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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).
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.

Reckoning with Asian America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appreciating Art

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

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

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

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

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

Unnatural Disasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientists: Admit You Have Values

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

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

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

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

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

What to Do about Natural Gas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dire – but Not Wolves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Domestic Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology and Scientific Habits of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President’s Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubling Down on our Earthly Interventions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once upon a Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Ashes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something in the Air

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

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

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

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

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

Rights for a River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dispatches from Life’s Blurry Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient Earth Was a Water World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broadband Boosters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remote Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lithium-Metal Batteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      It’s a daunting engineering task….

Tiny Trash Factories

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Model Octopus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The U.S. Needs Scientists in the Diplomatic Corps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Could Use Oxygen Long before It Was Abundant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science’s New Frontier

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Uniting the country around the conviction that science can improve the life of every American would be one of the most important public investments of the century. Without such an effort, vast swaths of Americans may not benefit from, or participate in, “the endless frontier” of scientific progress.

Tackling Beauty’s Hidden Peril

[These excerpts are from an article by Tasha Kosviner in the Winter 2021 issue of Solutions, the journal of the Environmental Defense Fund.]

      …We all deserve to live and work in an environment free of harmful chemicals. Yet there are currently thousands of unregulated chemicals in our day-to-day beauty and personal care products. Among them is toluene, found in nail polishes and associated with birth defects, miscarriages and organ damage. Many shampoos, lotions, soaps and cosmetics also contain chemicals linked to cancers, liver disease, asthma, diabetes, reproductive disorders and more.

      ”…We are exposed to toxic chemicals daily—in our food, clothing, furniture and in the products we put on our skin. The quantities may be small but the cumulative effect can be devastating.”

      The burden is often disproportionately borne by people of color, both in a work environment and because toxic chemicals are more prevalent in beauty products marketed to these communities….

      Last year, our work together resulted in the identification of several safer alternatives to commonly used, but highly toxic, preservatives including parabens, linked to reproductive damage, miscarriage and some cancers. The preservatives list is part of a broader directory of safer ingredients to replace the most common toxic chemicals used in cosmetics….

5 Priorities for President Biden

[These excerpts are from an article by the editors in the Winter 2021 issue of Solutions, the journal of the Environmental Defense Fund.]

      Climate change intersects with every other environmental challenge faced by the new president. Renewed leadership from the United States is critical to solving this global crisis.

      Rejoining the Paris climate accord is step one, but President Biden needs to do much more to repair the damage done to the climate and to U.S. credibility. Recently, China, the EU, Japan and South Korea all announced they will take more aggressive climate action. Our nation must do the same….

      A U.S. target should cut climate pollution at least 45-50% below 2005 levels by 2030. (Emissions have already dropped 12% from 2005 to 2019.) This will require strong domestic policies, including executive orders, regulations, tax credits and new legislation. Congress should take advantage of every opportunity; from economic recovery legislation to infrastructure bills. A major focus should be on building electric trucks, buses and cars and producing clean electricity to power them….

      With President Biden in the White House, we expect a big push for a stimulus package that will not only boost an economy reeling from the pandemic but deliver urgently needed progress on climate change….

      EDF is pushing for pro-climate investments to be included in any economic recovery package. We believe the way to start building this new, better future is by decarbonizing the power sector and electrifying transportation. Together, those sectors account for more than half of U.S. climate pollution. Federal investment in decarbonization will cut climate pollution and set the course for the future emissions reductions necessary to reach net zero by 2050. This goal aligns with the best available science on averting the worst impacts of climate change.

      These same investments are also critical to jump-starting the economy. President Biden has pledged to create 10 million clean energy jobs, including 1 million clean transportation-related jobs. Before the pandemic, nearly 3.4 million Americans worked in clean energy. That’s three times the number in the fossil fuel industry, and clean economy jobs were growing twice as fast as nationwide employment….

      Trump’s record on science was abysmal. He denied climate change and appointed industry lobbyists tokey science agency posts. His administration censored government scientists and suppressed and manipulated data for political ends. More than 1,600 scientists left the federal government in the first two years of his administration.

      …Without first- t rate science, it is impossible to create effective policies to address pollution and advance public health. We also believe leadership matters. Having a president who publicly affirms the value of science and technical expertise is a huge step forward….

      From toxic chemicals to air pollution, the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental protections nationwide have threatened the health of communities. Now, it is critical that President Biden not only reverse the damage done over the last four years, but also strengthen standards to protect those most at risk from pollution and toxic chemicals….

      The Biden administration also has the opportunity to strengthen protections against lead poisoning. EDF will help advance efforts to replace lead water service lines to 9.3 million homes, with a focus on equitable funding for community programs. The new administration should also increase protection of children’s health by immediately updating the standards for lead in dust, paint and soil.

      In addition, we will help the Biden administration strengthen the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which prevent an estimated 11,000 American deaths annually from hazardous pollutants spewed by coal- and oil-fired power plants. As part of this effort, we will urge the EPA to close the Trump administration’s air tonics loophole, which allows large industrial facilities to opt out of reducing pollution.

      …the president has proposed a national program to build the nation’s resilience to climate change….

      Even in a divided Congress, President Biden will find support. Whether it’s tackling sea level rise, addressing drought or increasing flood protection, resilience transcends party politics.

      Under the Trump administration, more than 20 pieces of bipartisan legislation addressing resilience were introduced in Congress….

      Resilience legislation that creates jobs, protects communities, promotes equity and delivers environmental benefits stands a good chance of success, regardless of who controls the Senate….

Vaccine Trials Ramp Up in Children and Adolescents

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the 26 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      As older adults, health care workers, firefighters, and others roll up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine, there’s a flurry of research to get shots to children, for whom no vaccine has yet been authorized. Even though young people are less likely to fall seriously ill, doctors and scientists agree that vaccinating them is crucial for their own protection and that of the broader population. And because companies already have solid data from adult trials, they are running smaller studies in children that focus on safety and immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines.

      The first two vaccines to receive emergency use authorization in the United States for adults are now in clinical trials for young people, with initial results expected by summer. Pfizer and BioNTech have completed enrollment of more than 2200 volunteers ages 12 to 15, and Moderna is wrapping up recruitment of a planned 3000 volunteers with the same minimum age. Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA coding for the coronavirus spike protein, which prompts production of protective antibodies. Another three vaccines, which use a harmless virus to deliver a gene for the same protein, are also taking steps toward pediatric authorization….

      Adult deaths from COVID-19 dwarf those in children: In the United States, for example, young people make up about 250 of 500,000 total deaths. But for children, COVID-19 is still “causing more deaths than influenza does in atypical season.”…In addition, more than 2000 children and teenagers have developed a severe inflammatory syndrome that can cause critical illness and damage organs….

      For children. and another special population, pregnant women, clinical trials are trending much smaller than the tens of thousands of participants in the adult trials that garnered initial authorization. Although these latest studies will, like their larger counterparts, track symptoms and count COVID-19 cases, they will primarily rely on immune markers as a proxy for vaccine effectiveness….

      In the meantime, pediatricians, parents, and others have to wait. Pfizer, for example, has announced plans to submit its data on adolescents to regulators by June; it also expects to open a trial in 5- to 11-year-olds within a couple of months, and in under 5-year-olds later this year….

Hungry Teen Dinosaurs Crowded Out Competitors

[These excerpts are from an article by Gretchen Vogel in the 26 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      Any parent of growing teenagers knows their appetites can reach gargantuan proportions. Now, imagine you had a young T. rex checking the fridge. The outsize appetites of growing dinosaurs reshaped food chains in their environment and squeezed out other carnivores….

      There weren’t many mid-size meat eaters “because the juveniles and teenagers and subadults of the big beastly dinosaurs were hoarding those niches.”

      Most groups of animals have many small species, somewhat fewer medium-size species, and even fewer large species. In contrast, the extinct dinosaurs—especially carnivores—had plenty of species no bigger than modern-day chickens and also many giant species, but few medium-size ones.

      Paleontologists wondered whether juvenile dinosaurs crowded out medium-size adults by exploiting the habitats and food sources those species might have taken….

      In most communities, herbivorous dinosaurs came in a range of sizes….Carnivores between 100 and 1000 kilograms were consistently quite rare….

      The effect may be stronger in meat eaters because each carnivorous dinosaur species occupied a wide range of niches. They hatched from relatively small eggs; even the largest ones only-weighed about 15 kilograms as hatchlings. Then they grew very quickly, changing diets and hunting methods to accommodate their new sizes and competing with a range of other species along the way….

      The study's emphasis on how animals’ niches can change as they grow offers fresh insights….

Committing to Climate

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrea Thompson in the February 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      In 2015 nearly 200 nations committed to the Paris Agreement, which aims to prevent the worst impacts of climate change by limiting global warming by 2100 to less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The U.S. pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Then Donald Trump was elected president. He soon announced that the U.S. would pull out of the accord, and his administration spent four years relentlessly rolling back regulations intended to curb emissions and protect the environment. Dozens of coal burning power plants, the worst carbon polluters, shut down anyway as market forces expanded the role of cheaper, cleaner natural gas, wind and solar power. And various states, cities and industries cut emissions. Yet even with that progress, Trump’s rollbacks could add the equivalent of 1.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2035….

      Joe Biden must now make up for lost time, and last November he said the U.S. would rejoin the Paris Agreement immediately after he became president. This commitment is important because the U.S. is still the world's second-largest emitter, behind China, and it can return as a world climate leader. But Biden will also have to ratchet up the original U.S. pledge because warming—and its effects—has only sped up since the Paris Agreement was established. Biden promised to issue an executive order calling for net-zero emissions by 2050, but he will need to set specific interim targets. The World Resources Institute says reducing emissions to 45 to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 could put the country on track.

