Tag Archives: Dominique Brossard

CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 3 of 3): public discussions and pop culture

After giving a basic explanation of the technology and some of the controversies in part 1 and offering more detail about the technology and about the possibility of designer babies in part 2; this part covers public discussion, a call for one and the suggestion that one is taking place in popular culture.

But a discussion does need to happen

In a move that is either an exquisite coincidence or has been carefully orchestrated (I vote for the latter), researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have released a study about attitudes in the US to human genome editing. From an Aug. 11, 2017 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release (also on EurekAllert),

In early August 2017, an international team of scientists announced they had successfully edited the DNA of human embryos. As people process the political, moral and regulatory issues of the technology — which nudges us closer to nonfiction than science fiction — researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Temple University show the time is now to involve the American public in discussions about human genome editing.

In a study published Aug. 11 in the journal Science, the researchers assessed what people in the United States think about the uses of human genome editing and how their attitudes may drive public discussion. They found a public divided on its uses but united in the importance of moving conversations forward.

“There are several pathways we can go down with gene editing,” says UW-Madison’s Dietram Scheufele, lead author of the study and member of a National Academy of Sciences committee that compiled a report focused on human gene editing earlier this year. “Our study takes an exhaustive look at all of those possible pathways forward and asks where the public stands on each one of them.”

Compared to previous studies on public attitudes about the technology, the new study takes a more nuanced approach, examining public opinion about the use of gene editing for disease therapy versus for human enhancement, and about editing that becomes hereditary versus editing that does not.

The research team, which included Scheufele and Dominique Brossard — both professors of life sciences communication — along with Michael Xenos, professor of communication arts, first surveyed study participants about the use of editing to treat disease (therapy) versus for enhancement (creating so-called “designer babies”). While about two-thirds of respondents expressed at least some support for therapeutic editing, only one-third expressed support for using the technology for enhancement.

Diving even deeper, researchers looked into public attitudes about gene editing on specific cell types — somatic or germline — either for therapy or enhancement. Somatic cells are non-reproductive, so edits made in those cells do not affect future generations. Germline cells, however, are heritable, and changes made in these cells would be passed on to children.

Public support of therapeutic editing was high both in cells that would be inherited and those that would not, with 65 percent of respondents supporting therapy in germline cells and 64 percent supporting therapy in somatic cells. When considering enhancement editing, however, support depended more upon whether the changes would affect future generations. Only 26 percent of people surveyed supported enhancement editing in heritable germline cells and 39 percent supported enhancement of somatic cells that would not be passed on to children.

“A majority of people are saying that germline enhancement is where the technology crosses that invisible line and becomes unacceptable,” says Scheufele. “When it comes to therapy, the public is more open, and that may partly be reflective of how severe some of those genetically inherited diseases are. The potential treatments for those diseases are something the public at least is willing to consider.”

Beyond questions of support, researchers also wanted to understand what was driving public opinions. They found that two factors were related to respondents’ attitudes toward gene editing as well as their attitudes toward the public’s role in its emergence: the level of religious guidance in their lives, and factual knowledge about the technology.

Those with a high level of religious guidance in their daily lives had lower support for human genome editing than those with low religious guidance. Additionally, those with high knowledge of the technology were more supportive of it than those with less knowledge.

While respondents with high religious guidance and those with high knowledge differed on their support for the technology, both groups highly supported public engagement in its development and use. These results suggest broad agreement that the public should be involved in questions of political, regulatory and moral aspects of human genome editing.

“The public may be split along lines of religiosity or knowledge with regard to what they think about the technology and scientific community, but they are united in the idea that this is an issue that requires public involvement,” says Scheufele. “Our findings show very nicely that the public is ready for these discussions and that the time to have the discussions is now, before the science is fully ready and while we have time to carefully think through different options regarding how we want to move forward.”

Here’s a  link to and a citation for the paper,

U.S. attitudes on human genome editing by Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, Emily L. Howell, Kathleen M. Rose, Dominique Brossard1, and Bruce W. Hardy. Science 11 Aug 2017: Vol. 357, Issue 6351, pp. 553-554 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3708

This paper is behind a paywall.

A couple of final comments

Briefly, I notice that there’s no mention of the ethics of patenting this technology in the news release about the study.

Moving on, it seems surprising that the first team to engage in germline editing in the US is in Oregon; I would have expected the work to come from Massachusetts, California, or Illinois where a lot of bleeding edge medical research is performed. However, given the dearth of financial support from federal funding institutions, it seems likely that only an outsider would dare to engage i the research. Given the timing, Mitalipov’s work was already well underway before the recent about-face from the US National Academy of Sciences (Note: Kaiser’s Feb. 14, 2017 article does note that for some the recent recommendations do not represent any change).

As for discussion on issues such as editing of the germline, I’ve often noted here that popular culture (including advertising with the science fiction and other dramas laid in various media) often provides an informal forum for discussion. Joelle Renstrom in an Aug. 13, 2017 article for slate.com writes that Orphan Black (a BBC America series featuring clones) opened up a series of questions about science and ethics in the guise of a thriller about clones. She offers a précis of the first four seasons (Note: A link has been removed),

If you stopped watching a few seasons back, here’s a brief synopsis of how the mysteries wrap up. Neolution, an organization that seeks to control human evolution through genetic modification, began Project Leda, the cloning program, for two primary reasons: to see whether they could and to experiment with mutations that might allow people (i.e., themselves) to live longer. Neolution partnered with biotech companies such as Dyad, using its big pharma reach and deep pockets to harvest people’s genetic information and to conduct individual and germline (that is, genetic alterations passed down through generations) experiments, including infertility treatments that result in horrifying birth defects and body modification, such as tail-growing.

She then provides the article’s thesis (Note: Links have been removed),

Orphan Black demonstrates Carl Sagan’s warning of a time when “awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few.” Neolutionists do whatever they want, pausing only to consider whether they’re missing an opportunity to exploit. Their hubris is straight out of Victor Frankenstein’s playbook. Frankenstein wonders whether he ought to first reanimate something “of simpler organisation” than a human, but starting small means waiting for glory. Orphan Black’s evil scientists embody this belief: if they’re going to play God, then they’ll control not just their own destinies, but the clones’ and, ultimately, all of humanity’s. Any sacrifices along the way are for the greater good—reasoning that culminates in Westmoreland’s eugenics fantasy to genetically sterilize 99 percent of the population he doesn’t enhance.

Orphan Black uses sci-fi tropes to explore real-world plausibility. Neolution shares similarities with transhumanism, the belief that humans should use science and technology to take control of their own evolution. While some transhumanists dabble in body modifications, such as microchip implants or night-vision eye drops, others seek to end suffering by curing human illness and aging. But even these goals can be seen as selfish, as access to disease-eradicating or life-extending technologies would be limited to the wealthy. Westmoreland’s goal to “sell Neolution to the 1 percent” seems frighteningly plausible—transhumanists, who statistically tend to be white, well-educated, and male, and their associated organizations raise and spend massive sums of money to help fulfill their goals. …

On Orphan Black, denial of choice is tantamount to imprisonment. That the clones have to earn autonomy underscores the need for ethics in science, especially when it comes to genetics. The show’s message here is timely given the rise of gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences gave germline gene editing the green light, just one year after academy scientists from around the world argued it would be “irresponsible to proceed” without further exploring the implications. Scientists in the United Kingdom and China have already begun human genetic engineering and American scientists recently genetically engineered a human embryo for the first time. The possibility of Project Leda isn’t farfetched. Orphan Black warns us that money, power, and fear of death can corrupt both people and science. Once that happens, loss of humanity—of both the scientists and the subjects—is inevitable.

In Carl Sagan’s dark vision of the future, “people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority.” This describes the plight of the clones at the outset of Orphan Black, but as the series continues, they challenge this paradigm by approaching science and scientists with skepticism, ingenuity, and grit. …

I hope there are discussions such as those Scheufele and Brossard are advocating but it might be worth considering that there is already some discussion underway, as informal as it is.

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Part 1: CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 1 of 3): In the beginning

Part 2: CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 2 of 3): ‘designer babies’?

CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 2 of 3): ‘designer babies’?

Having included an explanation of CRISPR-CAS9 technology along with the news about the first US team to edit the germline and bits and pieces about ethics and a patent fight (part 1), this part hones in on the details of the work and worries about ‘designer babies’.

The interest flurry

I found three articles addressing the research and all three concur that despite some of the early reporting, this is not the beginning of a ‘designer baby’ generation.

First up was Nick Thieme in a July 28, 2017 article for Slate,

MIT Technology Review reported Thursday that a team of researchers from Portland, Oregon were the first team of U.S.-based scientists to successfully create a genetically modified human embryo. The researchers, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, changed the DNA of—in MIT Technology Review’s words—“many tens” of genetically-diseased embryos by injecting the host egg with CRISPR, a DNA-based gene editing tool first discovered in bacteria, at the time of fertilization. CRISPR-Cas9, as the full editing system is called, allows scientists to change genes accurately and efficiently. As has happened with research elsewhere, the CRISPR-edited embryos weren’t implanted—they were kept sustained for only a couple of days.

In addition to being the first American team to complete this feat, the researchers also improved upon the work of the three Chinese research teams that beat them to editing embryos with CRISPR: Mitalipov’s team increased the proportion of embryonic cells that received the intended genetic changes, addressing an issue called “mosaicism,” which is when an embryo is comprised of cells with different genetic makeups. Increasing that proportion is essential to CRISPR work in eliminating inherited diseases, to ensure that the CRISPR therapy has the intended result. The Oregon team also reduced the number of genetic errors introduced by CRISPR, reducing the likelihood that a patient would develop cancer elsewhere in the body.

