UCS Blog - Science Network Guest Posts

Hearing from the Scientists Who Rely on Sea Grant

I can pinpoint my passion for marine conservation to a childhood full of opportunities to experience the wonders of nature and grounded in a deep appreciation for the ocean and fishing culture. This is why I have chosen to devote my life to ensuring these natural resources are around to inspire future generations.

However, the budget proposal released by the White House this week has made it clear that supporting scientists like me is not a priority. Governmental agencies that employ my respected colleagues, fellowships that helped me get through graduate school, and research programs that I rely on to do my job are lined up for the cutting block.

Among the worst of the proposed budget cuts is the complete elimination of Sea Grant. Sea Grant excels as a conduit between the scientists and the stakeholders in coastal areas who have real problems to solve. Integral to Sea Grant’s mission to promote integrated and applicable research is its commitment to the next generation of scientists. Sea Grant is a major source of fellowships for coastal science graduate students. While I personally was not funded through Sea Grant (I had EPA funding, which is also eliminated under the proposed budget), I have many colleagues and friends who benefitted from Sea Grant support as they began their careers. I interviewed a few for this post about the value of Sea Grant to their careers, to the environment, and to science in general.

Training the next generation of scientists

Tidal pools in Newport, OR.

For many young scientists, opportunities through Sea Grant are a path to a career in science that can really make a difference. Theresa Davenport, a marine scientist and a recent graduate of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, was part of Sea Grant’s incredibly successful Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program.

“The Knauss Fellowship’s hallmark is to take subject matter experts and provide them with experience and training to become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders working at the intersection of academia, private citizens, industry and government,” said Theresa.

Knauss fellows are placed in federal legislative and executive offices in Washington D.C. In many cases, these interns are the only sources of science expertise in their offices, and the value of these young scientists to the American public is incalculable. For example, Theresa helped develop a restoration monitoring and adaptive management plan for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery. In fact, she mentioned that her team on this important and crucial project was made up of mostly Sea Grant fellows or folks that had previously been involved in the Knauss fellowship program. She said this is not out of the ordinary.

“It would be interesting to compile the number of Sea Grant fellows involved in the two largest US environmental disaster responses in the last 10 years.” She is referring to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Sandy, and she expects Sea Grant fellows played a large role in both cases.

Science informing policy

The benefits of funding early career scientists continue long after the fellowship ends. Introducing scientists directly to problems that can benefit from their unique gifts and knowledge ensures that they will be problem solvers. For Dr. Allison Colden, another graduate of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, a Sea Grant fellowship was an important step to a career in conservation.

“As a former Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, I gained valuable experience in interpreting cutting-edge science into public policy, a skill that I now use daily at a leading environmental non-profit,” she said.

She sees Sea Grant playing an important role in solving many of the problems facing the world today.

“Sea Grant is vital to ensuring the continued prosperity and resilience of our nation’s coastal communities by connecting managers and stakeholders with innovative science to create viable solutions for the future,” said Allison. “Cuts to Sea Grant sever a critical link in the science-policy chain, undermining the social, economic, and ecological resilience of coastal communities in a time when it is needed most.”

Scientists are increasingly facing the burden to make the connection between research and impacts, and Sea Grant has been making that connection for nearly 50 years. We should be expanding, not gutting programs that bring together academia, private citizens, industry and government, and programs that inspire young scientists to build solutions to the challenges we face. This is the best way for society to achieve a healthier, safer, more sustainable future for all people.

 

Dr. Cassandra Glaspie is a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State University in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department. Originally from Waterford, Michigan, Cassandra received her B.S. in Zoology from Michigan State University and her PhD in Marine Science from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Cassandra is passionate about the environment and the ocean, and her research involves marine food webs and predator-prey interactions, especially as they relate to changes in the environment. In Oregon, she studies climate-related changes in ocean habitat quality for ecologically and economically important fish such as Chinook salmon and albacore tuna. A resident of Corvallis, Cassandra is an advocate for local climate action and works with the Corvallis chapter of the Sierra Club to educate the community on issues related to climate change and sustainability initiatives.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

No Rest for the Sea-weary: Science in the Service of Continually Improving Ocean Management

Marine reserves, or no-fishing zones, are increasing throughout the world. Their goals are variable and numerous, often a mix of conserving our ocean’s biodiversity and supporting the ability to fish for seafood outside reserves for generations to come. California is one location that has seen the recent implementation of marine reserves, where the California Marine Life Protection Act led to the establishment of one of the world’s largest networks of marine reserves.