      Congressional legislation is the most effective way to create the concrete policies needed to achieve those goals because it gives federal agencies clear priorities, is much harder to override with presidential actions, and can better withstand legal challenges that might be brought by industry or special-interest groups. But the divided U.S. Senate will make sweeping laws hard to pass. Biden will have to work through executive orders and will have to charge federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency with issuing new regulations under existing laws such as the Clean Air Act….

      With coal plants retiring, transportation has surpassed power generation as the country’s largest carbon emitter. The quickest action Biden can take to tackle those emissions is to reinstate California’s waiver to the Clean Air Act, allowing the state to enforce its Advanced Clean Cars regulations….

      To expand on that action, Biden could charge the EPA and the Department of Transportation with rescinding Trump’s Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient vehicles Rule, which undercut more stringent national standards set under the Obama administration. Even then, to stay on course to meet the two degrees C goal, 90 percent of U.S. passenger cars and light-duty trucks would need to be electric by 2050….Some major U.S. car companies, including General Motors and Ford, are increasingly investing in electric vehicles. And Ford, along with several leading international companies, opposed the Trump administration’s rollbacks because the moves were likely to end up in court, creating regulatory uncertainty….

      Reaching those numbers will require replacing Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy rule with a more aggressive version of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court before it could go into effect. The plan, an EPA regulation, would have set strict limits on emissions from power plants. Biden could carefully enact new EPA regulations that can better withstand any future federal court challenge.

      …The Trump administration recently rolled back several methane regulations, including, notably, EPA rules requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and repair leaks in their infrastructure….As with power-plant rules, Biden will have to work through the EPA to repeal the rollbacks and install new, tougher requirements….

      Biden can also expand on legislation that has already garnered bipartisan support, for example, by maintaining tax incentives to encourage the expanded use of renewable energy and electric vehicles….

      In tandem, the Biden administration can strengthen rules under the National Environmental Policy Act that require all federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of actions they might take or of projects up for approval such as oil drilling on federal land. The Trump administration said the act requires consid-eration only of direct, noncumulative impacts, which effectively took climate change off the table. The Council on Environmental Quality, which ensures that federal agencies adhere to the act, could specify that future climate change impacts should be considered. That step could make it less likely that emissions-intensive projects, such as drilling, would be approved by agencies such as the Department of the Interior….

Controlling COVID

[These excerpts are from an article by Tanya Lewis in the February 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      As Joe Biden takes office, his most immediate priority is dealing with the catastrophe of COVID-19, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S.—the highest toll of any country—and sickened and harmed millions. He is inheriting a dire situation from his predecessor, who resisted some of the most important measures to contain the new coronavirus, such as prompt testing and tracing and mask wearing, and who appeared unconcerned as a winter surge of infections devastated the country.

      Biden and Kamala Harris, the new vice president, have outlined a COVID 19 plan to reverse this neglect. In addition to promoting more testing and mask wearing, the new administration wants to boost the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), provide economic support for small businesses, ensure a trustworthy vaccine rollout, and address racial and ethnic disparities in COVID’s impact. Looking ahead, Biden’s team has to get the country ready to handle the next pandemic better than it has dealt with this one.

      Some of these goals are likely to face severe headwinds from Republicans in Congress and among millions who voted for Donald Trump. Both groups have fought against masks. Many opposed restrictions on business and personal activity….

      One of Biden’s responses has been to say he is “not going to shut down the economy—period. I am going to shut down the virus.” The incoming administration sees restrictions as a “dial” rather than an on-off switch….Biden aims to direct the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide guidelines for ways to dial up or down restrictions on businesses, schools and gatherings. The evidence is clear that COVID transmission is higher at restaurants, bars and gyms but not so much at schools, so it makes sense to dial down restrictions on the last….

      …one of the simplest and most important things Biden’s team can do is encourage people to wear masks or face coverings. Despite extensive evidence supporting this measure's effectiveness, Trump made it apolitical statement not to wear one, mocking people—including Biden—for using them. Biden can try to change that….Biden plans to work with governors and mayors to implement state and local mask rules and has asked Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office. And he does intend to make masks mandatory in federal buildings and on interstate public transportation.

      A second key step will be to overcome some people’s reluctance to get a coronavirus vaccine when shots become widely available later in 2021. Refusals will prolong the outbreak. According to a Pew survey in November, 42 percent of Black Americans said they would get a shot, slightly up from 32 percent in September. Much of this resistance stems from a history of racism and mistreatment of Black people in medicine….Biden and his officials need to admit there is legitimate reason for distrust, and they must work to earn that trust back. Saying “we’re acknowledging that history of racism ourselves” is the most important thing the Biden-Harris administration can do….

      To convince skeptical populations, the new president and his team also need to reach out to community leaders who have the trust of their constituents….

      Vaccine skepticism is also linked to political affiliation. Just 50 percent of Republicans or Republican-leaning respondents said they were likely to get vaccinated, compared with 69 percent of Democrats or Democrat supporters, according to the November Pew survey. To reach Republicans, Biden will need to get the help of conservative leaders as well.

      Both vaccine acceptance and mask wearing depend on the new president’s ability to restore trust in science….Political meddling at health agencies and repeated announcements that undercut public health measures exacerbated the problem. The Biden team can start to reverse the damage by showing that it is following scientific advice and delivering it in a clear, consistent message….

      …Until vaccines reach most Americans, the virus will con-tinue to spread, and testing is the way to identify and contain outbreaks. Yet it is still hard for most people in the U.S. to get a te,st and receive results quickly….

      More tests alone will not be enough. People who test positive must be able to safely isolate, and they must be given the resources to do so….

      Biden also needs to drastically increase the availability of PPE—such as face masks, face shields and gowns—to protect health care workers….

      And even as he tries to quell the current pandemic, Biden needs to ensure that the U.S. is better prepared for the next one….

Anti-Asian Racism in Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michael Nguyen-Truong in the February 2021 issue of Scientific American.]

      …Because the disease was first reported in China, I have had to struggle with growing bigotry toward Asians in addition to avoiding the virus itself. There have been many reports about Asians facing verbal and physical attacks, fueled by disturbingly common terms like “Chinese virus” and “kung flu,” hate-inspiring language frequently used by Donald Dump and others. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Asian-Americans report a higher level of negative experiences, including racist jokes and slurs or feeling fear of threats or physical attacks, than Black, Hispanic or white respondents in a survey conducted after the pandemic began. Moreover, a recent Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate National Report by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council found more than 2,5'00 reports of anti-Asian incidents across 47 states in a five-month period (from March to August 2020). Of these, 70 percent involved verbal harassment, and 9 percent of them were physical assaults. More undoubtedly go unreported.

      When news of these attacks became public, my family and friends warned me to be alert and careful when I was anywhere outside my home. At the beginning of the pandemic, mask wearing was not required, but to protect people and myself against the spread of the coronavirus, it was something I wanted to do in our laboratory and around campus. But I didn't, because I was told that co-workers and colleagues might avoid or harass me. My family and friends cautioned me not to stay out late and to avoid sparsely populated areas on campus; they and I worried other people might hurl me because I was Asian. I ended up going home early most days, shortening my time for experiments and work.

      …And I kept quiet about my concerns around the lab because I thought that speaking up could make me a target of jokes among colleagues and lead to alienation and loss of collaboration.

      These concerns were magnified because I had faced frequent microaggressions even before the outbreak, such as being asked about where I am “originally from,” although I am from the U.S., or if I was related to someone because we shared a common name. Non-Asians too often presume—and say—that my Asian peers and I are pursuing STEM careers because we were forced to by our families. Asians are also often (inaccurately) viewed as the model minority and falsely thought not to suffer from discrimination.

      …Institutions in general should require bias training and should develop spaces such as “life issues” groups (my department has one), journal clubs and symposia designed to educate the community about racism. Faculty and administration should welcome discussions about race issues and be more transparent in addressing them….

      We have a lot of work ahead of us, but inclusion and positive change within our institutions and in STEM are achievable if we unite against racism. Greater inclusion will lead to more sharing of ideas that will help science, technology and medicine flourish, at a time when we dearly need them.

Why Should Science Teachers Practice Gratitude in 2021?

[These excerpts are from an editprial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the January/February 2021 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      At last, the new year is upon us. After the upheaval we experienced in 2020, I am sure we are all hoping for stability in 2021. With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on our doorsteps, there is hope for more normalcy later this year. I am more than grateful for the Herculean tasks the scientists undertook in creating viable vaccines for the health of all of us.

      COVID has wreaked havoc for so many individuals and families. With well over 300,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, we have lost so much creativity, innovative thnking, and talent, gone forever. We have lost fellow educators who inspired and guided their students to the wonders of science and the other disciplines. We have lost coaches who were role models for their athletes. We have lost administrators who provided an atmosphere of growth and community in their schools. We have lost staff who always held the school together. For these losses, l am truly saddened.

      With 2021 in mind, let’s practice a year of gratitude….The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. Gratitude provides people with the opportunity to take a moment and reflect on the goodness in their lives—whether from our students, fellow faculty, mentors, family, nature, or other entities. Psychology research indicates that practicing gratitude leads to greater happiness, contentment, and improves one's health and overall well-being….

      A leader in positive psychology, Martin Seligman, had 411 participants write a letter of gratitude to someone who had positively impacted their lives with encouragement, kindness, and mentoring. The results demonstrated an increase in happiness scores; which had lasting effects in these individuals. am not suggesting cause and effect here, but there is a link to practicing gratitude and overall well-being. Have you taken the time to write/email such a letter to a former teacher, professor, or administrator who positively impacted your life in some way? Someone who believed in you? Someone who bolstered your self confidence? Someone who “pushed” you to be a better student, athlete, future STEM professional, or individual who makes a difference in the world?...

      As teachers, we don’t always know what our kindness and dedication does for our students. Many of you have received correspondence from former students. I see it on social media all the time. These teachers are remembered for the rigor of their teaching, their moments of connection, their “pushing and prodding” of reticent students, and encouragement for students to follow their dreams. We cherish these acknowledgements, especially on those rough days when the students seem incorrigible, unwilling to work, and are being just downright difficult.