Separate from the scientific advancements, it’s a big deal that this work happened in a country with such intense politicization of embryo research. …

But there are a great number of obstacles between the current research and the future of genetically editing all children to be 12-foot-tall Einsteins.

Ed Yong in an Aug. 2, 2017 article for The Atlantic offered a comprehensive overview of the research and its implications (unusually for Yong, there seems to be mildly condescending note but it’s worth ignoring for the wealth of information in the article; Note: Links have been removed),

… the full details of the experiment, which are released today, show that the study is scientifically important but much less of a social inflection point than has been suggested. “This has been widely reported as the dawn of the era of the designer baby, making it probably the fifth or sixth time people have reported that dawn,” says Alta Charo, an expert on law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And it’s not.”

Given the persistent confusion around CRISPR and its implications, I’ve laid out exactly what the team did, and what it means.

Who did the experiments?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov is a Kazakhstani-born cell biologist with a history of breakthroughs—and controversy—in the stem cell field. He was the scientist to clone monkeys. He was the first to create human embryos by cloning adult cells—a move that could provide patients with an easy supply of personalized stem cells. He also pioneered a technique for creating embryos with genetic material from three biological parents, as a way of preventing a group of debilitating inherited diseases.

Although MIT Tech Review name-checked Mitalipov alone, the paper splits credit for the research between five collaborating teams—four based in the United States, and one in South Korea.

What did they actually do?

The project effectively began with an elevator conversation between Mitalipov and his colleague Sanjiv Kaul. Mitalipov explained that he wanted to use CRISPR to correct a disease-causing gene in human embryos, and was trying to figure out which disease to focus on. Kaul, a cardiologist, told him about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)—an inherited heart disease that’s commonly caused by mutations in a gene called MYBPC3. HCM is surprisingly common, affecting 1 in 500 adults. Many of them lead normal lives, but in some, the walls of their hearts can thicken and suddenly fail. For that reason, HCM is the commonest cause of sudden death in athletes. “There really is no treatment,” says Kaul. “A number of drugs are being evaluated but they are all experimental,” and they merely treat the symptoms. The team wanted to prevent HCM entirely by removing the underlying mutation.

They collected sperm from a man with HCM and used CRISPR to change his mutant gene into its normal healthy version, while simultaneously using the sperm to fertilize eggs that had been donated by female volunteers. In this way, they created embryos that were completely free of the mutation. The procedure was effective, and avoided some of the critical problems that have plagued past attempts to use CRISPR in human embryos.

Wait, other human embryos have been edited before?

There have been three attempts in China. The first two—in 2015 and 2016—used non-viable embryos that could never have resulted in a live birth. The third—announced this March—was the first to use viable embryos that could theoretically have been implanted in a womb. All of these studies showed that CRISPR gene-editing, for all its hype, is still in its infancy.

The editing was imprecise. CRISPR is heralded for its precision, allowing scientists to edit particular genes of choice. But in practice, some of the Chinese researchers found worrying levels of off-target mutations, where CRISPR mistakenly cut other parts of the genome.

The editing was inefficient. The first Chinese team only managed to successfully edit a disease gene in 4 out of 86 embryos, and the second team fared even worse.

The editing was incomplete. Even in the successful cases, each embryo had a mix of modified and unmodified cells. This pattern, known as mosaicism, poses serious safety problems if gene-editing were ever to be used in practice. Doctors could end up implanting women with embryos that they thought were free of a disease-causing mutation, but were only partially free. The resulting person would still have many tissues and organs that carry those mutations, and might go on to develop symptoms.

What did the American team do differently?

The Chinese teams all used CRISPR to edit embryos at early stages of their development. By contrast, the Oregon researchers delivered the CRISPR components at the earliest possible point—minutes before fertilization. That neatly avoids the problem of mosaicism by ensuring that an embryo is edited from the very moment it is created. The team did this with 54 embryos and successfully edited the mutant MYBPC3 gene in 72 percent of them. In the other 28 percent, the editing didn’t work—a high failure rate, but far lower than in previous attempts. Better still, the team found no evidence of off-target mutations.

This is a big deal. Many scientists assumed that they’d have to do something more convoluted to avoid mosaicism. They’d have to collect a patient’s cells, which they’d revert into stem cells, which they’d use to make sperm or eggs, which they’d edit using CRISPR. “That’s a lot of extra steps, with more risks,” says Alta Charo. “If it’s possible to edit the embryo itself, that’s a real advance.” Perhaps for that reason, this is the first study to edit human embryos that was published in a top-tier scientific journal—Nature, which rejected some of the earlier Chinese papers.

Is this kind of research even legal?

Yes. In Western Europe, 15 countries out of 22 ban any attempts to change the human germ line—a term referring to sperm, eggs, and other cells that can transmit genetic information to future generations. No such stance exists in the United States but Congress has banned the Food and Drug Administration from considering research applications that make such modifications. Separately, federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health are banned from funding research that ultimately destroys human embryos. But the Oregon team used non-federal money from their institutions, and donations from several small non-profits. No taxpayer money went into their work. [emphasis mine]

Why would you want to edit embryos at all?

Partly to learn more about ourselves. By using CRISPR to manipulate the genes of embryos, scientists can learn more about the earliest stages of human development, and about problems like infertility and miscarriages. That’s why biologist Kathy Niakan from the Crick Institute in London recently secured a license from a British regulator to use CRISPR on human embryos.

Isn’t this a slippery slope toward making designer babies?

In terms of avoiding genetic diseases, it’s not conceptually different from PGD, which is already widely used. The bigger worry is that gene-editing could be used to make people stronger, smarter, or taller, paving the way for a new eugenics, and widening the already substantial gaps between the wealthy and poor. But many geneticists believe that such a future is fundamentally unlikely because complex traits like height and intelligence are the work of hundreds or thousands of genes, each of which have a tiny effect. The prospect of editing them all is implausible. And since genes are so thoroughly interconnected, it may be impossible to edit one particular trait without also affecting many others.

“There’s the worry that this could be used for enhancement, so society has to draw a line,” says Mitalipov. “But this is pretty complex technology and it wouldn’t be hard to regulate it.”

Does this discovery have any social importance at all?

“It’s not so much about designer babies as it is about geographical location,” says Charo. “It’s happening in the United States, and everything here around embryo research has high sensitivity.” She and others worry that the early report about the study, before the actual details were available for scrutiny, could lead to unnecessary panic. “Panic reactions often lead to panic-driven policy … which is usually bad policy,” wrote Greely [bioethicist Hank Greely].

As I understand it, despite the change in stance, there is no federal funding available for the research performed by Mitalipov and his team.

Finally, University College London (UCL) scientists Joyce Harper and Helen O’Neill wrote about CRISPR, the Oregon team’s work, and the possibilities in an Aug. 3, 2017 essay for The Conversation (Note: Links have been removed),

The genome editing tool used, CRISPR-Cas9, has transformed the field of biology in the short time since its discovery in that it not only promises, but delivers. CRISPR has surpassed all previous efforts to engineer cells and alter genomes at a fraction of the time and cost.

The technology, which works like molecular scissors to cut and paste DNA, is a natural defence system that bacteria use to fend off harmful infections. This system has the ability to recognise invading virus DNA, cut it and integrate this cut sequence into its own genome – allowing the bacterium to render itself immune to future infections of viruses with similar DNA. It is this ability to recognise and cut DNA that has allowed scientists to use it to target and edit specific DNA regions.

When this technology is applied to “germ cells” – the sperm and eggs – or embryos, it changes the germline. That means that any alterations made would be permanent and passed down to future generations. This makes it more ethically complex, but there are strict regulations around human germline genome editing, which is predominantly illegal. The UK received a licence in 2016 to carry out CRISPR on human embryos for research into early development. But edited embryos are not allowed to be inserted into the uterus and develop into a fetus in any country.

Germline genome editing came into the global spotlight when Chinese scientists announced in 2015 that they had used CRISPR to edit non-viable human embryos – cells that could never result in a live birth. They did this to modify the gene responsible for the blood disorder β-thalassaemia. While it was met with some success, it received a lot of criticism because of the premature use of this technology in human embryos. The results showed a high number of potentially dangerous, off-target mutations created in the procedure.

Impressive results

The new study, published in Nature, is different because it deals with viable human embryos and shows that the genome editing can be carried out safely – without creating harmful mutations. The team used CRISPR to correct a mutation in the gene MYBPC3, which accounts for approximately 40% of the myocardial disease hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a dominant disease, so an affected individual only needs one abnormal copy of the gene to be affected.

The researchers used sperm from a patient carrying one copy of the MYBPC3 mutation to create 54 embryos. They edited them using CRISPR-Cas9 to correct the mutation. Without genome editing, approximately 50% of the embryos would carry the patients’ normal gene and 50% would carry his abnormal gene.

After genome editing, the aim would be for 100% of embryos to be normal. In the first round of the experiments, they found that 66.7% of embryos – 36 out of 54 – were normal after being injected with CRIPSR. Of the remaining 18 embryos, five had remained unchanged, suggesting editing had not worked. In 13 embryos, only a portion of cells had been edited.

The level of efficiency is affected by the type of CRISPR machinery used and, critically, the timing in which it is put into the embryo. The researchers therefore also tried injecting the sperm and the CRISPR-Cas9 complex into the egg at the same time, which resulted in more promising results. This was done for 75 mature donated human eggs using a common IVF technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection. This time, impressively, 72.4% of embryos were normal as a result. The approach also lowered the number of embryos containing a mixture of edited and unedited cells (these embryos are called mosaics).

