ONTD Political

The Next Frontier In The War Over Science

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration and the scientific community at large are expressing serious alarm at a House Republican bill that they argue would dramatically undermine way research is conducted in America.

Titled the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014," the bill would put a variety of new restrictions on how funds are doled out by the National Science Foundation. The goal, per its Republican supporters on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, would be to weed out projects whose cost can't be justified or whose sociological purpose is not apparent.

For Democrats and advocates, however, the FIRST Act represents a dangerous injection of politics into science and a direct assault on the much-cherished peer-review process by which grants are awarded.

"We have a system of peer-review science that has served as a model for not only research in this country but in others," said Bill Andresen, the associate vice president of Federal Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania. "The question is, does Congress really think it has the better ability to determine the scientific merit of grant applications or should it be left up to the scientists and their peers?"

In recent weeks, the Obama administration and science agencies have -- in less-than-subtle terms -- offered up similar criticisms of the FIRST Act. At an American Association for the Advancement of Science forum on Thursday, presidential science adviser John Holdren said he was "concerned with a number of aspects" of the bill.

"It appears aimed at narrowing the focus of NSF-funded research to domains that are applied to various national interests other than simply advancing the progress of science," Holdren said.

Meanwhile, in a show of protest that several officials in the science advocacy community could not recall having witnessed before, the National Science Board released a statement in late April criticizing the bill. As the oversight body to the National Science Foundation, the NSB traditionally stays out of legislative fights. So when it warned that the FIRST Act could "significantly impede NSF's flexibility to deploy its funds to support the best ideas," advocates said they were surprised and pleased.

"The fact that the NSB commented on legislation, I don’t know if it is unprecedented but it is at least extremely unusual," said Barry Toiv, a top official at the Association of American Universities. "And we think that speaks to the really serious problems posed by the legislation."

And yet, for all the concerns with the FIRST Act, it seems unlikely that the bill"s main author will incorporate additional changes. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the House science committee, decided early on that he would take a different approach to re-authorizing science research funding. Instead of passing an updated version of a 2010 bill that funded four agencies under the committee"s purview, he chose to split the bill in two and offered two years of funding, as opposed to four years. From that decision came the FIRST Act.Collapse )

Measles outbreak worries health officials as hundreds of cases are reported across U.S.

Authorities say 129 cases in 13 states were reported by mid-April, the bulk of them in California and New York City.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS / Published: Friday, April 25, 2014, 2:49 PM / Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014, 2:49 PM

NEW YORK -- Health officials are worried about recent U.S. measles outbreaks that so far have caused more illnesses than at the same point of any year since 1996.

Authorities say 129 cases in 13 states were reported by mid-April, the bulk of them in California and New York City. Most were triggered by travelers who caught the virus abroad and spread it in the United States among unvaccinated people. Many of the travelers had been to the Philippines, where a recent measles epidemic has caused at least 20,000 illnesses.

The U.S. numbers remain relatively tiny, but officials are worried to see case counts growing.

Since 2000, the highly contagious disease has been considered eliminated in the United States, aside from occasional small outbreaks sparked by overseas travelers. For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a year.

But since 2010, the average has been nearly 160.

"This increase in cases may be a `new normal,' unfortunately," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Contributing to the problem: Decades of measles vaccination campaigns have been so successful that many doctors have never seen a case, don't realize how contagious it is, and may not take necessary steps to stop it from spreading.Read more...Collapse )

Source thinks it's high time governments stopped catering to the anti-vaxxers and allowing children to forgo vaccination due to "philosophical reasons." Vaccination is based on SCIENCE. "Philosophical reasons" do NOT disprove science, nor should they be used as an excuse for ignoring it.

According to this, "Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that do not allow exemptions for religious reasons. The 19 states that allow exemptions for philosophical reasons are Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, California, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin." If I lived in one of those states, I'd be lobbying my lawmakers to get rid of those exemptions.
Why are geocentrists trying to undo centuries worth of accepted science? (Hint: The Jews)

Most people probably assume the scientific debate over the Earth’s place in the universe has been settled for centuries, but a small group of conspiracy theorists have been quietly pushing the idea that Galileo was wrong.

The Raw Story brought them blinking into the light earlier this week with a report on their plans to release “The Principle,” a film narrated by “Star Trek: Voyager” actress Kate Mulgrew and featuring interviews with several prominent scientists, that questioned the Copernican principle placing the sun at the center of the universe.

Mulgrew and scientist Lawrence Krauss both reacted to the controversy by claiming they’d been duped by the geocentrists — and two of their ideological opponents say the group intends to dupe the public.

The film’s producers deny it promotes geocentrism but instead focuses only on the Copernican principle that lends the movie its name.

“The difference between geocentrism and denying the Copernican principle is not subtle,” said physicist Alec MacAndrew. “In the former case, the claim is that the Earth is stationary at the center of the universe. In the latter case the claim is much more vague – that the Earth is somehow in a privileged or unusual position.”

While he called the geocentric view “utter bunkum,” MacAndrew said the Copernican principle offered “a nice cosmological and philosophical question.”
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The Columbian Mammoth gets caught in the crossfire of the culture wars

The Columbian Mammoth is about to become an official state symbol of South Carolina, but its path to the limelight was long and fraught with controversy. Let’s see if you can guess why. Here's the text of the bill that made it official:

Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the 'Columbian Mammoth', which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.

This is actually the watered-down version of the bill; one version, proposed earlier, made even more explicit references to the role of a divine creator in the mammoth's history.