      …We are used to the non-verbal signals our students send us, and many of us taught without those signals. We might enter 2021 finding it difficult to feel grateful. Your tenacity in pushing through the COVID year with countless hours of preparation and changing your way of teaching is truly something to be grateful for within yourself….

      Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can help our overall well-being as teachers and educators….

      2021 will continue to pose challenges for us. Let’s start off the year with some positivity surrounding things that we can be grateful for on a daily basis….

Highlights of a UCS Victory

[These excerpts are from an article by Jiayu Liang in the Fall 2020 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      Millions of Californians live in regions with levels of air pollution that exceed federal standards, particularly in Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley: Back in November 2016, the agency charged with helping the state meet federal air quality standards—the California Air Resources Board (CARB)—was addressing one aspect of the problem: pollution from trucks. Although trucks and buses make up only 7 percent of all vehicles on the road in California, they are responsible for 23 percent of global warming emissions from vehicles in the state, and an even more disproportionate share of other pollutants.

      To reduce air pollution, CARS proposed a truck policy that would require manufacturers to increase the percentage of electric trucks they sell over time—similar to the approach that had already made California the nation's leading adopter of electric passenger vehicles….

      …the proposal would put only 75,000 electric trucks on the road by 2030—just 4 percent of the 1.9 million total trucks in the state….

      He modeled a standard that would result in 10 percent of all trucks on the road being electric by 2030, then bumped it up to 15 percent. While a 15 percent goal was more than triple the original proposal, O’Dea recognized that it would still be achievable with today’s technology….

      Quantitative analysis can seem complex and hard to follow for those not in the field. Running the numbers to determine that CARB’s original proposal came up short was just one part of the battle. Now the UCS team and coalition needed to build broad support for a stronger rule—and put pressure on decisionmakers to enact it. This is where the media, outreach, and policy experts on the UCS team excel….

      Developing a sense for what resonates well and having an accurate knack for predicting what reporters will be interested in is a big part of the job for the UCS media team. Figueroa says checking in with reporters regularly, following their reporting, and finding opportunities to help frame their thinking on emerging issues are all critical elements….

      Because CARB’s decision would have real consequences for people living in California, those most affected by pollution needed to be part of the process….Successful outreach work requires a good understanding of who needs to be involved in the decisionmaking process, and what their needs are….

      When CARB’s new proposal entered the public comment period in April, the UCS team and coalition once again showed up with rousing support. Rodriguez presented a letter signed by legislators, and Xi presented a petition signed by more than 3,000 individuals, along with the testimony of dozens of scientists. On June 25, CARB unanimously voted the rule into existence.

      The team was elated, having notched a win in the ongoing work to clean up California’s transportation sector. Several years of analysis was followed by a long, hard 18 months of advocacy to bring to life the world's first and most extensive sales standard for electric trucks.

      Although the rule won't officially take effect until 2024, it produced nearly immediate results. Just two weeks after its passage, 15 states and the District of Columbia announced their intention to pursue policies supporting the electrification of trucks. Then in August, CARE passed additional rules that will limit emissions from fossil fuel-powered trucks and ships idling in ports—further incentives to electrify the freight industry.

      O’Dea welcomes these developments, but also recognizes the long road ahead. “The new policy is a significant step—a necessary one to move us into a cleaner, safer future,” he says. “But 15 percent electric trucks on the road still leaves 85 percent that we need to clean up….”

With New Lawsuits, Legal Pressure on Fossil Fuel Companies Grows

[These excerpts are from an article in the “Advances” in the Fall 2020 issue of Catalyst, the newsletter of the Union of Concerned Scientists.]

      In June, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute, the leading US oil and gas industry trade association. The suit follows a line of reasoning that UCS has been promoting since 2015, as it alleges that the two companies and the trade association violated state consumer protection laws by misleading Minnesotans about the role fossil fuels play in causing the climate crisis. For more than 20 years, the Koch Industries’ owners, billionaire brothers Charles and the late David Koch, along with. ExxonMobil, sponsored a network of think tanks and advocacy groups that deny the scientific consensus on climate change and downplay the threat posed by their products.

      A day after the Minnesota lawsuit was announced, the attorney general in Washington, DC, Karl Racine, sued four of the world's largest oil companies (BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell), contending that they have been aware since the 1950s of the threat posed by fossil fuels but launched public relations campaigns to manufacture doubt about the reality and seriousness of climate change….

      Minnesota was one of the first states to file Suit against the tobacco industry in the 1990s, and its case—the only one that made it to trial—resulted in a groundbreaking settlement of $6 billion over the first 25 years and $200 million annually thereafter to the plaintiffs. The case also pried loose 35 million pages of documents that revealed details of the tobacco industry’s campaign disputing the link between smoking and disease. Records publicized by UCS in our 2015 report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, show that the tobacco and fossil fuel industries used many of the same strategies and tactics to mislead the public.

      The Minnesota and Washington, DC, lawsuits are similar to fraud cases brought by the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general against ExxonMobil, and follow other legal actions to hold fossil fuel companies accountable….

A Universal Coronavirus Vaccine

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Wayne C. Koff and Seth F. Berkley in the 19 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      COVID-19 has already produced catastrophic social, economic, and public health consequences, with more than 107 million documented cases and 2.3 million deaths. Although this pandemic is far from over we now have the tools to end it, with the largest and most rapid global deployment of vaccines under way. That we got this far so quickly is remarkable, but next time we might not be so lucky. More virulent and deadly coronaviruses are waiting in the wings. Thus, the world needs a universal coronavirus vaccine.

      The speed with which safe and effective CO'VID-19 vaccines have been developed and made available is unprecedented, taking less than a year. However…, even this rapid time frame may not be enough to prevent a death toll on the scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more than 50 million. Moreover, there is a continuing risk that the virus will mutate in ways that render existing COVID-L9 vaccines less effective—as we’ve already seen for the B1.351 variant first identified in South Africa—or even ineffective….

      The potential is increasing for other coronaviruses to jump species and cause more pandemics. The reasons are many. The animals that the viruses infect are ones that humans regularly, come into contact with. Modern agricultural practices, viral evolution, and relentless human encroachment on the natural environment mean there is an increasing risk of people encountering previously isolated animal populations that harbor new strains with pandemic potential. With human migration, population growth, urbanization, rapid global travel, and climate change hastening the spread, it has never been easier for outbreaks to turn into epidemics and escalate into pandemics.

      At the same time, the recent convergence of technological advances in biomedical, computing, and engineering sciences has ushered in a new era in antigen and vaccine discovery. High-performance supercomputing and machine learning, coupled with structural modeling, have the potential to greatly accelerate identification of common antigenic targets shared across coronaviruses. Databases of genetic sequences of animal isolates of coronaviruses can be used to model the evolutionary emergence of the viruses. Ongoing efforts to decode the principles of immunity in aging populations can enhance the effectiveness of vaccines for those most vulnerable. Collectively, studies now suggest that developing a universal coronavirus vaccine is scientifically feasible.

      This must be a worldwide effort….

      …It is estimated that the current pandemic will end up costing between US$ 8 and 16 trillion globally, ~500 times more than would be required for preventing the next pandemic.

      That is not to say that this will be easy, and a stepwise approach from COVID-19 to pan-coronavirus to universal coronavirus vaccines may be required. SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly adapting to humans, and other novel coronaviruses are mutating, recombining, and replicating in bats and other animal species, positioning to jump species sometime in the future. If we choose to wait for the next coronavirus to emerge, it may be too late, as it was with COVID-19. Creating the tools for preventing the next coronavirus pandemic is within our means and should be considered a global health priority. We can either invest now or pay substantially more later.

Bill Gate’s Guide to Avoiding Climate Catastrophe

[These excerpts are from a book review by Mriram R. Aczel in the 12 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Although he does not avoid the hard truths we must face as our climate changes, Gates remains optimistic and believes that we have the ability to avoid a total climate disaster….

      The book’s five logically organized sections establish a road map for moving forward. The first chapter explains why we need to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, rendering the abstract concept temperature of 1o or 2oC warming tangible with a description of the devastating effects such a increase would have on a relatively prosperous farmer in Nebraska and a subsistence farmer in rural India. The farmers are hypothetical, but the scenarios Gates describes—crop failures, economic ruin, a mass exodus from agrarian occupations—are all too real.

      Reaching net-zero emissions will not be easy. Not only is the global population increasing, people are living longer and standards of living are improving, leading to greater demand for energy and materials. It would, of course, be “immoral and impractical to try to stop people who are lower down on the economic ladder from climbing up,” argues Gates. But can we find a way to support economic development without adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere?

      Gates divides greenhouse gas-emitting activities into five sources: “making things”; “plugging in,” or generating electricity; “growing things,” including agriculture and livestock farming; “getting around”; and “keeping warm and cool.” He uses this framework to evaluate various emissions-lowering strategies, assessing the “Green Premium” that makes lower-emissions solutions more costly than fossil fuel technologies and explaining how government policies and incentives can help amortize these costs.

      Gates argues that there are three key components necessary for reducing emissions: robust climate policies, new technologies and companies to develop zero-emissions solutions, and markets consisting of the financial institutions and investors that support these companies. These components, he maintains, must work in a complementary manner….

      In the book’s final chapter, Gates lays out specific actions that each of us can take to help mitigate climate change, from being a more engaged citizen to being a more informed consumer, with specific advice on reducing household emissions, switching to an electric vehicle, and setting up an internal carbon tax for businesses.

      Gates includes an afterword on COVID-19, making the case that many of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic—the need for international cooperation, the importance of letting science guide our actions, the understanding that solutions should be designed to meet the needs of those who suffer most—also apply to climate change….

Dream Interpretation Meets Modern Science

[These excerpts are from a book review by Michelle Frazer and Gina Poe in the 12 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      …The book takes the reader from humanity’s early religious understanding of dreams, through our initial attempts to study the psychology of dreaming, to current experiments on the neurophysiology of the sleeping brain, providing relatable and often humorous anecdotal evidence from the authors' own lives and work along the way.

