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).
Common Ground and the Climate Crisis

[These excerpts are from a book review by Miriam Aczel in the 17 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Hayhoe stresses the need to find common values that we can use to begin conversations with our families and our communities, highlighting that the climate crisis is inherently linked to the issues we all care about—human health, economic strength, and the “stability of our world.” Together, she says, we can find solutions.

      Hayhoe begins by describing the hate-filled emails and confrontations she routinely faces as a climate scientist in Texas….

      …The truth of climate change is based on scientific evidence, she explains. And climate change is unfair because it affects those, including farmers, who have done little to cause it. She ends by discussing positive steps taken at the local level to solve climate change, with resultant benefits to those communities. To open a dialogue, first take inventory of who you axe—your home, what you love doing—and what you might have in common with others, she writes.

      …She then explains, adopting a conversational tone, that, like many, she loves her country but also sees the critical threats posed by climate change: from increasingly encroaching invasive species to growing wildfires, flood risk, melting permafrost, and sinking coastlines….

      …we can discuss the implications of climate change on those we love—our families and communities—and how we can work together on solutions….

      …Climate change, she notes, poses disproportionate risk to those who are poor, hungry, or ill--those individuals that the Bible instructs followers to take care of….

      Fellow scientists may be satisfied by data, but how does one start a conversation with nonscientists about the potential impacts of climate change? Hayhoe suggests starting with a shared activity or interest—beer or wine, food, sports, etc.—and using that as a starting point for a conversation….

Climate Science Speaks: “Act Now”

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jane Lubchenco and John F. Kerry in the 17 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      …For over 30 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been assessing the science of climate change. Each successive report has provided stronger evidence and deeper understanding, giving governments much of the information they need to develop a response. The fifth IPCC report, released in 2014, catalyzed the Paris Agreement, which aspires to limit the increase in average global temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels, and preferably to 1.5°C.

      …including advances that allow scientists to decipher the fingerprint of climate change in heat waves, heavy rainfall and floods, droughts, and wildfires. These increasingly frequent and severe events are dominating global headlines and stoking public awareness of the economic and humanitarian consequences facing the world because of climate change….

      Two stark findings command attention. Some changes underway in the ocean and the Arctic are potentially irreversible on human time scales. And the pathway for limiting warming to 1.5°C is narrowing rapidly. These results underscore the urgency of vastly enhancing global ambitions to tackle this threat. Every bit of avoided warming matters.

      The United States is confronting this challenge with a bold pledge to reduce emissions by 50 to 52% in 2030. To reach this goal, the Biden-Harris administration is implementing executive actions to cut emissions and bolster resilience to the effects of climate change that are already being felt. This includes mobilizing the leadership from 21 federal agencies and departments to decarbonize the power sector, spur electric vehicle adoption, conserve lands and waters, and protect public health. The White House is also working with Congress to pass the US bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to develop a new clean-energy economy. At the same time, the nation is investing in research that will guide a rapid transition to a low-carbon future while providing technical and financial assistance to communities most vulnerable to impacts such as heat waves, flooding, and sea level rise. The administration is committed to achieving this unprecedented package of actions by creating jobs and supporting communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.

      Because no single nation can solve the crisis alone, the United States is working with other countries to lower their own emissions and improve their resilience while assisting those places already suffering from climate change. The next decade will be critical. To keep the 1.5°C target within reach, all major economies must do more, with immediate, robust, and sustained action to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This means deploying technological and natural climate solutions, such as conserving and restoring terrestrial and mangrove forests, saltmarshes, and seagrass beds. It means focusing not only on terrestrial activities but also on ocean-based ones such as generating renewable wind, current, and tidal energy; decarbonizing shipping; and protecting existing stores of carbon on the seabed. It means becoming better at helping communities, economies, and ecosystems adapt to climate disruptions….

The World in a Mug

[These excerpts are from an article by Anne Trafton in the September/October 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      Humans generate millions of gigabytes of data each day, and one promising way to preserve it is to encode it in the nucleotides of DNA. After all, DNA evolved to store massive quantities of information at very high density, and it's remarkably stable, too.

      But once the files are stored—and scientists have already demonstrated that it's possible—retrieving the one you’re looking for is a tall order. Now MIT researchers…have demonstrated an easy way to do it.

      The team encoded different images into DNA and encapsulated each file in a small silica particle labeled with single-stranded DNA “barcodes” corresponding to its contents. To pull out a specific image, they add primers to the DNA data-base that correspond to the labels they’re looking for—for example, “cat,” “orange,” and “wild” for an image of a tiger.

      The primers are labeled with fluorescent or magnetic particles, making it easy to pull out any matches while leaving the rest of the DNA files intact. The process even allows Boolean logic statements, similar to what’s possible in a Google search.

      Bathe envisions this as a way to deal with data that is not accessed very often….

      “DNA is a thousandfold denser than even flash memory,” he says: all the data in the world could theoretically fit in a coffee mug….

The Pain Switch

[These excerpts are from an article by Georgina Gustin in the September/October 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      …Wang, an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, has spent much of her career researching sensory perception and how the brain interprets touch and pain. She and her team are now working to understand new pain suppression centers in the brain with the hope of finding relief that doesn’t require opioids.

      If they succeed, their work could profoundly shift the treatment of pain and reshape the lives of countless people, potentially preventing the cascading effects of addiction that often accompany opioid use….

      But the brain areas she’s focused on—the places where anesthesia, pain, and sleep are controlled—are incredibly complex, and the task in front of her is monumental….

      Wang has always been interested in sensory perception, and her early research focused on the sense of smell, tracing the sensory neurons from the nasal cavity to the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain responsible for processing the perception of odors. Researchers had only a limited understanding of pain perception, she says. That remains true decades later….

      She was also fascinated by reports of patients under general anesthesia, undergoing surgeries, who were conscious—some even recalled hearing the surgeon speak—yet felt no pain.

      What, she wondered, was the brain doing in these cases and how could that be harnessed to blunt pain?

      In the 175 years since the first patient was successfully put under general anesthesia, researchers have not pinpointed exactly how it works. The prevailing theory has been that general anesthesia shuts the brain down, creating a loss of consciousness. But the examples of the soldiers and the patients who had awareness under anesthesia led Wang to wonder if a part of the anesthetized brain was still, in effect, working to suppress pain….

      To look for such a region, Wang and her team anesthetized mice with four common anesthetics and then, using molecular markers, found clusters of neurons that those compounds activated in a part of the brain's hypothalamus as well as in the amygdala. Since the hypothalamic neurons express a neuxopeptide that was previously linked to reducing pain, Wang focused on studyingthem first. And she discovered to her surprise that they seemed to be linked not only to pain suppression but to the loss of consciousness experienced under general anesthesia. When she and her team activated the neurons using a technique she’d pioneered at Duke (called “capturing activated neural ensembles,” or CANE), the mice entered into a long, deep sleep. The finding that multiple anesthetics all fire up a region of the brain to promote a sleep-like state provided the first clear evidence that there are active mechanisms involved in anesthesia. Because chronic pain patients are known to have sleep problems, this region could be a potential target for future sleep aids, Wang says.

      Building on that research, Wang and her colleagues turned their attention to the cluster of neurons they’d found in the amygdala that were also fired up by general anesthesia. Was it possible they might underlie its pain suppression function? It seemed unlikely, because the amygdala is the part of the brain most associated with fear and the human fight-or-flight response, triggered by the prospect of pain; it was not an area previously connected to anesthesia and active pain suppression.

      Remarkably, when Wang and her team used optogenetics to activate these specific central amygdala neurons, they discovered that the mice felt very little pain. Mice that had been exposed to an inflammatory agent or that had nerve pain caused by a chemotherapy drug or nerve pressure immediately stopped rubbing their faces and licking their paws—typical self-care behaviors induced by pain. Conversely, when the researchers deactivated these neurons, the mice responded to normal touch, such as stroking of the fur, as if it were painful….

      …In other words, it seemed that when the amygdala neurons were activated, the mice could sense stimuli that typically cause pain but did not experience the pain itself. The way these neurons were connected to many brain regions that process the negative emotions of pain suggested that the amygdala cells can inhibit all such regions.

      This was a “holy grail” finding because it meant there was a single place in the brain that could, potentially, switch off pain….

      Her current research aims to pinpoint the neural circuit mechanisms that control how expectations and memories change our pain perception….

The Keepers of the Sea

[These excerpts are from a book report by Jason W. Smith in the 10 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Since 1945, Easterbrook argues, American naval predominance coupled with the flourishing of seaborne commerce unimpeded by large-scale conflict has transformed much of the world, raising standards of living, life expectancy, and many other indicators of progress for most, if not all, people. Free trade under the US Navy's watch ushered in a period of unparalleled global prosperity, he maintains, elegantly dubbing this era “the Blue Age.”

      …Citing the navy’s lead in supercarriers, amphibious assault ships, and ballistic missile submarines, he notes that the United States possesses a fleet larger than the rest of the world combined….Easterbrook argues that American naval power must be maintained, particularly in the face of challenges from China and budget cuts….

Vultures Face New Toxic Threat

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 10 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      Two decades after a now-banned drug nearly -wiped out vultures in several Asian countries, conservationists have identified another pharmaceutical threat to these ecologically vital scavengers….

      Environmental groups hope the new evidence will help persuade governments to ban the use of nimesulide in cattle. They axe embracing a report last month that an antiinflammatory drug already used in cattle, tolfenamic acid, is safe for vultures, only the second such alternative identified.

      In the early 1990s, tens of millions of vultures lived in India alone. The large scavengers quickly stripped the carcasses of the country’s many cows and other animals that died in the open, helping prevent the spread of disease. Then the population of vultures crashed, especially numbers of the common white-romped vulture (Gyps bengalensis). They were suffering kidney failure after ingesting diclofenac, a drug commonly given to cattle to treat pain, fever, and inflammation.

      India banned the veterinary use of diclofenac in 2006, and neighboring nations followed. Vulture numbers stabilized, but the damage was done: Populations had dropped by up to 99%. Cattle carcasses accumulated and sustained a booming population of feral dogs, increasing the need to vaccinate people against rabies.

      The bans did not eliminate the threat of anti-inflammatory drugs, and in India the vulture population has not rebounded. It is still legal for pharmacies to sell diclofenac for human use, and covert studies of retail pharmacies have revealed the drug is being diverted to treat cattle. One reason is the speed with which it works. Diclofenac is called a “cup of tea” drug because sick cows improve by the time the veterinarian finishes a drink with the owner.

      Other drugs still legally sold cause problems, too. Aceclofenac, for example, breaks down in cattle into diclofenac. Ketoprofen is also toxic to vultures, causing Bangladesh in February to completely ban its use in order to protect “vulture safe zones.” Widely available and fast-acting nimesulide, meanwhile, has been growing in popularity. Researchers first raised concerns about the drug in 2016, after they discovered it in the tissues of several dead vultures.

      …the evidence is compelling that nimesulide should now be banned for use in cattle. Other anti-inflammatory and pain relief medications are available, they note. Meloxicam, for example, is safe for vultures. So is tolfenamic acid….

SARS-CoV-2 Infection Confers Greater Immunity Than Shots

[These excerpts are from an article by Meredith Wadman in the 3 September 2021 issue of Science.]

      The natural immune protection that develops after a SARS-CoV-2 infection is a stouter shield against the Delta variant of the pandemic coronavirus than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a large Israeli study that some scientists wish came with a “Don’t try this at home” label….

      …But infectious disease experts emphasize that vaccination remains highly protective against severe disease and death. And they caution that whatever its, immunological legacy, SARS-CoV-2 infection is extremely risky….

      The researchers also found that vaccination plus infection yields even stronger protection. People who were infected and received one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine were half as likely to become reinfected as those who had the virus and were still unvaccinated….

      Still, Thalin, who cares for gravely ill COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated, cautions that although showing the benefits of natural immunity, the study doesn’t reveal the physical toll of infection. Adds Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, Seattle: “[It] doesn’t take into account what this virus does to the body to get to that point.”' COVID-19 has killed 4.5 million people and left some survivors with the lingering symptoms known as Long Covid….

Wolf Pups Are Being Killed in Cold Blood—And It’s All Legal

[These excerpts are from an article in the Summer 2021 issue of the Friends of the Earth Newsmagazine.]

      Right now across the West, hunters are corralling baby wolf pups into their dens and tossing dynamite in after them. Professional trappers are using helicopters, ATVs, night vision and snares to go after these innocent pups.

      Shockingly, this horrific slaughter is completely legal.

      From a new law allowing hunters to kill up to 90% of Idaho’s wolves, to loosening of protections in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, wolves are in trouble. Hunting is even allowed on our public lands and in wildlife preserves!

      Gray wolves are a cherished part of our natural heritage and an icon of wilderness—and they play an essential role in ensuring healthy and diverse ecosystems.

      They’re also functionally extinct in most of the country.

      With numbers so low—only about 6,000 wolves remain, on less than 10% of their historic range—you’d think these majestic creatures would be protected by the Endangered Species Act.

      The Endangered Species Act is one of our most successful environmental laws, pulling treasured species—including sea otters, bald eagles, and grizzly bears—back from the brink of extinction. It’s also been crucial to rebuilding local economies that depend on these species to thrive.

      …But the Trump administration dismantled this critically important law at every turn, including removing critical protections for gray wolves and their pups.

      Even now, trophy hunters and greedy corporations are working behind the scenes to uphold Trump-era rules and gut other animal protection laws. In fact, a new National Park Service rule is allowing the same brutal tactics to be used to hunt bears on federal land in Alaska. Shamefully, President Biden's Interior Department hasn't done nearly enough to stop this assault on wildlife.

      As a keystone species, wolves balance ecosystems and drive natural evolution, benefiting birds, beavers, grizzly bears and more. When a keystone species disappears, the ecosystem drastically changes, putting it in danger of collapsing entirely.

      In the United States more than 10 animal species have been declared extinct since 2010. If we allow wolves to be hunted with the current ferocity, they could suffer the same fate, disappearing from the United States for good.

      There’s a simple, scientifically sound and morally just solution: we must restore protections for wolves and shore up legislation like the Endangered Species Act—now, before these iconic animals are completely wiped-out….

      Allowing trophy hunters free rein to slaughter wolves is appalling, barbaric and just plain wrong….

Extreme Heat Distorts Human Behavior

[These excerpts are from an article by Sujata Gupta in the 11 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      …Mounting evidence shows that when heat taxes people’s bodies, their performance on various tasks, as well as overall coping mechanisms, also suffer. Researchers have linked extreme heat to increased aggression, lower cognitive ability and lost productivity. With rising global temperatures, and record-breaking heat waves baking parts of the world, the effects of extreme heat on human behavior could pose a growing problem.

      Lower-income people and countries, with limited resources for staying cool as climate change warms the world, will probably suffer the most….

      Heat tends to make people more irritable….

      Such perceptions can give way to actual violence when people lack an escape hatch….

Earth Cannot Avoid a Warmer Future

[These excerpts are from an article by Carolyn Gramling in the 11 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      The science is unequivocal: Humans are dramatically overhauling Earth’s climate. The effects of climate change are now found in every region around the globe and are intensifying rapidly….And the window to reverse some of these effects is closing….

      Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth in multiple ways, from drought and fire conditions in the American West to heat waves in Europe and flooding in Asia….

      If the world gets down to net-zero emissions, the decades afterward hold “hints of light…."

      Other changes are irreversible on near-future timescales — that is, the next century or more….Sea levels, for example, will continue to rise until about the year 2300, driven in part by Greenland’s melting ice sheet….

      The IPCC’s fifth report, released in 2013 and 2014, was a game changer. It was the first to state that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are driving climate change — a conclusion that set the stage for 195 nations to agree in Paris in 2015 to curb those emissions….

      IPCC scientists hope the new report, with its emphasis on the regional and local effects of climate change, will have a similar impact. And the timing of its release is significant. On October 31, heads of state from around the world are scheduled to meet in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss updated plans to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement….

COVID-19 Test Can Keep Kids in Class

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Lambert in the 11 September 2021 issue of Science News.]

      With the start of fall, many parents and teachers hope to leave Zoom school behind as kids return to the classroom. But the exceptionally transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus threatens to dash these hopes. The U.S. Centers for an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Disease Control and Prevention advises Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises that schools employ a suite of COVIS-19 mitigation measures, including social distarcing, masking, improved air filtration and testing students regularly….

      While some coronavirus outbreaks did occur in schools during the 2020-2021 school year, transmission was usually equal to or lower than community levels of the virus when schools had mitigation measures in place, the CDC says. But as pandemic fatigue has calcified, many school districts have faced pressure to remove measures like masking, social distancing a variant drives a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.

      A layered approach that incorporates all mitigation measures is best….

      In a perfect world, all students would be tested daily with a free test that instantly provides results with 100 percent accuracy, Gronvall says. But such tests do not exist, and schools have limited budgets. So districts have to weigh trade-offs among different coronavirus

      Lab tests using PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, detect bits of coronavirus genetic material. A PCR test will almost never say someone without the virus has it—what's called a false positive —but can miss infections, perhaps 10 to 20 percent or more of the time. Still, it’s the most accurate test in use, though that performance comes at the price of time and money….

The Costs of Climate Change Are Too High to Ignore

[These excerpts are from an article by Rachel Cleetus in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      This spring, the Eiden administration issued an executive order calling for a comprehensive government-wide strategy to assess and disclose climate-related financial risks and estimate the investments needed to achieve net-zero heat-trapping emissions by 2050. In Congress, the House Financial Services Committee also recently passed the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which, if enacted into law, will require publicly traded companies to reveal more information about how climate change will affect their bottom lines, so potential investors can better evaluate climate-related risks.

      …Harmful and costly extreme weather and climate-related disasters have been piling up in recent years, and we have so far failed to adequately account for the financial risks of climate change. Widespread disclosure of the risks facing businesses, consumers, and our financial systems can help us prepare for turbulent times ahead—and will help us encourage investment in the clean energy and climate-resilient economy we need.

      Much more is at stake than simply the fiscal well-being of large financial services companies, investors, insurers, mortgage companies, or other businesses. The public relies on these companies to manage our savings, investments, pension funds, future energy choices, and other long-term portfolios. As we saw during the economic crisis generated by COVID-19, economic insecurity has a disproportionate, much harsher impact on low-income communities and communities of color, especially because many have been excluded from building generational wealth due to racist policies like mortgage redlining and lack of access to credit.

      Across the nation, climate-related events have already racked up billions of dollars in economic losses. Business interruptions and supply chain disruptions are mounting….

      …It’s no longer tenable to assume that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past: all sectors must prepare for a climate-altered future. Despite this, many companies don’t mention—or downplay—the effects of climate change in their publicly available information, misleading investors into overconfidence about long-term returns, and propping up the oil and gas industries, which operate as though the status quo is sustainable when they are fully aware they should be moving toward a clean-energy business model. Furthermore, companies that are more transparent about climate risks often find their data aren’t easily understood by regulators or investors because there is no requirement for such data to be standardized and comparable within or across industries.

      Today, there are still no uniform federal guidelines for disclosing risks to properties from flooding and wildfires, even though the number of communities affected has grown over the past few years and is projected to increase further. Current Federal Emergency Management Agency flood risk maps do not include projections of future conditions, including climate change. This failure to include climate risk in our economic calculations stands against the backdrop of 2020—a year that set a new US record with 22 disasters resulting in damages of $1 billion or more, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration….

Big AG Is Getting Bigger—And That’s Not Good

[These excerpts are from an article by Brian Middleton in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      Although most of us don’t think about it very often, our lives depend on farms. Farms are the foundation of our food system. Without them, we would starve.

      Farms are also the foundation of rural communities, where millions of US residents live and work. The economic and social well-being of these communities is bound up with the success of local farms and farmers. But for most of the past century, something has been happening to US farms that doesn’t bode well for rural communities: they’re getting bigger and fewer, a process known as farmland consolidation.

      …Farms can be roughly classified into three size groups: small farms of less than 50 acres, midsize farms of between 50 and 1,000 acres, and large farms of more than 1,000 acres. Historically, midsize farms have been the backbone of the nation’s farm sector. Research has shown that more midsize farms mean more equitable distribution of income, more money circulating in the local economy, more civic engagement, and a healthier social fabric.

      And yet these pivotal midsize farms have been shrinking in number in recent decades….

      When those midsize farms disappear, jobs disappear along with them. People move away in search of better opportunities. Eventually, local institutions such as schools, hospitals, and businesses may close. Physical and social infrastructure weakens. The loss of midsize farms has been called the “hollowing out” of US agriculture—and the evidence suggests that a hollowing out of rural communities follows in its wake.

      Farm consolidation damages the land as well as the people who work it. Bigger farms are associated with landscape simplification, in which large-scale monocultures—vast acreage dedicated to a single crop (typically corn or soybeans)—replace natural vegetation, and more fertilizers and pesticides are required, degrading soil health and increasing vulnerability to erosion and climate impacts. And because more of the land in larger farms tends to be rented rather than owned, there is less incentive for operators to invest in measures to improve the land for the long term by building soil health.

      …Consolidation happens when large farms acquire land that formerly belonged to smaller ones. This doesn’t happen by accident: government policies have favored larger farms for decades. In the 1970s, Earl Butz, secretary of agriculture under President Nixon, famously told farmers to “get big or get out.” Butz’s warning was backed up with policies, ranging It from crop insurance to increasing reliance on global markets, that tilted the playing field decisively in favor of larger farms. These policy incentives have combined with inherent economies of scale to make consolidation a pervasive trend for most of the past century.

      …in 1978, midsize farms comprised a total of about 200 million acres of farmland, while large farms accounted for about 100 million acres. By 2017, these numbers had essentially reversed….

      …New practitioners bring energy, innovation, and initiative that are crucial to the future of any profession—and farmers are no different. Our food system will face huge challenges in adapting to climate change over the coming decades, and we need an expanding, diversifying, creative community of farmers to meet those challenges. Consolidation operates in exactly the wrong direction….

      The same economic pressures that drive consolidation for all farmers have affected Black farmers as well. But systemic racism has amplified these pressures through discriminatory policies and laws. In one example, laws governing the way land is passed on to family members often left Black farmers without clear title to their farmland, restricting their access to credit and federal farm supports and leaving them vulnerable to losing their farms. Black farmers were also dispossessed by violence and threats of violence, and the many decades of systematic discrimination by the USDA are well documented….

      The recent economic relief package, the American Rescue I Plan, included programs that could begin to address this legacy of discrimination. The package included a debt relief program that could pay off the farm loans of nearly 16,000 Black and other minority farmers. At the time of this writing, the program has been halted by order of a federal judge in Wisconsin, as part of legal action brought by a group of white farmers who claim that the program is racist….

      Ultimately, we all have a stake in the economic, social, and environmental well-being of our nation’s farming communities. Reversing the trend toward farm consolidation is a crucial step toward revitalizing those communities—and building a healthier, more equitable, more resilient food system in the process.

Big Milestone for US Offshore Wind Power

[These excerpts are from a brief notice in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      In May, the Biden administration took a major step toward its goal of bringing online 30,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power within this decade, by formally approving the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.

      Vineyard Wind will consist of 62 wind turbines south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, generating about 800 MW of electricity—enough to power some 400,000 homes. UCS has long advocated for large-scale deployments of offshore wind to replace overreliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels….

      At least a dozen other East Coast offshore wind projects are now under federal review. By 2030, there could be as many as 2,000 turbines in federal waters off the US coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Oil Companies Can’t Ignore Call for Climate Accountability

[These excerpts are from a brief notice in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      A flurry of developments this spring signals growing momentum in the campaign UCS and a coalition of partners have been waging to hold major fossil fuel companies accountable for their actions related to climate change. First, in a landmark verdict, a court in the Netherlands ruled that oil giant Shell must reduce its carbon emissions—including the emissions from burning its oil and gas products—to 45 percent below 2019 levels by 2030. Shell will surely appeal the ruling, which only applies in the Netherlands, but the verdict marked the first time a company has been required by law to reduce emissions, sending shockwaves through the fossil fuel industry.

      Almost immediately following the Dutch court ruling, ExxonMobil shareholders issued a stunning rebuke to that company’s leadership, with enough votes on a climate-related measure to force the replacement of three members of the board of directors. Shareholders also passed two other climate-related proposals: one calling for expanded disclosure of lobbying by ExxonMobil and its trade associations and the other calling for a report on the company’s climate-specific lobbying.

      …There have been other significant developments as well. Chevron shareholders—by a 61 percent majority—passed a proposal to reduce Chevron’s carbon emissions, including the emissions that come from the use of its products. ConocoPhillips shareholders endorsed a similar proposal calling on the company to set global warming emissions reduction targets consistent with the Paris climate agreement’s goals, something UCS has worked toward for years. That resolution passed by a 58 percent margin.

      …adding that this may be a turning point in which the major fossil fuel companies are forced to recognize that they can’t continue to mislead the public about climate change or ignore the need to reduce the emissions from their products….

UCS Report Prompts California to Cut Ride-Hailing Emissions

[These excerpts are from a brief notice in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      In May, California approved the nation's first standard requiring Lyft, Uber, and other ride-hailing fleets to transition to zero-emissions vehicles. The Clean Miles Standard will ensure that 90 percent of miles traveled by ride-hailing fleets in the state take place in zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, while providing a model for other states….

      Approved unanimously by the California Air Resources Board on May 20, the standard is part of the state’s broader effort to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles, reduce carbon emissions, and become carbon-neutral by 2045. Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the state to produce no carbon emissions by 2035.

      In 2020, UCS released an analysis that gained national media attention for its finding that an average ride-hailing trip produces an estimated 69 percent more carbon emissions than the trips it replaces. The report…made clear the imperative—and feasibility—of cleaning up these trips: our research found that ride-hailing companies can electrify their fleets at a cost of less than four cents per mile, or about 43 cents per trip. Drivers, meanwhile, would benefit from the shift through lower fuel and maintenance costs, which would each save drivers roughly $1,000 annually. Regardless, Lyft and Uber are opposed to covering the cost of new electric vehicles and have called on the state to finance the transition.

      Irvin said California must hold the companies accountable…..

Too Hot to Work

[These excerpts are from an article by Michelle Rama-Poccia in the Summer 2021 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      …These days, urban areas in the United States experience longer, more intense, and more frequent extreme heat. That means today’s outdoor workers face even worse conditions than those of my father’s generation. And if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that workers in the United States—especially Hispanic workers and other workers of color—lack many of the protections they need to safeguard their bodies and lives on the job.

      A new Union of Concerned Scientists analysis, Too Hot to Work, examines how this failure to protect US outdoor workers from killer heat will affect their health and livelihoods if we take no action on climate change. Unsurprisingly, the analysis exposes inequities in who is most affected.

      People of color are disproportionately represented in some outdoor occupations, with 45 percent of outdoor workers identifying as Black/African American or Hispanic/ Latinx, despite collectively making up about 32 percent of the general population. This also means people of color do some of the most dangerous jobs, such as farming and construction.

      Outdoor workers, who represent some 20 percent of the entire US labor force, are already up to 35 times more likely to die from heat exposure than the general population. With the planet notching progressively hotter decades as climate change worsens, and an increasing number of days when the heat index (a measure of temperature plus humidity) reaches or exceeds 100°F, many of the 32 million people who work outdoors in the United States will face a grim choice: work on dangerously hot days and risk their health or stay home and risk losing work and income.

      …Between now and 2065—a period that covers roughly the entire career of a young adult entering the workforce—climate change is projected to quadruple the exposure of US outdoor workers to hazardous heat conditions. It finds that with no action taken to reduce emissions, about 18.4 million outdoor workers will experience a week or more of unsafe workdays annually—ix times the number of workers exposed currently.

      As dangerous as that is, it also has extraordinary economic costs for outdoor workers and their families. Under the same status quo scenario, extreme heat places $55.4 billion in worker earnings at risk annually. As many as 7.1 million workers could see 10 percent or more of their earnings at risk annually due to extreme heat.

      Workers in construction and extraction occupations face the highest total earnings at risk due to extreme heat—nearly $14.4 billion annually—followed by those in installation, maintenance, and repair occupations, who stand to lose nearly $10.8 billion annually.

      …US worker protections are the worst among major developed countries, according to a survey of labor unions that ranked the United States as a systemic violator of rights. When it comes to extreme heat, the United States has no national safety standards to protect outdoor workers; only California and Washington State have permanent heat-related protective standards enforceable under the law….

      Dozens of US workers die each year from exposure to temperature extremes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor advocates say the official numbers undercount these deaths because many undocumented workers are afraid to report them, allowing employers to avoid classifying these deaths as work-related. Language barriers and concerns about immigration status currently leave some workers with little recourse should they experience dangerous working conditions.

      It’s notable, too, that heat is a problem for workers in both urban and rural areas. While urban areas have more outdoor workers that could be exposed to extreme heat, rural outdoor workers represent a larger share of their respective local economies and may have more limited access to health care.

      …No one should have to choose between their health and their job, yet millions of outdoor workers do just that—often for pay that does not amount to a living wage. Farmworkers, for instance, risk their lives and health to put food on our tables for an average hourly wage of $10.80. They are also regularly exposed to toxic pesticides, and the protective clothing they must wear increases their risk of heat illness. As climate change worsens extreme heat, increases insect populations, and makes weeds more abundant, it will likely drive more pesticide use, making these jobs even more dangerous.

      …The more intense heat means it's important to keep Cantelmo’s crew of 25 workers cool and hydrated, and he has canceled work on particularly oppressive days over 90°F. His workers take two-hour shifts during intense heat, rotating off the field to cool off at two portable shade tents and with five-gallon water tanks that must be washed and sterilized at the end of every day.

      Moving irrigation equipment in the heat is another major challenge—and one of the most physically intense jobs on the farm….

      He supports heat protections for outdoor workers but says he’s skeptical about the federal government’s ability to effectively implement such rules. He hopes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can help farmers comply through education—"more carrot than stick”—by showing growers that employees who are hydrated and not heat-stressed are not only healthier, but also more efficient….

Crows—They’re Just Like Us!

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

      We’ve long known that crows exhibit extraordinary intelligence. These birds —along with ravens, jays and others in the corvid family — have inspired myths and legends for centuries. But the more scientists unravel about their brain structure and behaviors, the more crows seem to resemble humans….

      To top that off, just last fall other researchers determined that crows seem to exhibit a level of consciousness demonstrated only in humans and very few of our mammal relatives, such as primates. This work, along with many recent neurological studies, is redefining bird brains as we have known them.

      The breakthrough study published in Science revealed that crows show signs of perceptual consciousness and an ability to draw on subjective experiences from the past in order to solve a task. This means the birds keep new information, or memories, in the front of their brains for extended periods, and use it in reasoning and navigating new situations they encounter.

      The discovery piggybacks on new knowledge about the forebrain in crows, which has proven to be exceptionally large — another trait they share with humans….For people and crows alike, the forebrain deals with higher cognitive tasks, including rational decision-making, problem-solving and executive function.

      Taken together, these findings help explain the dynamic problem-solving and tool use in crows that humans have observed for years. The New Caledonian crow, for example, has recently gained popularity for not only tool use, but its ability to manufacture compound tools out of various materials. These innovative birds have been known to make probes, hooks and sharp spears that they use to skewer insects in hard-to-reach places. They also strip down palm fronds so that the main stem forms a j-shape that can grab food. In research labs, they’ve successfully bent wire to snatch baskets with food inside….

Plant ‘Vaccines’ Could Save Us from a World without Fruit

[These excerpts are from an article by Molly Glick in the September/October 2021 issue of Discover.]

      A future in which chocolate, wine and oranges are affordable only for the wealthy certainly feels dystopian. But this may very well become reality, as some of our favorite crops are now in danger of succumbing to plant diseases. To tackle the problem, Anne Elizabeth Simon…is attempting to create what she calls a vaccine for perennial crops, which could help protect our food supply.

      Researchers have long dealt with pathogen spread among plants by quarantining infected flora to spare surrounding ones. And, depending on the type of disease, plants may also receive pesticides or antibiotic sprays. But to create more reliable protection, Simon is part of a team developing a vaccinelike solution as an efficient and relatively quickly deployable way to preempt, or possibly cure, plant diseases.

      This potential fix can’t come fast enough. Currently, the world grapples with increasing perils to vital agricultural sectors. For example, cacao grown in West Africa, which provides about 70 percent of the world’s chocolate, faces the debilitating cacao swollen shoot disease (CSSD). Florida’s quickly spiraling citrus industry is threatened by the disease huanglongbing (HLB) — commonly called citrus greening — which has wreaked major havoc since 2005.

      Of course, plant pandemics are no new challenge. In the first half of the 20th century, for instance, a disease caused by fungus killed about 4 billion American chestnut trees. But overall, climate change, emerging pathogens and human activity, such as ramped-up global travel, have combined to create a perfect storm that endangers our food supply….

