an immunogen adaptable to the multiple platforms (messenger RNA and others) used for COVID-19 vaccines resulted from collaboration across different scientific subspecialities….

      …Graham’s team, including Kizzmekia Corbett, and collaborators in the laboratories of McLellan and Andrew Ward adopted this approach of mutational stabilization of prelusion proteins in their work on the spike protein of the coronaviruses that cause Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). So, when the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 became available, Graham’s team lost no time in joining their long-time collaborators at Moderna to develop an RNA vaccine using a stabilized, prefusion spike protein as the immunogen. Pfizer and BioNTech, where Kariko was working, also used the RNA platform that she and Weissman bad perfected and the immunogen designed by Graham to develop an RNA vaccine. Additional companies also used Graham’s immunogen in other vaccine platforms that bad been evolving for years, to make SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

      SARS-CoV-2 vaccines based on the new immunogen rapidly moved to clinical trials. Several of these vaccines were tested in phase 3 efficacy trials at a time when the level of community spread of SARS-CoV-2 was extremely high, allowing vaccine efficacy endpoints of greater than 90% to be reached in a timely fashion. The speed and efficiency with which these highly efficacious vaccines were developed and their potential for saving millions of lives are due to an extraordinary multidisciplinary effort involving basic, preclinical, and clinical science that had been under way—out of the spotlight—for decades before the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the stories and recounting of this pandemic are written, it is important that this history not be forgotten, as we are reminded once again of the societal value of a sustained and robust support of our scientific enterprise.

The more Mentors, the Merrier

[These excerpts are from an article by Erika Moore in the 26 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      …I was filled with self-doubt, embarrassed by how much I didn’t knoW. How could I ask people to help me if I didn’t even know what I needed help with?

      But during my second year of grad school, I was desperate. I felt I had no idea what I was doing, and I needed guidance from people who were wiser and more experienced….

      Some of the responses were negative and discouraging—but not all were dead ends. One contact led to an internship in industry, the career direction I envisioned at the time. When that experience left me thinking academia might be a better fit, another path of contacts led me to my current assistant professor position. One email at a time, one informational interview after another, I became comfortable, confident, and strategic in building my network of mentors. Here's what I have learned.

      …Sending cold contacts was scary, so I focused on the thrill of emailing people who bad some of the coolest jobs I’d ever heard of. If I was inspired by someone’s work, I emailed. If I loved the way they ran their lab, I emailed. If I was interested in learning more about their company, I emailed. Though a few people failed to respond, many did, leading to dozens of informational interviews that helped me home in on my ideal job.

      …As a grad student, I met someone at a conference who I hoped would be a future mentor—and followed up with a five-paragraph email. Their reply was simple: “I ca-not respond to this. Too long.” Another time, a mentor told me, “If I can’t respond in six words, I’m not going to….”

      …When evaluating responses or advice, remember that everyone has their own affairs, perspective, and concerns. /p>

      …My one strength was preparation. I came to every conversation with at least 10 questions, arranged in categories including shared experiences, career goals, and advice. Coming prepared helped me respect other people's time and utilize these meetings wisely.

A Planet Remade in our Image

[These excerpts are from a book review by Mary Ellen Hannibal in the 26 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Readers learn about so-called “de-extinction”" efforts, which seek to bring back the woolly mammoth, among other species. Rich focuses mostly on efforts to bring back the passenger pigeon, flocks of which were once so dense that they blackened skies on the East Coast of the United States. This work is supported by a nongovernmental organization led by entrepreneur Ryan Phelan and her husband, writer Stewart Brand—Brand’s conservation bona fides can be traced back to his counterculture publication, the Whole Earth Catalog (1968-1998). The time frame for this project is years and perhaps decades, but the organization’s efforts are already yielding results in other species….

      In an investigative piece called “Dark Waters,” a farmer in West Virginia enlists the help of a corporate attorney to uncover what is poisoning his cows and his water. The ensuing saga stretches over decades and revolves around the production of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) used to make Teflon. The Environmental Protection Agency eventually reached a $16.5 million settlement with Teflon producer DuPont in 2017, but as Rich dryly observes, despite being the largest civil administrative penalty ever obtained by the agency, “The fine represented less than two percent of the profits earned by DuPont on PFOA that year.” Today, he notes, thousands of PFOA knockoffs pervade everyday products, from computer cables to implantable medical devices.

      In “Here Come the Warm Jets,” an otherwise beautiful Southern California landscape is invisibly marred by suffocating fumes emanating from a gas well in Aliso Canyon. Local Porter Ranch residents seal their windows and doors, but many continue to experience troubling symptoms, including severe headaches, problems with balance, and shortness of breath. The natural gas provider impedes efforts to investigate the potential leak, which eventually results in the release of 109,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.

      “Engineering is clearly the dominant idea of the industrial age,” wrote conservation icon Aldo Leopold in 1938. He wondered whether ecology might contend with the human proclivity for building things and help characterize “a new order.” The unsteady tension between nature’s mechanisms of growth and humanity’s command and control of these processes is expressed in reporting on an unruly panoply of plants and animals that quickly recolonize a neighborhood razed by Hurricane Katrina….

      The essays in Second Nature reveal important truths that gather power when they are read together. In ranging across so many fields, Rich makes implicit connections between the way we treat nature and the way we treat each other. Although shortsighted geoengineering and corporate malfeasance ultimately affect everyone, not all of us are currently bearing the consequences equally. “Ecological degradation, by exacerbating the inequalities that poison our society, degrades democracy itself,” cautions Rich.

The Conservationists

[These excerpts are from a book review by Christopher Kemp in the 26 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      By 1963, the number of bald eagles—long a symbol of American exceptionalism—had dwindled to a staggering low of 417 known nesting pairs in the contiguous United States, having been decimated by a combination of habitat destruction, DDT poisoning, and illegal hunting. With the passage and enforcement of sturdy conservation laws, however, the species has steadily recovered. There are currently around 10,000 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states and more than 100,000 individual birds, making the bald eagle one of a number of profoundly satisfying success stories of the modem conservation movement

      The quest to save endangered species has been a journey of gains and losses, with many g wrong turns and dead ends. Michelle Nijhuis’s Beloved Beasts is a definitive and informative history of this journey….

      In some respects, the title of the book is misleading: This is more of a human story than a tale about animals. Humans, after all, are the reason the dodo disappeared from Mauritius in the space of a few short and bloody decades (the last one was killed in 1662). The bird was joined in extinction by the great auk (1852); the Falkland Islands wolf (1876); the passenger pigeon (1914); the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger (1936); and an unknown number of unnamed species that disappeared before we even got around to cataloging them. Since the 1500s, Nijhuis writes, humans have driven more than 150 bird species alone to extinction.

      Nijhuis’s detailed account is clear-eyed and unvarnished in its honesty. She readily acknowledges that many of the early figures of the conservation movement were deeply flawed. William Temple Hornaday, for example, almost single-handedly repopulated the North American Plains with bison, which had dwindled from 20 million to 30 million in the 1700s to an estimated 300 in 1886, when Hornaday headed out west to shoot some for a museum diorama. In 1907, Hornaday, who was the director of what is now the Bronx Zoo, transported zoo-bred bison by rail to Oklahoma and released them into a bison preserve that he had pressured Congress to designate. However, his motivation for protecting the bison population did not come from a desire to protect the animals for their own sake. Hornaday wanted to rescue the bison so that hunters could continue shooting them for sport. And while he imagined vast herds of bison re-darkening the plains, his dreams did not include the Comanche, the Blackfoot, the Lakota, or any of the other Indigenous people whose way of life depended on the bison.

      To this day, Nijhuis writes, the conservation movement has maintained its awkward ties with hunters. In Africa, for example, dwindling populations of lions, giraffes, and elephants are protected using funds raised via trophy hunting auctions….

      As Nijhuis reminds readers, the late 19th century marked the dawn of a new way of thinking, and ecology was a new concept—the word having only just been minted in 1866 by zoologist Ernst Haeckel. Before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 (and afterward too), many people thought that God had made each species for humanity’s convenience….

      The effects of the Anthropocene will remain for millennia in the form of species extinctions, habitat destruction, and the uncountable fragments of plastic floating in our oceans. But the moral evolution that Nijhuis recounts in Beloved Beasts is part of our legacy as well—one worth documenting and worth celebrating.

Remains of Moon-forming Impact May Lie Deep in Earth

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 26 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      Scientists have long agreed that the Moon formed when a protoplanet, called Theia, struck Earth in its infancy some 4.5 billion years ago. Now a team of scientists has a provocative new proposal: Theia’s remains can be found in two continent-size layers of rock buried deep in Earth’s mantle.

      For decades, seismologists have puzzled over these two blobs, which sit below West Africa and the Pacific Ocean and straddle the core like a pair of headphones. Up to 1000 kilometers tall and several times that wide, “they are the largest thing in the Earth’s mantle.”…Seismic waves from earthquakes abruptly slow down when they pass through the layers, which suggests they are denser and chemically dif-ferent from the surrounding mantle rock.

      …a new picture of the Moon-forming impactor suggests it could have delivered a cargo of dense rock deep inside Earth. The impact theory was developed in the 1970s to explain why the Moon is dry and doesn’t have much of an iron core: In a cataclysmic impact, volatiles like water would have vaporized and escaped, while a ring of less dense rocks thrown up in the collision would have eventually coalesced into the Moon….

      In studies of Apollo Moon rocks, Desch and his colleagues measured the ratios of hydrogen to deuterium, a heavier hydrogen isotope. Light hydrogen was far more abundant in some of the Moon samples than in Earth rocks, they found. To capture and hold onto so much light hydrogen, Theia must have been massive….,

      If Theia’s remnants do lie deep in Earth’s mantle, they may not be alone. Seismologists are increasingly seeing small, ultradense pockets of material in the deep mantle, only a few hundred kilometers across….Theia, in fact, might be just one grave in a planetary cemetery.

Volatility of Vaccine Confidence

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Heidi J. Larson and David A. Broniatowski in the 26 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      ...Various polls on vaccine willingness made early predictions of low vaccine uptake owing to vaccine hesitancy. But with the ups and downs of virus surges, and more information—and misinformation—around the vaccines, confidence levels also had ups and downs. Vaccine willingness started to climb with news of an effective Pfizer vaccine, a. second wave of infection, the emergence of new variants, and more lockdowns. Now, a reported safety risk and consequent anxieties have sent sentiments plummeting in some countries….

      Scientists, poOliticians, and public health officials may not always recognize that vaccine hesitancy is not the same as being “anti-vaccine.” The vaccine hesitant are often mischaracterized as “anti-science” or simply “anti-vaxx.” But being hesitant or undecided in the face of a possible safety risk is not being anti-vaccine. A failure to understand the distinction can feed both fires.

      What distinguishes the vaccine hesitant from anti-vaxxers? The Anti-Vaxx Playbook, recently published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, underlined three key messages used by organized anti-vaccine groups: COVID-19 is not dangerous, the vaccine is dangerous, and vaccine advocates cannot be trusted. This builds upon a long history of “anti-vaccine tropes” identified by medical anthropologist Anna Kato., including questioning the safety and efficacy of vaccines, promoting alternative cures, claiming that vaccination infringes on individuals’ civil liberties, promoting conspiracy theories, and asserting that vaccines are immoral. Anti-vaccination advocates typically represent well-organized entities with explicit agendas, ranging from financial interests (such as selling alternative cures) to ideological or political commitments (such as opposing specific legislation). These organizations also frequently shift their goalposts, claiming that vaccines cause any number of maladies while supporting opposing political platforms. Unfortunately, these themes are widespread on social media—nearly 150 anti-vaxx organizations have over 10 million followers online.

      The vaccine hesitant are a highly diverse group. Modalities of hesitancy range from delays over receiving a vaccine because of anxiety around safety concerns, to fears due to historic individual or community experiences, to questions about COV1D-19 vaccines. Those who refuse vaccines are not necessarily “anti-vaxx,” although vaccine-hesitant individuals may consume content from anti-vaxx organizations as they search for evidence to confirm or dispel their concerns. The vaccine hesitant are therefore vulnerable to manipulation by anti-vaccine activists. They also risk being judged or labeled “anti-vaxx” by the very people—health care professionals—who are best positioned to encourage healthy behaviors.

      How can vaccine hesitancy be addressed? Communication about vaccines must be delivered in an empathic manner to avoid stigmatizing those who question inoculation. This requires leveraging established relationships to address concerns of the vaccine hesitant….

      In addition to the official regulatory endorsements of the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, it is locally trusted voices who will help build confidence in them. The world needs all the safe and effective vaccines that exist to end the pandemic. But it needs people who believe in them too.

Choosing from the Heart

[These excerpts are from an article by Phil De Luna in the 2 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      …My partner’s concerns about our future forced me to focus on my career plans and to reassess the academic career path I’d been blindly following up to that point. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that path might not be right for me after all. There were aspects of academia I didn’t like, such as the power disparity between students and professors and the pervasive view that only academic success was real success. I also realized many careers outside academia—in industry and policy, for instance—offered a chance to make a more rapid impact in the real world.

      I started to explore options by contacting Ph.D. graduates who had followed career paths I found interesting, asking for informational interviews. I spoke with venture capitalists, energy company executives, management consultants, former politicians, and startup founders. I’d always end the phone call with the same question: “If you could talk to yourself when you were in your mid-20s, knowing everything you know now what advice would you give?” Often, the answer was that career paths are not straight or neatly assembled. It’s important to be willing to fail and pivot to something new as doing so often leads you to better places.

      The conversations opened my eyes to a universe of career options and showed me that no one path interested me most; rather, I wanted to experience them all! From then on, I started to envision my career as a set of chapters: Perhaps I'd start with one option, then move on to another at some point in the future. That perspective freed me to explore many possibilities without worrying that diving into one meant giving up a chance to pursue another….

      Two years later, I can say with confidence that my career transition was right for me. I might not stay in this job forever, but it feels like the perfect first step for me to take postgraduation. I love what I do—and I get to wake up every morning with a smile on my face next to the person I love most. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Stephen Hawking, Celebrity Scientist

[These excerpts are from a book review by Declan Fahy in the 2 April 2021 issue of Sciencee.]

      For decades, cosmologist Stephen Hawking was caught in a contradiction. In popular culture, he was portrayed as a pure mind roaming the cosmos to uncover fundamental truths of the Universe, the modern heir to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. In the physics community; he was respected as a productive theorist who made seminal contributions to black hole research, but many scientists considered his popular reputation to be ludicrously overblown. Veteran science writer Charles Seife seeks to resolve this contradiction in Hawking Hawking….

      The popular-culture image of Hawking arose largely as a result of the success of his 1988 cosmology book, A Brief History of Time, which became an unexpected nonfiction blockbuster, selling more than 10 million copies. Hawking published the book with Bantam Books, as he wanted to reach the largest possible audience and to earn money, in part to pay for his daughter’s school fees.

      As Seife recounts, Hawking was warned by a friend at Cambridge University Press, which had tried to acquire the rights to the book, that a trade publisher might highlight the scientist’s physical condition to market the book. This observation proved astute: The cover of the book's US edition featured Hawking in his wheelchair, superimposed against a starry Universe, helping to fix Hawking’s image in the public imagination as a symbol of disembodied scientific rationalism.

      This image was solidified through endless repetition by uncritical journalists and the marketing of Hawking’s subsequent books. But unlike those accounts, Seife’s portrait in this unauthorized biography is often unflattering. Hawking is represented as neglectful and dismissive of his first wife, Jane, who bore most of the burden of caring for her husband after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21. He comes across as having been reluctant to give due credit to his research collaborators. We learn that he erroneously accused (in print) two scientists of stealing an idea from his friend, physicist Andrei Linde, and lobbied (unsuccessfully) to the highest levels of the University of Cambridge to stop a student from pursuing a doctorate, because the proposed research topic would challenge his ideas. Far from floating in a cerebral realm, Hawking was actively engaged in the earthly business of protecting his intellectual capital.

      No lone theorist, Hawking collaborated with graduate students and physicists from around the world, and through his professional networks, he became a conduit between physicists in the East and West during the Cold War. Moreover, in Seife’s evaluation, Hawking's research inspired a new generation of scientists and catalyzed the work of other physicists working on problems at the intersection of quantum theory and relativity.

      …Seife tells the story in reverse chronological order, starting with a description of Hawking’s tombstone and ending with his birth, a structure that invites the reader to see the man beyond the flashbulbs. Yet the biography’s main narrative is that of a fame-hungry physicist whose popularity grew over time, even as his greatest scientific achievements retreated further into the past. The book humanizes Hawking but reveals a tragic core to his celebrity.

Stewart Brand’s Radical Environmentalism

[These excerpts are from a film review by W. Patrick McCray in the 2 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      …After a psychedelic drug experience in 1966, Brand successfully lobbied NASA to release photographs taken from space of the entire planet. Such pictures, Brand claims, helped “blow away” the dark pessimism of the nuclear mushroom cloud that permeated 1960s popular culture.

      In 1968, Brand created the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture periodical that was populated with articles and products designed to promote self-sufficiency and sustainability. Its runaway success enabled him to assume a decades-long role as a provocateur and cultural influencer.

      Since the 1970s, Brand has catalyzed public debate about space settlements, personal computers, nanotechnology, the internet, and nuclear power. Central to all of these is an abiding concern for environmental issues. Taken together, his activities reflect a talent for conceiving of a radically different future, helping build tools to make it happen, and then popularizing this vision….

      The plenitude of Brand's projects presents a challenge for any biographer or filmmaker, but the documentary We Are As Gods provides a compelling introduction to his life. At the beginning of the film, Brand is compared to American icons ranging from Johnny Appleseed to P. T. Barnum. Each comparison captures a facet of his life, but, in the end, no single one suffices….

      Part biography and part meditation on the nature of time, We Are As Gods weaves together the disparate causes that Brand has championed over the past 60 years with his current fascination, the potential “de-extinction” of creatures such as the woolly mammoth and the American chestnut tree. The film also challenges viewers to rethink the stereotype that the hippie counterculture was “antitechnology”….In reality, young people a half-century ago successfully found ways to reconcile science and technology with an environmental sensibility and consumer hipness.

      At the heart of all of Brand's activities is his profound desire to encourage people to see the world in new ways….

      The film’s blend of enthusiasm and wariness is presented with another essential element—honesty….

      …Much of the film concerns Brand’s collaboration with geneticist George Church to bring back and then reintroduce the woolly mammoth to a region in the Siberian Arctic known as Pleistocene Park as a means of combating climate change. It is in this more recent effort that Brand’s activities as a biologist, conservationist, and technologist are most tightly spliced together. The filmmakers generously allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions as to whether Brand is once again ahead of his time or blindedhy techno-optimism.

      Toward the end of the film, we see Brand in a greenhouse, surrounded by new shoots of American chestnut trees genetically altered to be blight-proof. As he places some in soil and waters them, he reflects on a dream he has had, in which the plants transform and, in time, become a forest. In the dream, he is flying over the forest, almost as a god.

U.S. Needs Solar Geoengineering Research Program, Report Says

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 2 April 2021 issue of Science.]

      An influential panel of scientists has A recommended the United States pursue a robust research program into a controversial technological bandage for climate change. Solar geoengineering—deliberately altering the atmosphere to reflect more sunlight—might forestall some of the worst effects of global warming, but fears of tinkering with climate systems and the technology’s potential for misuse have slowed research.

      Unabated global warming is changing the calculus, however….

      The 25 March report also makes clear that no research should occur without strong government commitments to reducing emissions. Reflecting sunlight without curbing carbon dioxide emissions would do nothing to slow the acidification of the oceans, for example….

      In preparation since 2019, the report takes a close look at three proposed solar geoengineering strategies: stratospheric aerosol injection, which would release long-lived reflective particles into the upper atmosphere; marine cloud brightening, which seeks to thicken low-lying clouds over the ocean; and cirrus cloud thinning, which would alter wispy high-altitude ice clouds, allowing more infrared radiation to escape to space. Each has its own risks and uncertainties: Particles released into the stratosphere, home of the ozone layer, could have long-lasting, global effects. Cloud thickening and thinning, though taking place on more regional scales, would change cloud properties with unpredictable results….

      Current U.S. research into solar geoengineering is fractured and ad hoc. The last two federal spending bills provided $13 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to pursue such studies—the first such funding. The agency is planning to fly a lunch box-size spectrometer into the stratosphere by balloon to capture a high-resolution view of long-lived, light-reflecting natural particles, with the first flight scheduled later this year….

Expanding the Endless Frontier

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Robert W. Conn in the 2 April 2021issue of Science.]

      This month, the U.S. Senate is poised to consider legislation that would expand the National Science Foundation (NSF) and strengthen the U.S. science and technology research ecosystem. The heart of the legislation will be the Endless Frontier Act (EFA), a bipartisan and bicameral bill that was first introduced to the previous Congress in May 2020. With some modifications, this legislation could become a landmark achievement that bolsters U.S. competitiveness.

      The bill would authorize $100 billion over 5 years for a new Directorate for Technology to support basic science motivated by critical needs, often referred to as “"use-inspired” basic research. The initial areas of focus would include artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences, and advanced materials….

      Over the past 7 months, a group of scientific leaders that David Baltimore and I assembled has been reviewing the bill and meeting with key people in Congress. We developed a short list of changes that would better ensure the success of the bill and its intentions. Our concerns are substantial but still minor in comparison with the benefits that the EFA would confer on the nation’s science and technology enterprise.

      Maintaining NSF’s unity of structure is critical—a single director and board that makes certain that the agency’s work is greater than the sum of its parts….

      The legislation also changes NSF’s name to the National Science and Technology Foundation. We recommend that the agency's well-recognized name NSF be preserved unchanged, given its acclaimed history and position in science.

      The bill does protect NSF’s existing programs, and these could be further strengthened….

      The bill’s education language should be strengthened to encourage needed experimentation in the way that students are trained. With the country’s history of underrepresentation of many groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the new bill should promote new ideas garnered from experts in this area to attract diverse students into STEM fields. This is not only the right thing to do but would address the losses that the United States suffers when a substantial portion of the population is not welcomed into the nation's scientific enterprise….

      This is a rare moment, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance the nation’s research enterprise and adapt it to current challenges for the benefit of the country and the world. We urge our colleagues to engage now.

Reckoning with Asian America

[These excerpts are from an an editorial by Jennifer Lee and Tiffany J. Huang in the 2 April 2021issue of Science.]

      It took the mass murder of six Asian women in Atlanta last week to draw national attention to what Asian Americans have been warning about since the wake of the pandemic: anti-Asian violence. The incident reflects an under-recognized history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination in this country that dates back more than 150 years. This needs to change. Asian Americans must become central to the discourse on race in America, For the country to “care” about the outcry by Asian Americans, the public needs to understand how America got to this point.

      This moment of crisis has been building over the past pandemic year Many consider the recent anti-Asian violence and harassment a consequence of the former Trump administration’s “China virus” and “Kung flu” rhetoric. Research shows that Americans exposed to such racist rhetoric are more likely to perceive Asian Americans as foreign and un-American, which can stoke greater hostility toward Asians….

      U.S. history is fraught with anti-Asian violence, misogyny, nativist discrimination, and legal exclusion, all of which are often absent in textbooks and university curricula. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act emerged from the earlier Page Act, which excluded presumed immoral Chinese women from immigrating. Without their wives, male Chinese laborers who helped build the transcontinental railroad segregated into tight-knit bachelor communities that became the precursors of today’s Chinatowns. Legal exclusion was coupled with violence. One of the largest mass lynchings in American history took place in Los Angeles in 1871, when 19 Chinese residents-10% of the city’s Chinese population—were killed by a white mob. In the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885, white miners killed 28 Chinese workers, wounded 15, and expelled hundreds more before setting their living quarters on fire.

      The nativist prejudice that -white settlers imparted, and the legal exclusion that Chinese endured, engineered the very conditions that would shape societal perceptions of the Chinese in the 19th century as economic threats, clannish, untrustworthy, foreign, and immoral. These views would continue to mark Chinese Americans and evolve into the racial stereotypes of Asian Americans today—untrustworthy, passive, demure, hypersexual, and America’s insidious “model minority.”

      Academia has not been immune to the effects of this history on institutional racism, bias, exclusion, and violence. COVID-19-related anti-Asian messages and harassment have been reported on college campuses across the country. Chinese American scientists have come under federal scrutiny for their associations with China under the 2018 China Initiative, which may jeopardize U.S.-Chinese scientific collaborations. And despite being the group most likely to attend college, Asian Americans make up a mere 2% of college presidents....

      If universities and precollege schools fail to teach the history of Asian Americans in their curricula, we can expect bias and exclusion to perpetuate in our institutions. Asian American student activists in the 1960s understood this. They coined the term “Asian American” as a unifying political, pan-ethnic identity to advocate for Asian American Studies and build coalitions with African Americans, Latino/as, and women. Many Americans are unaware of this history, including Asian Americans, most of whom are immigrants who arrived after 1965. Today, Asian Americans encompass more than two dozen national origin groups with vastly different migration histories, languages, and socioeconomic statuses. Yet during the pandemic, they have shared a common fear of harassment, discrimination, and anti-Asian violence.

      Violence and bigotry against Asian Americans have finally received national attention. We must make Asian Americans central to the country’s discussions of race, and reckon with the history of Asian America.

Appreciating Art

[These excerpts are from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.]

      …Anybody can see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl she used to be. A great artist can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is…and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…more than that, [Rodin] can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo see that this lovely young girl is still alive, prisoned inside her ruined body [La Belle Heaulmière]. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who over grew older than eighteen in her heart…no matter what the merciless hours have done….Growing old doesn’t matter to you and me [men] – but it does to them….

      …for three thousand years architects designed building with columns shaped as female figures. At least Rodin pointed out [in Caryatid Who Has Fallen under Her Stone] that this was work too heavy for a girl. He didn’t say, “Look, you jerks, if you must do this, make it a brawny male figure.” No, he showed it. This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl – look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods…and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

      But she’s more than good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who’s ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women – this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage…and victory.

      …Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up…she’s still trying to life the stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father working while cancer eats away his insides, to bring home one more paycheck. She’s a twelve-year-old trying to mother her brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her post while smoke chokes her and fire cuts off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.

Unnatural Disasters

[These excerpts are from an article by Steve Nadis in the March 2021 issue of MIT Spectrum.]

      The coronavirus pandemic is not a purely natural disaster. According to Kate Brown…zoonotic diseases— those initially transmitted from animals to humans, including Covid-19—can occur more frequently and strike more powerfully as a direct consequence of the stresses humans place on the environment.

      Contributing to the current pandemic and to other infectious disease flare-ups in recent decades is the fact that animals and humans now live in increasingly close quarters, with human populations encroaching ever further into wildlife zones, Brown maintains. Modern industrial-scale agriculture is another culprit: tens of thousands of chickens, for example, can be raised within a single barn in just six weeks, an accelerated time frame that encourages pathogens to transform from sublethal residents into deadly invaders.

      Although self-isolation is a key preventative strategy, the human body is not hermetically sealed, Brown points out. “We’re wading through an atmosphere filled with viruses and bacteria, antibiotic-resistant microbes and radioactive contaminants, and our bodies act like nets in the ocean, catching and filtering almost everything passing through.” Protecting ourselves when we are so porous is a huge challenge, compounded by the fact that we face a vast array of environmental toxins predominantly of anthropogenic origin, in addition to the threats posed by virulent biological agents.

      …A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland…describes a region along the Ukraine-Poland border chronically besieged by war, famine, and ethnic cleansing. She chose the first-person voice for this and her other books, which is unusual for historical works, in order to “bring readers along and help them visualize these places.”

      In Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters…, Brown profiled two cities that were built around the world’s first nuclear plants to produce weapons-grade plutonium, one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Ozersk, Russia. Over a period of decades, each plant unleashed some 350 million curies of radioactivity with devastating repercussions….Manual for Survival…takes a close look at the medical and environmental consequences of fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Long-lived radionuclides released in that accident are still circulating, with high levels of radiation emitted just this year during forest fires near the reactor complex.

      One lesson emerging from Brown’s work is that natural and human-made disasters are now so closely entwined it can be hard to disentangle the two. Yet she sees some grounds for hope, albeit from an unlikely source. “The [coronavirus] pandemic is teaching us a great deal,” she says….Thanks to these changes, CO2 output has dropped, which means fewer people will die from air pollution and respiratory illnesses….

      “Economic projections suggest it won’t be easy to get back to where we were,” she adds. “Part of the reset, which I hope is now underway, should involve thinking about more sustainable, just, and equitable ways of resuming our economic activity.”

      Brown’s current research, which explores a shift toward more energy-efficient and environmentally forgiving modes of farming, is aligned with that theme. While people today focus on the growth of financial indicators, she says, “we ignore the phenomenal growth around us—the ability of plants to create biomass, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, and fill our soils with nutrients. That’s the kind of growth that’s really radical, and that’s the kind of growth we should be promoting.”

Scientists: Admit You Have Values

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the April 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      As the U.S. recoils from the divisions of recent years and the scientific community tries to rebuild trust in science, scientists may be tempted to reaffirm their neutrality. If people are to trust us again, as I have frequently heard colleagues argue, we have to be scrupulous about not allowing our values to intrude into our science. This presupposes that value neutrality is necessary for public trust and that it is possible. But available evidence suggests that neither presumption is correct….

      Some will argue that value neutrality is an ideal toward which we should strive, even if we know it can't be achieved entirely. In the practice of science, this argument may hold. But what is useful in scientific research may be counterproductive in public communication because the idea of a trusted messenger implies shared values. Studies show that U.S. scientists want (among other things) to use their knowledge to improve health, make life easier, strengthen the economy through innovation and discovery, and protect people from losses associated with disruptive climate change.

      Opinion polls suggest that most Americans want many of these things, too; 73 percent of us believe that science has a mostly positive impact on society. If scientists decline to discuss their values for fear that they conflict with the values of their audiences, they may miss the opportunity to discover significant points of overlap and agreement. If, on the other hand, scientists insist on their value neutrality, they will likely come across as inauthentic, if not dishonest. A person who truly had no values—or refused to allow values to influence their decision-making—would be a sociopath!

      Value neutrality is a tinfoil shield. Rather than trying to hide behind it, scientists should admit that they have values and be proud that these values motivate research aiming to make the world abetter place for all.

What to Do about Natural Gas

[These excerpts are from an article by Michael E. Webber in the April 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      In the mid-2010s it became common to say that natural gas would be a bridge fuel to a zero-carbon future, in which solar, wind and other renewable technologies provide all of our energy without any carbon dioxide emissions to worsen climate change. But if natural gas is really a bridge, then it’s not part of the long-term plan. And if we actually build the bridge, we’re likely to stay on it….

      If we can clean emissions out of the natural gas system, it could be part of a carbon-neutral future instead of a bridge. The technology exists to extract the carbon or to transform the gas so that carbon coming out and carbon going in balance to zero or near zero.

      The first step in a comprehensive plan for decarbonizing the nation's energy infrastructure would be improving energy efficiency and conservation to reduce consumption. The second would be to electrify as many cars, space heaters, water heaters and cooktops as is practical, using renewable sources. At the same time, tighten up the leaky gas infrastructure. And replace as much natural gas as possible with low-carbon alternatives such as biogas, hydrogen and synthesized methane or use a process called pyrolysis at the end of the natural gas pipes to get the carbon out.

      Clean energy supporters rightly worry that any investment in gas infrastructure creates a lock-in effect. Each new power plant, pipeline or gas storage unit has an expected lifetime of 25 to 80 years, so each element could either become a trap for more emissions or a stranded asset. But we can solve the lock-in problem with drop-in alternatives to natural gas: low-carbon gases that can flow through existing pipes, tanks and power plants, taking advantage of those trillions of dollars of assets….

      The drop-in substitute most ready for natural gas is biomethane—methane gas produced from biological sources. Microbes inside large drums called anaerobic digesters chew up organic matter such as crop waste, manure, sewage, and food waste and other garbage in landfills, producing methane. Biodigesters, already a mature technology, transform waste streams at landfills and the waste lagoons adjacent to concentrated animal feeding operations from environmental liabilities into valuable commodities, generating revenues for municipalities and farmers….

      About a quarter of the more than 2,000 U.S. landfills now harvest their gas or process their waste into biogas using biodigesters. That only offsets less than 1 percent of the country's total natural gas use, however. Biogas can serve as a direct substitute for natural gas, but the relative volume, globally, is low. If a farm, landfill or sewage plant cannot readily use the gas to make electricity or is not next to a. gas grid, the biomethane might need to be liquefied and trucked to another location, reducing the carbon payoff. Still, biomethane is a commercially ready technology that can begin to decarbonize part of the gas system….

      Natural gas can be replaced altogether, with hydrogen. Turbines can burn hydrogen to generate electricity for the grid, and internal-combustion engines can burn it in heavy-duty vehicles. Hydrogen in fuel cells can produce electricity for cars, homes or offices. And hydrogen is a ready building block for many basic chemicals. Burning it, or reacting it in fuel cells, does not produce CO2. Leaked hydrogen has a warming effect that is just a fraction of that of methane….

      We can also manufacture hydrogen. Right now most hydrogen for industry is produced from steam re-forming of methane—adding heat and hot water to methane to create hydrogen and CO2. Electrolysis—using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen—can also create hydrogen gas. Both processes require significant amounts of energy, however.

      Moving and storing gaseous hydrogen is also a challenge. Because of hydrogen’s low density, it takes a lot of energy to move it through a pipe compared with denser gases such as methane or liquids such as petroleum. After several hundred kilometers the inefficiency makes moving hydrogen more expensive than the value of the energy it carries. And hydrogen can embrittle steel pipelines unless that is mitigated by altering operating conditions or incorporating expensive alloys.

      One way to integrate hydrogen is to mix it with methane in an existing natural gas pipeline. This blending decarbonizes some of the system by displacing a portion of the natural gas with hydrogen….

      Instead of decarbonizing natural gas before it goes into the pipeline, we could remove the carbon at the end of the pipe, where customers consume the gas. Methane, for example, can be split at the user’s location into hydrogen and solid carbon, which looks like a fine, black dust. The process, called methane pyrolysis, is efficient and eliminates CO2 emissions. Every kilogram of hydrogen produced from pyrolyzed methane generates three kilograms of solid carbon instead of nine kilograms of CO2 gas that would be emitted if the methane was burned.

      The pile of carbon dust that accumulates inside a collector in a furnace or stove would be carted away each month or so. We already pay garbage haulers and municipal wastewater-processing plants to clean up our solid and liquid wastes; we should pay to clean up the waste from our gas use, too. The carbon piles actually have value, though, because they can be sold as a basic ingredient for making graphite, rubber, coatings, batteries and chemicals, as well as a soil amendment for agriculture.

      …Pyrolysis of conventional natural gas can bring the entire system to nearly zero carbon. Adding methane from biodigesters or made from CO2 in the atmosphere using renewable electricity could make the system carbon-negative.

      Imagining any of these decarbonized futures might conjure up visions of large new industrial complexes or millions of small equipment changes for consumers. But so do other proposals to curb emissions. Electrifying every heater, stove and vehicle would require widespread technology replacement. Plans to directly pull CO2 from the air would require millions of big machines to capture the gas and sequester it—sprawling enterprises that would also demand lots of new land and new electricity.

      Decarbonized gas would let us take advantage of trillions of dollars of existing pipelines, equipment and appliances, saving huge sums of money and years of time in creating a zero-carbon energy system….

      Reining in climate change requires many solutions. Declaring who cannot be part of those, such as natural gas companies, only raises resistance to progress. Because decarbonized gas can complement renewable electricity and because it might be a faster, cheaper and more effective path for parts of society that are difficult to electrify, we should not discard gas as an option. We have a massive gas infrastructure, and we have to figure out what to do with it. Scrapping it would be slow, expensive and incredibly difficult, but we could instead put it to work to help create a low-carbon future.