      …Even Aristotle weighed in on the nature and use of dreams, although he concluded that they were likely just the result of our organs shifting during sleep.

      …Early research explored the link between waking experiences and dream content, examined the abstract nature of symbols in dreams, and even began applying statistical principles to quantify data gathered in dream journals. By the time Freud published his seminal treatise on dreams in 1899, lesser-known scientists had already gathered evidence that remains remarkably relevant to sleep research today, including the observation that vivid dreams occur most frequently during early morning sleep and that physiological changes occur as sleep progresses.

      Since the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in 1950, however, most studies have approached sleep from a biological perspective. We now know that sleep appears to play a crucial role in clearing waste from the brain, that it regulates hormone levels, and that it helps boost the immune system. There is also a large body of evidence linking sleep to learning and memory….

      On the surface, the idea that the infrequently remembered and often bizarre narratives we construct during sleep could contribute to memory consolidation seems unlikely. But Zadra and Stickgold argue that the disjointed nature of dreams is actually key to their role in memory processing. They maintain that dreams, rather than merely repeating the events of the day to cement them into long-term storage, allow our brains to freely explore memories that have been filed away over time, extracting information and developing a narrative based on associations.

      …Coactivation of weakly associated items could underlie the strange and often unexpected twists that unfold during dreaming.

      But why do dreams take on a narrative structure at all? The authors suggest that the narrative allows the dreamer to explore and evaluate possible scenarios, providing a mechanism by which a verdict can be rendered. Dreams that elicit strong emotions, they argue, may cue the brain about the association’s potential utility, which may in turn lead to a strengthening of that association….

Study: Police Diversity Matters

[These excerpts are from an article by Douglas Starr the 12 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      …Does a police officer’s race matter when it comes to the use of force, or even the decision to stop someone in the first place? Although many activists, academics, and even police departments have answered yes—and hired more minority officers to improve community relations—a link has never been proved, and the field has been riddled with contradictory studies.

      …After combing through millions of police records from 2012 to 2015 and analyzing them for the nature of the action, the time of day, the race a of the civilian and the officer, and many other factors, they found that Black, Hispanic, and female officers in Chicago made fewer stops and arrests than their white male counterparts, especially for petty crimes.

      …To properly compare arrest and stop records, they had to geolocate each incident. They also threw out the records of higher ranking officers and explosives technicians, who tended not to interact with civilians. The result, Mummolo says, “was a real Frankenstein data set.” But it allowed the team to refine its list to nearly 7000 officers, who, over 3 million shifts, had engaged in 1.6 million stops, arrests, and uses of force over a period of 3 years.

      When they analyzed their data, they found Black officers in Chicago made far fewer stops and arrests, by 29% and 21%, respectively, than their average white counterparts. They used force 32% less frequently. Overall, Black officers stopped 17% fewer white civilians than their white counterparts, and 39% fewer Black civilians. Most of the differences involved discretionary stops for “suspicious” activity or minor violations; the researchers saw little difference in stops and arrests for violent crimes….They saw a similar pattern with Hispanic officers. Across all races, female officers made fewer stops for minor violations than male officers.

      The results make a strong case that diversifying a police force can reduce conflicts between officers and the community without making any trade-offs in public safety, other researchers say….

Rx for Environmental Health Disparities

[These excerpts are from an article by Harriet A. Washington the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      No one should be surprised to learn that higher rates of coronavirus infection and death have plagued the racially marginalized African American, Latino, and Native American communities. Other infectious scourges such as HIV and hepatitis C have shown a similar pattern.

      Yet astonishment flared last April when data revealed that although African Americans constituted 13 percent of the population, they accounted for approximately 40 percent of reported COVID-19 cases. Twitter users proffered familiar theories to explain it….

      …African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans supposedly courted their own illness by being obese; by smoking, drinking, and using drugs; by choosing crumbling tenements and vermin-infested public housing over suburban bedroom communities; and by ignoring social distancing and, by extension, the law as they ventured out and congregated daily.

      …For these Victorian scientists, the shockingly high infant mortality rate of the enslaved was the direct result not of the peculiar institution’s starvation, physical labor, untreated diseases, and draconian punishments but rather of Black parents' abuse and neglect.

      The era’s physicians called pellagra a Black infectious disease that struck only African Americans because of their penchant for living in filthy, crowded conditions. Only in 1920 did research by Joseph Goldberger reveal it as a deficiency disease, linking it to the Lmalnutrition that had been so common during enslavement….

      We also need a strong federal watchdog dedicated to protecting communi-ties from environmental hazards. That begins with revitalizing the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in shambles thanks to the Trump administration. Trump and his allies rolled back dozens of protections that had blocked big polluters from exposing people to carbon dioxide, methane, mercury, and other emissions long known to be responsible for major public health effects, such as cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and strokes. Prior to the Trump administration, the EPA had a long history of successfully targeting the purveyors of environmental poisons by enforcing industry standards, replete with government surveillance and penalties. It’s time to rebuild them.

      Eliminating environmental racism’s shameful inequity also requires confronting and correcting the healthcare faultlines that shape it. We must nurture a society in which we address and treat all patients with the same respect and care. Racism, not race, is the problem….

      To remedy this, health insurance should be extended to all, and the government should invest in keeping local hospitals open. We can begin by extending health care to all the essential workers who are being forced to forgo social distancing.

      Fortunately, as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, we have the solution to medical inequity, and we have the means. We just need the political will.

Environmental Justice Demands Listening

[These excerpts are from an article by Dorceta E. Taylor the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …The environmental justice movement arose because of the urgent need to make connections between racism, discrimination, equity, justice, and the environment. Published in 1962, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s brilliantly crafted expose about the dangers ofpesticides, helped usher in the modern environmental movement. But the book focused on wildlife and human health without accounting for how pesticides disproportionately harmed farmworkers—particularly seasonal-immigrant labofers of color. When the United Farm Workers fought indiscriminate organophosphate use on the grounds of worker safety, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund declined to support them, since organophosphates caused less harm to wildlife than DDT.

      In 1972, Sierra Club members were asked to vote on the question “Should the Club concern itselfwith the conservation problems of such special groups as the urban poor and ethnic minorities?” Most members voted no. But there was a generational divide—the younger the members, the more likely they were to agree that they should.

      …Instead, big environmental groups developed policies like cap-and-trade without consultation with environmental justice organizations. Cap-and-trade placed limits on overall emissions but allowed big polluters like oil refineries to purchase the right to emit more. Those big polluters were more likely to be located in communities of color, and later assessments showed that those communities became more polluted after cap-and-trade policies went Lint° effect….

      Environmental justice advocates want to see more than words to heal the wounds of the past. They want to see full accountability from environmental organizations about the concrete steps they have taken and what they have accomplished in making their organizations diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The future of environmental justice is one in which people of color are recognized as equal partners in environmen-tal'affairs, and it is one in which people of color can realize the adage coined at the outset of the environmental justice movement: “We speak for ourselves.”

Teach Your Elders Well

[These excerpts are from an article by Varshini Prakashin the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      We are young people who have witnessed a world in chaos careening toward climate catastrophe. We have watched and waited our entire lives for people much older and more powerful than us to take care of the crises that were emerging. Yet little has happened. Now our generation is standing up to say, “We are ready to be the adults in the room. We are ready to take the future into our own hands. We are ready to envision reality in a different way.”

      …there was no political home for young people in America who were concerned about the climate crisis'. There was no political home for teenagers and twentysomethings who woke up every day horrified by the crisis and went to sleep imagining a chaotic, climate-disordered world. We realized that it would be absolutely game-changing if we could harness the power of young people—all their passion, optimism, and hope—and translate it into campaigns for long-lasting political change.

      Young people have historically played an important role in social movements and political change….

      …One of the biggest and most important principles of effective protest is this: In your demands and your vision, don’t lead with what is possible in today’s reality but with what is necessary—for, say, the survival of humanity, or for achieving the ultimate goals of whatever campaign or issue you’re working on. So often, I find that older generations are hindered by their view of what is possible or impossible right now….

      Second, we were unafraid to go after not just Republicans—who were denying the validity of climate science and supporting misinformation campaigns—but also Democrats….

      Third, storytelling is powerful….we didn't just deliver a petition with a bunch ofnumbers about parts per million or 2°C. We shared stories about what we had lost because of the climate crisis, or what we were afraid, of losing. We told stories about what we hoped for our future. Some of the storytellers were in high school, not even able to vote yet, but were engaged in politics because of how much they cared for their future….

      Fourth, young people are amazing these days at using all the tools at our disposal to reach other young people, sharing our ideals not just from a political perspective but also from a cultural perspective. We powerfully marry digital organizing with offline organizing….

      The biggest thing that needs to happen for a better future is that ordinary people need to get more power. I don’t expect power holders or people in office to make that happen. We have to build movements….

      The truth is that you can dream up all the white papers you want and create all the policy proposals you want, but we can’t enact any of it into reality if we don’t have power….The road forward is uncertain. But the question of what's possible stretches us to open up our imagination and create new worlds in ways that we L. might never have dreamed of before.

Will the Circular Economy Save the Planet?

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth L. Cline in the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …The apparel industry churns out about 5 billion pairs of jeans each year in a resource-intensive process; making a single pair requires at least 800 gallons of water and is responsible for the release of 20 kilograms of CO2 equivalents (comparable to charging your phone about 2,550 times). Add to that about a third of a cup of chemicals to achieve the colors and distressed look consumers have come to expect….

      The fashion industry is notoriously wasteful, consuming roughly 108 million metric tons of nonrenewable resources each year, from pesticides and synthetic dyes to coal and oil. Only about 1 percent of all textiles are recycled into new clothing. The majority—more than two-thirds of textiles—are either incinerated or tossed into landfills.