      …Simon was shocked to see that while this iRNA lacked the genes to code its own plant-generated movement proteins, it was still able to move between cells in a plant's veins — contradicting her 30 years of research. Tweaking the iRNA to carry tiny fragments of a virus can provoke plant enzymes to chop up the harmful virus into little pieces, without causing damage to the plant….

      The iRNA sample was first discovered by University of California, Riverside, researchers in the 1950s when it appeared in limequat trees. They found that the iRNA can infect many citrus species with very mild to zero symptoms. Yet its disease-fighting capabilities were only recently discovered when Simon realized IRNA’s ability to co-opt its host plant’s proteins to move from cell to cell.

      Eager to get the ball rolling, Simon co-founded a company called Silvec Biologics in 2019, and is working to develop a single-step preventative treatment that tricks trees into eradicating not only viruses that cause disease, but also fungi and bacteria — somewhat similar to how mRNA jabs force our immune systems to cook up COVID-19 antibodies.

      Because iRNA stays in trees for decades, Simon says the vaccine could possibly offer lifetime protection against several pathogens when put into newly planted trees —similar to giving children a standard set of shots. What’s less clear, however, is whether highly degraded trees that have been infected for several years can still benefit from the treatment.

      Simon hopes that the iRNA therapy can save infected trees that don’t yet show symptoms. It seems less likely for those with roots disintegrated by disease, like a growing number of Florida’s citrus trees. Even if the vaccine did work in those cases, she says, they would be too weak to recover….

      Ultimately, it will likely take a combination of approaches to keep our food system resilient to current and emerging diseases — just as we have combined masking and social distancing, along with various treatments and vaccines, to work against COVID-19. But if scientists, governments and growers don’t combine forces quickly enough, it’s possible that certain food production costs will skyrocket and affect consumer prices. Florida's per-box orange price, for example, rose by more than 90 percent between 2003 and 2018 when adjusted for inflation.

      That’s why Simon says plant epidemics require a Manhattan Project of sorts, where scientists can bring their minds together and offer their individual expertise….

Poison Ivy Relief

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Every year 10 million to 50 million Americans share my woes. According to some older studies, poison ivy and its cousins poison oak and poison sumac cause 10 percent of lost-time injuries among U.S. Forest Service workers and lead one third of them in California, Oregon and Washington to miss work during fire seasons. To make matters worse, the climate crisis is turning poison ivy more toxic and expanding its range….

      …pharma companies see more profit in developing drugs for chronic skin condittions such as eczema than for an ephemeral rash. Jordt is one of a handful of scientists who take this nemesis seriously, and I am happy to report that they have made progress. Among recent discoveries: surprising pathways that cause the itchy rash, new targets for treatment and—be still, my heart—a vaccine in development that aims to preven the urushiol reaction.

      …Animal studies indicate that the response to urushiol has nothing to do with histamines—bodily chemicals involved in many allergic reactions—so antihistamines are useless. Working with urushiol-exposed mice, Jordt and his colleagues found that an immune chemical called interleukin 33 (IL-33) plays a key role in causing the infernal itch. Released by skin cells, it acts directly on sensory neurons in the skin. If either IL-33 or its receptor is blocked, the mice stop scratching—a finding that suggests a new route for treatment. Because IL-33 is involved in asthma and eczema, at least two companies already are working on drugs to block it, but its role in poison ivy was a surprise.

      Dermatologist Brian Kim…has identified a second, nonhistamine pathway involved in poison ivy rashes. Also working with mice, Kim, along with scientists at Johns Hopkins University; has shown that immune system components called mast cells trigger itch neurons in the skin. The mast-cell and IL-33 pathways are both “very new mechanisms,” Kim says. In the past, dermatologists believed that urushiol rashes and itch were triggered by the immune system’s T cells, which rally antibodies to attack the skin irritant. Kim believes that T cells do cause the inflamed rash of poison ivy but that these other pathways provoke the itch….

      Both recently discovered mechanisms present new targets for treatment, but first scientists need to extend the work in humans. Jordt says it’s been difficult to attract study funding and to obtain tissue samples from poison ivy patients.

      Human research is proceeding with a compound called PDC-APB, which would be injected as a vaccine once every year or two to prevent poison ivy misery….It works well in guinea pigs (I’ve seen photos), passed initial safety testing in humans and is about to be evaluated in a small randomized controlled trial….

Bacterial Bipartisanships

[These excerpts are from an article by Jim Daley in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …the Illinois legislature has taken things to the next (microscopic) level by adopting Penicillium rubens—a mold that produces penicillin—as the official state microbe.

      Scottish microbiologist Alexander Fleming discovered in 1928 that a fungus called Penicillium notatum produced penicillin, which became the world’s first widely effective antibiotic. But P. notatum could not generate large-scale quantities of the drug, which became especially crucial when World War II broke out. So scientists at the University of Oxford sought help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northern Regional Research Laboratory (since renamed the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, or NCAUR), in Peoria, Ill. Andrew Moyer, a microbiologist there, took on the problem.

      Moyer’s fellow researcher Mary Hunt found a moldy cantaloupe at a Peoria market and brought itto the lab for analysis….As was the case with many women conducting research in that era, Hunt’s contribution to the discovery and study of that mold—which turned out to be Penicillium rubens—was diminished at the time. Moyer’s 1944 publication on P. rubens mentions Hunt only in the paper’s acknowledgments, and the press referred to her as “Moldy Mary.” P. rubens could better tolerate a new fermentation process that let it quickly produce hundreds of times more penicillin than previously studied strains, which letthe Allies massively scale up antibiotic production. The same strain is still used to manufacture penicillin today….

      …Illinois is only the third state to take this step, joining the ranks of Oregon (which similarly honors Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or brewers’ yeast) and New Jersey, whose state microbe Streptomyces griseus also produces an antibiotic….

Living Color

[These excerpts are from an article by Maddie Bender in the September 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Researchers have modified a common bacterium to spit out an entire rainbow of dyes forbad, clothing, cosmetics, and more. The proof-of-concept research also detailed the natural production of two colors—green and navy blue—for the first time.

      Some dyes can be produced naturally from plants. Indigo, for example, is extracted from leaves of species in the genus Incligofera. But the task is labor-intensive, with variable results. Synthetic alternatives can involve toxic precursors and by-products, sometimes released as pollutants. And consumers are willing to pay more for natural colorants, says Sang Yup Lee….So he and his colleagues set out to engineer Escherichia coli to make seven natural hues.

      The researchers not only had to tweak the microbes by adding specific genes to produce the dyes, they also had to help the bacteria push the colors out into the world. Because the involved dyes are hydrophobic (water-repellent), they typically cannot pass through bacterial cell membranes; they would instead accumulate inside the cell and ultimately kill it. Synthetic biology researchers seeking to produce self-sustaining “cell factories” for chemicals have long been stymied by this problem.

      Lee and his team genetically altered their E. coli, first to grow longer cells and then to convert some of the extra membrane surface area into sacs that could encircle and expel the accumulated chemicals. Rather than cutting out the relevant genes entirely, which might in some instances kill the bacteria, they introduced small RNA sequences that “"silenced” such undesired but essential genes. They also inserted a human gene that caused the bacteria to form microscopic pouches on their membranes for even greater surface area….

      Lee says that his E. coli production method has no toxic properties and could be incorporated into industry today—but that “some colors will be more expensive because the [concentrations] are still quite low and difficult to produce.”

      The new technique could eventually help engineer microbes to produce hydrophobic antibiotics….

Fix Disaster Response Nows

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

      Given record-breaking wildfires, hurricanes and other weather disasters that cost lives and billions of dollars amid a pandemic that brought death to every corner of the country, the events of 2020 stretched U.S. emergency management institutions. Local governments have been unable to cope with the disasters, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Pam) has been strained. This litany of destruction has brought into stark relief problems of capacity and inequity—people of color and low-income communities have been hit disproportionately bard—that have been festering for decades in the nation’s approach to disaster preparedness. Now, with the climate crisis increasing the odds of calamities, we must stop kicking the can down the road and commit to the challenging work of revamping emergency management.

      FEMA is supposed to be the agency that steps in when disasters overwhelm local resources, whereas cities, counties and states handle smaller events. But a PEMA National Advisory Council (NAC) report last November noted that state and local emergency management operations struggle even with routine events….When Hurricane Harvey flooded southeastern Texas in 2017 with an unprecedented 60 inches of rain, for example, almost half of the agency’s emergency workforce bad already been deployed to other trouble spots. To free itself up, FEMA is now proposing to raise the damage threshold that triggers federal assistance. But that proposal simply will leave local areas more vulnerable. Congress or state legislatures need to supply sustainable funds that build and maintain local emergency management departments, along with any change in the rules for FEMA involvement.

      To address the problem that all emergency agencies do little in advance to prepare for disasters, some funding could be ear-marked for—and require—certain crucial mitigation work some-times resisted by local political forces….for every $1 that FEMA and other federal agencies spend on mitigating the risks of floods, earthquakes and other hazards, society ultimately saves $6 in costs.

      Any future mitigation and recovery funding must also be distributed in an equitable way….To remedy this disparity, FEMA, as well as state and local emergency management agencies, cannotrely solely on cost-benefit analyses to determine what projects to fund, because these weigh in favor of more expensive properties. They should also use other metrics, such as the Social Vulnerability Index, which identifies the populations with the least capacity to deal with disasters. Some local governments have begun to incorporate equity into their emergency planning….

      Everyone, not just the well-to-do, should have the opportunity to build back their lives with the resources they need in the wake of disaster.

Colleges Must Require Vaccination

[These excerpts are from editorial by Michael A. McRobbie in the 27 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for individuals 16 years and older. This milestone decision, the first full approval of a vaccine for COVID-19, will almost certainly clear a path for businesses, hospitals, and government agencies that have not already done so to adopt vaccine mandates for their employees. For colleges and universities that have been on the fence about requiring the vaccine, the FDA’s decision may be especially welcome news.

      As of earlier this week, 753 campuses require the vaccination. According to a map from the Chronicle of Higher Education, most of these schools are in “blue” states. There is no doubt that COVID-19 vaccination has become politicized. Now, with the full FDA approval, there is even less reason for the political hue of a state to deter universities, as citadels of science and reason, from making every attempt ito implement vaccine mandates.

      Indiana University…announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all students, faculty, and staff in May, just as the Delta variant was starting to surge in the United States….

      The university’s public health experts were emphatic that vaccination would be the only way to ensure a return to mostly normal operations and a more typical university experience this fall. And the university’s leadership viewed the mandate, which includes appropriate exemptions, as a continuation of its science- and public health-driven approach to manage the pandemic on all of its campuses throughout Indiana.

      Opposition to this decision was expected, and just days after announcing the mandate, 35 state senators sent me a strongly worded letter urging the university to reconsider and rescind the mandate….

      In late June, eight students filed a lawsuit against Indiana University, alleging that the vaccine mandate violated their constitutional rights by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment. The following month, a federal judge decisively rejected this argument on the grounds that students, in fact, do have options—they can get vaccinated, apply for an exemption, or choose to attend another school.

      Earlier this month, an appeals court unanimously upheld the judge’s decision, and on 12 August, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied a bid to block Indiana University’s mandate. This third ruling, now from the nation’s highest court, signals that similar vaccine requirements are very likely to pass legal muster.

      Public data, as well as the consensus of medical and scientific opinion, indicate that the battle against COVID-19 is far from over. Vaccination rates in many areas of the United States simply are not high enough to prevent enough COVID-19 infections and transmission. In Indiana, COVID-19 case rates are the highest they have been since May, and vaccination rates languish. The highly contagious Delta variant is stoking a deadly new surge of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, especially in places with low vaccination rates.

      As the nation’s top public health experts have repeatedly expressed, vaccine mandates, which continue to receive high public support, represent the best path to increase vaccination numbers to the levels necessary to defeat the virus and avoid the risk of continuing mutations and variants. The Delta variant has been bad. The next variant could be worse.

      As the nation’s top public health experts have repeatedly expressed, vaccine mandates, which continue to receive high public support, represent the best path to increase vaccination numbers to the levels necessary to defeat the virus and avoid the risk of continuing mutations and variants. The Delta variant has been bad. The next variant could be worse.

The Children’s Climate Crusade

[These excerpts are from a book review by Michael B. Gerrard in the 20 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 2010, the group Our Children’s Trust formed to pursue a legal theory developed by University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood, which states that governments owe a duty to young people to protect the atmosphere from climate change. The group brought legal proceedings in all 50 US states, but the cases did not get very far, until one—Juliana v. United States—landed before Judge Ann Aiken of the US District Court in Oregon.

      Two days after Donald Thump was elected president, Judge Aiken issued a ruling allowing the case to go forward. When Trump took office, his administration tried mightily, but failed, to get the case thrown out. Meanwhile, trial preparations went forward.

      The plaintiffs needed to prove that the federal government not only knew about the dangers of climate change but also actually helped create them by encouraging the extraction and use of fossil fuels. To make that case, they brought in James Gustave Speth.

      For half a century, Speth has been one of the nation’s foremost environmental leaders….

      Working pro bona, Speth produced a lengthy report tracing nearly 60 years of federal action on climate change and fossil fuel development….

      While Speth tells readers that key reports on climate change started coming out of Washington in 1965, his detailed recounting begins with the administration in which he was a leading player, that of President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). We learn that during this period, the scientific findings about the causes of climate change became increasingly confident and the predictions of its impacts became steadily more alarming. Yet under every US president since Carter, fossil fuel extraction and use have continued to grow….

      Such a history of accumulating scientific knowledge of the dangers, and failure to act on them, can and has led to massive penalties against private companies just ask the asbestos and tobacco industries. But the federal government enjoys “sovereign immunity,” meaning that it cannot be sued for monetary damages unless it has consented, and in the case of climate change, it has not.

      The Juliana case was ultimately decided by the Ninth Circuit in January 2020. Speth and the plaintiffs' other experts apparently persuaded the judges of the points they were trying to make about the gravity and causes of climate change, but it was not enough to compel action. To the heartbreak of many, the majority opinion ends: “We reluctantly conclude, however, that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box.”

      The current administration has made an ambitious pledge to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas economy by 2050….Ultimately, however, key choices on climate action remain in the hands of voters.

Dire Warming Report Triggers Calls for More Action from China

[These excerpts are from an article by Lili Pike in the 20 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      The sweeping new report documenting the world’s changing climate released on 9 August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put a fresh spotlight on China, a country responsible for more than one-quarter of the world’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Climate advocates hope the report will encourage China, which has lagged other big emitters in pledges to reduce CO2 emissions, to take bolder action. Whether it can begin to slash its output significantly in the next 10 years will help determine the magnitude of the global crisis, they say.

      But whereas many heads of state called for enhanced climate action, following the IPCC report, Chinese leaders have stayed quiet. In a statement to Agence France-Presse, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs simply reiterated China's existing climate policies and said the world should have faith in its climate actions.

      Taking firm action is in not only the planet’s interest, but China’s own. The IPCC report offers a grim synthesis of what China can expect under various scenarios. If temperatures climb 2°C above preindustrial levels, heavy precipitation will become more intense and frequent; drought will become more severe and regular in large parts of China; tropical cyclones will increase in intensity; and, by the end of the century, sea levels will rise 0.3 to 0.5 meters and temperatures in some regions could surpass 41°C on 30 days of the year.

      …the July flood in Zhengzhou, in China’s central Henan province, which killed nearly 300 people and displaced 1.5 million, was a stark reminder of the toll more extreme weather can exact. The storm’s severity surprised even Chinese climate scientists….

      But China’s current climate plans fall short of what IPCC says is needed to stave off the worst climate impacts. In September 2020, President Xi Jinping announced the country will aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060….China also promised to level off its emissions sometime before 2030—a deadline by which the United States and the European Union, the biggest emitters historically, have pledged to cut their emissions by half from 2005 levels.

      However, the 2018 report showed that sticking to the 1.5°C target requires countries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, not 2060….

      To meet the earlier deadline, China needs to sharply reduce emissions in the coming 5 to 10 years….At the moment, carbon emissions are still growing; China was the only major economy where they climbed even amid the pandemic in 2020….

      European leaders and climate advocates have pushed for China to move its emissions peaking date up from 2030 to 2025, and some have called on the country to stop building coal plants. Last year, China accounted for three-quarters of the new coal power that came online worldwide; more than 200 gigawatts of additional capacity is still planned. But Jiang says the plants are being built to provide energy security and will likely only run at a low capacity….

The Matter of Mind Control

[These excerpts are from a book review by Sarah Marks in the 13 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 1976, Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was found guilty of bank robbery, a crime she committed after enduring a sustained period of time as a captive of the domestic terrorist organization known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. The trial, with its glittering cast of expert witnesses, became a test case for psychological theories of brainwashing.

      In addition to commenting on Hearst's intelligence and differentiating her behavior from those typically displayed by malingerers, the experts invoked the experiences of US prisoners of war (POWs) in Korea and the concept of “debility, dependency, and dread” to explain how Hearst, in their view, was not acting of her own free will when she committed the robbery. Instead, they argued, she was in thrall to the coercive persuasion of her captors. The jury was unconvinced and sentenced Hearst to 35 years in prison. However, President Jimmy Carter found the arguments persuasive and commuted her sentence after 22 months, and President Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst in 2001….

      The word “brainwashing” was coined in the early years of the Cold War by journalist Edward Hunter to describe reeducation techniques used for indoctrination in Communist China and was subsequently invoked to make sense of the defection of 21 American POWs to China after the Korean War. Elements of brainwashing can be traced back much further to techniques used in religious conversion and inquisition, but the fear unleashed by the provocative term precipitated the Central Intelligence Agency’s infamous MKUltra. experiments, which made use of the hallucinogen LSD, sensory deprivation, and electroconvulsive therapy during interrogations to coerce confessions and reached their bleak crescendo with a series of highly abusive experiments carried out on psychiatric patients by McGill University psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron between 1957 and 1964….

      While there is novelty in the synthesis of these case studies, Dark Persuasion does not offer much new material, and Dimsdale has not unearthed any substantial unexpected archival finds or generated new oral histories. However, his account of the Hearst trial is carefully researched and supplemented with a wealth of scientific papers from the time. And while the causal link he suggests between Pavlov’s experiments with traumatized dogs and the interrogation and torture processes that led to false confessions in Stalin’s show trials is based on slender evidence, Dimsdale’s observations about the proximity of these events are nevertheless astute.

      …Dimsdale’s goal is to prompt reflection on what he sees as the overlooked reality of coercive persuasion at a broader level and the ever-present threat that it poses to individuals and to society at large—a threat, he warns, that is becoming ever-amplified by new technologies and mass media. In this aim, he succeeds admirably.

Time Grows Short to Curb Warming, Report Warns

[These excerpts are from an article by Cathleen O’Grady in the 13 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      Every time the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a new report surveying the science of global warming, the alarm sounds louder. Now, 8 years after its last report, the message of IPCC’s latest assessment, released this week, is urgent and unequivocal: The window for mitigating the worst projected impacts of global climate change is closing. Average global temperatures are now 1.1°C above preindustrial records, and under every scenario for future greenhouse gas emissions that the panel examined, average warming of 1.5°C—a target set by the 2015 Paris climate accord—will very likely be reached within the next 20 years….

      It is “unequivocal” and “established fact” that human activities are causing Earth to warm, says the report, which was assembled by hundreds of scientists from around the world, and climate change’s impact on the planet is “unprecedented.” That blunt language reflects, in part, the substantial scientific advances that have occurred since IPCC issued its last major assessment in 2013. Climate models are more detailed and powerful, and observational records cover more ground—including the rapidly warming Arctic—as well as eight additional years of warming….

      Growing evidence from ancient climates has also helped researchers constrain estimates of what is called climate sensitivity—the amount of warming expected if concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) rise twice as high as in preindustrial times, to 560 parts per million (ppm). (Current levels are about 415 ppm and climbing fast.) The panel now estimates that a CO2 doubling would boost temperatures by 2.5°C to 4°C, a narrower range than the previously estimated 1.5°C to 4.5°C.

      In the best case scenario, with the world cutting net emissions to zero by 2050, CO2 will fall short of doubling and warming is projected to peak midcentury at 1.6°C above preindustrial levels. Even in this scenario, Arctic sea ice is likely to vanish completely in at least one summer by 2050. In the worst case scenario, warming will very likely reach 2.4°C by midcentury and rise to 4.1°C—and potentially 527°C—by 2100. At higher emissions levels, “low-likelihood, high-impact” consequences—such as mass ice sheet loss in the Antarctic or the stalling of ocean currents—become more likely. The probability of these abrupt, irreversible changes is not well-understood, the report says, but they cannot be ruled out. Current emissions are on IPCC’s mid- to higher trajectories….

      For the first time, the report elaborates on how each increment of warming could play out in different regions, stoking extreme events such as flooding, heat waves, droughts, and fire. Past reports focused on averages….

      …With 1.5°C of warming, for example, high daytime temperatures that would be rare without climate change could occur four times a decade; at 4°C of warming, such heat extremes could come nearly every year….

      It is now “established fact” that warming is fueling extreme events, the report says. And since IPCC's last report, scientific advances have made it possible to link climate change to specific events, such as the recent heat wave in northwestern North America….

      Some global changes are already locked in, the report notes, regardless of how much humanity reduces emissions in coming decades. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets and thawing of permafrost is now “irreversible” for decades or centuries to come, it says. The warming, acidification, and deoxygenation that are already damaging the world’s oceans will continue for centuries to millennia. Continued sea level rise, now estimated at 3.7 millimeters each year between 2006 and 2018, is also inevitable: Over the next 2000 years, oceans will likely rise by 2 to 3 meters if the planet warms by 15°C, and tup to 22 meters with 5°C of warming….

Clarion Call from Climate Panel

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Steven Sherwood and Brian Hoskins in the 13 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      Unprecedented flooding, searing temperatures, and raging fires across Europe, Asia, and North America this summer have created a stark backdrop for this week’s release of the sixth physical science assessment report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These reports, initiated in 1990, arrive about every 7 years….The reports’ future projections about climate change have remained fairly stable over the years and have, sadly, proven quite accurate. So, what does the new report add?

      Above all, AR6 expresses greater confidence in familiar findings, owing to stronger evidence. A notable example concerns “equilibrium climate sensitivity,” a measure of how much global warming ultimately occurs if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration doubles. Based on improved understanding of cloud processes and climate changes that have already occurred, AR6 concludes that this figure is “likely”" (a two-thirds chance or greater) to lie between 2.5° and 4°C—halving the spread of 1.5° to 4.5°C in previous reports. Global temperatures had stalled in the period before the 2013 assessment (AR5) but have since surged, reaching 1.1°C above that of preindustrial times. Atmospheric CO2 has reached concentrations not seen for at least 2 million years, and the new report expresses high confidence that oceans, plants, and soils will become less efficient at absorbing future carbon emissions.

      As always, uncertainty remains. The latest climate models predict a wider range for climate sensitivity, with projected values implausibly weak in some cases but implausibly strong in others. This disagreement is largely a result of increased complexity in model representations of cloud feedbacks in the midlatitude storm-track regions….

      The report also provides new clarity on aspects like changes in extreme rainfall and drought. Almost all robusty observed regional trends in these events are upward and are projected to continue. One sobering finding is that even if global warming is limited to 2°C, heat events that once occurred twice per century will happen every 3 to 4 years—and will tend to coincide with droughts, compounding the impacts….

      The report dives into important new territory by emphasizing “low-probability high impact events” that are hard to quantify but unwise to ignore….the probabilities of forest die-back, ocean-circulation changes, and other disturbing scenarios increase with global temperature.

      …AR6 is intended to inform discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting in November. Our children and grandchildren are waiting to see what comes out of it.

Blue Carbon Can’t Wait

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Fanny Douvere in the 6 August 2021 issue of Science.]

      When the United Nations released its World Oil Ocean Assessment in 2015, it was clear that the oceans were seriously degraded, with stressors on these environments projected to increase. The 2021 Assessment, released in April, shows that they have further declined, bringing us ever closer to losing the structure, function, and benefits of Earth's marine systems. One way forward might be to focus on “blue carbon” ecosystems and the incentives they offer through carbon credits linked to decreasing carbon emissions.

      Blue carbon ecosystems include seagrass meadows, tidal marshes, and mangroves, all of which are among Earth’s most efficient absorbers and long-term starers of carbon. This capacity for carbon storage also makes them sources of CO2 emissions when they are degraded or destroyed.

      …Restoring blue carbon ecosystems could remove about 0.5% of current global emissions, with co-benefits for local ecosystems and livelihoods. These include improved water quality; increased marine and terrestrial biodiversity; preservation of livelihoods, cultural practices, and values of local and traditional communities; and the protection of shorelines and their resilience in the face of climate change. That’s quite a return on investment.

      We can start by ensuring that blue carbon ecosystems already identified for protection get the support they need….Protecting those blue carbon ecosystems will keep billions of additional CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. Their carbon stores are nominally protected from degradation by the legal commitment of over 190 signatory countries to the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention. But local management of these sites is 1-- i often underfunded and understaffed, and the sites face a variety of threats from pollution, coastal development, and climate change….

      …Blue carbon ecosystems can help nations avoid releasing additional CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The growing blue carbon credit market allows organizations and countries that conserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems to claim or sell credits in global carbon credit markets….

      So far, few countries have incorporated blue carbon strategies into their climate change mitigation policies. The Blue Carbon Initiative…encourages more countries to develop comprehensive methods for assessing blue carbon stores and emissions.

      But momentum is gathering. One of the largest seagrass restorations to date, in the United States, has applied for blue carbon credit certification….

      As the world aims for carbon neutrality in the decades ahead, we can take actions today to help slow climate change. The return on investing in blue carbon ecosystems is clear, meaningful, and immediate. We can’t afford to wait.

The State of the Pandemic

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan S. Shaw in the September/October 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      For all the havoc and death caused by the coronavirus to reflect on a few significant issues. How will humanity cope with the rest of this pandemic—and prepare to respond better to the inevitable next one?

      Much has been learned about SARS CoV-2, and more broadly, methods for combating a novel viral pathogen. Infectious-disease experts understand how the virus spreads across populations, and how contagious it has become: in the United Kingdom before vaccines were available, only national lockdowns managed to contain a fast-spreading variant. The U.K.’s experience presages disaster in the near future for low-income countries, whose access to vaccines remains limited even as more contagious variants proliferate.

      Physician-scientists, using data gleaned from clinical trials, have painstakingly worked out which treatments are most effective at each stage of COVID-19’s complex progression. They no longer need to rely on guesswork to inform their decisions. Better, targeted treatments are in development.

      Immunologists and virologists have developed safe and highly effective vaccines with extraordinary speed. Close study of these vaccines’ efficacy, and the complexity of the immune responses they elicit, has underscored the importance of clinical-trial data to assess their durability.

      Many questions, of course, remain unanswered….

      …the challenges of fighting infectious diseases in under-resourced settings, having closely observed the starkly different outcomes for countries like Rwanda, where a robust public-health infrastructure (and testing regime that put the United States's to shame), kept the pandemic in check; and Peru, where infection rates have raged E, to levels that dwarf those of other nations, including India….

      Among the most fundamental questions about SARS-CoV-2 that bedevils epidemiologists is the virus’s reproductive number: how many people the average infected person infects. This is a key parameter used to model the spread of a disease, and to estimate what percentage of a population must be vaccinated (or have acquired immunity through infection) to reach “herd immunity”: the point at which even unvaccinated individuals in a population are protected. The most reliable way to calculate the reproductive number is to trace the spread of the virus from the date that “patient zero” was infected.

      “Some researchers are estimating that the first case was in December 2019, but I really doubt that,” says Murray….

      Also complicating this picture are “super-spreader” events: the fact that under certain circumstances, one infected person can infect 90 or more others (as occurred during a February 2020 conference in Boston) while on other occasions, an infected individual infects no one….

      …The people most at risk of testing positive and requiring hospitalization were essential workers, people whose jobs did not allow them to work from home. This put their families and friends at risk, too.

      But even though such classic epidemiological factors could explain the overrepresentation of service and blue-collar workers among COVID-19 patients, it could not explain other disturbing data that began to emerge around the same time. Why were certain racial minorities approximately three times more likely to be hospitalized than whites—and more than twice as likely to die? These discrepancies could not be explained by genetic predispositions, because the observed health disparities varied from state to state. The inescapable conclusion was that socioeconomic determinants of health profoundly affect COVID-19 outcomes, including the risk of death….If lack of income or education leads to poorer nutrition, and is layered atop stress from working multiple jobs, while living near a polluting power plant, in overcrowded or substandard housing, for example, those social factors, which flow from public-policy decisions (the minimum wage, funds for public education, siting sources of pollution in poor neighborhoods) will ultimately affect health.

      The multiple causes and effects are mutually reinforcing….during pandemic-related remote learning, for example, middle- and low-income student achievement began to dramatically lag that of high-income students, who presumably had better access to technology, spaces conducive to learning, and support from parents whose employment allowed them to work from home. The pandemic has laid bare the effects of such disparities: black and Latino children were immediately overrepresented in cases of COVID-related Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a disease that didn’t exist before 2020.

      If resistant variants of the virus don’t defeat them, vaccines are the best hope to end the pandemic….“Across the country, wherever there is a high uptake of vaccination, there is a dramatic drop in cases.”

      …Alpha, formerly known as the U.K. variant, or B.1.1.7, which is estimated to be 50 percent more transmissible than the original strain used to create the vaccines….this strain of SARS-CoV-2 achieves heightened transmissibility in two ways: it causes patients to shed more infectious particles at peak infection, and it causes a longer, 13-day infectious period (compared to the eight-day norm). Both changes increase the chances that an infected individual will infect others, thus raising the reproductive rate. The Delta variant that devastated India and is now sweeping the world is reportedly 60 percent more transmissible than Alpha, and twice as likely to result in hospitalization….

      Clearly, as long as large numbers of people remain unvaccinated, by choice or not, the pandemic must be managed as a chronic threat. That implies continuing public-health measures that may include masks, limits on crowds, regular testing for infection, and contact tracing—as well as, inevitably, treatment for those who become ill.

      At the same time, global leaders must prepare for a successor pandemic, including one far worse than this one. Years of investment in research led to the creation of vaccine platforms, and to plans, albeit imperfect, to manufacture and distribute them globally….

      Knowing the nature of what to expect—a respiratory virus that thrives in the context of modern human behaviors—readiness will mean stockpiling nonexpired masks, working ventilators, and various levels of personal protective equipment for health-care workers. It will require that hospital systems develop strategies for swiftly expanding intensive-care capacity. Even scientists, already engaged in unprecedented collaboration, should develop even more sophisticated and deliberate ways of coordinating research and sharing results with each other and the public. To develop capacity and strategies for large-scale testing, federal and state public-health agencies will need to be strengthened. And government public-health announcements will need to convey a unified message, not just within nations, but globally. Making such investments sounds expensive. But nothing could be as costly as the loss of life and the trillions of dollars in economic damage that have already been inflicted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Why Animals Play

[These excerpts are from an article by Caitlin O’Connell in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …As winter wears on, the environment dries out, and elephants have to venture farther from water to find enough to eat. Several days may pass before they can return to the water hole for a drink and a reunion.

      …Another elephant family was amassing in the southeastern forest and heading our way, and the adult females were wary. They stood with their feet firmly planted, ears held straight out, as they sniffed what little remained of the prevailing wind for any potential danger. Not only would exiting the security of the forest expose the family to predators, but an encounter with a higher-ranking elephant family could result in an aggressive interaction. For the youngsters in the group, however, more families meant more opportunities to play. So after thoroughly assessing the clearing, the matriarch gave the word with a rumble and an ear flap, and the family began its approach to the water.

      …It turns out that play, like other forms of interaction, has rules of engagement. And it is essential for developing the physical and cognitive faculties that animals need to survive and reproduce.

      …People tend to think of play as an activity one engages in at one’s leisure, outside of learning important skills needed to succeed later in life, such as hunting, mating, and evading predators. But although playing is fun for all involved—and fun for those who are watching—play behaviors evolved as ritualized forms of survival skills needed later in life, providing the opportunity to perfect those skills.

      Engaging in play allows animals to experiment with new behaviors in a protected environment without dangerous consequences. The unwritten code of conduct surrounding play lets them explore many possible outcomes.

      Animals learn the rules of engagement for play at a very young age. Among dogs, the bow is a universal invitation to engage in silliness that triggers the same bowing down and splaying of the front legs in the receiver of the signal—inevitably followed by chasing and pretend biting. Chimpanzees and goril-las motivate others to romp by showing their upper and lower teeth in what primatologists refer to as a play face, which is comparable to human laughter.