Finally, the team injected a further 22 embryos which were grown into blastocyst – a later stage of embryo development. These were sequenced and the researchers found that the editing had indeed worked. Importantly, they could show that the level of off-target mutations was low.

A brave new world?

So does this mean we finally have a cure for debilitating, heritable diseases? It’s important to remember that the study did not achieve a 100% success rate. Even the researchers themselves stress that further research is needed in order to fully understand the potential and limitations of the technique.

In our view, it is unlikely that genome editing would be used to treat the majority of inherited conditions anytime soon. We still can’t be sure how a child with a genetically altered genome will develop over a lifetime, so it seems unlikely that couples carrying a genetic disease would embark on gene editing rather than undergoing already available tests – such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis or prenatal diagnosis – where the embryos or fetus are tested for genetic faults.

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As might be expected there is now a call for public discussion about the ethics about this kind of work. See Part 3.

For anyone who started in the middle of this series, here’s Part 1 featuring an introduction to the technology and some of the issues.

CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 1 of 3): In the beginning

There’s been a minor flurry of interest in CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats; also known as CRISPR-CAS9), a gene-editing technique, since a team in Oregon announced a paper describing their work editing the germline. Since I’ve been following the CRISPR-CAS9 story for a while this seems like a good juncture for a more in-depth look at the topic. In this first part I’m including an introduction to CRISPR, some information about the latest US work, and some previous writing about ethics issues raised when Chinese scientists first announced their work editing germlines in 2015 and during the patent dispute between the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard University’s Broad Institute.

Introduction to CRISPR

I’ve been searching for a good description of CRISPR and this helped to clear up some questions for me (Thank you to MIT Review),

For anyone who’s been reading about science for a while, this upbeat approach to explaining how a particular technology will solve all sorts of problems will seem quite familiar. It’s not the most hyperbolic piece I’ve seen but it barely mentions any problems associated with research (for some of the problems see: ‘The interest flurry’ later in part 2).

Oregon team

Steve Connor’s July 26, 2017 article for the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Technology Review breaks the news (Note: Links have been removed),

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, MIT Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

Until now, American scientists have watched with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.

Now Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.

Although none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days—and there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb—the experiments are a milestone on what may prove to be an inevitable journey toward the birth of the first genetically modified humans.

In altering the DNA code of human embryos, the objective of scientists is to show that they can eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease, like the blood condition beta-thalassemia. The process is termed “germline engineering” because any genetically modified child would then pass the changes on to subsequent generations via their own germ cells—the egg and sperm.

Some critics say germline experiments could open the floodgates to a brave new world of “designer babies” engineered with genetic enhancements—a prospect bitterly opposed by a range of religious organizations, civil society groups, and biotech companies.

The U.S. intelligence community last year called CRISPR a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”

Here’s a link to a citation for the groundbreaking paper,

Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos by Hong Ma, Nuria Marti-Gutierrez, Sang-Wook Park, Jun Wu, Yeonmi Lee, Keiichiro Suzuki, Amy Koski, Dongmei Ji, Tomonari Hayama, Riffat Ahmed, Hayley Darby, Crystal Van Dyken, Ying Li, Eunju Kang, A.-Reum Park, Daesik Kim, Sang-Tae Kim, Jianhui Gong, Ying Gu, Xun Xu, David Battaglia, Sacha A. Krieg, David M. Lee, Diana H. Wu, Don P. Wolf, Stephen B. Heitner, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Paula Amato, Jin-Soo Kim, Sanjiv Kaul, & Shoukhrat Mitalipov. Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/nature23305 Published online 02 August 2017

This paper appears to be open access.

CRISPR Issues: ethics and patents

In my May 14, 2015 posting I mentioned a ‘moratorium’ on germline research, the Chinese research paper, and the stance taken by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH),

The CRISPR technology has reignited a discussion about ethical and moral issues of human genetic engineering some of which is reviewed in an April 7, 2015 posting about a moratorium by Sheila Jasanoff, J. Benjamin Hurlbut and Krishanu Saha for the Guardian science blogs (Note: A link has been removed),

On April 3, 2015, a group of prominent biologists and ethicists writing in Science called for a moratorium on germline gene engineering; modifications to the human genome that will be passed on to future generations. The moratorium would apply to a technology called CRISPR/Cas9, which enables the removal of undesirable genes, insertion of desirable ones, and the broad recoding of nearly any DNA sequence.

Such modifications could affect every cell in an adult human being, including germ cells, and therefore be passed down through the generations. Many organisms across the range of biological complexity have already been edited in this way to generate designer bacteria, plants and primates. There is little reason to believe the same could not be done with human eggs, sperm and embryos. Now that the technology to engineer human germlines is here, the advocates for a moratorium declared, it is time to chart a prudent path forward. They recommend four actions: a hold on clinical applications; creation of expert forums; transparent research; and a globally representative group to recommend policy approaches.

The authors go on to review precedents and reasons for the moratorium while suggesting we need better ways for citizens to engage with and debate these issues,

An effective moratorium must be grounded in the principle that the power to modify the human genome demands serious engagement not only from scientists and ethicists but from all citizens. We need a more complex architecture for public deliberation, built on the recognition that we, as citizens, have a duty to participate in shaping our biotechnological futures, just as governments have a duty to empower us to participate in that process. Decisions such as whether or not to edit human genes should not be left to elite and invisible experts, whether in universities, ad hoc commissions, or parliamentary advisory committees. Nor should public deliberation be temporally limited by the span of a moratorium or narrowed to topics that experts deem reasonable to debate.

I recommend reading the post in its entirety as there are nuances that are best appreciated in the entirety of the piece.

Shortly after this essay was published, Chinese scientists announced they had genetically modified (nonviable) human embryos. From an April 22, 2015 article by David Cyranoski and Sara Reardon in Nature where the research and some of the ethical issues discussed,

In a world first, Chinese scientists have reported editing the genomes of human embryos. The results are published1 in the online journal Protein & Cell and confirm widespread rumours that such experiments had been conducted — rumours that sparked a high-profile debate last month2, 3 about the ethical implications of such work.

In the paper, researchers led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, tried to head off such concerns by using ‘non-viable’ embryos, which cannot result in a live birth, that were obtained from local fertility clinics. The team attempted to modify the gene responsible for β-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. The researchers say that their results reveal serious obstacles to using the method in medical applications.

“I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

….

Huang says that the paper was rejected by Nature and Science, in part because of ethical objections; both journals declined to comment on the claim. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of its research editorial team.)

He adds that critics of the paper have noted that the low efficiencies and high number of off-target mutations could be specific to the abnormal embryos used in the study. Huang acknowledges the critique, but because there are no examples of gene editing in normal embryos he says that there is no way to know if the technique operates differently in them.

Still, he maintains that the embryos allow for a more meaningful model — and one closer to a normal human embryo — than an animal model or one using adult human cells. “We wanted to show our data to the world so people know what really happened with this model, rather than just talking about what would happen without data,” he says.

This, too, is a good and thoughtful read.

There was an official response in the US to the publication of this research, from an April 29, 2015 post by David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

In light of Chinese researchers reporting their efforts to edit the genes of ‘non-viable’ human embryos, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins issued a statement (H/T Carl Zimmer).

“NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed. Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain. These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in embryos.” …

The US has modified its stance according to a February 14, 2017 article by Jocelyn Kaiser for Science Magazine (Note: Links have been removed),

Editing the DNA of a human embryo to prevent a disease in a baby could be ethically allowable one day—but only in rare circumstances and with safeguards in place, says a widely anticipated report released today.

The report from an international committee convened by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Medicine in Washington, D.C., concludes that such a clinical trial “might be permitted, but only following much more research” on risks and benefits, and “only for compelling reasons and under strict oversight.” Those situations could be limited to couples who both have a serious genetic disease and for whom embryo editing is “really the last reasonable option” if they want to have a healthy biological child, says committee co-chair Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Some researchers are pleased with the report, saying it is consistent with previous conclusions that safely altering the DNA of human eggs, sperm, or early embryos—known as germline editing—to create a baby could be possible eventually. “They have closed the door to the vast majority of germline applications and left it open for a very small, well-defined subset. That’s not unreasonable in my opinion,” says genome researcher Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lander was among the organizers of an international summit at NAS in December 2015 who called for more discussion before proceeding with embryo editing.

But others see the report as lowering the bar for such experiments because it does not explicitly say they should be prohibited for now. “It changes the tone to an affirmative position in the absence of the broad public debate this report calls for,” says Edward Lanphier, chairman of the DNA editing company Sangamo Therapeutics in Richmond, California. Two years ago, he co-authored a Nature commentary calling for a moratorium on clinical embryo editing.

One advocacy group opposed to embryo editing goes further. “We’re very disappointed with the report. It’s really a pretty dramatic shift from the existing and widespread agreement globally that human germline editing should be prohibited,” says Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California.

Interestingly, this change of stance occurred just prior to a CRISPR patent decision (from my March 15, 2017 posting),

I have written about the CRISPR patent tussle (Harvard & MIT’s [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Broad Institute vs the University of California at Berkeley) previously in a Jan. 6, 2015 posting and in a more detailed May 14, 2015 posting. I also mentioned (in a Jan. 17, 2017 posting) CRISPR and its patent issues in the context of a posting about a Slate.com series on Frankenstein and the novel’s applicability to our own time. This patent fight is being bitterly fought as fortunes are at stake.

It seems a decision has been made regarding the CRISPR patent claims. From a Feb. 17, 2017 article by Charmaine Distor for The Science Times,

After an intense court battle, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released its ruling on February 15 [2017]. The rights for the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology was handed over to the Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

According to an article in Nature, the said court battle was between the Broad Institute and the University of California. The two institutions are fighting over the intellectual property right for the CRISPR patent. The case between the two started when the patent was first awarded to the Broad Institute despite having the University of California apply first for the CRISPR patent.