      These problems are hardly unique to the fashion industry: Our entire economy is built on an inefficient and dangerous system of resource extraction. In 2017, the world passed a grim new annual record of 110 billion tons of resources consumed—from gravel and cement to fossil fuels, metal ores, and timber—an 8 percent increase from just two years before. According to the consultancy Circle Economy, a scant 8.6 percent of materials get reused….

      Over the past decade, the idea of shifting the economy away from a linear model to a circular one to solve our environmental woes has taken hold in corporate boardrooms and government offices around the world. Last June, leaders from the World Economic Forum, the European Parliament, Fortune 500 companies, and environmental grotips endorsed the circular economy as a way to restore the environment and promote growth in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Google, Amazon, Coca-Cola, IKEA, Unilever, and I-I&M have all rolled out ambitious plans to go circular. The United Nations identifies circularity as a key pillar of its Sustainable Development Goals.

      While a global plan to become more sustainable sounds like progress, the circular economy is a huge and fuzzy concept, and it can be hard to pin down how exactly it translates into practice. A 2017 research paper on the topic identified at least 114 definitions of the term, with the majority amounting to little more than reuse and recycling. This is concerning because environmentalists have been championing reuse - and recycling for decades, but our exploitation of resources has only intensified….

      The idea of a modern society built around nature’s circular systems first emerged in economist Kenneth Botilding’s 1966 essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.” In it, Boulding described the urgent need' to transition away from an “open economy” of careless resource extraction, production, and consumption to a “closed Earth”—a cyclical economic system that preserves and maintains resources by creating products that never wear out….

      The various proponents of the circular economy are inspired by nature's capacity to eliminate waste by transforming it into new fodder for ecosystems….

      Responding to decades of pressure from activists and consumers, the fashion industry has seemingly made the most -- progress applying circular economy principles….

      Perhaps more significant (if less technologically alluring), a number of apparel companies and developing business models that revolve around extending the life of the clothes they produce. The secondhand-clothing sector is growing 25 times faster than fast fashion, according to a report by ThredUp, the world’s largest online thrift store. Eco-minded brands like Patagonia and Eileen Fisher now refurbish and resell their own secondhand clothing. And consumers are responding to the trend….

      But the real cutting edge for circular fashion is material innovations that enable fiber and footwear components to be reused over and over again without degrading, keeping materials out ofilandfills and potentially zeroing out the need for virgin fibers. (Current recycling technology produces lower-quality materials that are usually blended with virgin materials.) We’re closer to this science-fiction-sounding scenario than most people realize….

      Companies outside the fashion industry have also introduced circular economy initiatives in recent years. IKEA has committed to making all of its furniture out of renewable or recyclable content by 2030. The company is rolling out its Second Life for Furniture program, which pays customers for their gently used IKEA furniture and resells it in stores across 27 countries….

      It’s hard not to be dazzled by circular innovations like an in-store recycling machine that spits out a new sweater. But as the circular economy scales up, and case studies emerge in real life, problems with the concept are coming to light.

      …Russell concedes that most big businesses that are exploring circularity aren’t doing so at the expense of their main revenue streams….

      What that means is that in fashion and elsewhere, the circular economy is not replacing the linear economy; it’s merely running parallel to it. In other words, circularity is being positioned as a way to drive new growth, not necessarily as a way to cut down on the use of raw materials. There’s no evidence that any of the large brands embracing circularity are actually using fewer virgin resources overall. The fashion industry is a case in point: It still manufactures an estimated 100 billion garments annually; enough for every human on-the planet to buy something new to wear every month. Total production of virgin textiles—whether polyester, cotton, or rayon—hit historic highs in 2019.

      What’s more, by emphasizing reuse and recycling—rather than reducing production—the circular economy runs the risk of becdming a red herring, enabling companies to increase their environmental impact while appearing greener to the public. The circular economy is essentially riding on decades of public conditioning that has us convinced that reuse and recycling are always good for the planet, but that’s not the case…..

      The economics and difficulty of recycling complex consumer goods like electronics, cars, and furniture mean that wide-scale refurbishment and recycling of most products remain elusive. But even if industry were to overcome these barriers and finally scale up recycling, virgin-resource consumption still might not decrease. This is partly because recycling itself requires water, energy, and chemicals. It is far from a zero-impact process….

      In fact, designing products so they're made to be recycled and reused could drive up overall consumption of virgin resources….

      Steel, for example, is the most widely recycled material, and yet consumption of primary steel has doubled in the past 20 years. Because the total consumption of resources is growing by about 3 percent every year, it's difficult to make every new thing out of old things, which means recycled material will always be in competition with virgin material….

      Despite decades of enthusiasm about the circular economy, today’s world is much further away from being sustainable than when Cradle to Cradle was written. The Model U still hasn't been mass-produced, the amount of carpet landfilled in the United States has nearly doubled, and more than 9 million tons of furniture winds up in the trash in the United States every year. Electronics are now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world.

      …Geyer believes that a circular economy, even one grounded in reuse and recycling, could help us get. closer to our ultimate goal, which is to live within the planet’s boundaries. But that won’t magically happen….

      The notion that we can go on making as much as we want as long as we reuse it all is a myth that we’ll have to leave behind if we ever want to realize the dream of a circular economy….

Forests to Burn

[These excerpts are from an article by Christopher Ketcham in the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …In 2019, a new industry came to town. Enviva, the World's largest producer of wood pellets for what it calls “sustainable wood bioenergy,” opened a processing facility in Hamlet. Most of the pellets produced there will eventually be exported to the United Kingdom and the European Union, where they will be burned as fuel in utility-scale power plants.

      In 2009, the EU set a goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable.sources by 2020—and EU commissioners included wood biomass in the definition of renewables.The broad idea was thatthe unmarketable leftovers from the logging industry could be upcycled into wood pellets that could easily replace coal as a fuel source in existing power plants. Since trees can be replanted, the biomass and forestry industries claimed, the carbon lost in logging and burning them would be absorbed again as the new trees grew.

      As those new EU energy rules have come into effect, the US South 'has become the epicenter of a booming wood-pellet industrythat has grown tenfold in the past decade. But researchers and environmental groups say that biomass for electricity production is not the green-energy solution that corporations like Enviva promise.

      Critics say that the climate-neutrality claims behind biomass depend on a carbon-accounting sleight of hand that ignores the critical timeframe of decarbonizing in the next 10 to 15 years to avoid catastrophic climate warming. Trees take many decades, sometimes a century, to fully mature and store the carbon that’s emitted when forests are felled and burned. Meanwhile, the demand forwood pellets is accelerating clearcutting in the South, where forests are being logged at four times the rate of those in the Amazon rainforest. Research from the British policy. institute Chatham House has concluded thatthe burning ofwood for power emits more carbon than coal per unit of electricity produced….

      As the international biomass industry cloaks its global carbon emissions, the manufacturing of wood pellets has inundated the rural poor in the South with localized air pollution….

      In 2018, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) published a review of the operations of 21 wood-pellet processing facilities in the South. The facilities, all of which were exporting pellets to Europe, emitted some 16,000 tons of air pollutants annually. More than half the plants, according to the E1P report, “either failed to keep emissions below legal limits or failed to install required pollution controls,” in violation of Clean Air Act standards. At one Enviva facility in Virginia, plant operators went so far as to remove pollution-control equipment.

      The manufacturing of biomass-energy wood pellets requires drying the logged material in a wood-fired process, then pressing the dried wood into pellets—and every step emits significant amounts of air pollution. According to the EIP study, the emissions from the facilities include fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds. Wood-pellet manufacturing emits a form of soot and dust called PM 2.5, which can pass deep into the lungs and depress lung function, worsen asthma, and cause heart attacks. Volatile organic compounds, when exposed to sunlight, transform into ozone, which is especially dangerous to children and the elderly.

      …there has been a rise in respiratory problems, fevers, and cancer in communities near wood-pellet processing facilities, but proof of a connection is “hard for us” because there are no epidemiological studies that tie health problems directly to the wood-pellet boom….

      According to federal data, Black children are 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than white children and seven times more likely to die from it….

Ready for 100 Days

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Michael Brune in the January/February 2021 issue of Sierra.]

      …But make no mistake: Our movement still needs to fight for the future we and our children deserve. The Trump administration didn’t create the climate crisis, though it did its damnedest to make it worse. Just installing a new administration won’t end the crisis, either. There are still too many politicians and corporate executives ready to let people die and homes burn to keep the deadly but profitable fossil fuel economy in place. Similarly, systemic racism, misogyny, xenophobia, economic inequality, and votersuppression didn’t begin and won’t end with the Trump administration.

      Still, the Biden administration represents a crucial opening to mend our democracy and our economy, avert climate catastrophe, and ensure that people from all backgrounds have equal access to clean air and clean water and opportunities to explore wild nature. Biden and Harris’s first 100 days offer an opportunity to setthe agenda for the rest of the administration's time in office.

      On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement, institute new methane-pollution limits on oil and gas operations, develop new fuel-economy standards, permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other wilderness areas, ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, and require public companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risks—all on day one of his presidency….

      Our country won’t just be facing a climate crisis come Inauguration Day. Owing to Trump's incompetence, we're struggling with a surging pandemic and an economic recession that's pushed millions out of work. As a nation, we'll still be grappling with the systemic racism that devalues the lives of Black, brown, and Indigenous people and leaves their communities disproportionately affected by pollution and climate chaos. Though Trump lost, it’s clear that his brand 0 resentment continues to resonate with millions of Americans….

      We have no timetowaste. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report, by the time Biden takes office, we will have just nine years to limit global warming to 1.5°C and have the chance to avoid the vicious storms, droughts, floods, and fires that would come with a hotter Earth.The grassroots activism that propelled Biden and Harris to the White House will need to be sustained if we are to see any of our goals realized.

