Energy, Environment, and Conservation

  • Texas set a new high record for winter energy use Wednesday night as temperature dropped across the state (Texas Tribune).
  • Fossil fuel companies in Texas rely on revenue from hot summer months to tide them over during less extreme parts of the year, but solar power threatens to cut $1.4 billion from summer fossil fuel profits in Texas (Bloomberg).
  • An Iranian oil tanker crashed and leaked 150,000 tons of crude oil into the East China Sea earlier this month (NPR).
  • Many Texas water utilities are providing water with illegal levels of radium, lead, and arsenic, particularly in rural communities where resources are lower, yet some residents think the water is just fine (Texas Tribune).

Congressional Committees

  • The race to replace Lamar Smith (R-TX) is heating up, with 18 GOP primary candidates and 4 Democratic candidates, including Joseph Kopser, whose campaign was recently blasted for plagiarizing material from many sources, including from rival candidate Derrick Crowe (Huffington Post). The primary will be held on March 6, 2018.

Higher Education and Academia

  • China has invested a lot of money into research over the last decade, but restrictions on access to the internet and decisions on research funding without academic input may limit the benefit of these initiatives (Nature).
  • The teaching of evolutionary theory in school and universities is being challenged by India’s education minister (Science Mag). Scientists in India responded by publishing a public rebuttal.
  • The contributions of developing world researchers are often discounted or ignored when part of a collaboration that includes Western scientists. Local scientists are integral to cutting-edge research, and better acknowledgement from collaborators and journalists would improve long-term collaborations (Nature).   
  • Nature Human Behavior has accepted a paper co-written by 70 scientists that will counter a previous 2017 article’s argument that the “p-value” should be redefined as 0.005 instead of 0.05 (Science Mag).

Federal Agencies

  • An EPA official in charge of cleaning up dangerous contamination of Superfund sites told Congress this week that the government needs a plan to mitigate climate change impacts on the sites, such as sea level rise (Associated Press). EPA head Scott Pruitt created a list of 21 sites to fast track for clean up in 2018 (C&EN News).
  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a statement calling political review of scientific proposals “inappropriate” and evidence of “political interference in science” (NAS).
  • Ten of twelve members of the National Park Service Advisory Board resigned last week before their official terms were due to expire in May (Washington Post). The Chair of the committee, Tony Knowles, wrote that the Board had been sidelined and not asked to meet since January 2017 and have not been able to advise Zinke in his recent decisions. A number of other committees have been unable to meet because their charters have not been approved by the current administration.
  • An analysis conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that under the Trump Administration scientific advisory committees in federal agencies meet much less than their charters require (UCS). Moreover, many key science positions in the Trump Administration remain unfilled, check out a compiled list on Chemical and Engineering News.
  • The effect of the government shutdown on the scientific enterprise has left many confused. In addition to potential funding lapses, researchers are unsure about attending upcoming conferences, whether private employees can report to federal facilities, and whose work is essential (Science).

Public Health

  • A new law in France requiring childhood vaccinations against 11 diseases is controversial, even among general health practitioners who believe the authoritarian measure could backfire and increase wariness of vaccines (Nature).
  • A paper published revealing the synthesis of the smallpox virus genome has raised criticisms because the information could be used as bioterrorism (Science).
  • The FDA faces a July 2018 deadline to decide how to label genetically modified foods (C&EN News).
  • Roll out of the 21st Century Cures Act has begun, including changes in FDA drug approval policy including the ability to approve drugs with “intermediate clinical endpoints” and test the efficacy of drugs by releasing them on the market (C&EN News).

City of Austin

  • The Texas Tribune is collecting anonymous stories of workplace sexual harassment in Texas, if you would like to participate report your experience anonymously (Texas Tribune).

Science Communication

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is offering $1000 grants for science advocacy. Action: Apply here before February 16.
  • BBC’s Blue Planet II received rave reviews for its approach to nature film as dramatic, with “blockbuster events” (The Atlantic).



Events this week (central time)

  • Tuesday January 23, 6:30-8pm at Galvanize: Citizens’ Climate Change Forum where speakers will talk about local initiatives to combat climate change and opportunities to get involved. RSVP here.
  • Wednesday January 24, 5-6pm: The Voting Graduate Student Agency at the University of Texas at Austin is hosting a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR) training in the Legislative Assembly Room at UT (SAC 2.302). VDRs are the only individuals who may register Travis County residents to vote. Even though Texas has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation during primaries (Texas Tribune), UT Austin won awards for having the most improved voter turnout in the country in 2016 (Daily Texan).





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