Heidi Ledford’s Feb. 17, 2017 article for Nature provides more insight into the situation (Note: Links have been removed),

It [USPTO] ruled that the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge could keep its patents on using CRISPR–Cas9 in eukaryotic cells. That was a blow to the University of California in Berkeley, which had filed its own patents and had hoped to have the Broad’s thrown out.

The fight goes back to 2012, when Jennifer Doudna at Berkeley, Emmanuelle Charpentier, then at the University of Vienna, and their colleagues outlined how CRISPR–Cas9 could be used to precisely cut isolated DNA1. In 2013, Feng Zhang at the Broad and his colleagues — and other teams — showed2 how it could be adapted to edit DNA in eukaryotic cells such as plants, livestock and humans.

Berkeley filed for a patent earlier, but the USPTO granted the Broad’s patents first — and this week upheld them. There are high stakes involved in the ruling. The holder of key patents could make millions of dollars from CRISPR–Cas9’s applications in industry: already, the technique has sped up genetic research, and scientists are using it to develop disease-resistant livestock and treatments for human diseases.

….

I also noted this eyebrow-lifting statistic,  “As for Ledford’s 3rd point, there are an estimated 763 patent families (groups of related patents) claiming CAS9 leading to the distinct possibility that the Broad Institute will be fighting many patent claims in the future.)

-30-

Part 2 covers three critical responses to the reporting and between them describe the technology in more detail and the possibility of ‘designer babies’.  CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 2 of 3): ‘designer babies’?

Part 3 is all about public discussion or, rather, the lack of and need for according to a couple of social scientists. Informally, there is some discussion via pop culture and Joelle Renstrom notes although she is focused on the larger issues touched on by the television series, Orphan Black and as I touch on in my final comments. CRISPR and editing the germline in the US (part 3 of 3): public discussions and pop culture

Bill Nye saving science ?; a Blackout Night Sky Festival; and Eclipse: Total Alignment (science events in Vancouver Canada)

During August (2017), science in Vancouver (Canada) seems to be mostly about the night sky. The one exception is an event featuring American science communicator, Bill Nye. Here, in the order in which they occur, are the three science events mentioned in the head (scroll down to the third event [Eclipse: Total Alignment] if you are interested in Early Bird tickets, which are available until Aug. 4, 2017).

Bill Nye speaks

Billed as ‘An Evening With Bill Nye & George Stroumboulopoulos’, the event takes place at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday, August 11, 2017. Here’s more from the event page on brownpapertickets.com,

An Evening With Bill Nye & George Stroumboulopoulos
presented by Pangburn Philosophy

Friday, August 11, 2017
Doors: 7pm
Show: 8pm Sharp!

Bill Nye is one of the worlds most eminent promoters of science. He is a scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor. His mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life. He will grace the stage on August 11th at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver to exchange dialogue with one of Canada’s most beloved public figures and tv personalities. George Stroumboulopoulos is a six-time Gemini Award and Canadian Screen Award winner for best host in a talk series, George Stroumboulopoulos has interviewed a who’s who of entertainment icons, world leaders and respected thinkers. George has also taken an active role in global initiatives and is a strong advocate for social issues.Special Note:

All PREMIUM ticket purchases grant you a copy of Bill Nye’s new book “Everything All at Once” plus fast-pass access to Bill’s book signing, taking place directly after the event.

All STUDENT discounted tickets are Will Call only at the Box Office, on the evening of the event. Student & Photo ID must be shown. No exceptions.

Service Charges Disclaimer
Note that all tickets are subject to an additional $3.50 for the Facility Fee and $5.00 for the Ticketing Fee.
Friday Aug 11, 2017 8:00 PM – Friday Aug 11, 2017 11:00 PM | CA$60.00 – CA$150.00

I got a message saying ‘sales are ended’, which suggests the event is sold out but organizers usually trumpet that detail right away so I don’t know. It might be an idea to try the Buy Tickets button on this page for yourself.

For anyone unfamiliar with the event organizers, Pangburn Philosophy, there’s their home page and this video,

While I’m quite interested in science and art, singly and together, the discussion about science, religion, and/or god, discussed in the video, leaves me cold. I notice the Pangburn Philosophy organization has a series of events titled ‘Science and Reason’ and all of them feature Richard Dawkins who (as I understand it) has been very involved in the debate about science/reason and religion/god. The debate gets more attention in the UK than it has here in Canada.

Getting back to Bill Nye, there was a provocative essay about Nye, his new television programme, and the debate regarding science/reason and anti-science/alternative facts (which can also touch on religion/god). From an April 25, 2017 essay (titled: Can Bill Nye – or any other science show – really save the world?) by Heather Akin, Bruce W. Hardy, Dietram A. Scheufele, and Dominique Brossard for The Conversation.com (h/t May 1, 2017 republication on salon.com; Note: Links have been removed)

Netflix’s new talk show, “Bill Nye Saves the World,” debuted the night before people around the world joined together to demonstrate and March for Science. Many have lauded the timing and relevance of the show, featuring the famous “Science Guy” as its host, because it aims to myth-bust and debunk anti-scientific claims in an alternative-fact era.

But are more facts really the kryptonite that will rein in what some suggest is a rapidly spreading “anti-science” sentiment in the U.S.?

“With the right science and good writing,” Nye hopes, “we’ll do our best to enlighten and entertain our audience. And, perhaps we’ll change the world a little.” In an ideal world, a show like this might attract a broad and diverse audience with varying levels of science interest and background. By entertaining a wide range of viewers, the thinking goes, the show could effectively dismantle enduring beliefs that are at odds with scientific evidence. Significant parts of the public still aren’t on board with the scientific consensus on climate change and the safety of vaccines and genetically modified foods, for instance.

But what deserves to be successful isn’t always what ends up winning hearts and minds in the real world. In fact, empirical data we collected suggest that the viewership of such shows – even heavily publicized and celebrity-endorsed ones – is small and made up of people who are already highly educated, knowledgeable about science and receptive to scientific evidence.

Engaging scientific programming could still be an antidote to waning public interest in science, especially where formal science education is falling short. But it is revealing that “Cosmos” – a heavily marketed, big-budget show backed by Fox Networks and “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane – did not reach the audience who need quality science information the most. “Bill Nye Saves the World” might not either. Its streaming numbers are not yet available.

Today’s fragmented and partisan media environment fosters selective exposure and motivated reasoning – that is, viewers typically tune in to programming that confirms their existing worldview. There are few opportunities or incentives for audiences to engage with scientific evidence in the media. All of this can propagate misleading claims and deter audiences from accepting the conclusions of sound science. And adoption of misinformation and alternative facts is not a partisan problem. Policy debates questioning or ignoring scientific consensus on vaccines, climate change and GMOs have cut across different political camps.

None of this is meant to downplay the huge potential of entertainment media to reach diverse audiences beyond the proverbial choir. We know from decades of research that our mental images of science and its impact on society are shaped heavily by (sometimes stereotypical) portrayals of science and scientists in shows like “The Big Bang Theory” or “Orphan Black.”

But successful scientific entertainment programming needs to accomplish two goals: First, draw in a diverse audience well beyond those already interested in science; second, present scientific issues in a way that unites audiences around shared values rather than further polarizing by presenting science in ways that seems at odds with specific political or religious worldviews.

And social science research suggests that complex information can reach audiences via the most unlikely of places, including the satirical fake news program “The Colbert Report.” In fact, a University of Pennsylvania study showed that a series of “Colbert Report” episodes about Super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups during the 2012 presidential election did a better job educating viewers than did mainstream programming in traditional news formats.

Social science can help us learn from our mistakes and better understand how to connect with hard-to-reach audiences via new formats and outlets. None of these shows by themselves will save the world. But if done right, they each might get us closer, one empirical step at a time.

I encourage you to read the essay in its entirety and, in particular, to read the comments.

The tickets for the Aug. 11, 2017 event seem a bit expensive but as they appear to be sold out, it proves I know very little about marketing science celebrities. I guess Stroumboulopoulos’ name recognition due to his CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) experience was part of the sales strategy since he doesn’t seem to have any science background. That said, good interviewers take the time to research and often unearth questions that someone with more expertise might not think to ask. I’ve been favourably impressed the few times I’ve caught one of Stroumboulopoulos’ interviews.

Blackout: Night Sky Festival

The day after Bill Nye, on Saturday, August 12, 2017, there’s a special event at the Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia grounds in Vancouver. Cecilia Lu in a July 24, 2017 posting on The Daily Hive (Vancouver edition) writes up the event,

With the Perseid meteor shower returning next month, the Museum of Anthropology is putting on a unique stargazing festival for the occasion.

On Saturday, August 12 [2017], at the peak of meteor shower viewing season, Blackout: Night Sky Festival will see the MOA transform into an all-ages arts and astronomy celebration.

The museum will remain open until midnight, as stargazers enjoy the night sky amidst Indigenous storytelling, special musical performances, and lantern making.

The Museum of Anthropology’s Blackout event page provides more information,

Saturday, August 12 [2017] | 5 pm – Midnight | All-Ages + Licensed |
Adults $10 | Youth + Students Free | Tickets available at the door

Join the event on Facebook
Explore our connection to the stars during an evening of arts and astronomy.
Inspired by the global dark sky movement, Blackout brings together storytellers, musicians, artists and astronomers to share their relationships to the skies. Join us to witness the peak of the Perseid meteor shower and explore the museum until midnight during this all-ages event.
You’ll have the chance to peer into telescopes, make your own star lantern and experience an experimental art installation that reimagines the constellations. Bring a chair or blanket and enjoy stargazing to a soundtrack of downtempo and ambient beats, punctuated by live music and throat singing.
Co-hosted with the UBC Astronomy Club, in association with Hfour and the Secret Lantern Society. Performers include Bronson Charles, Jerry DesVoignes, You’re Me, Andrew Kim the musical scientist and the Secret Lantern Society musicians.