A number of scientific efforts have informed the design of marine reserves throughout the world and in California. Mathematical models were central to these research efforts as they let scientists and managers do simulated “experiments” of how different reserve locations, sizes, and distances from each other affect how well reserves might achieve their goals.

While a PhD student in the early 2000s, I began my scientific career as one of many contributing to these efforts. In the process, a key lesson I learned was the value of pursuing partnerships with government agencies such as NOAA Fisheries to ensure that the science I was doing was relevant to managers’ questions, an approach that has become central to my research ever since.

Map of the California Marine Protected Areas; courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife

A transition from design to testing

Now, with many marine reserves in place, both managers and scientists are turning to the question of whether they are working. On average (but not always), marine reserves harbor larger fish and larger population sizes for fished species, as well as greater total biomass and diversity, compared both to before reserves were in place and to areas outside reserves. However, answering a more nuanced question—for a given reserve system, is it working as expected?—can help managers engage in “adaptive management”: using the comparison of expectations to data to identify any shortfalls and adjust management or scientific understanding where needed to better achieve the original goals.

Mathematical models are crucial to calculating expectations and therefore to answering this question. The original models used to answer marine reserve design questions focused on responses that might occur after multiple decades. Now models must focus on predicting what types of changes might be detectable over the 5-15 year time frame of reserve evaluation. Helping to develop such modeling tools as part of a larger collaboration, with colleagues Alan Hastings and Louis Botsford at UC Davis and Will White at the University of North Carolina, is the focus of my latest research on marine reserves in an ongoing project that started shortly after I arrived as a professor at UC Davis.

To date we have developed new models to investigate how short-term expectations in marine reserves depend on fish characteristics and fishing history. Now we have a new partnership with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the responsible management agency for California’s marine reserves, to collaboratively apply these tools to our statewide reserve system. This application will help rigorously test how effective California’s marine reserves are, and therefore help with continually improving management to support both the nutrition and recreation that Californians derive from the sea. In addition, it will let California serve as a leading example of model-based adaptive management that could be applied to marine reserves throughout the world.

The role of federal funding

The cabezon is just one type of fish protected from fishing in California’s marine reserves. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Our project on models applied to adaptive managed started with funding in 2010–2014 from NOAA SeaGrant, a funding source uniquely suited to support research that can help improve ocean and fisheries management. With this support, we could be forward-looking about developing the modeling tools that the State of California now needs.  NOAA SeaGrant would be eliminated under the current administration’s budget proposal.

My other experience with NOAA SeaGrant is through a graduate student fellowship program that has funded PhD students in my (and my colleagues’) lab group to do a variety of marine reserve and fisheries research projects. This fellowship funds joint mentorship by NOAA Fisheries and academic scientists towards student research projects relevant to managing our nation’s fisheries. Along with allowing these students to bring cutting-edge mathematical approaches that they learn at UC Davis to collaborations with their NOAA Fisheries mentors, this funding gives students the invaluable experience I had as a PhD student in learning how to develop partnerships with government agencies that spur research relevant to management needs. Both developing such partnerships and training students in these approaches are crucial elements to making sure that new scientific advancements are put to use. This small amount of money goes a long way towards creating future leaders who will continue to help improve the management of our ocean resources.

 

Marissa Baskett is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis.  Her research and teaching focus on conservation biology and the use of mathematical models in ecology.  She received a B.S. in Biological Sciences at Stanford University and both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, and she is an Ecological Society of America Early Career Fellow.  

The views expressed in this post solely represent the opinions of Marissa Baskett and do not necessarily represent the views of UC Davis or any of her funders or partners.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Five Ways to Move Beyond the March: A Guide for Scientists Seeking Strong, Inclusive Science

The March for Science took place April 22 in locations all over the world — an exciting time for scientist-advocates and a proud moment for the global scientific community.

As we reflect on the March, we must also reflect on the fact that organization of the March on Science 2017 has been a microcosm of the structural, systemic challenges that scientists continue to face in addressing equity, access, and inclusion in the sciences.

Others have written eloquently regarding the steep learning curve that the March on Science Washington DC organizers faced in ensuring an inclusive and equitable March. The organizers’ initial missteps unleashed a backlash on social media, lambasting their failure to design a movement for all scientists and exhorting them to consider more deeply the ways in which science interacts with the varying experiences of language, race, economic status, ableness, gender, religion, ethnic identity, and national origin.

The March has taken steps to correct these initial missteps, correctly choosing to engage directly with the issue and consult with historically excluded scientists to better understand and examine the ways in which science interacts with the ongoing political reality of bias in society.  It must be noted, however, that improvements like their new Diversity and Inclusion Principles, though an excellent initial step, still mask the unheralded efforts of multiple scientists of color to correct the narrative.