Dire – but Not Wolves

[These excerpts are from an article by Riley Black in the April 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Dire wolves are iconic beasts. The remains of thousands of these extinct Pleistocene carnivores have been recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and the massive canids even played a prominent role in the television series Game of Thrones. But a hew study of dire wolf genetics has startled paleontologists: the authors found that these animals were not wolves at all, but rather the last of a canid lineage that evolved in North America.

      Ever since they were first described in the 1850s, dire wolves have captured the human imagination. Their remains have been found throughout much of the Americas, from Idaho to Bolivia. The La Brea asphalt seeps famously document how prey animals mired in tar lured many of these Ice Age predators to a sticky death. Dire wolves’ tar-preserved remains reveal an imposing hunter up to six feet long, with skull and jaw adaptations to take down enormous, struggling megafauna.

      Although these canids had clearly evolved to handle the mastodons, horses, bison and other large herbivores then roaming the Americas, skeletal resemblances between dire wolves and today’s smaller gray wolves suggested a close kinship. Paleontologists long assumed that dire wolves made themselves at home in North America before gray wolves followed them across the Bering Land Bridge from Eurasia. Now some well-preserved DNA may fundamentally change that story….

      The researchers hoped to pinpoint how dire wolves were related to other wolves. For decades, paleontologists have noted how similar dire wolves' and gray wolves'’ bones are….But the new evidence suggested otherwise. Preliminary genetic analyses indicated that dire and gray wolves were not close relatives….

      By sequencing five genomes from dire wolf fossils between 50,000 and 13,000 years old, the scientists found that the animals belonged to a much older lineage of dogs. Dire wolves, the data suggest, had evolved in the Americas and had no close kinship with the gray wolves from Eurasia; the last time gray wolves and dire wolves shared a common ancestor was about 5.7 millionyears ago. The strong resemblance between the two, the researchers say, is a case of convergent evolution. This occurs when different species develop similar adaptations—or even appearances—thanks to a similar way of life. Sometimes such convergence is only rough, such as both birds and bats evolving wings despite their differing anatomy. In the case of dire and gray wolves, a dedication to chasing large herbivores resulted in two different canid lineages independently producing t, similar wolflike forms….

      The study also adds layers to experts’ ruminations on why dire wolves eventually disappeared as the last ice Age closed. These predators had become specialized in hunting camels, horses, bison and other herbivores in North America over millions ofyears. As those prey sources disappeared, so did the dire wolves….

      Nor did dire wolves leave a genetic legacy beyond their ancient bones’ decaying DNA. Canids such as wolves and coyotes can mate and produce hybrids, but dire wolves apparently did not do so with any other canid species that remain alive today….

      By 13,000 years ago dire wolves were facing extinction. Evolving in Eurasia’s harsh, variable environments may have given gray wolves an edge….But the apparent end of the dire wolf's story is really only the beginning. Preserved genes have shown that dire wolves and their ancestors were top dogs in the Americas for more than five million years—and the early chapters of their story are waiting to be rewritten.

Stop Domestic Terrorism

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the April 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      In 2015 a white supremacist with a handgun walked into a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., and murdered nine worshippers. In 2019 a gunman went on a rampage in El Paso, Tex., and has been charged with 23 murders, as well as hate crimes for targeting Mexicans and immigrants. In June 2020 a man whom prosecutors described as a Ku Klux Klan leader drove his vehicle into a crowd of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Virginia, injuring several. That fall the U.S. Department of Homeland Security drafted warnings saying white supremacist extremists will remain “the most persistent and lethal threat” to the country. Then, on January 6, as Congress met to certify the presidential election, a deadly mob stormed the U.S. Capitol with clothing mocking Nazi death camps; flags celebrating the Confederacy and Donald Rump; and insignia of white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys and militia groups such as the Oath Keepers.

      The number of assaults by white supremacists has been climbing in recent years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has cited new highs in hate crimes: more than 7,000 in 2019, and that is likely an undercount. The Center for Strategic and International Studies notes in a report that “right-wing extremists perpetrated two thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.” Yet most law-enforcement agencies in the U.S. have remained focused on foreign-based “jihadi” terrorism, say experts in national security. Now is the time for the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress to take on the homegrown horror, with several effective initial steps.

      Domestic terrorism, as defined by federal law, consists of criminal acts on U.S. soil that are dangerous to human life and are intended to coerce and intimidate a civilian population. We do not know many details about the groups and individuals who take such actions or about their white supremacist connections….

      A bill now in Congress, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, would remedy this omission. It authorizes the creation of offices in three agencies—Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI—to monitor, investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism….

      Congress should also enact an antilynching law Lynching is an act of terror used by white supremacists, but it has never been a federal crime. Congress considered such a law last year with a bill aimed at conspiracies by two or more people to cause bodily harm in connection with a hate crime. Its passage would have empowered federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute such plots. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky stalled a vote on the bill with the meritless contention that it allowed extreme penalties against people who simply slapped their victims. The bill actually permits penalty ranges that vary with offense severity, and it should be reintroduced and passed.

      There is also an urgent need to root out extremism in law enforcement and the armed forces. Among the first 150 people arrested and charged with federal crimes after the attack on the Capitol, 21 were current or former members of the U.S. military, according to CNN. Some were affiliated with the Proud Boys….Most officers and service members are not extremists, of course. But little has been done to deal with those who are….Codes of military and police conduct need to be strengthened and breaches officially reported and pursued.

      Building on these steps, we can make it clear that homegrown terror and bigotry are real crimes. With real punishments.

Technology and Scientific Habits of Mind

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the March/April 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …Ben Cichy, an engineer, tweeted the following: “Got a 2.4 GPA my first semester in college. Thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for engineering. Today I've landed two spacecraft on Mars, and designing one for the moon. STEM is hard for everyone. Grades ultimately aren’t what matters. Curiosity and persistence matter.”

      Curiosity and persistence matter. STEM careers depend on these two ways of thinking. Technology companies look to hire individuals who provide evidence they are curious, engage in problem solving, and are persistent. A Google interviewer asked an interviewee “How many dimples are in a golf ball?” The interviewer was looking for how the interviewee would use problem solving skills to answer the question. The interviewee said nothing and broke into tears. Needless to say, the interviewer was disappointed in the lack of creative thinking with a question where the “right” answer was not being looked for but the approach to the question was of the utmost im-portance.

      What emphasis do we place on the two habits of mind, curiosity and perseverance, in our science teaching? Do creativity and innovation play a prominent role in our everyday teaching? If not, we are missing many opportunities for joy, surprise, and wonder on a regular basis. If we are too busy covering the content instead of providing a place for uncovering the science content with the students, then many chances for curiosity and wonder are lost.

      Now, for a reality check. Yes, I know many states base their teacher evaluations on student test scores. I know science teachers are forced to march through the state or national curriculum at break-neck speed, although by doing this, the overall mission of science is often overlooked….

      Our role as science teachers is to help students like Ben Cichy learn the skills of persistence and perseverance. We need to provide them with the opportunity to go to the far reaches of their curiosity and to explore areas they are inherently interested in within the realm of our subject matter….

      Just imagine the joy on students’ faces when their innovation comes to life and compare that to those who finish some sort of mindless worksheet designed to supposedly enhance standardized test scores. No comparison.

      The world is moving forward with technological advances. Is our science teaching keeping up by preparing our students to be curious, persistent, and overflowing with perseverance?

President’s Note

[These excerpts are from a letter by John Seager in the March 2021 issue of Population Connection.]

      …The Population Bomb was published less than a decade after the Great Famine in China, which took perhaps 30 million lives. And, as it was being written, some 1.5 million people in Africa were dying from famine. So, it’s hardly surprising that hunger threats were front-and-center. At the same time The Population Bomb was released, Norman Borlaug and his team were laying the groundwork for the Green Revolution, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. In his acceptance speech, he warned against complacency in terms of threats posed by population growth.

      Yet, the Green Revolution led some to claim that population growth wasn't a problem and that The Population Bomb was a false alarm. But the evidence clearly shows that there was—and still is—a fire in our global theater….those higher I crop yields that reduced famine and hunger are partly due to increased use of petrochemicals for fertilizers, insecticides, and greater mechanization.

      Massive use of fossil fuel products is causing our planet to descend into climate chaos. Related to that, we’re in the midst of the Sixth Extinction. Plus, nearly two-thirds of the people on earth may experience water scarcity at least one month each year. At the same time, we’re adding 80 million people to the planet annually. Sounds like a true population crisis, doesn’t it?...

Ed Tech’s Failure During the Pandemic, and What Comes After

[These excerpts are from an article by Justin Reich in the March 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      Predactions of imminent transformation are among the most reliable refrains in the history of education technology. In 1913, for example, Thomas Edison told an interviewer, “Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools. Scholars will be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years….” Ten years later, when his prediction had failed to come to pass, he stuck to his position, but with an expanded window of time: “I think motion pictures have just started and it is my opinion that in 20 years children will be taught through pictures and not through textbooks….”

      One hundred years after Edison, education technology evangelists have persisted in arguing that we are on the cusp of a profound transformation in schooling. In 2008, the late Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, wrote a book called Disrupting Class in which he predicted that by 2019 half of all secondary school courses would be replaced by adaptive online learning where “the cost will be one-third of today's costs, and the courses will be much better….” Salman Khan from Khan Academy gave a 2011 TED Talk called “Let’s use video to reinvent education,” in which he imagined students learning core math concepts at their own pace at individual computer terminals, while teachers gathered small groups of students for remediation, projects, or other enrichment. The 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra…went further and argued that all of these schools and courses were unnecessary, and that “groups of children with access to the Internet can learn anything by themselves.”

      Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic blighted the world, and more than 1.6 billion learners had their schooling interrupted. Parents everywhere, clinging to their very last shred of sanity, report that, in fact, children with laptops cannot learn anything by themselves, and can't even go more than about five blessed minutes without needing a snack or help with a password. While a small group of students have thrived under the independence of remote learning…, for most students and families the results have ranged from disappointing to disastrous. It's not just that technology failed to transform educational systems; when the world needed it most, the latest and greatest education technologies haven't done much to invigorate emergency remote learning….

      As schools have transitioned to remote and hybrid learning, they have made only sparing use of emerging technologies like adaptative tutors, open online courses, virtual reality, or artificial intelligence. Mostly, schools have adopted two of our oldest digital education technologies: learning management systems and video conferencing.

      Learning management systems….basically just let teachers and students pass documents back and forth, making them the digital equivalent of the folder with one side labeled “bring home” and the other side labeled “send to school” that elementary school students are supposed to keep in their backpacks.

      Video conferencing…allows people at a distance to talk in turns with the speaker and other listeners appearing onscreen….video communication does not allow for seamless group interaction. Teaching through Zoom is like teaching through a keyhole: With some awkward straining, you can sort of see and hear what's happening on the other side, but it's not really conducive to meaningful conversation.

      During the pandemic, the primary virtue of these two technologies has been that they allow teachers to partially replicate the typical routines of in-person classrooms. Teachers can shout lectures through the video keyhole, respond to student questions in the Zoom chat, and collect worksheets through the learning management system, and thus create a Kabuki theatre version of a school day. However, for the vast majority of teachers, students, and families, this digital facsimile of school is woefully inadequate. For most students, it’s boring and uninspiring, and for most teachers, it's frustrating and unrewarding….

      …Experienced instructional designers can create powerful experiences using these tools, but remote classrooms relying primarily on a learning management system and video conferen.dng cannot support the range of interactions that are possible in a classroom with a human teacher who has access to chairs, desks, paper, blackboards, and a cart of laptops.

      …even these tools for mathematics learning, which stand out among learning apps for their relatively strong evidence of effectiveness, don't work equally well for everybody, in every situation. In a home learning context, for example, they appear to work better for students who have a high interest in math, high levels of parental support, or a tendency to respond positively to the extrinsic rewards of points, stickers, and so forth. And, of course, they are much less useful to students without sufficient internet access, trying to use them with the engine running in a McDonald’s parking lot.

      …Millions of dollars and many brilliant researchers have tackled this assessment challenge for decades, but, for all ofour breakthroughs in machine learning and artificial intelligence, computers won’t be able to give much useful feedback on many of the most common tasks that teachers assign in classrooms — at least not for the foreseeable future….

      In April and May of 2020, my colleagues and interviewed 40 teachers across the country about their experiences teaching during the pandemic (Reich et al., 2020), and one of the most common concerns during these early stages of emergency remote instruction was that schools were sending students home with too many apps and routines, often a different set for each of their classes….

      Another limitation of remote instruction in particular, and teaching with technology in general, is the long-term, developmental process required to do it well….

      …It takes time, even for master teachers, to get to be good at teaching with technology. At first, teachers tend to use new technologies to extend existing practices. Only with time, practice, experimentation, and support do they move on to more novel applications.

      …During the pandemic, nobody has figured out a genuinely new and more successful way to provide remote instruction, one that might be replicated across the country….

      First, the pandemic should remind us that to use technology effectively; teachers need intensive support and extensive practice. They cannot take advantage of new tools and platforms without meaningful opportunities for professional development and coaching….

      The second lesson is darker: This may not be the only global pandemic that today's children have to endure. As humans reengineer the geochemistry of the planet to be inhospitable to human civilization, climate scientists predict that there will be more disease outbreaks, more floods, more fires, more unbreathable air, and more extreme weather events….

Doubling Down on our Earthly Interventions

[These excerpts are from a book report by Ken Caldeira in the 19 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      …If we are unable to retreat and cannot remain where we are, how do we advance? Kolbert is a top journalist, but she is no pundit, and she offers no easy answers.

      The book begins with a visit to the canals of Chicago. The Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes basin were two distinct and biologically separate drainage basins until a little more than a century ago, Kolbert reveals, but early in the 20th century, canals were built, connecting Lake Michigan to a tributary of the Mississippi River.

      For most of the past century; the canal was too polluted to allow much biological transfer, but with the passage of the Clean Water Act, it has become passable by fish in recent decades, resulting in a bidirectional invasion of species into previously distinct habitats, To mitigate this problem, engineers have deployed devices in the canal to create an electric field that shocks species attempting to cross between the two waterways. A “bubble barrier” that uses water bubbles and sound as a deterrent, with an estimated cost of $775 million, is also in the works.

      From the canals of Chicago, Kolbert takes readers south to New Orleans and the Mississippi River delta. Once a freely meandering river, seasonally flooding and dropping sediment, the Mississippi was gradually tamed and its free flows channeled….

      With much of New Orleans below sea level already, society is faced with a stark choice: to retreat or to mount a heroic (but ultimately futile) defense. Short-term interests all but remove the first option from consideration.

      Moving westward, we learn that lakes and streams once snaked through U.S. deserts. Over time, as the climate dried up, many of the region’s waterways became disconnected, leaving tiny fish isolated and evolving into species not found anywhere else. As ranches drill for irrigating water, and the water tables fall, caves are drying up, likely causing the extinction of some of these evolutionary anomalies….

      …Ocean temperatures are rising because of humanity's addiction to fossil fuels. Cane toads are destroying Australian ecosystems because we introduced them to control insects on agricultural lands….

      Science and technology have brought us this far, but they have also contributed to the current mess in which we find ourselves, so it is only sensible to be skeptical of our ability to engineer ourselves out of this predicament. Most of the researchers with whom Kolbert spoke shared this perspective….if we do get out of this mess, it will be because of the efforts of scientists and technologists who are searching for solutions during a time when humanity seems an implacable Uorce and nature an immovable object.

Once upon a Tree

[These excerpts are from an article by Kate Morgan in the March/April 20210 issue of Sierra.]

      …Between 1904 and 1940, some 3.5 billion American chestnut trees, the giants of the Appalachian hardwood forest, succumbed to a fungal blight called Cryphonectria parasitica.

      The loss was stunning—not just for sprawling ecosystems across much of the eastern United States, where the tree was a keystone species, but also for the Appalachian way of life. At the dawn of the 20th century, hundreds of millions of chestnut board feet were milled annually, fueling a multibillion-dollar timber industry (as measured in today’s dollars). With the trees and their profitable nuts and timber gone, a culture of forest-based subsistence began to fade in the mountains, just as another business started to boom. By 1920, there were 11,000 coal mines working to meet America's growing energy needs. The Appalachian landscape was reshaped twice over: first by the death of the chestnuts, then by a century of anthracite coal mining that stripped and scarred the earth, leaving piles of rubble in its wake.

      By almost any metric, the American chestnut was a perfect tree. Massive, fast-growing, and rot-resistant, it was easy to mill into cabin logs, furniture, fence posts, and railroad ties. After being harvested, it resprouted; in 20 years, it was ready for the sawyer again. Wide limbs spanned the canopy, filtering sunlight and creating a diverse, layered forest below. Sweet, acorn-size nuts fed squirrels, deer, raccoons, and bears. Cooper’s hawks nested in the high branches, wild turkeys in the lower forks. Insects thrived in the craggy bark, which was naturally tannic and a good choice for preserving hides. Cherokee people made dough from the crushed nuts, treated heart troublis with the leaves, and dressed wounds with astringent brewed from the sprouts. And in the fall, when the chestnuts piled up in carpets half a foot thick, white settler families collected and sold them by the bushel. One railroad station in West Virginia shippid 155,000 pounds of chestnuts to destinations along its northern route.

      In a range stretching from southern Maine to the Florida Panhandle and west to the Mississippi River, the chestnut dominated the landscape, accounting for a quarter of all trees in the eastern hardwood forest. In Appalachia, the heart of the tree’s native range, generations of people were rocked in-chestnut cradles and buried in chestnut caskets.

      But the dominance wouldn’t last. In 1904, a forester noticed something odd happening to the chestnuts at the Bronx Zoo in New York. The trees were developing cankers surrounded by strange spotty, orange-yellow patches. He called in mycologist William A. Murrill to examine the fungus. By the time Murrill published his findings just over a year later, the disease had spread to New Jersey, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia….

      Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture would later, determine that the fungus had arrived on ornamental Japanese chestnuts imported as early as 1876. When the blight was discovered at the Bronx Zoo, it was already too late to stop it.

      …Once Cryphonectria parasitica colonizes a wound on '1 an American chestnut, it's unstoppable. It polishes off the already-dead tissue, then secretes oxalic acid, a toxin that kills more and more of the chestnut's cells, feeding the fungus but killing the tree.

      Carried on the wind, the blight spread an estimated 50 miles a year, tree by tree. First a canker would appear, causing the bark to bulge or sink. Soon. the wound would burst open, sending spores sailing outward from an ocher-colored blotch, the tree’s inner layers exposed. The mighty upper limbs died first, then the trunk. By 1910, coalitions had been formed and quarantine lines drawn. Boy Scouts were enlisted to scour forests and cut down blighted trees….It was no use. By the time the blight had run its course, nearly 4 billion American chestnuts across some 300,000 square miles were gone….

      The American chestnut does have one defense mechanism against the blight While the tree aboveground dies, often what’s beneath the soil remains viable. Chestnut roots in Appalachian forests are constantly shooting up new sprouts. They resemble shrubs more than trees—live stems clustered around a dry, dead one, with serrated oval leaves that pop, golden yellow, against the underbrush. There are an estimated 430 million wild American chestnuts still growing in their native range, and while the majority of them are less than an inch in diameter, they're easy to find if you know what you're looking for. But even these persistent saplings are doomed. Most survive only five or 10 years before the blight gets them too.

      Meanwhile, the coal industry has left its own wake of destruction in the Appalachian forest. In a single scoop, an average-sizs Bucyrus-Erie dragline can move more than 100 tons of earth. This machine drove the biggest technological shift mining has ever seen, wiping out ecosystems as well as a lot of the underground mining jobs that had rescued the region’s economy after the chestnuts died off.

      It takes a skeleton crew to run a strip mine, using explosives to blast apart several hundred feet of ground and reveal the anthracite layer beneath. The dragline lifts away the topsoil and rock and deposits it in nearby valleys, reshaping entire topographies and leaving behind wide swaths of barren, contaminated land. While a raft of federal and state regulations require the cleanup of former mine sites, even the best remediation techniques often fall short of returning the stripped land to anything resembling a natural state.

      …By some estimates, a million or more acres of Appalachian forest were denuded by the coal companies and then converted, in the name of reclamation, into pasture areas with low or nonexistent biodiversity.

      …Not much thrives in the torn-up, thin, and acidic soil, but chestnuts seem to love it. Superimpose maps of the historic chestnut range and the coalfields and the two overlap almost exactly.

      …The open landscape means saplings don't have to compete for sunlight. The acidic ground offers chestnuts the low-pH earth they prefer. And because the topsoil was carried outwith the coal, there’s no Phytophthora, a dirt-dwelling, root-rot-causing mold that has plagued chestnut test plantings elsewhere.

      Most of these trees will eventually succumb to Cryphonectria parasitica. In the meantime, however, the plantings offer. an opportunity to observe how trees produced by the breeding program- grow and what, if any, blight resistance they may have….

      Genetically speaking, Darling 58 is an entirely American chestnut with one extra gene that gives it a bonus characteristic: resistance to Cryphonectria parasitica….

      But release into the wild, Powell and Fitzsimmons agree, —1 is the next step on the. road to restoration. In early 2020, Powell and his team submitted a nearly 300-page.petition to the USDA, requesting that the agency deregulate Darling 58, making it legal for anyone to plant it anywhere. The move would be the first time a genetically modified organism was approved for release into the wild….

From the Ashes

[These excerpts are from an article by Austyn Gaffney in the March/April 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …Amid this patchwork of farm fields fortified with gray matchstick forests sits two centuries’ worth of waste from the coal industry. Since the United States began burning coal on an industrial scale in the 19th century, upwards of 35 percent of the immolated material has fallen to the bottom of boilers as ash. That ash has then been removed, mixed with water, and placed in ponds and landfills. Over 3 billion tons of it now occupy more than 1,400 sites across the United States. According to the industry’s own data, over 90 percent of these sites contaminate groundwater with almost two dozen heavy and radioactive metals—including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium; and radium—at levels exceeding the EPA’s health standards. A 2014 EPA study revealed that living next to a coal ash waste site increases one's risk of getting cancer from drinking groundwater laced with arsenic.

      Because of a dubious system engineered by industry groups, coal ash isn’t regulated as hazardous waste….

      …In 2007, the iPhone was born, with daz-zling capabilities made possible in part by rare earth elements. Today, they can be found in everything from speaker systems to windshield wipers. The speed of the accompanying technological revolution was matched only by that of the unmitigated climate crisis. Moving forward, we need renewable energy to power not only our virtual world but also electric vehicles and the batteries needed to store energy from wind and solar. These technologies, and our clean-power future, require rare earths.

      Over the past five years, the US Department ofEnergy has invested millions in finding these critical elements in coal waste….

      Figuring out how to upcycle the country’s coal ash would be a game changer. When coal utilities shut down, billions of tons of toxic coal ash can be abandoned in place. The question of what to do with the waste—how to clean it up and, for some, how to capitalize on it—has led to a whole industry based on its reuse….Instead of mining and incinerating coal to generate electricity, the coal economy of the future could take the form of cleaning up and mining the industry’s historic waste….

      Coal ash has been spread out across the country, not only in ponds and landfills but also in a complex, largely unchecked network of reuse. The question of what to do with this waste—intern it, reuse it, or extract critical minerals like rare earth elements from it—is the latest predicament facing the coal industry.

      Between 1966 and 2017, coal-mining companies and utilities dumped more than 4 billion tons of coal ash across the United States. Since the 1970s, approximately 1.5 billion tons of coal ash has been put to “beneficial use,” a greenwashing term adopted by the American Coal Ash Association, an industry group that promotes the goal of reusing 100 percent of coal ash….

      Increasing the scope of beneficial use rids utilities of one of their biggest liabilities: the coal ash waste they’ve left behind as their units have shuttered. It can save utilities money, ' reducing the need to build modern, properly lined landfills to store the dry ash high above the water table and away from local communities….

      Upcycling coal ash isn’t a new concept. In its physical characteristics, coal ash is similar to the volcanic ash that Romans used in concrete to build the Colosseum and the aqueducts that still curve through Rome. Their ash was harvested near Pozzuoli, Italy, a region shadowed by Mt. Vesuvius. Today, the properties in ash that make concrete more durable and long-lasting are described as pozzolanic. As early as the 1940s, coal ash’s pozzolanic structure was used to strengthen dams including the Hungry Horse Dam in Montana and the Hoover Dam, bridging Arizona and Nevada.

      This EPA-approved form of waste recycling—reusing coal ash as a replacement for portland cement in concrete dams and bridges—is called encapsulation. In 2019, over 70 percent of the coal fly ash that was reused was encapsulated in concrete….

      Perhaps the worst form ofreuse is “structural fill”—a term the EPA uses to refer to the mountains of coal ash dumped across both lined and unlined landscapes. Long criticized by environmental groups as one of the most damaging forms for public health and the environment, structural fill is the most prominent use for unencapsulated coal ash. The ash is used in the foundations of houses, underneath driveways and roads, and in public parks and golf courses. It’s also used to bolster embankments and fortify defunct mines.

      These practices of reusing coal ash waste went unregulated for decades until 2015, when the EPA under the Obama administration finalized the first-ever federal regulation of coal ash. Known as the Coal Ash Rule, the regulation was immediately contested by industry and environmental groups, with the former claiming it went too far, the latter that it didn’t go far enough (for example, it failed to define coal ash as hazardous waste). Still, the new rule offered long-overdue protections.

      The EPA described the unencapsulated placement of coal ash as “akin to disposal” but “under the guise of ‘beneficial use.’” The damage from unencapsulated coal ash disposal, the EPA found; resulted in “by far the largest number of documented cases in the history of the RCRA program [the federal law monitoring waste disposal].” Of the EPA’s 158 reports of coal ash contamination with high pollutant re-leases, at least 22 of the cases were caused by fill. At nearly halfthese fill-sites, coal ash had contaminated drinking water above the EPA’s health standards….

      The restrictions laid out in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule were minimal. Even so, in 2018, the Trump administration tried to roll them back (its proposal for doing so is still tied up in court). Without regulatory controls or oversight, the placement of ash on or in land isn’t subject to public notice, monitoring, dust control, or any safeguards that protect community and environmental health….

      The American Coal Ash Association reported that between 2000 and 2017, 118.4 million tons of coal ash became fill, enough to bury Kentucky in three feet of solid waste. But even this vast amount is a gross underestimation. The ACAA only compiles the tonnage that companies voluntarily report. Further, the EPA doesn’t track fill applications, and “structural fill” doesn’t include other land placements….

      The United States produces a lot of coal ash, but the amount of rare earths extracted from coal refuse is still incredibly slight compared with what’s extracted through traditional mining. According to Hower, it takes five metric tons of coal ash to produce one kilogram of rare earth elements, depending on the concentration. The average concentration of rare earths in coal ash is 500 parts per million, while the concentration of rare earths in mined ore is about 40 times that. The economics of extracting 500 parts per million of rare earths doesn’t, on its own, make sense….

Something in the Air

[These excerpts are from an article by Lydia Lee in the March/April 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      In August 2018, 14-year-old Alexandra Collins was about to start high school. She was looking forward to playing lacrosse and hanging out with her friends. Then she read in the local paper that Sterigenics, a company near where she lives in Hinsdale, Illinois, had been emitting high levels of ethylene oxide (EtO), a carcinogenic gas used to sterilize medical equipment. According to the EPA, this gas had increased the risk of cancer by approximately nine times the national average in areas near the plant….

      When Collins brought it up with her peers, many were unaware of the alarming situation. She discussed it with her biology teacher, who told her that ethylene oxide is especially harmful to young people whose bodies are still developing. So Collins and her older sister, Catherine, decided to launch a letter-writing campaign. They gave PowerPoint presentations during their science and history classes, explaining how the chemical alters the genetic composition of organisms and how at sterilization plants like Sterigenics the gas can escape into the atmosphere through back vents. After their presentations, they handed out note cards so students could write to their government officials right away….

      The EPA has listed more than 100 census tracts that have higher-than-average cancer rates, some linked to EtO exposure. After the sisters learned more about other areas battling the chemical, they decided to cofound the nonprofit Students Against Ethylene Oxide (SAEtO). They connected with students at other schools, attended community meetings, and lobbied lawmakers. In fall 2019, partly in response to pressure from activists and other citizens, the Sterigenics plant shut down permanently. SAEt0 has now expanded to 12 chapters (two more are forming in Mexico and Guatemala) and is pushing for legislation that would ban companies from emitting ethylene oxide within a three-mile radius of schools.

      Through her advocacy, Collins learned that the gas is also used to fumigate spices and cosmetics. She and a few other students started a consumer awareness campaign called EtO-Free….

Rights for a River

[These excerpts are from an article by Rebecca Renner in the March/April 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …The Little Wekiva is a tributary of the Wekiva River, which is choked by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and the accompanying nuisance algae and aquatic weeds. About 1 million pounds of nitrogen from septic tanks, water treatment plants, agricultural waste, and fertilizers on lawns and golf courses leaches into Wekina basin groundwater each year, and pollution also troubles the nearby Econlockhatchee River. In 2018, toxic algal blooms in both Lake Okeechobee and coastal waters combined to endanger wildlife and local water sources, forcing biologists to measure animal die-offs by the ton.

      Then came the November 2020 election—and local citizens’ response to the chronic water pollution. Residents of Orange County, the home of Orlando’s theme parks as well as its biologically rich wetlands, voted to amend their county charter to grant rights to the Econlockhatchee and Wekiva Rivers. The Right to Clean Water Charter Amendment declares that “all Citizens of Orange County have a right to clean water” and that the county’s waterways have a “right to exist, Flow, to be protected against Pollution, and to maintain a healthy ecosystem.”

      The election outcome made Orange County the most populous jurisdiction in the United States to recognize legal rights for nature. More than 500,000 people voted yes on the Rig ht to Clean Water Charter Amendment, making this seemingly esoteric legislation, which passed by a landslide margin of 89 to 11 percent, the most popular item on the ballot….

      In 2008, Ecuador rewrote its constitution and included clauses that granted rights to nature—provisions that businesses have since sought to challenge on dozens of occasions but that have survived legal assaults. In 2017, New Zealand passed legislation to grant legal personhood to the Whanganul River, a victory for the Indigenous Maori people, who spent more than a century fighting for the river's rights in court. Bolivia, Colombia, and Bangladesh have also established laws recognizing, to various degrees, the rights of nonhuman nature….

      In March 2020, Speak Up Wekiva and its supporters succeeded in getting the right-to-clean-water measure on the county ballot. Then they had to make a compelling case to voters to pass it….

      O'Neal and fellow advocates often promoted the measure using the plainest language, pointing out to voters that the amendment would prohibit pollution of Orange County waters while also allowing any local citizen to sue polluters on behalf of the river. Sometimes they made bigger appeals, such as arguing that since the US SupreMe Court had recognized legal personhood for corporations, shouldn't rivers be people too?

      Eventually, some local politicians started to embrace the proposed amendment….

      On Election Day, the contest wasn’t even close.The clean-wateramendment's passage marked a trans-partisan victory for the environment; according to county voting records, some 134,000Trump voters also thoughtthe rivers should have legal rights.

      Now, Florida clean-water advocates are pivoting to ensure that the county law remains in force and that state officials in Tallahassee don’t attempt to invalidate it….

      …The question now is whether state officials will try to enforce the provision or look the other way. It’s not inconceivable that Florida officials will try to dodge….

Dispatches from Life’s Blurry Boundaries

[These excerpts are from a book review by Rob Dunn in the 12 March 20issue of Science.]

      Carl Zimmer’s Life’s Edge is a departure from his previous work in that it is a book that is as much about what scientists have so far failed to understand as what they have come to understand. As its subtitle suggests, this book is about how life is defined, how life arose, and how we tell life from nonlife. These topics seem as though they would be of great concern to the field of biology—biology being, after all, the study of (“ology”) life (“bio”)—but they have rarely received much formal attention, occupying the scientific margins for hundreds of years and appearing on center stage every so often only to quickly retreat.

      Zimmer begins with a story from the - early 1900s in which a physicist named John Butler Burke synthesized “highly organized bodies” that resembled microbial colonies using radium and sterilized beef broth. Newspapers buzzed with exciting headlines, proclaiming that Burke had discovered the “secret of life.” But the scientist’s fame and success were short-lived, his discovery a false start. The book is full of such false starts, including the notable period during which the biologist Thomas Huxley became convinced that life evolved from a kind of primal slime that coats the bottom of the sea. (Spoiler alert: It did not.)

      …When does the life of one generation begin and that of the previous generation end? Is a bacterial spore that is not metabolizing alive or dead or something else? If a human body is partially human cells and partially bacterial cells, and the bacterial cells go on living after the human cells have died, has the organism died? If some of the human cells go on living and dividing, has the human died? Zimmer shows that the more one searches for answers to these questions, the more such answers retreat.

      Throughout the book, Zimmer illustrates how our behavior and our conceptions of birth, death, and organismal boundaries are very human-centric. For each species, these criteria are different, sometimes substantially so. The “bodies” of slime molds, for instance, can break apart, dry out, and drift in the wind when times are tough, only to reunite again under better circumstances.

      …studies of species such as tardigrades that can enter life stages in which they are quiescent and neither dead nor fully alive, to research on when early human ancestors began to afford the dead special status by burying them. Meanwhile, the poems of Erasmus Darwin are set alongside Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the chemistry of urea, to fascinating effect….

      By the end of this book, I felt challenged as a biologist to pull together my colleagues to talk about the big issues related to the limits of life, the origins of life, and the margins of life. We do not have these conversations often, probably partly because we are all so specialized, but also likely because the beginnings of life and the origins of life have become politicized.

      …By the end of the book, Zimmer had fully convinced me that the question of what it means to be alive is also best answered according to the purposes for which we ask—and that such inquiries will yield different outcomes depending on how we ask them.

Ancient Earth Was a Water World

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 12 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      Across the ages, sea levels have risen and fallen with temperatures—but Earth’s total surface water was always assumed to be constant. Now, evidence is mounting that some 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, the planet's oceans held nearly twice as much water—enough to submerge today’s continents above the peak of Mount Everest. The Rood could have primed the engine of plate tectonics and made it more difficult for life to start on land.

      Rocks in today’s mantle, the thick layer beneath the crust, are thought to sequester an ocean's worth of water or more in their mineral structures. But early in Earth’s history, the mantle, warmed by radioactivity, was four times hotter. Now, experiments in hydraulic presses have shown that many minerals would not hold as much hydrogen and oxygen at those mantle temperatures….

      The paper makes intuitive sense, says Michael Walter, an experimental petrologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “It’s a simple idea that could have important implications.”

      Two mantle minerals store much of its water today: wadsleyite and ringwoodite, high-pressure variants of the volcanic mineral olivine. Rocks rich in them make up 7% of the planet's mass, and although only 2% of their weight is water today, “a little bit adds up to a lot….”

      …Titanium concentrations in 4-billion-year-old zircon crystals from Western Australia suggest they formed underwater. And some of the oldest known rocks on Earth, 3-billion-year-old formations in Australia and Greenland, are pillow basalts, bulbous rocks that form as magma cools underwater….

      Although the larger ocean would have made it harder for the continents to stick their necks out, it could explain why they appear to have been on the move early in Earth’s history….Larger oceans could have helped kick off plate tectonics as water penetrated fractures and weakened the crust, creating subduction zones where one slab of crust slipped below another. And once a subducting slab began its dive, the dryer, inherently stronger mantle would have helped bend the slab, ensuring its plunge would continue….

      The evidence for larger oceans challenges scenarios for how life began on Earth….Some researchers believe it began at nutrient-rich hydrothermal vents in the ocean, whereas others favor shallow ponds on dry land, which would have frequently evaporated, creating a concentrated bath of chemicals.

      A larger ocean exacerbates a problem with the underwater scenario: The ocean itself might have diluted any nascent biomolecules to insignificance. But by drowning most land, it also complicates the shallow pond scenario….

      The ancient water world is also a reminder of how conditional Earth’s evolution is. The planet was likely parched until water-rich asteroids bombarded it shortly after its birth. If the asteroids had deposited twice as much water, or if the present-day mantle had less appetite for water, then the continents, so essential for the planet’s life and climate, would never have emerged….