Blackout Night Sky Festival Schedule

Indigenous Sky Stories | 5–6 pm
Join us in the Great Hall for celestial storytelling by Margaret Grenier and learn about what you’ll see in the skies that night from the UBC Astronomy Club.
Planets and Pulsations: The New Keplerian Revolution | 6–7 pm
Does Earth harbour the only life in the universe? Astrophysicist Don Kurtz examines how the Kepler Space Mission has revolutionized our view in an animated multimedia performance.
Late Night Gallery Viewing | 5 pm – midnight
Explore MOA all night long — including our brand new Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks.
Bar + BBQ + Music | 7 pm – midnight
Grab a bite to eat or drink from our licensed bar and enjoy the music that runs all night. Vegetarian and non-alcoholic options available.
Lantern Making Workshop | 7–9 pm
Make your own pinhole lantern inspired by constellations from around the world in this drop-in workshop hosted by the Secret Lantern Society.
Reclaiming the Night Skies | 8:30 pm – midnight
Experimental artists Hfour and the MOA’s Native Youth Program present an immersive, projected art installation that brings to life a series of new constellations, featuring soundscapes by Adham Shaikh.
Lantern Procession | 9 pm
Join the procession of freshly built lanterns and roving musicians as we make our way across the Museum Grounds and up the hill for a night of stargazing!
Stargazing + Meteor Shower | 9:30 pm – midnight
How many meteors can you find? Expand your knowledge of the night sky with the telescopes and expertise of the UBC Astronomy Club and HR MacMillan Space Centre, set to a background of live and electronic music. On view that night: Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, M13, M15, Ring Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula and the Perseid meteor shower.

There are two eclipses during August 2017 (Aug. 7, 2017 and Aug. 21, 2017) and I find it odd that neither are mentioned in this astronomy-focused event at the Museum of Anthropology.  The Aug. 21, 2017 astronomical event is a total eclipse of the sun.. There’s more about it on this NASA (US National Aeronautics Space Administration) eclipse website.

Curiosity Collider and the Eclipse

[downloaded from http://www.curiositycollider.org/events/]

Vancouver’s art/sci organization (they have a wordier description here). Curiosity Collider is holding an event that celebrates the upcoming eclipse. From a July 28, 2017 notice (received via email),

Join Curiosity Collider and H.R. MacMillan Centre for this one night
only event

ART & SCIENCE EXPLORE THE MOMENTARY DARKNESS
ON AUGUST 17TH [2017], FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY, CURIOSITY COLLIDER AND THE H.R.
MACMILLAN SPACE CENTRE WILL HOST ECLIPSE: TOTAL ALIGNMENT where artists
and scientists interpret the rare alignment of the sun, earth, and moon
during a total solar eclipse. The event includes a performance show in
the planetarium theatre, and interactive multi and mixed media art
installations on the main level Cosmic Courtyard. Highlights include:

* a soundtrack of the solar system created by data sonification
* a dance piece that plays with alignment, light, and shadow
* scientific narration about the of the upcoming total solar eclipse
(on August 21st) and the phases of the moon
* spectacular custom planetarium dome visuals
* meeting the artists and scientists behind one-of-a-kind interactive
and multimedia art projects

This event is 19+ only. Beer and wine available for purchase, light
snacks included.

WHEN: 6:30pm on Thursday, August 17th 2017.
WHERE: H. R. MacMillan Space Centre (1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver, BC

COST: $25-30. Each ticket includes entrance to the Space Centre and one
planetarium show (7:30pm or 9pm). LIMITED EARLY BIRD TICKETS AVAILABLE
BEFORE AUGUST 4 [2017].

Interested in observing the partial solar eclipse in Vancouver on
Monday, August 21st [2017]? Check out the two observation events hosted by H.R.
MacMillan Space Centre [5] and UBC Department of Physics & Astronomy
[6].

You can find information about the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre’s eclipse viewing event here and the UBC Department of Physics & Astronomy’s eclipse viewing event here. Both event will have eclipse viewers for safety purposes. For instructions on how to view an eclipse safely, there’s NASA.

Curiosity Collider’s event page (it’s a scrolling page so there are other events there as well) provides details about participants,

This show is curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, and developed in collaboration with the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. Participating artists and scientists:

I have not tried all of the links but at least one (Maren Lisac’s) is for a Twitter feed and it’s not particularly informative.

You can find the Eclipse event’s Facebook page here and information about tickets here.

Science literacy, science advice, the US Supreme Court, and Britain’s House of Commons

This ‘think’ piece is going to cover a fair bit of ground including science literacy in the general public and in the US Supreme Court, and what that might mean for science advice and UK Members of Parliament (MPs).

Science literacy generally and in the US Supreme Court

A science literacy report for the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), due sometime from early to mid 2017, is being crafted with an eye to capturing a different perspective according to a March 24, 2016 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release by Terry Dewitt,

What does it mean to be science literate? How science literate is the American public? How do we stack up against other countries? What are the civic implications of a public with limited knowledge of science and how it works? How is science literacy measured?

These and other questions are under the microscope of a 12-member National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel — including University of Wisconsin—Madison Life Sciences Communication Professor Dominique Brossard and School of Education Professor Noah Feinstein — charged with sorting through the existing data on American science and health literacy and exploring the association between knowledge of science and public perception of and support for science.

The committee — composed of educators, scientists, physicians and social scientists — will take a hard look at the existing data on the state of U.S. science literacy, the questions asked, and the methods used to measure what Americans know and don’t know about science and how that knowledge has changed over time. Critically for science, the panel will explore whether a lack of science literacy is associated with decreased public support for science or research.

Historically, policymakers and leaders in the scientific community have fretted over a perceived lack of knowledge among Americans about science and how it works. A prevailing fear is that an American public unequipped to come to terms with modern science will ultimately have serious economic, security and civic consequences, especially when it comes to addressing complex and nuanced issues like climate change, antibiotic resistance, emerging diseases, environment and energy choices.

While the prevailing wisdom, inspired by past studies, is that Americans don’t stack up well in terms of understanding science, Brossard is not so convinced. Much depends on what kinds of questions are asked, how they are asked, and how the data is analyzed.

It is very easy, she argues, to do bad social science and past studies may have measured the wrong things or otherwise created a perception about the state of U.S. science literacy that may or may not be true.

“How do you conceptualize scientific literacy? What do people need to know? Some argue that scientific literacy may be as simple as an understanding of how science works, the nature of science, [emphasis mine]” Brossard explains. “For others it may be a kind of ‘civic science literacy,’ where people have enough knowledge to be informed and make good decisions in a civics context.”

Science literacy may not be just for the public, it would seem that US Supreme Court judges may not have a basic understanding of how science works. David Bruggeman’s March 24, 2016 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) describes a then current case before the Supreme Court (Justice Antonin Scalia has since died), Note: Links have been removed,

It’s a case concerning aspects of the University of Texas admissions process for undergraduates and the case is seen as a possible means of restricting race-based considerations for admission.  While I think the arguments in the case will likely revolve around factors far removed from science and or technology, there were comments raised by two Justices that struck a nerve with many scientists and engineers.

Both Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts raised questions about the validity of having diversity where science and scientists are concerned [emphasis mine].  Justice Scalia seemed to imply that diversity wasn’t esential for the University of Texas as most African-American scientists didn’t come from schools at the level of the University of Texas (considered the best university in Texas).  Chief Justice Roberts was a bit more plain about not understanding the benefits of diversity.  He stated, “What unique perspective does a black student bring to a class in physics?”

To that end, Dr. S. James Gates, theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland, and member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (and commercial actor) has an editorial in the March 25 [2016] issue of Science explaining that the value of having diversity in science does not accrue *just* to those who are underrepresented.

Dr. Gates relates his personal experience as a researcher and teacher of how people’s background inform their practice of science, and that two different people may use the same scientific method, but think about the problem differently.

I’m guessing that both Scalia and Roberts and possibly others believe that science is the discovery and accumulation of facts. In this worldview science facts such as gravity are waiting for discovery and formulation into a ‘law’. They do not recognize that most science is a collection of beliefs and may be influenced by personal beliefs. For example, we believe we’ve proved the existence of the Higgs boson but no one associated with the research has ever stated unequivocally that it exists.

For judges who are under the impression that scientific facts are out there somewhere waiting to be discovered diversity must seem irrelevant. It is not. Who you are affects the questions you ask and how you approach science. The easiest example is to look at how women were viewed when they were subjects in medical research. The fact that women’s physiology is significantly different (and not just in child-bearing ways) was never considered relevant when reporting results. Today, researchers consider not only gender, but age (to some extent), ethnicity, and more when examining results. It’s still not a perfect but it was a step forward.

So when Brossard included “… an understanding of how science works, the nature of science …” as an aspect of science literacy, the judges seemed to present a good example of how not understanding science can have a major impact on how others live.

I’d almost forgotten this science literacy piece as I’d started the draft some months ago but then I spotted a news item about a science advice/MP ‘dating’ service in the UK.

Science advice and UK MPs

First, the news, then, the speculation (from a June 6, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily),

MPs have expressed an overwhelming willingness to use a proposed new service to swiftly link them with academics in relevant areas to help ensure policy is based on the latest evidence.