      When a young male elephant wants to play with another male of similar age, he holds his trunk up and presents it to the other as an invitation. Most often his next move would be to place his trunk over the other's head, which in adults signals dominance but in calves is guaranteed to precipitate a spirited sparring match. These encounters run the gamut from gentle shoving to intense headbutting and pushing back and forth with trunks entwining and tusks clacking. The fun continues for seconds to minutes for youngsters; for older teens and young adults, it can go on much longer. The sparring matches provide bulls with the opportunity to test their fighting ability so that they might successfully compete for a female when they reach sexual maturity and enter the hormonal state of musth around the age of 25.

      When a young male elephant is feeling particularly adventurous, he may venture far away from Mom’s protection to invite a distant relative to spar. If his foray takes him too far away or if a spar turns unexpectedly rough, the brave calf will lose his nerve and often will run quickly back to Mom’s side with ears flapping and trunk yo-yoing as he retreats.

      Occasionally an older sister will oversee a play bout between youngsters. These ever watchful siblings form part of an extended caretaking network that facilitates play, but its members also will intervene if a calf crosses an invisible bloodline and gets deflected with a trunk slap by an overly protective, high-ranking mother.

      …Scholars of animal behavior recognize three main categories of play. The first is social play, which is any kind of antic that involves others. The second is locomotive play—including running, walking, jumping and pouncing—which facilitates lifelong motor skills. In prey species, locomotive play helps perfect predator-avoidance tactics such as the springbok’s “pronking” high into the air while running as a herd and landing in unpredictable spots. In elephants, it hones predator-avoidance skills, as well as strategies for escaping an aggressive suitor or a competitor looking to inflict a mortal wound. Conversely, young predators such as lion cubs use locomotive play to sharpen their hunting ability. Chasing and tripping littermates and then giving them a good chew on the spine or throat are rehearsals of the skills needed to catch prey animals and dispatch them by severing their spinal cord or choking them.

      Many species, including our own, engage in the mock-fighting variety of locomotive play, which allows them to test their strength in a safe environment where everyone understands the rules….

      …The other variety of play that appears to be unique to great apes is make-believe. For example, a wild chimpanzee may carry around a small log, pretending it is an infant. A human child might play with an invisible toy or set up an invisible barrier that they want adults to acknowledge.

      …play increases the versatility of movements used to recover from a loss of balance and enhances the ability of the player to cope with unexpected stressful situations. The goal is not to win but to improve skills, sometimes by self-handicapping.

      Once a cub has been tackled by its littermates, roles might reverse such that a littermate handicaps itself, allowing the other cub to tackle it in return. Self-handicapping is risky and requires trust, but it is a great way to develop strength and agility. It is also an important exercise in building cooperation….In elephants, on a number of occasions I have seen older male calves crouch down to allow a much younger calf to spar with them. This is akin to an older brother handicapping himself during an arm wrestle by not using all of his strength to let his little brother win.

      …There was hardly a chance for calves of Wynona's small but growing family to get to know members of the extended family.

      Lucy changed all that. From the start, she was quite the extrovert. Maybe being born into a very small family made her all the more curious and excited by the opportunity to engage with the extended family on the infrequent occasion of their overlapping. And she was not deterred by the admonishments of high-ranking moms within the extended family, much to the seeming annoyance of the ever watchful Susan.

      Now the two-year-old Lucy knew just how to run through adults’ legs and out of trunk’s reach, navigating potential minefields and dodging her mom’s attempts to rein her in. She behaved more like Susan’s calf, Leo, who was her older sister Liza’s contemporary. When we scored Leo’s distance from his mom at the water hole, he always had a much higher score than Liza. We had assumed that was attributable mainly to his sex and the male elephant/s early experiments with independence. But the arrival of Lucy showed us that the story was not that simple.

      Lucy spent a lot of time a great distance away from her mom and played with calves of mothers of all ranks. When it came time to leave the water hole and go in separate directions, as dictated by the prevailing family politics, Lucy made that impossible. She was so busy playing with other calves that there was no extracting her, leaving Wynona no choice but to modify her behavior.

      Instead of continuing on her premeditated departure route, in the opposite direction from the Actor family, Wynona, her eldest daughter Erin and their calves turned around and followed the rest of the family so that Wynona did not risk losing her new calf. There was no guarantee that the other mothers would protect Lucy, much less allow her to suckle, as that would mean fewer precious nutrients for their own calves. But by 2018 Wynona was fully reintegrated into the Actor family, whether she wanted to be or not….

Parents Demand Action on Heavy Metals in Baby Food

[These excerpts are from an article by Tom Clynes in the Summer 2021 issue of Solutions.]

      After Congree released a report in February disclosing that popular baby foods contain the toxic heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercuty, Cleveland pediatrician Aparna Bole started getting a lot of questions worried parents.

      …Even in trace amounts, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and diminish a child’s IQ. Since heavy metals accumulate in the body, minimizing exposure is critical.

      Many parents assumed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was proecting them from these kinds of contaminants. But according to Tome Neltner, EDF’s chemical policy director, federal agencies have done little to tackle the stubborn issue over the past 20 years….

      Arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury all occur naturally and as residue from pesticides, fuels and industrial processes that pollute the air, water and soil. Their sheer ubiquity causes them to appear throughout our food supply system, so even making baby food from scratch may not reduce the exposure.

      For the past four years, EDF and allies have pressed the FDA to drive down the levels of heavy metals in kids’ food. In April, after the outcry over the congressional findings, the agency finally announced a plan to develop guidance and actions to reduce toxic elements in food commonly consumed by infants and children. We are now urging the FDA to move up its deadlines and account for the cumulative effect of these metals….

The New Climate Generation

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster, Tasha Kosviner and Shanti Meson in the Summer 2021 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Etosha Cave’s company, Opus 12, has developed a device that allows industries to recycle carbon dioxide instead of releasing the climate-warming gas into the atmosphere. It bolts onto any existing emission source and uses electricity and a unique metal catalyst to convert CO2 and water into chemicals that can be used to make fuel, plastics or household cleaners.

      In a pilot project, Opus 12 worked with Mercedes-Benz to create the world’s first car part made from CO2. Another pilot with Proctor & Gamble aims to convert CO22 into an ingredient for Tide.

      With early backing of more than $25 million from government agencies, research institutes, corporate partners and top-tier investors, the Berkeley, California company is now looking to develop its carbon-recycling device in a range of sizes, including a building-sized one that can handle large volumes of CO2 from industrial facilities like power plants.

      Cave grew up in a Houston neighborhood adjacent to an abandoned oil and gas waste cite, which got her thinking about energy waste. She started Opus 12 in 2015 with two Stanford University classmates, eager to put her Ph.D. research on CO2 conversion to real-world use….

      Ultimately, Cave envisions transforming billions of tons of CO2

Biden’s Big Boost for Clean Jobs

[This excerpt is from an article by Joanna Foster in the Summer 2021 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Like so much of the economy, the clean energy sector was hit hard by the pandemic, and many jobs were lost. But the industry still employs nearly three times as many workers as fossil fuel extraction and generation and is adding jobs faster than the rest of the economy.

      Biden’s plan, which will guide congrrssional action, is focused on building a national clean energy economy while targeting investments to help regenerate communities hit hardest by job losses and the decline of coal. For example, it includes a $27 billion green bank that would help fossil fuel communities transition to a clean energy future. The proposals would help create wind, solar and electric vehicle jobs while also employing fossil fuel workers to clean up abandoned mines and plug oil and gas wells – notorious for leaking climate, air and water pollution. Biden has suggested tying clean energy tax credits to strong labor standards so workers will be protected and have access to unions.

      Perhaps most crucially, Biden’s plan invests in communities hit hardest by pollution. For decades, chronic under-investment and disenfranchisement have left many low-wealth communities and communities of color battling a disproportionate burden of pollutiuon. Biden’s plan creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative to ensure that 40% of the benefits of climate-related investments accrue to communities who need them the most….

Accounting for Climate

[These excerpts are from an article by Joanna Foster in the Summer 2021 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      Place a map of U.S. internet infrastructure over a map of sea level rise projections and you’ll find alarming overlaps. Thousands of miles of fiber optic cables and more than a thousand clusters of key internet infrastructure appear destined to be underwater in the next 15 years. This could disrupt internet service for millions of Americans. Despite this, neither AT&T or Century-Link, the companies that own most of the equipment in the flood zones, made any mention of sea level rise in recent financial filings that were supposed to flag potential risks for investors.

      That’s because they don’t have to.

      The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with ensuring that investors have the information they need to make prudent investment decisions, doesn’t require companies to report meaningful information about how climate change will affect their operations. So investors may have no idea that a particular corporation has hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in infrastructure at risk of chronic flooding.

      That might all be about to change. This spring, after years of inaction, the SEC created a task force to examine corporate environmental, social and governance issues. It has also appointed a climate czar and issues a call for public input on how best to design new climate risk regulation….In May, President Biden issued an executive order on climate-related financial risk. And ExxonMobil’s recent investor-forced changes to its board shows climate action is now an imperative for investors….

      “Climate change poses systemic risks to the financial system itself, and erlying on voluntary programs for this information isn’t good enough,” says Michael Panfil, lead counselor at EDF and coauthor of the new report. “This isn’t just about protecting investors; it’s about protecting society as a whle.”

      Climate change cost the U.S. more than $500 billion in direct damages over the last five years, and the price is rising.

      The fact is, everyone is vulnerable when there is a shock to the financial system. You didn’t have to own a subprime mortgage to take a hit when the housing bubble burst. In the ensuing financial crisis, 8.8 million Americans lost their jobs and a quarter of U.S. households lost at least 75% of their net worth. Similarly, when tough times come, you could end up just as underwater as AT&T’s fiber optic cables, even if you don’t own shares in the company….

With Antibiotics, Less Is Often More

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Dozens of studies show that for many bacterial infections, a short course of antibiotics, measured in days, performs as well as the traditional course, measured in weeks. Shorter courses also carry a lower risk of side effects. In April the strength of this research persuaded the American College of Physicians to issue new “best practice advice” for four kinds of infections: pneumonia (the kind acquired in the community rather than in the hospital). “uncomplicated” urinary tract infections (UTIs), skin infections known as cellulitis (provided there is no pus) and actual bronchitis in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease….The big question going forward is: Will the medical profession heed the call and change its ways?

      The driving force between the push to use antibiotics more sparingly is the worldwide threat of treatment resistant microbes, which have evolved rapidly with excessive use of these drugs. The dangerous organisms include the dreaded “flesh-eating” MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), as well as drug-resistant strains of microbes that cause UTIs, tuberculosis and malaria. Yet many physicians have the mistaken belief that a longer course of antibiotics forestalls resistant strains….Doctors used to prescribe antibiotics for as long as it took to get an infection under control and the patient out of danger….

      Spellberg is a vigorous advocate for the shorter-is-better approach….Spellberg likes to point out that it is inherently absurd to prescribe in units of one or two weeks, which he refers to as “Constantine units” for the Roman emporer who decreed in A.D. 321 that a week lasts seveb days. There’s nothing biologically valid about this metric, he observes.

      The evidence supporting shorter courses is especially strong for community-acquired pneumonia. At least 12 randomized controlled trials in adults have shown that three to five days of antibiotics works as well as five to 14 days, and a 2021 study found the same holds true for children. More than 25 studies have shown that short courses also work well for sinus infections and acute flare-ups of chronic bronchitis….

      Shorter drug courses have other advantages. They may do less harm to helpful bacteria that are part of our microbiome (one reason fewer pills cause fewer side effects). And short prescriptions get better patientcompliance….

      Some infections do require prolonged therapy. A study published in May found that six weeks of antibiotics for infections around prosthetic joints was less effective than 12 weeks. And although antibiotics tend to be overprescribed for children ear infections, a longer course is more effective for kids younger than two.

      Right-sizing antibiotic prescriptions is a critical part of the battle against drug-related “superbugs”….Ask your doctor about shorter durations and if a pill is really likely to speed your recovery.

Cool Color

[These excerpts are from an article by Sophie Bushwick in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      The “blackest black” paint, famed for its thermal camouflage potential, has long absorbed 99.9 percent of public attention. Now it’s time to shed some light on the other end of the practical paint spectrum: the “whitest white.” Research shows that surfaces coated with a newly formulated white coloring reflect 98.1 percent of sunlight, creating a powerful cooling effect—without plugging in an air conditioner.

      This coating absorbs just 1.9 percent of sunlight compared with 10 to 20 percent for conventional white or “heat-reflective” paints….By reflecting so effectively, the noval paint can actually help a coated building release the heat inside. The authors calculate that covering a 1,000-square-foot roof with their paint could cool a building by about 10 kilowatts….

      Scientists have been developing reflective paints for decades, but commercial products still remainat or above the surrounding temperature. In the past 10 years researchers have found greater success with multilayered coatings that incorporate tiny particles of varying sizes, some on the nanoscale, to reflect many wavelengths of light….such materials can cool a surface to below the ambient temperature. Unfortunately, manufacturing precise layers of multiple substances and applying them to a surface in a set order costs more—and requires a more intense process—than simply slapping on some paint.

      Ruan decided to take a hybrid approach and create an ordinary paint that could easily be brushed or sprayed onto a surface but that would still incorporate a reflective nanomaterial. After testing particlesof several different compounds, he and his colleagues ultimately selected a relatively inexpensive one called barium sulfate. Next they calibrated the necessary concentration to make the paint as reflective as possible, without reducing its ability to stick together. Finally, they made sure the barium sulfate particles came in a variety of sizes to reflect different wavelengths.

      …any new product like this will need to stand up to the real world, where grime coats surfaces over time….

      Ruan sees his work as a tool to fight the climate emergency….”Our paint can contribute to that goal because it lets us get cooling without using power.”

Pesticides Are Killing Our Soils

[These excerpts are from an article by Nathan Donley and Tari Gunstone in the August 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Scoop up a shovelful of healthy spoil, and you’ll likely be holding more living organisms than there are people on Earth. Like citizens of an underground city that never sleeps, tens of thousands of subterranean species of invertebrates, nematodes, bacteria and fungi are constantly filtering our water, recycling nutrients and helping to regulate the planet’s temperature.

      But under fields of tightly knit rows of corn, soybeans, wheat and other monoculture crops, a toxic soup of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides is wreaking havoc….

      Regulations currently ignore pesticides’ harm to soil species….

      In just over 70 percent of those experiments, pesticides were found to harm organisms critical to maintaining healthy soils—harms that have never been considered in the EPA’s safety reviews. Pesticide-intensive agriculture and pollution are driving factors in the precipitous decline of many soil organisms, such as ground beetles and ground-nesting bees. They have been identified as the most significant driver of soil biodiversity loss in the past decade.

      Yet pesticide companies and our pesticide regulators have ignored that research. The EPA, which is responsible for pesticide oversight in the U.S., openly acknowledges that somewhere between 50 and 100 percent of all agriculturally applied pesticides end up on the soil. Yet to assess pesticides’ harms to soil species, the agency still uses a single test species—one that spends its entire life aboveground in artificial boxes—to estimate risks to all soil organisms: the European honeybee.

      The fact that the EPA relies on a species that lterally may never touch soil in its entire life to represent the thousands of species that live or develop underground offers a disturbing glimpse of how the U.S. pesticide regulatiry system is set up to protect the pesticide industry instead of species and their ecosystems. What this ultimately means is that pesticide approvals happen without any regard for how those chemicals can harm soil organisms.

      To add to this…pesticide companies have jumped on the bandwagon to greenwash their products. Every major company now has Web material touting its role in promoting soil health, often advocating for reducing tilling and planting cover crops.

      As general tenets, both these practices are indeed good for soil health and, if adopted responsibly, are great steps to take. But companies know that these practices are often accompanied by increased pesticide use. When fields are not tilled, herbicides are frequently used to kill weeds, and cover crops are often killed with chemicals before crop planting. This “one step forward, one step back” approach is preventing meaningful progress to protect our soils. Pesticide companies have so far been successful in coopting “healthy soil” messaging because our regulators have shown no willingness to protect soil organisms from pesticides.

      The long-term environmental cost of this failure can no longer be ignored. Soils are some of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, containing nearly a quarter of the the planet’s biodiversity. Protecting them should be a priority, not an afterthought….achieving this will require that we reduce the world’s growing and unsustainable reliance on pesticide-intensive agriculture. And it will require that the EPA take aggressive steps to protect soil health.

Anti-Trans Laws Are Anti-Health

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

      On April 6, the Arkansas state legislature passed a law that would prohibit transgender youth from receiving gender-affrming medical care. It was not alone: before 2021 had even reached the halfway point, at least 35 similar bills—all of them in Republican-controlled states—had been proposed or passed, setting a regrettable record. Advocates for these laws argue that such treatments, which usually involve hormnes that delay the changes that associate with puberty, are unproven and dangerous and that the legislation is necessary to protect children. That is unscientific and cruel.

      The actual danger comes from denying trans people the medical care they need. A 2020 study in the journal Pediatrics found that trans kids who wanted hormone treatments and did not receive them faced greater lifetime odds of suicidal thoughts than those who receive “puberty blockers.” These blockers, known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogues, are medically safe, and their effects are reversible. The medications have been in use for decades, most often in children who begin puberty too early. For trans kids, they buy some time for young people to explore their gender identity before their bodies develop permanent secondary sex characteristics such as breasts or Adam’s apples. When they are ready, adolescents can decide whether to stop taking the blockers and continue to develop into the gender they were assigned at birth or to take gender-affirming hormones—testerone or estrogen—to develop the features that match their geder identity.

      Anti-trans laws play on fears that children may irreversibly alter their bodies and then come to regret it. But such scare tacticsignore reality for the vast majority of people who receive treatment. Under current guidelines from the Endocrine Society, none of these medical interventions can happen before the onset of puberty. Gender-affirming hormones are usually given in the teen years and only when patients have shown consistent, well-documented distress at the mismatch between their gender identity and their physical sex characteristics, according to the standards of care set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. And when it comes to the more significant step of genital surgery, the organization stipulates that is should be an option only for adults who have lived continuously for at least a year in the gender role congruent with their gender identity.

      These laws would deny people safe treatments when getting them is already too hard. Many trans people—especially people of color, those from lower-income backgrounds and those who are homeless—do not have the financial resources or support they need to receive care….

      The statehouse war on trans people is not limited to bills restricting health-care access. At least 66 proposed laws would prohibit trans students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, and 15 would block trans people from using restrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity….These callous regulations are just the latest in a long barrage of Republican attacks on gay and trans people. The Trump White House rolled back many LGBTQ protections and even refused to acknowledge Pride Month….

      In contrast, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation recognizing Pride Month and signed an executive order on his first day in office comabting discrimination, on the federal level, on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. These and other acts by the Biden-Harris administration have increased desperately neaded protections for the LGBTQ community, but they are just a start. Congress must pass the Equality Act, legislation that would establish nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, education, and other areas. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in February but had not cleared the Senate at the time of this writing. And state lawmakers would do better to address the many real issues that hurt their constituents rather than enacting laws to combat nonexistent dangers.

Soldiers of Science

[These excerpts are from an article by Holly Amerman in the July/August 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …The premier of the podcast is the untold story of the “Soldiers of Science.” History buffs may remember that all men of ages 18-24 were required to enter the draft for the Vietnam War during the late 1960s. If your birthday was drawn, off you went as an enlisted man to the South Pacific….

      For medical students, there was no such choice; the Doctor Draft meant they all had to serve….But these doctors were able to choose which branch they wanted to serve in; their options were: Army, Navy, Air Force, or the Public Health Service. The most coveted and competitive of these positions was the branch of the Public Health Service known as the Associate’s Program at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Because of the nature of the Doctor Draft, the desire of many of these young men not to go to Vietnam, and the competitiveness of the appointment, this process brought together the top medical students from around the country. In this unique environment, many of our most significant medical breakthroughs of the 20th century were born.

      Why have so many of us never heard the story a program that led to so many medical breakthroughs? So many that, over the last 50 years, nearly 20 percent of all Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology were awarded to alumni of this program? Dr. Fauci is the most famous of these “Yellow Berets” (a somewhat derogatory, tongue-in-cheek term many adopted for themselves), yet his relationship to this program is seldom talked about….

      In the second podcast, one of my favorite parts is Dr. Michael Brown casually explaining the discovery of cell receptors—it’s hard to imagine a world in which scientists didn’t know about these critical molecules. His explanation not only of the discovery, but of how they work, and how they figured it out, is right up there with the best high school biology teachers I’ve encountered. His discussion could easily fit into a chemistry or biology lesson with ease….

Looking Back at a Pandemic and Preparing for the Next One

[These excerpts are from an article by Stephen Wesson in the July/August 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      “In case you’re happily unaware of it, there’s an influenze epidemic due, right now.” An article from the magazine supplement of the Washington Star newspaper begins with a stern warning. The article’s next sentence, though, seems more reassuring: “It’s not the deadly type of 1918, when an estimated 25 million people throughout the world succumbed to it, but the aching variety that’s seldom fatal yet always troublesome.”

      This article, “What Science Has Learned About Flu,” was published in 1955, more than three decades after the flu pandemic of 1918. However, that global catastrophe and its staggering death toll were still well within living memory, and many of the medical interventions and public health strategies described in the article were developed in response to the 1918 flu or its aftermath….

      One key breakthrough in the battle against the flu is given a prominent place in the article: an image of “flu viruses” as seen through an electron microscope. In 1918, as the pandemic raged, it was widely believed that influenza was a bacterial infection. When human influenza virus was isolated in the 1930s, it dispelled this belief and paved the way for vaccine development in the late 1930s and 1940s, as well as fueling new work in virology, immunology, and many other fields.

      Many of the new tools described in the article, though, were institutional in nature. The article mentioned the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to collect and analyze data on influenza outbreaks, as well as an NIH vaccine study and a program undertaken by the US Army to vaccinate all its personnel. In 1918, there were no systems in place for gathering information on flu activity on a large scale, but the League of Nations, founded in 1919, moved quickly to establish an international health organization, helping to build the foundation of internationally coordinated responses to disease and other public health threats.

      The article’s warning of an impending epidemic was a timely one. In 1957, a new influenza strain spread around the world, eventually taking the lives of more than one million people. This time, scietists recognized the pandemic quickly and were able to develop a vaccine for distribution on a large scale. Perhaps as importantly, the organizations and practices that emerged in the wake of the 1918 influenza pandemic made it possible for scientists and public health officials to study the 1957 strain and its effects more thoroughly than ever before, and to better prepare for pandemics yet to come.

COVID-19: One Year Later

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

      …From what is causing this illness to where it is originating to the recognition of COVID as a pandemic to the development of a vaccine to the Greek naming of the COVID variants, the science and understanding of COVID was constantly changing. When science changes its opinion, it does not lie to us. Science simply learned more. Yet, the naysayers continue to exist. During early June 2021, Dr. Tenpenny, an Ohio osteopathic doctor, claimed during Ohio Statehouse testimony that the COVID-19 vaccine caused magnetism in our bodies. She stated that people who had been vaccinated were walking around capable of having spoons attached to their bodies. The CDC had to spend valuable time addressing this audacious claim….

      The scientific illiteracy of this claim and others like it must be the focus of our scientific instruction. Knowing the parts of a squid or dissecting a worm have their place in a science class but should not be all that our students experience. If our students are to grow into scientifically literate adults, we must provide them with the abilities to analyze science stories in the news, in scientific journals, and all the information spinning throughout the social media. If we choose to only teach science as a pile of factoids, the students will continue to be swayed by outlandish claims like Tenpennty made in Ohio.

      In Michael Sherman’s book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, he states “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons….” We want our students to be smart people who are not gullible to illogical thinking, schemes, and premises. We want them to look behind the curtain, as in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy looks behind the curtain actually exists. Science prevails. No, science is not perfect, but no other methodology has surfaced to help us understand the natural world in a better fashion.

      Are we, in our science classes, stressing the way science works enough? Sure, there is the introductory chapter of muost science textbooks that describes the scientific method. But often it is written in such a way to illustrate science as a linear process, which it is not. It is an iterative, beautiful, creative process. The textbooks often depict how science is written, but not how it is done. Our students continue to see science as a plethora of vocabulary and formulas that do not relate to their everyday lives, do not seem relevant, and are a set of classes to just get done. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Students are taught what to think, but not how to think. Our mission as science teachers is clear: We must help our students think critically and to be skeptical of the information spewing forth each day. Are we up for the challenge?

Cheap Solar PV and Expensive Climate Change

[These excerpts are from an article by Gernot Wagner in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …In the early 2010s, the solar race looked like a tight competition between solar photovoltaic (PV) and utility-scale concentrated solar power (CSP), which uses sun-heated fluids to drive power turbines….

      …Solar PV costs felt roughly by a factor of 10 in the past decade, on top of already impressive cost declines up to that point, for a total decline of around a factor of a hundred since US President Jimmy Carter unveiled solar panels on the White House in 1979. (Ronald Reagan took them down in 1986, during his second term as president.)

      To put it in perspective, if gasoline had similarly dropped in price from 1979 levels, it would cost pennies a gallorx today….

      Financing is key to why this is true. Solar PV and other renewables such as wind have low or close-to-zero operating expenses—upfront costs have always been the big hurdle, and financing has been a big reason why. Thanks in part to various government policies, solar investment has become much less risky over the last decade or so, freeing cheap money.

      As a result, solar PV deployment has increased rapidly; it’s now the fastest growing source of electricity globally, and figures to be for some time to come. It’s starting from a low base of installed capacity, however, far behind coal, gas, hydro, nuclear—even wind, which has been cheap for longer. And therein lies one of the biggest problems for solar PV. It might be the cheapest form of electrieity for many, but that on its own doesn’t make the clean-energy transition nearly quick enough.

      We need ever further technological advances. why stop at grid parity, the point where it’s as cheap to build and operate solar PV as to supply electricity via fossil energy sources? Why not 10% cheaper? Why not strive to slash costs by another factor 10 within a decade? Such drops are needed because the hallowed grid-parity goal is misleading—the real question is at what point utilities will actually abandon existing coal plants and switch to solar, rather than merely avoid adding new coal capacity. Solar needs to be so cheap it makes financial sense to build new solar capacity and shutter working coal and gas plants still making money for their owners….

      MIT energy systems scientist Jessika Trancik and her group find that the dramatic cost declines in solar cells over the course of three decades can largely be attributed to three factors: R&D leading directly to improvement in module efficiency (how much of the sunlight is converted into electricity) and other fundamental technological advances; economies of scale attributed to the size of solar cell manufacturing plants and the increasing volume of inputs such as silicon; and improvements achieved through learning by doing.

      None of that is too surprising, but what is less obvious is that the relative contribution of each varies greatly over time. From 1980 to 2000, R&D accounted for around 60% of cost declines, with economies of scale coming in at 20%, and learning by doing a distant third at around 5%; other largely unattributable factors account for the balance. That makes sense; it was a period of impressive advances in the efficiencies of solar cells but not a time of significant manufacturing and deployment. Since then, the pendulum has swung. from R&D and fundamental technological improvements toward econonlies of scale in manufacturing, now accounting for over 40% of cost declines. It’s worth noting, however, that research advances still account for some 40% of declines.

      …Despite the dropping price of solar, the transition to renewables will still be costly. The big question, of course, is how expensive compared with wht—climate change, too, comes with costs. Cheap solar gets even more financially attractive to developers if the social and environmental costs of carbon emissions from fossil fuels are considered.

      A lot here hinges on the social cost of carbon (SCC), a tally of the financial damage each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted today causes to the economy, society, and the environment—and, by extension, how much each ton of CO2 omitted should cost. It’s a number that says a lot about the true cost of coal and other fossil fuels—and about the appropriate support for solar PV and other renewables.

      The latest US SCC, calculated by the Biden administration, puts the number at about $50 for aton of CO2 emitted now. But that is surely an underestimate. Some calculate the SCC to go over $300 per ton of CO2, after fully accounting for the future damage caused by carbon emissions and for the uncertainties about climate change.

      Whichever number you settle on, it means coal, oil, and natural gas will be far more expensive if you account for the full costs of greenhouse-gas emissions. Only then will low-carbon technologies be on the same playing field as fossil fuels….

      The most productive policy sequence might go something like this: first drive down the cost of renewables to create an economically viable alternative to high carbon fuels, then price carbon via a new price, a clean electricity standard, or something similar. The combination of the two should then lead to rapid deployment of renewables at scale. In many ways, that is precisely what is happening….

      Solar PV is cheap, but it is not free. Paying the price to make it even cheaper will be well worth the cost.


[This excerpt by Tanya Basu is from an article in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      Many consumers don’t realiz that indigo, the signature color of denim, requires synthetic chemicals like formaldehyde and cyanide, which can be harmful to workers and can sometimes contaminate local water sources. Given that jeans are one of the most ubiquitous clothing items in the world, this is a huge environmental problem.

      Tammy Hsu, the chief sciontific officer of Huue, worked with colleagues to study how color is made in nature and program microbes to enzymatically produce the shade they wanted. The result is a sustainable solution that doesn't rely on harmful processes or chemicals Now the challenge is to make the natural dye as cheap to use as the synthetics the industry relies upon. “The chemical industry has had 100 years to hone their process and make it cost efficient,” Hsu says. “We were founded two years ago. We’re trying to catch up with that. That’s one of our biggest goals, to drive down the price of our process.”

      Huue is on track to release its indigo dye next year. Next up for Hsu is figuring out how to coax microbes to produce a range of different dyes. “We’re trying to provide the fashion industry with an alternative way,” she says.

Those Who Fall Behind Get Beaten Up

[These excerpts are from an article by Yangyang Cheng in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …the Boxer Protocol, a 1901 treaty between the empire, which ruled China at the time, and 11 foreign nations. Troops from eight of these countries including the US, had occupied Beijing following sieges on their embassies by a peasant militia known as the Boxers. Among a litany of concessions, the Qing government agreed to pay the eight occupying powers an indemnity of 450 million taels of silver (about $10 billion in today's dollars), almost twice its annual revenue. The Boxer Protocol is etched Into the Chinese consciousnests as a searing reminder of the country at its weakest….

      Li Hongzhang was bonito a wealthy household in Hefei, then a small provincial capital surrounded by farrmland. Like his father and brother before him, Li excelled in the imperial exams, China's centuries-old system for selecting officials., Over six feet tall and with a piercing gaze, he commanded space and attention. He distinguished himself in suppressing peasant rebellions and rose quickly in the imperial court to become the Qing empire’s highest-ranking governor, its commerce minister, and its de facto foreign minister.

      After China lost to British and French forces in the Opium Wars, Li and his allies launched a wide range of reforms. They called it the Movement for Western Affairs, also known as “self-strengthening”….

      To the Chinese literati, the world was divided between hua, the homeland of civilized glory, and yi, the places where barbarians dwelled. British gunboats on the southern shore had shaken but not shattered this centuries-old belief. Proponents of self-strengthening claimed that Chinese tradition was the base onto which Western technology could be grafted for practical use….

      A classically trained scholar and battle-tested general, Li championed both civilian and military enterprises. He petitioned the emperor to construct the first Chinese railroad and founded the country’s first privately owned steamship company. He allocated generous government funding for the Beiyang Fleet, China’s first modern navy. In 1865, Li oversaw the establishment of the Jiangnan Arsenal, the largest weapons factory in East Asia at the time. In addition to producing advanced machinery for war, the arsenal also included a school and a translation bureau, which translated scores of Western textbooks on science, engineering, and mathematics, establishing the vocabulary in which these subjects would be discussed in China.

      Li also supervised China’s first overseas education program, which sent a cohort of Chinese boys aged 10 to 16 to San Francisco in the summer of 1872. After a promising start, the mission was derailed by anti-Chinese racism in the US and conservative obstruction at home. Some students, upon returning to China, were held and questioned by the authorities about their loyalty. After nine bumpy years, the program was shut down in 1881 on the eve of the ChinesSe Exclusion Acti.

      Meanwhile, neighboring Japan had adopted not only the West’s technology but also its governing methods, transforming a feudal society into modern industrial state with a formidable military. For centuries, the Chinese elite had looked down upon Japan, dismissing it as small and inferior. When the two countries went to war in 1894, ostensibly over the status of Korea, the real prize was status as the preeminent Asian power. Japan won decisively. It was six years after this devastating loss that Li signed the Boxer Protocol on behalf of the Qing government. He died two months later.

      By the start of the 20th century, the last Chinese empire had last its legitimacy. Armed rebellions were erupting across the country. The Qing regime was overthrown in 1911, and the Republic of China was born….

      China’s path to westernization received some early assistance from the US. Hoping to improve relations between the two countries, the US government decided to return almost half the American portion of the indemnity China had agreed to pay in the Boxer Protocol. With the US side dictating the terms, part of the remittance went toward a program known as the Boxer Indemnity Scholarships, which provided one of the few pathways for Chinese students to study in the US. The bulk of the returned payment was used to establish a Western-style preparatory school, which became Tsinghua University, China’s premier technological institution….