Broadband Boosters

[These excerpts are from an article by Chelsea Sheasley in the March/April 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      It’s clear that US students would be in a fax worse position if Zoom, Google Classroom, and other tech platforms weren’t keeping education afloat during the pandemic. But it isn’t working well for everyone, and the heavy reliance on technology is creating greater inequalities across an already uneven playing field. Poor or rural students and those who have a learning disability face the biggest barriers with virtual and hybrid learning. Educators are worried that these students, who were most vulnerable before the pandemic, have been dealt a crippling blow.

      The silver lining: the crisis is spurring action to close some of these gaps once and for all….

      Many school districts made tremendous efforts over the spring and summer to distribute tablets and Chromebooks to students. That closed the digital divide somewhat, but Black and Hispanic households were still less likely than white ones to have reliable internet connections and access to devices….

      That means a large share of the children who lack the , basic tools necessary for online learning are children of color….Perhaps as a result of these discrepancies, those kids were also half as likely as white students to have had any live contact with their teacher in the past week.

      So while white students may finish the current school year between four and eight months behind in math, students of color may be six to 12 months behind….

      …these disparities stem in part from the lingering digital divide and in part from the fact that students of color are more likely to be learning remotely….Among other reasons, their parents may be keeping them in remote school because of high covid-19 rates in their communities and distrust in authorities who say it’s safe to go back….

      The big question, of course, is how the pandemic will affect students’ educational, progress and the broader economy in the long run. The answer is still unclear and will depend in large part on what happens next. But preliminary reports paint a bleak picture….

      One conclusion is clear: all students need reliable, high-speed internet at home, and will even when most are back in school. School administrators now see it as their job to make sure students have laptops or tablets and solid broadband connections to use them on….

      On its own, expanding internet access won’t make remote learning work for everyone or do much to remedy the learning loss that’s already occurred.

      With the pandemic’s end in sight, educators are discussing how to held the country’s 53.1 million kindergarten and school children make up for lost time. They’re starting to make plans for how to reboot traditional education while preserving the benefits of remote learning….

      Researchers also hope to see support for academic interventions such as high-intensity tutoring and summer acceleration academies, with students participating either remotely or in person. The United Kingdom launched a national in-school tutoring program to address learning setbacks due to covid-19, and many education researchers suggest the US do the same. Studies show that frequent, sustained tutoring on top of a student’s regular classes can make a real difference.

      …the pandemic is also opening educators’ minds to new ways of integrating technology into the classroom, but he cautions that this can’t replace human instruction in learning….

Remote Everything

[These excerpts are from an article by Sandy Ong in the March/April 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Though changes happened everywhere, those in two particularly important services—health care and education—had huge impacts on people’s overall well-being and quality of life. Online tools like Zoom suddenly became critical lifelines for many. But the most significant change was not in the technology itself—teleconferencing and telemedicine have long been available—but in our behavior….

      At its peak last April, the pandemic forced school closures in more than 170 countries, affecting nearly 1.6 billion children. As traditional schooling became virtual across most of the globe, Asia witnessed a parallel trend—a surge in demand for services such as those offered by the Hong Kong-based online tutoring company Snapask.

      Snapask now has more than 3.5 million users in nine Asian countries—double the number it had before the pandemic….

      Private tutoring has always been exceedingly popular in China and other Asian countries such as South Korea and Singapore, where eight in 10 primary school students receive out-of-school support. The pandemic has raised the profile of online tutoring services, which have quickly become as much a part of many students’ days as their scheduled classes.

      Many schools just weren’t prepared for the switch to virtual teaching, especially in the pandemic’s early stages. Online tutors helped fill gaps in instruction and were able to focus more on students' individual needs….

      All that said, inequality is a big barrier to scaling up both virtual schooling and online tutoring. Only 56% of people in Indonesia, for example, have internet access, according to statistics from 2019. And even in wealthier countries such as South Korea, where 99.5% of the population has Internet access, the government had to step in and lend computers to low-income students.

      At the same time, online tutoring does connect students in less developed regions with better instructors in urban areas. That’s probably why some students in China’s smaller cities have stuck with it even as schools return to normal….

      Another important lesson to carry forward is that teachers should be encouraged to think differently and teach in new ways….

      That remote health care is having a moment isn’t surprising. Remote video and phone consultations were already on the rise. Change often happens slowly in health care, but covid-19 supercharged that trend….

      The pandemic pushed hospitals worldwide to a breaking point, and patients stayed away—whether out of fear or because they bad to. Many turned to telemedicine. In the US, for instance, the proportion of people using it skyrocketed from 11% in 2019 to 46% a year later….

      Like remote learning, remote health care often requires high-speed internet, which isn’t always readily available in the developing world. But cell-phone penetration is now over 80% in Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, and some other parts of Africa….

      There’s no doubt that the pandemic has made many people more comfortable with using both telehealth and remote education. And that probably won’t go away. The pandemicwill end, but our habits and preferences have evolved since it began.

      Although remote services won't work for every checkup or lesson, they can make people’s lives easier and better in many cases. The pandemic was a stress test for these services, and they proved capable of delivering much of what we needed, when and where we needed it. As we emerge from our homes, more of our lives than we might expect will continue to be lived online….

Lithium-Metal Batteries

[These excerpts are from an article by James Temple in the March/April 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      For all the hype and hope around electric vehicles, they still make up only about 2% of new car sales in the US and just a little more globally.

      For many buyers, they’re simply too expensive, their range is too limited, and charging them isn’t nearly as quick and convenient as refueling at the pump.

      All these limitations have to do with the lithium-ion batteries that power the vehicles. They’re costly, heavy, and quick to run out of juice. To make matters worse, the batteries rely on liquid electrolytes that can burst into flames during collisions.

      Making electric cars more competitive with gas-powered ones will require a breakthrough battery that remedies Lthose shortcomings….

      The company asserts it did so by solving a chemistry puzzle that has stumped researchers for nearly half a century: how to use lithium, the lightest metal on the periodic table, to boost the amount of energy that can be packed into a battery without posing a routine risk of fire or otherwise sacrificing performance. The company says it achieved this, in large part, by developing a solid version of the flammable liquid electrolyte….

      In a conventional lithium-ion battery, one of the two electrodes, the anode, is made mostly from graphite. This is a form of carbon that can easily take up and release the charged lithium ions that shuttle back and forth between the anode and cathode through the electrolyte. That stream of charged particles produces an electric current, which flows out of the battery to power whatever needs powering. But the graphite is merely a host for the lithium ions, which nestle in between sheets of carbon like packages on shelves. It’s dead weight that doesn’t store energy or produce a current itself.

      In a lithium-metal battery, the anode itself is made from lithium. This means that nearly every atom in the battery’s anode can also be put to work creating current. Theoretically, a lithium-metal anode could store 50% more energy than a graphite one of the same weight and volume.

      However, because lithium metal is so remove, being in constant contact with a liquid electrolyte can trigger reactions that degrade the battery or cause it to combust….Another issue is that as the lithium ions flow back and forth, needle-like structures known as dendrites can form in the batteries and short-circuit the cell or cause it to catch fire.

      QuantumScape, which went public in November after operating in stealth mode fora decade, is still holding back some of the critical details on how its solid-electrolyte battery overcomes these problems. But it appears to perform remarkably well.

      In an online presentation in December, the startup displayed a series of charts showing that a single-layer lab version of the battery can be charged to more than 80% of its capacity in 15 minutes, lasts for hundreds of thousands of miles, and works fine at freezing temperatures. The company expects the batteries to be able to boost electric vehicles' range by more than 80%: a car that can go 250 miles on a single charge today could drive 450 miles instead….

      Indeed, the battery field is littered with examples of startups that promised breakthrough technologies but ultimately failed. And the challenges ahead of QuantumScape are daunting, particularly when it comes to converting its prototype cells into commercial products that can be manufactured cheaply.

      If the company succeeds, it could transform the EV marketplace. Cutting costs, boosting range, and making charging nearly as convenient as filling up at a gas station could broaden demand beyond people who can afford to shell out thousands of dollars for charging ports at home, and ease the anxieties of those who fear being stranded on longer trips.

      The added energy density and faster charging could also make it more practical to electrify other forms of transportation, including long-haul trucking and even short-distance flights. (As a bonus, it would also deliver phones and laptops that could Cast a couple of days on one charge.)

      …All of QuantumScape’s published tests so far were performed on single-layer cells. To work in cars, the company will need to produce batteries packed with several dozen layers, effectively moving from a single playing card to a deck. And it will still have to find a way to manufacture these cells cheaply enough to compete with lithium-ion, a battery technology that's dominated for decades.

      It’s a daunting engineering task….

Tiny Trash Factories

[These excerpts are from an article by Allison Whitten in the March/April 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …Most of the world’s 2.22 billion tons of annual trash ends up in landfills or open dumps. Veena Sahajwalla…has created a solution to our massive trash problem: waste microfactories. These little trash processors — some as small as 500 square feet — house a series of machines that recycle waste and transform it into new materials with thermal technology. The new all-in-one approach could leave our current recycling processes in the dust.

      Sahajwalla launched the world's first waste microfactory targeting electronic waste, or e-waste, in 2018 in Sydney. A second one began recycling plastics in 2019. Now; her lab group is working with university and industry partners to commercialize their patented Microfactorie technology. She says the small scale of the machines will make it easier for them to one day operate on renewable energy, unlike most large manufacturing plants. The approach will also allow cities to recycle waste into new products on location, avoiding the long, often international, high-emission treks between recycling processors and manufacturing plants. With a microfactory, gone are the days of needing separate facilities to collect and store materials, extract elements and produce new products.

      Traditionally, recycling plants break down materials for reuse in similar products — like melting down plastic to make more plastic things. Her invention evolves this idea by taking materials from an old product and creating something different….

      For example, the microfactories can break down old smartphones and computer monitors and extract silica (from the glass) and carbon (from the plastic casing), and then combine them into silicon carbide nanowires. This generates a common ceramic material with many industrial uses….

      In 2019, just 17.4 percent of e-waste was recycled, so the ability to re-form offers a crucial new development in the challenge recycling complex electronic devices….

A Model Octopus

[These excerpts are from an article by Rachel Nuwer in the March 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Humans are more closely related to dinosaurs than they are to octopuses. Our lineage split from that of cephalopods—the spineless class that includes octopuses, squids and cuttlefish—half a billion years ago. Octopus brains lack any of the major anatomical features of vertebrate brains, and most of the animals’ neurons are distributed across their arms rather than in their head.

      Yet octopuses are extremely intelligent, with a larger brain for their body size than all animals except birds and mammals. They are capable of high-order cognitive behaviors, including tool use and problem-solving, even figuring out how to unscrew jar lids to access food. Increasingly, some researchers are suggesting octopuses’ combination of smarts and sheer difference from humans could make them an ideal model for inferring common rules governing complex brain function, in addition to revealing novel neurological workarounds cephalopods have evolved.

      …Recognizing the unique opportunity cephalopods provide as vastly differentyet highly sophisticated creatures, Dolen and other neuroscientists are rooting for them to become the field’s newest model organism….

      As was the case with other model species, publishing the octopus genome paved the way for critical modes of investigation, the researchers say. These include using genetic engineering to probe how the brain works, zooming in on where specific genes are expressed, and exploring evolution by calculating differences between octopus genes and those of other species.

      …although they are typically antisocial, they respond to a drug-induced flood of the neurotransmitter serotonin the same way humans do: they relax and become more sociable. Through genome analysis, the scientists also confirmed that octopuses possess the same serotonin transporters that MDMA binds to in vertebrates….

      Other labs are investigating how octopus arms sense and interact with their environment with minimal input from the brain….specialized receptors in octopus suckers detect chemicals on surfaces they contact, enabling them to taste by touching….

      Cephalopods will no doubt bring more insights into fundamental biology. Technological breakthroughs could follow, too. Materials researchers are interested in the animals' skin for its incredible camouflage ability, for example, and computer scientists may someday draw on octopuses’ separate learning and memory systems—one for vision and one for tactile senses—for new approaches to machine learning.

      Octopuses could also inspire biomedical engineering advances. Rosenthal is studying cephalopods’ incredibly high rates of RNA editing, which could someday lead to new technologies to erase unwanted mutations encoded in human genomes. Ragsdale is investigating how octopuses quickly regenerate their arms, nerve cords and all; this might one day contribute to therapies for humans who lose limbs or have brain or spinal cord damage….

The U.S. Needs Scientists in the Diplomatic Corps

[These excerpts are from an article by Nick Pyenson and Alex Dehgan in the March 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Benjamin Franklin might have been on the short list for a Nobel Prize if there had been such a thing during his lifetime. The amazing breadth of his contributions stands out even today: he worked in areas ranging from the science of electricity to the wave theory of light to demography, meteorology, physical oceanography and even behavioral science. Franklin was also the first U.S. ambassador to France. His reputation as a scientist galvanized his popularity in Europe and helped him secure France’s support for the fledgling nation.

      Franklin’s example is a reminder that we need scientists for today’s challenges in diplomacy and development and not just because of their expertise—we need them because their skills, networks and ways of thinking about problems represent the best of what America can offer the world.

      …Since the 1940s taxpayer dollars have supported a broad portfolio of basic research that has undergirded long-term American prosperity and security, including faster and more efficient airplanes, the Internet, genomics, weather satellites, vaccines, and so much more.

      As a result, the U.S. has an untapped reservoir of talent to bring to its international relations. America’s scientists have high-level technical expertise and creative problem-solving abilities. The best of them have a facility for communicating complex ideas and social networks that are important for public diplomacy, and the U.S. will need diplomats with an abundance of these assets. Moreover, the credibility of the upcoming generation of American scientists will be invaluable on the world stage: even though international opinion of the country has reached record lows, U.S. science and ingenuity are still deeply respected.

      Even with a richness of talent, we still need more opportunities to integrate scientists into the front lines of U.S. embassies and missions abroad….

      Science-focused diplomacy works because science is a distributed, global enterprise with products that can be replicated and verified and that can inspire. It can create the scaffolding that allows our official relationships to thrive by providing trust, transparency and engagement that would otherwise be hard to achieve. Many foreign scientists trained in the U.S. climb to leadership roles in their home countries. Engaging through science can form bridges over divisions in geography, religion, culture and language, and it can help other countries meet real needs—especially when emerging threats fail to respect political boundaries. Finally, as global connections make national economies increasingly intertwined, science diplomacy can create avenues that sustain competitiveness and promote econom-c growth in the U.S.

      Given the protracted challenges on the horizon for U.S. foreign policy, science provides a path through the planetwide crises we are facing, and it also gives our country a way to put its best foot forward. After all, many of the values that scientists share are also historic American values.

Life Could Use Oxygen Long before It Was Abundant

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert F. Service in the 5 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      The first organisms to “breathe” oxygen—or at least use it—appeared 3.1 billion years ago, according to a new genetic analysis of dozens of families of microbes. The find is surprising because the Great Oxidation Event, which filled Earth’s atmosphere with the precious gas, didn't occur until some 500 million years later….

      Scientists broadly agree that Earth’s early atmosphere and oceans were largely devoid of oxygen gas—but perhaps not completely. Geochemists, for example, have found mineral deposit dated to about 3 billion years ago that they argue could only have formed in the presence of oxygen. And genetic analyses of photosynthetic cyanobacteria, which release oxygen gas as a waste product, suggest they may have arisen as early as 3.5 billion years ago.

      Yet skeptics have argued that if oxygen producers and users came along that early, they would have spread quickly across the globe. That's because using oxygen allows organisms to extract more energy from their food. But the Great Oxidation Event, which left sediments around the world filled with red bands of iron oxides, didn’t occur until about 2.4 billion years ago….

      Then, they turned to a long-used approach that tracks the likely mutation rate of proteins to construct a “molecular clock.” The clock enabled them to pin down when the protein families likely evolved, dating 36 with high confidence.

      “We saw something quite striking.” Tawfik says: a “clear burst” of microbes using and producing oxygen between 3 billion and 3.1 billion years ago. Twenty-two of the 36 families appear to have emerged at that time….Overall, the analysis suggests that about 3.1 billion years ago, an organism (or more likely a collection of organisms) they dub the last universal oxygen ancestor emerged. Ultimately, the ability to use oxygen gave rise to aerobes that could take advantage of the increased energy output that oxygen use enabled. Eventually, those pioneers with their innovative way of life led to eukaryotic microbes that have a cell nucleus, multicellular organisms, animals, and us.

      The new timeline suggests early oxygen producers and users didn’t immediately sweep the planet….Rather, they likely evolved in small pockets that slowly spread over hundreds of millions of years. Only when they became abundant enough did these organisms modify Earth’s environment enough to lead to the Great Oxidation Event….

Science’s New Frontier

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Aaron F. Mertz and Abhilash Mishra in the 5 March 2021 issue of Science.]

      The year 2020 saw a reusable rocket launch two astronauts into space, multiple COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time, and a robot that could write a persuasive op-ed. In th6 United States, the year also saw public distrust of science contribute to the worst health crisis in modern history. This contrast highlights a sharp dichotomy in the role of science in American public life: breathtaking discovery and innovation alongside growing distrust of scientific evidence and recommendations. How can the country reconcile this dissociation?

      The problem is that few Americans have access to scientific institutions, to the process of research and discovery, and to scientists themselves. Elite American universities lead in scientific R&D, but low-income and even middle-class students are underrepresented. Clinical trials, a core part of medical research, often do not reflect America’s demographic and socioeconomic diversity. A recent poll reported that more than 80% of Americans could not name a living scientist. If most Americans are not scientifically knowledgeable or engaged, they are less likely to trust scientific evidence and rally together to tackle future pandemics, confront climate change, or adopt new technologies.

      To bridge this disconnect, the Eiden administration could launch an “American Science Corps” (ASC) to elevate science as a central part of American culture….

      Equally ambitious, the ASC would administer civic science workshops, public events, and training programs to engage Americans on the nuances and assumptions associated with scientific research and discovery. The ASC would enable dialogue that redirects science toward problems that plague local communities but often remain blind spots for academic researchers.

      ASC service members would receive training from communications experts and behavioral and social scientists. Training would include learning how to listen to community needs and engage in forums that scientists have traditionally avoided, such as places of worship, state and county fairs, farmers’ markets, town halls, local theaters, libraries, community colleges, and sporting events….Elevating ASC service members to the same prestige and compensation as those of researchers would attract highly qualified scientists committed to pursuing this new career, giving them time to build trust and carry out long-term programs that can lead to lasting change….

      Uniting the country around the conviction that science can improve the life of every American would be one of the most important public investments of the century. Without such an effort, vast swaths of Americans may not benefit from, or participate in, “the endless frontier” of scientific progress.

Tackling Beauty’s Hidden Peril

[These excerpts are from an article by Tasha Kosviner in the Winter 2021 issue of Solutions, the journal of the Environmental Defense Fund.]

      …We all deserve to live and work in an environment free of harmful chemicals. Yet there are currently thousands of unregulated chemicals in our day-to-day beauty and personal care products. Among them is toluene, found in nail polishes and associated with birth defects, miscarriages and organ damage. Many shampoos, lotions, soaps and cosmetics also contain chemicals linked to cancers, liver disease, asthma, diabetes, reproductive disorders and more.

      ”…We are exposed to toxic chemicals daily—in our food, clothing, furniture and in the products we put on our skin. The quantities may be small but the cumulative effect can be devastating.”

      The burden is often disproportionately borne by people of color, both in a work environment and because toxic chemicals are more prevalent in beauty products marketed to these communities….

      Last year, our work together resulted in the identification of several safer alternatives to commonly used, but highly toxic, preservatives including parabens, linked to reproductive damage, miscarriage and some cancers. The preservatives list is part of a broader directory of safer ingredients to replace the most common toxic chemicals used in cosmetics….

5 Priorities for President Biden

[These excerpts are from an article by the editors in the Winter 2021 issue of Solutions, the journal of the Environmental Defense Fund.]

      Climate change intersects with every other environmental challenge faced by the new president. Renewed leadership from the United States is critical to solving this global crisis.

      Rejoining the Paris climate accord is step one, but President Biden needs to do much more to repair the damage done to the climate and to U.S. credibility. Recently, China, the EU, Japan and South Korea all announced they will take more aggressive climate action. Our nation must do the same….

      A U.S. target should cut climate pollution at least 45-50% below 2005 levels by 2030. (Emissions have already dropped 12% from 2005 to 2019.) This will require strong domestic policies, including executive orders, regulations, tax credits and new legislation. Congress should take advantage of every opportunity; from economic recovery legislation to infrastructure bills. A major focus should be on building electric trucks, buses and cars and producing clean electricity to power them….

      With President Biden in the White House, we expect a big push for a stimulus package that will not only boost an economy reeling from the pandemic but deliver urgently needed progress on climate change….

      EDF is pushing for pro-climate investments to be included in any economic recovery package. We believe the way to start building this new, better future is by decarbonizing the power sector and electrifying transportation. Together, those sectors account for more than half of U.S. climate pollution. Federal investment in decarbonization will cut climate pollution and set the course for the future emissions reductions necessary to reach net zero by 2050. This goal aligns with the best available science on averting the worst impacts of climate change.

      These same investments are also critical to jump-starting the economy. President Biden has pledged to create 10 million clean energy jobs, including 1 million clean transportation-related jobs. Before the pandemic, nearly 3.4 million Americans worked in clean energy. That’s three times the number in the fossil fuel industry, and clean economy jobs were growing twice as fast as nationwide employment….

      Trump’s record on science was abysmal. He denied climate change and appointed industry lobbyists tokey science agency posts. His administration censored government scientists and suppressed and manipulated data for political ends. More than 1,600 scientists left the federal government in the first two years of his administration.

      …Without first- t rate science, it is impossible to create effective policies to address pollution and advance public health. We also believe leadership matters. Having a president who publicly affirms the value of science and technical expertise is a huge step forward….

      From toxic chemicals to air pollution, the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections nationwide have threatened the health of communities. Now, it is critical that President Biden not only reverse the damage done over the last four years, but also strengthen standards to protect those most at risk from pollution and toxic chemicals….

      The Biden administration also has the opportunity to strengthen protections against lead poisoning. EDF will help advance efforts to replace lead water service lines to 9.3 million homes, with a focus on equitable funding for community programs. The new administration should also increase protection of children’s health by immediately updating the standards for lead in dust, paint and soil.

      In addition, we will help the Biden administration strengthen the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which prevent an estimated 11,000 American deaths annually from hazardous pollutants spewed by coal- and oil-fired power plants. As part of this effort, we will urge the EPA to close the Trump administration’s air tonics loophole, which allows large industrial facilities to opt out of reducing pollution.

      …the president has proposed a national program to build the nation’s resilience to climate change….

      Even in a divided Congress, President Biden will find support. Whether it’s tackling sea level rise, addressing drought or increasing flood protection, resilience transcends party politics.

      Under the Trump administration, more than 20 pieces of bipartisan legislation addressing resilience were introduced in Congress….

      Resilience legislation that creates jobs, protects communities, promotes equity and delivers environmental benefits stands a good chance of success, regardless of who controls the Senate….

Vaccine Trials Ramp Up in Children and Adolescents

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the 26 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      As older adults, health care workers, firefighters, and others roll up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine, there’s a flurry of research to get shots to children, for whom no vaccine has yet been authorized. Even though young people are less likely to fall seriously ill, doctors and scientists agree that vaccinating them is crucial for their own protection and that of the broader population. And because companies already have solid data from adult trials, they are running smaller studies in children that focus on safety and immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines.

      The first two vaccines to receive emergency use authorization in the United States for adults are now in clinical trials for young people, with initial results expected by summer. Pfizer and BioNTech have completed enrollment of more than 2200 volunteers ages 12 to 15, and Moderna is wrapping up recruitment of a planned 3000 volunteers with the same minimum age. Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA coding for the coronavirus spike protein, which prompts production of protective antibodies. Another three vaccines, which use a harmless virus to deliver a gene for the same protein, are also taking steps toward pediatric authorization….

      Adult deaths from COVID-19 dwarf those in children: In the United States, for example, young people make up about 250 of 500,000 total deaths. But for children, COVID-19 is still “causing more deaths than influenza does in atypical season.”…In addition, more than 2000 children and teenagers have developed a severe inflammatory syndrome that can cause critical illness and damage organs….

      For children. and another special population, pregnant women, clinical trials are trending much smaller than the tens of thousands of participants in the adult trials that garnered initial authorization. Although these latest studies will, like their larger counterparts, track symptoms and count COVID-19 cases, they will primarily rely on immune markers as a proxy for vaccine effectiveness….

      In the meantime, pediatricians, parents, and others have to wait. Pfizer, for example, has announced plans to submit its data on adolescents to regulators by June; it also expects to open a trial in 5- to 11-year-olds within a couple of months, and in under 5-year-olds later this year….

Hungry Teen Dinosaurs Crowded Out Competitors

[These excerpts are from an article by Gretchen Vogel in the 26 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      Any parent of growing teenagers knows their appetites can reach gargantuan proportions. Now, imagine you had a young T. rex checking the fridge. The outsize appetites of growing dinosaurs reshaped food chains in their environment and squeezed out other carnivores….

      There weren’t many mid-size meat eaters “because the juveniles and teenagers and subadults of the big beastly dinosaurs were hoarding those niches.”

      Most groups of animals have many small species, somewhat fewer medium-size species, and even fewer large species. In contrast, the extinct dinosaurs—especially carnivores—had plenty of species no bigger than modern-day chickens and also many giant species, but few medium-size ones.

      Paleontologists wondered whether juvenile dinosaurs crowded out medium-size adults by exploiting the habitats and food sources those species might have taken….

      In most communities, herbivorous dinosaurs came in a range of sizes….Carnivores between 100 and 1000 kilograms were consistently quite rare….

      The effect may be stronger in meat eaters because each carnivorous dinosaur species occupied a wide range of niches. They hatched from relatively small eggs; even the largest ones only-weighed about 15 kilograms as hatchlings. Then they grew very quickly, changing diets and hunting methods to accommodate their new sizes and competing with a range of other species along the way….

      The study's emphasis on how animals’ niches can change as they grow offers fresh insights….

Committing to Climate

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrea Thompson in the February 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      In 2015 nearly 200 nations committed to the Paris Agreement, which aims to prevent the worst impacts of climate change by limiting global warming by 2100 to less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The U.S. pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Then Donald Trump was elected president. He soon announced that the U.S. would pull out of the accord, and his administration spent four years relentlessly rolling back regulations intended to curb emissions and protect the environment. Dozens of coal burning power plants, the worst carbon polluters, shut down anyway as market forces expanded the role of cheaper, cleaner natural gas, wind and solar power. And various states, cities and industries cut emissions. Yet even with that progress, Trump’s rollbacks could add the equivalent of 1.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2035….

      Joe Biden must now make up for lost time, and last November he said the U.S. would rejoin the Paris Agreement immediately after he became president. This commitment is important because the U.S. is still the world's second-largest emitter, behind China, and it can return as a world climate leader. But Biden will also have to ratchet up the original U.S. pledge because warming—and its effects—has only sped up since the Paris Agreement was established. Biden promised to issue an executive order calling for net-zero emissions by 2050, but he will need to set specific interim targets. The World Resources Institute says reducing emissions to 45 to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 could put the country on track.

      Congressional legislation is the most effective way to create the concrete policies needed to achieve those goals because it gives federal agencies clear priorities, is much harder to override with presidential actions, and can better withstand legal challenges that might be brought by industry or special-interest groups. But the divided U.S. Senate will make sweeping laws hard to pass. Biden will have to work through executive orders and will have to charge federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency with issuing new regulations under existing laws such as the Clean Air Act….

      With coal plants retiring, transportation has surpassed power generation as the country’s largest carbon emitter. The quickest action Biden can take to tackle those emissions is to reinstate California’s waiver to the Clean Air Act, allowing the state to enforce its Advanced Clean Cars regulations….

      To expand on that action, Biden could charge the EPA and the Department of Transportation with rescinding Trump’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient vehicles Rule, which undercut more stringent national standards set under the Obama administration. Even then, to stay on course to meet the two degrees C goal, 90 percent of U.S. passenger cars and light-duty trucks would need to be electric by 2050….Some major U.S. car companies, including General Motors and Ford, are increasingly investing in electric vehicles. And Ford, along with several leading international companies, opposed the Trump administration’s rollbacks because the moves were likely to end up in court, creating regulatory uncertainty….

      Reaching those numbers will require replacing Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy rule with a more aggressive version of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court before it could go into effect. The plan, an EPA regulation, would have set strict limits on emissions from power plants. Biden could carefully enact new EPA regulations that can better withstand any future federal court challenge.

      …The Trump administration recently rolled back several methane regulations, including, notably, EPA rules requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and repair leaks in their infrastructure….As with power-plant rules, Biden will have to work through the EPA to repeal the rollbacks and install new, tougher requirements….

      Biden can also expand on legislation that has already garnered bipartisan support, for example, by maintaining tax incentives to encourage the expanded use of renewable energy and electric vehicles….

      In tandem, the Biden administration can strengthen rules under the National Environmental Policy Act that require all federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of actions they might take or of projects up for approval such as oil drilling on federal land. The Trump administration said the act requires consid-eration only of direct, noncumulative impacts, which effectively took climate change off the table. The Council on Environmental Quality, which ensures that federal agencies adhere to the act, could specify that future climate change impacts should be considered. That step could make it less likely that emissions-intensive projects, such as drilling, would be approved by agencies such as the Department of the Interior….

Controlling COVID

[These excerpts are from an article by Tanya Lewis in the February 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      As Joe Biden takes office, his most immediate priority is dealing with the catastrophe of COVID-19, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S.—the highest toll of any country—and sickened and harmed millions. He is inheriting a dire situation from his predecessor, who resisted some of the most important measures to contain the new coronavirus, such as prompt testing and tracing and mask wearing, and who appeared unconcerned as a winter surge of infections devastated the country.

      Biden and Kamala Harris, the new vice president, have outlined a COVID 19 plan to reverse this neglect. In addition to promoting more testing and mask wearing, the new administration wants to boost the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), provide economic support for small businesses, ensure a trustworthy vaccine rollout, and address racial and ethnic disparities in COVID’s impact. Looking ahead, Biden’s team has to get the country ready to handle the next pandemic better than it has dealt with this one.

      Some of these goals are likely to face severe headwinds from Republicans in Congress and among millions who voted for Donald Trump. Both groups have fought against masks. Many opposed restrictions on business and personal activity….

      One of Biden’s responses has been to say he is “not going to shut down the economy—period. I am going to shut down the virus.” The incoming administration sees restrictions as a “dial” rather than an on-off switch….Biden aims to direct the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide guidelines for ways to dial up or down restrictions on businesses, schools and gatherings. The evidence is clear that COVID transmission is higher at restaurants, bars and gyms but not so much at schools, so it makes sense to dial down restrictions on the last….

      …one of the simplest and most important things Biden’s team can do is encourage people to wear masks or face coverings. Despite extensive evidence supporting this measure's effectiveness, Trump made it apolitical statement not to wear one, mocking people—including Biden—for using them. Biden can try to change that….Biden plans to work with governors and mayors to implement state and local mask rules and has asked Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office. And he does intend to make masks mandatory in federal buildings and on interstate public transportation.

      A second key step will be to overcome some people’s reluctance to get a coronavirus vaccine when shots become widely available later in 2021. Refusals will prolong the outbreak. According to a Pew survey in November, 42 percent of Black Americans said they would get a shot, slightly up from 32 percent in September. Much of this resistance stems from a history of racism and mistreatment of Black people in medicine….Biden and his officials need to admit there is legitimate reason for distrust, and they must work to earn that trust back. Saying “we’re acknowledging that history of racism ourselves” is the most important thing the Biden-Harris administration can do….

      To convince skeptical populations, the new president and his team also need to reach out to community leaders who have the trust of their constituents….

      Vaccine skepticism is also linked to political affiliation. Just 50 percent of Republicans or Republican-leaning respondents said they were likely to get vaccinated, compared with 69 percent of Democrats or Democrat supporters, according to the November Pew survey. To reach Republicans, Biden will need to get the help of conservative leaders as well.

      Both vaccine acceptance and mask wearing depend on the new president’s ability to restore trust in science….Political meddling at health agencies and repeated announcements that undercut public health measures exacerbated the problem. The Biden team can start to reverse the damage by showing that it is following scientific advice and delivering it in a clear, consistent message….

      …Until vaccines reach most Americans, the virus will con-tinue to spread, and testing is the way to identify and contain outbreaks. Yet it is still hard for most people in the U.S. to get a te,st and receive results quickly….

      More tests alone will not be enough. People who test positive must be able to safely isolate, and they must be given the resources to do so….

      Biden also needs to drastically increase the availability of PPE—such as face masks, face shields and gowns—to protect health care workers….

      And even as he tries to quell the current pandemic, Biden needs to ensure that the U.S. is better prepared for the next one….

Anti-Asian Racism in Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michael Nguyen-Truong in the February 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Because the disease was first reported in China, I have had to struggle with growing bigotry toward Asians in addition to avoiding the virus itself. There have been many reports about Asians facing verbal and physical attacks, fueled by disturbingly common terms like “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” hate-inspiring language frequently used by Donald Dump and others. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Asian-Americans report a higher level of negative experiences, including racist jokes and slurs or feeling fear of threats or physical attacks, than Black, Hispanic or white respondents in a survey conducted after the pandemic began. Moreover, a recent Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate National Report by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council found more than 2,5'00 reports of anti-Asian incidents across 47 states in a five-month period (from March to August 2020). Of these, 70 percent involved verbal harassment, and 9 percent of them were physical assaults. More undoubtedly go unreported.

      When news of these attacks became public, my family and friends warned me to be alert and careful when I was anywhere outside my home. At the beginning of the pandemic, mask wearing was not required, but to protect people and myself against the spread of the coronavirus, it was something I wanted to do in our laboratory and around campus. But I didn't, because I was told that co-workers and colleagues might avoid or harass me. My family and friends cautioned me not to stay out late and to avoid sparsely populated areas on campus; they and I worried other people might hurl me because I was Asian. I ended up going home early most days, shortening my time for experiments and work.

      …And I kept quiet about my concerns around the lab because I thought that speaking up could make me a target of jokes among colleagues and lead to alienation and loss of collaboration.

      These concerns were magnified because I had faced frequent microaggressions even before the outbreak, such as being asked about where I am “originally from,” although I am from the U.S., or if I was related to someone because we shared a common name. Non-Asians too often presume—and say—that my Asian peers and I are pursuing STEM careers because we were forced to by our families. Asians are also often (inaccurately) viewed as the model minority and falsely thought not to suffer from discrimination.

      …Institutions in general should require bias training and should develop spaces such as “life issues” groups (my department has one), journal clubs and symposia designed to educate the community about racism. Faculty and administration should welcome discussions about race issues and be more transparent in addressing them….

      We have a lot of work ahead of us, but inclusion and positive change within our institutions and in STEM are achievable if we unite against racism. Greater inclusion will lead to more sharing of ideas that will help science, technology and medicine flourish, at a time when we dearly need them.

Why Should Science Teachers Practice Gratitude in 2021?

[These excerpts are from an editprial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the January/February 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      At last, the new year is upon us. After the upheaval we experienced in 2020, I am sure we are all hoping for stability in 2021. With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on our doorsteps, there is hope for more normalcy later this year. I am more than grateful for the Herculean tasks the scientists undertook in creating viable vaccines for the health of all of us.

      COVID has wreaked havoc for so many individuals and families. With well over 300,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, we have lost so much creativity, innovative thnking, and talent, gone forever. We have lost fellow educators who inspired and guided their students to the wonders of science and the other disciplines. We have lost coaches who were role models for their athletes. We have lost administrators who provided an atmosphere of growth and community in their schools. We have lost staff who always held the school together. For these losses, l am truly saddened.

      With 2021 in mind, let’s practice a year of gratitude….The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude provides people with the opportunity to take a moment and reflect on the goodness in their lives—whether from our students, fellow faculty, mentors, family, nature, or other entities. Psychology research indicates that practicing gratitude leads to greater happiness, contentment, and improves one's health and overall well-being….