At the core of the controversy, and perhaps underlying its intellectual origins, is the popular fiction among scientists that Science can (or should) be apolitical.

Science is never apolitical.

It is, inherently, a system of gaining knowledge that has been devised by, refined by, practiced by, misused by, and even (at times) weaponized by human beings — and as human beings, we are inherently political.

Therefore science is not a completely neutral machine, functioning of its own volition and design; but rather a system with which we tinker and adjust; which we tune to one frequency or the other; and by dint of which we may or may not determine (or belatedly rationalize) the course of human action.

And so when we understand that science is not apolitical, we are freed to examine the biases, exclusions, and blind spots it may create — and then correct for them. In doing so, we can improve ourselves, broaden the inclusivity of our work (and potentially improve its usefulness and/or applicability), and advance the quest of scientific inquiry: to find the unwavering truths of the universe.

The March on Science organizers have come a long way in recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in science, but what comes next? How can scientists living in this current political moment engage in individual and collective action (hint: it’s not just about calling your representatives). What can we do?

  1. Study the history and culture of science. As scientists, we are natural explorers and inherently curious. We ought to direct some of that curiosity toward ourselves; toward better understanding where we come from, who we are, and why we think the way we do. Historians of science and those engaged in social study of science have demonstrated how science is a human enterprise, influenced by culture and politics of specific times and places. These studies have shown how blind spots — in language, in culture, in worldview, in political orientation—can change our results, skew our data, or put a foot on the scales of measurement. At times, these biases have caused great harm, and at others have been fairly benign—but these analyses together all point out how science is more robust for recognizing sociocultural impacts on its practice.
  2. Understand our own political reality, and seek to understand the realities of others. Take some time — even ten minutes a week — to ask yourself if your actions reflect your beliefs. What beliefs do you hold dear, both as a scientist and as a person? How do they influence the way you think about, study, and conduct science? What do you assume to be true about the world? How does that impact the way in which you frame your scientific questions? How does it influence the methods, study sites, or populations you choose? How does the political reality which you inhabit—and its associated privileges and problems—direct your attention, shape your questions, or draw you to one discipline or the other? What presumptions do you make about people, about systems, or about the planet itself? What do you do, think, or feel when your assumptions are challenged? How willing are you to be wrong?
  3. Open the discourse. Inclusive science won’t happen by accident—it will happen because we work to eliminate the sources of bias in our systems and structures that list the ship toward one side or the other. And the only way we can learn about these sources of bias is to (1) acknowledge their existence, then (2) begin to look for them. Talk to other scientists—at conferences, on Twitter, on Facebook, on reddit, on Snapchat, through email chains, through list-servs—any way you can. Listen for the differences in your perspectives and approaches. Ponder on the political reality from which they might originate. Ask questions, and genuinely want to hear (and accept) the answers. Then go back and reconsider the questions regarding your political reality and how you could now approach your science based on what you have learned of others. As a clear example, western science has consistently overlooked the already-learned lessons of indigenous science and disregarded the voiced experiences of indigenous researchers. Greater recognition of—and collaboration with—indigenous scientists has the potential to greatly speed and improve advances in our work. Opening the discourse is a first step toward ameliorating this deficit in our learning.
  4. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Reach out to scientists who do not look like you, do not speak your dialect, do not come from your country, do not share your values or religion, do not frame questions in the same way, and do not hold the same theories precious. Share equally in the experience of scientific discovery. Choose a journal that will assign multiple-first-authorships. Publish open-access if you can, and share directly if you can’t.
  5. Choose to include. Take responsibility at all stages—in the planning for science, the choosing of methods, the hiring of staff, the implementation—for creating strong, inclusive scientific teams and systems. Be aware of how your own political reality affect your scientific design, planning, or implementation. Check your unrecognized presumptions or biases. Challenge yourself to ask your question through a different lens or through different eyes. Choose to participate in the improvement and refinement of our shared scientific machine.

Ignoring politics doesn’t insulate us from it—if scientists want to be champions for knowledge, then we have to defend our practice from the human tendencies that threaten to unravel it—exclusion, tribalism, competition, and bias. Science can’t be apolitical, but it can be a better path to knowledge—so let’s make it happen.

 

Alexandra E. Sutton Lawrence is an Associate in Research at the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, where she focuses on analyzing innovation & policy in the energy sector. She’s also a doctoral candidate in the Nicholas School of the Environment, and a member of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Committee. She’s also a former member of the global governing board for the International Network of Next Generation Ecologists (INNGE).