      Beijing’s aggressive pursuit of foreign-trained talent is an indicator of the country’s new wealth and technological ambition. Though most of these programs are not exclusive to peopie of Chinese origin, the promotional materials routinely appeal to sentiments of national belonging, calling on the Chinese diaspora to come home….

      The Biden administration is reportedly considering changes to the China Initiative, which many science associations and civil rights groups have criticized as “racial profiling.” But no official announcements have been made. New cases have opened under Biden; restrictions on Chinese students remain in effect.

      Seen from China, the sanctions, prosecutions, and export controls imposed by the US look like continuations of foreign “bullying.” What has changed in the past 120 years is China’s status. It is now not a crumbling empire but a rising superpower. Policymakers in countries use similar techno-nationalistic language to describe science as a tool of national greatness and scientists as strategic assets in geopolitics. Both governments are pursuing military use of technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence….

      …In the fevered race for power and supremacy, concerns about ethics and sustainability are drowned out by jingoistic cheers….

The Dangerous Appeal of Tech

[These excerpts are from an article by Sheila Jasanoff in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …The battle between light and dark in the way we imagine technological change is ancient, In Greek mythology, Prometheus suffered agonies for bringing fire to Earth, and Daedalus lost his son to the urge to fly to freedom. But the most optimistic and most pessimistic views of technology both rely on a common misconception: that a technological pathway, once embarked upon, leads to inevitable social consequences, whether utopian or dystopian.

      This view, known as technological determinism, is historically flawed, politically dangerous, and ethically questionable. To achieve progress, societies like ours need a more dynamic understanding of why technology changes, how we change with it, and how we might govern our powerful, marvelous machines.

      Technology is not an autonomous force independent of society, nor are the directions of technological change fixed by nature, Technology at its most basic is toolmaking. Insisting that technological advances are inevitable keeps us from acknoveledging the disparities of wealth and power that drive innovation for good or ill.

      Technology is always a collective venture, It is what it is because many people imagined it, labored for it, took risks with it, standardized and regulated it, vanquished competitors, and made markets to advance their visions. If we treat technology as self-directed, we overlook all these interlocking contributions, and we risk distributing the rewards of invention unfairly. Today, an executive officer of a successful biotech company can sell stock worth millions of dollars, while those who clean the lab or volunteer for clinical trials gain very little. Ignoring the unequal social arrangements that produced inventions tends to reproduce those same inequalities in the distribution of benefits.

      Throughout human history, the desire for economic gain has underwritten the search for new tools and instruments—in fields like mining, fishing, agriculture, and recently-gene prospecting. These tools open up new markets and new ways to: extract resources, but what the innovator sees as progress often brings unwanted change to communities colonized by imported technologies and their makers’ ambitions….

      The desire for military advantage is another driver of technological change that can, in some instances, benefit civil society—but “dual use” technologies often retain ties to forces that prompted their development. Nuclear energy, a spinoff from the pursuit of the atomic bomb, was sold to the world by US President Dwight Eisenhower as “atoms for peace.” Yet nuclear power remains closely tied to the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.

      Similarly, the internet and world wide web, which revolutionized how much of the world lives today, owe much to the US Defense Department’s vision of a network of computers. First celebrated as a space emancipation, the digital world has slowly revealed its antidemocratic features: constant surveillance, cybersecurity threats, the lawlessness of the dark web, and the spread of misinformation. More public awareneSs of the internet’s origins might have led to a more accountable cyberworld than the one designed by hotshot technologists.

      The story of the internet shows that modern societies are often better at imagining the upsides of technology than its downsides. But the trajectory of innovation is also guided by more subtle cultural preferences, often with profound consequences….

      At the same time, about a third of all US deaths from the pandemic occurred in nursing homes, a result of decades of underinvestment in the unglamorous social practices of elder care. Collectively, we chose to ignore the plight of the vulnerable elderly, and spent big on technology only when everyone was at risk.

      …It often seems easier to go where the flows of materials and social practices have already cut deep channels. It’s not surprising, then, that defense spending has proved to be one of the prime motivators of innovation, even though such investments perpetuate power imbalances and seldom respect cultural or ethical sensitivities.

      In his famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost reflects on how the human mind constructs narratives of inevitability. We come to a fork in the road, we choose a path, and then as memory plays its tricks we come to see that choice as shaping all that came after. Faced with mounting problems of inequality, diminishing resources, and a looming climate calamity, we must learn to recognize the flaws in such linear storytelling, and to imagine the future along as-yet-untraveled pathways of change.

The Nature (and Nurture) of IQ

[These excerpts are from a book review by Meredith Wadman in the 30 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      In July 1934, psychologist Harold Skeels evaluated two toddlers at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport, Iowa, a Dickensian Civil War-era facility that was both a residence for abandoned children and the state’s central adoption facility. Skeels had been to use intelligence quotient (IQ) tests to identify the “imbeciles,” “morons,” and “idiots” among the hordes of children at the home and shunt them to institutions for the “feebleminded.” (This review, like the book at hand, will use the terminology of the era.)

      As infants, the two toddlers under evaluation-13-month-old CD and 17-month-old BD—had been taken by the state from their mothers, a prostitute and an inmate in an insane asylum, respectively, and placed at the Davenport home, where they were “scarcely touched, never held, rarely spoken to,” as Marilyn Brookwood, the author of the excellent The Orphans of Davenport, writes. When Skeels performed an IQ, test, the girls scored 46 and 35. (An individual score of 90 to 109 was considered average intelligence.)

      Skeels tried to send the girls away, but facilities for the feebleminded were overcrowded. In desperation, he accepted an unusual offer: The toddlers would move to an institution that housed feebleminded adults, where they would be cared for by adult women with mental ages of 5 to 9 years.

      The women at the Woodward State Hospital for Epileptics and School for the Feebleminded lavished the children with affection. Nine months later, Skeels was astonished to find CD and ED “alert, attractive, playful, [behaving] like any normal toddlers,” Marie Skodak, a colleague who accompanied him that day, later wrote. After another 18 months living with the women, CD’s IQ, score was 95 and BD’s was 93. The girls were returned to Davenport and adopted within months. When located again in their late 20s, both were married with children in apparently stable, loving households.

      CD and BD are among the many children whom Skeels and a handful of colleagues at the University of Iowa's Iowa Child Welfare Research Station studied in thi 1930s. Benefiting from the station’s milieu of intellectual freedom, these scientific heroes of The Orphans of Davenport developed a body of work finding that neglected children placed in caring and stimulating environments could recover tens of IQ points; that institutional neglect eroded, but preschool improved, children’s IQ, scores; and that institutionalized babies born to low-IQ parents and adopted in the first months of infancy scored in the good or superior range on later IQ tests.

      The suggestion that children’s IQ scores changed with time and circumstance set off a frenzy of reaction in the young, insecure discipline of academic psychology. Its eugenicist establishment was convinced that intelligence was a fixed and heritable trait—a belief that generated between 60,000 and 70,000 forced sterilizations in the United States in the 20th century. Led by Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman, the field’s leaders launched sustained, vicious, and humiliating attacks on the Iowa group.

      It would be 30 years before the validity of the Iowa group’s clinical findings and their implications—that nurture as well as nature plays a pivotal role in the development of children's intelligence—were at last recognized and celebrated by their profession….Their work caught the attention of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, helping to launch Head Start, the US government program for disadvantaged preschoolers.

      The quiet courage of the Iowa researchers illuminates this story, not least when others admit that they failed to rise to the same challenge….

      In chronicling a major intellectual battle of the 20th century, The Orphans of Davenport offers scientists a cautionary, timeless tale about groupthink’s power to subvert the dispassionate analysis of new findings. It is also yet another sobering reminder of how specious science can be wielded to justify evil ends—with the attendant suffering of those least able to defend themselves.

The Overlooked Superpower of mRNA Vaccines

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

      Individuals facing the threat of COVID-19 may care most about a vaccine’s ability to forestall grave disease that could lead to a hospital bed or worse. And a number of vaccines perform that vital task well, including those from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which are based on genetically engineered cold viruses, as well as the not-yet-authorized protein vaccine from Novavax. But for public health experts trying to halt a. global pandemic, shutting down even the mildest infections is also crucial, especially as the highly infectious Delta variant surges in scores of countries. By that measure, according to a brace of new studies, the messen-ger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from the Pfizer-BioNTech collaboration and Moderna stand out….

      The large clinical trials that persuaded governments around the world to authorize COVID-19 vaccines mostly looked at their ability to block symptomatic disease and illness severe enough to lead to hospitalization or death. Preventing all infections, including those with no symptoms at all, is “rather a ne-glected endpoint….”

      …the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were, respectively, 96% and 98% effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection….

      …Another study…used a similar approach to show that two Moderna shots were 92.5% effective in preventing asymptomatic infection with any variant circulating at the time. The jabs were also 100% effective against any infection with the Alpha variant, and 96.4% effective against infection with the Beta variant.

      A U.S. study used a different design, testing nearly 4000 front-line workers weekly, regardless of whether they had symptoms. Full vaccination with either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines was 90% effective against any infection….

      These studies were conducted before the spread of the Delta variant, for which real-world data on asymptomatic infection are still lacking. But lab studies are promising, suggesting mRNA vaccines may inhibit asymptomatic Delta infection, too.

      Many scientists suspect the mRNA vaccines outperform others at preventing infection because of the high levels of virus-blocking antibodies, called neutralizing antibodies (NABs), that they generate….

      “The mRNA vaccines are arming the immune system in a way that seems to be better and at higher magnitude than some of the other approaches,” although no one is sure why….

      Some say the mRNA vaccines’ performance suggests they should be distributed widely in poorer countries, which so far have mainly relied on AstraZeneca and Russian and Chinese vaccines….

The Post-Antibiotic Era Is Here

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Jennie H. Kwon and William G. Powderly in the 30 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      Imagine a world where routine surgery or chemotherapy is considered too dangerous because there are no drugs to prevent or treat bacterial infections. Unless researchers develop new antibiotics and therapeutics, the decimation of modern medicine will soon become a reality. Scientists have long recognized that much stronger incentives for research and development are needed to avoid this scenario. Yet, the rise of “superbugs” has continued, making a pandemic of antibiotic resistance a major threat to global health.

      One could blame slowed action against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on an upstaging by COVID-19. Health and industry sectors deferred prepandemic AMR work to focus on tracking and preventing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission. Worldwide, scientists pivoted toward SARS-CoV-2 research. This “all hands on deck” response was prudent but likely affected the already lagging progress on battling AMR. What about efforts before COVID-19?

      Prepandemic, experts noted that drug-resistant infections could, annually, kill 10 million people worldwide by 2050, and by 2030, AMR could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty….Sadly…there are only 43 new antibiotics in development. Of these, 13 are in phase 3 clinical trials, and only about half of these might be approved.

      It’s no secret that the major problem is the lack of private-sector interest in bringing novel antimicrobial therapies through development. The war against AMR requires innovation, which is costly. It typically takes 10 to 15 years to develop an antibiotic through regulatory approval….And only about one in four developments represents a novel drug class or a mechanism of action. We need new pharmaceutical targets to combat microbial virulence, new methods to inhibit the genetic transfer of antibiotic resistance between bacteria, new drugs that bolster host immunity against AMR, and microbiota-based therapies. To better track AMR, next-generation diagnostics are needed that use whole-genome and metagenomic sequencing. and molecular techniques to detect AMR organisms in humans, animals, and the environment.

      Prior to 2020, the United States started paying attention to market-place incentives that would rekindle private investment. In 2013, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first Antibiotics Resistance Threats report, which prompted a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in 2015. Fortunately, last October, the ailategy was renewed for 5 years, directing federal agencies to spur new drug development….Although the White House’s fiscal year 2022 budget plan leaves gaps in resources to address AMR, increases in health securitybudgets could be directed at incentivizing drug development. Given that the CDC’s 2019 Antibiotic Resistance Threats report indicated that 2.8 million Americans acquire infections caused by AMR bacteria each year (with more than 35,000 resulting deaths), the government must do more to encourage private-sector interest.

      COVID-19 has shown that it is possible to create robust public-private partnerships across research, industry, and public health that accelerate research and clinical trials and spur proactive regulation in the context of a global public health threat. Collaborative action is equally necessary to battle AMR….

      The scientific community should leverage lessons learned from COVID-19 to unite academia, industry, government, and policy-makers toward preserving the benefits of modern medicine. Continued procrastination will only lead to countless lives lost to AMR.

An Atomic Warning

[These excerpts are from a book review by M.V. Ramana in the 23 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote the philosopher George Santayana in 1905….The compelling narrative should lead readers to realize the importance of preventing a repeat of the follies that marked the early decades of the atomic age.

      …He divides this history into three eras: “Atomic Promises,” a period defined by numerous ideas for civilian applications of atomic energy; “Atomic Propaganda,” when these ideas resulted in the spread of atomic technology, albeit with mixed success; and “Atomic Prohibition,” when non-Western countries, China and India in particular, acquired atomic bombs, and Western countries adopted 44, new norms to govern nuclear commerce….

      Nuclear weapons are, of course, the best-known technology that is closely tied to nuclear energy, and quite a few of Hamblin’s chapters highlight how various geopolitical and economic goals outweighed concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation in key decisions. But the importance of Hamblin’s book lies in its exploration of the intersection of nuclear energy with seemingly unrelated topics, such as racism, colonialism and neocolonialism, propaganda, and surveillance and control.

      Hamblin describes, for example, major differences in how the United States treated Ghana and South Africa in the 1960s. Both African countries were seriously interested in nuclear energy. Even as it passed civil rights legislation domestically, the Johnson administration supported apartheid South Africa’s nuclear program, and US companies helped build its first nuclear reactor in 1965. In contrast, the United States not only refused to help Ghana, but, according to Hamblin, the country also helped “crush” the “prospect of an ambitious peaceful nuclear program by an independent African nation not ruled by whites.”

      Such instances are not mere historical oddities. Today, for example, some companies are working to develop so-called nuclear batteries, sealed reactors that contain enough fuel for their predicted operational lifetimes. Although seemingly a technological choice, the neocolonial politics of this endeavor lie in the envisioned geographical distribution: The reactors are to be assembled and fueled in predominantly white nations, while developing countries with predominantly nonwhite populations are to be at the receiving end. The implicit message is that the latter are not to be trusted with operating a reactor or replacing its fuel.

      Historical amnesia is also at play in the US nuclear industry's recent attempts to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia despite Saudi leaders openly citing Iran's potential development of nuclear weapons as part of the reason for their interest in establishing a nuclear program of their own….Hamblin describes how the promise of nuclear electricity in India and Pakistan and desalinated water in Israel were used as justifications for nuclear programs in these countries, but these seemingly beneficial initiatives ultimately contributed to the advancement of each nation’s nuclear weapons programs. Remembering this past could uncover the potential long-term repercussions of exporting nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia.

      All books involve editorial decisions about which topics to emphasize. I found myself wishing that The Wretched Atom had explored more thoroughly, for example, the corporate propaganda used to promote nuclear energy and increase profits, as well as the efforts by US governmental institutions to portray nuclear technology as risk free. But such is the hallmark of a good book—readers are Left wanting more, not less.

The Elusive Quest to Make Consistent Calls

[These excerpts are from a book review by Darren Frey in the 23 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      It is not uncommon to read about criminals receiving drastically different sentences for seemingly similar crimes. We may rationalize these differences, supposing we do not know all the relevant facts or the nuances of the laws applied. We generally trust the expertise of the judges tasked with sentencing the accused. Yet, shortly after Judge Marvin Frankel first donned his robe and was required to render a verdict in a federal case, it occurred to him that he “had no experience or special knowledge whatever about the subjects of penology, criminology, sentencing philosophies, or any other pertinent learning”….

      Unsettled by this reflection, Frankel began to observe sentencing patterns among his colleagues in the 1970s and found enormous discrepancies in judgments of very similar crimes. In one early study he oversaw, 50 judges from different districts were asked to evaluate a set of identical hypothetical cases, and the variability of their opinions was alarming. For example, the very same extortion case was judged to merit anywhere from 3 years of imprisonment, in the most lenient case, to 20 years, in the harshest, with certain judges additionally imposing considerable fines. Subsequent legal analysis found variation of this sort to be the rule rather than the exception. How is it that such serious judgments could essentially amount to a high-stakes lottery?

      …Their primary contention is that variability in decision-making contexts where one expects consistency is both more prevalent and more consequential than one would imagine. In their words, “wherever there is judgment, there is noise, and more of it than you think”….

      Consider the pronouncements of wine tasters or movie critics, for example. We might reasonably be suspicious of there being a “correct answer” in matters of taste and might observe that individuals tend to diverge in their evaluations. In these situations, divergences are inconsequential and expected, but in others, they can be both surprising and devastating.

      The authors of Noise are especially adept at gathering examples of the latter type of noise, and they produce evidence of it in the most disparate of fields, ranging from hiring practices and performance evaluations to cancer diagnoses, financial forecasts, and even forensic science. They find that experts not only regularly disagree with each other in situations laypeople consider matters of fact but also sometimes disagree with their own earlier pronouncements.

      …They prescribe what they call “decision hygiene,” urging decision-makers to regularly assume external perspectives, making use of relevant statistics instead of mere impressions; establish common anchors for shared decision-making frameworks to minimize scale subjectivity; and segment and strategically sequence the presentation of different dimensions of complex decisions to avoid cascades of influence, in which an early impression colors all subsequent assessments….

Europe’s Deadly Floods Leave Scientists Stunned

[These excerpts are from an article by Warren Cornwall in the 23 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      …For years, scientists have warned climate change will mean more flooding in Europe and elsewhere. Warmer air holds more moisture, which can translate into heavier rainfall. By 2100, flood damage on the continent could cost as much as €48 billion per year—up from €7.8 billion now—if nothing more is done to prepare, and the number of people affected could more than double to some 350,000….

      Some European rivers are already exhibiting climate-related changes….Along the Danube River, for example, floods that once came every 50 years now happen roughly twice as often….

      New research suggests such risks could grow if climate change slows the jet stream—the high-altitude winds circling the Northern Hemisphere—causing drenching rainstorms to linger longer over flood-prone landscapes. Storms that stall over Europe were once exceedingly rare….in a worst case scenario such storms could become as much as 14 times more common in 2100 than they were at the start of this century….

      …the overall dyna rale is similar…: A slow-moving storm overwhelms a region’s river system. Floods already rank as the most destructive natural hazard in Northern Europe…..

      Some researchers are examining how people responded to flood warnings….One-third of the people who received flood warnings reported having “no clue” what to do next….

Colleges Need Vaccine Mandates

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 23 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      Finally, in the United States, colleges and universities are ramping up for a relatively normal school year. Most pandemic restrictions have been lifted and—barring any unforeseen new coronavirus variants—parents and students will soon be pulling up to residence halls and unloading their belongings. At many schools in “blue” states, there will be a great deal of confidence that good times are on the horizon as everyone there will have shown proof of vaccination against COVID-19. But for some public universities in "red" states, where vaccine mandates are not permitted, an aura of uncertainty will hang over the campus and the local community, a foreboding sense that another outbreak could be at hand.

      One risk is that unvaccinated students will contract and spread COVID-19, just as they did last fall. College presidents were quick to blame student partying and socializing for the outbreaks last year, without acknowledging their own culpability. No experienced college administrator can have truly believed that students would return to campus after months in lockdown without cutting loose and socializing. This year, some students will have been vaccinated or gained some immunity from contracting and then recovering from COVID-19. But many first-year students will be immunologically naïve. This raises the specter of continued testing, contact tracing, and potential lockdowns, provided schools will be allowed to enforce them.

      Another risk will come from college sports. Last month, the baseball team at North Carolina State University (NCSU) was on an unexpected run into the final games of the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, when its season was suspended because of COVID-19 protocols. Some players fell ill with COVID-19, and it was later disclosed that many of them were among the unvaccinated….

      What the NCSU episode shows is that in the absence of a vaccine mandate, a testing prograni just isn't enough….many experts expect a powerful cold and flu season this year as masks are removed and viruses come out of hibernation. So, imagine a college campus where large numbers of students are coughing and sneezing, and even bedridden with normal colds and flu. In the absence of a vaccine mandate, it will be impossible for the college to reassure staff, faculty, and local residents that there is not a major outbreak of COVID-19. Further, many of these students who are unvaccinated could very well have severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in addition to whatever else ails them. This could lead to closures or substantial restrictions that could have easily been avoided if a vaccine mandate were in place….

      When Arizona State University (ASU) tried to require that unvaccinated students would have to wear masks and be tested regularly, the governor issued an executive order banning any such expectation. The order says that ASU and other public colleges in Arizona cannot “place any conditions on attendance or participation in classes or academic activities, including but not limited to mandatory testing and mandatory mask usage.” ASU has about 75,000 students across its campuses. What could go wrong?

      Officials at universities and in government need to take a stand regardless of the political consequences for the institutions. Lives are at stake.

Taking Our Earthshot

[These excerpts are from an editorial by L. Rafael Reif in the July/August 2021 issue of MIT News.]

      Last May, when we issued our Climate Action Plan for the Decade, we were mobilizing MIT to take on the climate problem as never before….

      The “earthshot” we need now requires sustained contributions from industry, government, academic institutions, foundations, and philanthropists—and from all of us as individuals.

      Daring to oversimplify, here’s the challenge: we must find affordable, equitable ways to bring every aspect of the global economy to net-zero carbon no later than 2050. At the same time, we must adapt to effects of climate change we can’t prevent.

      To do all that in less than 30 years, we should pursue two tracks at once. On path one, we must go as far as we can, as fast as we can, with the tools we have now—not only science and technology, but also policy, infrastructure, behavioral and cultural changes, and more. In the US, the federal government can play a pivotal role by providing a national road map and sustained investment.

      But current technology alone will not get us to the 2050 target. In parallel, on path two we need to invent, invest in, and deploy a suite of new tools.

      MIT is taking action on all of these fronts. Last year we issued the Climate Grand Challenges to inspire daring ideas to address some of the toughest unsolved problems around climate. Our faculty responded with potentially game-changing concepts, from capturing carbon dioxide by domesticating fast-growing microbes to designing lightweight, all-carbon buildings.

      It’s also crucial to find fast, efficient ways to deliver new solutions across the economy….

      And we launched the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium to help companies achieve their net-zero goals—through collaboration, not competition….

      When it comes to the climate crisis, nobody has all the answers. But if we tackle the pieces of the problem within our reach, and collaborate with each other, we have a real shot—an earth-shot—at preserving a habitable world.

A Sustained Use of Space

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Holger Krag in the 16 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      …There are more than 28,000 routinely tracked objects orbiting Earth. The vast majority (85%) are space debris that no longer serve a purpose. These debris objects are dominated by fragments from the approximately 560 known breakups, explosions, and collisions of satellites or rocket bodies. These have left behind 900,000 objects larger than 1 cm and a staggering 130 million objects larger than 1 mm in commercially and scientifically valuable Earth orbits.

      Today’s already active satellite infrastructure provides a multitude of critical services to modern society, including communication, weather, navigation, and Earth-monitoring missions. Its loss would severely damage modern society. Furthermore, a new era in space has just started, driven by commercial, low-latency broadband services that rely on large constellations of satelites in low Earth orbit. These will revolutionize connectivity on the ground and in the air. However, they will also increase space traffic. The satelites to be launched over the next 5 years will surpass the number launched globally over the entire history of spaceflight. Congestion in space is only going to get worse.

      It is apparent that debris mitigation strategies—defined two decades ago by experts in the world’s leading space agencies—are ever more important. They aim to prevent explosive breakups by venting residual energy from space systems at the end of their missions, and to “dispose” of a space object through a final maneuver that causes it to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. Although these strategies are widely recognized, dozens of large space objects are still stranded every year in critical orbital regions where they will remain for several hundred years. And an average of eight fragmentation events in orbit occur annually, adding more pollution and increasing the likelihood of more collisions. Operations in space are themselves facing the burden of increasing evasive maneuvers to prevent losinga mission. In the most densely populated orbital altitudes, space objects are receiving dozens of collision warnings per day, of which only the most critical can be avoided. The number of such alerts will grow as large constellations of satelites come online.

      Another important facet of the debris problem is the risk on Earth from reentering objects. Between 100 and 200 metric tons of human-made hardware reenter Earth’s atmosphere every year in an uncontrolled fashion. Heat-resistant material, like titanium or stainless steel, can survive the harsh reentry conditions.

      …missions, such as Clearspace-1, will aim to remove targeted debris through robotic capture.

      An internationally binding regime for the management of debris and space traffic is pending. Thus far, space missions have been supervised on the national level only, and states have been encouraged to translate the nonbinding space debris guidelines into national regulations. Space, however, is a commonly used resource with a limited capacity. International harmonization of space traffic would be required for an efficient and interference-free use of space. The coordinated use of the available radio frequencies could serve as a template. Furthermore, the implementation of space debris mitigation requirements should be tracked, following international binding principles. New and affordable technical solutions might stimulate more ambitious steps in international regulation to preserve space for the spacefarers of tomorrow.

Researchers Behaving Badly

[These excerpts are from a book review by Deborah Blum in the 16 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      In 1771, an idealistic British naturalist named Henry Smeathman set sail for Africa on a collecting trip. The 29-year-old’s destination was Sierra Leone, famed as a center of the colonial slave trade. Smeathman hoped not only to amass a treasure trove of insect specimens—his particular area of interest—but also, along the way, to better educate his fellow Englishmen about Black Africans, whom he saw as a “little-known and much misrepresented people.” He would fail on both counts.

      Much of Smeathman’s collection was lost to transportation disasters. His ideals, meanwhile, were worn away by financial desperation and by the company he kept with friendly, cash-rich slave traders. By 1773, Smeathman was trafficking enslaved people to support his collections. He was far from the only naturalist to become entangled with slavery and its handy shipping routes, notes Sam Kean in The Icepick Surgeon, but his story provides an excellent example of “how intertwined science and slavery were” and how easily the lucrative practice could undermine the morals of even the best-intentioned scientist.

      The question of “what pushes men and women to cross the line and commit crimes and misdeeds in the name of science” is the focus of The Icepick Surgeon, which explores several centuries’ worth of dubious research decisions, from morally compromised collectors of the past to forensic fraudsters of the present. It is an intriguing question, and the book—although sometimes imperfect in its logic—serves as an important reminder that science is ever a human enterprise.

      …A chapter titled "Sabotage: The Bone Wars," for example, which looks at the way scientists have sometimes sought to sabotage each other's work, manages to be comically engaging and dismaying at the same time. This tale involves two leading paleontologists of the late 19th century Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who obsessively attempted to outdo one another. They deliberately smeared each other’s reputations, stole fossils, and even salted digs with fraudulent material. In the end, however, Cope and Marsh did more harm to each other than to the profession itself. Their rivalry helped stock museums with valuable specimens, led to discoveries of new dinosaur species, and spurred public interest in these long-vanished creatures.

      …A chapter on Nazi medical experiments, for example, segues into American infectious disease studies that deceptively used people of color as test subjects but passes over the American eugenics movement of the early 20th century. This is strange, considering that the eugenics movement served as direct inspiration for some of the Nazis’ most destructive “scientific” policies….

      The terrain over which the book treads is murky, wide-ranging, and complex, and not every troubling story can be told. There is no chapter, for instance, on sexual misconduct, despite burgeoning evidence that it is a pervasive problem in the scientific community. But Kean ultimately succeeds in touching on many issues that have fueled doubts about scientists, including some doubts of his own. Quoting Albert Einstein, he writes: “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” Kean once dismissed this as a facile line, he writes in his conclusion. But he has come to believe it to be entirely true.

Will COVID-19 Change Science? Past Pandemics Offer Clues

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the 16 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      Sixteen pandemic months have felt disorienting and arduous—but along the arc of human history, COVID-19 marks just another inflection point. Epidemics have punctuated humanity’s time-line for centuries, sowing panic and killing millions, whether the culprit was plague, smallpox, or influenza. And when infections abate, their imprints on society can remain, some short-lived and some enduring.

      …COVID-19 is still with us, especially outside the minority of countries now enjoying the fruits of widespread vaccination. Still, as the pandemic enters a different phase, we ask how research may be changing, how scientists are navigating these waters, and in what directions they are choosing to sail.

      Although the past may not presage the future, epidemic history illuminates how L change unfolds….

      Past epidemics have spurred scientists and physicians to reconsider everything from their understanding of disease to their modes of communication: One of the most studied, the bubonic plague, tore through Europe in the late 1340s as the Black Death, then sporadically struck parts of Europe, Asia, and North Africa over the next 500 years. Caused by bacteria transmitted via the bites of infected fleas, the plague's hallmarks included grotesquely swollen lymph nodes, seizures, and organ failure. Cities were powerless against its spread. In 1630, nearly half the population of Milan perished. In Marseille, France, in 1720, 60,000 died.

      Yet the mere recording of those numbers underscores in the face of the ELatk Death, medical categorize distinct often presented illness rez physical disequilibrium….

      The plague years sparked more systematic study of infectious diseases and spawned a new genre of writing: plague treatises, ranging from pithy pamphlets on quarantines to lengthy catalogs of potential treatments….

      Plague and later epidemics also coincided with the rise of epidemiology and public health as disciplines, although some historians question whether the diseases, were always the impetus. From the 14th to 16th centuries, new laws in the Ottoman Empire and parts of Europe required collection of death tolls during epidemics….

      Cholera, caused by a bacterium in water, devastated New York and other areas in the 1800s. It gave rise not only to new sanitation practices, but also to enduring public health institutions….To improve those conditions, New York City created its Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866. In 1851, the French government organized the first in a series of International Sanitary Conferences that would span nearly 90 years and help guide the founding of the World Health Organization in 1948….

      …Fleas were identified as the carrier of plague during a global pandemic in the late 1800s and early 19005, and the concept of insects as vectors of disease has influenced public health and epidemiology ever since.

      A curious mix of remembering and forgetting trails many epidemics. Some quickly vanish from memory….The 1918 flu, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide but was also overshadowed by World War I, is a classic example of a forgotten ordeal….Although the 1918 pandemic did help spur a new field of virology, that research advanced slowly until the electron microscope arrived in the early 1930s.

      In contrast, the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s left a potent legacy….

      …historians contemplate COVID-19’s potential scientific legacy. The pandemic, like its predecessors, cast light on uncomfortable truths, ranging from the impact of societal inequities on health to waste in alinical trials to paltry investments in public health. Questions loom about how to buttress labs—financially or otherwise—that were immobilized by the pandemic.

      In COVID-19’s wake, will researchers refashion what they study and how they work, potentially accelerating changes already un-derway?...

How Dirt Could Help Save the Planet

[These excerpts are from an article by Jo Handlesman in the July 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      The American dust bowl of the 1930s demonstrated the ruinous consequences of soil degradation. Decades of farming practices had stripped the Great Plains of their fertile heritage, making them vulnerable to severe drought. Ravaging winds lifted plumes of soil from the land and-left in their wake air choked with dust and a barren landscape. Thousands died of starvation or lung disease; others migrated west in search of food, jobs and clean air.

      Today we again face the potential for extreme soil erosion, but this time the threat is intensified by climate change. Together they create an unprecedented dual hazard for the food supply and the health of the planet. Farmers, however, can be key partners in averting the catastrophic consequences. By using readily available practices, both erosion and climate change can be mitigated by incorporating more carbon into soil.

      Photosynthetic carbon fixation removes carbon dioxide from the air, anchoring it in plant material that can be sequestered in soil. This process reduces atmospheric greenhouse gases and reduces soil erosion by enriching soil with carbon that feeds hungry microbes that produce sticky substances, which in turn bind soil particles into clumps that are less vulnerable to movement by wind and water. The Biden administration has the opportunity to avert, both crises through domestic policy for U.S. agriculture and international policy that would restore U.S. leadership in the battle against climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the central feature of most plans to slowthe climate emergency at hand. Much less attention has focused on sequestering atmospheric carbon in soil.

      Soil, which stores three times more carbon than the entire atmosphere, is the largest terrestrial carbon sink, offering avast repository with immense, untapped capacity. Since the beginning of agriculture, food production has removed about half, or 133 gigatons, of the carbon once stored in agricultural soil, and the rate of loss has increased dramatically in the past two centuries, creating a large void to be filled. Restoring this carbon stockpile would sequester the equivalent of almost one fifth of atmospheric carbon, bringing greenhouse gas concentrations nearly to pre-industrial revolution levels and making soil less vulnerable to erosion. Realistically, we’re not going to restore 133 gigatons of carbon any time soon. But working toward this goal could be a centerpiece of a multifaceted plan to address both erosion and climate change.