      A leader in positive psychology, Martin Seligman, had 411 participants write a letter of gratitude to someone who had positively impacted their lives with encouragement, kindness, and mentoring. The results demonstrated an increase in happiness scores; which had lasting effects in these individuals. am not suggesting cause and effect here, but there is a link to practicing gratitude and overall well-being. Have you taken the time to write/email such a letter to a former teacher, professor, or administrator who positively impacted your life in some way? Someone who believed in you? Someone who bolstered your self confidence? Someone who “pushed” you to be a better student, athlete, future STEM professional, or individual who makes a difference in the world?...

      As teachers, we don’t always know what our kindness and dedication does for our students. Many of you have received correspondence from former students. I see it on social media all the time. These teachers are remembered for the rigor of their teaching, their moments of connection, their “pushing and prodding” of reticent students, and encouragement for students to follow their dreams. We cherish these acknowledgements, especially on those rough days when the students seem incorrigible, unwilling to work, and are being just downright difficult.

      …We are used to the non-verbal signals our students send us, and many of us taught without those signals. We might enter 2021 finding it difficult to feel grateful. Your tenacity in pushing through the COVID year with countless hours of preparation and changing your way of teaching is truly something to be grateful for within yourself….

      Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can help our overall well-being as teachers and educators….

      2021 will continue to pose challenges for us. Let’s start off the year with some positivity surrounding things that we can be grateful for on a daily basis….

Highlights of a UCS Victory

[These excerpts are from an article by Jiayu Liang in the Fall 2020 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      Millions of Californians live in regions with levels of air pollution that exceed federal standards, particularly in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley: Back in November 2016, the agency charged with helping the state meet federal air quality standards—the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—was addressing one aspect of the problem: pollution from trucks. Although trucks and buses make up only 7 percent of all vehicles on the road in California, they are responsible for 23 percent of global warming emissions from vehicles in the state, and an even more disproportionate share of other pollutants.

      To reduce air pollution, CARS proposed a truck policy that would require manufacturers to increase the percentage of electric trucks they sell over time—similar to the approach that had already made California the nation's leading adopter of electric passenger vehicles….

      …the proposal would put only 75,000 electric trucks on the road by 2030—just 4 percent of the 1.9 million total trucks in the state….

      He modeled a standard that would result in 10 percent of all trucks on the road being electric by 2030, then bumped it up to 15 percent. While a 15 percent goal was more than triple the original proposal, O’Dea recognized that it would still be achievable with today’s technology….

      Quantitative analysis can seem complex and hard to follow for those not in the field. Running the numbers to determine that CARB’s original proposal came up short was just one part of the battle. Now the UCS team and coalition needed to build broad support for a stronger rule—and put pressure on decisionmakers to enact it. This is where the media, outreach, and policy experts on the UCS team excel….

      Developing a sense for what resonates well and having an accurate knack for predicting what reporters will be interested in is a big part of the job for the UCS media team. Figueroa says checking in with reporters regularly, following their reporting, and finding opportunities to help frame their thinking on emerging issues are all critical elements….

      Because CARB’s decision would have real consequences for people living in California, those most affected by pollution needed to be part of the process….Successful outreach work requires a good understanding of who needs to be involved in the decisionmaking process, and what their needs are….

      When CARB’s new proposal entered the public comment period in April, the UCS team and coalition once again showed up with rousing support. Rodriguez presented a letter signed by legislators, and Xi presented a petition signed by more than 3,000 individuals, along with the testimony of dozens of scientists. On June 25, CARB unanimously voted the rule into existence.

      The team was elated, having notched a win in the ongoing work to clean up California’s transportation sector. Several years of analysis was followed by a long, hard 18 months of advocacy to bring to life the world's first and most extensive sales standard for electric trucks.

      Although the rule won't officially take effect until 2024, it produced nearly immediate results. Just two weeks after its passage, 15 states and the District of Columbia announced their intention to pursue policies supporting the electrification of trucks. Then in August, CARE passed additional rules that will limit emissions from fossil fuel-powered trucks and ships idling in ports—further incentives to electrify the freight industry.

      O’Dea welcomes these developments, but also recognizes the long road ahead. “The new policy is a significant step—a necessary one to move us into a cleaner, safer future,” he says. “But 15 percent electric trucks on the road still leaves 85 percent that we need to clean up….”

With New Lawsuits, Legal Pressure on Fossil Fuel Companies Grows

[These excerpts are from an article in the “Advances” in the Fall 2020 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      In June, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute, the leading US oil and gas industry trade association. The suit follows a line of reasoning that UCS has been promoting since 2015, as it alleges that the two companies and the trade association violated state consumer protection laws by misleading Minnesotans about the role fossil fuels play in causing the climate crisis. For more than 20 years, the Koch Industries’ owners, billionaire brothers Charles and the late David Koch, along with. ExxonMobil, sponsored a network of think tanks and advocacy groups that deny the scientific consensus on climate change and downplay the threat posed by their products.

      A day after the Minnesota lawsuit was announced, the attorney general in Washington, DC, Karl Racine, sued four of the world's largest oil companies (BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell), contending that they have been aware since the 1950s of the threat posed by fossil fuels but launched public relations campaigns to manufacture doubt about the reality and seriousness of climate change….

      Minnesota was one of the first states to file Suit against the tobacco industry in the 1990s, and its case—the only one that made it to trial—resulted in a groundbreaking settlement of $6 billion over the first 25 years and $200 million annually thereafter to the plaintiffs. The case also pried loose 35 million pages of documents that revealed details of the tobacco industry’s campaign disputing the link between smoking and disease. Records publicized by UCS in our 2015 report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, show that the tobacco and fossil fuel industries used many of the same strategies and tactics to mislead the public.

      The Minnesota and Washington, DC, lawsuits are similar to fraud cases brought by the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general against ExxonMobil, and follow other legal actions to hold fossil fuel companies accountable….

A Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Wayne C. Koff and Seth F. Berkley in the 19 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      COVID-19 has already produced catastrophic social, economic, and public health consequences, with more than 107 million documented cases and 2.3 million deaths. Although this pandemic is far from over we now have the tools to end it, with the largest and most rapid global deployment of vaccines under way. That we got this far so quickly is remarkable, but next time we might not be so lucky. More virulent and deadly coronaviruses are waiting in the wings. Thus, the world needs a universal coronavirus vaccine.

      The speed with which safe and effective CO'VID-19 vaccines have been developed and made available is unprecedented, taking less than a year. However…, even this rapid time frame may not be enough to prevent a death toll on the scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more than 50 million. Moreover, there is a continuing risk that the virus will mutate in ways that render existing COVID-L9 vaccines less effective—as we’ve already seen for the B1.351 variant first identified in South Africa—or even ineffective….

      The potential is increasing for other coronaviruses to jump species and cause more pandemics. The reasons are many. The animals that the viruses infect are ones that humans regularly, come into contact with. Modern agricultural practices, viral evolution, and relentless human encroachment on the natural environment mean there is an increasing risk of people encountering previously isolated animal populations that harbor new strains with pandemic potential. With human migration, population growth, urbanization, rapid global travel, and climate change hastening the spread, it has never been easier for outbreaks to turn into epidemics and escalate into pandemics.

      At the same time, the recent convergence of technological advances in biomedical, computing, and engineering sciences has ushered in a new era in antigen and vaccine discovery. High-performance supercomputing and machine learning, coupled with structural modeling, have the potential to greatly accelerate identification of common antigenic targets shared across coronaviruses. Databases of genetic sequences of animal isolates of coronaviruses can be used to model the evolutionary emergence of the viruses. Ongoing efforts to decode the principles of immunity in aging populations can enhance the effectiveness of vaccines for those most vulnerable. Collectively, studies now suggest that developing a universal coronavirus vaccine is scientifically feasible.

      This must be a worldwide effort….

      …It is estimated that the current pandemic will end up costing between US$ 8 and 16 trillion globally, ~500 times more than would be required for preventing the next pandemic.

      That is not to say that this will be easy, and a stepwise approach from COVID-19 to pan-coronavirus to universal coronavirus vaccines may be required. SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly adapting to humans, and other novel coronaviruses are mutating, recombining, and replicating in bats and other animal species, positioning to jump species sometime in the future. If we choose to wait for the next coronavirus to emerge, it may be too late, as it was with COVID-19. Creating the tools for preventing the next coronavirus pandemic is within our means and should be considered a global health priority. We can either invest now or pay substantially more later.

Bill Gate’s Guide to Avoiding Climate Catastrophe

[These excerpts are from a book review by Mriram R. Aczel in the 12 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Although he does not avoid the hard truths we must face as our climate changes, Gates remains optimistic and believes that we have the ability to avoid a total climate disaster….

      The book’s five logically organized sections establish a road map for moving forward. The first chapter explains why we need to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, rendering the abstract concept temperature of 1o or 2oC warming tangible with a description of the devastating effects such a increase would have on a relatively prosperous farmer in Nebraska and a subsistence farmer in rural India. The farmers are hypothetical, but the scenarios Gates describes—crop failures, economic ruin, a mass exodus from agrarian occupations—are all too real.

      Reaching net-zero emissions will not be easy. Not only is the global population increasing, people are living longer and standards of living are improving, leading to greater demand for energy and materials. It would, of course, be “immoral and impractical to try to stop people who are lower down on the economic ladder from climbing up,” argues Gates. But can we find a way to support economic development without adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere?

      Gates divides greenhouse gas-emitting activities into five sources: “making things”; “plugging in,” or generating electricity; “growing things,” including agriculture and livestock farming; “getting around”; and “keeping warm and cool.” He uses this framework to evaluate various emissions-lowering strategies, assessing the “Green Premium” that makes lower-emissions solutions more costly than fossil fuel technologies and explaining how government policies and incentives can help amortize these costs.

      Gates argues that there are three key components necessary for reducing emissions: robust climate policies, new technologies and companies to develop zero-emissions solutions, and markets consisting of the financial institutions and investors that support these companies. These components, he maintains, must work in a complementary manner….

      In the book’s final chapter, Gates lays out specific actions that each of us can take to help mitigate climate change, from being a more engaged citizen to being a more informed consumer, with specific advice on reducing household emissions, switching to an electric vehicle, and setting up an internal carbon tax for businesses.

      Gates includes an afterword on COVID-19, making the case that many of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic—the need for international cooperation, the importance of letting science guide our actions, the understanding that solutions should be designed to meet the needs of those who suffer most—also apply to climate change….

Dream Interpretation Meets Modern Science

[These excerpts are from a book review by Michelle Frazer and Gina Poe in the 12 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      …The book takes the reader from humanity’s early religious understanding of dreams, through our initial attempts to study the psychology of dreaming, to current experiments on the neurophysiology of the sleeping brain, providing relatable and often humorous anecdotal evidence from the authors' own lives and work along the way.

      …Even Aristotle weighed in on the nature and use of dreams, although he concluded that they were likely just the result of our organs shifting during sleep.

      …Early research explored the link between waking experiences and dream content, examined the abstract nature of symbols in dreams, and even began applying statistical principles to quantify data gathered in dream journals. By the time Freud published his seminal treatise on dreams in 1899, lesser-known scientists had already gathered evidence that remains remarkably relevant to sleep research today, including the observation that vivid dreams occur most frequently during early morning sleep and that physiological changes occur as sleep progresses.

      Since the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in 1950, however, most studies have approached sleep from a biological perspective. We now know that sleep appears to play a crucial role in clearing waste from the brain, that it regulates hormone levels, and that it helps boost the immune system. There is also a large body of evidence linking sleep to learning and memory….

      On the surface, the idea that the infrequently remembered and often bizarre narratives we construct during sleep could contribute to memory consolidation seems unlikely. But Zadra and Stickgold argue that the disjointed nature of dreams is actually key to their role in memory processing. They maintain that dreams, rather than merely repeating the events of the day to cement them into long-term storage, allow our brains to freely explore memories that have been filed away over time, extracting information and developing a narrative based on associations.

      …Coactivation of weakly associated items could underlie the strange and often unexpected twists that unfold during dreaming.

      But why do dreams take on a narrative structure at all? The authors suggest that the narrative allows the dreamer to explore and evaluate possible scenarios, providing a mechanism by which a verdict can be rendered. Dreams that elicit strong emotions, they argue, may cue the brain about the association’s potential utility, which may in turn lead to a strengthening of that association….

Study: Police Diversity Matters

[These excerpts are from an article by Douglas Starr the 12 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Does a police officer’s race matter when it comes to the use of force, or even the decision to stop someone in the first place? Although many activists, academics, and even police departments have answered yes—and hired more minority officers to improve community relations—a link has never been proved, and the field has been riddled with contradictory studies.

      …After combing through millions of police records from 2012 to 2015 and analyzing them for the nature of the action, the time of day, the race a of the civilian and the officer, and many other factors, they found that Black, Hispanic, and female officers in Chicago made fewer stops and arrests than their white male counterparts, especially for petty crimes.

      …To properly compare arrest and stop records, they had to geolocate each incident. They also threw out the records of higher ranking officers and explosives technicians, who tended not to interact with civilians. The result, Mummolo says, “was a real Frankenstein data set.” But it allowed the team to refine its list to nearly 7000 officers, who, over 3 million shifts, had engaged in 1.6 million stops, arrests, and uses of force over a period of 3 years.

      When they analyzed their data, they found Black officers in Chicago made far fewer stops and arrests, by 29% and 21%, respectively, than their average white counterparts. They used force 32% less frequently. Overall, Black officers stopped 17% fewer white civilians than their white counterparts, and 39% fewer Black civilians. Most of the differences involved discretionary stops for “suspicious” activity or minor violations; the researchers saw little difference in stops and arrests for violent crimes….They saw a similar pattern with Hispanic officers. Across all races, female officers made fewer stops for minor violations than male officers.

      The results make a strong case that diversifying a police force can reduce conflicts between officers and the community without making any trade-offs in public safety, other researchers say….

Rx for Environmental Health Disparities

[These excerpts are from an article by Harriet A. Washington the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      No one should be surprised to learn that higher rates of coronavirus infection and death have plagued the racially marginalized African American, Latino, and Native American communities. Other infectious scourges such as HIV and hepatitis C have shown a similar pattern.

      Yet astonishment flared last April when data revealed that although African Americans constituted 13 percent of the population, they accounted for approximately 40 percent of reported COVID-19 cases. Twitter users proffered familiar theories to explain it….

      …African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans supposedly courted their own illness by being obese; by smoking, drinking, and using drugs; by choosing crumbling tenements and vermin-infested public housing over suburban bedroom communities; and by ignoring social distancing and, by extension, the law as they ventured out and congregated daily.

      …For these Victorian scientists, the shockingly high infant mortality rate of the enslaved was the direct result not of the peculiar institution’s starvation, physical labor, untreated diseases, and draconian punishments but rather of Black parents' abuse and neglect.

      The era’s physicians called pellagra a Black infectious disease that struck only African Americans because of their penchant for living in filthy, crowded conditions. Only in 1920 did research by Joseph Goldberger reveal it as a deficiency disease, linking it to the Lmalnutrition that had been so common during enslavement….

      We also need a strong federal watchdog dedicated to protecting communi-ties from environmental hazards. That begins with revitalizing the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in shambles thanks to the Trump administration. Trump and his allies rolled back dozens of protections that had blocked big polluters from exposing people to carbon dioxide, methane, mercury, and other emissions long known to be responsible for major public health effects, such as cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and strokes. Prior to the Trump administration, the EPA had a long history of successfully targeting the purveyors of environmental poisons by enforcing industry standards, replete with government surveillance and penalties. It’s time to rebuild them.

      Eliminating environmental racism’s shameful inequity also requires confronting and correcting the healthcare faultlines that shape it. We must nurture a society in which we address and treat all patients with the same respect and care. Racism, not race, is the problem….

      To remedy this, health insurance should be extended to all, and the government should invest in keeping local hospitals open. We can begin by extending health care to all the essential workers who are being forced to forgo social distancing.

      Fortunately, as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, we have the solution to medical inequity, and we have the means. We just need the political will.

Environmental Justice Demands Listening

[These excerpts are from an article by Dorceta E. Taylor the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …The environmental justice movement arose because of the urgent need to make connections between racism, discrimination, equity, justice, and the environment. Published in 1962, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s brilliantly crafted expose about the dangers ofpesticides, helped usher in the modern environmental movement. But the book focused on wildlife and human health without accounting for how pesticides disproportionately harmed farmworkers—particularly seasonal-immigrant labofers of color. When the United Farm Workers fought indiscriminate organophosphate use on the grounds of worker safety, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund declined to support them, since organophosphates caused less harm to wildlife than DDT.

      In 1972, Sierra Club members were asked to vote on the question “Should the Club concern itselfwith the conservation problems of such special groups as the urban poor and ethnic minorities?” Most members voted no. But there was a generational divide—the younger the members, the more likely they were to agree that they should.

      …Instead, big environmental groups developed policies like cap-and-trade without consultation with environmental justice organizations. Cap-and-trade placed limits on overall emissions but allowed big polluters like oil refineries to purchase the right to emit more. Those big polluters were more likely to be located in communities of color, and later assessments showed that those communities became more polluted after cap-and-trade policies went Lint° effect….

      Environmental justice advocates want to see more than words to heal the wounds of the past. They want to see full accountability from environmental organizations about the concrete steps they have taken and what they have accomplished in making their organizations diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The future of environmental justice is one in which people of color are recognized as equal partners in environmen-tal'affairs, and it is one in which people of color can realize the adage coined at the outset of the environmental justice movement: “We speak for ourselves.”

Teach Your Elders Well

[These excerpts are from an article by Varshini Prakashin the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      We are young people who have witnessed a world in chaos careening toward climate catastrophe. We have watched and waited our entire lives for people much older and more powerful than us to take care of the crises that were emerging. Yet little has happened. Now our generation is standing up to say, “We are ready to be the adults in the room. We are ready to take the future into our own hands. We are ready to envision reality in a different way.”

      …there was no political home for young people in America who were concerned about the climate crisis'. There was no political home for teenagers and twentysomethings who woke up every day horrified by the crisis and went to sleep imagining a chaotic, climate-disordered world. We realized that it would be absolutely game-changing if we could harness the power of young people—all their passion, optimism, and hope—and translate it into campaigns for long-lasting political change.

      Young people have historically played an important role in social movements and political change….

      …One of the biggest and most important principles of effective protest is this: In your demands and your vision, don’t lead with what is possible in today’s reality but with what is necessary—for, say, the survival of humanity, or for achieving the ultimate goals of whatever campaign or issue you’re working on. So often, I find that older generations are hindered by their view of what is possible or impossible right now….

      Second, we were unafraid to go after not just Republicans—who were denying the validity of climate science and supporting misinformation campaigns—but also Democrats….

      Third, storytelling is powerful….we didn't just deliver a petition with a bunch ofnumbers about parts per million or 2°C. We shared stories about what we had lost because of the climate crisis, or what we were afraid, of losing. We told stories about what we hoped for our future. Some of the storytellers were in high school, not even able to vote yet, but were engaged in politics because of how much they cared for their future….

      Fourth, young people are amazing these days at using all the tools at our disposal to reach other young people, sharing our ideals not just from a political perspective but also from a cultural perspective. We powerfully marry digital organizing with offline organizing….

      The biggest thing that needs to happen for a better future is that ordinary people need to get more power. I don’t expect power holders or people in office to make that happen. We have to build movements….

      The truth is that you can dream up all the white papers you want and create all the policy proposals you want, but we can’t enact any of it into reality if we don’t have power….The road forward is uncertain. But the question of what's possible stretches us to open up our imagination and create new worlds in ways that we L. might never have dreamed of before.

Will the Circular Economy Save the Planet?

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth L. Cline in the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …The apparel industry churns out about 5 billion pairs of jeans each year in a resource-intensive process; making a single pair requires at least 800 gallons of water and is responsible for the release of 20 kilograms of CO2 equivalents (comparable to charging your phone about 2,550 times). Add to that about a third of a cup of chemicals to achieve the colors and distressed look consumers have come to expect….

      The fashion industry is notoriously wasteful, consuming roughly 108 million metric tons of nonrenewable resources each year, from pesticides and synthetic dyes to coal and oil. Only about 1 percent of all textiles are recycled into new clothing. The majority—more than two-thirds of textiles—are either incinerated or tossed into landfills.

      These problems are hardly unique to the fashion industry: Our entire economy is built on an inefficient and dangerous system of resource extraction. In 2017, the world passed a grim new annual record of 110 billion tons of resources consumed—from gravel and cement to fossil fuels, metal ores, and timber—an 8 percent increase from just two years before. According to the consultancy Circle Economy, a scant 8.6 percent of materials get reused….

      Over the past decade, the idea of shifting the economy away from a linear model to a circular one to solve our environmental woes has taken hold in corporate boardrooms and government offices around the world. Last June, leaders from the World Economic Forum, the European Parliament, Fortune 500 companies, and environmental grotips endorsed the circular economy as a way to restore the environment and promote growth in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Google, Amazon, Coca-Cola, IKEA, Unilever, and I-I&M have all rolled out ambitious plans to go circular. The United Nations identifies circularity as a key pillar of its Sustainable Development Goals.

      While a global plan to become more sustainable sounds like progress, the circular economy is a huge and fuzzy concept, and it can be hard to pin down how exactly it translates into practice. A 2017 research paper on the topic identified at least 114 definitions of the term, with the majority amounting to little more than reuse and recycling. This is concerning because environmentalists have been championing reuse - and recycling for decades, but our exploitation of resources has only intensified….

      The idea of a modern society built around nature’s circular systems first emerged in economist Kenneth Botilding’s 1966 essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.” In it, Boulding described the urgent need' to transition away from an “open economy” of careless resource extraction, production, and consumption to a “closed Earth”—a cyclical economic system that preserves and maintains resources by creating products that never wear out….

      The various proponents of the circular economy are inspired by nature's capacity to eliminate waste by transforming it into new fodder for ecosystems….

      Responding to decades of pressure from activists and consumers, the fashion industry has seemingly made the most -- progress applying circular economy principles….

      Perhaps more significant (if less technologically alluring), a number of apparel companies and developing business models that revolve around extending the life of the clothes they produce. The secondhand-clothing sector is growing 25 times faster than fast fashion, according to a report by ThredUp, the world’s largest online thrift store. Eco-minded brands like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher now refurbish and resell their own secondhand clothing. And consumers are responding to the trend….

      But the real cutting edge for circular fashion is material innovations that enable fiber and footwear components to be reused over and over again without degrading, keeping materials out ofilandfills and potentially zeroing out the need for virgin fibers. (Current recycling technology produces lower-quality materials that are usually blended with virgin materials.) We’re closer to this science-fiction-sounding scenario than most people realize….

      Companies outside the fashion industry have also introduced circular economy initiatives in recent years. IKEA has committed to making all of its furniture out of renewable or recyclable content by 2030. The company is rolling out its Second Life for Furniture program, which pays customers for their gently used IKEA furniture and resells it in stores across 27 countries….

      It’s hard not to be dazzled by circular innovations like an in-store recycling machine that spits out a new sweater. But as the circular economy scales up, and case studies emerge in real life, problems with the concept are coming to light.

      …Russell concedes that most big businesses that are exploring circularity aren’t doing so at the expense of their main revenue streams….

      What that means is that in fashion and elsewhere, the circular economy is not replacing the linear economy; it’s merely running parallel to it. In other words, circularity is being positioned as a way to drive new growth, not necessarily as a way to cut down on the use of raw materials. There’s no evidence that any of the large brands embracing circularity are actually using fewer virgin resources overall. The fashion industry is a case in point: It still manufactures an estimated 100 billion garments annually; enough for every human on-the planet to buy something new to wear every month. Total production of virgin textiles—whether polyester, cotton, or rayon—hit historic highs in 2019.

      What’s more, by emphasizing reuse and recycling—rather than reducing production—the circular economy runs the risk of becdming a red herring, enabling companies to increase their environmental impact while appearing greener to the public. The circular economy is essentially riding on decades of public conditioning that has us convinced that reuse and recycling are always good for the planet, but that’s not the case…..

      The economics and difficulty of recycling complex consumer goods like electronics, cars, and furniture mean that wide-scale refurbishment and recycling of most products remain elusive. But even if industry were to overcome these barriers and finally scale up recycling, virgin-resource consumption still might not decrease. This is partly because recycling itself requires water, energy, and chemicals. It is far from a zero-impact process….

      In fact, designing products so they're made to be recycled and reused could drive up overall consumption of virgin resources….

      Steel, for example, is the most widely recycled material, and yet consumption of primary steel has doubled in the past 20 years. Because the total consumption of resources is growing by about 3 percent every year, it's difficult to make every new thing out of old things, which means recycled material will always be in competition with virgin material….

      Despite decades of enthusiasm about the circular economy, today’s world is much further away from being sustainable than when Cradle to Cradle was written. The Model U still hasn't been mass-produced, the amount of carpet landfilled in the United States has nearly doubled, and more than 9 million tons of furniture winds up in the trash in the United States every year. Electronics are now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.

      …Geyer believes that a circular economy, even one grounded in reuse and recycling, could help us get. closer to our ultimate goal, which is to live within the planet’s boundaries. But that won’t magically happen….

      The notion that we can go on making as much as we want as long as we reuse it all is a myth that we’ll have to leave behind if we ever want to realize the dream of a circular economy….

Forests to Burn

[These excerpts are from an article by Christopher Ketcham in the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …In 2019, a new industry came to town. Enviva, the World's largest producer of wood pellets for what it calls “sustainable wood bioenergy,” opened a processing facility in Hamlet. Most of the pellets produced there will eventually be exported to the United Kingdom and the European Union, where they will be burned as fuel in utility-scale power plants.

      In 2009, the EU set a goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable.sources by 2020—and EU commissioners included wood biomass in the definition of renewables.The broad idea was thatthe unmarketable leftovers from the logging industry could be upcycled into wood pellets that could easily replace coal as a fuel source in existing power plants. Since trees can be replanted, the biomass and forestry industries claimed, the carbon lost in logging and burning them would be absorbed again as the new trees grew.

      As those new EU energy rules have come into effect, the US South 'has become the epicenter of a booming wood-pellet industrythat has grown tenfold in the past decade. But researchers and environmental groups say that biomass for electricity production is not the green-energy solution that corporations like Enviva promise.

      Critics say that the climate-neutrality claims behind biomass depend on a carbon-accounting sleight of hand that ignores the critical timeframe of decarbonizing in the next 10 to 15 years to avoid catastrophic climate warming. Trees take many decades, sometimes a century, to fully mature and store the carbon that’s emitted when forests are felled and burned. Meanwhile, the demand forwood pellets is accelerating clearcutting in the South, where forests are being logged at four times the rate of those in the Amazon rainforest. Research from the British policy. institute Chatham House has concluded thatthe burning ofwood for power emits more carbon than coal per unit of electricity produced….

      As the international biomass industry cloaks its global carbon emissions, the manufacturing of wood pellets has inundated the rural poor in the South with localized air pollution….

      In 2018, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) published a review of the operations of 21 wood-pellet processing facilities in the South. The facilities, all of which were exporting pellets to Europe, emitted some 16,000 tons of air pollutants annually. More than half the plants, according to the E1P report, “either failed to keep emissions below legal limits or failed to install required pollution controls,” in violation of Clean Air Act standards. At one Enviva facility in Virginia, plant operators went so far as to remove pollution-control equipment.

      The manufacturing of biomass-energy wood pellets requires drying the logged material in a wood-fired process, then pressing the dried wood into pellets—and every step emits significant amounts of air pollution. According to the EIP study, the emissions from the facilities include fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. Wood-pellet manufacturing emits a form of soot and dust called PM 2.5, which can pass deep into the lungs and depress lung function, worsen asthma, and cause heart attacks. Volatile organic compounds, when exposed to sunlight, transform into ozone, which is especially dangerous to children and the elderly.

      …there has been a rise in respiratory problems, fevers, and cancer in communities near wood-pellet processing facilities, but proof of a connection is “hard for us” because there are no epidemiological studies that tie health problems directly to the wood-pellet boom….

      According to federal data, Black children are 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than white children and seven times more likely to die from it….

Ready for 100 Days

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michael Brune in the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …But make no mistake: Our movement still needs to fight for the future we and our children deserve. The Trump administration didn’t create the climate crisis, though it did its damnedest to make it worse. Just installing a new administration won’t end the crisis, either. There are still too many politicians and corporate executives ready to let people die and homes burn to keep the deadly but profitable fossil fuel economy in place. Similarly, systemic racism, misogyny, xenophobia, economic inequality, and votersuppression didn’t begin and won’t end with the Trump administration.

      Still, the Biden administration represents a crucial opening to mend our democracy and our economy, avert climate catastrophe, and ensure that people from all backgrounds have equal access to clean air and clean water and opportunities to explore wild nature. Biden and Harris’s first 100 days offer an opportunity to setthe agenda for the rest of the administration's time in office.

      On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement, institute new methane-pollution limits on oil and gas operations, develop new fuel-economy standards, permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other wilderness areas, ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, and require public companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks—all on day one of his presidency….

      Our country won’t just be facing a climate crisis come Inauguration Day. Owing to Trump's incompetence, we're struggling with a surging pandemic and an economic recession that's pushed millions out of work. As a nation, we'll still be grappling with the systemic racism that devalues the lives of Black, brown, and Indigenous people and leaves their communities disproportionately affected by pollution and climate chaos. Though Trump lost, it’s clear that his brand 0 resentment continues to resonate with millions of Americans….

      We have no timetowaste. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report, by the time Biden takes office, we will have just nine years to limit global warming to 1.5°C and have the chance to avoid the vicious storms, droughts, floods, and fires that would come with a hotter Earth.The grassroots activism that propelled Biden and Harris to the White House will need to be sustained if we are to see any of our goals realized.

      With more than 11 million Americans unemployed, solving the climate crisis represents our bestopportunity to rebuild lives and livelihoods. While it's daunting to consider all that needs to be done, it’s also exciting to have so many pathways to progress. Let’s start by making the most of the Biden-Harris administration's first 100 days.

Fighting the Good Fight

[These excerpts are from a book review by Adrenne Hollis in the 15 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      In Michael Mann’s latest book, The New Climate War, the reader is afforded a unique perspective on the struggle for climate action and climate protection. This perspective, covering the span of a few centuries and ending in the present, weaves together the missteps, manipulations, and misrepresentations that have occurred throughout the so-called climate war between those who believe that human actions play a role in climate change and those who do not. The book ends on a hopeful note with a call to action and recommended steps for climate advocates.

      The “new” climate war Mann refers to in the book’s title introduces a previously untapped element in the climate battle—strategic inaction, as perpetuated by entities he describes as “inactivists.” According to Mann, this new approach—used to greatest effect by those charged with advancing fossil fuel interests—is intended to deflect blame, divide the public, and delay action so that business can continue as usual. Climate inaction differs from climate change denial, a strategyused in past climate arguments that was ultimately unsuccessful….

      Mann describes various attacks that have been leveraged against climate advocates, including himself: attacks on scientific data, terminology, and hypotheses; attempted character assassinations; and the use of outright trickery and deceit to mislead the scientific community and the public. Such efforts, he argues, were meant to deflect attention away from fossil fuel interest groups and their supporters.

      At the same time, the book ties together every action and every inaction that has affected the fight to protect Earth from the adverse consequences of climate change. Mann is transparent about times when those who fight for climate action have fallen short, for example, describing incidents in which climate change advocates have failed to refute false narratives perpetuated by climate deniers. The notion that individuals should be responsible for addressing the adverse effects of climate change is one such narrative, which, he rightly argues, deflects attention away from the fossil fuel industry.

      Climate changeis a “threat multiplier,” a term that has different meanings in different contexts, notes Mann. From a national security peispective, for example, it may contribute to political instability and terrorist activity by exacerbating existing stressors such as agricultural deficits and water shortages. It can also imperil a country’s civil infrastructure. Meanwhile, from a public health perspective, climate change can exacerbate health disparities in communities that are already disproportionately affected by environmental pollution. Here, Mann describes how adverse effects from climate change rendered regions such as Puerto Rico, where health care infrastructure was severely compromised as a result of Hurricane Maria, unable to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

      In the book’s closing pages, Mann reveals that he is “cautiously optimistic” about tackling the climate crisis. His reasons stem from the fact that a great deal of attention has been focused on climate change of late, both as a result of the numerous extreme weather events that have occurred recently and because we have had to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, which has highlighted just how unprepared and vulnerable we are to global threats.

      Mann is most heartened, however, by the current revival of environmental activism, particularly, as he states, “by children across the world,” which he argues has helped to show that climate change is the “defining challenge of our time.” As such, this book is a must read not just for people currently working to address climate change but also for those who are new to the climate fight, the latter of whom will learn much about past challenges, struggles, and attacks that have been aimed at climate champions.

      There is good reason to hope for change, Mann argues. He points to the sustainability efforts that many cities, states, corporations, and nations are embracing, and he emphasizes that although we need to recognize and accept that damage has already been done as a result of climate change, it is not too late to take action.

Public Debate Is Good for Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 15 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      In the age of the Internet, there's no such thing as a private debate. But is that bad for science? Some scientists have had misgivings. When debates in any sector move beyond the halls of universities and government agencies, there is potential for misuse of information and public confusion. But open debate can also foster communication among scientists and between the scientific community and the public. During the pandemic, open debate on research, health, and policy—whether on television, in newspapers, or on social media—widened public attention and encouraged more diverse voices. If this trend spurs scientists to agree more quickly about the best solutions to our problems—and at the same time helps the public “see” the process of scientific discourse more clearly—then this is good for everyone, including scientists.

      I pay attention to scientists’ public conversations about COVID-19— including the fast-paced exchanges on Twitter—because my role in communicating science includes amplifying consensus while steering clear of becoming an armchair epidemiologist or immunologist. For most of the pandemic, the trusted experts have generally agreed on issues like social distancing and a rigorous analysis of clinical trial data by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies. But there have been areas where a consensus has not emerged, such as whether and when to close schools or the usefulness of masks.

      More recently, a heated debate has taken place over how to distribute the COVID-I9 vaccines. For those that require two shots, should the period between them be stretched so that more people can be vaccinated sooner? Should the second shot be dropped altogether? Should a half: dose of each shot be given to younger folks at less risk for infection? Outstanding scholars have taken different positions on this, and the United Kingdom decided to stretch the interval between doses substantially. The debate led to what seems like a good outcome in the United States: The FDA decided not to deviate from the protocols followed in the phase 3 clinical trials. That makes sense. Right now, the main constraint for mass vaccination lies in the logistics for administering the shots themselves, not in having a sufficient supply of vaccine. The Biden transition team just announced a plan to get more people vaccinated while working to ensure that enough vaccine will be in place for the second shots.

      …These days, the public can access debates about science regardless of where they take place, so the medium isn’t so important anymore. What matters is getting to the right place in terms of the science—deciding what the question should be, the appropriate way of answering it, and the correct interpretation of the data. For many scientists, public debate is a new frontier and it may feel like the Wild West (it may well be). But rather than avoiding such conversations, let the debates be transparent and vigorous, wherever they are held. If we want the public to understand that science is an honorably self-correcting process, let’s do away once and for all with the idea that science is a fixed set of facts in a textbook. Instead, let everyone see the noisy, messy deliberations that advance science and lead to decisions that benefit us all.

Species? Climate? Cost? Ambitious Goal Means Trade-offs

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 5 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      President Joe Biden last week unveiled an ambitious conservation goal, unprecedented for the United States: conserving 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030, which would require more than doubling the area of public and private holdings under heightened protections.

      Conservation scientists welcomed the so-called 30-by-30 goal….

      But Biden’s order also raises athorny practical question: Which swaths of land and sea should be the top targets for enhanced protection or management? The order says the effort should aim for a number of outcomes, including preserving biodiversity, curbing climate change, and even creating jobs and promoting environmental justice. But researchers warn that difficult trade-offs lie ahead, because few chunks of territory can provide all of the desired benefits….