 

 

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant is a conservation biologist with a focus on large carnivore ecology in human-modified landscapes, with a concurrent interest in communicating science to diverse audiences. Dr. Wynn-Grant is the deputy chair of the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity committee for the Society for Conservation Biology.

 

 

 

Cynthia Malone is a conservation scientist and social justice organizer, whose intersectional, trans-disciplinary research ranges from primate ecology to human wildlife conflict across the tropics, including Indonesia and Cameroon. She is a cofounder and current co-chair of the Society of Conservation Biology’s Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee.

 

 

Dr. Eleanor Sterling has interdisciplinary training in biology and anthropology and has over 30 years of field research and community outreach experience with direct application to biodiversity conservation in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. Dr. Sterling is active in the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), having served for 12 years on the SCB Board of Governors and she currently co-chairs the SCB’s Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee, which she co-founded. She also co-founded the Women in the Natural Sciences Association for Women in Sciences chapter in New York City.

 

Martha Groom is a Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell and the College of the Environment at the University of Washington.  Her work focuses on the intersections of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, and on effective teaching practice. A member of the SCB Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Committee, she is also a leader of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington, a summer intensive program for undergraduates aimed at building truly inclusive conservation practice.

 

Dr. Mary Blair is a conservation biologist and primatologist leading integrative research to inform conservation efforts, including spatial priority-setting and wildlife trade management. She is the President of the New York Women in Natural Sciences, a chapter of the Association for Women in Science, and a member of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Committee.

 

 

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Shake, Rattle, and Rainout: Federal Support for Disaster Research

Hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes are simply natural events—until humans get in their way. The resulting disasters are particularly devastating in urban areas, due to high concentrations of people and property. Losses from disasters have risen steadily over the past five decades, thanks to increased populations and urban development in high-hazard areas, particularly the coasts. There is also significant evidence that climate change is making weather-related events more frequent and more severe as well. As a result, it is more critical than ever that natural hazards research is being incorporated into emergency planning decisions.

NOAA map denotes a range of billion dollar weather and climate disasters for 2016.

Improving emergency planning for the public’s benefit

A handful of far-sighted urban planning and management researchers, with particular support from the National Science Foundation, began studying these events during the 1970s. I participated in two of these research studies. Both opportunities afforded me clear opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, a major reason I chose my field.

In 2000, a group of researchers from the University of New Orleans and Tulane University looked into the effects of natural hazards on two communities: Torrance, CA (earthquakes) and Chalmette, LA (hurricanes). This research focused on the oil refineries in both communities. We looked at emergency-management protocols, potential toxic effects due to refinery damage, and population impacts.

Hurricane Katrina photo of oil spill in Chalmette, showing oil tanks & streets covered with oil slick. US EPA photo from “http://www.epa.gov/katrina/images/oilspill_650.jpg” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency

Although California has a far better-developed emergency management system at all levels of government, Chalmette was less vulnerable than Torrance, due to the advanced warning available for hurricanes. We also found that, though even well-informed homeowners tend to be less prepared than expected, renters are more vulnerable to disaster effects due to inadequate knowledge, dependence on landlords to secure their buildings, and generally lower socioeconomic status. Our findings had major implications for community-awareness campaigns, suggesting that more than disaster “fairs”, public flyers, and media attention are needed. We concluded with a series of recommendations for emergency managers and planners to improve their communities’ prospects.

This conjoint-hazard research also stimulated in-depth studies of the various aspects of what is now called “natech”. For example, a pair of researchers subsequently found that natural hazards were the principal cause of more than 16,000 releases of hazardous materials between 1990 and 2008—releases that could have been prevented with better hazard-mitigation planning and preparation. The implications for regulation of businesses that use hazardous substances are obvious. So are the ramifications for public outreach and disaster response.

The second NSF-funded study, conducted at Florida Atlantic University, began in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Before starting, we scoured the literature for earlier research on housing recovery, only to discover that most of it dealt with either developing countries or one or two earthquake events in California.

We focused on housing recovery along the eight-state “hurricane coast” from North Carolina south and west to Texas. A case study of New Orleans quickly revealed the extent to which local circumstances, population characteristics, and state and federal policies and capacity impaired people’s ability to restore their homes and rebuild their lives. We assembled data on the socioeconomic, housing, and property-insurance characteristics of the first- and second-tier coastal counties, as well as information about state and local disaster-recovery policies and planning.