A June 6, 2016 University of Exeter press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the proposed service and the research providing the supporting evidence (Note: A link has been removed),

The government is pursuing a drive towards evidence-based policy, yet policy makers still struggle to incorporate evidence into their decisions. One reason for this is limited easy access to the latest research findings or to academic experts who can respond to questions about evidence quickly.

Researchers at Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and University College London have today published results of the largest study to date reporting MPs’ attitudes to evidence in policy making and their reactions to a proposed Evidence Information Service (EIS) – a rapid match-making advisory service that would work alongside existing systems to put MPs in touch with relevant academic experts.

Dr Natalia Lawrence, of the University of Exeter, said: “It’s clear from our study that politicians want to ensure their decisions incorporate the most reliable evidence, but it can sometimes be very difficult for them to know how to access the latest research findings. This new matchmaking service could be a quick and easy way for them to seek advice from cutting-edge researchers and to check their understanding and facts. It could provide a useful complement to existing highly-valued information services.”

The research, published today in the journal Evidence and Policy, reports the findings of a national consultation exercise between politicians and the public. The researchers recruited members of the public to interview their local parliamentary representative. In total 86, politicians were contacted with 56 interviews completed. The MPs indicated an overwhelming willingness to use a service such as the EIS, with 85% supporting the idea, but noted a number of potential reservations related to the logistics of the EIS such as response time and familiarity with the service. Yet, the MPs indicated that their logistical reservations could be overcome by accessing the EIS via existing highly-valued parliamentary information services such as those provided by the House of Commons and Lords Libraries. Furthermore prior to rolling out the EIS on a nationwide basis it would first need to be piloted.

Developing the proposed EIS in line with feedback from this consultation of MPs would offer the potential to provide policy makers with rapid, reliable and confidential evidence from willing volunteers from the research community.

Professor Chris Chambers, of Cardiff University, said: “The government has given a robust steer that MPs need to link in more with academics to ensure decisions shaping the future of the country are evidence-based. It’s heartening to see that there is a will to adopt this system and we now need to move into a phase of developing a service that is both simple and effective to meet this need.”

The next steps for the project are parallel consultations of academics and members of the public and a pilot of the EIS, using funding from GW4 alliance of universities, made up of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

What this study shows:
• The consultation shows that politicians recognise the importance of evidence-based policy making and agree on the need for an easier and more direct linkage between academic experts and policy makers.
• Politicians would welcome the creation of the EIS as a provider of rapid, reliable and confidential evidence.

What this study does not show:
• This study does not show how academics would provide evidence. This was a small-scale study which consulted politicians and has not attempted to give voice to the academic community.
• This study does not detail the mechanism of an operational EIS. Instead it indicates the need for a service such as the EIS and suggests ways in which the EIS can be operationalized.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Service as a new platform for supporting evidence-based policy: a consultation of UK parliamentarians by Natalia Lawrence, Jemma Chambers, Sinead Morrison, Sven Bestmann, Gerard O’Grady, Christopher Chambers, Andrew Kythreotis. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/174426416X14643531912169 Appeared or available online: June 6, 2016

This paper is behind a paywall open access. *Corrected June 17, 2016.*

It’s an interesting idea and I can understand the appeal. However, operationalizing this ‘dating’ or ‘matchmaking’ service could prove quite complex. I appreciate the logistics issues but I’m a little more concerned about the MPs’ science literacy. Are they going to be like the two US justices who believe that science is the pursuit of immutable facts? What happens if two MPs are matched up with a different scientist and those two scientists didn’t agree about what the evidence says. Or, what happens if one scientist is more cautious than the other. There are all kinds of pitfalls. I’m not arguing against the idea but it’s going to require a lot of careful consideration.

Survey of Canadian science blog readers

Science Borealis, which is a Canadian science blog aggregator (an online location where you can find approximately 100 Canadian science blogs), is surveying blog readers in partnership with Dr. Paige Jarreau; further down this posting, I’m extending their invitation to participate *(deadline: Dec. 14, 2015)* but first a few details about Dr. Jarreau and the research.

About Dr. Paige Jareau

It seems she’s a photographer, as well as, a researcher,

Macro image of the eye of an endangered California Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Credit: Paige Jarreau

Macro image of the eye of an endangered California Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii. Credit: Paige Jarreau

You can find more of her photographs here.

Jarreau doesn’t seem to have updated her profiles in a while but here are two (one from her blog From the Lab Bench on the SciLogs.com blogging network and one from her academic webpage,

I am a Bio/Nanotechnology scientist turned journalist, with an M.S. in Biological & Agricultural Engineering. Science is my interest, but writing is my passion. I translate science into story, and my dream is to inspire a love for science in every reader. I am also a new PhD student at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, focusing in science communications and policy. I currently conduct research on the communication of science—specifically climate science—to various publics, and I write about all things science on a daily basis. Please feel free to ask me questions anytime, and follow me on Twitter @FromTheLabBench.

I’m always ready for a challenge, and I live to be inspired by science.

I will earn my PhD in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University in May 2015, and will soon be a post-doctoral researcher at the Manship School of Mass Communication, LSU (Fall 2015-Spring 2016). I currently study communication practices at the intersection of science communication and new media.

Her PhD dissertation is titled: All the Science That Is Fit to Blog: An Analysis of Science Blogging Practices and this is the portion of the abstract available for viewing,

This dissertation examines science blogging practices, including motivations, routines and content decision rules, across a wide range of science bloggers. Previous research has largely failed to investigate science blogging practices from science bloggers’ perspective or to establish a sociological framework for understa…

It seems that Jarreau has turned her attention to science blog readers for her latest research.

Jarreau’s research

Her latest work began with phase one in October 2015. Here’s the announcement from her Oct. 21, 2015 posting on From the Lab Bench (Scilogs.com), Note: A link has been removed,

Have you ever read one of these science blogs? Then head on over to fill out a readership survey for their blogs! We will learn much more about why people read science blogs, and you’ll get awesome prizes for participating, from science art to cash!

(Note – you have to completely fill out a readership survey for one of these blogs before taking the survey for another one of these blogs – but the survey will be shorter for the second blog you fill it out for!)

The survey closes on November 20th [2015] at midnight central US time!

In phase two, Jarreau has teamed up with Science Borealis, which started out as an aggregator for Canadian science blogs but has refashioned itself (from the Science Borealis About us page),

An inclusive digital science salon featuring Canadians blogging about a wide array of scientific disciplines. Science Borealis is a one-stop shop for the public, media, educators, and policy makers to source Canadian science information.

I wish they weren’t claiming to be “inclusive.” It’s too much like somebody introducing themselves as a “nice” or “kind” or … person. The truth is always the opposite.

Getting back to this latest phase of Jarreau’s research, approximately 20 Canadian science bloggers are participating through Science Borealis rather than the independent blog participation from phase one.

Extending the invitation

*From a Nov. 24, 2015 Science Borealis email,*

… Dr. Paige Jarreau from Louisiana State University and 20 other Canadian science bloggers [are conducting] a broad survey of Canadian science blog readers. Together we are trying to find out who reads science blogs in Canada, where they come from, whether Canadian-specific content is important to them and where they go for trustworthy, accurate science news and information. Your feedback will also help me learn more about my own blog readers.

It only take 5 minutes [I’d say more like 20 minutes as there’s more than one ‘essay’ question in addition to the questions where you tick off a box] to complete the survey. Begin here: http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

If you complete the survey you will be entered to win one of eleven prizes! A $50 Chapters Gift Card, a $20 surprise gift card, 3 Science Borealis T-shirts and 6 Surprise Gifts! PLUS everyone who completes the survey will receive a free hi-resolution science photograph from Paige’s Photography!

*(deadline for participating: Dec. 14, 2015)* You do have to read and ‘sign’ the consent form which provides a few more details about the research and outlines the privacy policy.

Having completed the survey, I do have a couple of comments. First, I’m delighted that this research is being conducted. I have stumbled across similar research some years ago but never had the chance to participate. (For anyone interested in previous research in this area),

Science, New Media, and the Public by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele. Science 4 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp. 40-41 DOI: 10.1126/science.1232329

While the paper is behind a paywall, the link will take to you to the paper’s abstract and, more interestingly, a list of papers which have cited Brossard’s and Scheufele’s work.

Unfortunately, I found the survey a little confusing in that I was answering questions about Science Borealis  as if it were a blog but I use it as an aggregator. (I used the link from Science Borealis, I believe if you use the link from here you will be asked about FrogHeart first.) Science Borealis does have a blog which I don’t read often as it  represents a diversity of science interests and those don’t always coincide with mine.

Also, I was sorry to see the age demographic breakdowns which were fine for certain ages but started at the age of 15. While I realize it’s unlikely that I or my colleagues have many readers under the age of 15, it would be interesting to find out if there are any. As well, Vancouver’s Science World has a blog that’s on Science Borealis and chances are good that they might have child readers, assuming they might be participating. Moving to the other end of the spectrum, the last category was age 60 and up. We have an aging population in Canada and the United States and weirdly no one questions this huge category of 60 or 64 and up. It seems obvious to me but there’s a difference between being 60 and 75, which researchers will never find out because they don’t bother asking the question. It’s not just social science and marketing researchers, more worryingly, it includes medical researchers. Yes, all those research studies telling you a drug is safe almost always don’t apply to anyone over the age of 55.

Those comments aside, here again is the link to the survey,

 http://bit.ly/ScienceBorealisSurvey

Good Luck on winning a prize.

*’From a Nov. 24, 2015 Science Borealis email’ added on Nov. 25, 2015 at 1240 hours PDT.

*'(deadline for participating: Dec. 14, 2015)’ added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1535 hours PDT and changed from ‘Dec. 16, 2015’ to ‘Dec. 14, 2015’ on Dec. 14, 2015.