      Reaching the 30% goal could require extending protection to vast expanses of land and sea, depending on how officials define “protected.” Only about 12% of U.S. land is already in wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national parks, and other reserves with strong protection, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Much is in Alaska; just 7.5% of the lower 48 states is highly protected….At sea, the country is much closer to the goal: Some 26% of coastal waters is protected to some degree within sanctuaries, national marine monuments, or other entities….

      Making cost the top priority led to expansive new protection in the western plains, where land is cheaper. But because most of the added land supports relatively few threatened species, the scheme would fall short on that measure. The least cost scenario also protected relatively little land that absorbs or stores climate warming gases such as carbon dioxide or methane.

      Another scenario, which emphasized protecting resilient and connected land-scapes, cost twice as much. It preserved areas across most of the country except deserts and the corn belt. A third vision, focused on preventing the loss of grasslands and forests that store carbon, delivered the most climate benefit, but cost three times as much. It also produced a patchwork of protected forests in the southeast that lacked connections, reducing their value for preserving biodiversity. A final scenario, which protected species across the country but especially in the south, covered the greatest range of ecosystems. It cost four times as much and provided fewer climate benefits. Overall, the analysis found that just 2% of lands scored highly on all four measures.

      Observers say Biden could make rapid progress and contain costs by focusing on territory already owned by the federal government….

      The Biden administration’s plans should become clearer by May, when federal agencies must outline their strategies for reaching the 30-by-30 goal….

Study Shows Winners, Losers as Desert Warms

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 5 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      In the early 1900s, Joseph Grinnell traversed the wilds of California in his Ford Model T truck, meticulously surveying its fauna. Along the Californian coast, he trapped pocket mice and watched condors soar; in the Mojave Desert, his team chronicled American kestrels swooping for insects and caught cactus mice hiding among rocks.

      Now, by comparing Grinnell's data with modern surveys, ecologists have shown that climate change has not been an equal opportunity stressor. As the Mojave warmed by about 2°C over the past century, bird numbers and diversity declined dramatically, but small mammals like little pocket mice are holding their own. The survivors’ secret seems to be a nocturnal lifestyle and an ability to escape the heat by burrowing….

      Until now, researchers have I often assumed climate change challenges mammals and birds in similar ways, because both need to maintain their body temperature. But, “There are clearly winners and losers….”

      The animals Grinnell studied now live in a markedly hotter, drier climate….On average, every spot surveyed had lost more than 40% of its desert bird species, such as American kestrels or mountain quail. At most sites, even the remaining species were scarcer.

      But the new study…tells a more hopeful story for rats, mice, chipmunks, and other small mammals. Since Grinnell’s survey, three species have declined, 27 have remained stable, and four have increased in number….

      …To keep cool, birds must expend energy, for example by dilating blood vessels to evaporate moisture from their legs or mouths. The energetic costs of cooling in birds were more than three times higher than in mammals.

      That’s because most small mammals take refuge underground during the hottest parts of the day. Such behaviors even helped mammals such as woodrats, which are not specially adapted for desert life. Only mammals that find themselves in soil too shallow to provide much cooling, such as the cactus mouse, suffered from the heat….

      Modeling studies like this one will also help conservationists make hard choices….

President’s Note

[These excerpts are from a letter from John Seager in the December 2020 issue of Population Connection.]

      …If there is one thing all Americans can agree on about this election, it’s that the outcome wasn’t entirely what anyone hoped for. The dismal Trump era will thankfully end. Yet congressional results were mixed.

      We were extremely heartened by the election of Joe Biden and Kamala. Harris. They are committed to taking decisive action to repeal the Global Gag Rule and to reinvigorate an array of vital programs. There is no time to lose when we’re literally seeing the world set aflame due to our heedless ways. We were, however, dismayed to see the defeat of several stalwart House supporters of programs that help achieve population stabilization. While some great Senate candidates fell short of victory on Election Day, control ofthat body is still up for grabs.

      …Since the era of rapid population growth began around 1800, it’s taken more than two full centuries for us to reach current overpopulation levels. Like it or not, it’s going to take time and much sustained effort to restore balance.

      Of course, the events of the day matter greatly. And this election in particular was critical. But we must keep thinking about the next generation, the next century, even the next millennium, which is no easy task in this instantaneous era.

      By meeting the population challenge, we can set the table for a much brighter future. Over the past 50 years, we’ve gone from about four nations at or below replacement rate in terms of family size to nearly 100 nations in that category. That's still fewer than half the nations on earth, but it provides a roadmap for a better future if we're willing to persevere.

      One of the best ways to achieve a better, safer, less-crowded future is by ensuring today's young people understand the challenges posed by rapid population growth. We're the only nationwide provider of K-12 Population Education. If we don’t do it, no one will. We adapted rapidly to training thousands of educators remotely under the current COVID regime, since there is no time to lose….

Why Do People Starve?

[These excerpts are from an article by Bobbie Johnson in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Hunger around the globe is getting worse, not better. It’s true that the proportion of people who regularly fail to get enough calories to live has been declining, dropping from 15 in 2000 to 8.6% in 2014. Nevertheless, that proportion has since held fairly steady, and the absolute number of undernourished people has been rising. Last year, according to the UN, 688 million people went hungry on a regular basis, up from 628.9 million in 2014. The curve is not sharp, but if current trends continue, more than 840 million people may be undernourished by 2030….

      Today, the global antipoverty nonprofit Oxfam identifies 10 “extreme hunger hot spots” worldwide where millions of people face this abominable torture. Some are theaters of conflict—including Afghanistan, home to the longest war America has been involved in, and Yemen, where a civil war fueled by neighboring Saudi Arabia has left 80% of the country’s 24 million citizens in need of humanitarian assistance. But there are other circumstances that can bring starvation too: Venezuela’s cratering economy; South Africa’s high unemployment rates; Brazil's years of austerity.

      And even in high-functioning industrialized countries, the threat of hunger—not just poor nutrition, but actual hunger—has been rising as a result of economic inequality. In the UK, the use of food banks has more than doubled since 2013. In the US, food insecurity is widespread, and the hardest hit are children, elders, and the poor. In Mississippi, the country’s hungriest state, one child in four is unable to consistently get enough to eat. What's happening?

      It’s hard to comprehend, in part because the food system has been one of the greatest technological success stories of the modern world. What we eat, how it is produced, and where it comes from—all have changed dramatically in the industrial age. We have found a way to apply almost every kind of technology to food, from mechanization and computerization to biochemistry and genetic modification. These technological leaps have dramatically increased productivity and made food more reliably and widely available to billions of people.

      Farming itself has become many times more efficient and more productive. In the early 1900s, the Haber-Bosch process was harnessed to capture nitrogen from the air and turn it into fertilizer at an unprecedented scale. Mechanization came quickly: in the 1930s, around one in seven farms in the US had a tractor; within 20 years, theywere used by the majority of farms. This was matched by an increasing ability to redirect water supplies and tap into aquifers, helping turn some arid regions into fertile arable land. Swaths of China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the US were transformed by huge water projects, dams, and irrigation systems. Then, in the 1960s, the American agronomist Norman Borlaug bred new strains of wheat that were more resistant to disease, ushering in the “Green Revolution” in countries like India and Brazil—a development that led Borlaug himself to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

      All of this means that industrialized farmers now operate at almost superhuman levels of output compared with their predecessors. In 1920, more than 31 million Americans worked in agriculture, and the average farm was just under 150 acres. A century later, the total acreage of farmland in the US has fallen by 9%, but just one-tenth of that workforce, 3.2 million people, is employed to tend it. (There are also far fewer farms now, but they are three times larger on average.)

      The supply chain, too, is a futuristic marvel. You can walk into a store in most countries and buy fresh goods from all over the world. These supply chains even proved somewhat resistant to the chaos caused by the pandemic: while covid-19 lockdowns did lead to food shortages in some places, most of the empty shelves were the ones meant to hold toilet paper and cleaning products. Food supplies were more resilient than many expected.

      But the mass industrialization of food and our ability to buy it has created an avalanche of unintended consequences. Cheap, bad calories have led to an obesity crisis that disproportionately affects the poor and disadvantaged. Intensive animal farming has increased greenhouse-gas emissions, since meat has a much larger carbon footprint than beans or grains.

      The environment has taken a beating, too. Booms in fertilizer and pesticide use have polluted land and waterways, and the easy availability of water has led some dry parts of the world to use up their resources.

      …Today, he says, food production is already competing for water with urban and industrial uses. More people are moving to urban areas, accelerating the trend. If this continues, he says, the proportion of the world's fresh water supply available for growing food will drop from 70% to 40%....

      These are all bleak predictions of future hunger, but they don’t really explain starvation today. For that, we can look at a different unexpected aspect of the 20th-century farming revolution: the fact that it didn’t happen everywhere.

      Just as healthy calories are hard to come by for those who are poor, the industrialization of farming is unevenly distributed….But progress stopped there. Today, a hectare of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa produces just 1.2 metric tons of grain each year; in the US and Europe the equivalent land yields up to eight metric tons. This is not because farmers in poorer regions lack the natural resources, necessarily (West Africa has long been a producer of cotton), but because they are locked into a cycle of subsistence. They haven’t industrialized, so they don’t grow much food, which means they can’t make much money, so they can’t invest in equipment, which means they can't grow much food. The cycle continues.

      …The reason farmers in less industrialized nations can’t make much money isn't just that they have low crop yields. It’s also that their markets are flooded with cheaper competition from overseas….

      Patel and Montenegro point out that much of the populist political chaos of recent years has been a result of the trade turmoil—industrial jobs lost to outsourcing, and rural protests in the US and Europe by people angry at the prospect of rebalancing a deck that has been stacked in their favor for decades.

      Donald Trump, they write, “was never honest about ditching free trade,” but “the social power he stirred up in the Heartland was real. Invoking the abominations of outsourced jobs, rural depression, and lost wages, he tapped in to neoliberal dysfunction and hitched the outrage to authoritarian rule.”

      All this leaves us with a bleak picture of what’s next. We have built systems that don’t just widen the gap between rich and poor but make the distance unassailable. Climate change, competition for resources, and urbanization will produce more conflict. And economic inequality, both at home and abroad, means the numbers of hungry people are more likely to rise than fall….

      The countless books about the food system over the past few years make it clear: solutions are easy to lay out and extraordinarily complicated to enact.

      First steps might include helping farmers in poor countries out of the trap they are in by enabling them to grow more food and sell it at competitive prices. Such a strategy would mean not only providing the tools to modernize—such as better equipment, seed, or stock—but also reducing the tariffs and subsidies that make their hard work so unsustainable….

      And food itself needs to be more environmentally sound, employing fewer tricks that increase yields at the expense of the wider ecology. No more farming oases set up in bone-dry deserts; no more Salton Seas. This is difficult, but climate change may force us to do some of it regardless.

      All of this means recognizing that the golden age of farming wasn’t a golden age for everybody, and that our future may look different from what we have become used to. If so, that future might be better for those who go hungry today, and maybe for the planet as a whole. It may be hard to reckon with, but our spectacular global food system isn’t what will stop people from starving—it’s exactly why they starve in the first place.

Mother’s Milk

[These excerpts are from an article by Haley Cohen Gilliland in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Breastfeeding has swung in and out LAP of vogue since ancient Les—influenced by the evolution of medical knowledge, but also by race and social status.Wet nursing, the outsourcing of breastfeeding to someone other than a baby’s mother, goes back at least to ancient Greece. Before the Civil War in America, white enslavers forced Black women to breastfeed the enslavers’ children, often to the detriment of the women’s own infants.

      In 1851, the first modem feeding bottle—an elaborate contraption with a cork nipple and ivory pins that selectively closed inlets to regulate air flow—was invented in France, pushing wet nursing to near extinction. Shortly thereafter, German chemist Justus von Liebig concocted the first commercial infant formula, which consisted of cow’s milk, wheat, malt flour, and a pinch of potassium bicarbonate. It quickly came to be considered the ideal infant food.

      By the 20th century, formula use bad skyrocketed, driven in large part by zealous advertising to doctors and consumers. A 1954 advertisement for Carnation evaporated milk in America shows a radiant mother and infant with text that reads, “8 out of 10 mothers who feed their babies a Carnation formula say: ‘My doctor recommended it!’” Later, formula companies began giving hospitals free formula to distribute to new mothers. At the same time, more women were joining the workforce, making sustained breastfeeding more complicated. The perception that formula was just as safe and efficient, if not more so, led breastfeeding rates to plummet. By 1972, 22% ofAmerican infants were breastfed—a historic low, down from 77% of those born between 1936 and 1940.

      Today, those rates have rebounded, and doctors widely agree that breast milk provides the best nutrition for infants. Most American babies—about 84%, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—are breastfed at some point. But only one-quarter are fed solely breast milk for six months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

      Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. As Strickland experienced, babies can struggle to latch on; sometimes the breasts don't produce enough milk; and it can be excruciatingly painful for the mother.

      Moreover, many mothers of newborns have to work, and it can be difficult if not impossible to breastfeed or pump milk in the workplace. This, obviously, is harder for women who are poor, and especially in countries like the United States, where there is no mandatory paid parental leave and only a small percentage of working mothers get it from their employers….

      The manager led her to the processing area, where recently slaughtered cows were strung up by their hooves and moved along a conveyor belt for processing. Trying to keep her eyes locked on the ground, she pointed up at a cow’s udder and muttered weakly: “I’d like that piece, please.” She went back to her makeshift lab, placed a piece of udder in a petri dish, doused it with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and salts, and carefully deposited it in an incubator….

      Breast milk derives from two types of Lacells in the milk ducts and alveoli—small sacs in the mammary gland where milk collects. Luminal epithelial cells absorb nutrients from the bloodstream and convert them into milk. Beside them, lining the ducts and alveoli, are smooth, muscle-like myoepithelial cells. When an infant starts suclding, it prompts the myoepithelial cells to contract, pushing milk from the luminal cells, through the ducts, to the baby’s mouth.

      …One study in 2015 suggested that producing one kilogram of milk formula generates the equivalent of four kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. Strickland’s approach had the potential to be much Lmore efficient….

      Biomilq was on the brink of shuttering when Strickland and Egger were promised $3.5 million in funding from a group of investors led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which Bill Gates had established to back technologies that could reduce carbon emissions. Upending the formula industry held the promise of doing just that. As the spring of 2020 gave way to summer, the money arrived in Biomilq’s bank account….

      “I think the best thing we can do is support women to breastfeed,” Katz says. But if that’s impossible, mothers “deserve something better than current infant formula….”

      …relatively little is known about breast milk. Most studies of human mammary epithelial cells tend to focus on their role in breast cancer rather than milk production.

      As for the milk itself, it’s a rich and I, bewildering stew of thousands of chemicals….

      …another challenge looms even larger: how to standardize a substance that is unique to every mother.

      Breast milk changes in composition as a child grows. For the first few days after giving birth, mothers produce colostrum, a thick, yellow, concentrated milk packed with compounds like the antibody IgA and lactoferrin, an abundant protein that boosts a baby’s immunity, Soon, colostrum is replaced by “transitional milk,” which is thinner but contains more fat and lactose. After about two weeks, a mother’s milk is considered “mature.” But even then, it can change in composition over the course of a single feeding. Hindmilk, or the last milk left in abreast, has a higher fat content than the milk that is produced earlier on, which is why women are often counseled to empty one breast before switching to the other.

      Though Egger and Strickland admit they won’t be able to replicate this complexity, nor all the antibodies and microbes in any given woman’s milk, they say their product will be more personalized than those of their competitors. Just as Strickland envisioned back in 2013, they plan to work with pregnant women, taking samples of their mammary epithelial cells and culturing them to create individualized milk for use when their babies arrive. After that, they hope to create a more economical generic option using donor cells. Both, Egger insists, will be better than formula….

      Strickland and Egger have already produced a liquid containing both lactose and casein—the main protein and sugar compounds found in breast milk. They are now testing it to see if they can detect other components, like oligosaccharides and lipids. They are currently tinkering with their equipment and the nutrients they use to grow the cells to see what combination gets them closest to matching the composition of natural breast milk; they estimate it will take about two years to come up with a good enough match….

Flesh Forward

[These excerpts are from an article by Niall Firthin in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Cultured meat (or, if you prefer your high-tech foodstuffs seasoned with a bit more marketing savvy, “cultivated meat”—the industry now eschews phrases like “lab-grown” or “in vitro”) is already a nascent industry. The product is still exorbitantly expensive compared with old-fashioned meat, you can't yet buy it at the supermarket, and for the most part it doesn’t look or taste much like the real thing….

      While lab-grown meat was busy trying to find its way out of the petri dish, plant-based meat substitutes were undergoing a revolution. Firms such as Impossible and Beyond Meat broke through to the mainstream by cleverly mimicking the flavor and texture of ground beef, pork, and chicken using vegetable proteins and fats. These days you can pick up an Impossible Whopper at Burger King and Beyond Meat sausages in supermarkets in dozens of countries.

      That kind of competition could b e seen as bad news for cultured-meat startups. But Krieger and a number of other entrepreneurs think it’s the opening they need to finally bring their creations to market—in the form of “blended meat,” melding the best of the plant-based and cultured-meat substitutes. Even the world's biggest fast-food firms are interested: KFC has announced it will be working to produce blended chicken nuggets that could be available this year

      Regardless of who gets there first, blended meat is coming, and it might not be long before you get a chance If taste it.

      …A small sample of cells is taken from an animal, usually via biopsy, and then fed a broth of nutrients. When millions of new cells have grown, they are encouraged to differentiate into muscle cells and eventually strands of muscle fiber.

      The technology’s promise is to reproduce the flavor and texture of meat without harming animals, and without the huge environmental costs of rearing them. Proponents also point out that cultured meat won’t carry diseases or need antibiotics, which breed drug-resistant bacteria….

      But there’s a problem. The medium that nurtures the cells is expensive. The cost is dropping from the early days, when startups in the R&D stage relied on repurposed cell culture media taken from biomedical research. But growth media still make up the bulk of production expenses—estimates range from 55% to 95% of the total—and a kilogram of cultured meat still costs hundreds of dollars. Even allowing for eventual economies of scale as factories get up and running, it’s no recipe for success. No wonder, then, that cultured-meat firms have started thinking about how to get a piece of the huge market that plant-meat companies have opened up….

      If you think about it, there’s nothing new about blended meat. Ground-meat products like sausages, nuggets, and burgers have always been a mashup (McDonald’s has said one of its burgers can contain beef from over 100 cows), often mixed with breadcrumbs and other ingredients. That’s because even conventionally processed meat is e. Bulking it out makes for a cheaper product that’s still full of meaty flavor….

      But besides cost, there’s another reason for blending cultured meat with plants. Meat is mostly muscle, but from a flavor perspective, muscle is a relatively minor player. When you bite into a piece of meat you encounter fats, connective tissue like collagen, that juice dripping down your chin ... it's all part of the sensory experience. Eating pure muscle tissue—which is what most cultured meats are right now—is liable to feel like gnawing on a hunk of shoe leather.

      This is where the advances in plant analogues can help. Scientists at Impossible and the Better Meat Company have perfected techniques for adding ingredients like coconut oil and sunflower oil to create moisture in their burgers and sausages. Plant ingredients, used expertly, can help make early cultured-meat products taste and feel more like the real thing….

      Ah, fat. Villainized for decades, it’s still avoided by many of the health-conscious among us. But true foodies know that it’s responsible for so much of what we love about food. In her hymn to good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, the chef and writer Samin Nosrat describes fat as the element that “carries flavor.”

      …The company’s biologists extract stem cells from a fertilized chicken egg, cultivate them, and then grow fat cells in a bioreactor.

      …When it came, the T-bone we chose was beautifully charred from the grill on the outside, and pink, sweet, and succulent inside. It was juicy, packed full of flavor—in a word: heaven.

      Cultured meat is years, if not decades, from delivering anything that approaches such an experience. Most cultured prototypes are closer to the consistency of ground meat. But if and when something approximating a real steak hits your plate, there’s every chance that it will be a hybrid….

      It’s clear that blended products will have to pave the way. But even ignoring the substantial technical obstacles that remain, a big question looms: Will consumers like these foods? The image of meat grown in giant vats, monitored by scientists in lab coats, has a distinct sci-fi ick factor that doesn’t compete well with the cachet of organic, farm-to-table meat from animals that have spent their lives dancing in pastoral bliss.

      Blended meat might, then, do one final job for the cultured-meat industry: help it gain acceptance. People who are already pretty comfortable with the idea if not the flavor of plant burgers will soon get to try them with a sprinkling of cultured cells to add some extra meaty oomph….

      That system of raising and then slaughtering animals has stood for millennia and won’t be easily upended. Cultured meat—first blended, and then in pure form—will only stand a chance if it tastes at least as good as traditional meat….

In Search of Bovine Perfection

[These excerpts are from an article by Jim McAdams in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …These technologies are expensive, and it is not unusual for seedstock producers to sell their bulls to other ranchers for $30,000 or more. You’d be lucky to raise a hundred calves from a bull in his lifetime if you just tum.him out naturally with the cows, but using advanced reproductive technologies enables that bull to sire several thousand calves….

      Technology has spread like weeds in the ranching world. In the 1970s, artificial insemination became a widespread tool. In the 1990s, we also started to see modem techniques like gene mapping and DNA testing that help us balance our breeds. There is a cost to gene mapping because you have to test your animals, get them into a database, pay all these fees, pay for animal IDs, all of those things….

      The average cow’s weight 50 years ago was probably 900 pounds. In the ‘70s, it was probably 1,000 pounds. Today, it’s about 1,300 pounds. It takes more acres to maintain cows of that size. And they produce much bigger calves, and require more feed in the winter. In the ‘50s, in the early ‘60s, we got cattle too fat and too small, and their productive life was too short. Then in the ‘70s—I graduated college in 1972—there was this war on fat in the industry because the medical field had determined that eating too much fat was bad for people’s hearts. We really focused on getting cattle that would be more efficient, bigger, leaner. That took us about 20 years. And we overdid it. We realized that we were losing the eating experience, because the meat was getting too tough. There’s a fair amount of trial and error. Today, we’re somewhere in the middle. I think we’ve hit the sweet spot. You won’t really find yourself in a restaurant anymore saying, “I broke my tooth on that steak.”

      Breeding the right kind of cow has been one of the main interests of my career. It's a challenge, because the life cycle of a bovine is pretty long, compared to any other meat protein.

Packaging with Less Plastic

[This brief article by Jocelyn Eason is in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      New packaging materials will allow many food producers to gradually move away from plastics, for good. During my lifetime, I’ve watched plastic become one of the biggest environmental hazards that we face as a society. Consumers want less of it in their lives, and regulators are beginning to ban or impose taxes on plastics used to package or serve food. Sooner or later, most producers will need to switch to more sustainable materials. Some alternatives are already available: Earthpac, a New Zealand company I've worked with, is using starch recovered from the wastewater of potato processing factories to make biodegradable trays, plates, and punnets (the small green baskets in which berries are often sold). Another client, Meadow Mushrooms, is making packaging from the stalks removed from mushrooms during processing.

Supermarket Forces

[These excerpts are from an article by Fabio Parasecoli in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …As it turns out, these failures derived from built-in features of our food system. It was cheaper to destroy crops than harvest and process them when bulk buyers like schools and catering businesses all but suspended purchases. Dairies set up for selling big volume weren't equipped to shift their packaging machines to consumer-sized containers. Meatpacking plants revved up to meet demand—a situation that required as many workers as possible to crowd in along processing lines. Predictably, many fell ill, and plants across the country were forced to shutter….

      Simply put, the modern food system is a product of the forces inherent in free-market capitalism. Decisions on where to invest in technological research and where to apply its fruits have been guided by the drive for ever greater efficiency, productivity, and profit.

      The result has been a long, steady trend toward greater abundance. Take wheat production as an example: thanks to the railways, the introduction of better equipment, and the adoption of higher-yield varieties, output in the US tripled between the 1870s and the 1920s. Similarly, rice production in Indonesia tripled in 30 years after the mechanized, high-input methods of the Green Revolution were adopted in the early 1970s.

      But as we all know, overproduction in the US in the early 20th century led to widespread soil erosion and the Dust Bowl. The steady march of higheryields was achieved by using large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as by discarding local crop varieties that were deemed unfavorable. Farmland became concentrated in the hands of a few large players; the US had about one-third as many farms in 2000 as in 1900, and on average they were three times as big. In the same period, the proportion of the US workforce employed in agriculture shrank from slightly over 40% to around 2%. Supply chains have continued to be optimized for speed, reduced costs, and increased returns on investment.

      Consumers have been mostly happy to enjoy the increases in convenience that have come with these trends, but there has also been a backlash. Products that are distributed globally can come across as soulless, removed from local culinary tradition and cultural contexts—we can find blueberries in the middle of winter and the same brand of potato chips in remote corners of the planet. As a reaction, more affluent eaters now look for "authenticity" and turn to food as an arena in which to declare their identity. Suspicions or outright critiques of technology have emerged within the so-called food movement, together with a frequent and uncritical embrace of pastoral fantasies that at times reflect the preferences of richer (and often whiter) consumers.

      Such attitudes fail to acknowledge the obvious: the availability, accessibility, and affordability of industrial food has been a major force in reducing food insecurity around the world. The number of people suffering from undernourishment fell from around 1 billion in 1990 to 780 million in 2014…while the world population grew by 2 billion in the same period.

      And criticizing the mass production of food per se is misguided. It is indeed a very flawed endeavor that produces a lot of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods. But it is not doomed to ruin our planet and our well-being. Not if we make choices that take factors other than profit into account.

      …The shutdown of slaughtering and meat-packing plants in response to covid-19 caused troubles upstream, forcing farmers to kill and dispose of livestock that were too expensive to feed without the certainty of sales. This is what happens when a system fine-tuned for efficiency, productivity, and profit collides with a shock.

      …patent owners have used their patents almost exclusively to maximize profit, rather than to improve food security and food quality.

      Genetic modification is a great example. For the most part, its techniques have been applied to commercial crops such as wheat, soybeans, and corn, grown in huge quantities and traded internationally. The goal is single-minded: increase yields, even when that requires heavier use of pesticides and fertilizers—which are often patented by the same companies that own the patents to the GMOs.

      …If applied to those crops in the pursuit of food security instead of profits, genetic technologies could be used to create stronger, more resilient local agriculture and a healthier food system—but they aren’t, because that wouldn't generate profits large enough to interest the private biotech sector. To make matters worse, many low-income countries have also historically been forced to accept trade and financing deals from the IMF, World Bank, and World Trade Organization that open their markets to those heavily globalized commercial crops, regardless of farmers’ or consumers' customs and needs.

      And yet, most debates about GMOs focus on their supposed danger to human health—for which there is little scientific evidence—rather than on the way they tilt the playing field against small farmers and the communities they feed. In short, by focusing on spurious technological problems, we are ignoring very real legal and social ones.

      …But the incentives of the companies behind such innovations are to sell as many apps and devices and data streams as possible, not to feed and nourish as many people as possible. If the companies change their business model, discontinue a product or service, or simply fold, farmers are at their mercy.

      Food production and food security are so connected with food as a human right—and so crucial for the survival of whole communities—that technology and intellectual-property rights in this sector should work according to different principles and priorities from those followed elsewhere in the tech world….

      These are profoundly political choices. They should not be left to supposedly self-regulating economic mechanisms or to the quest for ever greater efficiency and productivity. Such priorities need to be balanced with others to ensure the greatest possible human benefit, rather than merely the greatest possible profit. That will require active participation from governments, activists, international organizations, research institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of local communities ... the kind of authentic, democratic coalition that would please even the most demanding “food movement” devotee.

      In the process, such cooperation could redefine how we assess new technologies and their use and impact. It may even leave us better prepared for the next crisis, whatever that may be.

From the Editor

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Gideon Lichfield in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …What makes these technologies so fascinating? Sure, it’s claimed that they’ll make food production better more humane, more reliable, more efficient. But beyond that, I think we’re at once intrigued and repulsed by the idea that something as familiar, essential, and “natural” as food can be deconstructed and rebuilt from its component cells, tweaked like a piece of software, or grown without ever being touched by a human hand.

      This reflects an evolution in Western food culture. If mid-20th-century advertisements extolled synthetic foods in garish colors, and television shows told us we’d soon have all our nutritional needs met by three pills a day, today we fantasize about ancient grains and heirloom tomatoes in limitless abundance. But that also means we prefer not to acknowledge the truth: there’s already precious little that’s “natural” about how we get most of our food.

      Today’s food system bears little resemblance to the one of just a couple of generations ago. It is far more industrial and globalized, and in much of the world it yields many times more crops per acre of land, thanks to new fertilizers, pesticides, and seed varieties. The most mundane processes, from walnut picking to potato breeding, are technologically mediated from top to bottom…and are only becoming more so. We can make a piece of food take on any color in the spectrum, where once we were restricted to naturally occurring pigments…. Industrial-scale fermentation, long-distance transportation, packaging, and refrigeration completely changed what foods are available when and where….

      And yet, for all its abundance and reach, the food system fails to feed hundreds of millions of people each year—and this figure, shockingly, is rising….

      The obvious answer is that the food system is not actually designed to feed people. It’s designed to turn a profit, and typically it achieves that by maximizing yields and efficiencies. This might lead to the production of a lot of food, but often in the wrong places, at the wrong times….

      The message in all this is one that MIT Technology Review delivers time after time: technology can yield great benefits to humanity, but only if we choose to deploy it in pursuit of those benefits. It may be a tired old nostrum, but it's never more self-evidently true than with food—a technological product that every human being relies on almost every single day.

Siberia May Be Long-Sought Site of Dog Domestication

[These excerpts are from an article by David Grimm in the 29 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      Sometime toward the end of the last ice age, a group of humans armed with stone-tipped spears stalked their prey in the bitter cold of northeastern Siberia, tracking bison and woolly mammoths across a vast, grassy landscape. Beside them ran wolf-like creatures, more docile than their ancestors and remarkably willing to help their primate companions hunt down prey and drag it back to camp. These were the world's first dogs. Their descendants flowed both west and east, populating Eurasia as well as accompanying the ancestors of Native Americans as they spread into the Americas.

      That’s the scenario laid out in a new study combining DNA data from ancient dogs and humans….It may even explain how wary wolves were transformed into faithful companions in the first place.

      ….More genomes from ancient dogs and people will be needed to confirm the findings….

      To refine their doodling, the researchers analyzed previously sequenced mitochondrial genomes of more than 200 dogs from all over the world. The mitochondrial DNA—short sequences that are more abundant in fossils than nuclear DNA—showed that all ancient American dogs carried a genetic signature, dubbed A2b, and that they splintered into four groups about 15,000 years ago as they spread around North America.

      The timing and location of those splits mirror those of ancient Native American groups, the team found. All of those people descend from a group scientists call ancestral Native Americans, who arose in Siberia about 21,000 years ago. Those people must have brought dogs with them when they entered the Americas about 16,000 years ago….(The ancient American dogs later vanished, wiped out after Europeans came to the Americas with their own canines.)

      Going even deeper into the genetic past, the team found that the A2b dogs descended from a canine ancestor that lived in Siberia about 23,000 years ago. That ancestral dog probably lived with people who belonged to a genetic grouping known as the ancient north Siberians…The group, which appeared more than 31,000 years ago, lived in a relatively temperate part of northeastern Siberia for thousands of years, and they shared this refuge with the gray wolf, the direct ancestor of today’s dogs….

      The idea fits the leading theory of dog domestication, which holds that gray wolves inched closer and closer to human campsites to scavenge food, with the least timid ones evolving over hundreds or thousands of years into the gentle pups we know today.

      What’s more, genetic evidence suggests the ancient north Siberians mingled with the ancestral Native Americans before they migrated to the Americas. The ancient dog breeders might have traded animals to the lineage that became Native Americans, as well as to other groups of people, including those traveling farther west into Eurasia. That could explain why dogs appeared in both Europe and North America about 15,000 years ago, a puzzle that had previously sparked speculation that dogs were domesticated more than once. Instead, all dogs descend from roughly 23,000-year-old Siberian pups, the team argues….

Going beyond Eloquent Words

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Sudip Parikh in the 29 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Diversity is a double-edged sword. When complementary talents and perspectives come together, leaps in understanding are more likely and disruptive technologies are born. But there is also a vulnerability. When seized upon to divide (with talk of quotas in a zero-sum game), diversity can be used to generate fear and stoke division in ways that increase inequities and stifle substantive debate. In the scientific enterprise, explicit acts of racism and sexism still exist and cause harm. However, it is often the less obvious factors—divisive rhetoric, obsolete policies (such as overreliance on standardized tests), and willful blindness to inequitable treatment (such as smaller startup budgets for female academics)—that cement many of the injustices that have sprung from the nation's segregated history. These opaque forces are so ingrained that we scarcely realize their implications for minorities and women in science….

      Insisting on inclusion of underrepresented groups neither sacrifices scientific excellence nor diminishes the accomplishments of those who have historically dominated the sciences. Highlighting the previously ignored does not invalidate the already admired. But this change requires that the scientific community increase attention and support for those who have been disadvantaged….But race and patriarchy are powerful social constructs with societal consequences that cannot be overlooked….Avoiding these conversations amounts to advocating the status quo—and the United States would be weaker for it.

      Institutions also must push for policies that enable diversity across the enterprise. Often, these policies do not seem directly related to diversity, equity, or inclusion. But increasing pay for graduate students and postdocs and providing them with employee-like benefits and protections; achieving open access publishing policies that do not place the financial burden of publishing on authors; improving training and standards for mentorship, and providing safe and supportive workplace cultures—these policies do affect the retention of diverse scientists without sacrificing scientific excellence.

      The reasons for ensuring the diversity of science transcend the obvious moral imperative. Diversity of thought derived from diversity of experience gives America a critical advantage in the global competitive landscape. This is key to making the discoveries that will improve everyone's health, inventing the technologies that will grow the economy, and meeting the formidable challenges of this era. Without the innovative boost from a diverse population, the United States will be hard-pressed to compete on sheer numbers of scientists and engineers….

Science, Civics, and Democracy

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michael J. Feuer in the 29 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      Will the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—a transition made "orderly" with barbed wire, National Guard soldiers, and the closure of downtown Washington, D.C.—be remembered as an inflection point? After 4 years of boorish incivility, incendiary nativist extremism, a crippling pandemic, resurgent racism, and riotous mobs incited to attack the Capitol, can the United States rebuild its civic and moral infrastructure? To repair the damage and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders requires a new spirit of cooperation between the science and civics education communities….

      This is not a zero-sum competition. STEM priorities can be aligned with—and reinforce—ideals of social responsibility and the public good….

      What ingredients should be included in this recipe for reform? Policy-makers and legislators must acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on educational outcomes and invest resources to protect disadvantaged youth. Research on disruptions caused by the pandemic shows that, on average, American students in K-12 experienced less “learning loss” than anticipated, but for disadvantaged and minority children, the setbacks were substantially worse. This is no surprise to researchers who study the effects of poverty and racism on achievement. A strategy to raise average performance in STEM while shrinking the variance would help instill an ethos of the common good—a core aspiration of civics.

      Good science education means equitable science education. This principle will require sustained efforts to expunge biases associated with race, gender, and class from curricula and school culture. As the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson noted, we must work toward a world where students will succeed in science because of—not despite—what happened in school. Research on the origins of bias and its effects is bringing new ideas into the development of methods to combat discrimination in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Again, good science and good citizenship are mutually reinforcing.

      Americans know that educational opportunity is the ticket to economic and social advancement….Let’s seize on this evidence and hold government accountable for ensuring that all students learn in safe classrooms with skilled and dedicated teachers, modem lab equipment and digital technologies, experienced school leaders, and a curriculum that logically connects science with social studies, humanities, and language arts.

      Certainly, not every young person will become a practicing scientist, but every student should appreciate the processes of scientific inquiry and its uses….Let’s integrate into hands-on STEM education some hands-on learning about objective inquiry as a cornerstone of American democracy and the preparation of a well-informed citizenry….

Life on Venus?