      …A 2018 inventory from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the U.S. loses soil on average 10 times faster than it is generated; in states such as Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada, erosion is much more rapid. In parts of Africa and Asia, soil erosion outstrips replenishment as much as 100-fold.

      And it’s getting worse. Heavy rainstorms are a key cause of erosion, driving loosened soil particles into streams and rivers. Many parts of the world, including the U.S. Midwest, have experienced a dramatic rise in the frequency and power of rainstorms, a trend likely to accelerate as climate change worsens. At current rates of erosion, some of the world's most productive farmland will lose most of its topsoil over the next few decades, rendering it worthless for food production just as Earth’s population reaches nine billion….

      …One important step is to reduce plowing, which causes erosion by breaking up large clods and destroying the soil structure that prevents detachment and movement of particles. The alternative—no-till planting—involves drilling seed directly into the stubble of the previous crop rather than plowing the field after harvest and again before planting and dropping seeds into plowed furrows. Although no-till methods were shown to substantially reduce erosion in the 1970s, they have been adopted on only one third of U.S. cropland. Another highly effective practice is growing cover crops—plant species that enrich the soil between fall harvest and spring planting of the main crop….

      …These perennials have massive root systems that feed the soil. Switchgrass roots, for example, can grow 14 feet deep and account for half of the plant’s biomass at the end of the season, a reservoir that enables the plant to resprout in the spring. Corn, in contrast, has shallow roots and by the end of the growing season a negligible amount of root biomass remains after the plant has shuttled its carbon to the seeds. Replacing just 10 percent of a corn crop with strategically placed prairie plants reduces erosion 95 percent! Similarly, reforestation reduces erosion with large tree roots that anchor and enrich soil. All these soil-protective practices accelerate carbon sequestration, reduc-ing greenhouse gas accumulation.

      …Intensive regenerative grazing replicates the effects of the herds of bison that once roamed the American plains, contributing to formation of some of Earth’s most fertile soils. Regimes involve moving cattle frequently—sometimes several times in a single day—to new pasture, thereby preventing the animals from cropping the vegetation close to the ground….Some researchers estimate that regenerative grazing boosts car-bon fixation through photosynthesis enough to cancel out most Lof the greenhouse gases released by beef production.

      …Although Americans enjoy one of the cheapest, safest and most abundant food supplies in the world, farmers receive only 15 cents of every dollar spent on food, and between 2013 and 2018 net farm income dropped nearly 50 percent. The USDA forecast that half of US. farms would lose money in 2020. Many farms persist only because a family member provides income from off-farm employment. And financial hardship drives many farms out of business, which is evident in the loss of half of 'U.S. dairy farms between 2001 and 2019.

      To improve the profitability of farming and reduce both soil erosion and net carbon emissions, the Biden administration could restructure crop insurance to reduce premiums on land that is managed in a carbon-friendly manner. This strategy would pay for itself within a few years because even small increases in soil carbon reduce vulnerability to droughts and floods and, consequently, the likelihood of insurance payouts. The administration could build an alliance of key stakeholders—farmers, food retailers, consumers, Indigenous communities, agribusiness and environmental groups—to design certification and marketing strategies for food sold with a label indicating it had been produced under conditions that sequester carbon….

      The U.S. experienced the impacts of extreme soil degradation during the Dust Bowl. We could avert a similar devastation of U.S. farmland by changing farming practices, which would generate ancillary benefits for climate. The stakes are too high to ignore the soil.

The Human Thirst

[These excerpts are from an article by Asher Y. Rosinger in the July 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Throughout history people have drastically engineered their environments to ensure access to water. Take the historic Roman city of Caesarea in modern-day Israel. Back when it was built, more than 2,000 years ago, the region did not have enough naturally occurring freshwater to sustain a city. Because of its geographic importance to their colonial rule, the Romans, through extractive slave labor, built a series of aqueducts to transport water from springs as far as 16 kilometers away. This arrangement provided up to 50,000 people with approximately 145 liters of water per capita a day.

      Today cities use vast distribution networks to provide potable water-to people, which has led to remarkable improvements in public health. When we have plenty of water, we forget how critical it truly is. But when water is precious, it is all we think about. All it takes is news of a shutoff or contamination event for worries about water insecurity to take hold.

      Without enough water, our physical and cognitive functions decline. Without any, we die within a matter of days. In this way, humans are more dependent on water than many other mammals are. Recent research has illuminated the origins of our water needs—and how we adapted to quench that thirst. It turns out that much as food has shaped human evolution, so, too, has water.

      …Between around three million and two million years ago, the climate in Africa, where hominins (members of the human family) first evolved, became drier. During this interval, the early hominin genus Australopithecus gave way to our own genus, Homo. In the course of this transition, body proportions changed: whereas australopithecines were short and stocky, Homo had a taller, slimmer build with more surface area. These changes reduced our ancestors’ exposure to solar radiation while allowing for greater exposure to wind, which increased their ability to dissipate heat, making them more water-efficient.

      Other key adaptations accompanied this shift in body plan. As climate change replaced forests with grasslands, and early hominins became more proficient at traveling on two legs in open environments, they lost their body hair and developed more sweat glands. These adaptations increased our ancestors’ ability to unload excess heat and thus maintain a safe body temperature while moving….

      Sweat glands are a crucial part of our story. Mammals have three types of sweat glands: apocrine, sebaceous and eccrine. The eccrine glands mobilize the water and electrolytes inside cells to produce sweat….In relatively dry environments akin to the ones early hominins evolved in, the evaporation of sweat cools the skin and blood vessels, which, in turn, cools the body’s core.

      Armed with this powerful cooling system, early humans could afford to be more active than other primates. In fact, some researchers think that persistence hunting—running an animal down until it overheats—may have been an important foraging strategy for our ancestors, one they could not have pursued if they did not have a means to avoid overheating.

      This enhanced sweating ability has a downside, however: it elevates our risk of dehydration….Homo erectus would have been able to persistence hunt for approximately five hours in the hot savanna before losing 10 percent of its body mass. In humans, 10 percent body mass loss from dehydration is generally the cutoff before serious risk of physiological and cognitive problems or even death occurs. Beyond that point, drinking becomes difficult, and intravenous fluids are needed for reliydration.

      Our vulnerability to dehydration means that we are more reliant on external sources of water than our primate cousins and far more than desert-adapted animals such as sheep, camels and goats, which can lose 20 to 40 percent of their body water without risking death. These animals have an extra compartment in the gut called the forestomach that can store water as an internal buffer against dehydration.

      In fact, desert-dwelling mammals have a range of adaptations to water scarcity Some of these traits have to do with the functioning of the kidneys, which maintain the body’s water and salt balance. Mammals vary in the size and shape of their kidneys and thus the extent to which they can concentrate urine and thereby conserve body water. The desert pocket mouse, for example, can live without water for months, in part because of the extreme extent to which its kidneys can concentrate urine. Humans can do this to a degree. When we lose copious amounts of water from sweating, a complex network of hormones and neural circuitry directs our kidneys to conserve water by concentrating urine. But our limited ability to do so means we cannot go without freshwater for nearly so long as the pocket mouse.

      Neither can we preload our bodies with water. The desert camel can drink and store enough water to draw on for weeks. But if humans drink too much fluid, our urine output quickly increases. Our gut size and the rate at which our stomach empties limit how fast we can rehydrate. Worse, if we drink too much water too fast, we can throw off our electrolyte balance and develop hyponatremia—abnormally low levels of sodium in the blood—which is just as deadly if not more so than dehydration.

      Even under favorable conditions, with food and water read-ily available, people generally do not recover all of their water losses from heavy exercise for at least 24 hours. And so we must be careful to strike a balance in how we lose and replenish the water in our bodies….

      Humans have evolved to use less water than chimps and other apes, despite our greater sweating ability….Yet our greater reliance on plain water as opposed to water from food means that we must work hard to stay hydrated. Exactly how much water is healthy differs between populations and even from person to person, however. Currently there are two different recommendations for water intake, which includes water from food. The first, from the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, recommends 3.7 liters of water a day for men and 2.7 liters for women, while advising pregnant and lactating women to increase their intake by 300 and 700 milliliters, respectively. The second, from the European Food Safety Authority, recommends 2.5 and 2.0 liters a day for men and women, respectively, with the same increases for pregnant and lactating women. Men need more water than women do because their bodies are larger and have more muscle on average.

      These are not hard-and-fast recommendations. They were calculated from population averages based on surveys and studies of people in specific regions. They are intended to fulfill the majority of water needs for moderately active, healthy people living in temperate and often climate-controlled environments. Some people may need more or less water depending on factors that include life habits, climate, activity level and age.

      In fact, water intake varies widely even in relatively water-secure locations such as the U.S. Most men consume between 1.2 and 6.3 liters on a given day and women between 1.0 and 5.1 liters. Throughout human evolution our ancestors’ water intake probably also varied substantially based on activity level, temperature, and exposure to wind and solar radiation, along with body size and water availability.

      Yet it is also the case that two people of similar age and physical condition living in the same environment can consume drastically different amounts of water and both be healthy, at least in the short term. Such variation may relate to early life experiences. Humans undergo a sensitive period during fetal development that influences many physiological functions, among them how our bodies balance water. We receive cues about our nutritional environment while in the womb and during nursing. This information may shape the offspring’s water needs.

      Experimental studies have demonstrated that water restriction among pregnant rats and sheep leads to critical changes in how their offspring detect bodily dehydration. Offspring born to such water-deprived mothers will be more dehydrated (that is, their urine and blood will be more concentrated) than offspring born to nondeprived mothers before they become thirsty and seek out water. These findings indicate that the dehydration-sensitivity set point is established in the womb.

      Thus, the hydration cues received during development may determine when people perceive thirst, as well as how much water they drink later in life. In a sense, these early experiences prepare offspring for the amount of water present in their environment. If a pregnant woman is dealing with a water-scarce environment and is chronically dehydrated, it may lead to her child consistently drinking less water later in life—a trait that is adaptive in places where water is hard to come by. Much more work is needed to test this theory, however….

      Getting enough water is one of humanity’s oldest and most pressing challenges. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that we map the locations of water sources in our minds, whether it is a highway rest stop, desert spring or jungle plant….

Is Science Actually “Right”?

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

      The COVID crisis has led many scientists to take up arms (or at least keyboards) to defend their enterprise—and to be sure, science needs defenders these days. But in their zeal to fight back against vaccine rejection and other forms of science denial, some scientists say things that just aren’t true—and you can’t build trust if the things you are saying are not trustworthy.

      One popular move is to insist that science is right—full stop—and that once we discover the truth about the world, we are done. Anyone who denies such truths (they suggest) is stupid, ignorant or fatuous. Or, as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg said, “Even though a scientific theory is in a sense asocial consensus, it is unlike any other sort of consensus in that it is culture-free and permanent.” Well, no. Even a modest familiarity with the history of science offers many examples of matters that scientists thought they had resolved, only to discover that they needed to be reconsidered. Some familiar examples are Earth as the center of the universe, the absolute nature of time and space, the stability of continents, and the cause of infectious disease.

      Science is a process of learning and discovery, and sometimes we learn that what we thought was right is wrong….To say that science is “true”" or “permanent” is like saying that “marriage is permanent.” At best, ifs a bit off-key. Marriage today is very different from what it was in the 16th or 18th century, and so are most of our “laws” of nature….

      Another popular move is to say scientific findings are true because scientists use “the scientific method.” But we can never actually agree on what that method is. Some will say it is empiricism: observation and description of the world. Others will say it is the experimental method: the use of experience and experiment to test hypotheses….

      Each of these views has its merits, but if the claim is that any one of these is the scientific method, then they all fail. History and philosophy have shown that the idea, of a singular scientific method is, well, unscientific. In point of fact, the methods of science have varied between disciplines and across time. Many scientific practices, particularly statistical tests of significance, have been developed with the idea of avoiding wishful thinking and self-deception, but that hardly constitutes “the scientific method.” Scientists have bitterly argued about which methods are the best, and, as we all know, bitter arguments rarely get resolved.

      In my view, the biggest mistake scientists make is to claim that this is all somehow simple and therefore to imply that anyone who doesn’t get it is a dunce. Science is not simple, and neither is the natural world; therein lies the challenge of science communication. What we do is both hard and, often, hard to explain. Our efforts to understand and characterize the natural world are just that: efforts. Because we're human, we often fall flat. The good news is that when that happens, we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and get back to work….Understandingthe beautiful, complex world we live in, and using that knowledge to do useful things, is its own reward and why taxpayers should be happy to fund research.

      Scientific theories are not perfect replicas of reality, but we have good reason to believe that they capture significant elements of it. And experience reminds us that when we ignore reality, it sooner or later comes back to bite us.

DDT’s Long Shadow

[These excerpts are from an article by Carroe Arnold in the July 2021 of Scientific AMerican.]

      Hailed as a miracle in the 1950s, the potent bug killer DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) promised freedom from malaria, typhus and other insect-borne diseases. Manufacturers promoted it as a “benefactor of all humanity” in advertisements that declared, “DDT Is Good for Me!” Americans sprayed more than 1.35 billion tons of the insecticide—nearly 7.5 pounds per person—on crops, lawns and pets and in their homes before biologist Rachel Carson and others sounded the alarm about its impacts on humans and wildlife. The fledgling U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972.

      …DDT continues to haunt human bodies. In earlier studies, she found that the daughters of mothers exposed to the highest DDT levels while pregnant had elevated rates of breast cancer, hypertension and obesity.

      Cohn’s newest study, on the exposed women's grandchildren, documents the first evidence that DDT’s health effects can per-sist for at least three generations. The study linked grandmothers’ higher DDT exposure rates to granddaughters' higher body mass index (BMI) and earlier first menstruation, both of which can signal future health issues….

      In the late 1950s Jacob Yerushalmy…proposed an ambitious study to follow tens of thousands of pregnancies and measure how experiences during fetal development could affect health into adolescence and adulthood. The resulting Child Health and Development Study (CHDS) tracked more than 20,000 Bay Area pregnancies from 1959 to 1966. Yerushalmy's group took blood samples throughout pregnancy, at delivery and from newborns while gathering detailed sociological, demographic and clinical data from mothers and their growing children.

      Cohn took the helm of the CH DS in 1997 and began to use data from the children, then approaching middle age, to investigate potential environmental factors behind an increase in breast cancer. One possibility was exposure in the womb to a group of chemicals classified as endocrine disruptors—including DDT.

      Human endocrine glands secrete hormones and other chemical messengers that regulate crucial functions, from growth and reproduction to hunger and body temperature. An endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) interferes with this finely tuned system. Many pharmaceuticals (such as the antibiotic triclosan and the antimiscarriage drug diethylstilbestrol) act as EDCs, as do industrial chemicals like bisphenol A and polychlorinated biphenyls, and insecticides like DDT….

      Fetuses produce all their egg cells before birth, so Cohn suspected these children’s prenatal DDT exposure might also affect their own future children (the CH DS group's grandchildren). With an average age of 26 thisyear, these grandchildren areyoung for breast cancer—but they might have other conditions known to increase risk of it striking later.

      Using more than 200 mother-daughter-granddaughter triads, Cohn's team found that the granddaughters of those in the top third of DDT exposure during pregnancy had 2.6 times the odds of developing an unhealthy BM1. They were also more than twice as likely to have started their periods before age ll. Both factors, Cohn says, are known to raise the risk of later developing breast cancer and cardiovascular disease….

      Laboratory studies, including one by Cohn in 2019, have shown that DDT and other EDCs can lead to effects across generations via epigenetic changes, which alter how genes turn on and off Cohn is also investigating the multigenerational effects of other endocrine disruptors, including BPA and polyfluorinated compounds.

      Such research also highlights the need for long-term testing to determine a chemical’s safety….

Patient Care Must Include a Gun Talk

[This excerpt is from an editorial by Chethan Sathya and Sandeep Kapoor in the July 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …For years doctors have considered gun violence to be a public health issue. Nevertheless, most health-care workers still do not talk to their patients about guns. In many settings, questions about firearm safety are taboo except in special cases such as those concerning people who are at risk of suicide, which accounts for roughly 60 percent of the nearly 40,000 gun deaths in the U.S. every year. Such targeted screening, however, can introduce bias and stigmatization, which hinders our ability to normalize conversations about firearm safety with our patients.

      If we could figure out how to make such safety checks routine, the harm reduction could be significant—and we could provide policy makers with valuable insights into how to depolarize, depoliticize and humanize discussions surrounding the prevention of firearm injuries. After all, we in the health-care lane have a unique opportunity to use an approach that focuses solely on safety and injury prevention, without involving the Second Amendment. Such universal “we ask everyone” strategies—which can remove the pressure to decide who does and does not need screening—have been used successfully in public health approaches to other polarized issues such as substance use, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

      So why are many doctors hesitant to bring up firearm injury prevention? The truth is that we do not fully understand why. We know very little about how to normalize and humanize conversations about it—and gun-rights activists don't want us to. A decade ago, for example, Florida went so far as to forbid physicians from asking patients routine gun-related questions (courts ultimately invalidated the law as a violation of doctors’ First Amendment rights). We do not have the data we need to inform us on the best way to have these talks. Health-care workers already face a number of evident barriers when it comes to such counseling, including a lack of education on the subject, fear of offending some patients, and inadequate resources for screen-ing and counseling about preventive strategies.

      Fortunately, the tide is changing. A combination of recent federal funding for research into firearm injury prevention, momentum in the health-care industry and the staggering level of gun violence in the U.S. might finally push doctors to ask every patient about firearm safety and gun violence risk during routine health visits. We need to work diligently with gun owners, survivors and community-based organizations alike to develop culturally competent education and intervention strategies geared toward making these talks a part of routine checkups.

      Being able to ask the questions in the first place is an essential starting point. The country is at last getting behind concerned physicians in supporting a public health approach to gun violence prevention. If we succeed in depolarizing conversations about firearm deaths, as well as about the hundreds of nonfatal firearm injuries that happen every day in the U.S., it could have a ripple effect among the general public, further bolstering our argument that this matter is a public health issue.

      Let’s make sure we get it right.

Long-Term Care Is Broken

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

      The COVID pandemic devastated nursing homes. People living in long-term care facilities represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. population but account for a third of its COVE) deaths: more than 174,000 people as of early March. And it wasn’t just residents—nursing home workers had one of the deadliest jobs last year.

      Problems with long-term care precede COVID. Most Americans say they want to remain at home as long as possible as they age, yet many cannot afford such care and wind up in a nursing facility. Such facilities can cost hundreds of dollars a day. Medicaid covers most charges, yet people must be nearly bankrupt to qualify. The program reimburses nursing homes only for 70 to 80 percent of those costs, so it is harder for them to provide quality care.

      Most nursing homes are for-profit, and private equity firms are increasingly gobbling them up to make a buck at the expense of residents. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs), who furnish the bulk of care in nursing homes, earn only about $14 an hour; recruiting and retaining them is a huge challenge. And the current U.S. government system for evaluating nursing facilities—the so-called five-star rating system—is largely based on self-reported data that are easy to manipulate, and independent inspections often fail to flag serious violations in the quality of care, according to a recent New York Times investigation….

      How to fix it? President Joe Biden’s proposed $2-trillion infrastructure bill offers a promising start toward helping people age at home. The bill includes $400 billion over eight years for borne-and community-based care. It expands Medicaid coverage for such services, which states are not currently required to provide (and those that do often have long waiting lists). The bill, which faces steep opposition from Republicans, also aims to establish more and better-paying jobs for home health workers and to give them the ability to join unions and collectively bargain.

      These steps are a good beginning, but they don’t do anytliing to help nursing homes….

      The American Health Care Association (AHCA), a nonprofit that represents nursing homes and other assisted living facilities, and LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit aging service providers, recently released a proposal dubbed the Care for Our Seniors Act. The plan would require at least one registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day at every facility (in addition to CNAs and other staff) and a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment. The act includes provisions to attract and retain employees, such as providing loan forgiveness for new graduates working in long-term care, tax credits for employees, and support for child care and affordable housing. And it aims to create better oversight of facilities by focusing more on improving them than punishing them and by closing chronically poor performers. Most nursing homes are badly outdated; the new proposal calls for renovating them and ensuring all residents have private rooms. AHCA says its plan will cost $15 billion a year. To pay for it, the proposal calls for several strategies, including increasing the federal government match for Medicaid, which states have underfunded, and mandating that states pay facilities at a rate sufficient for them to break even.

      The AHCA-LeadingAge proposal is on the right track, but one thing it’s missing is increased accountability….Instead you should request a meeting with the president of the resident council, an advocacy group consisting of residents and their families—and if one doesn’t exist, you can form one. They can tell you whether a facility is really as good as it claims to be….

The Anthropocene’s Ancient Origins

[These excerpts are from an article by Bridget Alex in the July/August 2021 issue of Discover.]

      There’s no doubt humans are at Earth’s helm, setting the course of future climate and biodiversity. Our species is now the dominant force shaping Earth's climate and ecosystems, supplanting forces like solar orbit, volcanism and natural selection, which had directed the planet for most of its 4.5 billion years. Welcome to the Anthropocene, a proposed new epoch in Earth history, in which Homo sapiens are blindly steering the ship.

      …a 1950s start. Most members contend that’s when humans became a global superpower, through both nuclear weapons testing and the post-World War II boom in population and production, known as the Great Acceleration.

      …the Late Cretaceous epoch ended 66 million years ago, with the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. The melting of mile-high glaciers 11,700 years ago ushered in the Holocene — an epoch characterized by fairly temperate conditions, amenable to agriculture, permanent settlements and civilization as we know it.

      …human activities cut the Holocene short. We’re in the midst of a transition, from the predictable Holocene to the uncharted Anthropocene….

      Catastrophic asteroids aside, most transitions unfold over tens of thousands to millions of years. But because the geological timescale covers 4.5 billion years, these long stretches of change are sudden blips between even longer distinct Earth regimes. To geologists studying rock formations, those blips look like sharp boundaries between different sedimentary layers.

      Geologists have detected a worldwide marker laid in the 1950s, which could signal the start of the Anthropocene. During that period, radioactive particles released from nuclear weapons deposited a vivid marker in sediments around the world. A thousand years from now, someone digging could hit that layer and know they’ve reached mid-20th century material….

      …The matter is more than a philosophical debate. Models projecting future climate depend on reconstructions of past natural conditions, before significant human modification. To get that data, climate scientists and ecologists often use “preindustrial baselines,” environmental conditions before industrialization, assuming those were natural….

      …scientists are finding that ancient humans remodeled even the most pristine-looking environments, like Amazonia.

      …We now know Indigenous people were there, engineering the landscape, millennia earlier than assumed; they domesticated squash and manioc in the then-treeless savannah bordering Amazon forests 10,000 years ago, according to a 2020 Nature paper. That’s close in age to the oldest known crop domestication, in the Middle East about 12,000 years back Through this planting and dumping of food waste, ancient humans in Amazonia created nutrient-rich soils, leading to the growth of thousands of arboreal islands, still standing in the grasslands of present-day Bolivia.

      Deep within the rainforest, strong evidence points to humans cultivating useful tree species close to their homes. While the Amazon Basin contains an estimated 16,000 woody species, half the trees belong to just 227 species, known as hyperdominants. In a 2017 Science study, researchers compared the distribution of 3,348 pre-Columbian archaeological sites with forestry surveys conducted across the region. The analysis showed oft-domesticated trees, including the Brazil nut, nutmeg and palm, grow in abundance closer to archaeological sites, and overall are five times more likely to be hyperdominant than would be expected. This suggests past people nurtured these trees and discouraged the growth of other species.

      …To truly characterize the Anthropocene’s emergence, researchers need a global view of the archaeological and environmental records….

      The hope is that the archaeological data will tell a more fine-grained history of how and when the Anthropocene began — and what humans must do to steer Earth to a sustainable future.

COVID Lessons

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Svoboda in the July/August 2021 issue of Discovere.]

      …Fierce debate raged in the pandemic’s early months about whether wearing face masks curbed viral transmission. The confusion was understandable: In March 2020, the World Health Organization urged people not to wear a mask unless they were sick with COVID-19 or caring for someone who was ill. Scores of health officials echoed the organization’s advice, with many now claiming that it was an effort to preserve masks for medical workers.

      But this seeming consensus collapsed in the face of more than a dozen new studies showing that masks slowed the virus' spread. There was never much science that said masks didn’t work….Pre-2020 research already showed masks’ effectiveness, and COVID-era studies cemented that verdict, setting the stage for more widespread, ongoing mask use.

      It’s true that mask layers are porous enough that viral particles alone could pass through them. But most viruses, including COVID-19 and the flu, don’t hang out solo in the air. They’re surrounded by so-called respiratory droplets, globs of fluid that people spew when they cough or sneeze. Masks effectively block most of those larger droplets, both incoming and outgoing, from your mouth or nose….

      Last year’s crop of studies emphasized just how much lower. One found that N95 masks — the most effective variety on the market — blocked 99 percent of a wearer’s cough droplets from escaping into the surrounding air. That translates into a much lower likelihood of transmission on the population level. Three weeks after authorities in 15 states plus Washington, D.C., announced mask mandates, another study reported, the virus’ daily growth rate in those states slowed by 2 percentage points, ultimately preventing more than 200,000 people from getting the virus.

      The broader takeaway of this research is that masks can work for more than just preventing COVID-19. Flu case counts for the 2020-21 season were more than 90 percent lower than the prior year, in large part because people weren’t spewing droplets all over each other. Tom Frieden, former CDC director, recently proposed a new culture of wearing masks around others whenever you don’t feel well — a practice that’s been the norm in many Asian countries for years. If we’re smart, we’ll follow their lead….

      …In early 2020, before most people had even heard of an N95 mask, scientists were working around the clock to develop a COVID-I9 vaccine. Large-scale trials of several vaccines were underway by fall, and months later, providers were injecting them into arms by the millions. It was a vaccine development land-speed record for a virus that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives within months — especially considering that, pre-COVID, typical vaccine timelines ran closer to a decade.

      There’s every reason to think we can pull off such feats in the future….after COVID-19 popped up, the system worked exactly the way it was designed to. The medical infrastructure was ready (just like it was for the warp-speed H1N1 flu vaccine, which got less fanfare), and the players involved, from pharmaceutical companies to universities’ steering trials, stepped up and fulfilled their roles.

      The messenger RNA (mRNA) technology that debuted in Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines also bodes well for swift vaccine development. In simple terms, mRNA vaccines give the body's cells instructions to mount strong defenses against a virus. By making new mRNA in the lab — a low-cost process —scientists can quickly create a vast library of such instructions, each tailored to a different pathogen. This finger-snap customization has experts calling mRNA a new “vaccine on demand” option.

      A few caveats mar this rosy outlook, however. Because COVID-19 provokes a robust immune response, it was a good fit for mRNA vaccines that stimulate antibodies against the virus. Time will tell if it proves effective against wilier viruses like HIV, which lurk in hiding and evade antibodies. Moderna announced earlier this year it is working on two mRNA vaccines against HIV, slated for phase 1 trials this year.

      Other fast-track vaccine tripwires are more practical than scientific. Having transformative science doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll use it — chances are, a virus affecting mostly poorer countries won’t spur the accelerated vaccine timeline we saw-with COVID-19. And, as the U.S. learned anew this winter, while having vaccine doses on hand is one thing, getting them to recipients is a totally different challenge….

      …It’s a reality the pandemic has brought into stark relief: Systemic racism is endemic in U.S. health care. COVID-19 has disproportionately hit communities of color — a June 2020 analysis by health professions found that in one region of Louisiana, 3 in 4 patients hospitalized for the virus were Black, even though only 1 in 3 residents of that region were Black. Infection and death rates have also been two to four times as high among Black, Latino and Asian peoples as among white people, according to an analysis of 300 hospitals in 21 states.

      Behind these numbing statistics are the stories of thousands who might have been saved with better care….

      Communities of color are in the virus’ direct line of fire because their members often live and work in densely populated areas home to many essential workers. The problems compound as residents get COVID-19 and end up in the hospital or clinic.

      Most health workers in these settings aren’t consciously racist….But multiple studies show they have unconscious biases that influence their care….And even well-meaning stop-the-spread tactics often have structural inequity at their core. Drive-up COVID-19 testing sites might be ideal for affluent or suburban residents, but not for those who don’t own a car…..

      To address such inequities, health care providers and lawmakers are creating new sets of best practices for equitable care. The Massachusetts Medical Society, which represents 25,000 doctors and medical students in the state, drafted an action plan in late 2020 that includes training providers in culturally adept communication and forging relationships with community groups that support people of color….

      As they pursue greater equity, care providers must also rebuild trust with communities of color that have long suffered at the hands of the health system and other forces….

Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

[These excerpts are from a book review by Gabrielle Dreyfus in the 9 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Wilson weaves together the story of the invention of mechanical cooling and Freon—the trademarked name for chlorofiuorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants—with recollections from a recent road trip with a friend, Sam, whose job it is to find, purchase, and ar-range for the destruction of CFCs. The catch? Almost all the sellers are hostile to climate considerations and the concept of destroying something useful. Sam must win the trust of the sellers without revealing that the ozone-depleting super greenhouse gas chemicals will be eliminated.

      Readers should be aware that this history is told from a distinctly American perspective, excluding from discussion….Wilson digs deeply into the linkages between Western desire for material comfort and racial oppression, including critiques of capitalism and profit-seeking industry. Like others before him, he blames air conditioning for turning Americans inward, away from porches and community, thus contributing to the nation’s alienation and insularity. Wilson’s personal experiences and thinking, which manifest, at times, in witty parentheticals, are a frequent reminder that there is no pretense of objectivity in this critique.

      Wilson links air conditioning in cars and homes to Americans' willful ignorance with regard to environmental destruction and the oppression and suffering of others, arguing that the technology impairs our ability to see our interconnectedness. And while he condemns systems of oppression and purveyors of pseudoscientific bigotry, he displays an unanticipated empathy toward General Motors engineer Thomas Midgley Jr., the “two-time environmental loser” who invented both the leaded gasoline that poisoned millions and the CFCs that almost destroyed the ozone layer and destabilized the climate. Rather than dwell on Midgley’s denial of the known toxicity of lead, Wilson delves into the engineer’s fear of obsolescence, his sudden physical paralysis from polio, and his subsequent suicide.

      In doing so, however, Wilson misses an opportunity to describe how close humanity came to calamity. Midgley originally identified eight elements, including fluorine, chlorine, and bromine, as potential candidates for refrigerants….In his 1995 Nobel acceptance speech, Paul Crutzen noted that if bromine compounds had been chosen, or if chlorine had behaved more like bromine in the stratosphere, “we would have been faced with a catastrophic ozone hole everywhere and at all seasons during the I970s.” “Mankind has been extremely lucky,” he concluded….

      Wilson dutifully describes the incredible achievement of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, which set the foundation for the phaseout of CFCs and the subsequent recovery of the ozone layer. He criticizes the protocol, however, for limiting its purview to the chemicals and “simple technological fix without addressing any of the underlying, psychosocial errors,” specifically “"the material conditions for insularity.”

      One aspect of air conditioning that Wilson fails to discuss is how heat pumps—essentially, air conditioners run in reverse—are now considered by many to be. critical to decarbonizing the heating of buildings. Winter heating goes beyond luxury in most of the United States. One is left to wonder whether the same piece of equipment that uses electricity and refrigerants to provide thermal comfort becomes less of a symbol and symptom of society’s ills when used for heating.

      While making air conditioners more energy efficient and using climate-friendly refrigerants are jointly one of the biggest climate mitigation opportunities available today, such technology fixes do not alone address the need to rethink how we design, build, and live in our cities to achieve greater environmental and social sustainability….

The Ghosts in the Museum>

[These excerpts are from an article by Lizzie Wade in the 9 July 2021 issue of Sciencen.]

      …What we do know about the 51 begins only with a gruesome postscript: In 1840, a Cuban doctor named Jose Rodriguez Cisneros dug up their bodies, removed their heads, and shipped their skulls to Philadelphia.

      He did so at the request of Samuel Morton, a doctor, anatomist, and the first physical anthropologist in the United States, who was building a collection of crania to study racial differences. And thus the skulls of the 51 were turned into objects to be measured and weighed, filled with lead shot, and measured again.

      Morton, who was white, used the skulls of the 51—as he did all of those in his collection—to define the racial categories and hierarchies still etched into our world today. After his death in 1851, his collection continued to be studied, added to, and displayed.

      In the 1980s, the skulls, now at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, began to be studied again, this time by anthropologists with ideas very different from Morton’s. They knew that society, not biology, defines race. They treated the skulls as representatives of one diverse but united human family, beautiful and fascinating in their variation. They also used the history of the Morton collection to expose the evils of racism and slavery, sometimes using skulls in lectures and exhibits on those topics.