*Note: I have not been able to find a mention of if, when, and/or where the results of the survey will be disseminated or published. Added Nov. 25, 2015 at 1535 hours PDT.*

Audience perceptions of emerging technologies and media stories that emphasize conflict over nuance

A few names popped into my head, as soon as I saw a news release focused on audience perceptions and emerging technologies. I was right about one of the authors (Dominique Brossard of the University of Wisconsin-Madison [UWM] often writes on the topic) however, the lead author is Andrew Binder of North Carolina State University (NCSU). An August 31, 2015 NCSU news release describes a joint NCSU-UWM research project  (Note: Links have been removed),

Researchers from NC State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found more evidence that how media report on emerging technologies – such as nanotechnology or genetically modified crops – influences public opinion on those subjects.

Specifically, when news stories highlight conflict in the scientific community on an emerging technology, people who accept the authority of scientists on scientific subjects are more likely to view the emerging technology as risky.

“Scientists – even scientists who disagree – often incorporate caveats and nuance into their comments on emerging technologies,” says Andrew R. Binder, lead author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of communication at NC State. “For example, a scientist may voice an opinion but note a lack of data on the subject. But that nuance is often lost in news stories.

“We wanted to know stories that present scientists as being in clear conflict, leaving out the nuance, affected the public’s perception of uncertainty on an issue – particularly compared to stories that incorporate the nuances of each scientist’s position,” Binder says.

For their experiment, the researchers had 250 college students answer a questionnaire on their deference to scientific authority and their perceptions of nanotechnology. Participants were split into four groups. Before asking about nanotechnology, one group was asked to read a news story about nanotech that quoted scientists and presented them as being in conflict; one group read a news story with quotes that showed disagreement between scientists but included nuance on each scientist’s position; one group read a story without quotes; and one group – the control group – was given no reading.

In most instances, the reading assignments did not have a significant impact on study participants’ perception of risks associated with nanotechnology. However, those participants who were both “highly deferent” to scientific authority and given the “conflict” news item perceived nanotechnology as being significantly more risky as compared to those highly deferent study participants who read the “nuance” article.

“One thing that’s interesting here is that participants who were highly deferential to scientific authority but were in the control group or read the news item without quotes – they landed about halfway between the ‘conflict’ group and the ‘nuance’ group,” Binder says. “So it would seem that the way reporters frame scientific opinion can sway an audience one way or the other.”

The researchers also found that, while an appearance of conflict can increase one’s perception of risk, it did not increase participants’ sense of certainty in their position.

As a practical matter, the findings raise questions for journalists – since scientists have limited control over how they’re portrayed in the news. Previous surveys have found that many people are deferent to scientific authority – they trust scientists – so a reporter’s decision to cut nuance or highlight conflict could make a very real impact on how the public perceives emerging technologies.

“Reporters can’t include every single detail, and scientists want to include everything,” Binder says. “So I don’t think there’s a definitive solution out there that will make everyone happy. But hopefully this will encourage both parties to meet in the middle.”

I have one comment, this research was conducted on college students whose age range is likely more restricted than what you’d find in the general populace. I don’t know if the research team has plans or more funding but it would seem the next step would be to tested a wider range to see if the results with the college students can be generalized.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Conflict or Caveats? Effects of Media Portrayals of Scientific Uncertainty on Audience Perceptions of New Technologies by Andrew R. Binder, Elliott D. Hillback, and Dominique Brossard. Risk Analysis DOI: 10.1111/risa.12462 Article first published online: 13 AUG 2015

© 2015 Society for Risk Analysis

This paper is behind a paywall.

American Assocation for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago, Illinois (13 – 17 February 2014)

The 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will take place Feb. 13 – 17, 2014 in Chicago (one of my favourite places), Illinois. It’s always interesting to take a look at the programme and here’s a few of the items I found interesting,

Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014  the AAAS has arranged a number of talks about ‘communicating science and, as usual, bloggers, etc. are confined to presenting under the rubric of social media:

9:00 AM-10:30 AM

Seminar: Communicating Science

11:00 AM-12:30 PM

Seminar: Communicating Science

Engaging with Social Media

To be more specific, here’s the list of presenters for the ‘Journalist’ talk (Note: I have removed links),

Moderator:
Cornelia Dean, The New York Times and Brown University
Speakers:
Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist [Note: Zimmer writes for the NY Times and other prestigious print publications, as well as, being a blogger]

Robert Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal

David Baron, Public Radio International

Paula Apsell, NOVA [science program on the US PBS {Public Broadcasting Service} network)

[emphases mine]

Meanwhile, we have this for social media,

Moderator:
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Speakers:
Kim Cobb, University of Georgia
Navigating the Science-Social Media Space: Pitfalls and Opportunities
Danielle N. Lee, Cornell University
Raising STEM Awareness Among Under-Served and Under-Represented Audiences
Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing.net
What’s the Point of Social Media?

It’s nice to see Danielle N. Lee as one of the presenters. Her blog, The Urban Scientist is on the Scientific American blog network (she also featured as a whistle blower and more in the 2013 science blogging scandals [my first post on the topic was Oct. 18, 2013 towards the end of the scandals and I mused on the scandals and discussed  gender in an end-of-year Dec. 31, 2013 posting ) and there’s of course, someone representing BoingBoing, an online publisher,which was conceptualized as a magazine and has now evolved into a group blog.

My basic thesis is that blogs and such are emerging as part of the science media landscape and the types of sessions which isolate bloggers, etc.  do not acknowledge that fact. Yes, it’s true that Zimmer blogs but I can guarantee that the discussion will revolve exclusively around his high profile publishers such as the NY Times and how the participants can get their stories in front of mainstream media journalists and as for the social media session that’s going to focus on how scientists can directly approach their publics.

Moving on, there’s a nanotechnology aspect to the following presentation, although you’d never guess it from the title,

 Preserving Our Cultural Heritage: Science in the Service of Art
Friday, 14 February 2014: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Acapulco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
In 2009 a group of chemists and materials scientists from a wide range of institutions came together for a workshop on “Chemistry and Materials Research at the Interface Between Science and Art,” co-sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation. One of the workshop conclusions was that scientists in academia need to be encouraged to collaborate with their peers in cultural heritage institutions, to both increase scientist knowledge of this heritage and also to develop the necessary tools and apply the science to be able to preserve it. The session covers different collaborations that are ongoing in this area, relating to different mediums of art and different technologies that can be applied. The session will also include recent results and successes in this process, both in better understanding of materials as well as in developments for their conservation. The discussion will also address what is needed for collaborations like this to continue to flourish and grow.

One doesn’t get to the ‘nano’ part until looking at the speakers’ list (Note: Links have been removed),

Organizer:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
Co-Organizer:
Leonor Sierra, University of Rochester
Speakers:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
21st Century Tools for 19th Century Nanotechnology ‘[emphasis mine]
Richard Van Duyne, Northwestern University
Detecting Organic Dyestuffs in Art with SERS
Anikó Bezur, Yale University
Aiming for a Perfect Match: Pairing Collections-Based Scientific Research with Academia

The 19th Century nanotechnology referred to in the title of Biglow’s talk is the daggeureotype (a type of 19th century photographic process) which gained a lot of attention in the last few years when a display of irreplaceable pieces started showing signs of visible (25 pieces) and catastrophic (five pieces) deterioration. There’s more about this fascinating story in my Jan. 10, 2013 posting.

Saturday, Feb.15, 2014, Alan Alda will be at the meeting as a plenary speaker,

Alan Alda: Getting Beyond a Blind Date with Science
Plenary Lecture
Saturday, 15 February 2014: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Fairmont Chicago)
Alan Alda is an actor, writer, director, and visiting professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, where he helps current and future scientists learn to communicate more clearly and vividly with the public. In collaboration with theater arts faculty at Stony Brook, he is pioneering the use of improvisational theater exercises to help scientists connect more directly with people outside their field. Alda is best known for his award-winning work in movies, theater, and television, but he also has a distinguished record in the public communication of science. For 13 years he hosted the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers, which he has called “the best thing I ever did in front of a camera.” After interviewing hundreds of scientists around the world, he became convinced that many researchers have wonderful stories but need to learn how to tell them better. That realization inspired the creation of Stony Brook’s multidisciplinary Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in 2009.

The last two sessions I’m highlighting are on standard nanotechnology topics. On Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, there’s

Nanoelectronics for Renewable Energy: How Nanoscale Innovations Address Global Needs
Sunday, 16 February 2014: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Regency B (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Sometimes it’s possible to get a handle on the world’s biggest problems by thinking creatively on a very small scale—and advances in the rapidly maturing field of nanoelectronics prove it. Innovations that hold promise for broader and faster adoption of renewable energy technologies loom large against a backdrop of population growth, rapid industrialization in developing countries, and initiatives to decrease reliance on both fossil fuels and nuclear power. In this symposium, researchers from the U.S. and Europe will review the latest progress in nanoelectronics for renewable energy across a series of interrelated programs. For instance, new manufacturing approaches such as nanoimprinting, nanotransfer, and spray-on fabrication of organic semiconductors not only point the way toward low-cost production of large-scale electronics such as solar panels, they also enable and inspire novel nanoelectronic device designs. These device-level innovations range from ultrasensitive molecular sensors to nanomagnet logic circuits, and they are of particular interest in solar energy applications. Many lines of research appear to be converging on nanostructure-based solar cells that will be vastly more efficient in capturing sunlight (or even heat) and converting it to electrical power. In addition to outlining these promising paths toward higher-efficiency, lower-cost photovoltaics, the symposium will highlight some of the remaining hurdles, including needed advances in fundamental science.
Organizer:
Patrick Regan, Technical University Munich
Co-organizers:
William Gilroy, University of Notre Dame
and Hillary Sanctuary, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)

On Monday, Feb. 17, 2014,  nanotechnology features in the final plenary session,

John A. Rogers: Stretchy Electronics That Dissolve in Your Body
Plenary Lecture
Monday, 17 February 2014: 8:30 AM-9:30 AM
Imperial Ballroom (Fairmont Chicago)
Dr. John Rogers’ research includes fundamental and applied aspects of nano- and molecular scale fabrication. He also studies materials and patterning techniques for unusual electronic and photonic devices, with an emphasis on bio-integrated and bio-inspired systems. He received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005. He has published more than 350 papers and is an inventor on over 80 patents and patent applications, many of which are licensed or in active use by large companies and startups that he co-founded. He previously worked for Bell Laboratories as director of its research program in condensed matter physics. He has received recognition including a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense, the George Smith Award from IEEE, the Robert Henry Thurston Award from American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Mid-Career Researcher Award from Materials Research Society, the Leo Hendrick Baekeland Award from the American Chemical Society, and the Daniel Drucker Eminent Faculty Award from the University of Illinois.
Speaker:
John Rogers, Ph. D., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

You can find out more about registration and public events for the AAAS 2014 annual meeting here.