[This short article is by Jennifer Chu is in the January-February 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      The search for extraterrestrial life has largely focused on Mars, but scientists at MIT, Cardiff University, and elsewhere reported surprising findings in September of what may be signs of life in the clouds of Venus.

      While Venus is similar to Earth in size, mass, and rocky composition, its surface temperatures reach 900 °F, and its atmosphere is suffused with thick clouds of sulfuric acid billions of times more acidic than any environ-ment on Earth.

      There is, however, a narrow band 48 to 60 kilometers above the surface where temperatures range from 30 to 200 °F. In this temperate region the astronomers detected a pattern of light associated with phosphine, a stinky, poisonous gas that MIT astronomers have shown cannot be produced on rocky planets by any means other than living organisms. The team used computer models to explore all other mechanisms that might produce phosphine in Venus’s harsh environment and came up empty.

      If there is indeed life on Venus, the researchers say, it is some “aerial” form that exists only in this band of clouds. “A long time ago, Venus is thought to have had oceans, and was probably habitable like Earth,” says coauthor Clara Sousa-Silva, a former research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “As Venus became less hospitable, life would have had to adapt, and they could now be in this narrow envelope of the atmosphere where they can still survive.”

How Acupuncture Relieves Inflammation

[These excerpts are from an article by Debra Bradley Ruder in the January-February 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      Inflammation can both heal and harm. A core component of the immune system, it's essential for recovering from an injury or infection—but too much can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and other serious illnesses….

      During animal experiments, the researchers found that acupuncture activates different nerve pathways that can either suppress or promote inflammation, depending on where, when, and how it is used. Their work revealed that acupuncture stimulation can reduce systemic inflammation in mice experiencing cytokine storm, an extreme immune response in which the body rapidly releases excess inflammatory proteins….But Ma’s team also discovered that acupuncture can worsen inflammation when administered at the wrong time, suggesting the ancient healing technique can be harmful if not practiced properly. These findings…hold promise for improving acupuncture’s safety and effectiveness and eventually may help treat patients with inflammatory diseases.

      Acupuncture uses fine needles to stimulate points on the body’s surface that scientists believe send nerve and biochemical signals to corresponding organs and systems. Traditional Chinese medicine describes this process as enhancing the flow of energy (qi) through invisible meridian channels to improve health. The practice is used worldwide to help relieve pain, depression, nausea, digestive problems, and other ailments and has been integrated into some parts of Western medicine. But exactly how it influences the nervous system, Ma says, is still unclear.

      Building on research conducted elsewhere in recent decades, Ma's lab—in its first foray into acupuncture research—wanted to clarify which nerve pathways are activated by acupuncture, and how that process helps tame systemic inflammation. The Harvard team applied “electroacupuncture,” in which mild electric current passes between two acupuncture needles, to mice with rampant inflammation from a bacteria-induced infection. They focused on the effects of this stimulation on two types of nerve cells, chromaffin cells and noradrenergic neurons, which together secrete the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine, believed to play a role in the body's inflammation response. Using a genetic tool to “knock out” these nerve cells, they confirmed that chrornaffin cells and noradrenergic neurons are key regulators of inflammation.

      Three factors—timing of treatment, placement of the acupuncture needles, and intensity of the stimulation—the investigators found, can produce markedly different outcomes in modulating inflammation.

      In one experiment, they delivered high-intensity electroacupuncture to rodents’ abdomens and hind legs at different stages of infection. The stimulation excited noradrenergic nerve fibers in the spleen (a key immune system organ) that helped to either reduce or fuel inflammation, depending on when it was given. Mice treated preventively—right before their cytokine storm—developed less inflammation and fared much better than untreated mice; their survival rate improved from 20 percent to almost 80 percent. “But when the cytokine storm has already reached the peak, high-intensity acupuncture makes inflammation worse,” Ma warns. This finding may have important clinical implications, he notes, because patients often seek acupuncture therapy after they’ve already developed a health problem.

      Location is also critical. The researchers gave low-intensity electroacupuncture to a point on the animals’ hind legs, driving a different nerve pathway called the vagal-adrenal axis that's been shown to calm systemic inflammation. The approach caused chromaffin cells in the adrenal glands to secrete dopamine. After just 15 minutes of stimulation, those mice exhibited lower cytokine levels, which translated to a better survival rate (60 percent) than that for the Luntreated mice (20 percent)….

      For Ma, these collective findings signal that the 3,000-year-old practice of acupuncture—far from being folk medicine—has a scientific basis that could eventually be understood. That’s a puzzle he hopes to investigate further, through basic research in animals and work with clinical partners to examine how acupuncture treatments might help humans better “fine-tune” inflammation.

Biological Vaccine Factories

[These excerpts are from an article by Erin O’Donnell in the January-February 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      A miniature device the size and shape of an aspirin tablet could provide new options for people with cancer….the implantable vaccine, inserted under a patient's skin, operates like a tiny factory where immune cells of one kind are transformed to train other immune cells to eradicate tumors.

      The tablet-like device emits a signal that attracts dendritic cells, the messengers of the immune system, which carry information about the pathogens and toxins they encounter to other immune cells. The dendritic cells “literally crawl inside the plastic device” to be activated by freeze-dried fragments of the patient’s own tumor….Once the dendritic cells have become activated, they “"home to the nearest lymph node,” where they encounter T cells that they train to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The T cells then multiply and circulate through the body, dissolving the patient’s tumor. The researchers also believe the vaccine could generate immune memory to prevent future tumor growth.

      …The device…is made of the same plastic found in biodegradable surgical sutures; it completes its activity in a few weeks and dissolves within a few months.

      Immuno-oncology—which harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer—has progressed significantly in the last decade, offering new ways to help patients. Current cancer vaccines come in two forms, Mooney explains. One works similarly to a flu shot: a solution containing antigens (proteins from the flu virus or cancer cell) and adjuvants (which boost the body’s immune response to the antigens) is injected into the body to attack cancer cells. The other vaccine type involves nanoparticles containing the antigen and adjuvant that are placed in the body and travel to a lymph node. The new vaccine improves on these options in two ways, Mooney says. First, his team’s device works fora longer time, “so we probably end up trafficking many cells. Second, it appears that we’re able to bring in a variety of different dendritic cells to the device, and it’s likely that the combination of cells works together to generate a really effective response.”

      The implantable cancer vaccine could also incorporate other cancer-fighting tools….

      And promising as the implantable vaccine technology may be, Mooney stresses that “there’s no magic bullet. Cancer is a lot of different diseases that we’ve lumped together, and there’s no one therapy that's going to be the end-all across the board. We’re hoping that this vaccine will have an important role in combination with other therapies.”

New Mutations Raise Specter of ‘Immune Escape’

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt in the 22 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      When the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise again in Manaus, Brazil, in December 2020, Nuno Faria was stunned. The virologist at Imperial College London had just co-authored a paper in Science estimating that three-quarters of the city’s inhabitants had already been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic coronavirus—more than enough, it seemed, for herd immunity to develop. The virus should be done with Manaus. Yet hospitals were filling up again….

      On 12 January, Faria and his colleagues posted their initial conclusions on the website Thirteen of 31 samples collected in mid-December in Manaus turned out to be part of a new viral lineage they called P.L Much more research is needed, but they say one possibility is that in some people, P.1 eludes the human immune response triggered by the lineage that ravaged the city earlier in 2020.

      Emerging variants of the coronavirus have been in the news ever since scientists raised the alarm over, a SARS-CoV-2 variant that first caught scientists' attention in England in December and that is more transmissible than previously circulating viruses….But now, they’re also focusing on a potential new threat: variants that could do an end run around the human immune response. Such “immune escapes” could mean more people who have bad COVID-19 remain susceptible to reinfection, and that proven vaccines may, at some point, need an update….

      The more transmissible variant, B.1.17, is I already spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark, and probably in many other countries. But scientists are just as worried about 501Y.V2, a variant detected in South Africa. Some of the mutations it carries, including ones named E484K and K417N, change its surface protein, spike, and have been shown in the lab to reduce how well monoclonal antibodies combat the virus….

      P.1 adds to the concerns because it appears to have hit on a similar constellation of mutations and has emerged in a place with a high level of immunity….

      Like B.1.1.7, the Brazilian variant is already on the move. Just as Faria was finish-ing his analysis of the Brazilian genomes, a report was published of a variant detected in travelers arriving in Japan from Brazil—and it turned out to be P.1….

      How these new variants are affecting the course of the pandemic is unclear. In Manaus, for example, R1 might have nothing to do with the new surge in infections; people’s immunity might simply be waning….Or it might be driving the boost because it is transmitted more easily, like B.1.1.7, not because it can evade the immune response….

      …South Africa’s 501Y.V2 variant could be 50% more transmissible but no better at evading immunity, or just as transmissible as previous variants but able to evade immunity in one in five people previously infected. “Reality may lie between these extremes,” the authors wrote….

      So far the virus does not appear to have become resistant to COVID-19 vaccines, ays vaccinologist Philip Krause….”The not-so-good news is that the rapid evolution of these variants suggests that if it is possible for the virus to evolve into a vaccine-resistant phenotype, this may happen sooner than we like,” he adds. That possibility adds to the urgency of putting good surveillance in place to detect such escape variants early on….

      …And the Trump administration decided to ship all available doses immediately, rather than holding back 50% to guarantee that people receive their second doses on time. That policy, which the Biden administration has said it will follow, could inadvertently extend the dosing interval if future vaccine deliveries don’t arrive or aren’t administered on time.

      Widespread delays of the second dose might create a pool of millions of people with enough antibodies to slow the virus and avoid getting sick, but not enough to wipe it out. That could well be the perfect recipe for creating vaccine-resistant strains….

      But others say unchecked spread of the virus poses greater risks….Historically, few viruses have managed to evolve resistance to vaccines, with the notable exception of seasonal influenza, which evolves so rapidly on its own—without vaccine pressure—that it requires a newly designed vaccine every year.

      If vaccine-resistant SARS-CoV-2 strains emerge, vaccines might need to be updated. Several vaccines could be easily changed to reflect the latest changes, but regulators might balk at authorizing them without seeing updated safety and efficacy data….

Target Student Mental Well-being

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Alan I. Leshner in the 22 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      Mental health and well-being are critical to student success in higher education and beyond but rarely get the attention they need….

      American undergraduate students have been reporting increasing rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, trauma, and substance use for decades. In the 2018-2019 Healthy Minds Study (HMS) survey, conducted before the pandemic, 40% of about 300,000 students at some 300 colleges and universities reported experiencing a mental health problem, and 60% said they were having difficulty accessing mental health care on campus or in the community. A spring 2020 survey conducted in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic by the HMS and American College Health Association showed that self-reported prevalence of depression among undergraduates had increased by 15% compared to the fall of 2019, and more students reported that mental health problems negatively affected their academic performance. Other studies estimate that the dropout rate for U.S. undergraduate students with diagnosed mental health problems is over 40%, and that the prevalence of mental health problems among graduate students is six times that of the general population. These statistics reflect a major problem that has clear implications not only for students but also for their institutions that depend on, if nothing else, tuition payments.

      A December 2020 survey by the American Council on Education reported that 68% of U.S. college and university presidents ranked mental health issues among the five most pressing concerns facing their institutions. Most academic institutions provide some mental health services, often through a dedicated counseling center….Another important question is whether there are elements of the institution’s own environment or culture that contribute to the problems that students are experiencing, like unreasonable workloads or deadlines for assignments. In addition, student orientation should emphasize the value of pursuing one’s own wellness while providing information about campus and community services available to help when needed. The stigma that inevitably accompanies mental health and substance use problems and inhibits students from seeking help must also be tackled. Faculty should be trained to recognize students in distress and refer them to professional services….

      The mission of higher education should be to develop the whole student. After all, physically and mentally healthy, well-educated individuals are what society really needs from academia.

The Very Real Death Toll of COVID-19

[These excerpts are from an article by Christie Aschwanden in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      A pesistent falsehood has been circulating on social media: the number of COVID deaths is much lower than official statistics, and therefore the danger of the disease has been overblown. In August, President Donald Trump retweeted a post claiming that only 6 percent of these reported deaths were actually from COVID-19. (The tweet originated from a follower of the debunked conspiracy fantasy QAnon.) Twitter removed the post for containing false information, but fabrications such as these continue to spread. In September outgoing U.S. Representative Roger Marshall of Kansas—now incoming senator—complained that Facebook had removed a post in which he claimed that 94 percent of COVID-19 deaths reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “were the result of 2-3 additional serious illnesses and were of advanced age.”

      Now some facts: Researchers know beyond a doubt that the number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. surpassed a quarter of a million people by November 2020. This number is supported by three lines of evidence, including death certificates. The inaccurate idea that only 6 percent of the deaths were really caused by the coronavirus is “a gross misinterpretation” of how death certif-icates work….

      The scope of the coronavirus’s deadly toll is clear, even if the exact toll varies by a small fraction depending on the reporting system….

      The first source of death data is called case surveillance. Health-care providers are required to report cases and deaths from certain diseases, including measles, mumps and now COVID-19, to state health departments, which pass this information along to the CDC….

      This second line of evidence comes from the National Vital Statistics System, which records birth and death certificates. When somebody dies, a death certificate is filed in the state where the L death occurred….Death certificates are not filed in the system until outstanding test results are in and the information is as complete as possible….

      A physician, medical examiner or coroner fills out the cause of mortality on the death certificate. That specialist is instructed to include only conditions that caused or contributed to death….

      The 6 percent number touted by Trump and QAnon comes from a weekly CDC report stating that in 6 percent of the coronavirus mortality cases it counted, COVID-19 was the only condition listed on the death certificate. That observation most likely means that those death certificates were incomplete because the certifiers gave onlythe underlying cause of death and not the full causal sequence that led to it, Anderson says. Even someone who does not have another health condition and dies from COVID-19 will also have comorbidities in the form of symptoms, such as respiratory failure, caused by the coronavirus. The idea that a death certificate with ailments listed in addition to COVID-19 means thatthe person did not really die from the virus is simply false….

      COVID 19 is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and the toll continues to rise as cases, hospitalizations and fatalities surge across the country. The complete number may never be known, even after the pandemic ends, but already it is a staggering number of lives cut short.

The Real Dilophosaurus

[These excerpts are from an article by Matthew A. Brown and Adam D. Marsh in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …In the summer of 1993 dinosaurs and paleontologists exploded onto movie screens around the world. Adapted from the 1990 Michael Crichton novel, Jurassic Park made instant stars, and villains, of several little-known species. Names such as Velociraptor and Dilophosaurus joined Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops in the public lexicon. The dinosaurs of action movies are typically not the animals that scientists know from nature. Yet one of the elements that made the Jurassic Park franchise so successful (it broke box office records in 1993 and topped the charts again in the summer of 2020) was its narrative reliance on the state of the art in paleontology and genetics. Author Crichton and director Steven Spielberg brought a modern look at dinosaur science to audiences for the first time, and the image they portrayed of active, intelligent animals still resonates today.

      Of course, Crichton and Spielberg took artistic liberties to tell a compelling story, dramatizing not only the scientists but also the dinosaurs. The animal that departed most from the fossil evidence was Dilophosaurus. In the movie, it takes the form of a golden retriever-sized creature with a rattling frill and venomous spit that kills the computer programmer-turned-dinosaur embryo smuggler, Dennis Nedry. What was Dilophosaurus really like?

      In truth, scientists did not have a complete picture of this animal back when it entered pop culture. But in the nearly three decades since Dilophosaurus got the Hollywood treatment, researchers have recovered significant new fossil specimens of this dinosaur and analyzed all of the remains with increasingly sophisticated methods. As a result, we can now reconstruct this dinosaur—its appearance and behavior, how it evolved, the world it inhabited—in detail. The findings show that the real Dilophosaurus bore little resemblance to its big-screen counterpart. They also provide the most detailed portraityet of a dinosaur from the Early Jurassic epoch….

      Today we know Dilophosaurus as a bipedal, meat-eating dinosaur more than 20 feet long with two distinctive parallel crests of very thin bone along the top of its head (its name derives from the Greek words for “two-crested reptile”). But in 1954, when the animal first appeared in the scientific literature, it had a different name….When Welles found an additional specimen in 1964 that preserved the top of the skull, with its dual crests, he realized that the original find represented a new genus, so he renamed the animal Dilophosaurus wetherilli.

      The basic body plan of the dinosaur in Jurassic Park was patterned on Welles’s 1984 anatomical description and sculpted reconstructions of the bones in museum exhibits, as well as art-work by paleontologist Gregory Paul in the 1988 book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. But the Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus departed from the scientific record of the time in several key details. Most obviously, it was depicted as half the size of the real animal. The filmmakers did this deliberately to avoid any confusion with another saurian antagonist, the Velociraptor.

      The hallmarks of the cinematic Dilophosaurus—namely, its venomous saliva and collapsible frill — were also fictional traits added for dramatic effect. But these embellishments resembled the biology of other real animals, which made them believable. When Welles described the fossils of Dilophosaurus, he interpreted some of the joints between the tooth-bearing bones at the end of the snout as “weak” and suggested that the animals may have been scavengers or that they did most of their killing with claws on their hands and feet. When writing the story Crichton invented a dramatic mechanism by which the animals could spit a blinding venom, based on some modern species of cobras, which can spit two meters. Inspiration for the frill, meanwhile, came from the modern-day frilled agamid lizard that lives in Australia and New Guinea. The lizard has a structure made of bone and cartilage originating from the throat that supports the frill. No evidence of such a trait has turned up in the fossil record of Dilophosaurus.

      Other aspects of Jurassic Park drew from the latest science. In the early 1980s paleontologists were just starting to reach broad agreement that modern birds descended from dinosaurs and are, in fact, the last surviving dinosaur lineage. The filmmakers threw out early test animations of sinuous, snakelike velociraptors in preference of recommendations from their science adviser, dinosaur paleontologist Jack Homer, to make the animals more bird-like in their movements. The film, with its depiction of dinosaurs as quick, clever animals rather than the sluggish, more lizardlike creatures that 19th-century scholars thought them to be, was the first time many members of the general public encountered the bird-dinosaur connection.

      …in 1998 teams at the University of Texas at Austin began recovering more Dilophosaurus remains in the same region of northern Arizona that yielded the first finds. Every new fossil discovery can support or refute prior thinking about long-vanished organisms. In this case, the new fossils preserved parts of the Dilophosaurus anatomy that were missing or distorted in previously collected specimens.

      …After millions of years of exposure to geologic processes such as crushing and weathering, the fossils we find are most often distorted and incomplete elements. We sometimes disassemble and reconstruct broken fragments to better approximate their original condition, sculpting and adding missing material based on closely related animals….

      The Dilophosaurus material discovered since Welles’s initial description and Langston's reconstruction shows that the animal’s snout and jaw were much more substantial than originally recognized. The upper jaw b ones do nothave the weak interface that the fragmentary first finds suggested. Instead these bones indicate a strong skull capable of biting into prey. Likewise, newly identified features of bones from the animal’s lowerjaw show stout ridges for muscle attachments. In modern reptiles, these ridges provide surface area for the attachment of large muscles. And the skeleton of a different dinosaur found at the U.T. Austin dig site—the plant-eating Sarahsaurus—features bite marks, attesting to the presence of a large meat-eating animal with jaws strong enough to puncture bone. Together this evidence supports the idea th at Dilophosaurus was probably a predator with a deadly bite rather than a creature that had to scavenge or use its claws to kill, as Welles supposed.

      Dilophosaurus was a large dinosaur, especially for its time. Most of the dinosaurs of the Late Triassic of western North America, just 20 million years earlier, were animals the size of turkeys or eagles, but Dilophosauruss would have towered over a human, standing up to eight feet tall and measuring up to 25 feet long when fully grown. It had much longer and stronger arms than other larger meat-eating dinosaurs such as Allosaurus and Ceratosaurus, and its legs were relatively longer as well. When the first skeletons of Dilophosaurus were found, scientists thought the species was related to the so-called carnosaurs Allosaurus and Streptospondylus, so they reconstructed the missing parts of the pelvis to look like they did in those animals. The better-preserved Dilophosaurus skeletons found later show more intermediate pelvis anatomy between Coelophysis-like and Allosaurus-like animals from the Late Triassic and Late Jurassic, respectively.

      Like many early dinosaurs and all modern birds, DilophosaurusDilophosaurus

      In the fossil excavation depicted in Jurassic Park, a complete Velociraptor skeleton comes to light with some gentle brushing. In the real world, dinosaur fossils are typically found as broken, barely identifiable fragments. On a lucky day, a mostly complete bone might turn up. With the publication last summer of Marsh’s comprehensive anatomical study, Dilophosaurus has become the best-documented Early Jurassic dinosaur from anywhere in the world. But it took decades to find additional remains that filled in the unknown anatomy of the animal. And it took successive generations of paleontologists to interpret the bones.

      Museums play a vital role in facilitating such efforts. The public’s conception of museums is a dramatically lit exhibit gallery, but the major function of a natural history museum is to conduct research into the natural world. To that end, these institutions build large collections of specimens to serve as the evidence for scientific research. Teams of specially trained conservators, archivists and collection managers carefully document and preserve the specimens, with the goal of m aking the collections accessible to researchers in perpetuity. Repeatability is a cornerstone principle of scientific research; other scientists must be able to corroborate our findings. In paleontology, that means that the fossils themselves must be preserved in a museum, so that future generations of scientists can revisit the specimens and double-check observations….

The Immune Havoc of COVID-19

[These excerpts are from an article by Akiko Iwasaki and Patrick Wong in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      We may well remember the 21st century in two halves: the time before SARS-CoV-2 and the time after. Despite decades of warnings about the potential for a deadly global pandemic, public health systems worldwide were completely outmatched. The first COVID-19 patients were admitted to a hospital in Wuhan, China, on December 16, 2019, and several of them died. Many Americans assumed that even if China failed to contain the virus on its own soil, the span of an ocean would protect them. This complacent view ignored the fact that previous coronavirus outbreaks—caused by SARS-CoV (for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) and MERS-CoV (for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus)—reached several continents; MERS-CoV has yet to be eradicated. And so SARS-CoV-2 arrived on American shores in early 2020. The public health response was chaotic and varied from region to region. Some cities and state governments invoked stay-at-home orders and mask-wearing mandates. Others sim-ply hoped for the best. At the timing of writing, 1.3 million had died globally.

      Despite the disorganization at the national level, medical professionals and research scientists launched an all-out effort to counter the new threat even before it arrived in the U.S. Less than a year later this global collaboration has generated unprecedented insight into the coronavirus and its impact on the human body. We are now beginning to understand why SARS-CoV-2 results in wildly different degrees of illness. Some people exhibit no symptoms; others develop a cough or a fever. Most gravely, some fraction of patients suffer a life-threatening pneumonia and a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Researchers now know that the virus, like SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, can provoke the immune system to misfire—and the resulting inflammation may lead to ARDS and an array of perilous symptoms. Readily available clinical tests show clear evidence of high levels of immune proteins…in the blood of seriously ill patients. A few months into the course of the pandemic, the welcome but limited success of broad immune-suppressing drugs, such as the corticosteroids prednisone and dexamethasone, confirmed suspicions that in the sickest patients the immune system had gone into hyperinflammatory overdrive. These same anti-inflammatory treatments were widely used for severe infections with the preceding coronavirus outbreaks.

      We now know that in a certain fraction of COVID patients, an unbridled immune response causes damage throughout the body, producing blood clots, heart damage and even organ failure. The most severe cases require hospitalization in intensive care units. The standard retinue of steroids are not enough for treating severe COVID: these patients will require more targeted treatments. We also badly need rapid tests that can examine tissue samples for biological indicators, or biomarkers, that predict the course of the disease—for example, the likelihood that a patient diagnosed with mild COVID will go on to develop a severe case….

      Developing biomarkers and drug treatments requires a deep understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with cells throughout the body and how the immune system then responds to the virus’s arrival. This past spring our laboratory, in collaboration with many others, began to examine the dysregulated immune reactions that underlie severe COVED cases. We knew when we started that the immune system choreographs an intricate chain of events in response to invading pathogens. We also knew that if any of the steps in the immune response are mistimed, it can lead to exaggerated levels of inflammation that damage the body’s own tissues.

      The immune system has in its arsenal a fast, emergency response and a slower but longer-lasting defense against viruses, bacteria, fungi and other pathogens. The “innate” immune system acts as a first responder. Some receptors on and inside these immune cells sense invaders, activating an elaborate signaling cascade using proteins called cytokines. The cytokines warn nearby cells to put up defenses, initiate the death of an infected cell or heighten the alarm to bring in other types of cytokines. Innate immune cells also summon certain white blood cells to build more durable immunity to the pathogen. Within a week or two these members of what is called the “adaptive” immune system become active by increasing levels of highly targeted antibodies and T cells that eventually disable or kill an invader.

      In most COVID patients, the innate immune system performs as it evolved to, disarming and killing SAR.S-CoV-2. In about 5 percent of cases, however, the body's counterattack does not proceed as planned. When this carefully timed cascade of signals goes awry, innate immune cells react by making too many cytokines. The overproduction of diverse signaling molecules in COVID-19 resembles “cytokine storms” that turn up in other medical conditions and were thought to be a factor in severe COVID. The most recent research suggests that, in most cases, inflammation differs from that of a cytokine storm, even though it still poses a threat to patients. It can bring about ARDS, resulting in lasting damage to the lung or other tissues. It can also lead to the buildup of fibrin, a protein that causes clotting. If this were not enough, it can induce fluid leakage from blood vessels, triggering respiratory failure.

      Viruses harness the human cell's machinery to reproduce themselves. One innate immune system strategy undermines the virus’s ability to multiply, but it appears to falter against SARS-COV-2. In recent months researchers have devoted attention to a class of cytokines known as interferons, a first line of defense that can block the various steps of viral replication in a cell. Rapid production of type I interferon (IFN-I) by the immune system enable a virus to be brought under control and check any progression beyond mild disease. But some studies suggest that in older adults or patients exposed to large amounts of a virus, the immune system may lag in its response, allowing the virus to continue reproducing. Further, when interferons finally do arrive on the scene, they may overreact, spurring the manufacture of high levels of diverse cytokines, which can lead to inflammation and severe illness. Measuring the interferon response mavfurnishvital knowledge about whether a COVID-19 case will progress to a life-threatening illness, and it may provide clues about how to treat the infection.

      The science is still in flux, however, and there are many ways the immune response could run askew. For example, the virus may hamper a person’s ability to make interferons….

      Cytokine storms made headlines in severe cases of the previous coronaviruses (SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV), so when SARS-CoV-2 emerged it was natural for scientists to suspect that a similar mechanism was at play. Early in the pandemic, physicians did detect elevated cytokines in patients, but the amount of these proteins and the subsequent inflammatory state they evoked differed from that of a classic cytokine storm….

      To identify the source of tissue damage, a number of research groups decided to look at cells in the blood and lungs. In the field of immunology, we commonly use flow cytometry, a technique that allows us to tag subsets of cells in the blood with fluorescent antibodies. Using these markers, our group was able to detect a sizable shift in the populations of immune cells circulating in patients, as compared with healthy donors. Two innate immune cell types—monocytes and neutrophils—were particularly abundant….

      As an integral component of the innate immune system, monocytes normally patrol the blood and arrive first on the scene to eliminate or sequester pathogens. When they sense a microbial threat, the cells can respond by differentiating into macrophages and dendritic cells—specific types of white blood cells. Macrophages consume pathogens and cellular debris. Dendrite cells identify and flag a pathogen for other immune cells to respond to.

      To ensure that the immune system does not overreact, levels of monocytes are usually tightly regulated, but this control is lost iin severe COVID cases. In the worst disease outcomes, monocytes and macrophages infiltrated the lungs….

      Researchers have observed that T cells from patients with moderate disease behave differently than those from severely ill patients. Normally T cell populations that target a specific invader, or antigen, grow more abundant as a protective measure, but this was not the case in the sickest patients.

      There are two types of T cells—those that directly eliminate virus-infected cells and those that coordinate a response to an invader after receiving signals from cytokines. Loss of both types has been observed in hospitalized COVID patients, but it also occurs in other respiratory infections. Diminished cell levels persist, however, for an exceptionally long time—up to weeks in some COVID patients. From research with other respiratory viruses, we know T cells can travel from the blood into infected tissues….

      …COVID patients had an expanded number of T cells bearing receptors that indicated that the cells were susceptible to an early demise. Another possibility is that the bone marrow might not make enough of the precursor cells that give rise to T cells, which could diminish the pool of mature cells. Studies of aging and other diseases have established firm evidence that cytokines modulate the bone marrow’s production of T cells. A similar connection has yet to be definitively proved in COVID-19, despite the presence of the same inflammatory cytokines. Finally, it is possible that the virus itself is directly killing T cells. Testing these competing hypotheses may lead to therapies that can enhance T cell numbers.

      Many of the severe immunological manifestations seen in COVID19—drastically elevated cytokines, inflammatory cells that infiltrate the lungs, NETs and diminished numbers of white blood cells—appear in other serious viral respiratory infections. SARS-CoV-2 presents its own special challenges. What stands out is its unprecedented spread during the presymptomatic phases and among asymptomatic people who never show symptoms.

      SARS-CoV, the virus responsible for the 2003 epidemic, has a relatively late viral peak of 10 days after the onset of symptoms. MERS-CoV’s viral load peaks seven to 10 days after symptoms set in. But SARS-CoV-2’s viral load tops out three to five days after symptoms begin. The early peak translates to extremely high viral levels even before symptoms appear (which for most people happens four or five days after exposure). These numbers mean an infected person can spread significant amounts of virus before feeling even the smallest tickle in the throat.

      The wide array of organ systems involved in COVID symptoms also seems unique among respiratory viruses. SARS-CoV-2 can cause loss of smell, brain fog, gastrointestinal problems, blood clots, cardiovascular problems and even “COVID toes.” The virus can also infect neurons in the brain. Among those who • recover, tissue damage can linger for months….

      Even though the earlier coronavirus, SARS-CoV, uses the same V receptor and can cause cytokine storms and ARDS, there are few reports of the sort of serious extrapulmonary injuries caused by COVID-19. The viruses are an 80 percent genetic match; it is reasonable to suspect that the other 20 percent of their genomes accounts for the differences between them. But a simpler explanation might be that SARS-CoV-2 has infected more than 6,700 times as many people as its eponymous predecessor and has done so before the eyes of the world's scientific community.

      The past nine months of discovery and innovation stand as testament to the dedication of scientists and medical professionals. The research and medical communities have never been more united in their efforts—and never before has the transition from lab bench to patient bedside proceeded as rapidly as in the current climate. This legacy will remain after the success or failure of any of the hundreds of COVID-19-related treatment trials. These innovations will persist to counter future pandemics.

Is 70 Really the New 60?

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      We often hear that 60 is the new 50 and 70 the new 60. It is a bromide borne out by old photos. Just check out images of your grandparents or great-grandparents (depending on your age) and notice their stooped and soft bodies, their lined faces and how they seem anchored in their chairs when they were barely pushing 60. What a contrast with vigorous, gym-going sexagenarians of today!

      Recent studies comparing populations born in different decades have looked beyond these surface impressions to nail down actual physical and mental differences in the ways we are aging. This research has identified particular areas of improvement. But these gains are not across the board, and they appear to depend on social, behavioral and economic factors.

      A pair of new studies from Finland—one looking at physical aging and one looking at cognitive aging—strikingly demonstrates some of the details of generational change….The beauty of this work is that both birth cohorts were examined in person at age 75 and again at 80 with the same substantial battery of six physical tests and five measures of cognition. Most cohort studies look at a narrower range of measures, and many of them rely on self-assessments.

      The later-born group could walk faster, had a stronger hand grip and could exert more force with their lower leg. Such metrics are reliable predictors of disability and mortality. On cognitive tests, the later cohort had better verbal fluency (naming more words beginning with a K in three minutes), clocked faster reaction time on a complex finger-movement task, and scored higher on a test matching numbers to symbols.

      But not everything changed across the generations: measures of lung function were surprisingly static, and there was no improvement in the short-term-memory task of recalling a string of digits—possibly because rote memorization has been de-emphasized in school and in daily life in recent decades, the researchers suspect….

      There are many reasons that people are aging better, including improved medical care and a drop in smoking, but the factors that loomed largest in the Finnish study of physical function…were that the later-born adults were more physically active and had bigger bodies, which suggests better nutrition….For brain function, the key seems to be more years of education….

      Education is a powerful influence on aging and health….

      In the U.S., Ferrucci says, the benefits of prosperity are less equally distributed than in Finland or Denmark. He points out that the average life span is seven years shorter in a poor state such as Mississippi than in a wealthier one such as California….

Blood Worms

[These excerpts are from an article by Chris Baraniuk in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Around 80 million years ago in what is now Brazil, a sick dinosaur limped along—but its days were numbered. Its leg bone was so diseased that it had turned spongy, and a particularly gruesome culprit may have been to blame: wormlike parasites wriggling through its blood vessels. The dinosaur in question was a long-necked titanosaur.

      …examined the bone's surface and ran a CT scan to rule out cancer and tuberculosis as the titanosaur’s ailment. They eventually concluded it had a rare bone condition called osteomyelitis, which leads to severe inflammation. When they examined thin slices of the fossil under a powerful microscope, they found a startling potential cause: scattered through the bone’s blood vessel cavities were fossilized remains of what appeared to be around 70 tiny worms, each roughly the length of a dust mite.

      …she and her team suggest these “worms” could be ancient parasites whose arrival caused the infection. The researchers note, however, that osteomyelitis can also be caused by bacteria, fungi and single-celled organisms called protozoa.

      The wormlike structures looksimilarto a known prehistoric parasite called Paleoleishmania, but they are between 10 and 100 times bigger. Forthcoming research compares them with a broad range of parasites.

      There could be other explanations, however….

      If the wormlike forms were indeed living organisms, they could have entered the bone to feed on the dinosaur after it died. But the researchers argue this is unlikely because there were no obvious fractures through which such creatures might have invaded.

      Parasites afflict birds and reptiles today, so it makes sense that they troubled dinosaurs, too….

Getting Dirt

[These excerpts are from an article by Riley Black in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Based on bone and tooth records, the Yukon’s last mammoths were thought to have gone extinct about 12,000 years ago. But a new genetic sampling technique suggests the great beasts may have stuck around a lot longer, plodding through the Arctic tundra with bison and elk for thousands of years more. The story is in the soil.

      Bones are rich sources of prehistoric genetic information, but not the only ones; items ranging from shed Ice Age skin cells to pine needles can contribute to the genetic record stored in dirt. Paleogeneticists have been extracting and analyzing “environmental DNA” from soil fora long time, but getting rid of non-DNA material without destroying these fragile clues is daunting….

      In the new approach, soil samples are extracted with a sterilized chisel and then broken into smaller portions, stirred and run through a “cold spin method” to separate as much DNA as possible. The DNA is then compared against an existing genetic library to detect species matches….

      This big picture comes from smaller sampies, Murchie explains: “With a combination of our novel extraction and enrichment techniques, we can pull out entire genomes of multiple extinct organisms simultaneously from less than a gram of sediment.”

      The methodology is limited because researchers using it need to know what DNA to look for. If a saber-toothed cat species is not already in the genetic library, for example, the analysis cannot detect that animal. For known species, however, the process mayyield exciting information. In their study, the researchers detected about 2,100 kinds of plants and 180 animals—including American horses and woolly mammoths, in samples from soil dated to thousands of years after their supposed extinction.

      Not yet published results from other field sites are yielding similar results, Murchie says, and future fossil discoveries could strengthen the case….

Earth Is on Fire

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jordan Salama in the January 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The fate of nature, like so much else, has temporarily become an agonizing side story to COVID—and now the environment is a real-time plot followed mostly, I think, by those of us young enough to one day see the worst of it.