      Then, in summer 2020, the history of racial injustice in the United States—built partly on the foundation of science like Morton’s—boiled over into protests. The racial awakening extended to the Morton collection: Academics and community activists argued that the collection and its use perpetuate injustice because no one in the collection had wanted to be there, and because scientists, not descendants, control the skulls’ fate….

      In July 2020, the Penn Museum put the entire collection in storage and officially t.— halted research….

      …the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) holds the remains of more than 30,000 people, many Indigenous and sonic likely enslaved. Many remains were taken from their graves without permission, by scientists following in Morton’s footsteps through the early 20th century. Other remains were from peopie who died in institutions, who had no say over the fate of their bodies.

      …other scientists who sent skulls to Morton included ornithologist John James Audubon, who nabbed five skulls lying unburied on a battlefield during Texas’s war with Mexico; John Lloyd Stephens, whose bestselling accounts of expeditions in southern Mexico and Central America jump-started Maya archaeology; and Jose Maria Vargas, an anatomist who was briefly president of Venezuela. Military doctors plucked other skulls from the corpses of Native Americans killed in battles against U.S. forces sent to remove them from their own land.

      Still other skulls came from the potter’s fields of almshouses and public hospitals, where U.S. and European doctors had long sourced bodies for dissection. An 1846 petition to the Philadelphia almshouse board noted that patients, fearing their bodies would be dug up for science, often begged to be buried anywhere but the potter’s field “as the last and greatest favor.” The Morton collection contains more than 30 skulls from that potter's field-14 from Black people, according to a recent Penn report….

      Morton sought a diverse collection of skulls because his life’s work was to measure g and compare the cranial features of what he considered the human races. Like many scientists of his time, Morton delineated five races: Caucasian, Mongolian, American, Malay, and Ethiopian. Their geographic origins are jumbled to modem eyes, showing how social categories determine race. For example, “Caucasians” lived from Europe to India; the Indigenous people of northern Canada and Greenland were considered “Mongolian’” like the people in East Asia; and the “Ethiopian” race included people from sub-Saharan Africa and Australia.

      Morton thought skulls could reveal telltale differences among those races. When a skull arrived, he carefully inked a catalog number on its forehead and affixed a label identifying its race; many of the 51 still bear the words “Negro, born in Africa.”

      Morton meticulously measured each skull's every dimension. He filled them with white peppercorns and, later, lead shot to measure their volumes, a proxy for brain size. The race with the largest brains, he and many scientists thought, would also have the highest intelligence.

      Morton found a wide range of cranial volumes within each of his racial categories. But he wrested a hierarchy out of averages: By his accounting, skulls of Caucasians had the largest average volume and skulls of Ethiopians, the smallest. Morton used his findings to argue that each race was a separate species of human.

      Even in the 19th century, not everybody agreed. Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution wasn't published until 8 years after Morton’s death, found Morton’s understanding of species facile and his arguments unreliable. Frederick Douglass, in a speech 3 years after Morton’s death, called research that ranked the humanity of races “scientific moonshine.” “It is strange that there should arise a phalanx of learned men—speaking in the name of science—to forbid the magnificent reunion of mankind in one brotherhood. A mortifying proof is here given, that the moral growth of a nation, or an age, does not always keep pace with the increase of knowledge,” he said.

      Despite those critiques, Morton’s approach helped lay the foundation for the burgeoning field of physical anthropology….

      …In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), requiring federally funded institutions to inventory Native American remains in their collections and to work with tribes to return them to their descendants….

      After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked protests for racial justice around the country, more and more people within and outside Penn began to see the Morton collection as a present-day perpetuation of racism and its harms, rather than just a historic example….

      Yet examples of inclusive, respectful biological anthropology exist. For example, back in 1991, when construction in New York City uncovered the earliest and largest known African burial ground in the United States, Black New Yorkers who identified themselves as a descendant community guided research, and the more than 400 ex-cavated individuals were reburied in 2003….

Sex and Gender Missing in COVID-19 Data

[These excerpts are from an article by Cathleen O’Grady in the 9 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      COVED-19 doesn’t strike the genders equally. Globally, for every 10 COVID-19 intensive care unit admissions among women, there are 18 for men; for every 10 women who die of COVED-19, 15 men die. In the United States, a gender gap is emerging in vaccination rates, with women ahead of men by 6 percentage points, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And rare adverse effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine appear to strike women more frequently, whereas those from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines more often affect young men.

      But out of 45 COVID-19 randomized controlled trials whose results were published by December 2020, only eight reported the impact of sex or gender….Skipping that step is potentially dangerous in trials of drugs that may affect men and women differently, given their physiological differences….

      Even some of the largest COVID-19 trials didn't analyze effects on men and women separately. For example, the giant Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine trials explored whether vaccine efficacy differed by sex, finding more than 90% efficacy for both men and women. But neither trial broke out adverse effects by sex….

      …If funding agencies or trial registries required repoiting by sex, that could motivate researchers to bake it into their trials….

Save Earth’s Global Observatories

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Gene E. Likens and David L. Wagner in the 9 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      Sitting at the interface of human societies and the natural environment are sentinels tracking environmental. change. Across the globe, field stations and marine laboratories (FSMLs) amass crucial information about climate, biodiversity, environmental health, and emerging diseases, anchoring multidecadal data sets needed to solve environmental challenges of the Anthropocene. These observatories are now in danger of being shut down—part of the collateral damage of the COVID-I9 pandemic.

      On every continent, facilities have been shuttered and field courses canceled because of restricted travel. This has reduced the flow of financial support to these stations, debilitating their capacity to collect essential information and train the next generation of scientists. Two-thirds of university support for the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in eastern Ecuador—situated in Earth’s most biologically diverse region, at the confluence of the Amazon Basin and Andes—came from international universities, nearly all of which was permanently terminated during the pandemic. The renowned Asa Wright Centre in Trinidad and Tobago closed in April. Further, FSML budgets are menaced by pandemic-related deficits suffered by their parent institutions…potentially compromising every facet of their operations.

      As Earth’s population swells to 8 billion, understanding and predicting human impacts on the planet become ever more urgent. Both long-term and real-tune data are needed to quantify the repercussions of deforestation, agricultural intensification, desertification, climate change, ocean acidification, and other stresses if we are to mitigate their effects, plan adaptive responses, and develop national and international policies. Natures struggles are humanity’s struggles: As biodiversity is lost and ecosystems erode, so will the quality of our air, waters, and soils. This degradation will also affect the essential ecosystem services that nature consistently provides. Crop pollination services alone are estimated as a. 8500 billion annual benefit for society. And emerging pathogens will continue to be a threat across all borders. Environmental data to guide sound, science-based solutions, and broader public understanding and engagement, are necessary to overcome these mounting environmental challenges.

      …Evidence shows that field courses close demographic gaps in science participation and persistence and improve diversity across disciplines. Virtual materials and live-stream research-based field experiences simply cannot supplant place-based learning, curiosity-driven exploration, the life-changing value of discovery, and the realization that Earth is still a little-known planet….Scientists and nonscientists alike take away a deeper understanding and appreciation for nature and a propensity to embrace an ethic of planetary stewardship.

      …And last month, the US Congress passed the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act (House bill H.R. 2225) with bipartisan support, which includes provisions for national labs, field stations, and marine labs. Despite NSF’s pivotal role in supporting FSMLs for decades, its funding is generally limited to new initiatives and infrastructure. NSF dollars are rarely sufficient to support staff; maintenance, courses, and other day-to-day station needs. The issue will hopefully receive bipartisan support from the Senate as well.

      The pandemic has cut revenue streams to FSMLs for a second year. At a time when environmental issues demand even greater attention, the world cannot risk undermining their contributions to scientific literacy, environmental research, and student training—all of which are essential to protect Earth’s bountiful natural heritage and life-sustaining ecosystems. Universities, governments, and other organizations must find ways to save these global sentinels—all life depends on them.

When Einstein Met Curie

[These excerpts are from a book review by Graham Farmelo in the 2 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      Toward the end of his life, when asked which physicist he most respected, Albert Einstein replied “Hendrik Lorentz and Marie Curie.” His choice of Dutch theoretical physicist Lorentz was predictable; less obvious was his selection of Polish-born Curie (born Maria Sklodowska). Although undoubtedly one of the great pioneers of radioactivity, she did not work on aspects of physics that usually drew Einstein to express special admiration. Besides, he bad occasionally made uncomplimentary private remarks about her, once describing her as “very intelligent” but “as cold as a fish.”

      Many scholars have mulled over the relationship between Curie and Einstein, despite the paucity of evidence required to establish a rounded view of it….the relationship between the two scientists…first flowered at the inaugural Solvay Conference in late October 1911. At this momentous gathering in Brussels, 18 of Europe’s leading physical scientists pondered the failure of classical theories to account for several phenomena and the emergence of a new quantum theory.

      Einstein, the meeting’s youngest par-ticipant, was dazzled by the “sparkling intelligence” of Curie, who was already an internationally famous scientist. She was impressed with him, too, and soon afterward gave him a glowing reference that helped to secure his first professorship in Prague….

      Curie and Einstein did not become I closely acquainted until 1922, when they began 9 years of collaboration on projects for League of Nations committees on which they served. Records of the committees make it plain that the two agreed on most matters and that they got along well, although few details remain of their interactions….

      Curie and Einstein met for the final time at the Solvay meeting in October 1933, 9 months before she died in a sanatorium in southeast France at the age of 67….Einstein’s tribute to her life gives some of the most compelling evidence of the closeness of their friendship and the depth of his admiration for her: “It was my good fortune to be linked with Mme Curie through twenty years of sublime and unclouded friendship. I came to admire her human grandeur to an ever-growing degree. Her strength, her purity of will, her austerity toward herself, her objectivity; her incorruptible judgment—all these were of a kind seldom found joined in a single individual.”

      …The Soul of Genius is a rewarding read about a relationship that I suspect was more complex than extant documentation suggests.

A Voice for the River

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 2 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      …He and his colleagues are working to inject a dose of scientific reality into public debate over water resources that, the team says, is too often clouded by wishful or outdated thinking. The biggest delusion: that there will be enough water in a drier future to satisfy all the demands from cities, farmers, power producers, and others, while still protecting sensitive ecosystems and endangered species. The hard truth, according to long-term scenarios produced by Schmidt and his colleagues, is that some users will have to consume less water, and that policymakers will face agonizing choices sure to produce winners and losers.

      Those are messages that many players aren’t eager to hear, especially states planning to drain more water from the river to fuel growth. But Schmidt says he and his colleagues simply want everyone to understand to potentially divisive trade-offs….

      …Last month, Lake Mead, a second massive reservoir downstream from Lake Powell, dropped to its lowest level ever. At the same time, government officials are beginning a 5-year process of renegotiating several key agreements over use and management of the river’s water….

      For a continental-scale river, the Colorado is not very big, but it has an outsize importance. Rising in the Rocky Mountains, its muddy water has always been crucial to the development of the arid West. In 1931, the Hoover Dam created what is still North America’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. The dam’s 17 turbines generate electricity that lights Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and other cities, and also powers pumps that lift river water over mountains and into southern California. Engineers built hundreds of kilometers of canals to carry the water to cities and farmers. In Colorado, they constructed numerous tunnels, including one below the continental divide, to deliver water to Denver. Today, more than 40 million people in seven states and many Native American tribes rely on the Colorado River.

      The water has long been worth fighting over. In 1922, in a bid to prevent conflicts, states in the watershed divided the rights to nearly 20 cubic kilometers of water, which they assumed was only part of the river’s annual flow. The compact gave half of the water to the lower basin, where cities and farms, especially in California and Arizona, have long used about twice as much water as consumers in the upper basin. It promised the other half to the upper basin, so that states including Colorado and Utah could develop in the future. A follow-on agreement in 1944 gave water to Mexico, where the river’s last drops barely trickle into the sea.

      Lawyers and politicians spent decades disputing the terms of the original compact, parts of which remain contested. Meanwhile, it became ever clearer that the compact rested on flawed assumptions, because it was struck when the region was abnormally wet. After 1933, the Colorado River carried considerably less water on average for the next 5 decades….The past 2 decades have seen another decline, as the region endures its worst dry spell in 1250 years; flows have been about 19% less than the entire 20th century average. Climate models suggest an additional 30% de line by 2050, as precipitation continues to decrease and the atmosphere warms. The heat dries the soil and causes plants to transpire more, reducing the runoff efficiency—the fraction of precipitation that reaches the river.

      The impacts are impossible to miss. From. the air; bathtub rings of white stone encircle Lake Mead, which has been less than 40% full since 2015, as well as Lake Powell, which has been below 50% capacity since 2013….Nevada is launching new conservation measures, including a ban on using Colorado River water to irrigate lawns after 2026….

      Soon he was immersed in a conflict over the Colorado River that had begun in the 1970s, not long after Glen Canyon Dam was completed. The barrier nearly doubled the storage capacity for water, but it dramatically changed river conditions in the Grand Canyon. It cut off supplies of sediment that had created vast sandbars, for example, and released clear, cold water that allowed introduced species, such as trout, to displace native fish adapted to warm, muddy flows. Sudden releases of water to meet electrical demand, an operation called hydropeaking, disturbed wildlife, plants, and thousands of rafters who float the canyon each year.

      Environmental groups sued….

      …the real significance of the first experiment was that clam operators now consider environmental impacts—and not just the needs of electric utilities, farmers, or recreational boaters—in deciding when and how much water to release….

      Policymakers have been slower to grapple, at least publicly, with a question that extends far beyond the river’s ecosystems and recreational opportunities: the limits of its ability to supply all the water the West wants, now and in the future….

      Upper basin states, meanwhile, remain staunchly opposed to any notion of giving up future development. In Utah, which had the nation’s fastest growing population over the past decade, despite having the second driest climate, officials want to build a 225-kilometer pipeline to tap more water from Lake Powell. They shrug off concerns about how that could affect downstream supplies. Critics of Utah’s new water advocacy agency worry it will simply deny the reality of climate change as it attempts to protect the state's water rights….

‘Dragon Man’ May Be an Elusive Denisovane

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 2 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      Almost 90 years ago, Japanese soldiers occupying northern China forced a Chinese man to help build a bridge across the Songhua River in Harbin. While his supervisors weren’t looking, he found a treasure buried in the riverbank: a remarkably complete human skull. He wrapped up the heavy cranium and lowered it into a well to hide it from the Japanese. Today, the skull is finally coming out of hiding as “Dragon Man,” the newest member of the human family, who lived more than 146,000 years ago.

      …Other researchers question that idea. But they suspect the large skull, which the team calls H. longi (long means dragon in Mandarin), has an equally exciting identity: It may be the long-sought skull of a Denisovan, an elusive human relative from Asia known chiefly from DNA….

      The stunning fossil was brought to light by the bridge builder's grandchildren, who retrieved it from the well after their grandfather told them about it on his deathbed. They donated it to the Geoscience Museum at Hebei GEO University. (The family asked to remain anonymous.) But the man` died without saying precisely where he had found the fossil, leaving the researchers uncertain of its geological context.

      …Uranium series dating on the bone itself gives it a minimum age of 146,000 years.

      …The massive skull held a brain comparable in size to that of modern humans. But it couldn’t be a member of H. sapiens because it had larger, almost square eye sockets, thick brow ridges, and a wide mouth, and its one remaining molar was huge….The new skull nestled in a cluster with several other skulls from China's Middle Pleistocene, 789,000 to 130,000 years ago. Within that cluster, the new skull was most closely related to a jawbone from Xiahe Cave on the Tibetan Plateau….

      Instead, she and others say, Dragon Man is probably a Denisovan, an extinct cousin of the Neanderthals. To datem the only clearly identified Denisovan fossils are a pinkie bone, teeth, and a bit of skull bone from Denisova Cave in Siberia, where Denisovans lived off and on from 280,000 to 55,000 years ago. But the enormous, “weird” molar from the new skull fits with the molars from Denisova….

      If the new skull is indeed from a Denisovan, the team’s claim to have found the closest human ancestor would crumble. DNA studies have established that Denisovans and Neanderthals formed sister groups, more closely related to each other than to H. sapiens. But Dragon Man would still be a landmark fossil….

Shared Blame for the Opioid Crisis

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 2 July 2021 issue of Science.]

      As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, it’s time to turn attention back to the slow-moving and devastating epidemic caused by America’s opioid crisis. For the last 10 years, around 15,000 annual deaths have been ascribed to prescription opioid overdoses. Add in deaths from all opioids, whether obtained by prescription or on the black market, and the total reaches almost 50,000. Black market fentanyl has played a big role, as well as a now notorious pharmaceutical called OxyContin, which is manufactured and sold by Purdue Pharma. The company’s dysfunctional culture combined with complacent oversight by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the research community, and the medical community led to the perfect storm—one we must learn from so that we can avoid similar tragedy in the future.

      Much outstanding reporting has been done about the OxyContin saga and the role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, which owns and runs the company….Keefe says the fact that Purdue was not a public company and that there was a high premium placed on loyalty to the Sackler family were key considerations. But he also cites an idealistic belief among company scientists that with OxyContin, they had cracked the code on managing pain….

      One telling episode in the company’s history involves a chemical explosion at a Purdue manufacturing facility in New Jersey in 1995 that killed five people and injured dozens of others. All kinds of corners were cut in the interest of profits, creating a hazard that should have been foreseeable. Keefe said, “The family that owns the company and that was driving that push for profits accepts no responsibility whatsoever. They don’t go to any funerals. They don’t even make any expressions of regret… to me that was in a nutshell a story of the ways in which a relentless drive for profit can blind people to the seriously dangerous consequences of some of the risks that they’re undertaking.” This lack of safety culture at Purdue;s factory apparently carried over to the whole organization.

      The FDA also failed to address the situation. Though the drug was approved in 1995, it was not until 2009 that the FDA started warning about its dangerous addictive properties. Daniel Kessler, who was the FDA commissioner when OxyContin was approved, was later quoted as saying that the destigmatization of opioids is “one of the great mistakes of modern medicine.” Nevertheless, Keefe says that the FDA casually took Purdue at its word both in terms of the science and the marketing of the drug….

      The OxyContin story is first and foremost a story of greed and hubris. But science bears some responsibility for failing to comne forward but also for acceding to the view that science can solves anything….

Kelp Help

[These excerpts are from an article by Heather Smith in the Summer 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …Seaweed has been removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for at least 500 million years. Recent studies suggest that wild seaweed continues to do humanity a solid by sequestering 173 million metric tons annually. The average square kilometer of seaweed can sequester more than a thousand metric tons. Start-ups like Maine-based Running Tide hope to help this process along by farming seaweed for the express purpose of sinking it and locking down its carbon. Shopfiy has already agreed to be the first purchaser of the resulting carbon offsets.

      …Kelp spores are grown in a lab and then sprayed onto spools of string. These are cultivated for several weeks until the kelp spores have grown fuzzy like Chia Pets. The string is then wound around ropes and dropped into the ocean for six to eight months, until the kelp plants reach maturity.

      If the kelp were being harvested, boats would then come out and collect the ropes. But to sequester the carbon captured by the kelp, the plants need to be sunk at least 1,000 meters deep, where they will decay and not return to the surface to rejoin the carbon cycle. (The standard measure of success is removing CO2 for at least 100 years.) Researchers are studying the best ways to sink the kelp—perhaps by using biodegradable buoys. By the time the elp is mature and heavy, the buoys will no longer be able to hold it up.

      …There’s no question that seaweed removes carbon from the atmosphere, which distinguishes it from more high-tech but unproven forms of carbon capture and sequestration, But a thousand tons of CO2 per year per square kilometer is not that much compared with the 50 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted globally every year. Seaweed farming could conceivably scale up to enough to offset the carbon produced by the aquaculture industry (300,000 metric tons per year) but couldn’t even begin to make a substantial contribution to the goals laid out by the Paris climate accords….

      …Seaweed farming has promise. In addition to sequestering carbon, it can provide habitat for fish and mitigate local effects of ocean acidification. Unlike other forms of aquaculture, it doesn’t depend on inputs like fish feed or antibiotics that can throw local ecosystems out of whack.

      Still, the most effective way to sequester carbon is to not release it in the first place. For example, scientists recently calculated that bottom trawling (a fishing method that involves scraping the ocean floor with giant nets) releases as much carbon into the atmosphere as the entire aviation industry does—about a billion metric tons a year. A global ban on trawling could accomplish today what sinking kelp could only hope to do in the future.

Spirit of the Forest

[This excerpt is from an article by Heather Smith in the Summer 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      In the 1800s, the First Nations of British Columbia’s central coast kept the existence of moksgm’ol—also known as the spirit bear—a secret. They didn't hunt the white bears and didn't want outsiders to hunt them either.

      A single nucleotide change from G to A causes these black bears to be born with fur in luminous shades of pale gold and cream. This only occurs with any frequency where recessive genes can congregate relatively undisturbed. In the absence of hunters, brightness is an advantage: Seen from underwater—a salmon’s-eye view—a platinum bear disappears into a bright sky. Mass spectrometry analysis of the fur of white-phase black bears shows that it can contain up to 6 percent more salmon than the hair of the dark-colored ones.

      In the late 1980s, industrial logging arrived on the central coast, which had until then been protected by.its inaccessibility. The struggle overthe forest became a struggle over names. The Canadian government called it the North and Central Coast Land Use Planning Area. First Nations and environmentalists countered with a name that stuck: the Great Bear Rainforest. In order to save the forest, the bears were transformed from secrets into celebrities, and spots where the white-phase bears were most common were set aside as protected areas.

      The First Nations began studying the bears in collaboration with outside scientists. They didn’t want to tranquilize the bears or fit them with radio collars—that seemed disrespectful. Instead, they set up scratching posts in the forest. Winter fur was something the bears wanted to get rid of.

      When the fur samples were analyzed in a lab, they showed that the spirit bear gene was less common but more widely dispersed than previous research had shown. Half the bears carrying it were traveling outside protected areas. Any black bear—even far away from the islands off the coast where the spirit bears were most common—potentially carried the gene.

      In a world with different priorities, such genetic flamboyance might be more common. In the Kuril Islands, a few brown bears in each generation are born with pale coloring. A Japanese study theorized that they persisted because the Indigenous Ainu people left them alone. The existence of a bear the color of champagne contemplating a salmon carcass on a cradle of hallucinatory green depends not only on who has power but also on who chooses not to use it.

Lights, Camera, Climate

[These excerpts are from an article by Kendra Pierre-Louis in the Summer 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …Film and television never quite picked up on global warming’s star turn as the bad guy in The Day After Tomorrow. When it comes to popular TV and film, climate change is still riding the bench even as it shows up elsewhere: in music, dance, theater, cli-fi fiction, and even a subgenre called solarpunk….

      The problem is, film and television don’t only reflect culture; they also shape it.

      The Day After Tomorrow both entertained and shifted perceptions. A 2004 study, completed after the movie’s release and published in the journal Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, found that people who watched the film became more engaged in the issue of climate change and more concerned about it. The film made them more aware of the effects of climate change, from severe storms to food insecurity to declining living standards. People who had seen the film were more likely to say that their next car would be fuel-efficient and that they felt comfortable talking with friends and family about climate change….

      But that consciousness-raising came with a price: a certain scientific inaccuracy. The film’s central disaster—a rapid weather shift that envelops half the world in ice—bears only a passing resemblance to our warming world. In The Day After Tomorrow, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a conveyor-like ocean current that brings warm water from the equatorial regions to Europe and the North Atlantic, stops. When it does so, it almost immediately ushers in a new ice age from which the characters must escape. It is true that the circulation is slowing down, that it is likely caused by climate change, and that its arrest could lead to more extreme-weather events. But scientists estimate that the shift would take close to 400 years.

      Still, when it comes to the implications of climate change, such as climate migration, the film was on solid ground….

      So why, even as climate change has worsened, displacing millions of people worldwide and costing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, is it still missing from our screens? Hollywood producers love to turn disaster into entertainment. Why not climate disaster?

      …Climate change is relatively slow-moving, and Hollywood blockbusters tend to rely on action….

Partnerships for Portection

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michaael Brune in the Summer 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      Just beyond the lights of Las Vegas lies the largest wildlife refuge in the Lower 48. The Desert National Wildlife Refuge is home to hundreds of species in seven distinct biological communities, including the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in the world. Part of the ancestral lands of the Southern Paiute people, the refuge contains sacred sites, artifacts, and petroglyphs that carry the history of the Paiute nations and remain integral to their cultural and spiritual practices today.

      But the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, like so many of the wildlands in the United States, faces threats. Every 30 seconds, industrialization and resource extraction consume a football field's worth of wild nature. In the case of the desert refuge, it’s the US Air Force that would like to encroach further upon these protected lands. Although the air force already uses about half the refuge for military exercises, it has made attempts in the past to test its bombs on even more land. If the military were ever to expand its bombing range, it would harm the area’s rich mix of wildlife, limit recreational access, and damage sacred Indigenous sites.

      Permanently protecting places like the Desert National Wildlife Refuge will be an essential part of preserving 30 percent of wild nature by 2030. That’s the target that scientists say we must reach to prevent the extinction of up to a million species and safeguard the forests, grasslands, and wetlands we need in order to suck up enough carbon to slow climate change. Committing to a 30x30 goal was one of President Joe Biden’s earliest executive actions, and he has appointed an Indigenous woman and 30x30 advocate, Debra Haaland, to steward our public lands as interior secretary. Those are exciting signs of progress, but 30x30 can’t be won by a powerful man signing a piece of paper or even a figure as inspirational as Haaland.

      Our challenge is to bring more lands under protection in the next nine years than we have in the previous 129 years of Sierra Club advocacy. Currently, just 12 percent of US lands are protected. To reach the 30x30 goal, we’ll need a larger, more inclusive conservation movement….

      Despite the centuries-long and ongoing theft of Indigenous territories, the original stewards of the land have been the guardians of much of the world’s biodiversity. Though Native peoples are just 5 percent of the global population, their protected lands contain 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. The exploitation of Indigenous peoples has always gone hand in hand with the exploitation of their lands. Respecting, and demanding recognition of, tribal rights is an important step toward stopping both.

      …Repairing this harm means honoring Native peoples’ rights to hunt, fish, gather, and conduct ceremonies on their homelands, even as we fight against harmful development.

      Building the big-tent movement capable of protecting 30 percent of nature by 2030 won’t be easy….Now the stakes are at an all-time high. We’re on the brink of a mass extinction. The climate crisis threatens to spiral out of control. There’s no time to spare in creating a movement powerful enough to save the places we love.

Delta Variant Triggers New Phase in the Pandemic

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt and Meredith Wadman in the 25 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in Llate April….

      New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity….

      From New Delhi, the variant has quickly spread, and it now looks set to sweep the globe in what could be a devastating new wave. In the United Kingdom, Delta already makes up more than 90% of all infections; it has driven COVID-19 case numbers up again after a dramatic decline and led the government last week to postpone the final stage of its reopening plan. A Delta-driven resurgence in Lisbon prompted the Portuguese government to enact a 3-day travel ban between the city and the rest of the country. Delta also appears to be causing surges in Russia, Indonesia, and many other countries. In the United States, where its prevalence is now estimated to be at least 14%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Delta a “variant of concern” on 15 June.

      The surge has set off a frenzy of research to understand why Delta appears to spread so much faster than the three other variants of concern….For the moment, Delta is a particular threat to the poorest countries with little or no access to vaccines….

      But Kucharski says reduced protection n from vaccines may play a role as well. Data from England and Scotland indicate that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines offer slightly less protection against symptomatic infections from the new variant than from Alpha. People who have received just one shot of vaccine—as many U.K. residents have—are especially vulnerable. (Two doses of either vaccine still offer the same high level of protection from hospitalization from Delta.) How well the many other vac-cines now in use around the world protect against it is unclear, and there are few data on the protection resulting from a prior bout of COVID-19.

      The two effects—increased transmissibility andImmune evasion—are hard to disentangle….That would mean countries and populationi with low vaccination rates are likely to see'joig new outbreaks….

      On top of this, Delta may be more likely to put unvaccinated people in the hospital than Alpha. Early data from the United Kingdom suggest the risk of hospitalization may be twice as high. Together these characteristics could cause huge problems in Africa….

      Scientists are just beginning to probe what makes Delta so dangerous. They’re concentrating on a suite of nine mutations in the gene encoding spike, the protein that studs the virus’ surface and allows it to invade human cells….The researchers suggest this could make the virus more transmissible….

      In the meantime, scientists agree urgent action is needed to stop the spread of the new variant….U.S. President Joe Biden on 18 June urged young people to get fully vaccinated to protect themselves from Delta. Countries with little access to vaccine need to resort again to interventions such as physical distancing and masks….

      In the meantime, scientists agree urgent action is needed to stop the spread of the new variant….U.S. President Joe Biden on 18 June urged young people to get fully vaccinated to protect themselves from Delta. Countries with little access to vaccine need to resort again to interventions such as physical distancing and masks….

Cultivating Discerning Citizens

[These excerpts are from a book review by Stephen M. Casner in the 25 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      …educational psychologists Gale Sinatra and Barbara Hofer use to confront a worrisome problem that extends beyond ideological science denial itself: the denial of science to those who seek credible information and who are often in great need of it.

      Most people who search for information online favor trusted, easy-to-find sources. What they encounter is a forum that offers a platform to anyone with an online marketing strategy Sinatra and Hofer point to a rise in “the sophistication of those who wish to portray fiction as fact.” Herculean efforts are being made by determined lobbies to counter scientific sources and undermine public confidence in science itself, they note, and even websites run by government agencies can sometimes stray from scientific consensus. As intelligent virtual assistants become more widespread and the number of online information searches performed daily continues to rise, we become more and more tethered to an information source that can be as misleading as it is valuable.

      Sinatra and Hofer remind us that we are more vulnerable to misinformation than we may think. Those who craft messages that rtm counter to accepted science know that the layperson’s understanding of science is limited. They know that people are quick to use simple heuristics and the opinions of those around them as substitutes for deeper investigations. Hearing the same message repeatedly and seeing a few friends nod their heads in agreement with it can make it seem more credible. Appeals to remain “fair and balanced” are sometimes used to convince people to give equal consideration to messages that fly in the face of scientific consensus.

      The authors join other psychologists who remind us that our own biases can prompt even the most prudent among us to dismiss scientific findings when they conflict with what we think we already know about the world. For example, drivers are known to remain confident in their ability to safely multitask behind the wheel, even when that ability has been measured and confirmed to be poor….

      …Educators should strive to help kids form what they call a “science attitude”—one that places value on the truth, on hypotheses and theories that have a fair chance to be right or wrong, and most of all on evidence. A science attitude needs to be accompanied by science knowledge, including a familiarity with where good research can be found and a basic understanding of the methods used to evaluate scientific hypotheses, including practices such as peer review and replicability. School curricula, they argue, need to prepare some students to become producers of science and all students to become good consumers of science.

      But what can be done about the grownups who already hold beliefs that run counter to scientific consensus? The authors offer hope that reason can prevail. Experimental evidence suggests that strongly held beliefs in unsupported theories can be moderated or even overturned using refutational techniques that identify specific misconceptions, state that they are incorrect, and detail the reasons why.

FDA’s Green Light, Science’s Red Light

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Joel S. Perlmutter in the 25 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      Alzheimer’s disease (AD) afflicts some 6 million A Americans with progressive cognitive impairment and personal anguish while imposing a huge economic burden on society. Everyone wants to find a way to help slow or even halt this disease. But there will be no quick fix. Responding to mounting pressure, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jumped the gun by granting accelerated approval this month to Biogen’s pricey, questionably effective, and possibly harmful new drug aducanumab—a decision supported by not one of the 11 members of the agency’s Expert Advisory Committee. Even worse, the approval may divert funding into a therapeutic dead end and away from approaches that might actually work.

      As a member of this advisory committee, who resigned in protest over the decision to grant approval, I am still trying to fathom how this happened. No doubt, the FDA faced a difficult decision. The public pressure must have been immense, and the influence of industry on the FDA in general has been a growing concern. Any trickle of hope about this drug has been magnified far beyond the facts….

      There is a scientific basis for trying to develop this type of drug. Rare genetic forms of AD caused by mutations result in early-onset dementia related to substantial brain deposition….Yet, most people with AD do not suffer from a genetic form….

      …On 6 November 2020, our FDA advisory committee reviewed Biogen’s application for aducanumab, primarily on the basis of a two-part study that had been stopped early because of futility—the chances of clinical benefit were very small if the study continued to the planned conclusion.

      But then, the data were reanalyzed and Biogen proposed that because one part of the study was positive, though the other was not, that was sufficient for FDA approval. Never mind that the side effects of the proposed dose included localized brain swelling in 35% of clinical trial participants and microhemorrhages in 20%.