Organizer:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
Co-Organizer:
Leonor Sierra, University of Rochester
Speakers:
Nicholas Bigelow, University of Rochester
21st Century Tools for 19th Century Nanotechnology

Richard Van Duyne, Northwestern University
Detecting Organic Dyestuffs in Art with SERS

Anikó Bezur, Yale University
Aiming for a Perfect Match: Pairing Collections-Based Scientific Research with Academia

AAAS 2013 meeting in Boston,US and Canadian research excellence

The 2013 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be held in Boston, Massachusetts from Feb. 14 – 18, 2013 with a much better theme this year, The Beauty and Benefits of Science, than last year’s, Flattening the World. (It didn’t take much to improve the theme, eh?)

Plenary speakers range from AAAS’s president, William N. Press to Nathan Myhrvold, a venture capitalist to astrophysicist, Robert Kirshner to Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist to Sherry Turkle. From the AAAS webpage describing Turkle’s 2013 plenary lecture,

Sherry Turkle

Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT

The Robotic Moment: What Do We Forget When We Talk to Machines?

Dr. Turkle is founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects. She is an expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics and a regular media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology. Her most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Given my experience last year in the 2012 meeting media room, I’m surprised to see a social media session is planned, from the session webpage,

Engaging with Social Media
Communicating Science
Thursday, February 14, 2013: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Ballroom A (Hynes Convention Center)

In a constantly changing online landscape, what is the best way for scientists and engineers to engage the public through social media? This session will discuss how people are accessing science information via blogs and social networks and the importance of researchers getting involved directly. [emphasis mine]  Speakers will address the ways that researchers can create meaningful interactions with the public through social media.

Organizer: Cornelia Dean, The New York Times
Co-Organizer: Dennis Meredith, Science Communication Consultant
Moderator: Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist

Speakers:
XXXX Scicurious, Neurotic Physiology
Science Blogging for Fun and Profit
Christie Wilcox, University of Hawaii
Science in a Digital Age
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Science and the Public in New Information Environments

I’d love to see how the theme of ‘researcher engaging directly’ gets developed. In theory, I have no problems with the concept. Unfortunately, those words are sometimes code for this perspective, ‘only experts (scientists/accredited journalists) should discuss or write about science’. A couple of quick comments, my Jan. 13, 2012 posting featured an interview with Carl Zimmer, this session’s moderator, about his science tattoo book and Dominique Brossard, one of the speakers, was last mentioned here in my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Tweet your nano, in the context of a research study on social media and nanotechnology.

In keeping with the times (as per my Jan. 28, 2013 posting about the colossal research prizes for the Graphene and Human Brain Project initiatives), the 2012 AAAS annual meeting features a Brain Function and Plasticity thread or subtheme. There’s this session amongst others,

The Connectome: From the Synapse to Brain Networks in Health and Disease
Brain Function and Plasticity
Saturday, February 16, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)

A series of innovative studies are being done to map the brain from the molecular to the systems level both structurally and functionally. At the synaptic level, how neurotransmitters, their receptors, and signaling pathways influence neural function and plasticity is becoming much better understood. Integrating neuronal function at the level of single neurons and groups of neurons into larger circuits at the anatomical level in the mammalian brain, while a daunting task, is being studied by advanced imaging techniques requiring vast amounts of information storage and processing. To integrate local circuit function with whole brain function, understanding the structure and processing of brain networks is critical. A major project to accomplish this task, the Human Connectome Project, is in the process of integrating the structure and function of brain networks using the most advanced imaging and analysis techniques in 1,200 people, including twins and their nontwin siblings. This step will allow for major new insights into not only brain structure and function, but also their genetic underpinnings. Comparing this information in both the normal brain and in different brain disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases is providing novel insights into how understanding brain function from the molecular to the systems level will provide insights into normal brain function and disease pathogenesis as well as provide new treatment strategies.

Organizer:

David Holtzman, Washington University

Speakers:

Mark F. Bear, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Molecules and Mechanisms Involved in Synaptic Plasticity in Health and Disease
Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University
Connectomics: Developing a Wiring Diagram for the Mammalian Brain
Steve Petersen, Washington University
The Human Connectome Project
Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University
The Brain’s Dark Energy and the Default Mode Network
Nicole Calakos, Duke University
Synaptic Plasticity in the Basal Ganglia in Health and Disease
William W. Seeley, University of California
Brain Networks: Linking Structure and Function in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Then, there’s this session featuring graphene,

What’s Hot in Cold
Sunday, February 17, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)

The study of ultracold atoms and molecules is now the frontier of low-temperature science, reaching temperatures of a few hundred picokelvin above absolute zero. This field was made possible by a technique that did not exist 30 years ago: laser cooling of atoms. It is hardly obvious that the laser, which produces the most intense light on Earth and is routinely used in industrial applications for cutting and welding medal, would also provide the most powerful coolant. Such are the surprises of science, where a breakthrough in one area transforms others in unexpected ways. Since 1997, eight Nobel Laureates in physics have been recognized for contributions to ultracold atomic and molecular science, which has become one of the most vibrant fields in physics, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, e.g., atomic, molecular, and optical; condensed matter; statistical physics; and nuclear and particle physics. This field builds on two accomplishments that it was the first to achieve: first, the production of quantum degenerate matter using a wide range of elements and, second, exquisite control of quantum degenerate matter at the atomic level. These have led to record low temperatures, ultraprecise atomic clocks, and new forms of quantum matter that generalize ideas from magnetism superconductivity and graphene physics.

Organizer:

Charles W. Clark, Joint Quantum Institute

Speakers:

Markus Greiner, Harvard University
Quantum Simulation: A Microscopic View of Quantum Matter
Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado
Atomic Clocks: From Precise Timekeepers to Quantum Simulators
Daniel Greif, ETH Zurich
Exploring Dirac Points with Ultracold Fermions in a Tunable Honeycomb Lattice
Gretchen Campbell, Joint Quantum Institute
Superflow in Bose-Einstein Condensate Rings: Tunable Weak Links in Atom Circuits
Benjamin Lev, Stanford University
New Physics in Strongly Magnetic Ultracold Gases

Amongst all these other sessions, there’s a session about Canadian science,

Introduction to Canadian Research Excellence: Evidence & Examples
Friday, February 15, 2013: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)

The Canada Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall gives a taste of what lies north of Boston and the 49th parallel. Join us at this workshop to learn about opportunities in Canada for research and study. Canada recently completed a comprehensive analysis of its domestic science and technology strengths. The final report of the expert panel of the Council of Canadian Academies will be presented, including the use of global benchmarks and insights on international collaborations. Two of the drivers for Canadian excellence will be introduced: large-scale science facilities in key fields and a system of targeted fellowships and research chairs that recruit globally.

Coordinator:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF

Presenters:

Tim Meyer, TRIUMF,
Chad Gaffield, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Eliot Phillipson, University of Toronto

“Introduced,” really? Large scale science facilities are not new in Canada or anywhere else for that matter and the programmes of targeted fellowships have been around long enough and successful enough that it is being copied.

First, there was the Canada Research Chair programme, which was instituted in 2000. From the About Us page (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. [emphasis mine]

In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships—Canada Research Chairs—in eligible degree-granting institutions across the country.

The Canada Research Chairs program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.

This was programme was followed up with the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program in 2008, from the Background page (Note: A link has been removed),

Launched in 2008, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. The program awards world-renowned researchers and their teams up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities. These awards are among the most prestigious and generous available globally.

In May 2010, the first group of Canada Excellence Research Chairs was announced. Selected through a rigorous, multilevel peer review process, these chairholders are helping Canada build a critical mass of expertise in the four priority research areas of the federal government’s science and technology strategy …

Here’s an excerpt from my Feb. 21, 2012 posting,

Canadians have been throwing money at scientists for some years now (my May 20, 2010 posting about the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme). We’ve attempted to recruit from around the world with our ‘research chairs’ and our ‘excellence research chairs’ and our Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) all serving as enticements.

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced that they will be trying to beat us at our own game at the AAAS 2012 annual meeting in Vancouver (this new ERC programme was launched in Boston, Massachusetts in January 2012).

The Canadian report these folks will be discussing was released in Sept. 2012 and was  featured here in a two-part commentary,

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 1: the executive summary)

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report)

My Sept. 27, 2012 posting features my response to the report’s launch on that day.

As for the AAAS 2013 annual meeting, there’s a lot, lot more of it and it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason than to anticipate the types of science stories you will be seeing in the coming months.