      At first, things seemed hopeful. Struggling to adjust to the new normal of life in quarantine in March and April, we were relieved to read that emissions levels had dipped, even if only temporarily, and that the skies over New Delhi and Los Angeles and Buenos Aires had cleared of smog. I smiled, as we all did, to notice that animals were roaming free through quiet, traffic-free cities. Nature seemed to be reclaiming spaces humans had abandoned. In the midst of so much present grief, these story lines gave us faith in the planet's resilience. Maybe, some optimists speculated, it would even inspire us to be better stewards of our world when this was over. This “anthropause” was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for humans to understand our impact on wildlife in a crowded world that seemed, for a moment, a little less crowded.

      But only for a moment. Pandemics like this happen and will keep happening because we humans have long encroached on wild spaces, increasing the chances of spillovers of disease from animals to people. In the temporary absence of international watchdogs and local enforcement, South America’s Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland, has burned like never before. In May there was a major oil spill in the Russian Arctic, followed by others in places such as Mauritius and Venezuela—terrible ecological catastrophes that are buried underneath headlines of case numbers and mortality rates. Poaching is on the rise in Africa. The list goes on.

      And in the U.S., we’ve somehow become less thoughtful in our daily choices—accepting that extra plastic bag at the supermarket, ordering takeout despite all the single-use containers and, if we’re privileged enough, driving instead of taking public transportation—because, well, “it’s a global pandemic.” Take a walk outside, and you’ll find masks and latex gloves littering our streets and beaches and parks that will eventually fill rivers, lakes and seas.

      It’s as if the pandemic has suddenly given people everywhere even more of a license to dirty the world—if that’s even possible—with carelessness, if not outright contempt….

      In today’s pandemic moment, nature's story line has reached a low point It's unfathomable to me that some people can still so easily shrug it off—especially if they have kids or love anyone who is younger than they are—while for so many in my generation, it is such a constant, excruciating worry. Apathy, let alone denial, is no longer an acceptable option, because we know that if we stay on this course, the destruction will inevitably come for us, too.

      But I like to think that the anthropause still gives some hope—that perhaps if we all live a little lighter, if we listen to those who are in harmony with the land and if we take solace in all that there is to love in the world, nature might meet us halfway. The planet and our fates hang in the balance.

Play Breeds Better Thinkers

[These excerpts are from a book review by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek in the 9 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      In a digital, global world where information is projected to double every 32 hours…, the memorization of facts will become less of a commodity than the ability to think, find patterns, and generate new ideas from old parts….Thus, a cradle-to-career approach to educating children must be mindful of how children learn to learn, not just what they learn….

      Children are bursting with playful curiosity. By age 3, they ask questions about everything they see—Why does a tree have leaves? Why does the Sun come up each day?—and by age 5, they pose even deeper questions, about God and morals. These questions not only provide fodder for knowledge, they help children discover the causal relationships among things—all with adult mentors by their side.

      Children also need time to explore. One child might collect dead things like worms and slugs, and another, assorted leaves of different shapes and colors. These collections, Engel argues, become treasured resources for the discovery of patterns, and they invite even more inquisitiveness. Indeed, the adults who guide this exploration by asking questions themselves reinforce curiosity and innovation. Hidden in _these playful encounters are rich opportunities for learning.

      Yet explorations take time—the time to meander and discover, the unscheduled time to be bored….They learn grit and they learn to have agency over their own learning. As such, the real mental work for children takes place in plain sight as they play—when a child builds a platform of chairs and pillows to retrieve cookies from an out-of-reach cookie jar and when she uses kitchen utensils to fish for the toy that is lodged un-der the couch.

      As adults, we often overlook the fact that learning is happening during periods of unstructured play, or we dismiss these intervals as unproductive. Hurried parents often lack the ability to carve out that time, fearing that their children might be late for their next scheduled activity.

      …Instead, she hopes to reenvision schools as “idea factories” built on inspiring curiosity and problem solving….

      In one lovely example, Engel describes a teacher who challenged her students to construct a record-breaking straw chain that would eventually measure 3.8 miles. “Winning the record would be fun, but the enduring benefit would be coming to grips with vast quantities,” explains the teacher, whose goal was to help the children to better understand the sheer depth of the Mariana Trench.

      The puzzles and problems that captivate children and the ways they set about solving them are reminiscent of how philosophers Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn conceptualized the thinking of scientists….Both children and scientists bring the tools in their respective arsenals to bear on things that matter to them. Their learning is not linear and is certainly not funneled through flashcards….

      For example, she encourages parents to see children as active thinkers and suggests that by asking open-ended questions and letting them explore, children will be better prepared to thrive in a complex and everchanging world.

Will Warming Make Animals Darker—or Lighter?

[These excerpts are from an article by Sam Kean in the 9 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      …And Gloger’s rule, named after German biologist Constantin Gloger, declared that animals in warmer regions usually have darker exteriors, whereas those in cooler regions are lighter. Among mammals, darker skin and hair was thought to protect against damaging ultraviolet light, which is more plentiful in Sun-soaked equatorial areas. Among birds, the specific melanin pigments in darker feathers seem to resist bacterial infestation, an advantage in the Petri dish of the tropics….

      …Delhey has led a campaign over the past few years to replace Gloger’s rule with something more accurate. “It has been surrounded by confusion since forever,” he says, partly because the 1833 book where Gloger laid out his data “was very dense and awfully written.”

      …Their main beef is that Gloger’s rule conflates temperature and humidity. Humidity leads to lush plant life, which offers shadows to hide from predators. Animals therefore tend to be darker in wet places to camouflage themselves. Many warm places are steamy, but cool, wet forests. tend to have the darkest birds, Delhey says.

      Delhey argues that if you control for humidity, Gloger’s rule gets flipped on its head—warming leads to lighter animals. That’s especially true for cold-blooded critters, he says. Insects and reptiles rely on external beat sources, and in cold places, their dark exteriors help soak up sunlight in warmer climes, that constraint is relaxed, and they end up lighter. Delhey calls this the “thermal melanism hypothesis.”

      …Still, in a reply to the Delhey group, they cite cases where their prediction of darker animals in warmer climates holds true. Tawny owls in Finland are either russet or pale gray, with the gray providing camouflage against snow. But as snow cover has decreased in Finland, russet owls grew from about 12% of the population in the early 1960s to 40% in 2010.

      But they acknowledge that predictions of climate-driven color effects get especially tricky when temperature and humidity both change. Climate models predict the Amazon will get hotter and drier, which all parties agree will lighten animal color. But the boreal forests of Siberia could get hotter and wetter, in which case the temperature and humidity predictions conflict….

      And even when general trends hold, it’s still difficult to predict how individual species will change….Butterflies soak up heat by basking in sunshine, but only one small patch on the underside of the wings actually absorbs the heat. “If you didn’t know that,” she points out, “you could quantify all sorts of exotic colorations on the top of the wing, and it wouldn’t actually matter.” In sum, “We need to think about the full picture of how organisms are interacting with their environments.”

      Changes in coloration will also likely depend on the animal’s temperature-regulation system—with cold-blooded creatures growing generally lighter and birds and mammals showing a wider range of outcomes….

Dismay Greets End of U.S. Effort to Curb Devastating Forest Pest

[These excerpts are from an article by Gabriel Popkin in the 9 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      Later this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will formally admit defeat along one front of its battle against a devastating invasive insect. Starting 14 January, the agency will no longer regulate the movement of living ash trees or wood between states. This quarantine has, for more than 10 years, formed the cornerstone of the federal government’s strategy for curbing the spread of the emerald ash borer, an iridescent green beetle that threatens to wipe out North America’s ash trees, an ecological linchpin of many forests. Instead, USDA plans to ramp up an effort to control the borer by releasing tiny wasps that parasitize and kill the beetles.

      The shift is controversial. Some scientists and environmental advocates agree that, after spending some $350 million over the past 2 decades to fight the ash borer, the government should redirect scarce resources to more promising strategies. But others argue the surrender is premature, and some states are vowing to maintain local controls on ash tree and wood movement….

      The emerald ash borer first gained notoriety in 2002, when ash trees in the Detroit area started mysteriously dying. After researchers identified the insect, which was accidentally imported from Asia, Michigan and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) imposed a quarantine that prohibited export of ash trees and wood from inside the infested zone. Biologists also began to set traps to monitor the spread of the beetle.

      But stopping the bore’'s expansion has proved difficult; adults can fly up to 10 kilometers and often go undetected in new areas for years. The borer has attacked and killed tens of millions of trees in at least 35 states, mostly in the eastern and central United States; it has also infested southern Canada. USDA’s quarantine zone has expanded along with the beetle. But in 2017, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the borer had caused six North American ash species to become endangered or critically endangered. And in 2018, APHIS proposed ending its quarantine….

      …In particular, scientists have identified four species of parasitic wasps native to Asia that lay eggs in ash borer larvae or eggs.

      So far, researchers have released the parasitoids on an experimental basis in 340 counties in 30 states. Three of the wasps have established self-sustaining populations. At some sites, researchers report the wasps have killed 20% to 85% of borer larvae feeding on ash saplings, and are helping Lyoung trees survive to reproductive age….

Viral Evolution May Herald New Pandemic Phase

[Theis excerpt is from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt in the 9 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      For COVID-19 researchers, the new year brings a strong sense of déja vu. As in early 2020, the world is anxiously watching a virus spread in . one country and trying to parse the risk for everyone else. This time it is not a completely new threat, but a rapidly spreading variant of SARS-CoV-2….

      …But as the new variant surfaces in multiple countries, many scientists are calling for governments to strengthen existing control measures as well. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tough new restrictions on 4 January, including closing schools and asking people not to leave their homes unless strictly necessary….

      …Johnson said the new variant is between 50% and 70% more transmissible. But researchers have been careful to point out uncertainties. Cases have soared in the United Kingdom over the past month, but the rise occurred while different parts of the country had different levels of restrictions and amid changes in people’s behavior and regional infection rates in the run-up to Christmas—"a complex scenario” that makes it hard to pinpoint the effect of the new variant….

      …Data from Denmark, which leads the European Union in the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, are not reassuring. Routine surveillance there has picked up the variant dozens of times; its frequency went from 0.2% of sequenced genomes in early December to 2.3% 3 weeks later….

      The lack of evidence—so far—that the new variant makes people sicker is little consolation. Increased transmissibility of a virus is much more treacherous than increased pathogenicity because its effects grow exponentially….

      …But that effect breaks down when case numbers reach a critical threshold and public health authorities are overwhelmed, which means tougher measures now can help contain spread of the new variant later….

      …In the long term, mutations could arise that threaten the efficacy of vaccines….

Science’s Irrational Origins

[These excerpts are from a book review by Itai Tanai and Martin J. Lercher in the 1 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      …When asked what science is and how it functions, researchers offer a range of conflicting responses, notes Strevens. “Some scientists say that the essence of science is controlled or repeatable experiment, forgetting that experiments are of relatively little importance in cosmology or evolutionary biology. Some say advanced mathematical techniques are crucial, forgetting that the discoverers of genetics, for example, bad no use for sophisticated math.”

      Strevens argues that an objective scientific method cannot exist; as all predictions from hypotheses rely on auxiliary assumptions such as the functioning of instruments, whose reliability must be evaluated subjectively. He proposes that the distinguishing feature of science is a procedural agreement, which he refers to as the “iron rule of explanation.” This rule holds that differences in scientific opinion must be settled by empirical testing alone. Thus, a scientist cannot argue for one hypothesis over another because it is more beautiful or more appealing philosophically or because it is better aligned with “God’s plan.” The iron rule applies only to official communications. Outside of such venues, scientists may think and believe as they wish….

      Strevens argues that modern science owes its success to the relinquishing of deep philosophical understanding in favor of the shallow power to predict empirical observations. As Isaac Newton—whom Strevens sees as the first truly modern scientist—wrote: "I have not as yet been able to deduce from phenomena the reason for these properties of gravity, and I do not feign hypotheses...It is enough that gravity really exists and acts according to the laws that we have set forth….”

      Strevens proposes that scientists reason differently in public discourse and private venues. By drawing a clear distinction between formal scientific arguments and informal, behind-the-scenes scientific work, he provides a coherent framework for the divergent ideas of earlier philosophers of science….

      …In his autobiography, French biologist Francois Jacob proposed the notion of “night science,” in which scientists generate new ideas and hypotheses in often unstructured thought processes….This approach, he argued, complements “day science,” wherein new ideas are tested empirically and reported formally. Thinkers such as Aristotle perceived day and night science as intertwined in a single process. Newton and his contemporaries founded modem science by separating them into distinct undertakings. While Strevens's iron rule may indeed be the foundation of modem science's success, the methods scientists use to come up with new ideas remain elusive.

Alaska Oil Bid Alarms Scientists

[These excerpts are from an article by Warren Cornwall in the 1 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      A plan to crisscross parts of Alaska’s remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with earth-shaking machines that help map underground oil formations is drawing criticism from scientists. They warn that such mapping done there decades ago left still-visible scars on the tundra, and they fear the new effort could harm hibernating polar bears.

      “This population is already in dire straits,” says biologist Steven Amstrup of Polar Bears International. “Does going in and potentially disrupting them make any sense?”

      …One week earlier, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a draft permit allowing the work in prime habitat for the bears, which are protected by federal law.

      The moves aim to launch oil exploration in the refuge in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration. Mapping could start this month, and the federal government plans to auction the first drilling leases on 6 January.

      After a long struggle, in 2017 Congress allowed drilling in the refuge's 600,000- hectare coastal plain for the first time….

      Current seismic mapping methods cause little damage….

      But researchers have done few studies of the effects of such work. During the only other seismic mapping done in the refuge, in the mid-1980s, vehicles crushed vegetation, allowing water to pool and permafrost to thaw, causing areas to sink. In a recent paper, scientists reported 5% of the camp trails still showed damage in 2018. They estimate seismic work across the entire coastal plain could moderately or severely damage 12,200 hectares. The federal agencies have “just kind of developed this story-line that [mapping] impacts are negligible,” says Torre Jorgenson, an ecologist who studied the original seismic work.

      Researchers also question FWS's finding that the work will have a negligible impact on polar bears. The agency estimates the study area will host three polar bear dens. And it predicted that at most three bears might be bothered and no bears would be killed.

      But Amstrup fears the machines will disturb or crush hibernating female bears and cubs. The number of bears living at the southern edge of the Beaufort Sea is now about 900, he notes, down 40% since 1980.

A Little Better all the Time in 2021

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 1 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      A famous story about the Beatles tells of the collaboration between Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the song “Getting Better” for their legendary Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. After McCartney wrote the lines “I’ve got to admit, it's getting better; a little better all the time,” Lennon wryly added, “It can’t get no worse.” This story could serve as an epigraph as the calendar turns from the year 2020, which could hardly have gotten much worse, to 2021, when we hope life will indeed get a little better all the time. Better from COVID-19 because of the vaccines, better from misinformation spread by outgoing president Donald Trump and his allies, and better, we can hope, when it comes to the production and distribution of scientific knowledge….

      In the United States, although the Biden White House will certainly be friendlier to science, the science denial that fueled the Trump administration will linger in the American population and among some conservative politicians. The battles ahead are not to be underestimated. Continued denial of climate change and COVID-19 is sadly inevitable, and it will take everything U.S. science and the Biden administration can muster to stay strong. Still, as new leaders are named and confirmed in health and science policy, U.S. science should be able to at least catch its breath and feel optimistic about a new era.

      Although 2020 will certainly go down as a year that couldn't get much worse, there is plenty to be proud of and reason to hope that things will be getting better. The virus was confronted. Epidemiologists and other scientists became household names. And the scientific community found a much stronger voice, one that will serve us all well in 2021 and beyond.

The Fraught Debate over Reopening Schools

[These excerpts are from an aticle by Rachel M. Cohen in the Winer 2020-2021 issue of American Educator.]

      Many families are desperate to get their kids back to school, and many political leaders agree, worried about harm to children’s educations and believing that key to fixing the economy is making it easier for parents to work. But the pandemic, which is still raging, has led to one of the most politicized and divisive debates in America: Can we safely reopen schools?...

      In late July, when a study came out that suggested children with COVID-19 have a higher viral load than adults, Oster quickly wrote a piece saying it would be a “very big leap” to apply these findings to school reopening discussions. Instead, she urged focus on a large South Korea contact tracing study, which suggested younger children transmitted the virus in their households at a lower rate than other groups. A month later, the leaders for that South Korea study said it wasn’t really clear who infected whom in the households, and called for further research. Even today, how effectively children transmit the virus to others remains one of the fuzziest, and most pressing, questions.

      In late August, Oster announced a new project of “systematic data collection and reporting” on COVID-19 in schools. With a public desperate to return to normalcy and school reopening at the forefront of that, it didn’t take long for national outlets to start reporting Oster's data. These stories clearly suggested that COVID-19 infections in schools were few and far between. But they also reflected an extremely small and unrepresentative sample of schools.

      Oster acknowledged that more data would be needed to understand what was going on in areas with high transmission, but she made no mention that students are still getting tested at significantly lower levels than adults, and that many schools have no requirement for even symptomatic students to be tested. Nevertheless, her findings were soon echoed by influential media figures. When some public health experts offered objections and reason for skepticism, the media establishment either ignored them or cast them as liberal hysterics. In fact, anyone who objected must be unreasonably searching for a world where zero risk exists. This is a strawman, of course, but an effective one—and one easily found in many articles about school reopenings.

      Oster told me in late October they’re working to make their dataset “more representative” and conceded that those who opted to voluntarily report tended to be a “higher-income sample, and more suburban”. This work-in-progress dataset wouldn’t be such a concern if Oster wasn’t disseminating broad conclusions based upon it throughout the fall. In a Wall Street Journal article published in October, Oster told the reporter that her data “suggests the trisks to ldds from going to school are small….”

      Things came to a head following a viral Atlantic piece Oster published early in October, with the controversial headline “Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders.” While surveys of parents have shown reticence to schools reopening, especially among parents of color, Oster chalked up slower reopenings to “fear and bad press.” Her piece said nothing about low in-person attendance rates for districts that have reopened, the lag time in reporting, and the persistent inadequacy in testing and tracing school-related cases. It also didn’t mention the major public health fear that transmission could change as the weather gets colder. It made no mention of the fact that children then made up 10 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the US, up from 2 percent in ApriI. Oster’s story also said nothing about race. Black and Latino communities have been contracting COVID and dying of it at higher rates, and while Oster targeted Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston specifically for not reopening schools, there was no mention that these cities have higher concentrations of Black and Latino families.

      A study published in mid-September estimated that up to 44 million high-risk adults in the US either work in schools or have school-aged children….

      Chapple thinks many leading the conversation have lost sight of the goal, which is to reduce the rate of the coronavirus in the community. “If opening schools is adding to community transmission, then we’re fighting a harder battle, even if we raise transmission bt a tenth of a point,” she says….

      Public health groups that initially made firmer declarations about the safety of kids and coronavirus have since tamped down their statements....In August, the association updated its guidance to say more research is needed to understand infectivity and transmissibility in children, and that opening schools to all students is “likely not feasible” in many places 'ecause of community spread.

      …The researchers said we also have no clear idea of what would result if schools were again doing in-person learning at full capacity, which is happening in few places in the US.

      Research has long shown that in-person instruction is better for children. The nation’s inequitable access to broadband internet has made virtual learning even harder for millions of families to access, and the fact that bars and restaurants remained open throughout the fall while schools were closed was a staggering political choice.

      Still, many adults work in schools, and illness and death can set back kids, too. If children infect their parents, teachers, or neighbors, or spend time in school anxious that they might, experts wam that trio could yield harm. “Children are not the only ones at school,” says Chapple. “We do not know the impact that infected children can have on ourvulnerable populations. The conver-sation can't just be about children, it has to be about children and communities.”

Let’s Build Back Better Together

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Randi Weingarten in the Winer 2020-2021 issue of American Educator.]

      …In a survey soon after the election, 56 percent of Trump voters said he “stands up for America’s values, history, and culture.” That is difficult to understand for those of us who love America and because of that love are fighting to increase fairness and opportunity. But I believe we have shared aspirations to build on. We all want to feel safe—economically, emotionally, and physically—and we all believe in “liberty and justice for all.” And yet, while some feel that their chance at the American dream has been slipping away, others feel that they have never truly had a chance. Our best hope is to band together, demanding the things we all want: jobs with good wages, healthcare that is affordable, and public schools that inspire and nurture our youth.

      I believe we should start with our schools. Ninety percent of American children attend public schools. Public schools play a vital role in our children’s lives, our communities, our economy, and our democracy. They can help heal our divided country: our public schools are where we both embrace America’s diversity and forge a common identity. They are where we learn about the complex and troubling parts of our history, not to denigrate this great country, but so that our children see their role in creating “a more perfect Union” and develop their civic participation muscles.

      No matter which party takes the majority in the Senate, our public schools will be—must be—places where we all come together. The talk of a vaccine gives some hope, but we still must tackle the current virus surge. We must give our schools the resources they need to reopen safely and to engage in social and emotional learning along with academics. Our kids will be better off, parents will have more work options, and the economy will have a chance to recover. Teachers and support staff have once again been heroic, doing everything they have been asked to do, but they are exhausted and scared. And they feel very alone.

      President-elect Biden is committed to working with Congress to pass a COVID-19 relief package that will help reopen school buildings safely. Beyond that immediate relief, the Biden-Harris education plan fulfills the promise and purpose of our public schools as agents of opportunity and anchors of our communities. It pledges to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and triple Title funding for students from low-income families. It will provide high-quality universal prekindergarten and double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in our schools. !t will, restore the mission of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. And it will expand community schools, which provide vital wraparound services and enrichment opportunities….

      I often said that this election was about the soul of our nation. You are that soul. You cared, you fought, you showed up—and you voted. Now the real work begins, together.

Why Were Salmon Dying? The Answer Washed Off the Road

[These excerpts are from an artical by Erik Stokstad in the 4 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      For decades, something in urban streams has been killing coho salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Even after Seattle began to restore salmon habitat in the 1990s, up to 90% of the adults migrating up certain streams to spawn would suddenly die after rainstorms. Researchers suspected the killer was washing off nearby roads, but couldn’t identify it….

      …the primary culprit comes from a chemical widely used to protect tires from ozone, a reactive atmospheric gas. The toxicant, called 6PPD-quinone, leaches out of the particles that tires shed onto pavement. Even small doses killed coho salmon in the lab….

      Manufacturers annually produce some 3.1 billion tires worldwide. Tire rubber is a complex mixture of chemicals, and companies closely guard their formulations. Because tire particles are a common component of water pollution, researchers have been examining how they affect aquatic life.

      …The group created a. mixture of particles from nine tires—some bought new, others provided by two undergraduates who moonlight as mechanics—to mimic what might wash off typical highways. They found several thousand unidentified chemicals in the mixture….

      …The team synthesized 6PPD-quinone and found it was highly lethal to coho salmon.

      Now, the team is working to understand how the chemical kills fish….

      …The simplest solution might be for tire manufacturers to switch to an environmentally benign alternative….

      Another way to protect salmon is to filter stormwater through soil, but installing enough infiltration basins to treat road runoff before it reaches spawning streams would be very expensive….

Low-Income Students Lose Ground

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Christopher Avery, Susan Dynarski and Sarah Turner and Frank C. Worrell in the 4 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      Income inequality in college attendance and graduation in the United States was troublingly large before the pandemic. Without an aggressive infusion of federal support for schools and students, these already sizable gaps will likely widen into chasms.

      Historically, a poor child in the United States has had a 10% chance of eventually earning a college degree; for children from well-off families, it’s over 50%. The pandemic is widening these differences, thereby increasing poverty, reducing social mobility, and stunting economic growth. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse show that first-time enrollment at colleges and universities in the United States decreased by 13% from fall 2019 to fall 2020….

      Low-income college students have historically been half as likely to graduate as their wealthier classmates. The pandemic is likely to worsen those odds. Effective remote learning requires a broadband connection, laptop, and a quiet, private space. Low-income students are the least likely to have this critical set of resources.

      The hit to college enrollment may be even greater in fall 2021. Freshmen who entered college this past fall had only the tail end of their admissions cycle disrupted; the entire process has been turned upside down for next year's freshmen. Low-income and first-generation students depend on teachers, counselors, and coaches to get them through the bureaucratic and academic hurdles of college applications. Upper-income students typically have a family member who is a college graduate to play this role.

      All schools are challenged by remote instruction, but those serving low-income students are also struggling with connecting their students to the internet and delivering school meals. There is now little time to spare for the formal and informal college counseling that schools traditionally provide….

      The pandemic is not just hampering the process of applying for college, but also profoundly affecting student learning. Remote learning is difficult for most students, but financially secure families can afford to hire tutors, buy broadband connections, and provide computers for their children. In poorer families, there may not even be an adult at home to supervise children’s schooling: Low-paid service jobs can rarely be completed remotely. A high school or college student from a low-income family may be watching over siblings, with all of them sharing a single electronic device to connect to the internet and coursework.

      Public schools and colleges need more resources to provide high-quality remote learning, as well as to prepare schools for safe, in-person learning. Yet states are slashing education budgets….Rising tuition and shrinking supports will further reduce college attendance and intensify education inequality….

      We cannot ask college students to borrow their way out of this pandemic, nor to work more, given the collapse of the labor market. Financial aid for college students must adjust to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. The standard response of the aid system to a sharp downturn in a family’s income is to demand supplementary paperwork. This protocol is designed for unusual cases, but right now the modal family is worse off than a year ago. The aid process should be streamlined and simplified to quickly get money out the door….

      Spending on education is an investment in the nation’s future. An aggressive federal response is critical for getting students and schools through this perilous time

How Talented Low-income Kids Are Left Behind

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Wai and Frank C. Worrell in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      Americans have always celebrated the idea that if all children — including those born into poverty — have the chance to achieve to their fullest r-capacity, then we all stand to benefit from their accomplishments. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1788:

      By that part of our plan which prescribes the selection of the youths of genius from amongthe classes of the poor, we hope to avail the state of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which p erish without use, if not sought for and cultivated.

      In recent decades, federal policy makers have often amplifled Jefferson’s message, arguing that we need to find and support greater numbers of high-performing students, both to ensure our national security and to strengthen our economy. Further, since 1988, the federal government has funded research and grants to support programs for “gifted and talented” students.

      However, our investments haven’t matched our ideals. In the mid-1990s, for instance, researchers…pointed out that the federal K-12 education budget allocated just 0.0002% for gifted and talented education….Twenty years later, gifted education still received a microscopically small fraction of the federal education budget — just a single dollar out of every $500,000 spent….Meanwhile, policy makers’ attention to this issue has declined as well, all but disappearing from federal debates about education spending.

      We believe that this decades-long underinvestm.ent in gifted education has weakened our country by withholding much-needed support from young people who might have made important contributions to our economy, culture, and society at large….this failure to invest properly in gifted education has made it more difficult than ever for our public schools to identify, as Jefferson put it, “youths of genius from among the classes of the poor.”

      …A number of recent studies suggest that talented kids who come from low-income backgrounds are less likely, com-pared to similarly talented but more affluent peers, to reach their full potential….So how can we narrow this divide between talented low-income and high-income students? One solution is early identification and talent development.

      It’s hard to develop students’ talents if we don't identify them accurately and at an early enough point to affect their K-12 educational trajectory. This is especially important for gifted low-income students, who do not have the financial advantages that would enable them to access additional edu-cational opportunities and must rely on whatever their local public schools offer them….

      It may seem counterintuitive, but standardized tests appear to be more effective than more subjective measures in selecting students who are ready for more advanced schooling — the key is that such testing must be done universally, not relying on referrals from teachers, parents, or other adults. When gifted identification is left to the discretion of parents and teachers, it turns out that more low-income and minority children are missed….And it appears that universal screening actually is more, rather than less, helpful in objectively identifying talented but disadvantaged students….

      Moreover, recent research has shown that comparing students’ test performance to other students within the same school and using that as the method for identification — what is known as using “local norms” — results in more disadvantaged students being identified….

      When schools identify students, especially disadvantaged students, needing more advanced opportunities early in their K-12 educational development, they can provide the most educationally stimulating opportunities possible right from the start, enabling these students to develop to their fullest potential….

      …The competition for college, in particular highly selective colleges, is quite intense, often requiring years of planning, résumé building, and parental investment. Without early identification and consistent talent development, low-income gifted students are likely to remain at a disadvantage.

      Although the representation of talented but low-income students at selective colleges has improved somewhat since the 1970s, it has improved even more for talented but high-income students….In fact, researchers have found that academically advanced low-income students are less likely than their high-income peers even to apply to selective colleges and universities….And it is these selective colleges that often serve as gateways to positions of leadership and influence in U.S. society.

      People who end up in positions of national and global leadership, it turns out, often attended and graduated from highly selective colleges and universities. In fact, roughly half of the country’s political and economic leaders come from a small set of elite schools….Thus, the disadvantages accumulate for low-income students. Lacking access to the prestige associated with graduating from an elite school and the networking opportunities such schools provide, these students are largely shut out of top jobs and the loftiest positions of power….

      …Similarly, research by James Heckman…found greater long-term economic and societal returns on investment in high-ability students relative to lower-ability students, particularly at an early age.

      …At the same time, even a small early investment in talented students from poor backgrounds has the potential to greatly boost societal innovation and the economy, improving life for us all. Surely such an effort is worth it.

The Evidence Base for Advanced Learning Programs

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan A. Plucker and Carolyn M. Callahan in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      For decades, Americans have held conflicting views about the wisdom of offering advanced educational courses of study — such as honors classes, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and special programs for “gifted” students — in the public schools. On one hand, supporters argue that these programs benefit not just the students but all of us, since they identify and nurture talented individuals who will go on to play leading roles in society. On the other hand, critics decry advanced programming as elitist, inequitable, and (on balance) harmful to the country, since they tend to benefit children who are already advantaged, while taking resources away from those who can’t participate.

      In recent years, policy makers and the media have generally taken a positive view of advanced education programs, especially AP, which has seen its enrollments grow rapidly across much of the country, more than doubling between 2009 and 2019. Today, however, advanced programs are coming under fire once again, especially in urban school districts, and with particular urgency given the present economic crisis and heightened concerns about systemic racism….

      Consideration of what kinds of programs we should or should not offer in public schools — by school boards, superintendents, state legislatures, or the general public — may well lead to the conclusion that the pros of advanced programming are outweighed by the cons, or that other investments should have priority. However, if the debate is to be rational, it is important that those who weigh in are informed about the existing defensible evidence rather than relying on false, one-sided asser-tions or biased “popular” claims.

      …Despite the recent wave of criticism, substantial research evidence supports the condusion that advanced learning programs are effective. Does high-quality, gold-standard, replicated research exist for every possible intervention that falls under the umbrella of gifted education or talent development? Of course not. For many reasons, it is an anomaly when an educational program or practice has gold-standard evidence based on comparing student outcomes between groups who have been randomly assigned to receive or not receive that educational intervention. Consider, for example, that despite spending billions to study how best to help children learn to read — one of the most foundational tasks in all of education — we continue to debate the issue….

      However, if we lack gold-standard research, that doesn’t mean we lack evidence. In fact, there is a great deal of intervention research regarding the effectiveness of programs for advanced learners….Because randomized experimental studies aren't available in large numbers for every intervention, we rely on studies offering a preponderance of evidence that an intervention is effective, with a bias toward experimental studies when available.

      …Asking these kinds of specific questions about specific programs — whether we’re discussing science education or gifted education — is much more useful than lumping together a wide variety of interventions and trying to measure their overall effectiveness. T

      …One of the most-studied intervention strategies for advanced learners, acceleration refers to moving particular students forward more quickly than is typical, such as by having them enter kindergarten early, skip grades, study a telescoped curriculum (i.e., compressing material into a shorter time frame), or participate in dual enrollment or early college programs. Researchers have gathered overwhelming evidence that acceleration has positive effects on student achievement, and the evidence also dispels the myth that acceleration is detrimental to students’ social engagement or emotional well-being….

      …Although the evidence ofthe effectiveness of ability grouping is not as clear cut as the data supporting acceleration, researchers have provided convincing evidence that flexible ability grouping (i.e., grouping that can change as student abilities and needs change) is a net positive for the learning of our most and least advanced students. Of course, the important distinction here is the contrast between the concept of flexible grouping and tracking….

      …Both standardized achievement tests and specific curricular assessments have shown that students who were randomly chosen to participate in lessons using these curricula arl-ti eyed at higher levels than did similar students who were offered standard lessons. To date, strong evidence for these benefits has been found in a number of subject areas — science, social studies, reading, language arts, and mathematics….

      …Enrichment programs with a focus on the development of process skills (creative thinking, higher-level thinking skills, etc.) and with a focus on language arts at the elementary level are among the most widely used forms of advanced education…, but the research literature includes relatively few third-party or experimental studies….

      …Research on Advance d Placement and International Baccalaureate provides ample positive data from I surveys of teachers and students…, but the experimental research is mixed in quality (often failing to control for demographic and aptitude variables) and has mixed results regarding student outcomes….Although it appears that students who were successful in AP classes are more likely to be successful in college, the predictive strength varies by course. And there are signs that these courses may be detrimental for some students who do not achieve above minimal AP test scores.

      …Among the oldest strategies for advanced education are public high schools that selectively choose high-performing students based on entrance exam scores (hence the label “exam schools”). However, despite the long history of this approach to advanced learning, very few experimental studies have been conducted on such schools, and other sophisticated research designs have produced mixed-to-negative results regarding whether atten-dance at selective high schools improves student outcomes….

      …Given the strategies and evidence described above, educators and policy makers can reasonably conclude there are research-supported interventions to promote advanced learning. However, most students who would benefit from advanced education spend most of their time in heterogeneous classrooms, with some having access to a pull-out classroom for a very limited time period each day (typically less than an hour p er week) with a focus on enrichment learning activities….The heterogeneous classroom approach relies heavily on teachers' willingness, skill, and time to differentiate curriculum and instruction for the wide range of student performance levels in their classrooms, including students who want and need a greater challenge….However, there is evidence that only a limited cadre ofteachers are effective at doing so…, and few studies have produced evidence that differentiation has a positive effect on student learning….Many teachers themselves appear to recognize how difficult it is to provide this sort of instruction effectively….

      …Increasingly, in recent years, we’ve heard educators make the claim that advanced education programs are no longer necessary in their school district, given the benefits of newly adopted psychosocial interventions — such as those targeting growth mindset, grit, or learning styles. Moreover, we continue to hear educators make the familiar argument that advanced education can cause psychosocial harm to students….

      However, a review of the relevant research literature concluded that psychosocial interventions such as those noted above are not suitable for routine use in schools and may not work at all to promote advanced achievement and close excellence gaps….

      …Do we need more and better research into advanced education programs, especially on how to ensure they work for students of different races, ethnicities, genders, and economic backgrounds? Absolutely, but that can be said about almost any educational intervention. For now, educators, policy makers, and advocates should be aware of and confident in the empirical support for some specific approaches to providing advanced education — and the lack of support for others.

      In addition, educators and researchers should avoid pitting the various interventions against each other, as though one is superior to all others, even though, in practice, these strategies may overlap considerably. Instead of seeking the one best strategy for every situation, it maybe better to ask which set of strategies will be best in a given context for a given student or group of students. As the research base continues to grow, we'll be more and more able to answer these questions.

Rethinking How We Identify "Gifted" Students

[These excerpts are from an article by Scott J. Peters, James Carter and Jonathan A. Plucker in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Kappan.]

      Public education has long been viewed as society’s great equalizer, an institution that can change life trajectories, enabling students from even the humblest of backgrounds to master content and skills that will allow them to thrive when they reach adulthood. With great ambition, however, comes great responsibility: If our schools offer the surest route from poverty to the middle class, then they have an obligation to help as many students as possible to reach an acceptable standard of performance, one that will permit them to succeed in college and/or the workplace.

      This idea permeates the contemporary discourse about education, where terms like proficient and grade-level evoke a mimimum standard — on the way to college and career readiness — that all students are expected to reach. If they clear that bar, whether by an inch or a mile, then their school has done its job; if too many of them fall short, then the school has failed. In short, our public schools are under a great deal of pressure to identify and support struggling students, helping them to meet the standard.

      But a tale embrace of equity means that all students get the support they need….