      When all this was put to a vote by the advisory committee, 10 voted no, 1 voted uncertain, and no one voted yes.

      And yet, the FDA granted accelerated approval of aducanumab for treatment of AD, merely requiring Biogen to do a prospective study over the next 9 years to confirm if there is some clinical benefit. Even worse, the FDA changed the standard for determining this benefit from clinical evidence that the drug actually helps to evidence that the drug simply reduced brain amyloid-beta.

      Although all of this may be well and good for Biogen with a potential $56 billion dollars for the first year of treatment in 1 million people with AD, this decision may impair future research into better treatments for AD. Studies may be required to compare a new drug with aducanumab rather than placebo, which could potentially bias the research. Furthermore, enthusiasm from potential volunteer participants or funders for new treatments may wane owing to the false belief that effective treatment already exists. And, the matter of economics cannot be overlooked. The billions of dollars spent on aducanumab may be better invested in developing stronger evidence for aducanumab or alternative therapies. These potentially serious issues could delay investigation and implementation of a truly effective therapy for AD.

      The FDA and the advisory committee have a responsibility to help protect vulnerable patients and their families, not just from sketchy drugs but also from false hopes. That can mean making hard decisions that disappoint them in the short term to increase the chances of ultimately finding drugs that work.

Environmentally Induced Cancer

[These excerpts are from Rachel Carson and Her Sisters by Robert K. Musil.]

      Davis begins this story with a dramatic, reconstructed voyage and journey taken over four weeks in 1936 by the University of Chicago pathologist Maud Slye. Slye, also now forgotten, was considered the Madame Curie of her time. Time magazine reported that this celebrated woman, who had been able to breed rats with and without cancer, was headed to Brussels, Belgium. There she met up with more than two hundred of the world’s top cancer researchers to review the latest findings about this dread disease. Her curiosity piqued by this brief Time reference, Devra Davis scours medical libraries, puts a talented reference librarian on the trail, all to find a copy of the actual conference presentations. Finally, an old three-volume set of the papers arrives from a library in Belgium. It is the proceedings of the 1936 Second International Congress of Scientific and Social Campaign against Cancer.

      Davis had expected ignorance, outdated theories, naive science. She was wrong….William Cramer of Britain had outlined how cancer was now one-third more common than at the beginning of the twentieth century and the reason was not, as had been said, because of aging and better diagnostic techniques. He also documented, with studies of identical twins, that cancers depended on where they lived and worked, not their shared genes. Cancer is not inherited. Cancer was the result of past exposures, sometimes twenty years or more. What was needed were experiments on animals who reproduce much faster than humans to better understand the causes. Angel Roffo of Argentina demonstrated that exposure to invisible radiation like ultraviolet and X-rays could cause cancerous tumors In rats and thus in humans. Other numerous and comprehensive clinical and laboratory reports clearly linked cancer to a variety of commonly used substances like arsenic, benzene, asbestos, synthetic dyes and hormones, and solar radiation. One German study offered a handy chart on the frequency of cancer deaths in Bavarian men by occupation, with professionals at the top, with the lowest rate; through skilled and unskilled workers; and farmers at the bottom, where the rates were far, far higher. Davis had expected “to find amusing errors.” Instead, “The papers did not depict the dark ages of cancer research but rather an exhilarating time of lively and important work that seems to have come and gone like a comet.” Roffo had publically warned of the skin cancer dangers of tanning and sunbathing. J. W. Cook and Edmund L. Kennaway reported on more than thirty studies in England that showed regular exposure to estrogen produced mammary tumors in male rodents. Yet, in our time, Davis reminds us, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. government “did not formally list both estrogen and ultraviolet (sun) light as definite causes of cancer until 2002.”

      Davis also reviews the gruesome role and research of German Nazi doctors, not to defend them, but to show that following Hitler'’ quest for a superior and healthy race, they researched and led campaigns against tobacco and cancer, synthetic cancer-causing dyes and other products, and promoted natural, organic diets. It is against this background that Devra introduces the two men interested in German environmental and occupational medicine who turned out to use them in far different ways. One is Wilhelm Hueper, whose findings Rachel Carson cited, and whose path Davis was warned not to follow. The other is Captain Robert Kehoe, a U.S. Army field investigator for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, whose files show that the doctors who helped promote racist theories, forced eugenics, and carried out human experiments were in many ways ordinary professionals who went along or were swept up in what seemed “normal.” After the war, German scientists and doctors were hanged as war criminals along with military leaders. In an American context, the postwar stories of our two leading researchers are deeply instructive. Wilhelm Hueper tried to use German science to prevent environmental cancers, while Robert Kehoe kept their helpful findings secret in order to promote himself and to aid American manufacturers.

      …Hueper, one of the main sources for Rachel Carson’s breakthrough writing on the environment and human health, was born in Germany and served in World War I, but became a pacifist and progressive. He emigrated to the United States as a married physician, a pathologist who ended up at the cancer research laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1930. At the time, it was heavily supported financially by Irenee du Pont, head of the DuPont Corporation. Impressed by what he thought was du Pont’s open attitude, he wrote him in 1932, that German research had shown that men producing synthetic dyes similar to those at DuPont were showing signs of tumors in their bladders. Hueper warned that there would be many cases at the dye plants in Delaware in the future. He was told there were no bladder cancers at the plant. “Well, that may be,” he said, “but they will get them.” In 1933, after layoffs and unemployment in the United States, Hueper went back to Germany, where Hitler had just come to power. Hueper still could not find a job, but he was appalled at what he saw. The Nazis had banned experiments on dogs and rabbits, but carried them out on humans—Gypsies, homosexuals, and Jews. Hueper returned to the United States, where twenty-three cases of bladder cancer had turned up at DuPont. In 1934, he was hired as the pathologist at the newly created Haskell Laboratory of Industrial Toxicology in Wilmington. Hueper was now familiar with medical literature going back to 1895, in Germany and elsewhere, that showed the connection between dye production, including two of the leading ones that DuPont was making, and carcinogenesis. He began a system of monitoring workers, but after being taken to a cleaned-up facility (like Alice Hamilton two decades before) he dropped in unannounced at a different one; he found hazardous dust wherever he looked. Hueper would never set foot in a DuPont facility again. He was ordered to confine his research to the labs. In 1937, he was ordered not to publish any of his findings. He protested and by 1938 was fired.

      Hueper pulled together his research and experience and did publish his major work in 1941. Called Occupational Tumors and Allied Diseases, it compiled more than a century’s epidemiologic and experimental work from four different continents; it revealed that workplace factors were critical and controllable factors in cancer and other illnesses. As Devra Davis says, “The book was intended as a public health call to arms.” But like Rachel Carson’s first, highly regarded book, The Edge of the Sea, also published in 1941, the advent of World War II soon obscured these key works. Hueper did write important articles that were well received in the 1940s in JAMA and elsewhere on the cancer risks of aromatic amines, estrogens, coal tar, arsenic, asbestos, and other hazards. Finally, he was named head of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1948. There he led its first ever section on environmental cancer, provided original research, and synthesized the aViiliabie world literature on the avoidable causes of cancer. By 1950, while Rachel Carson was also producing government pamphlets for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hueper supervised a pamphlet from NCI designed for the general public. It was blunt in warning about the environmentally Induced, avoidable causes of cancer.

      It said that cancer had been known for centuries, but that modern life was shifting the patterns. Medical X-rays, dietary deficiencies, drinking, tobacco, sunlight, and toxic chemicals all played roles. In fact, Davis reports, the twenty-page brochure, complete with illustrations, “fingered workplace causes of cancer ranging from radiation to specific toxic chemicals such as asbestos, aniline dyes, aromatic amines, paraffin oil, shale oil, crude oils, benzene, chromates, and nickel carbonyl.” Risks did not stop at the factory gates either. Residents near such factories had higher cancer rates, too. Later studies would reveal, Davis says, that Salem County in Delaware, the location of the DuPont Chambers Works that Hueper studied, had the highest rates of bladder cancer in the nation. But soon, we know, both Hueper and Carson would be attacked for showing that chemicals cause cancer. When Hueper sought to publish an update to his environmental health pamphlet in 1959, as Rachel Carson was writing Silent Spring and struggling with breast cancer, the NCI editorial board delayed so long that it never appeared. Later, he even was unable to get permission from the NCI to update his monumental Occupational Tumors and Allied Diseases. Ultimately, Hueper was no longer allowed to speak to medical students and became seen as antibusiness and procommunist. He then discovered that his publications were being supplied by someone in Washington to the management of the DuPont Corporation and on to the Haskell Laboratory, where he had worked, for review and rebuttal. Hueper also ran afoul of the government when he prepared and submitted a manuscript on the cancer dangers of mining chromate ore and uranium, two essential ingredients of nuclear weapons. He was told that the Atomic Energy Commission had objected and there are other reasons why uranium miners develop cancer, not radiation. He miust omit it. Hueper sent his findings elsewhere and soon received a letter from the Federal Loyalty Commission telling him he was under investigation. A former boss at DuPont had written that Hueper showed communistic tendencies. Once again, Hueper was forbidden to do further research on workplace cancers and told to stick to rats. He hung on at NCI until 1968, but was kept from publishing under threat of legal action. Wilhelm Hueper ended his career as an alienated outsider. But the story is far different for another man who knew German science and was an expert on the dangers of the workplace—Captain Robert Kehoe.

      …Robert Kehoe graduated from medical school at the University of Cincinnati in 1920 at the time that Wilhelm Hueper was completing his medical degree in Germany. His experience from the beginning of a steadily rising career showed the influence of industry. Leaded gasoline was introduced in 1923. But after two plant workers, who bottled liquid lead for General Motors in a small facility in Dayton, Ohio, died, the production line was temporarily shut down. Charles Kettering, the leader of GM efforts to develop leaded fuel, blamed the workers. Kehoe, a young assistant professor of pathology, was brought in to advise. He said that the danger was in the bottom of the plant, where fumes accumulated. Fans and hip boots and training for careless workers should do the trick. When it became clear that working with lead was literally driving men insane, Kehoe still assured the company that creating less sloppy procedures would eliminate the problem. But Standard Oil and the Ethyl Corporation, the very corporations that Alice Hamilton battled, went to great lengths to keep industrial fatalities secret. One worker, Joseph Leslie, made liquid lead at the Bayway, New Jersey, plant. After a 1932 explosion of liquid lead he was locked away in a psychiatric hospital. It was said that he had died. Only his wife and son knew he was alive. Other family members and his grandchildren did not find out the truth until it was revealed by a historian in 2005. Kehoe was in such demand as a consultant to corporations that starting in 1929, Ethyl, GM, DuPont, Frigidaire, and others gave $100,000 (worth several million today) to his Kettering industrial toxicology laboratory at Cincinnati to do research. But they required that all the work be submitted to, and vetted by, the corporations. Even in 1965, after his retirement, Kehoe warned staff at the Kettering lab that the studies and papers must be kept secret. As a later head of Kettering put it, Kehoe ran the lab like “the Medical Department of the Ethyl Corporation.”

      By the end of World War II, Kehoe had become a captain assigned to the OSS and sent to Germany with other intelligence agents just two months after V-E Day. As Davis notes, he interviewed key German scientists and brought back critical studies on topics ranging from chemical warfare to pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and industrial materials. Among them were studies done by I. G. Farben, the notorious industrial conglomerate that used slave labor. Farben had been aided in producing leaded gasoline that powered the Nazi war machine based on secrets shared with them illegally before the war by Standard Oil and Ethyl. Harry Truman, in investigating American corporate cooperation with Hitler in the late 1930s, called it treason. These Farben studies and others that Kehoe obtained revealed that the production of dyes did indeed produce bladder cancer in dye workers, just as Wilhelm Hueper had tried to warn. But all this work was kept secret and unknown to the public or the medical establishment. Where did it go? Devra Davis asks and answers the question. “Detailed summaries of Nazi research on the hazards of tobacco and various chemicals made their way to executives of many of the U.S. corporations then producing these materials.” And, incredibly enough, the paths of Hueper and Kehoe crossed a number of different ways. Hueper had asked for an autopsy of a baby he suspected was killed by lead poisoning from/the Chamber Works in 1936. The report was sent to Kehoe instead. But more important, as the result of a court case, Hueper discovered in 1960 that Kehoe, working in behalf of corporations, had been reviewing his work for years and continuing studies that Hueper had been ordered to discontinue. Benzidine dyes had become a mainstay of DuPont production, and Kehoe kept close track of their effects on workers. No cancer registries were available at the time. Only corporations had such information. The DuPont Corporation disclosed no problems with bladder cancer at their facilities for decades. Health problems and cancer deaths, watched by Kehoe, were proprietary secrets. Only in 1980 did it become known that since the factory opened and Hueper issued warnings, 364 cases of bladder cancer had occurred.

      …Meanwhile, American faith in technology and the success of World War II had led to the belief that technology could conquer everything, even cancer. The chemicals produced in World War II, as well as radiation, when controlled and aimed at human tissues, could reduce and sometimes kill cancer tumors. And there was profit to be had in producing, deploying, and analyzing the results of such wonder-working techniques. Thus when Richard Nixon, once again, was looking to burnish his medical credentials against a possible challenge from Senator Edward Kennedy, he signed up and went all out for the famous “War on Cancer.” Research boomed and money flowed. The American Cancer Society agreed we must have a cure for cancer, no matter what the cost. A minority of doctors, researchers, and others disagreed, says Davis, but they were soon ignored. Years later a few people like Joshua Lederberg of the Rockefeller Foundation were able to send her curling old op-eds decrying the excessive focus on and funding for cures and not prevention. But mammography, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, all were pushed out front. They did indeed stave off the worst or save lives, but the waves of cancer incidence still grew larger.

      Despite the revelations of Silent Spring, it was on this unequal playing field—with the environmental causes of cancer ridiculed and suppressed and noted experts vouching for chemicals produced by corporations who paid for their research—that contemporary environmentalists entered the fray. Devra Davis shows in painful detail how advances that could have saved thousands of lives were held back by leaded gas, tobacco, the failure to endorse Pap smears, and more. Only with the slow growth of a stronger environmental movement and its medical allies does Davis begin to see some hope. She begins her final section with an epigraph from Harriet Hardy, Alice Hamilton’s friend and Harvard physician colleague, who inspired a new generation of physician activists like herself. “All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone action that it appears to demand at any time.”

Vinyl Chloride

[These excerpts are from Rachel Carson and Her Sisters by Robert K. Musil.]

      Davis concludes with some ongoing, contemporary battles over the dangers of other materials, including vinyl chloride. Once again, vinyl chloride was first produced by the Germans, using chlorine, the same poisonous gas they used on the battlefields of World War I. Experience with vinyl chloride led to Saran Wrap, as well as more important products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), such as plastic pipes, which are stronger and more flexible than those made of steel or lead. They could only be dissolved by benzene. Otherwise, PVC is almost indestructible. It was assumed that vinyl chloride, unlike chlorine itself, was not harmful. It has many wonderful uses, such as a propellant in cans of hair spray. But, as Devra Davis explains, this assumption, too, proved to be wrong. Enter Judy Braiman, one of a number of women that Davis admires, who refused to accept the bland assurances of corporate and medical experts. She just set out to organize. Davis describes her as a “small, strong woman, with the tough edge of a grandmother who knows how to throw a football.” She is “an improbable revolutionary.”

      …In 1966, an a thirty-year-old mother in upstate New York, Judy Braiman had three small children, was married to a successful lawyer, and was beginning to have thinning hair. Told by her hairdresser about a new hairspray that Increased volume, she sprayed her then-fashionable bouffant hairdo several times a day in a small bathroom. She soon developed a severe cough, her ribs ached, and she could barely walk up stairs. She was losing weight and spitting blood. Her doctor, William Craver, told Davis forty years later that he would never forget her X-rays, filled with lesions: “They showed patchy, fluffy infiltrates scattered throughout both lungs.” It looked like choriocarcinoma, a rare and fast-growing cancer. Braiman went into an operation prepared to die. After a lung, a rib and some muscle were removed, it was discovered it was not cancer after all. Her lungs had sixty different deposits of small round hairspray modules that had set off lesions called granulomas. There were also fatty globules found by Dr. Craver. It turns out that only one hairspray manufacturer, an outfit named Banat, used fat in its product. Braiman became an activist. She talked to the press, including the well-known reporters Jack Anderson and Les Whitten, who produced a widely read column on her case. She organized in her community, spoke to congressmen, wrote letters, did all she could to reduce the toxic materials in hair care products. Her efforts were getting noticed when she received a letter dated December 17, 1973, from the Bonat Company threatening to sue her for slander if she mentioned on her next television appearance that her personal injury was caused by their product. By this time, cans of hairspray were about one-half vinyl chloride gas. But reports were now circulating about the danger, and industry quietly began to discourage the use of vinyl chloride. Clairol Corporation told a reporter that its popular Summer Blonde Hairspray would no longer be made with vinyl chloride. The AP reporter, John Stowell, was outraged when he leaned that before making its claim, Clairol had produced, in less than a month, an entire year’s supply of Summer Blonde still containing vinyl chloride.

      As it turns out, the dangers of vinyl chloride had already been observed and reported even long before Judy Braiman took action. A bone condition of stunted fingers, or acro-osteolysis, had been observed in individual production workers in the 1940s in France; it was rare and not yet linked to vinyl chloride. But by the 1960s in France and Italy acro-osteolysis began to be reported in groups of vinyl chloride workers. In 1964, in the United States, an industry physician, Dr. Rex Wilson, began to observe stunted fingers in workers and wrote about it to his counterpart at another vinyl chloride plant in Ohio. The letter was marked “confidential.” It describes the affliction carefully and asks that a Dr. J. Newman make quiet, careful observations of the hands of workers at his plant. He makes it clear that this is a top priority, but must not be discussed. “Will you please advise me by January 1, the approximate number of hands that you have seen and of any positive findings.” By 1967, the results of Dr. Newman’s quiet investigation were clear. Out of three thousand workers at the Avon Lake factory, thirty-one cases of this previously rare disease, fully one-third of all those known in the world at the time, had been discovered. This led to animal studies.

      In 1971, the Italian scientist Paulo Viola found cancers of the skin, lungs, and bones of rats exposed to vinyl chloride. Montedison, a major Italian manufacturer of vinyl chloride, was aware of these studies and commissioned Cesare Maltoni to begin a series of studies. In his tests, Maltoni exposed rats to very small amounts of vinyl chloride, but for far longer than usual. It approximated the sort of exposure a woman like Judy Braiman might get from hairspray or a factory worker might get on the job. The results showed one in ten of the exposed rats got a rare tumor of the liver known as angiosarcoma—an always fatal cancer. But all these studies were, of course, unknown to any government. By 1972, Maltoni was convinced that vinyl chloride was a serious human health threat. He followed the rules of his contract, however, and kept quiet, assured that his results would be made known in due time. Maltoni assumed this meant that the company would reveal these hazards in meetings scheduled with the Italian, French, and American governments. When his findings were not presented, he was furious and, in 1974, published the results in the medical journal La Medicina del Lavoro. More evidence emerged, including reports in the United States. Finally, in 1975, OSHA severely restricted exposures to vinyl chloride.

      But even decades later, when Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, the authors of Deceit and Denial…wrote a chapter on the sordid history of vinyl chloride and revealed evidence of an illegal conspiracy to conceal evidence among corporations like Dow, Monsanto, B. P. Goodrich, and Union Carbide, they were slapped with a lawsuit. So was the publisher, the University of California Press, and subpoenas to turn over files were sent to the academic reviewers and to the Milbank Memorial Fund that had supported the work. Even one of the world’s top epidemiologists, Sir Richard Doll of Oxford, challenged the findings of a 1987 assessment report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It had updated a prior 1979 report and concluded that, in addition to angiosarcoma, vinyl chloride caused other kinds of liver cancer, plus cancers of the brain, lung, and bone marrow. Doll did not dispute that vinyl chloride caused angiosarcoma, but argued that it was not a cause of more common cancers of the brain and liver. Doll’s review was limited and flawed, nor did it mention that he had done the study as a paid consultant for the Chemical Manufacturers Association. Nevertheless, vinyl chloride workers who developed the more common tumors of the brain, liver, and lung could no longer win compensation in court. After his death in 2005, a letter was found addressed to Doll from Monsanto, revealing that he had been a consultant since at least 1979 with a fee of $1,500 per days….

Methyl Bromide and Methyl Iodide

[This excerpt is from Rachel Carson and Her Sisters by Robert K. Musil.]

      The trip to the grocery store gets similar treatment, although the strawberries in Ellen Richards’s time would not have been available year round. Nor would they have been heavily sprayed with methyl bromide. In 2008, 2,708,710 pounds of methyl bromide were used on commercial strawberries in California alone. This despite the fact that methyl bromide reacts to create holes in the ozone layer that protects humans from sunburn and skin cancer; it was slated for phase out by 2005 under the 1992 Montreal Protocol to which the United States is a signatory. But the United States petitioned the Ozone Secretariat of the United Nations in behalf of California strawberry and Florida tomato growers, saying there was no good substitute for methyl bromide. Yet methyl bromide is also a strong neurotoxicant. Finally, in November 2010 a substitute was approved. Methyl iodide. It does not harm the ozone layer. It dissipates at ground level too quickly. But it is highly toxic, can mutate DNA, and is classed as a carcinogen. Workers who now apply methyl iodide to tomatoes or strawberries will need to wear respirators. As Steingraber, a worried mom and wordsmith puts it, “Given a choice, I’d like the strawberries and tomatoes I feed my children to be grown by people who do not require chemical weapons protection.” Steingraber wants us to understand, again, that being an alert parent or consumer is more than just a personal choice. It finally requires understanding and acting on the social forces that produce such dangers. She shops at an organic co-op, finding it more convenient, as well as healthy….


[These excerpts are from Rachel Carson and Her Sisters by Robert K. Musil.]

      Alice Hamilton is also the foremother of an important contemporary environmental health campaign to end mercury pollution, especially from coal-fired utilities. Thousands of other medical and health professionals, citizens, and hundreds of American and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many led by women, have been involved in these campaigns. Hamilton had always been fascinated by mercury, or quicksilver, as it was often called in her day. She had seen cases of mercury poisoning in factories during the war, and mercury, like lead, had been a known health hazard since ancient times. She got her chance to study it and do something about its dangers when Dr. Henry S. Forbes, also concerned about mercury, offered to fund a Harvard study in 1923. Hamilton did the field investigations, going out to quicksilver mines and recovery plants in California at Santa Clara and New Idria. Feeling as if she had entered another country, she was surprised to find entirely Mexican or California Hispanic workers. They were exposed, especially in the recovery process, in a number of ways: through fumes, poor ventilation, and exposure to heated, liquid mercury, and more. Because such work could be rendered totally safe only if carried out in airtight chambers, an impossibility for such operations, she recommended that companies institute education about the dangers, frequent medical examinations, and meticulous maintenance and cleaning.

      Her study then turned to the felt hat industry, a major one at the time. It used mercuric nitrate to hasten and improve the felting process. This involved workers pounding and steaming shaved rabbit fur, wetted by a solution of mercuric nitrate, which steadily released mercury into the air. The result, which she observed in felt factories in Philadelphia, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut, was “mad hatter’s” disease, of Alice in Wonderland fame. Workers exhibited dry mouths, extreme irritability, and even dementia. As a result of her work and that of her Harvard colleagues, safer, nonpoisonous substitutes for mercury were found and introduced. The Mad Hatter became a thing of the past. As with benzene, mercury’s dangers became more and more widely known, thanks to Alice Hamilton….

      But the lessons or thalidomide are now flar behind us, as are the results of another modern toxic tragedy—Minamata. Steingraber asks her husband, Jeff, if he remembers thalidomide. He does. As they did with me, the deformations, the flippers made a deep impression. But now two-thirds of those under forty-five years of age do not recognize the word. Sandra asks if he recalls Minamata. Jeff says no. How about the famous photograph “of a Japanese mother bathing her paralyzed daughter?” Jeff, an artist, recalls the 1975 Life magazine photo by W. Eugene Smith. “It was black and white and darkly lit. It was composed like Michelangelo’s Pieta, but it was also a baptism. That’s what I remember.” As it turns out, Minamata is the home of Chisso, a Japanese manufacturer of acetaldehyde and vinyl chloride, both components of plastics. The plant used mercury as a catalyst for its process. The run-off containing mercury went into Minamata Bay and from there was transformed by bacteria into the organic compound methyl mercury. Methyl mercury, a potent neurotoxin, then entered the food chain and ultimately poisoned the local population. The company ignored evidence, stalled, denied harm for many years, claiming the “disease” had other causes. But following her theme of the dangers of silence, Steingraber tells us that ultimately a Chisso company doctor, Dr. Hajime Hosokawa, became aware that Minamata disease was related to the discharges from his factory. It was not an infectious disease after all. He had proved this by feeding experimental cats with Chisso sludge. They developed Minamata disease. But unlike Drs. Gregg or Kelsey, Dr. Hosokawa kept silent, as did his bosses at Chisso. Chisso kept using mercury, and the disease went on until lawsuits were riled by citizens, demonstrations were carried out, and protestors were beaten—including the Life photographer Eugene Smith. As Steingraber says, “In the end, it was citizen activism and photography, and not the slow accumulation of scientific knowledge, that awakened awareness about the ecology of methyl mercury….”


[These excerpts are from Rachel Carson and Her Sisters by Robert K. Musil.]

      Devra Davis…has carried on work today started by Ellen Richards, Alice Hamilton, and Rachel Carson in linking environmental exposures and human health. She admiringly describes Hamilton’s work on benzene and its adverse health effects, first set forth in a series of articles in 1916 and 1917. Davis portrays what she calls an ongoing scientific game of hide-and-seek as manufacturers and their political and medical allies consistently hide, downplay, or try to deny clear evidence of harm from toxic chemicals brought forward by consumers, workers, and their reform champions. The British medical journal Lancet first described benzene as a “domestic poison” as early as 1862, not two decades after it was first produced on an industrial scale. Then, Alice Hamilton’s work is filled with references to case reports in French, German, and other journals, as well as with early American cases of benzene poisoning reported in 1910 at Johns Hopkins. Hamilton carefully describes the effects of case after case, including a strong man in a rubber factory who dipped wooden forms into a tub of rubber in solution with benzene and staggered home, only to fall unconscious when he got there. In Uppsala, Sweden, young women working in a bicycle tire factory bled from the nose, mouth, and gums, hemorrhaged, and had uncontrolled menstrual bleeding. Four of these young Swedish women died within a month of becoming sick.

      Under the auspices of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hamilton then visited forty-one wartime plants in 1917 where explosives were produced using benzene-based compounds. Many workers were poisoned. Some, like the Uppsala girls, bled to death from massive hemorrhages. Between 1919 and 1940, at least thirty-three publications advocating the replacement of benzene with safer chemicals were released. Many of them, according to Davis, were from the National Safety Council and Dr. Alice Hamilton. Despite these efforts, by 1948, the American Standards Association, an industry experts group, still maintained that a person could be safely subjected to 100 parts per million of benzene over an eight-hour work day. Even the American Petroleum Institute disagreed at the time, saying “the only safe concentration for benzene is zero.” Devra Davis goes on to explain how manufacturers have continued to fight regulations on benzene up to the present time, even weakening enforcement efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA oversight was only carried out in a serious way during a brief period in the 1970s when Dr. Eula Bingham was assistant secretary of labor and the head of OSHA under President Jimmy Carter….

      It is appropriate that Devra Davis’s final example of the delay and destruction caused by corporate obfuscation of science, secret research, and opposition to regulation involves her admiration for Dr. Alice Hamilton. In describing the ongoing attempts to control and regulate benzene, still an issue in our time, Davis begins with Dr. Hamilton, reviewing in some detail her articles on the adverse health effects of benzene from 1916 and 1917 that reference work in German, French, and other journals, even cases reported at Johns Hopkins in 1910. Davis describes the young women…at a bicycle tire factory in Sweden who hemorrhaged and died in 1897. She recounts Alice Hamilton’s visits for the U.S. Bureau of Standards to forty-one plants malting explosives with benzene-based compounds. Again Hamilton reported poisoning and death from massive hemorrhages. Between 1919 and 1940, at least thirty-three publications, many by Alice Hamilton and the National Safety Council, advised replacing benzene with safer solvents. Yet by 1948, after the war, the American Standards Association, composed of experts from industry, held that workers could be exposed safely to 100 parts per million (ppm) of benzene over an eight-hour period. Even after Silent Spring, Earth Day, and the political conversion of Richard Nixon to environmentalism and the EPA, corporate and conservative obstinacy continued. In 1970, the American Petroleum Institute asked Bernard Goldstein of NYU’s Institute of Environmental Medicine to report on the current world literature on benzene. When Goldstein came back with the obvious answer that benzene causes leukemia, he told Devra Davis, “API refused to fund us.” Even more telling is the experience of Marvin Legator, a leading advocate for Americans exposed to toxic chemicals, with whom I worked in the 1990s.

      Legator had started out with Shell Oil in the 1950s and then joined the federal Food and Drug Administration. An honest, eager, and enthusiastic researcher, Legator founded in 1969 an early group of environmental health specialists interested in the effects of chemicals on genes. Called the Environmental Mutagen Society (EMS), it included Alexander Hollander, Joshua Lederberg, and Samuel Epstein, all then at Harvard. At a meeting or EMS at Brown University, Legator was introduced to Jack Killian, the medical director of Dow Chemical, who said he wanted to carry out research by monitoring workers on a regular basis. Legator was impressed and saw an opportunity to see if benzene was getting to the bones of workers. Dow Chemical, of course, was under fire at the time as the producers of napalm, the sticky, jellied gasoline incendiary being widely used in Vietnam. Epstein, to this day a fiery leader of coalitions to link the environment and cancer, was furious. Nonetheless, Legator jumped at the chance and took a well-funded consultantship with Dow Chemical to do toxicology at the University of Texas Medical Branch. He became expert and well known as a leader in looking at the DNA of workers. But he, too, went too far. When his research finally revealed that benzene was causing damage to chromosomes, Dow Chemical pulled the funding plug. In the twenty-first century, after Legator had died in 2004 of cancer brought on by chemical exposures, the case of benzene is still not fully settled. Davis describes how, despite OSHA standards, there has been little enforcement in recent decades since the days of Jimmy Carter; OSHA works in close collaboration, not with independent researchers, but with the industry group, the American Chemical Council.

      And even as far more thorough and widespread studies that document wider dangers from benzene have been carried out in China, in cooperation with the NCI and Berkeley, the results are being challenged by a $27 million campaign from Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, Chevron-Texaco, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. Benzene has been seen as a hazard to human health from the days of Alice Hamilton and World War I. It was recognized as a cause of leukemia as Rachel Carson was finishing her graduate work and teaching at Johns Hopkins in the 1930s. It was severely restricted by OSHA and banned in places overseas throughout the time that Devra Davis and I and others were at Hopkins and advocating in the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond. It is still dangerous today. But, it seems, some still believe more research is needed….

Can Disinformation Be Stopped

[These excerpts are from an article by Jacob Sweet in the July/August 2021 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      “Stop the Steal” was first trotted out during the 2016 Republican primaries. As the Republican National Convention approached, Donald Trump’s campaign consultant Roger Stone coined the phrase, urging people to resist the allegedly corrupt “establishment” Republicans who wouldn’t let Trump win. When he prevailed, it became irrelevant. Stone brought the term back for the general election, but when Trump won again, the phrase lost steam.

      But on and after Election Day 2020, as the results appeared increasingly less favorable to the incumbent president, Joan Donovan, research director at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, watched a constellation of what she calls “disinformers” rally around the phrase again. In z hours, the most prominent “Stop the Steal” Facebook group—promoted across social media by outspoken conspiracy theorists, and algorithmically recommended to likely supporters by the site itself—attracted more than 300,000 members. She saw the online movement shift to the streets, with provocateurs like Alex Jones and All Alexander showing up at state capitols across the country, pressing representatives not to certify the election and riling up those who believed the process to be a sham.

      So when “Stop the Steal” turned violent on January 6, few were less surprised than Donovan. Hours before the Capitol was breached by protesters, she had tweeted a prediction: “Today we will witness the full break of the MAGA movement from representative politics. As you watch what unfolds in DC today, remember that activists are both inside and outside the Capitol.”

      By the end of the day, four had died, including a woman shot by a Capitol Police officer as she climbed through a shattered window. (One officer assaulted with chemical spray died the next day of natural causes, according to the Washington, D.C., chief medical examiner’s office.) The Capitol Police -Union reported that nearly i4o officers were injured during the attack, and two died by suicide shortly after. The damage to the Capitol has cost tens of millions of dollars to repair; more than 400 people have been charged with federal crimes.

