Conservation and Alternative Energy

  • There is talk about building part of the border wall through Big Bend National Park (My Statesman). Environmental groups worry about disrupting natural wildlife movement in the area; black bears migrating from Mexico have been important in reestablishing the black bear population in western Texas.
  • Congress passed a bill allowing aerial hunting of bears in Alaska (NY Daily News). Opponents of the bill say it will harm the ecosystems; supporters say that many people hunt bears for subsistence living and that the ban limited their freedom.

Congressional Committees

  • While focus was on replacing the Affordable Care Act last week, H.R.1313 was approved by a House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The bill allows genetic privacy and nondiscrimination laws to be bypassed if part of a “workplace wellness” program. Research has shown that these programs do little to improve employee’s health (Stat News).
  • Lamar Smith (R-Texas) spoke to a crowd at a meeting of climate change deniers in DC this week about his priorities for the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology. He wants to use new rhetoric and buzzwords to reframe his political strategy to reform the scientific peer review process and dismantle greenhouse gas regulations, such as calling the “mainstream” media the “liberal” media and using “climate studies” instead of “climate science” (ScienceInsider).

Higher Education

  • REMINDER: The official public comment period for streamlining the high school science TEKS is open from March 3 to April 18. The committee requests comments specifically about how to reduce time spent teaching. Action: Submit comments regarding how removing standards 4A, 6A, and 7B would reduce teaching time. These standards were identified as confusing and anti-science by an expert panel; scientists also found them to be anti-evolution. See our blog post for more information.
  • A survey by Microsoft shows that girls become interested in STEM topics around age 11 but tend to lose interest around age 15, when gender stereotypes and and social expectations can alter their career mindsets (CNN).
  • A number of bills in the Texas legislature aim to stymie tuition increases, by limiting increases to high performance (TX SB 543), by banning all increases until 2022 (TX SB 19), by requiring legislative or student approval (TX SB 442, TX SB 250), or by limiting increases to when states cannot provide enough funding (TX SB 1323) (Texas Tribune).

Federal Agencies

  • At a House Science Committee meeting this month, the NSF’s inspector general quoted the wrong number when speaking on the number of allegations of research misconduct the NSF investigates, wrongly suggesting that the number has increased significantly. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) released a memo to attempt to correct the record (Sciencemag).
  • After soliciting comments on the inclusion of preprints in grant proposals, NIH announced that researchers can now include draft manuscripts that have not gone through peer review as part of their applications. This practice has been common among other areas of science, but is only now starting to become accepted within biology (ScienceInsider).

Public Health

  • Republican views on the government’s role in providing health care coverage differs based on educational level and income. Those with no high school diploma are almost twice as likely as those with a college degree to agree that government should provide health care (43 vs 22%). Approval of the ACA (Obamacare) also tends to be highest among HS degree or less (18%) and those making < $30K (30%) (Pew Research).
  • Action: Sign up to join the Immunization Partnership at the Capitol education legislators about the importance of immunizations to our state.
  • The ACHA was pulled from a vote in the house last week because of lack of support (CNN). Calls to representatives that opposed the bill heavily outweighed calls from bill supporters (Washington Post).
  • Researchers in the Netherlands have designed a peptide which targets senescent cells and reverses signs of aging in mice (Science).

Climate Change

  • While most Americans agree that there should be carbon emission restrictions on coal power plants, they do not believe that climate change will personally harm them. Americans show greater concern about climate change in areas where the effects are already felt, such as Texas, Florida, and in the west where droughts and wildfires are frequent concerns (NY Times infographic series).  
  • The founder of Prescott Investors, an investment firm, criticized the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, calling it a “mass movement” and an “opinion” (Spectator).
  • Climate change deniers met this week in DC and prioritized reversing the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide under the finding of public health endangerment, which has been affirmed in three Supreme Court decisions (Science).

Outreach / Professional Development

  • The scientific community has been asked to submit ideas for Grand Challenges in Environmental Engineering and Sciences in the 21st century by the National Academies, such as carbon sequestration or global access to clean water. Action: submit your idea here.

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • The March for Science continues to receive criticism for inconsistent messaging and disagreement within the leadership committee. Scientists are divided on the purpose of the march, whether efforts should be focused on creating a lobbying force for legislation or for bringing to light diversity and inclusion issues within the scientific community (Stat News).
  • More than 3000 scientists have expressed interest in running for office to 314 Action, a nonprofit that supports such endeavors (Sun Herald).
  • Americans tend to overestimate the amount of money that the US government spends on science (5-20%). When presented with the real figure (1.6% in 2014), both Republicans and Democrats support an increase in science funding (Science News).
  • Scientists who are politically active should avoid using work emails or government-owned devices/websites/emails etc for communicating about activism, keep work and private life separate, and avoid revealing their employer (legal advice from the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund).

2 thoughts on “Weekly Digest — March 20-26

  1. Thanks Becca.

    How should we call/email about saying we are opposed to the wall through Big Bend? Any ideas or suggestions?


    On Mon, Mar 27, 2017 at 1:28 PM, Austin Science Advocates wrote:

    > Rebecca Tarvin posted: “Conservation and Alternative Energy There is talk > about building part of the border wall through Big Bend National Park (My > Statesman). Environmental groups worry about disrupting natural wildlife > movement in the area; black bears migrating from Mexico ” >


    1. I suggest calling your Representative and Senators to tell them that you are opposed. There is no bill on the table (yet) so you’ll just have to voice your concern! Once there is a specific bill (perhaps the budget?), you can call to oppose that as well.



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