      Traditionally, schools have served some portion of those students by enrolling them in gifted and talented (GT) programs. In recent years, though, the field has evolved inimportant ways, in part to address long-standing concerns. As critics have often noted, when children are designated as gifted, this seems to imply that they are qualitatively different from everybody else, as though they’ve been singled out for a lifetime membership in an exclusive club. In truth, high. achievement is much more fluid than that: Children will often race ahead in one area while strugging in others, or they’ll make rapid progress for a while and then slow down, or they’ll struggle for a while and then begin to make rapid progress. Thus, in an effort to highlight students’ current level of achievement in specific areas, rather than to suggest that they belong permanently to a gifted elite, many GT programs have come to use labels such as advanced academics or classes for highly capable students. Still, though, while the labels may be different, the goal tends to be similar: Such programs are meant to support those students found to need more of a challenge.

      Gifted and talented education has also expanded to include a focus on talent development. Whereas traditional GT programs focused on challenging students who were already advanced in one or more areas, many of these programs now include services meant to develop the potential of students who have yet to demonstrate high achievement, often because they've had fewer opportunities to do so. No longer is the focus solely on the needs of already advanced learners; increasingly, the goal also includes developing the potential of all students.

      …For that matte; even a seemingly “objective” selection process can favor students who aren't likely to benefit from the program, while excluding those who would. In one study, for example, students identified by a high IQ score were placed in the same gifted class as students identified through an achievement te s t; the students identified with an IQ te st showed no benefit, while those with high achievement test scores did….

      …But there is no magic bullet to solve the problem of inequity in gifted education. Lack of equity is caused by a number of factors, some of which are outside of educators’ control. For example, there is only so much that teachers and administrators can do to ameliorate the effects of poverty and its role in student achievement….

      …Gifted programs won't become truly equitable until the nation addresses a host of larger societal problems. In the meantime, though, we can make significant progress by relying on a number of best practices, as described below.

      …when schools neglect to give careful consideration to the kind of program they want to offer, or who they want to serve, they tend to make bad decisions, ending up with a program and a selection process that don't go together.

      …Without making clear and explicit choices about who and/or what the gifted program is meant to accomplish, it will end up serving the wrong students.

      …There’s no reason to assume, for instance, that if a student requires an accelerated algebra class this year then she'll need an accelerated class next year as well. Rather, the question should be, “Does this specific program meet this student’s needs at this time?” In brief, the point isn't to identify talented students (stamping them with that label in permanent ink), but to identify talented students in context and to match them with appropriate ser-vices that will benefit them in the moment….

      Higher education institutions, directors of exam schools, and gifted education researchers have long argued that the greater the numbers of students tested, the less likely we’ll be to overlook students who would have benefitted from the program — historically, a disproportionate number of those overlooked students have been Black, Latin; and/or from low-income families.

      Of course, it costs more money to test all students and (since this will lead to the identification of more students who need advanced learning opportunities) expand gifted programs. But if we want to identify students for these services more accurately and equitably, then this is a cost we must bear.

      As a rule, each school should design its GT services to meet the needs of its local population, rather than trying to conform to some national perspective on who counts as gifted….

      Identification systems should be proactive in finding and eliminating such obstacles, making sure that no students are denied gifted services for the wrong reasons….

      It’s not enough to say that a system is available to everyone. Instead, identification systems need to take proactive, affirmative steps to find every student who would benefit from a GT program. Yet, as important as it is to be proactive about equity, we must avoid the temptation to comb the desert in search of the perfect identification process, one that ensures that the makeup of the students receiving GT services precisely mirrors that of the larger student population. The United States is a very unequal country, and as long as some students have access to every resource and privilege imaginable, while others struggle to find enough to eat, we will see unequalperformance on any valid assessment, even ifs cho ols take proactive steps to identify students more equitably.

      …Further, using multiple criteria means using more measures, and those extra instruments (e.g., parent, teacher, or student self-rating scales) are often subjective. The greater the reliance on raters’ personal judgment, the greater the likeiihood that biases will skew the results.

      …Systems should be designed to be inclusive — to err on the side of letting kids into a service rather than on keeping them out. In addition, educators should consider whether their additional measures are injecting more bias into their process, and whether that bias is helping or hurting the ability of the process to identify children in need of advanced services, and to do so equitably. For example, teacher recommendations might help some disadvantaged students access services, but requiring a teacher referral could hold some students back.

      …Every year, many students arrive at school working well above grade level, and some of them may need additonal challenges, by way of accelerated courses, enrichment programs, or any of the many other strategies for providing a more rigorous education. Historically, the nation’s schools have struggled to identify those students accurately. Over the past decade, however, we’ve seen tremendous growth in our understanding of how best to select students for advanced learning services, ensuring that all children have fair and equitable opportunities to develop their skills and talents.

      We anticipate that this perspective will seem counterintuitive to many people, in that it flies in the face of a familiar line of criticism, which portrays gifted education programs as inherently elitist and inequitable. Within the field of advanced education, we can only keep working hard to show that such criticism is wrong, and that if public education is to be truly equitable and effective, then it must find ways to meet the needs of all children, including those who are ready for greater challenges.

      At the same time, we anticipate that our views will seem objectionable to others, especially those parents and educators who have had to fight hard over many years to get services for their very talented children and students, and who fear that a more inclusive approach will reduce or eliminate those services. To them, we can only reiterate that a more inclusive approach to gifted and advanced education, when designed and implemented carefully, will not remove services. Instead, it will “expand the pie,” resulting in a more equitable education system that meets the needs of all students. The question is not whether our schools can provide such services to larger number of children, but whether our leaders are willing to provide the necessary resources.

Purposes and Plans for Giften Education in Kappan

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Kappa.]

      In October 1940, Kappan published an issue on the “Education of exceptional children.” At the time, school attendance was growing quickly, and schools were having to figure out how to educate rbildren with an ever-widening range of abilities. Most articles in the issue focused on students with disabilities, but Ernest Newland noted in his Editorial Comment introducing the issue that “only about one-third of our mentally superior children are able to push themselves through the educational undergrowth of mass instruction to any point near the achievement of which they are capable….”

      Whether they are called mentally superior, highly intelligent, gifted, talented, or advanced, the most capable students in schools have presented a dual conundrum for educators. How do we identify them, and how can we develop their abilities? The question William Connor asks in the October 1940 Kappan has remained relevant across the decades, right up to today:

      Children are being born and growing up with the same individual differences, they have always shown. There is no going backward in the schools which serve a dynamic society such as ours. What, then, is the best possible approach to the identification and education of gifted and talented children here and now?...

      According to Connor, programs for these children were not just intended to help them develop their superior abilities further, but also to help them surmount problems perceived as common among gifted and talented children, such as boredom, social isolation, a sense of inferiority, a tendency to correct others, worry over the state of the world and their place in it, and “bafflement” in social situations.

      Likewise, in December 1956, Herbert Klausmeier noted that programs for the most capable children should be about more than intellectual development….

      …For Bernstein, the most capable students should be urged to enter the seats of the greatest power, and for better or worse, the scientific and scholarly worlds are not where the power is. Rather, the power is in the fields of economics and politics, he argued, and society will derive the greatest benefit from putting the best students on the path to these fields….

      In June 1973, Robert Tresize…contemplated how interest in providing special opportunities for the most advanced students had waxed and waned over the years, often along-side concerns about IQ testing, questions about whether nature or nurture were paramount in child development, and the eugenics movement….

      …[Thomas] Jefferson’s idea was that an intellectual elite should be encouraged. His philosophy suggested that we should continually survey the country in order to identify those who seem to be talented, and then pains should be taken to nurture that talent. The country will prosper and attain its ideals only if led by a group of enlightened leaders drawn from the various segments of society.

      …Jackson’s conception of democracy was more rectangular, with all social levels more or less on a plane. Being a product of the frontier, where all men were equal, Jackson thought that all men regardless of experience or educational background should share equally in the leadership function. In fact, the unlettered man of the frontier — but the man with ordinary common sense —should always be kept around to keep the intellectual and aristocratic elitists well rooted in reality and out of mischief….

      Indeed, Kappan authors had long sought ways to bring more young people into the gifted umbrella. As early as November 1958, Jacob Getzels and Philip Jackson…considered the merits of including highly creative students among the gifted, tailoring opportunities to build their specific talents. It was possible, the authors acknowledged, that including creativity as a marker of giftedness could set a precedent for further expanding the definition….

      In May 1982, Sally Reis and Joseph Renzulli…noted the many problems with using IQ tests to determine giftedness and described a more flexible “revolving door” approach, in which students whom the school deemed in need of enrichment would pursue areas of special interest, with the guidance of a resource teacher and following a clear management plan establishing when students would move in and out of the program.

      By the late 1990s, educators were thinking about gifted education as a form of talent development, potentially available to a much broader swath of students,….

      The case could be made that all of education should be about talent development, a view of schooling that focuses on the optimal, not the minimal, development of each student….

World’s Oldest Hunting Scene Revealed

[This brief article by Michael Price in the 18 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      More than 40,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a prehistoric Pablo Picasso ventured into the depths of a cave and sketched a series of fantastic animal-headed hunters cornering wild hogs and buffaloes. The age of the paintings, pinned down just 1 year ago, makes them the earliest known figurative art made by modern humans.

      In 2017, when an Indonesian researcher chanced across the scene, the figures alone told him he had found something special. The animals appear to be Sulawesi warty pigs and dwarf buffaloes, both of which still live on the island. But it was the animallike features of the eight hunters, armed with spears or ropes, that captivated archaeologists. Several of the hunters seem to have long muzzles or snouts. One sports a tail. Another’s mouth resembles a bird beak.

      It’s possible the artist was depicting the hunters wearing masks or camouflage, the researchers say, but they may also represent mythical animal-human hybrids. Such hybrids appear in other ancient works of art, including a 35,000-year-old ivory figurine of a lion-man found in the German Alps.

      Parts of the paintings were covered in white, bumpy mineral deposits known as cave popcorn. Uranium in this popcorn decays at a fixed rate, which allowed researchers to date minerals on top of the pigment to about 44,000 years ago. The cave scene must be at least that old—about 4000 years older than any other known figurative rock art, they reported in late December 2019. It decisively unseats Europe as the first place where modern humans are known to have created figurative art.

      If the figures do depict mythical human-animal hunters, their creators may have already passed an important cognitive milestone: the ability to imagine beings that do not exist. That, the researchers say, forms the roots of most modern—and ancient—religions.

Global Warming Forecasts Sharpen

[This brief article by Paul Voosen in the 18 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      More than 40 years ago, the world's leading climate scientists gathered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to answer a simple question: How hot would Earth get if humans kept emitting greenhouse gases? Their answer, informed by rudimentary climate models, was broad: If atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) doubled from pre-industrial levels, the planet would eventually warm between 15°C and 4.5°C, a climate sensitivity range encompassing the merely troubling and the catastrophic. Now, they’ve finally ruled out the mildest scenarios—and the most dire.

      Narrowing those bounds has taken decades of scientific advancement. Understanding how clouds trap or reflect heat has been a particular challenge. Depending on their thickness, location, and composition, clouds can amplify warming—or suppress it. Now high-resolution cloud models, supported by satellite evidence, have shown that global warming thins low, light-blocking clouds: Hotter air dries them out and subdues the turbulence that drives their formation.

      Longer and better temperature records have also helped narrow the range. Studies of Earth's ancient climate, which estimate paleotemperatures and CO2 levels using ice and ocean sediment cores, suggest how greenhouse gases may have driven previous episodes of warming. And modern global warming has now gone on long enough that surface temperatures, 1.1°C hotter than in preindustrial times, can be used to more confidently project trends into the future.

      This year, these advances enabled 25 scientists affiliated with the World Climate Research Programme to narrow climate sensitivity to a range between 2.6°C and 3.9°C. The study rules out some of the worst-case scenarios—but it all but guarantees warming that will flood coastal cities, escalate extreme heat waves, and displace millions of people.

      If we’re lucky; such clarity might galvanize action. Atmospheric CO2 is already at 420 parts per million—halfway to the doubling point of 560 ppm. Barring more aggressive action on climate change, humanity could reach that threshold by 2060—and lock in the foreseen warming.

A Divisive Disease

[These excerpts are from an article by Kal Kupferschmidt in the 18 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      …The pandemic was the type of threat researchers had worried and warned about for years: a deadly animal virus, new to humans, and spread in the breath we exhale….

      And this virus had help. A “syndemic” is the intersection of two epidemics—two diseases ravaging a population at the same time, exacerbating each other. HIV weakens the immune system, for instance, which makes people more likely to develop tuberculosis. The world witnessed something similar this year. We live in an ecosystem that allows viruses to cross from wildlife to humans more often and spread farther and faster than ever before—that gave us SARS-CoV-2. But the virus emerged in an information ecosystem that helps misinformation and lies spread faster than scientific evidence, weakening our ability to respond to new threats. That made the pandemic far worse.

      …the virus was faster. Carried around the world by travelers, it spread surreptitiously at first but quickly sickened and killed patients at a rate that threatened to overwhelm health care systems. As scientists, doctors, and nurses worked around the clock, countries on all continents tried to follow the Chinese example, depriving the coronavirus conflagration of the oxygen it eeded: human contact.

      “Science is our exit strategy,” Farrar told Science in those dark days of the first peak. And in many ways, science delivered. It launched an all-out effort to develop animal models and diagnostics, chart the pathogen's path of destruction through the human body, find drugs, and develop vaccines….

      But when it came to countering the other plague, that of disinformation and deception, the toolbox was empty. Just as video-conferencing and online shopping found massive new markets as stores, schools, and offices closed, so polarization, politicization, and a media ecosystem that elevates simple lies over complex truths were ready to take advantage of an unsettled public struggling with uncertainty. Even as hundreds of thousands died, many people downplayed the problem or refused to acknowledge its exis tence, no matter what the experts said….Politicians and some physicians began to promote drugs without evidence. The White House flouted epidemiologists’ advice about face masks and SARS-CoV-2’s propensity to spread in clusters indoors—and itself became the site of a superspreading event.

      Scientists, not the virus, became the enemy for some. Top virologists needed police protection. Many other researchers reported threats and harassment, with women often subjected to the worst of it….

      Conspiracy theories flourished. People burned down cellphone towers, blaming them for the pandemic. Others tried to film in hospitals they said were empty. It was all planned. It was all fake. Or maybe it was both.

      Scientists themselves contributed to the confusion. French microbiologist Didier Raoult touted hydroxychloroquine based on a study with few participants and no real control, group….Three scientists with high-profile affiliations published the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for shielding the most vulnerable in society while letting the virus infect everyone else to build up herd immunity, a strategy most epidemiologists considered dangerously misguided.

      Such episodes played into the desire for easy solutions: a cure-all pill, a disease that was less dangerous, a quick return to life before the pandemic. Some scientists may have been driven by a healthy distrust of accepted wisdom or a contrarian spirit, but the effect was reminiscent of industry’s playbook in the fights over tobacco and climate change: Create just enough confusion about the evidence to allow people to carry on as before.

      Science worked best when many researchers joined hands. Hundreds of small drug studies didn’t result in clear answers, but two big trials—the United Kingdom's Recovery and WHO’s Solidarity—convincingly relegated hydroxychloroquine and other drugs to the dustbin while showing that dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, cut deaths by one-third. Thousands of scientists signed the John Snow Memorandum, a riposte to the Great Barrington Declaration that declared the herd immunity strategy “a dangerous fallacy.” The vaccines, too, were the product of thousands of scientists and doctors working together.

      In the end, science may save the day—we'll find out in the months and years ahead whether vaccines can defeat the virus. But the pandemic was a stress test for the scientific enterprise. Some cracks that had long been there, small enough to be ignored by many, widened into deep fissures.

      Farrar is hopeful that humanity will come away wiser after staring into the abyss….

      But a new crisis is coming that scientists have warned and worried about for years—one that is slower, yet even more menacing, and far easier to ignore or deny. “You know the biggest deal of this year?” Hanage asks. “When it comes to climate change we are totally screwed.”

      There will be no easy scientific fix for global warming. And if this pandemic has shown anything, it is that evidence without action is like a vaccine in a freezer: It is all potential. Scientists knew deaths would follow cases as sure as thunder follows lightning. And yet politicians and ordinary citizens alike found it hard to act until morgues were overflowing. Some refused to acknowledge reality even then. How much harder will it be to act on climate change?

      The upshot of this year cannot just be more research on unknown pathogens lurking in nature. It has to be an effort to revive and strengthen the bonds between science and the rest of society.

      SARS-CoV-2 did not just disrupt the world. It shattered the fragile mirror we thought of as reality. Without it, we will be defenseless in the next crisis.

Shots of Hope

[These excerpts are from an article by Jon Cohen in the 18 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      …That first month, confusion reigned. No one knew how deadly SARS-CoV-2 was or how it might threaten global health. China obscured early evidence of human-to-human transmission, and the seemingly limited spread to other countries delayed the World Health Organization from declaring an international health emergency. But as January ended, the global threat had become clear….

      Two of the Chinese contenders made vaccine candidates with the entire virus, whereas every other effort singled out the SARS-CoV-2 surface protein, spike, which structural biologists were quick to map and study. Spike initiates infection by attaching to receptors that stud human cells. A vaccine might “neutralize” the virus if it could train the body to create antibodies that would glom onto spike at the precise spot where it engages with its receptor.

      Developers tapped into a dazzling array of technologies to make an effective vaccine….

      But making a vaccine isn’t just a matter of choosing a technology. It has to be tested, first for safety and then for efficacy, in thousands of people who receive the shot or a placebo and are monitored to see who gets sick. “You’re not just going to pull a vaccine out of your pocket,” said Anthony Fauci, bead of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on 11 February. Panel, who said it typically took “6, 7, 8 years” to develop a vaccine, predicted that small clinical trials would begin in March, but larger trials not until June. In the best-case scenario, he said, “It would take at least 6 or 8 months to know if it works.”

      But the best-case scenario was even better than Fauci expected.

      The field received a jolt of good news in April, when Sinovac showed for the first time that a COVID-19 vaccine safely protected monkeys from an intentional “challenge” with the virus. The company used an old, and, some thought, outmoded technology: whole, killed virus. But the concept itself now had proof. A flood of other monkey challenge successes followed.

      By 20 April, the day after the first report of a monkey success, five companies had vaccines in clinical trials, and no fewer than 71 other candidates were in preclinical development….

      …On 27 July, the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech candidates both entered efficacy trials that quickly enrolled more participants in hard-hit locales than the Chinese vaccine studies. Those mRNA vaccines became the first to cross the finish line, each reporting roughly 95% efficacy in November.

      …That’s higher than almost anyone dared hope for. (Influenza vaccines, in a good year, hit 60% effectiveness.) A confluence of forces propelled science from zero to a COVID-19 vaccine at revolutionary speed. Never before have researchers so quickly developed so many experimental vaccines against the same foe. Never before have so many competitors collaborated so openly and frequently. Never before have so many candidates advanced to large-scale efficacy trials virtually in parallel. And never before have governments, industry; academia, and nonprofits thrown so much money, muscle, and brains at the same infectious disease in such short order.

      Biology, however, may have been the overriding factor in the success of COVID-19 vaccines….

      SARS-CoV-2 is different. Early in the pandemic it became clear that most people developed only mild disease, suggesting the immune system can hold the virus in check—and that vaccine-stimulated immunity might prove an effective defense. HIV or hepatitis C, in contrast, cause life-long infections.

      If SARS-CoV-2 is an easy mark, the mRNA vaccines that delivered the most spectacular early results may soon be joined by many others….

      As of 10 December, 162 candidates were in development and 52 were already in clinical trials. If even a fraction of those work, different countries may get to choose the vaccines that best fit their budgets and delivery capabilities—and separate vaccines could be available for children, pregnant women, young adults, and the elderly.

      To be sure, the clinical trial results reported to date have mainly come from glowing company press releases, not the full presentations of data that could reveal caveats. Vaccine doses will be scarce for even the wealthiest countries until at least spring, and the world’s poor will surely wait longer, despite the creation of a global alliance, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, to increase access.

      In other ways, too, the pandemic-battered world has a long trip ahead on a steep mountain road with no guardrails. Vaccine hesitancy, manufacturing problems, and breakdowns in supply chains could botch ambitious rollouts. SARS-CoV-2 might mutate to evade protective immune responses. Vaccines might prevent disease, but not transmission, delaying the end of the pandemic. Worst of all, rare, serious side effects could surface when vaccines move from efficacy trials to entire populations….

      Normal won’t return for a long time. But in the coming months, as vaccines are rolled out and a fuller picture of their promise emerges, we may finally be able to answer the question, “When is this going to end?”

A Glimmer of Hope for Global Emissions

[These excerpts are from an article by Tom Yulsman in the January/February 2021 issue of Discover.]

      As the arc of coronavirus misery rose in 2020, a hopeful development on another dangerous curve may have escaped your attention. The curve tracking the rise of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy use were totally flat in 2019….

      …this flattening happened before COVID-19 temporarily hampered economic activity and carbon output. So, the promising CO2 trend stems from other factors: plunging use of coal in many economies and gains in renewable energy….

      Pending final numbers, we’ll likely see actual reductions in CO2 emissions in 2020, “partly but not entirely due to the pandemic,” Mann says. “Perhaps even more significantly, we know that the flattening of carbon emissions is tied to the transition away from fossil fuel burning and toward renewable energy.”

      That’s a structural change, and the shift has been accelerating. Mann predicts the final emissions report for 2020 will show a drop od about 5 percent. But that won’t thwart the dangerous climate impacts in our future. “The problem is that we need further reductions by the, year after year, for the next decade and beyond,” he says. The goal is to prevent Earth from warming an average of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which is projected to cause deadly heat waves, debilitating droughts and stronger storms. In fact, 2020 was on track to be one of the hottest years on record….

      Also, despite the emissions curve flattening in 2019, and likely decreasing in 2020, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere still reached a new high in 2020, and will continue to rise. Like a bathtub overflowing until the tap is shut off completely, CO2 levels will not stop rising until emissions are driven down to zero – either that, or until emissions are drastically slowed while CO2 is actually removed from the atmosphere.

      …we must embrace this idea: “We humans really are in charge of, and responsible for, our own future, which includes the health of our planet.:

A Water-Dwelling Dino, Lost and Found

[These excerpts are from an article by Riley Black in the January/February 2021 issue of Discover.]

      …The discovery of a long, paddlelike tail marked Spinosaurus as the first known semi-aquatic dinosaur.

      The current model of Spinosaurus took over a century to assemble. In 1915, German paleontologist Ernst Stromer named Spinosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur that stalked Cretaceous Egypt and bore a tall sail on its back. But, not long after the dinosaur’s description, the only known fossils were destroyed during a 1944 Allied bombing raid of Munich. Spinosaurus was lost to science.

      Bits and pieces turned up over the following decades. Scraps bobbed out of the strata of Egypt and turned up in Morocco’s fossil market. Finds of related animals started to change the image of Spinosaurus, too — shifting it from a Tyrannosaurus-like chomper to a crocodile-snouted fish-eater with huge claws. Yet paleontologists were still lacking a complete specimen to validate their expectations.

      That all changed in the late 2000s, when pieces of a partial Spinosaurus skeleton surfaced from a fossil collector, and later at a museum in Milan. Traced back to their source among the Kern Kern beds of Morocco, the fossil turned out to be the first reasonably complete Spinosaurus found in a century. The finds revealed that Spinosaurus had a long snout full of conical teeth and comically stubby back legs. What’s more, the dense structure of the dinosaur’s bones hinted that its skeleton had naturally steadied the animal as it swam about Cretaceous waterways.

      But the reconstruction spurred controversy. The new specimen was still missing pieces, and experts disagreed on whether all the bones belonged to the same animal or even the same species.

      To solve the debate, paleontologists went back to the source….

      The expedition was a success. A search ofthe quarry that had yielded the latest specimen also turned up something new: a tail. Described early in 2020, the tail of Spinosaurus was long, thick and eel-like — no other known dinosaur had one like this….

      …Spinosaurus spent a lot of time in and near the water.…how the dinosaur used its tail and how much time it spent swimming is up for debate….

Black in Academia

[These excerpts are from an article by Cydney H. Dupree in the January/February 2021 issue of Discover.]

      In May, the killing of George Floyd brought a harsh reality to the forefront of conversations worldwide: Racism permeates every aspect of society: And science, as part of society and my own profession, is not immune….

      Racism in science is nothing new For centuries, science has been a foremost tool used to build, defend and maintain racial inequality. As the transatlantic slave trade reached its peak, the 18th century saw the emergence of “race sciences.” European scientists and philosophers debated the number and characteristics of human races, typically depicting Black people as predisposed to unintelligence, laziness and criminality. This work continued in the 19th century with the American eugenics movement, as scientists argued for the genetic superiority of those classified as white. Even as science began to understand race as socially constructed rather than biologically determined, several scholars began to advance notions of Black Americans’ cultural inferiority.

      Recent decades brought little change. In the 1990s, social scientists continued to argue that genetic unintelligence or a “culture of poverty” keeps Black Americans from success, blaming academic and family shortcomings while overlooking the roles of history and discrimination. Today, scholars across the sciences uncover racial disparities in all areas of life — often without explaining the myriad social factors that drive such differences. One example lies in the well-publicized finding that, as of Aug. 18, Black people are over twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people are. There-is less talk, however, of the structural factors that cause such disparities (and even less of how to fix them).

      …I found that white liberals — including Democratic presidential candidates — engage in what I call a competence downshift: They use fewer words highlighting their own competence (like assertive or competitive) when talking to a Black person or a mostly minority audience. White conservatives who, research suggests, are generally less interested in getting along with racial minorities — showed no such shift. This likely well-meaning, if ultimately patronizing, phenomenon maybe one of many that makes scientists of color in mostly white, outwardly progressive scientific communities feel unwelcome.

      This competence downshift is likely rooted in the very stereotypes that science has propagated for centuries — those depicting Black people as lower in status and ability. These ideas are alive and well….The stereotypes also play out in day-to-day interactions for scientists — such as when a Black professor is talked down to or mistaken for the janitor — leaving them feeling unsure of themselves and unwelcome. All of this can deter Black people from entering or staying in the sciences.

      In our rapidly diversifying world, the lack of scientists of color becomes increasingly harmful to humanity. Researchers of color are less subject to racial ignorance, allowing them to conduct research that is meaningful to more communities. Journal editors of color are often more likely to spot harmful implications that research might have for vulnerable communities, while participants of color allow scientific breakthroughs that apply to many rather than a few.

      As Black Lives Matter protests surged this past summer, organizations scrambled to release statements of solidarity. Conversations about reforming criminal justice, education, housing and the economy came to the forefront. The substance of such reforms will hinge on science — the tool the world turns to for addressing its most pressing problems. To be effective and inclusive, science, too, needs sweeping reforms: increasing the number of scientists of color, improving their sense of belonging within their chosen fields, and rebuilding eroded trust between academia and com-munities of color. As the world grapples with racism, one can only hope that, this time, science rises to the challenge.

The Social Symptoms of COVID-19

[These excerpts are from an article by Alex Orlando in the January/February 2021 issue of Discover.]

      It all happened so quickly. In a matter of weeks, our world was upended when a far-fiung outbreak spiralectinto a genuine pardeMiC. With. vateines and pharmaceutical interventions sea speck on theharizon, human behavior has become a key factor in battling the disease. The crisis has also pummeled both individuals and society itself with a plethora of mental health burdens, from stress and anxiety to social isolation.

      Research on COVID-19’s psychological impact is still evolving. But by midsurnmer of 2020, call counts had spiked up to 10 times more than pre-pandemic levels at the Disaster Distress Helpline….For decades, social and behavioral scientists have been examining the toll of long-term loneliness, the difficulty of behavior change and the human capacity for resilience. Their insights can help gauge the pandemic’s lasting consequences — and better equip us to stem the virus’ spread.

      …It’s no secret that human beings are inherently social creatures; for millennia, our bonds have kept us alive. Then 2020 happened. Millions of people found themselves trapped in their homes; either completely alone or intetacting with only a few others. Throughout human history; we’ve evolved to rely on our peers for survival….

      This heightened alertness has a direct effect on our bodies, too. It can cause increases in blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones and inflammation levels — all of which threaten our life expectancy….researcher’s found that a lack of social connections is comparable to, and often more harmful than, obesity, physical inactivity and other well-known mortality risks. For example, the health effects of loneliness have been likened to the consequences of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

      Loneliness was already a serious public health concern in the U.S. before the pandemic. But some experts fear that efforts to limit the novel coronavirus’ spread, from stay-at-home orders to social distancing, may amplify our loneliness problem….Even when we’re physically apart, the scientists suggest, a sense of support and solidarity might help stave off feelings of loneliness.

      Regardless,the importance of human connections coupled with the necessity to social distance creates a paradox — particularly for those, like older adults, who are more vulnerable to both isolation and COVID-19….With that in mind, nurturing safe, in-person interactions — from quality time with housemates to chats with neighbors across the street — may prove vital.

      …Despite being up against the worst public health crisis in a century, many people remain resistant to changing their ways….And with a glut of scientific research now showing that wearing face masks — combined with social-dikancing and frequent hand-washing — can curb transmission of the virus, resisting the inertia of habit and convenience is more important than ever.

      Still, information alone isn’t enough to shift someone’s behavior, even when those tweaks could mean the difference between life and death….

      But that doesn’t mean change is impossible. In fact, scientists have identified specific techniques for encouraging healthy and prosocial behavior, like mask-wearing….

      …It’s hard to overstate the disastrous nature ofthe SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. By October, the virus had already infected tens of millions of people — and killed 1 million —worldwide. The pandemic is also leaving varied psychological debris in its wake: Parental exhaustion with kids home from school, general paranoia about any symptoms of illness and major stressors for people forced indoors with abusive partners and guardians….

      Yet a body of research points to one brighter possible outcome of the pandemic —resilience. In psychology, the term refers to a stable course for mental health despite stressful or traumatic events….A 2004 study by Bonanno found that around two-thirds of individuals are likely to show resilience after an aversive event passes. Some scientists contend that percentages of resilience may even be underestimated because of a lack of data.

      There are some factors that tend to be linked to resilience, like the ability- to stay flexible. But Bonanno cautions there is no magic bullet for remaining resilient in the face of the COVID-19 crisis….

The Empathetic Reader

[This excerpt is from an article by Megan Schmidt in the January/February 2021 issue of Discover.]

      Would the world be a better place if people read more fiction? Words on a page can introduce us to what it's like to lose a child, get swept up in a war, be born into poverty or leave home and immigrate to a new country. A growing body of research has found that people who read fiction tend to better understand and share in the feelings of others — even those who are different from themselves. The results hold up even when comparing fiction to non-fiction readers.

      In 2006, researchers found that the more names of fiction authors that participants knew — and the more fiction they presumably read — the higher they-scored on empathy tests. Since then, exploring the intersection between empathy and fiction has caught on in psychology. There’s even evidence to show that reading itself is what promotes a change in individuals, rather than people who are naturally more empathetic gravitating toward fiction.

      But what people do with that extra empathy isn't as well understood….

Spare a Thought for the Teeming Ecosystem beneath Your Feet

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 11 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      Reach down and scoop up some soil. Cupped in your hands may be 5000 different kinds of creatures—and as many individual cells as there are humans on the globe. That random handful might hold microscopic fungi, decomposing plant matter, a whisker-size nematode munching on the fungi, and a predatory, pinhead-size mite about to pounce on the nematode. One bacterium may fend off another with a potent antibiotic. It’s a whole world of often overlooked biodiversity.

      Last week, on the eve of World Soil Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released its first ever global assessment of the biodiversity in this underground world….

      …It details how life in the soil 4r7 boosts crop growth and purifies soil and water. Together with plant root systems, soil organisms store more carbon, potentially for longer, than the aboveground parts of trees do….

      Yet with each pass of the bulldozer or tractor, each forest fire, each oil spill, even the constant traffic of hikers along a popular trail, more and more soil organisms are being killed off. By compiling research on these subterranean ecosystems and how they affect visible ones, the report’s authors hope to convince scientists, policymakers, and the general public to take steps to slow this loss….

      Soil is a mix of organic material, minerals, gases, and other components that provide the substrate for plants to grow. About 40% of all animals find food, shelter, or refuge in soil during part of their life cycle.

      Scientists have mostly focused on the largest and smallest soil creatures. For centuries, natural historians have observed the moles, earthworms, ants, and termites that chew, wiggle, and dig their way among soil's particles, feasting on decaying leaves and other debris or on each other. Those ecosystem engineers aerate the soil and create underground passageways that make soil more hospitable for other life. And over the past few decades, microbiologists sequencing soil DNA have discovered an astonishing diversity of bac-eria and fungi, which process that litter into organic material.

      But in between the scales of macroscopic animals and microbes lie thousands of long-overlooked tiny creatures—the micro- and mesa fauna. Microscopic protists, nematodes, and tardigrades inhabit the watery films around soil particles. Slightly larger animals up to 2 millimeters in size, such as mites, springtails, and insect larvae, live in the airy pores between those particles, helping make soil one of the most diverse habitats on Earth….

      This diversity creates a rich, complex ecosystem that boosts crop growth, breaks down pollutants, and can serve as a nearly inexhaustible sink for carbon. Some soil organisms promote plant diversity and many have yielded important compounds, from antibiotics to natural pesticides….

      The report lists a dozen human activities taking a major toll on soil organisms. They include deforestation, intense agriculture, acidification due to pollutants, salinization from improper irrigation, soil compaction, surface sealing, fire, and erosion….

      Some researchers hope the report will encourage protecting soil organisms for their own sake. “Soil biodiversity is huge, and we must not destroy it without knowing what potential there is for improving sustainability,” says Mary Scholes….

An Opportunity to Improve Innovation

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 11 December 2020 issue of Science.]

      The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is the outcome of Big Pharma’s R&D prowess, billions of dollars in federal investment, and the dedication and ingenuity of scores of scientists. But it also illustrates the logic of the Bayh.-Dole Act, passed 40 years ago in the United States, which governs how universities can work with industry to reap the benefits of federally funded research. The act permits universities to collaborate with private companies to license and commercialize these technologies under the rationale that the payoff for the government’s investment is increased economic activity for the country. It is unlikely that the act will ever be brought back to the floor of Congress for revision, and its staying power suggests that it is a permanent fixture of the U.S. innovation ecosystem. Nevertheless, there are legitimate philosophical and logistical objections that the incoming administration should work to address.

      Over the years, the federal government has funded most of the basic research that underlies the COVID-19 vaccines. But the government itself lacks the capacity to carry out massive clinical trials or to manufacture and distribute the vaccines on its own. The Moderna vaccine, for example, relies on patents that are licensed under Bayh-Dole to the biotechnology company. The fact that vaccines could be available to health care workers as soon as this week is a testament to the effectiveness of the arrangement.

      When Bayh-Dole first came along, there were notable concerns among university faculties about the conflicts that would arise. Would scientists be objective about their published research if they also stood to gain financially? Would students and postdoes see their careers stalled out because results were held back while patents were filed or—even worse—results were kept secret to protect financial interests?

      Universities set up ways to monitor and correct such conflicts, and though there have been problems, the system has held up well and contributed to important innovation….

      When a faculty member holds equity in a. startup company, their interests are not completely aligned with those of the university, which can make negotiating licenses cumbersome and strained….

      Although Bayh-Dole has produced much economic success and progress on important fronts, there are major drawbacks to depending on the marketplace to spur the kind of research that benefits society—a stated rationale for passing the act. This disconnect provides the strongest argument to create a more public system that doesn't rely on the financial short-sightedness of industry collaboration; however, most attempts at public solutions to this problem have not led to innovations applied outside the public-private model. Thus, the current system does not address what to do when there is insufficient financial interest to attract solutions to problems like antibiotic resistance or unrealized pandemics. As the new Biden administration forms in the United States, a productive effort might be seeking a means of working within the framework of Bayh-Dole to address compelling needs that are not market-driven.

  Website by Avi Ornstein, "The Blue Dragon" – 2016 All Rights Reserved