By: Kevin Elliott, Michigan State University

Scientists these days face a conundrum. As Americans are buffeted by accounts of fake news, alternative facts and deceptive social media campaigns, how can researchers and their scientific expertise contribute meaningfully to the conversation?

There is a common perception that science is a matter of hard facts and that it can and should remain insulated from the social and political interests that permeate the rest of society. Nevertheless, many historians, philosophers and sociologists who study the practice of science have come to the conclusion that trying to kick values out of science risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Ethical and social values – like the desire to promote economic development, public health or environmental protection – often play integral roles in scientific research. By acknowledging this, scientists might seem to give away their authority as a defense against the flood of misleading, inaccurate information that surrounds us. But I argue in my book “A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science” that if scientists take appropriate steps to manage and communicate about their values, they can promote a more realistic view of science as both value-laden and reliable.

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STEMA new initiative that goes by the name, STEM the Divide, is looking to bring scientists out of the lab and into public office.

STEM the Divide is founded by the nonprofit 314 Action group (homage to Pi), which is focused on building a community for those in STEM and bridging the gap between scientists and public policy. The group’s main goals include: strengthening communications between the scientific community and public officials, providing a voice for the STEM community on social issues, and increasing STEM engagement in the media.

As a branch of 314 Action, STEM the Divide is dedicated to electing more STEM-educated leaders to the U.S. Senate, House, State Executive, and Legislative offices.

“There’s nothing in our Constitution that says we can only be governed by attorneys,” Shaughnessy Naughton, founder of STEM the Divide, tells The Washington Post. “Especially now, we need people with scientific backgrounds that are used to looking at the facts and forming an opinion based on the facts.”

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2016 Gift Guide for Science-lovers

The holiday season is approach and it’s time to start thinking about the perfect gift for the science-lover in your life. Check out our top 10 picks for 2016!

Scientist Love NotesMarie Currie carving
Etsy – $9.00
These tongue-in-cheek, handmade gifts feature notable scientists and phrases related to their area of study. Choose from eight carvings, ranging from Marie Curie (“You’re radiant”) to Nikola Tesla (“You’re electrifying”).


 

 

MolecubeMolecube
Vat 19 – $19.99
The molecube is a noteworthy challenge for any avid puzzler. This mental test combines all the challenges of the Rubik’s Cube mixed with a Sudoku puzzle that is sure to put even the most seasoned puzzlers to the test.


 

 

Free the ScienceFree the Science
ECS – Gifts of every size help!
Struggling to find the perfect gift for that person who has everything? How about a donation to ECS’s Free the Science initiative? Give the gift that keeps on giving!


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By: John Besley, Michigan State University

imageEarlier this fall, the nonpartisan nonprofit ScienceDebate.org released Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s responses to a set of questions about science policy. Shortly after, a group of 375 scientists wrote an open letter focused specifically on the United States honoring commitments around climate change. Seventy Nobel laureates then penned a more general Clinton endorsement; President Obama had garnered similar numbers of Nobel winners’ support in the previous election cycles.

As someone who both studies science communication and thinks of himself as a part of the scientific community, I applaud scientists’ desire to engage with our broader society. The scientific community has substantial expertise to share and a responsibility to share it.

On the other hand, I worry that doing things like asking candidates to weigh in on scientific questions in the context of a “debate” may have unintended consequences that need to be thought through as a community.

None of the below should be taken as a rebuke. Rather, the point is to honestly consider whether the scientific community is making strategic communication choices when it comes to this election. Poor choices could give the dangerous impression that scientific questions can be debated like policy choices – while also cutting into the public’s overall trust in science.

What happens when scientists engage politically

I’m very hesitant to suggest that scientists bite their tongues about things such as the threat of a political candidate who doesn’t believe in climate change. But I also worry that the scientific community’s tendency to respond to many Republicans’ unhelpful views about science policy with continued feigned surprise, and occasional derision, might have negative consequences for the continued strong place of science in society.

As might have been predicted, the ScienceDebate.org efforts, for example, showed that one of the major party candidates has limited interest in reassuring the scientific community that its views are respected. The climate change open letter similarly reiterates that our best scientists know the Republican candidate for president doesn’t care what they think and find it (understandably) disheartening.

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Ask Us Anything!

r/scienceECS Technical Editor Dr. Gerald Frankel, accompanied by ECS’s Executive Director Roque Calvo, hosted our first ever “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on Reddit’s r/science. The event gathered over 2,000 upvotes and more than 100 comments. We did this in honor of Open Access Week 2016 (Oct. 24-30), as a means of having an open dialogue regarding Free the Science, ECS’s effort to keep money in scientific research rather than in the publishing industry.