      With more than 11 million Americans unemployed, solving the climate crisis represents our bestopportunity to rebuild lives and livelihoods. While it's daunting to consider all that needs to be done, it’s also exciting to have so many pathways to progress. Let’s start by making the most of the Biden-Harris administration's first 100 days.

Fighting the Good Fight

[These excerpts are from a book review by Adrenne Hollis in the 15 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      In Michael Mann’s latest book, The New Climate War, the reader is afforded a unique perspective on the struggle for climate action and climate protection. This perspective, covering the span of a few centuries and ending in the present, weaves together the missteps, manipulations, and misrepresentations that have occurred throughout the so-called climate war between those who believe that human actions play a role in climate change and those who do not. The book ends on a hopeful note with a call to action and recommended steps for climate advocates.

      The “new” climate war Mann refers to in the book’s title introduces a previously untapped element in the climate battle—strategic inaction, as perpetuated by entities he describes as “inactivists.” According to Mann, this new approach—used to greatest effect by those charged with advancing fossil fuel interests—is intended to deflect blame, divide the public, and delay action so that business can continue as usual. Climate inaction differs from climate change denial, a strategyused in past climate arguments that was ultimately unsuccessful….

      Mann describes various attacks that have been leveraged against climate advocates, including himself: attacks on scientific data, terminology, and hypotheses; attempted character assassinations; and the use of outright trickery and deceit to mislead the scientific community and the public. Such efforts, he argues, were meant to deflect attention away from fossil fuel interest groups and their supporters.

      At the same time, the book ties together every action and every inaction that has affected the fight to protect Earth from the adverse consequences of climate change. Mann is transparent about times when those who fight for climate action have fallen short, for example, describing incidents in which climate change advocates have failed to refute false narratives perpetuated by climate deniers. The notion that individuals should be responsible for addressing the adverse effects of climate change is one such narrative, which, he rightly argues, deflects attention away from the fossil fuel industry.

      Climate changeis a “threat multiplier,” a term that has different meanings in different contexts, notes Mann. From a national security peispective, for example, it may contribute to political instability and terrorist activity by exacerbating existing stressors such as agricultural deficits and water shortages. It can also imperil a country’s civil infrastructure. Meanwhile, from a public health perspective, climate change can exacerbate health disparities in communities that are already disproportionately affected by environmental pollution. Here, Mann describes how adverse effects from climate change rendered regions such as Puerto Rico, where health care infrastructure was severely compromised as a result of Hurricane Maria, unable to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

      In the book’s closing pages, Mann reveals that he is “cautiously optimistic” about tackling the climate crisis. His reasons stem from the fact that a great deal of attention has been focused on climate change of late, both as a result of the numerous extreme weather events that have occurred recently and because we have had to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, which has highlighted just how unprepared and vulnerable we are to global threats.

      Mann is most heartened, however, by the current revival of environmental activism, particularly, as he states, “by children across the world,” which he argues has helped to show that climate change is the “defining challenge of our time.” As such, this book is a must read not just for people currently working to address climate change but also for those who are new to the climate fight, the latter of whom will learn much about past challenges, struggles, and attacks that have been aimed at climate champions.

      There is good reason to hope for change, Mann argues. He points to the sustainability efforts that many cities, states, corporations, and nations are embracing, and he emphasizes that although we need to recognize and accept that damage has already been done as a result of climate change, it is not too late to take action.

Public Debate Is Good for Science

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 15 January 2021 issue of Science.]

      In the age of the Internet, there's no such thing as a private debate. But is that bad for science? Some scientists have had misgivings. When debates in any sector move beyond the halls of universities and government agencies, there is potential for misuse of information and public confusion. But open debate can also foster communication among scientists and between the scientific community and the public. During the pandemic, open debate on research, health, and policy—whether on television, in newspapers, or on social media—widened public attention and encouraged more diverse voices. If this trend spurs scientists to agree more quickly about the best solutions to our problems—and at the same time helps the public “see” the process of scientific discourse more clearly—then this is good for everyone, including scientists.

      I pay attention to scientists’ public conversations about COVID-19— including the fast-paced exchanges on Twitter—because my role in communicating science includes amplifying consensus while steering clear of becoming an armchair epidemiologist or immunologist. For most of the pandemic, the trusted experts have generally agreed on issues like social distancing and a rigorous analysis of clinical trial data by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies. But there have been areas where a consensus has not emerged, such as whether and when to close schools or the usefulness of masks.

      More recently, a heated debate has taken place over how to distribute the COVID-I9 vaccines. For those that require two shots, should the period between them be stretched so that more people can be vaccinated sooner? Should the second shot be dropped altogether? Should a half: dose of each shot be given to younger folks at less risk for infection? Outstanding scholars have taken different positions on this, and the United Kingdom decided to stretch the interval between doses substantially. The debate led to what seems like a good outcome in the United States: The FDA decided not to deviate from the protocols followed in the phase 3 clinical trials. That makes sense. Right now, the main constraint for mass vaccination lies in the logistics for administering the shots themselves, not in having a sufficient supply of vaccine. The Biden transition team just announced a plan to get more people vaccinated while working to ensure that enough vaccine will be in place for the second shots.

      …These days, the public can access debates about science regardless of where they take place, so the medium isn’t so important anymore. What matters is getting to the right place in terms of the science—deciding what the question should be, the appropriate way of answering it, and the correct interpretation of the data. For many scientists, public debate is a new frontier and it may feel like the Wild West (it may well be). But rather than avoiding such conversations, let the debates be transparent and vigorous, wherever they are held. If we want the public to understand that science is an honorably self-correcting process, let’s do away once and for all with the idea that science is a fixed set of facts in a textbook. Instead, let everyone see the noisy, messy deliberations that advance science and lead to decisions that benefit us all.

Species? Climate? Cost? Ambitious Goal Means Trade-offs

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 5 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      President Joe Biden last week unveiled an ambitious conservation goal, unprecedented for the United States: conserving 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030, which would require more than doubling the area of public and private holdings under heightened protections.

      Conservation scientists welcomed the so-called 30-by-30 goal….

      But Biden’s order also raises athorny practical question: Which swaths of land and sea should be the top targets for enhanced protection or management? The order says the effort should aim for a number of outcomes, including preserving biodiversity, curbing climate change, and even creating jobs and promoting environmental justice. But researchers warn that difficult trade-offs lie ahead, because few chunks of territory can provide all of the desired benefits….

      Reaching the 30% goal could require extending protection to vast expanses of land and sea, depending on how officials define “protected.” Only about 12% of U.S. land is already in wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national parks, and other reserves with strong protection, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Much is in Alaska; just 7.5% of the lower 48 states is highly protected….At sea, the country is much closer to the goal: Some 26% of coastal waters is protected to some degree within sanctuaries, national marine monuments, or other entities….

      Making cost the top priority led to expansive new protection in the western plains, where land is cheaper. But because most of the added land supports relatively few threatened species, the scheme would fall short on that measure. The least cost scenario also protected relatively little land that absorbs or stores climate warming gases such as carbon dioxide or methane.

      Another scenario, which emphasized protecting resilient and connected land-scapes, cost twice as much. It preserved areas across most of the country except deserts and the corn belt. A third vision, focused on preventing the loss of grasslands and forests that store carbon, delivered the most climate benefit, but cost three times as much. It also produced a patchwork of protected forests in the southeast that lacked connections, reducing their value for preserving biodiversity. A final scenario, which protected species across the country but especially in the south, covered the greatest range of ecosystems. It cost four times as much and provided fewer climate benefits. Overall, the analysis found that just 2% of lands scored highly on all four measures.

      Observers say Biden could make rapid progress and contain costs by focusing on territory already owned by the federal government….

      The Biden administration’s plans should become clearer by May, when federal agencies must outline their strategies for reaching the 30-by-30 goal….

Study Shows Winners, Losers as Desert Warms

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 5 February 2021 issue of Science.]

      In the early 1900s, Joseph Grinnell traversed the wilds of California in his Ford Model T truck, meticulously surveying its fauna. Along the Californian coast, he trapped pocket mice and watched condors soar; in the Mojave Desert, his team chronicled American kestrels swooping for insects and caught cactus mice hiding among rocks.

      Now, by comparing Grinnell's data with modern surveys, ecologists have shown that climate change has not been an equal opportunity stressor. As the Mojave warmed by about 2°C over the past century, bird numbers and diversity declined dramatically, but small mammals like little pocket mice are holding their own. The survivors’ secret seems to be a nocturnal lifestyle and an ability to escape the heat by burrowing….

      Until now, researchers have I often assumed climate change challenges mammals and birds in similar ways, because both need to maintain their body temperature. But, “There are clearly winners and losers….”

      The animals Grinnell studied now live in a markedly hotter, drier climate….On average, every spot surveyed had lost more than 40% of its desert bird species, such as American kestrels or mountain quail. At most sites, even the remaining species were scarcer.

      But the new study…tells a more hopeful story for rats, mice, chipmunks, and other small mammals. Since Grinnell’s survey, three species have declined, 27 have remained stable, and four have increased in number….

      …To keep cool, birds must expend energy, for example by dilating blood vessels to evaporate moisture from their legs or mouths. The energetic costs of cooling in birds were more than three times higher than in mammals.

      That’s because most small mammals take refuge underground during the hottest parts of the day. Such behaviors even helped mammals such as woodrats, which are not specially adapted for desert life. Only mammals that find themselves in soil too shallow to provide much cooling, such as the cactus mouse, suffered from the heat….

      Modeling studies like this one will also help conservationists make hard choices….

President’s Note

[These excerpts are from a letter from John Seager in the December 2020 issue of Population Connection.]

      …If there is one thing all Americans can agree on about this election, it’s that the outcome wasn’t entirely what anyone hoped for. The dismal Trump era will thankfully end. Yet congressional results were mixed.

