Beer – Courtesy of Wikipedia. Fueling male-male aggression for thousands of years.
Remember your college days? On a typical college Saturday night, I would head to a local Champaign, IL watering hole and get to “observe” the mating rituals of college men. Chest puffing, feats of strength, and sometimes even fisticuffs were employed to gain the favor of a particular lady. Turns out this male-male aggression is a trait we share with the little fruit fly. Those little fruit flies have, in turn, shown us that male-male aggression can be a bit more complex than we might first expect. Continue reading
In contrast to the much derided, but pop culture appropriate, decision that selfie was the word of the year, the editors of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary have chosen science as their Word of the Year.
HUZZAH! Maybe. Continue reading
Tycho Brahe, Image from Wikipedia
I just heard about a new “big data” project called Project Tycho. They chose the name Tycho in honor of Tycho Brahe who made tons of detailed observations of the stars and planets. After his death, his data was used by Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. This project wants to connect the vast amounts of public health data to scientists and policy researchers to improve their understanding of contagious diseases and their spread. Their undertaking is incredible; they digitized weekly Nationally Notifiable Disease Surveillance System reports from 1888-2013. Now that all of the data is digitized they are working their way through standardizing it and making it amenable to analysis. This entire dataset is available for search online. Continue reading
Things that I’m not thankful for: this week in Pacific Standard, I argue that Congress is like my former landlord, who did a major remodel on his rental property and then let his investment rot away due to neglect. The NIH budget is now substantially lower than it would have been if there had been no budget doubling, and instead, it grew at its previous, pre-doubling historical rate of 3.3% in real dollars (see figure). It’s as if the doubling never happened.
Representative Lamar Smith supports legislation to make NSF ensure each grantee is pursuing science in the national interest. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
A particularly concerning piece of legislation is making its way around the House of Representatives. This bill would require that the National Science Foundation (NSF) justify each grant it awards with respect to its contributions to protect the “national interest”. Earlier in the year, a similar bill was proposed with an extremely limited definition of what would meet “national interest” criteria. While the current bill has expanded its definition of national interest to include economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defense, legislation like this should be getting all scientists up in arms.
Predicting which avenues of science will lead to major breakthroughs in health or energy is almost impossible. This bill would severely limit early exploratory work that has yet to prove it is in the national interest. This political interference in the operation of the scientific enterprise is a very dangerous door to open. Decisions of what is in the national interest can very quickly become influenced by party politics and the interests of lobbyists. While it is important that NSF funds good proposals of sound science, requiring immediate association with national interest will lead to exaggerated claims by scientists and the exclusion of some of the future’s greatest breakthroughs.
Whether you are a scientist or not, reach out to your representative and let them know how this qualifier will negatively affect the scientific enterprise in the United States. If you don’t know who your representative is, you can find that information here.