This all started when an 8-year-old suggested that the Columbian mammoth become South Carolina’s state fossil. Olivia McConnell had some good reasoning behind her suggestion: Mammoth teeth found in a South Carolina swamp in 1725 were the first vertebrate fossils identified in North America.Collapse )


Aaron Miller, a Republican congressional candidate in Minnesota, said a big reason he's running is to end classroom instruction on evolution, according to the Mankato Free Press.

Miller, a hospital account manager and Iraq War veteran, said during the congressional district's Republican Party convention in Albert Lea on Saturday that Minnesota needs more religious freedom. He cited an incident in which his daughter was forced to learn evolution in school.

According to the Mankato Free Press:

"He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson."

Miller first mentioned his daughter’s evolution lesson at the Blue Earth County convention in March, according to the Mankato Free Press.

"We should decide what is taught in our schools, not Washington, D.C.," Miller, who won the Republican endorsement for Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District on Saturday, said during his speech.

Despite Miller’s attacks on Washington's influence on education, Minnesota's academic standards in science are set by the state Department of Education.

Former state Rep. Allen Quist (R), who said he believes dinosaurs coexisted with man, has endorsed Miller’s campaign against four-term state Rep. Tim Walz (D).

By Shadee Ashtari. Posted: 04/07/2014 8:30 pm EDT. Updated: 04/07/2014 8:59 pm EDT.


Creationist groups have made yet another complaint about Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."

Since the show debuted on FOX this month, creationists have not kept quiet about the science documentary series. What's the problem now?

While some have shunned the reboot of Carl Sagan's 1980 PBS series altogether, other creationists now have made a request: equal airtime.

Appearing on "The Janet Mefferd Show" on Thursday, Danny Faulkner of Answers In Genesis voiced his complaints about "Cosmos" and how the 13-episode series has described scientific theories, such as evolution, but has failed to shed light on dissenting creationist viewpoints. He said:

"I was struck in the first episode where [Tyson] talked about science and how, you know, all ideas are discussed, you know, everything is up for discussion –- it's all on the table -- and I thought to myself, 'No, consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion, it would seem.'"

Tyson recently addressed providing balance when it comes to discussing science. In an interview with CNN, the astronomer criticized the media for giving "equal time" to those who oppose widely accepted scientific theories.

"I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn't really apply in science. The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced," Tyson said, adding, "you don't talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let's give equal time to the flat-earthers."

"Cosmos," broadcast by FOX and National Geographic, covers a broad range of content from Earth's place in the universe to the origin of life. However, the documentary series' focus on Darwin's theory of evolution has stirred the most controversy.

An Oklahoma TV station faced backlash shortly after the first episode aired when a YouTube user posted a video of the FOX affiliate's abrupt transition from "Cosmos" to a news promo, cutting out a part of the show when Tyson mentions evolution. While some speculated that the placement of the promo was intentional, TV station KOKH explained in a tweet that the interruption was accidental.

Tyson was not available for comment.

Posted: 03/22/2014 12:26 pm EDT. Updated: 03/22/2014 12:59 pm EDT.

A Fox TV affiliate in Oklahoma is facing criticism after cutting a reference to evolution in the debut episode "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey."

Toward the end of the the episode, which aired Sunday night, host Neil deGrasse Tyson made brief mention of evolution. But viewers of the affiliate, KOKH, were treated instead to a news promo.

In a tweet, KOKH apologized for the interruption, saying it was unintended.

Sunday, during @COSMOSonTV, a local news promo was aired over a portion of COSMOS content. This was an operator error & we regret the error.
4:29 PM - 12 Mar 2014

A YouTube user captured video of the abrupt transition and posted it online Monday. A transcript of Tyson's omitted words accompanied the clip:

"We are newcomers to the Cosmos. Our own story only begins on the last night of the cosmic year… Three and a half million years ago, our ancestors — yours and mine left these traces. (points to footprints) We stood up and parted ways from them. Once we were standing on two feet, our eyes were no longer fixated on the ground. Now, we were free to look up and wonder."

"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" raked in 8.5 million viewers from 10 networks Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported. The full episode is available online.

by Ryan Grenoble. Posted: 03/13/2014 4:43 pm EDT. Updated: 03/14/2014 8:59 am EDT.


Vaccine denial is dangerous. We know this for many reasons, but just consider one of them: In California in 2010, 10 children died in a whooping cough outbreak that was later linked, in part, to the presence of 39 separate clusters of unvaccinated children in the state. It's that simple: When too many children go unvaccinated, vaccine-preventable diseases spread more easily, and sometimes children die. Nonetheless, as scientifically unfounded fears about childhood vaccines causing autism have proliferated over the past decade or more, a minority of parents are turning to "personal belief exemptions," so-called "alternative vaccine schedules," and other ways to dodge or delay vaccinating their kids.

So as a rational person, you might think it would be of the utmost importance to try to talk some sense into these people. But there's a problem: According to a major new study in the journal Pediatrics, trying to do so may actually make the problem worse. The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages, three of which were based very closely on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself talks about vaccines. The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents' professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents' intent to vaccinate.

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Mother Jones

India has now successfully launched its mission to Mars. The mission was achieved at an extraordinary low price tag of $74 million – one-tenth of what a similar mission would cost NASA or ESA. If this successfully reaches Mars, India will be the first country to have the Mars mission succeed on the first try.

The provocation:

Just as quickly as the rocket sped off, Western journalists who marveled the moon walk in their childhood are engaging Indians in an unnecessary provocation. And these are not coming from cheap tabloids, but reputed media houses. It is not the criticism that rankles, but how crudely they are hitting below the belt.

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A post about Vivien Thomas mutated into a second post about African American scientists and inventors! (Thanks to moonshaz for suggesting Vivien Thomas.)

More under the cut...Collapse )
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