      We were extremely heartened by the election of Joe Biden and Kamala. Harris. They are committed to taking decisive action to repeal the Global Gag Rule and to reinvigorate an array of vital programs. There is no time to lose when we’re literally seeing the world set aflame due to our heedless ways. We were, however, dismayed to see the defeat of several stalwart House supporters of programs that help achieve population stabilization. While some great Senate candidates fell short of victory on Election Day, control ofthat body is still up for grabs.

      …Since the era of rapid population growth began around 1800, it’s taken more than two full centuries for us to reach current overpopulation levels. Like it or not, it’s going to take time and much sustained effort to restore balance.

      Of course, the events of the day matter greatly. And this election in particular was critical. But we must keep thinking about the next generation, the next century, even the next millennium, which is no easy task in this instantaneous era.

      By meeting the population challenge, we can set the table for a much brighter future. Over the past 50 years, we’ve gone from about four nations at or below replacement rate in terms of family size to nearly 100 nations in that category. That's still fewer than half the nations on earth, but it provides a roadmap for a better future if we're willing to persevere.

      One of the best ways to achieve a better, safer, less-crowded future is by ensuring today's young people understand the challenges posed by rapid population growth. We're the only nationwide provider of K-12 Population Education. If we don’t do it, no one will. We adapted rapidly to training thousands of educators remotely under the current COVID regime, since there is no time to lose….

Why Do People Starve?

[These excerpts are from an article by Bobbie Johnson in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Hunger around the globe is getting worse, not better. It’s true that the proportion of people who regularly fail to get enough calories to live has been declining, dropping from 15 in 2000 to 8.6% in 2014. Nevertheless, that proportion has since held fairly steady, and the absolute number of undernourished people has been rising. Last year, according to the UN, 688 million people went hungry on a regular basis, up from 628.9 million in 2014. The curve is not sharp, but if current trends continue, more than 840 million people may be undernourished by 2030….

      Today, the global antipoverty nonprofit Oxfam identifies 10 “extreme hunger hot spots” worldwide where millions of people face this abominable torture. Some are theaters of conflict—including Afghanistan, home to the longest war America has been involved in, and Yemen, where a civil war fueled by neighboring Saudi Arabia has left 80% of the country’s 24 million citizens in need of humanitarian assistance. But there are other circumstances that can bring starvation too: Venezuela’s cratering economy; South Africa’s high unemployment rates; Brazil's years of austerity.

      And even in high-functioning industrialized countries, the threat of hunger—not just poor nutrition, but actual hunger—has been rising as a result of economic inequality. In the UK, the use of food banks has more than doubled since 2013. In the US, food insecurity is widespread, and the hardest hit are children, elders, and the poor. In Mississippi, the country’s hungriest state, one child in four is unable to consistently get enough to eat. What's happening?

      It’s hard to comprehend, in part because the food system has been one of the greatest technological success stories of the modern world. What we eat, how it is produced, and where it comes from—all have changed dramatically in the industrial age. We have found a way to apply almost every kind of technology to food, from mechanization and computerization to biochemistry and genetic modification. These technological leaps have dramatically increased productivity and made food more reliably and widely available to billions of people.

      Farming itself has become many times more efficient and more productive. In the early 1900s, the Haber-Bosch process was harnessed to capture nitrogen from the air and turn it into fertilizer at an unprecedented scale. Mechanization came quickly: in the 1930s, around one in seven farms in the US had a tractor; within 20 years, theywere used by the majority of farms. This was matched by an increasing ability to redirect water supplies and tap into aquifers, helping turn some arid regions into fertile arable land. Swaths of China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the US were transformed by huge water projects, dams, and irrigation systems. Then, in the 1960s, the American agronomist Norman Borlaug bred new strains of wheat that were more resistant to disease, ushering in the “Green Revolution” in countries like India and Brazil—a development that led Borlaug himself to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.

      All of this means that industrialized farmers now operate at almost superhuman levels of output compared with their predecessors. In 1920, more than 31 million Americans worked in agriculture, and the average farm was just under 150 acres. A century later, the total acreage of farmland in the US has fallen by 9%, but just one-tenth of that workforce, 3.2 million people, is employed to tend it. (There are also far fewer farms now, but they are three times larger on average.)

      The supply chain, too, is a futuristic marvel. You can walk into a store in most countries and buy fresh goods from all over the world. These supply chains even proved somewhat resistant to the chaos caused by the pandemic: while covid-19 lockdowns did lead to food shortages in some places, most of the empty shelves were the ones meant to hold toilet paper and cleaning products. Food supplies were more resilient than many expected.

      But the mass industrialization of food and our ability to buy it has created an avalanche of unintended consequences. Cheap, bad calories have led to an obesity crisis that disproportionately affects the poor and disadvantaged. Intensive animal farming has increased greenhouse-gas emissions, since meat has a much larger carbon footprint than beans or grains.

      The environment has taken a beating, too. Booms in fertilizer and pesticide use have polluted land and waterways, and the easy availability of water has led some dry parts of the world to use up their resources.

      …Today, he says, food production is already competing for water with urban and industrial uses. More people are moving to urban areas, accelerating the trend. If this continues, he says, the proportion of the world's fresh water supply available for growing food will drop from 70% to 40%....

      These are all bleak predictions of future hunger, but they don’t really explain starvation today. For that, we can look at a different unexpected aspect of the 20th-century farming revolution: the fact that it didn’t happen everywhere.

      Just as healthy calories are hard to come by for those who are poor, the industrialization of farming is unevenly distributed….But progress stopped there. Today, a hectare of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa produces just 1.2 metric tons of grain each year; in the US and Europe the equivalent land yields up to eight metric tons. This is not because farmers in poorer regions lack the natural resources, necessarily (West Africa has long been a producer of cotton), but because they are locked into a cycle of subsistence. They haven’t industrialized, so they don’t grow much food, which means they can’t make much money, so they can’t invest in equipment, which means they can't grow much food. The cycle continues.

      …The reason farmers in less industrialized nations can’t make much money isn't just that they have low crop yields. It’s also that their markets are flooded with cheaper competition from overseas….

      Patel and Montenegro point out that much of the populist political chaos of recent years has been a result of the trade turmoil—industrial jobs lost to outsourcing, and rural protests in the US and Europe by people angry at the prospect of rebalancing a deck that has been stacked in their favor for decades.

      Donald Trump, they write, “was never honest about ditching free trade,” but “the social power he stirred up in the Heartland was real. Invoking the abominations of outsourced jobs, rural depression, and lost wages, he tapped in to neoliberal dysfunction and hitched the outrage to authoritarian rule.”

      All this leaves us with a bleak picture of what’s next. We have built systems that don’t just widen the gap between rich and poor but make the distance unassailable. Climate change, competition for resources, and urbanization will produce more conflict. And economic inequality, both at home and abroad, means the numbers of hungry people are more likely to rise than fall….

      The countless books about the food system over the past few years make it clear: solutions are easy to lay out and extraordinarily complicated to enact.

      First steps might include helping farmers in poor countries out of the trap they are in by enabling them to grow more food and sell it at competitive prices. Such a strategy would mean not only providing the tools to modernize—such as better equipment, seed, or stock—but also reducing the tariffs and subsidies that make their hard work so unsustainable….

      And food itself needs to be more environmentally sound, employing fewer tricks that increase yields at the expense of the wider ecology. No more farming oases set up in bone-dry deserts; no more Salton Seas. This is difficult, but climate change may force us to do some of it regardless.

      All of this means recognizing that the golden age of farming wasn’t a golden age for everybody, and that our future may look different from what we have become used to. If so, that future might be better for those who go hungry today, and maybe for the planet as a whole. It may be hard to reckon with, but our spectacular global food system isn’t what will stop people from starving—it’s exactly why they starve in the first place.

Mother’s Milk

[These excerpts are from an article by Haley Cohen Gilliland in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Breastfeeding has swung in and out LAP of vogue since ancient Les—influenced by the evolution of medical knowledge, but also by race and social status.Wet nursing, the outsourcing of breastfeeding to someone other than a baby’s mother, goes back at least to ancient Greece. Before the Civil War in America, white enslavers forced Black women to breastfeed the enslavers’ children, often to the detriment of the women’s own infants.

      In 1851, the first modem feeding bottle—an elaborate contraption with a cork nipple and ivory pins that selectively closed inlets to regulate air flow—was invented in France, pushing wet nursing to near extinction. Shortly thereafter, German chemist Justus von Liebig concocted the first commercial infant formula, which consisted of cow’s milk, wheat, malt flour, and a pinch of potassium bicarbonate. It quickly came to be considered the ideal infant food.

      By the 20th century, formula use bad skyrocketed, driven in large part by zealous advertising to doctors and consumers. A 1954 advertisement for Carnation evaporated milk in America shows a radiant mother and infant with text that reads, “8 out of 10 mothers who feed their babies a Carnation formula say: ‘My doctor recommended it!’” Later, formula companies began giving hospitals free formula to distribute to new mothers. At the same time, more women were joining the workforce, making sustained breastfeeding more complicated. The perception that formula was just as safe and efficient, if not more so, led breastfeeding rates to plummet. By 1972, 22% ofAmerican infants were breastfed—a historic low, down from 77% of those born between 1936 and 1940.

      Today, those rates have rebounded, and doctors widely agree that breast milk provides the best nutrition for infants. Most American babies—about 84%, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—are breastfed at some point. But only one-quarter are fed solely breast milk for six months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.

      Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. As Strickland experienced, babies can struggle to latch on; sometimes the breasts don't produce enough milk; and it can be excruciatingly painful for the mother.

      Moreover, many mothers of newborns have to work, and it can be difficult if not impossible to breastfeed or pump milk in the workplace. This, obviously, is harder for women who are poor, and especially in countries like the United States, where there is no mandatory paid parental leave and only a small percentage of working mothers get it from their employers….

      The manager led her to the processing area, where recently slaughtered cows were strung up by their hooves and moved along a conveyor belt for processing. Trying to keep her eyes locked on the ground, she pointed up at a cow’s udder and muttered weakly: “I’d like that piece, please.” She went back to her makeshift lab, placed a piece of udder in a petri dish, doused it with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and salts, and carefully deposited it in an incubator….