For about an hour Frankel and Calvo fielded questions on topics ranging from Open Access and the staggering cost of APCs, to failed Youtube experiments and electric car batteries.

You can read the whole thing on Reddit, or check out an archived version on The Winnower.

And don’t forget, the 132,000 articles and abstracts in the ECS Digital Library will be available free of charge Oct. 24-30.

Have a question that wasn’t answered? Feel free to reach out to us at OA@electrochem.org.

ImmigrationNobel laureates are speaking out on immigration policies, highlight their own status as immigrants and the importance of open boarders to advance science. Of the year’s Nobel Prize winners, six affiliated with U.S. universities are immigrants.

Across the globe, many countries have been discussing and legislating new immigration policies that make it more difficult to travel from place to place. These immigration conversations have led to moves such as the UK’s Brexit, Hungary’s attempts to keep “outsiders” from crossing its boarder, and U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

Research conducted in late 2015 revealed that as immigration policies harden globally, scientists in the developing world are caught in the crosshairs, causing innovation and research to suffer.

“I think the resounding message that should go out all around the world is that science is global,” James Fraser Stoddart, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and a professor at Northwestern University, who was born in Scotland, told The Hill. “It’s particularly pertinent to have these discussions in view of the political climate on both sides of the pond at the moment…. I think the United States is what it is today largely because of open borders.”

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By: John W Wilson, University of Pretoria and Duan Biggs, Griffith University

PassportIt is becoming increasingly difficult for people – particularly those from the developing world and the global south – to move around the globe. The UK voted “yes” to Brexit. Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. Hungary is also mulling a wall to keep “outsiders” from crossing its borders.

The attitude of citizens in higher income countries towards immigrants is hardening. Visas are harder to come by, no matter the purpose of your travel. And, as research we conducted in late 2015 reveals, scientists from the developing world are among those caught in the cross hairs.

Barriers to travel

As part of the research we conducted an online survey to examine the impact of visa requirements on scientific collaboration. Some of the respondents were postgraduate students; others were active researchers and academics in fields like biology, earth sciences, applied mathematics and engineering. In total, 232 people representing 46 citizenships – from Canada, Chile, France, Malaysia, New Zealand and Kenya, to name a few – took part in the research.

We found that researchers from countries defined as developing by the International Monetary Fund perceive current visa rules as a major impediment to professional travel. Their peers from developed countries did not experience visa rules as a significant barrier.

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This week, The Moth podcast celebrated the world of science by going beyond the technical aspects to capture the behind-the-scenes stories. Listen to scientists and storytellers discuss everything from 8th grade science fairs to the Nobel Ceremony.

You can find The Moth on iTunes, Android, and through their RSS feed.

Listen to the ECS Podcast for more stories on the impact of science and the minds behind some of today’s biggest breakthroughs and innovations.

In early December of 2015, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) penned what he deemed the “Wastebook” – a report detailing what the senator believes to be wasteful federal spending, specifically targeted at research dollars.

The report took aim at research the fiscal conservative considered a waste of federal cash, including projects he summed up as a “shrimp fight club,” a study of cows in China, an exploration of why obese women can’t get dates, and a look at shrimp on a treadmill.

Earlier this month, those very same scientists that Flake criticized and reduced their research to mere waste took to Pennsylvania Avenue to reinforce the legitimacy of their work.

Researchers respond

“I am rock solid about my research. I know it is very good,” said Sheila Patek, an associate professor of biology at Duke University who led the so-called shrimp fight club study. “But this ‘Wastebook’ targeted a short paper that was the first paper in my young graduate student’s career. He is from a long line of firefighters. His father, his uncle, his grandfather. There aren’t any other scientists in his family. They are very proud of him. He is extremely civic-minded. I don’t think I’ve had anyone in my lab like that. And this has been crushing for him.”

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Improving Access to Clean Water

Access to clean drinking water is something many take for granted. Crises like that of Flint, MI illuminate the fragility of our water infrastructure and how quickly access can be taken away. Even now, hundreds of millions of people around the world still lack access to adequate water.

Gaining access

But it’s not all negative. In the past 25 years, 2.6 billion people worldwide gained access to clean drinking water. This initiative stemmed from part of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 1990, attempting to cut the number of global citizens without access to clean drinking water in half. While this goal was achieved in 2010, there are still about 663 million without proper water and sanitation.

(MORE: Check out powerful images from the Water Front project.)

The divide

So who doesn’t have clean drinking water? Overall, urban areas tend to have greater access due to improved water infrastructure systems set in place. Access in rural areas has improved over the years, but people in these areas are still hit the hardest.

The major divide is most visible when analyzing the numbers by regions. Africa, China, and India are among the hardest hit, making up the majority of the 663 million citizens without access to water.

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