      “What we saw on January 6 was not a young people’s revolution. This was an artifact, or an outcome, of the design of Facebook,” Donovan says. “The time is now for realizing that of course, we can’t walk back in time and do something different. But we surely can insist the future of the Internet isn’t like the present.”

      …Misinformation is everywhere, an inherent part of communication that does not imply intent. Accidentally telling someone Independence Day falls on July 3 is misinformation. When misinformation becomes deliberate—deception on purpose—that’s disinformation.

      The purpose varies. Sometimes disinformation is spread for political or financial gain—convincing constituents that a rival candidate has a sordid history, or exploiting people’s interest in a made-up scandal to increase website traffic and sell merchandise. But often the reason is less clear. vague intentions to sow discord and muddy the waters around any given subject….

      President Trump had told his followers well in advance that something big was going to happen on January 6. Even before the election took place, he primed supporters on Twitter and elsewhere to believe that a loss could be explained only by massive voter fraud….

      One Giuliani favorite was the “Hammer and Scorecard” theory, a bogus claim that machines made by Dominion Voting Systems switched millions of votes from Trump to Biden. After bouncing around among far-right influencers, blogs, and social-media outlets, the theory reached the president himself. just over a week after Election Day, he tweeted that Dominion had deleted millions of votes from his totals, flipping the election result. And then the theory was everywhere: recommended to people who liked similar content on social media, discussed by pro-Trump media like Fox News and Newsmax, and further amplified by mainstream media sources that discussed the information solely to discredit it….

      The first stage they look for is a manipulation campaign’s planning and origin, searching for signs that groups are discussing an idea that could be the center of a disinformation campaign….It was only in 2020, though, that the most recent iteration of the “Hammer and Scorecard” conspiracy was posted to The American Report, a self-published blog. It claimed that the same Scorecard software that allegedly helped Barack Obama steal the 2012 election was being applied anew to steal the 2020 election for his vice president, Joseph Biden.

      The next stage is seeding the campaign across social platforms and the internet. That’s when the discussion transforms from a conversation among a few people on a single platform, like Facebook or message-board site 4Chan, and spreads the ideas to other online spaces….

      But to Donovan, the third stage—when activists, politicians, journalists, and “industry” (companies seeking profit or a social-media boost from disinformation) begin to respond—is most important. It’s here that siloed information can break into mainstream discussions….

      …Not all academics agree with the popular view of an internet-driven model of media-manipulation and disinformation campaigns….In a vast majority of cases, he found, a surge of coverage stemmed not from a social-media campaign, but rather from a mass-media story or President Trump himself….

      “…What changes dramatically in the 1980s is televangelism becomes a big business,” he continues. By then, the Christian Broadcasting Network was pub-lishing its own news and became the third-most-watched cable channel. But it was Rush Limbaugh who really re-invented the model, Benkler emphasizes….Fox News helped fill the gap in the 1990s, and within a decade, some studies showed that the channel’s coverage was worth a couple percentage points of additional turnout in national elections.

      When highly partisan news sites like Steve Bannon’s Breitbart appeared in 2007, 20 years had already been invested in an asymmetric system, with market dynamics on the left and right varying dramatically, Benkler continues….

      “If you’re trying to understand what causes tens of millions of people to believe that Democrats stole the election,” Benkler amplifies, “or that Hillary Clinton runs a pedophilia ring out of a basement of a pizza parlor, that’s not coming from social media. That’s coming from Fox News and Sirius KM Radio, Bannon and Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on radio.” After somebody like Limbaugh supplies a steady stream of outrage, and proves it‘s enormously profitable, the audience keeps looking for similar programming….

      …Unless people have an overriding reason to overturn their own beliefs, they're not inclined to do so. That's true even for some of the wildest theories spouted by conspiracy-driven groups like QAnon….

      …Subjects asked to gauge the accuracy of certain headlines were quite good at doing so—even if the headlines didn’t align with their preferred politics. Others, asked whether they would share a post but not asked to think about its accuracy, were much more likely to share posts that were inaccurate but in line with their political outlook. Yet, when the subjects were asked to weigh different factors that led them to share a post, participants overwhelming said that accuracy was very important….

      …When participants were asked to rate the accuracy of every news post before stating how likely they’d be to share it, they shared fake news less than half as often. Even subjects who were asked at the beginning of the study to rate the accuracy of a single headline shared less fake news….

      To attain a public-interest Internet, Joan Donovan’s ultimate I goal, she thinks people need access not just to politically palatable information, but also to news that is “timely, local, relevant, and accurate,” curated by librarians. She thinks some of the most popular sites, like Facebook, have become basic public utilities and therefore should be required to provide important news and updates to their users, rather than simply assembling feeds meant to provoke….

      And when disinformation starts to take shape online, Donovan doesn’t believe that it’s always the mainstream media's job to cover it. That, she thinks, often does more harm than good, spurring more publications to publicize the same disinformation and encouraging more people to seek radical content online. She thinks “selective silence,” her term for bypassing stories that could spread disinformation can stop many media-manipulation campaigns in their tracks….

The Economist’s Guide to Feeding the World

[These excerpts are from a book review by Izabela Delabre in the 18 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      In The Economics of Sustainable Food, editor Nicoletta Batini, a leading expert in designing macroeconomic strategies to deal with issues at the nexus of climate change and public health, argues that macroeconomic policy has largely overlooked food systems—a perplexing oversight, given that the agriculture-food system is the largest industry in the world and considering the substantial threats that unsustainable food systems pose to economies and people. Batini argues that we need a “Great Food Transformation” to support healthy and sustainable food systems that meet targets outlined in both the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

      The book brings together a collection of essays on how to make food production sustainable, highlighting important differences between proposed implementation in advanced economies and in less-advanced economies. Examples of the “sustainable farming trends”" discussed include small and polyfunctional farming (in contrast to monocultural models promoted by agribusiness); urban, vertical, and controlled-environment farming; regenerative ocean farming; and alternative protein cultivation (e.g., plant-based “meat” and cultured animal tissues). The essays emphasize the benefits of these trends, with minimal discussion of the complex politics underlying their implementation. Nevertheless, they succeed in highlighting important alternatives to our current production practices.

      The volume also proposes ways of “greening” food demand through a diverse range of economic policies. These include rethinking taxes, subsidies, standards and quality metrics, labeling and marketing regulations, and broader structural reforms.

      The authors are sensitive to contexts. Multiple essays explicitly argue that those currently following meat-centered Western diets must move toward plant-based nutrition for the benefit of their health, to reduce global emissions, to increase land use efficiency, and to help make healthy food more affordable globally. In less-advanced economies, food systems will need to meet nutritional needs, address existing issues of access, and improve sustainability while ensuring socioeconomic development….low-and middle-income countries will require a substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions and water use to achieve healthy diets, which will necessitate a faster shift to plant-forward diets in more-advanced economies to ensure equity.

      In 2015, 1.6 billion tons of food were lost or wasted, about a third of all the food that was produced. Despite growing calls to address food waste, the factors that contribute to it are highly complex and context dependent….more investment in empirical research is needed to identify the most appropriate strategies for reducing waste according to context, commodity, and stage in the supply chain.

      The volume’s final essays focus on conserving land, sea, mammals, and insects to ensure food security. The contributions in this section examine the big-picture links between biodiversity, climate, and food systems, drawing on fascinating case studies from a range of geographical contexts….

      A particular strength of this volume is the numerous case studies cited by the authors that demonstrate the feasibility of alternatives to unsustainable food system models, countering mainstream political economic narratives, which often bemoan the lack of a better system….

Examining the Aztecs

[These excerpts are from a book review by Andrew Robinson in the 18 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      In Mexico, the Aztecs are far from lost, argues archaeologist and anthropologist Frances Berdan in The Aztecs, her contribution to the Lost Civilizations series. The current Mexican flag shows an eagle and a serpent on top of a cactus—a clear reference to a famous 16th-century Aztec depiction of the founding of their capital city, Tenochtitlan (now the site of Mexico City), in 1325. Moreover, the Aztec language, Nahautl, is still spoken by 2 million people….

      Knowledge of the pictographic and allusive Aztec script—which is no longer used, unlike its spoken counterpart—is to a great extent lost, however. The script has been reconstructed several times by various scholars….

      From this and other early colonial sources, we learn that the Aztecs had a strong interest in the natural world, including the heavens, although there is no evidence that they separated the natural from the supernatural. “They drew on their predecessors’ fount of knowledge based on millennia of celestial observations,” writes Berdan, including solar and lunar movements, patterns of eclipses, the repeated appearance of comets, and the occurrence of meteor showers. Using this information, they calculated the lengths of the lunar.month and the solar year and the synodic period of Venus. Instead of a man in the Moon, the Aztecs saw a rabbit. (According to their creation mythology, the gods hurled a rabbit onto the Moon to dim it.)

      Aztec physicians developed treatments for headaches, stomachaches, coughs, fevers, parasites, skin sores, insomnia, and unstable mental states, as well as for snakebites, broken skulls, and severed noses. According to one study, 85% of 118 plants used by the Aztecs that are “ethnohistorically identified with curative properties” are efficacious in modern medical terms….The hot sap of the maguey (agave), for example, was applied to wounds and is known today to inhibit bacterial growth…..

      Most of this knowledgeable and accessible n introduction to the Aztecs—the fruit of a lifetime’s study—is concerned with matters such as food and drink, textiles and dress, pottery and art objects, dwellings and architecture, the social divisions of society; trade and the economy, religion and mythology, and, inevitably, the notorious Aztec penchant for human sacrifice. This latter custom was integral to Aztec myths and ceremonies. “Humans were burdened with a debt to their gods for their very existence” and they believed they must repay it with their blood—and sometimes with their lives….

Report Traces Surge in Ocean Plastic Studies

[These excerpts are from an article by Tania Rabesandratana in the 18 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      Plastic winds up everywhere—from the top of Mount Everest to remote Antarctica. Every year, millions of tons of discarded plastic also wash into the ocean.

      Research about ocean plastic is swelling, too, from 46 papers in 2011 to 853 in 2019, according to a UNESCO science report published last week. The report found that ocean plastic research grew much faster than any of the other 55 development-related topics it tracked….

      But gaps remain in the research. Journals get many papers about “the presence of plastic on beaches, on the seabed, or in animals, but not [many] about sources or solutions….”

      The ecological effects of plastic pollution are another hot research topic. Plastic itself is inert, but often contains toxic additives such as flame retardants, pigments, or chemicals to make plastic more flexible and durable….take-out food and drink packaging is the most pervasive source of ocean plastic.

      Researchers are also concerned about animals that eat plankton-size particles without deriving any nutrition. Nanoplastic particles, small enough to penetrate tissues, may be the most harmful of all. Yet the overall ecotoxicological effects of plastic are poorly understood. Regardless, plastic pollution is a pressing problem….

Instruments of Biase

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallischor in the June 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      We don’t think of everyday devices as biased against race or gender, but they can be. Electrical engineer and computer scientist Achuta Kadambi is familiar with the problem both professionally and personally….

      Medical devices, too, can be biased—an issue that has gained attention during the COVID pandemic, along with many other inequities that affect health. In a recent article in Science, Kadambi…describes three ways that racial and gender bias can permeate medical devices and suggests a number of solutions. Fairness, he argues, should be a criterion for evaluating new technology, along with effectiveness.

      The first problem, Kadambi says, is physical bias, which is inherent in the mechanics of the device. Then there is computational bias, which lies in the software or in the data sets used to develop the gadget. Finally, there is interpretation bias, which resides not in the machine but in its user. It occurs when clinicians apply unequal, race-based standards to the readouts from medical devices and tests—an alarmingly common practice….

      Physical bias made news last December when a study at the University of Michigan found that pulse oximeters—which use light transmitted through skin and tissue to measure the oxygen in a person's blood—are three times more likely to miss low oxygen levels in Black patients than in white ones. Other instruments can have trouble with skin color, too. Remote plethysmography, a new technology that measures heart rates by analyzing live or recorded video, works less well for people of color when programmed to pick up blushlike changes in the skin. But, Kadambi says, “there are multiple ways to extract signals, with varying degrees of bias.” A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, created a remote plethysmograph that reads tiny changes in head motion that occur when the heart beats. Kadambi’s laboratory is trying other solutions, including analyzing video images with thermal wavelengths rather than visible light.

      Computational biases can creep into medical technology when it is tested primarily on a homogeneous group of subjects—typically white males. For instance, an artificial-intelligence system used to analyze chest x-rays and identify 7.4 different lung and chest diseases worked less well for women when trained on largely male scans, according to a 2020 analysis by a team of scientists in Argentina. But training the system on a gender-balanced sample produced the best overall results, with no significant loss of accuracy for men. One reason, Kadambi suspects, may have to do with a. concept called domain randomization—adding more variety to the training data tends to imprOve performance.

      Stopping computational bias means making a much greater effort to recruit people from different populations to participate in the design and testing of medical devices. It would help if research teams were themselves more diverse….

      In addition to building diversity among researchers, Hardeman favors mandatory training of medical personnel in the fundamental ways in which racism impacts health, a step that might also help counter practices that lead to interpretation bias. California has moved in this direction, she notes, with a 2020 law requiring health-care providers treating pregnant women and their newborns to complete a curriculum (one Hardeman is designing) aimed at closing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality.

      For engineers to get the overall message, Kadambi proposes another mandate: include a “fairness statement” in published work on any new medical device that indicates haw well it performs across different populations. Journals and engineering conferences could require that information just as they require confiict-of-interest statements. “If we add a metric that incentivizes fairness, who knows what new ideas will evolve?” Kadambi suggests. “We may invent radically different ways of solving engineering problems.”

Deep Strangers

[These excerpts are from an article by Stephanie Melchor in the June 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      Our immune system must recognize a microbe as potentially dangerous before it can react to it as a threat. To help do so, cells use special pattern-recognition receptors that broadly identify classes of microbes based on certain molecular structures.

      One of these signature structures is lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a long chain of sugars anchored to the cell membranes of numerous bacteria types. Many researchers assumed our bodies could recognize a version of LPS produced by any microbe, except those of a few pathogens that specifically evolved to evade immune detection. But a new study reveals there are strains of deep-sea bacteria whose LPS is essentially invisible to our cells’ pattern-recognition receptors.

      In 2017 a team of scientists set sail on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in Kiribati, one of the planet’s largest marine conservation zones, located in the central Pacific Ocean. As part of their exploration of the largely untouched ecosystem, the researchers collected bacteria from as deep as 3,000 meters (nearly two miles) below the ocean’s surface. They cultured 50 strains in an on-board laboratory and exposed each one to human and mouse immune cells in a dish. The immune cells recognized the LPS on a few of the new bacterial strains and reacted the way they would to ubiquitous bacteria such as Escherichia coli. But 80 percent of the deep-sea bacterial strains were completely unrecognizable to one or both of two LPS-detecting pattern-recognition receptors.

      …She notes that the findings go against the prevalent understanding that these receptors can recognize any foreign microbe. Instead the research, published in Science Immunology, suggests that pattern-recognition receptors have evolved to reliably detect only microbes-found in familiar environments.

      …But it apparently does not detect at least some microbes that live in an environment we would never naturally encounter.

      Does this mean we need to worry about deep-sea microbes overrunning our immune systems? Probably not. For one thing, bacteria that thrive in the cold, dark saltiness of the deep ocean are unlikely to do so inside our warm bodies. And the immune system has many other mechanisms for sensing invasive bacteria.

      Nevertheless, this study could lead to interesting clinical applications. Researchers have long considered including LPS in vaccines to help kick-start the immune system—but it causes such a strong immune response that this can be dangerous. Although most of the Phoenix Islands’ deep-sea bacteria had LPS varieties that triggered no response, some provoked a moderate one. Kagan says these new LPS molecules might potentially be used as a “dial” to let cancer vaccine researchers fine-tune immune responses, instead of just flipping a switch between zero and 10....

      The researchers are planning another cross-disciplinary expedition to PIPA next summer to investigate more targeted questions, including how native deep-sea organisms such as corals respond to their bacterial neighbors, Rotjan says. But the team is open to surprises, she adds: “That’s the beauty of basic research—you never know where it’s going to go.”

Ratted Out

[These excerpts are from an article by Rachel Nuwer in the June 2021 issue of Sc ientific American.]

      When Carolyn Kurle first visited Alaska’s Hawadax Island, then known as Rat Island, she immediately noticed the silence. “When you’re on an island that’s never had rats, its just like birds everywhere—it’s really loud,” she says. “So when you get to an island that does have rats, you really notice because it’s cacophony versus quiet.”

      Nowadays Hawadax is once again a noisy place. Roughly a decade after a successful effort to rid the island of its predatory rodents, a bounty of seabirds has returned. And the benefits have extended across the island’s entire seashore ecosystem, which again teems with diverse life. These findings published in Scientific Reports, show that certain ecosystems can recover with surprising speed if given the chance….

      Kurle originally began studying rats’ ecological effects on the remote Aleutian archipelago for her doctoral research. The voracious rodents colonized Hawadax after a Japanese shipwreck in the 1780s, and they quickly wiped out seabird communities. Kurle’s first findings, published in 2008, showed that the rats affected not just birds but the entire food chain—all the way down to algae. Without birds to eat seashore invertebrates, populations of snails, limpets and other herbivorous species exploded and gobbled up much of the marine kelp, which provides crucial habitat for other organisms….

      Those early findings inspired the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Island Conservation, to eradicate the rats by dropping poison on Hawadax. Kurle and her colleagues secured funding to survey the island five and It years after the intervention. They found that its intertidal ecosystem had steadily recovered and now resembles that of other Aleutian Islands that were never invaded by rats, with significantly fewer marine invertebrates and much more kelp cover….

Postpandemic Health Habits

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

      When the COVID pandemic finally retreats, the world will be different. We will have lost millions of lives—a tragic disaster that will devastate families and communities for decades to come. Other changes, of a less catastrophic nature, may not be bad things. For example, we will have lost some traditional habits and gained new ones. Take the way we greet one another: In March 2020 handshakes and cheek kisses were abruptly put on the do-not-do list to slow the spread of the virus. Once we’re given the all-clear to resume those behaviors, however, we might still be wise not to do so. Even if COVID dwindles to become a mostly seasonal illness like influenza, both potentially deadly afflictions will still be with us. Do we really want to go back to rubbing our germy hands on one another or exchanging virus-laden kisses at close quarters? Not if we're wise.

      Greetings are just some of the deep-seated habits that have been cast in a new light by the year of COVID. The virus has taught us that we need a major culture change when it comes to basic public health hygiene. We learned, for example, that mask wearing is incredibly helpful in stopping the spread of all kinds of respiratory illnesses—something people in many Asian countries have known for years. Flu cases have been at record lows this year—the U.S. had at least 24,000 flu deaths during the 2019- 2020 season, for instance, but so far about 450 this season. Although it is likely that many factors affected these rates, such as lockdowns, school closures and decreased travel, experts say masking has probably played a significant role. Now that most of us have impressive mask collections and lots of practice wearing them correctly, there is no excuse not to don one in public when you're under the weather….

      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. Better yet, if you may be falling sick, stay home. In some cultures, notably in the U.S., going to work with cold or even flu symptoms can seem heroic—a stoic prioritizing of work over personal comfort. This now seems ridiculous. The pandemic has taught us to take community health more seriously and to recognize our personal responsibility to avoid sickening others. All workers who have the option of taking a sick day should do so when they need to, and all workplaces must focus on giving their employees this protection—for everyone’s sake. The best move would be a federal law requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. Right now almost 34 million people in the U.S. lack this benefit—that’s nearly a quarter of civilian workers, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it is even scarcer among lower-paid workers. Predictably, people who are not paid when they call in sick are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with contagious illnesses….

      When companies expand their sick-leave policies, workplaces become healthier. A study carried out during the COVID crisis showed that when one company allowed more paid sick leave and encouraged employees to stay home when ill, more workers self-isolated when they got sick, and the company’s offices Lavoided outbreaks….

      People are also much more likely to send their sick kids to school—triggering outbreaks of diseases that come home from class and infect parents—when they can’t take paid time off from their job to care for them. We need employers to extend paid sick leave to include time to take care of ill family members, and we also need government support for backup child care, such as nannies who can come to a home to watch sick children if their parents must be at work.

      If we do nothing else, we can at least keep up our improved handwashing habits this year.

Reclaiming my Name

[These excerpts are from an article by Mayank Kejriwal in the 11 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      When my friends took me to my first rodeo, a little ways outside the small Midwestern college town where we were undergrads, I was interested to experience this American tradition. But I was distracted by a man with a gun strapped to his side staring at me, unblinking and unsubtle, as if I was a zoo animal. At first I wondered, a little foolishly, “Did I inadvertently wear my T-shirt inside out?” Then my best friend, Robert, an African-American military veteran, leaned in almost imperceptibly and whispered, “Stay close to me. I don’t think they’re used to foreign visitors here.”

      I had never been stared at because of the color of my skin before. I was raised in a big city in India, where everyone looked like me. When I came to the United States for college, the campus was so diverse that I did not feel I stood out because of my appearance.

      But that rodeo experience, during my second year in the United States, was like a loss of innocence, and perhaps it triggered the cultural compromises that followed. The next time I went to a math professor to ask a question, I changed my accent to sound more “American” because I was afraid he might not understand me. I also started to introduce myself using an “American” name I adopted. I would say, “My name is Mayank, but you can call me Mickey.” Soon after that, it just became "Everyone calls me Mickey" Before I knew it, my true name was in hiding; I might not hear it spoken for days or even weeks. I felt I was doing well “fitting in,” but also that I had lost a bit of myself along the way.

      I had inklings that it didn’t have to be that way, such as when I got a new undergraduate adviser. When I introduced myself to him using my American name, he surprised me by asking how to pronounce my real name. Then he repeated it, asked whether he’d said it right, and whether it was OK for him to use it. The experience planted a seed in my mind. Here was a white, native-born American, and on the surface we couldn’t have been more different. Yet he cared enough to recognize me for who I am.

      Thanks in large part to this relationship, I decided to take a different approach when I went for my Ph.D. a few years later. I embraced who I was. I started to grow my hair long, as I'd always wanted it….

      The professor for whom I worked as a teaching assistant, and whom I eventually asked to be my doctoral research adviser, was my next crucial mentor. Like my undergrad adviser, he was immediately welcoming and encouraging, with no hesitation about my name or identity. In our weekly meetings, he took the time to really get to know me….

      Today, I’m a faculty member in Los Angeles, a city far more diverse than my undergraduate college town. It has been many years since I introduced myself by anything other than my real name. When people mispronounce it, I politely correct them. I’m grateful to the mentors who helped give me the confidence to embrace my identity in this way.

      I am also striving to be this type of mentor for my own students, many of whom are international. I tell them they don’t have to adopt an “American“ name, although I respect their choice if they do. But many have started to use their real names, I’ve noticed, and I’m glad. I believe they feel less alien and more empowered when they hear others make the effort to speak their names, no matter how “complicated” or unfamiliar those names might sound to an English-speaking ear.

The Safety of Nuclear’s Future

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Rafael Mariano Grossi in the 11 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine 35 years ago forged a strong safety culture that underpins nuclear energy today. At a time when the world was divided profoundly by distrust, the accident prompted nations to collaborate and communicate as they became more transparent and open about their nuclear power programs. After the tsunami of 2011 hit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in northern Japan, the international community came together again to reinforce the global nuclear safety regime. These anniversaries are reminders of the ever-evolving efforts to strengthen nuclear safety. This is especially important today because public trust is a prerequisite for nuclear power to play its part in mitigating climate change. Too often, the debate about how to move the world onto a more sustainable energy path is framed in the false dichotomy of “either we invest in solar and wind power, or in nuclear energy.” Reaching net-zero carbon emissions will require investment in all of them.

      The seeds of Chernobyl’s tragedy were secrecy, opacity; and lack of accountability. Out of the accident’s ashes grew transparency, accountability and a degree of openness that did not exist before April 1986. Engineers, managers, and regulators reassessed and upgraded existing reactors where necessary. For the first time, the world’s nuclear power plant operators came together and established networks of cooperation that still exist today. Not even the Iron Curtain could withstand these new branches of international cooperation….

      The tsunami of 2011 caused the second-most impactful accident in nuclear energy’s history even though leading international scientists have detected no radiation-induced health effects. In response, a network of institutions, ranging from international donors to technical organizations, came together to help with the stricken reactor’s safe decommissioning. Recently, Japan announced its plan to dispose into the sea the treated water stored at Fukushima….

      After the Fukushima nuclear accident, a few European countries, including Germany, decided to phase out their nuclear power programs. However, most countries operating nuclear power plants have continued to do so. Even in Europe, countries are looking to nuclear energy to reduce their reliance on coal. In Asia, major economies, including China and India, are expanding nuclear energy to help meet their growing power needs. More recently, Belarus and the United Arab Emirates brought their first nuclear power plants online. Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Turkey have begun construction of their first nuclear power plants, and in Egypt, nuclear power is well into its development phase. Globally, more than 50 reactors are under construction and 27 countries are actively considering, planning, or embarking on a nuclear power program as they realize nuclear energy’s instrumental role in achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

      Existing nuclear power reactors still produce a third of the world’s low-carbon electricity. More advanced reactors are in development. Small modular reactors hold the promise of decarbonizing transport and industry, as well as electricity. And they offer a possible solution for less-developed regions and smaller markets. In terms of nuclear waste technology the deep geological repository in Onkalo, Finland, offers along-term solution for safe disposal. Making use of these advances can only happen if people trust that they will not be harmed by the very technology capable of improving so many lives. An adaptive, global nuclear safety culture can help save not only those who may otherwise be affected by an accident, but also those harmed by the potential loss of an energy source that can decarbonize energy production at scale.

      Chernobyl and Fukushima are somber anniversaries. But they also reflect the commitment of nations to work together to strengthen nuclear safety; thereby laying the foundations for nuclear energy to meet its potential in helping tackle climate change.

In West Africa, Climate Change Equals Conflict

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert Muggah in the June 2021 issue of Population Connection. It was originally published by Foreign Policyon 18 February 2021.]

      One of the many injustices of climate change is it hits the world's poorest countries hardest. African nations, many of which register the highest levels of poverty and emit the least carbon dioxide, are already being ravaged by global warming. The reasons for this are straightforward: With roughly 60 percent of the sub-Saharan population depending on agriculture to survive, food insecurity is intensified by disruptions to rain cycles, planting seasons, and harvests. Making matters worse, new forecasts predict that rising sea levels will threaten vulnerable coastal communities due to flooding and erosion, salinizing arable land, and disrupting inland and coastal fisheries. As people migrate and tensions over diminishing resources escalate, the threats of social unrest and organized violence are already apparent.

      West Africa is the poster child for insecurities associated with global warming….Globally, the period from 2011 to 2020 was the hottest decade ever recorded. West Africa's Sahel—the vast zone of semi-arid grasslands that lies south of the Sahara Desert—was affected more than most regions, with temperatures rising 1.5 times the international average….

      Social scientists describe climate change as a “threat multiplier” because of how it exacerbates the risk factors that already give rise to instability. In countries already impacted by searing inequalities, fast-growing and youthful populations, overreliance on agriculture, serious corruption, and weak governance, the risks of climate change triggering the onset, escalation, and resurgence of armed conflict are especially high. While intensely debated by climate scientists, the complex relationships among rising temperatures, ecosystem resilience, seasonal rainfall variability, changes to arable land, shifting livestock grazing, and violence are increasingly hard to ignore.

      …Storm surges and rain-triggered floods are damaging cities, setting back development, and generating the spread of disease that has killed thousands and displaced millions in Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Togo. The relocation of populations is generating pressure on cities and villages with limited capacities to service new arrivals….

      Rising seas and a greater likelihood of storm surges are affecting food production for vulnerable coastal populations. Changes in water temperature and erosion are triggering the migration of fish stocks while salinization is contaminating arable land and ground water reserves. Due to a combination of climate impacts and severe overfi.shing—including from Chinese and European trawlers—the maximum catch potential for fish could decline by 30 percent or more in the Gulf of Guinea, a region where around 4.8 million people rely on fishing to sustain their livelihoods….

      Climate change is also accelerating migration and displacement in West Africa, especially in the Sahel. Today, roughly 25 million Sahelian herders of cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock travel south with their animals during the dry season and then back north during the wet season. Prolonged dry seasons, shortened rainy seasons, and less regular rainfall are generating new uncertainties for pastoralists, requiring new herd management methods and undermining delicate ecosystems. Competition over grazing land, reduced access to water, and the erosion of customary dispute resolution mechanisms are accelerating retaliatory cycles of violence….

President’s Note

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

      The United States spans a continent rich in natural resources. The land-locked African Sahelian nation of Chad ranks near the very bottom of global lists in terms of resources and prosperity. These two vastly different nations have one thing in common: Both are overpopulated.

      The United Nations World Food Programme reports that Chad “has one of the highest levels of hunger in the world” and that “around 40 percent of children aged under five suffer stunting.” This malnutrition results from overpopulation in a land where women average 5.6 children and where only about 4 percent of the land is arable.

      Overpopulation in the U.S. is driving sky-high levels of carbon emissions. Our CO2 emissions in just two days are greater than all such emissions in Chad over the past 60 years. The climate crisis is destroying global biodiversity and placing hundreds of millions of people at mortal risk in places like Chad. More than 20,000 scientists from nearly 200 countries have stated that “planet Earth is facing a climate emergency” and that we are “failing to adequately limit population growth.”

      …Calling current talk about overpopulation “nonsense,” Johns Hopkins University Professor Erie Ellis says, “We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves.” That’s hardly a compelling argument when we’re adding some 80 million people each year to our overheated planet.

      …It’s time we also pay attention to voices from the Global South, where the vast majority of population growth is taking place.

      Chad’s Minister of Public Health, Moussa Khadam, points out that “Chad has very high illiteracy and is already overpopulated in the center and the south. We need better tools for family planning and greater awareness to tackle traditions that are centuries old.” Khadam’s grandfather had 64 children. Khadam decided to stop at two

      African women leaders in key public health posts from Egypt to Ghana to Burundi to Namibia have also raised the alarm about overpopulation. And Malawi’s Vice President, Dr. Saulos Chilima, warned his fellow citizens that “unbridled overpop-ulation and environmental degradation are threatening our communities.”

      Let’s all heed these warnings from the continent where human history began about the threats posed by overpopulation. We can help by adding our voices—and by getting our own house in order.

Applied Research Gets Big Role in Biden’s Budget

[These excerpts are from an article by Jeffrey Mervis and David Malakoff in the 4 June 2021 issue of Science.]

      Last week, President roe Biden unveiled a proposed 2022 budget for the U.S. government that would boost federal spending on R&D by 9%, or $13.5 billion, including what he calls “the biggest increase in non-defense [R&D] spending on record.” The plan puts an unprecedented emphasis on translating scientific discoveries into practical tools for fighting climate change and disease, bolstering the economy, and tackling other issues.

      Although Congress is certain to reject or revise parts of the proposal, its support for even a portion of Biden’s ambitious vision might lead to numerous new funding entities and alter how the government invests in academic research.

      …It also incudes a 30% boost for clean energy R&D. At the same time, Biden wants an 11% cut in basic research spending by the military, which is a key funder of academic research in math, computer science, and engineering.

      The overall R&D request of $171 billion would give applied research a greater increase than basic, curiosity-driven research. That preference suggests the Biden administration “is, to some extent, thinking about science as more of a problem-solving enterprise [than] a discovery enterprise,” says David. Hart, an R&D policy specialist at George Mason University….

      Research advocates, including those representing academic institutions, welcomed Biden’s backing of research….

      But many have questions about how the new funding mechanisms would work. One sensitive issue is how to ensure that NSF’s new TIP directorate and the new ARPAs will be able to operate as intended, and won’t duplicate or potentially harm existing pro-grams that enjoy broad political support….

      Similar tensions are in play at NSF. The proposed TIP directorate is the result of a yearlong discussion, largely catalyzed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), on how to re-engineer NSF to help the United States compete with China and other rising global powers. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says the directorate will be “a cross-cutting platform” that will help NSF advance research in 10 key technologies, take discoveries to market, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers….

      However, even some senators who support the TIP 'directorate and a larger NSF budget question whether NSF, with its tradition of supporting basic research, is the best agency to spur U,S. economic growth and bolster national security….

      Hiring staff to run the new entities also could present a challenge, observers say. “You’ll be asking people to design and build. the planes while flying them,” says a Senate staffer who was not authorized to speak on the record. But she says it’s also a chance “to bring on a new generation of smart, young people dedicated to public service.”

      Such problems are still a long way off, however. It will take months for Congress to vet Biden's budget request and for the White House and lawmakers to agree on final numbers….

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.

  Website by Avi Ornstein, "The Blue Dragon" – 2016 All Rights Reserved