      Breast milk derives from two types of Lacells in the milk ducts and alveoli—small sacs in the mammary gland where milk collects. Luminal epithelial cells absorb nutrients from the bloodstream and convert them into milk. Beside them, lining the ducts and alveoli, are smooth, muscle-like myoepithelial cells. When an infant starts suclding, it prompts the myoepithelial cells to contract, pushing milk from the luminal cells, through the ducts, to the baby’s mouth.

      …One study in 2015 suggested that producing one kilogram of milk formula generates the equivalent of four kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. Strickland’s approach had the potential to be much Lmore efficient….

      Biomilq was on the brink of shuttering when Strickland and Egger were promised $3.5 million in funding from a group of investors led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which Bill Gates had established to back technologies that could reduce carbon emissions. Upending the formula industry held the promise of doing just that. As the spring of 2020 gave way to summer, the money arrived in Biomilq’s bank account….

      “I think the best thing we can do is support women to breastfeed,” Katz says. But if that’s impossible, mothers “deserve something better than current infant formula….”

      …relatively little is known about breast milk. Most studies of human mammary epithelial cells tend to focus on their role in breast cancer rather than milk production.

      As for the milk itself, it’s a rich and I, bewildering stew of thousands of chemicals….

      …another challenge looms even larger: how to standardize a substance that is unique to every mother.

      Breast milk changes in composition as a child grows. For the first few days after giving birth, mothers produce colostrum, a thick, yellow, concentrated milk packed with compounds like the antibody IgA and lactoferrin, an abundant protein that boosts a baby’s immunity, Soon, colostrum is replaced by “transitional milk,” which is thinner but contains more fat and lactose. After about two weeks, a mother’s milk is considered “mature.” But even then, it can change in composition over the course of a single feeding. Hindmilk, or the last milk left in abreast, has a higher fat content than the milk that is produced earlier on, which is why women are often counseled to empty one breast before switching to the other.

      Though Egger and Strickland admit they won’t be able to replicate this complexity, nor all the antibodies and microbes in any given woman’s milk, they say their product will be more personalized than those of their competitors. Just as Strickland envisioned back in 2013, they plan to work with pregnant women, taking samples of their mammary epithelial cells and culturing them to create individualized milk for use when their babies arrive. After that, they hope to create a more economical generic option using donor cells. Both, Egger insists, will be better than formula….

      Strickland and Egger have already produced a liquid containing both lactose and casein—the main protein and sugar compounds found in breast milk. They are now testing it to see if they can detect other components, like oligosaccharides and lipids. They are currently tinkering with their equipment and the nutrients they use to grow the cells to see what combination gets them closest to matching the composition of natural breast milk; they estimate it will take about two years to come up with a good enough match….

Flesh Forward

[These excerpts are from an article by Niall Firthin in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Cultured meat (or, if you prefer your high-tech foodstuffs seasoned with a bit more marketing savvy, “cultivated meat”—the industry now eschews phrases like “lab-grown” or “in vitro”) is already a nascent industry. The product is still exorbitantly expensive compared with old-fashioned meat, you can't yet buy it at the supermarket, and for the most part it doesn’t look or taste much like the real thing….

      While lab-grown meat was busy trying to find its way out of the petri dish, plant-based meat substitutes were undergoing a revolution. Firms such as Impossible and Beyond Meat broke through to the mainstream by cleverly mimicking the flavor and texture of ground beef, pork, and chicken using vegetable proteins and fats. These days you can pick up an Impossible Whopper at Burger King and Beyond Meat sausages in supermarkets in dozens of countries.

      That kind of competition could b e seen as bad news for cultured-meat startups. But Krieger and a number of other entrepreneurs think it’s the opening they need to finally bring their creations to market—in the form of “blended meat,” melding the best of the plant-based and cultured-meat substitutes. Even the world's biggest fast-food firms are interested: KFC has announced it will be working to produce blended chicken nuggets that could be available this year

      Regardless of who gets there first, blended meat is coming, and it might not be long before you get a chance If taste it.

      …A small sample of cells is taken from an animal, usually via biopsy, and then fed a broth of nutrients. When millions of new cells have grown, they are encouraged to differentiate into muscle cells and eventually strands of muscle fiber.

      The technology’s promise is to reproduce the flavor and texture of meat without harming animals, and without the huge environmental costs of rearing them. Proponents also point out that cultured meat won’t carry diseases or need antibiotics, which breed drug-resistant bacteria….

      But there’s a problem. The medium that nurtures the cells is expensive. The cost is dropping from the early days, when startups in the R&D stage relied on repurposed cell culture media taken from biomedical research. But growth media still make up the bulk of production expenses—estimates range from 55% to 95% of the total—and a kilogram of cultured meat still costs hundreds of dollars. Even allowing for eventual economies of scale as factories get up and running, it’s no recipe for success. No wonder, then, that cultured-meat firms have started thinking about how to get a piece of the huge market that plant-meat companies have opened up….

      If you think about it, there’s nothing new about blended meat. Ground-meat products like sausages, nuggets, and burgers have always been a mashup (McDonald’s has said one of its burgers can contain beef from over 100 cows), often mixed with breadcrumbs and other ingredients. That’s because even conventionally processed meat is e. Bulking it out makes for a cheaper product that’s still full of meaty flavor….

      But besides cost, there’s another reason for blending cultured meat with plants. Meat is mostly muscle, but from a flavor perspective, muscle is a relatively minor player. When you bite into a piece of meat you encounter fats, connective tissue like collagen, that juice dripping down your chin ... it's all part of the sensory experience. Eating pure muscle tissue—which is what most cultured meats are right now—is liable to feel like gnawing on a hunk of shoe leather.

      This is where the advances in plant analogues can help. Scientists at Impossible and the Better Meat Company have perfected techniques for adding ingredients like coconut oil and sunflower oil to create moisture in their burgers and sausages. Plant ingredients, used expertly, can help make early cultured-meat products taste and feel more like the real thing….

      Ah, fat. Villainized for decades, it’s still avoided by many of the health-conscious among us. But true foodies know that it’s responsible for so much of what we love about food. In her hymn to good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, the chef and writer Samin Nosrat describes fat as the element that “carries flavor.”

      …The company’s biologists extract stem cells from a fertilized chicken egg, cultivate them, and then grow fat cells in a bioreactor.

      …When it came, the T-bone we chose was beautifully charred from the grill on the outside, and pink, sweet, and succulent inside. It was juicy, packed full of flavor—in a word: heaven.

      Cultured meat is years, if not decades, from delivering anything that approaches such an experience. Most cultured prototypes are closer to the consistency of ground meat. But if and when something approximating a real steak hits your plate, there’s every chance that it will be a hybrid….

      It’s clear that blended products will have to pave the way. But even ignoring the substantial technical obstacles that remain, a big question looms: Will consumers like these foods? The image of meat grown in giant vats, monitored by scientists in lab coats, has a distinct sci-fi ick factor that doesn’t compete well with the cachet of organic, farm-to-table meat from animals that have spent their lives dancing in pastoral bliss.

      Blended meat might, then, do one final job for the cultured-meat industry: help it gain acceptance. People who are already pretty comfortable with the idea if not the flavor of plant burgers will soon get to try them with a sprinkling of cultured cells to add some extra meaty oomph….

      That system of raising and then slaughtering animals has stood for millennia and won’t be easily upended. Cultured meat—first blended, and then in pure form—will only stand a chance if it tastes at least as good as traditional meat….

In Search of Bovine Perfection

[These excerpts are from an article by Jim McAdams in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …These technologies are expensive, and it is not unusual for seedstock producers to sell their bulls to other ranchers for $30,000 or more. You’d be lucky to raise a hundred calves from a bull in his lifetime if you just tum.him out naturally with the cows, but using advanced reproductive technologies enables that bull to sire several thousand calves….

      Technology has spread like weeds in the ranching world. In the 1970s, artificial insemination became a widespread tool. In the 1990s, we also started to see modem techniques like gene mapping and DNA testing that help us balance our breeds. There is a cost to gene mapping because you have to test your animals, get them into a database, pay all these fees, pay for animal IDs, all of those things….

      The average cow’s weight 50 years ago was probably 900 pounds. In the ‘70s, it was probably 1,000 pounds. Today, it’s about 1,300 pounds. It takes more acres to maintain cows of that size. And they produce much bigger calves, and require more feed in the winter. In the ‘50s, in the early ‘60s, we got cattle too fat and too small, and their productive life was too short. Then in the ‘70s—I graduated college in 1972—there was this war on fat in the industry because the medical field had determined that eating too much fat was bad for people’s hearts. We really focused on getting cattle that would be more efficient, bigger, leaner. That took us about 20 years. And we overdid it. We realized that we were losing the eating experience, because the meat was getting too tough. There’s a fair amount of trial and error. Today, we’re somewhere in the middle. I think we’ve hit the sweet spot. You won’t really find yourself in a restaurant anymore saying, “I broke my tooth on that steak.”

      Breeding the right kind of cow has been one of the main interests of my career. It's a challenge, because the life cycle of a bovine is pretty long, compared to any other meat protein.

Packaging with Less Plastic

[This brief article by Jocelyn Eason is in the January/February 2021 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      New packaging materials will allow many food producers to gradually move away from plastics, for good. During my lifetime, I’ve watched plastic become one of the biggest environmental hazards that we face as a society. Consumers want less of it in their lives, and regulators are beginning to ban or impose taxes on plastics used to package or serve food. Sooner or later, most producers will need to switch to more sustainable materials. Some alternatives are already available: Earthpac, a New Zealand company I've worked with, is using starch recovered from the wastewater of potato processing factories to make biodegradable trays, plates, and punnets (the small green baskets in which berries are often sold). Another client, Meadow Mushrooms, is making packaging from the stalks removed from mushrooms during processing.

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