The research team then developed a vulnerability index that provides a numerical snapshot for each county, as well as a series of indicators that contributed to the overall rating. These indicators can be used to evaluate specific areas in need of improvement, such as building regulations, flood-protection measures, and reconstruction policies—for example, restrictions on temporary housing—as well as the extent to which each area contributes to overall vulnerability.

Science informs public policies

Although imperfect, indexes do provide policy-makers and stakeholders with valuable insights. Moreover, our analysis of post-disaster housing policies revealed the inadequacies in federal provision of temporary housing, the most critical need once community safety has been restored. The controversies surrounding FEMA’s travel-trailers—high cost, toxic materials, and haphazard placement—made national news. Now there is increasing recognition that small, pre-fabricated houses are a better approach, presuming that local jurisdictions allow them to be built regardless of pre-disaster construction regulations. More planners are engaged in looking at these regulations with disaster recovery in mind.

I’m proud of the research I’ve contributed to, but I’m even more gratified with the impacts of that research. Many of our recommendations have been directed at government actors, and it is through those actors that real differences are made in people’s day-to-day lives—and in their resiliency in the face of disaster. In an era of accelerating environmental change, helping communities endure will be ever more dependent on cutting-edge research of this kind. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the endeavor.

 

Joyce Levine, PhD, AICP, received her PhD from the University of New Orleans. As an urban planner with thirty years of experience, she became interested in pre- and post-disaster planning by preparing her dissertation under hazard-mitigation guru Raymond J Burby. She participated in two NSF-funded projects that focused on hazard-prone states — California and Louisiana in the first, and the southern “hurricane coast” in the second. She is the author of an extensive study of the housing problems i New Orleans reported by government and the media during the first six months after Katrina. Although she has retired from academia, she continues to follow disaster research in the U.S.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Graphic: NOAA

A Peer Review of the March For Science

This past weekend, the March For Science drew hundreds of thousands of scientists and science supporters onto the streets in 600 locations on six continents. It was, by most accounts (including those of science historians), an unprecedented event. But big-picture speaking, how did it do?

“Pluses and deltas” is a popular retrospective exercise amongst grassroots organizers, and offers a constructive way to answer this question. It asks: where did we go right (pluses), and how can we improve (deltas)? Here are my top two pluses and deltas for the March For Science.

Plus #1: The March For Science mobilized the immobilizable. As a scientist-activist who has been organizing scientist-led campaigns and rallies under hashtags like #StandWithScience for several years, I know first hand how hard it can be to get introverted, politically-ambivalent scientists worked up—let alone out of their labs and into the streets. In that sense, last Saturday was incredible. “The march represented a sort of coming-out party for many scientists flexing a fledgling political muscle,” Vox’s Brian Resnick observed. In D.C. he met Charlotte Froese Fischer, an 87-year-old atomic physicist who “until today…had never attended a political rally of any kind, let alone one for science.” At March For Science rallies at Harvard and MIT, I was delighted to see not just the usual suspects, but hundreds of mildly uncomfortable academics who had clearly never waved a sign or chanted in public before (I’ve been there). For many, this was a gateway into political engagement and activism.

Plus #2: The March For Science forced many scientists—not to mention the public, press, and politicians—to grapple with the role of science in society and the relationship between science and politics. As scientists with little or no past experience in political engagement wrestled for the first time with the fear of politicizing science, the march went from officially apolitical to political-but-non-partisan. As my advisor, Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes, points out, research indicates that this fear is just that—a fear, unsubstantiated by historical evidence and peer-reviewed experiments, which show that scientists’ credibility is robust to science-advocacy. Indeed, scientists appear to have largely brought this fear upon themselves by conflating the idea of science in the abstract (the scientific method) with the application of science in the real world. In so doing, we handed journalists an irresistible ‘controversy’ over (mostly) semantics. And yet, with time, the march’s communications improved, and on the day, its global message was unambiguous: science serves society.

The march’s successes have helped normalize science-activism, injecting momentum and political potential into this new “science voter” bloc. Capitalizing on this momentum, however, will take work. For me, the deltas of the March For Science involve better embracing the sociopolitical realities in which science operates.

Delta #1: Having fumbled with the largely mythical fear of politicizing science, scientists must now truly move on if we are to become more effective campaigners and messengers. This means not just rallying in the abstract about the importance of science (“I love science!”), but speaking out on specific issues where science is being trampled on by politicians and policymakers. Climate change epitomizes this. At its best, the March For Science offered a profound statement of our values as scientists, which is a crucial start. But a truly effective narrative for social change also requires a story of “now”: a moment of crisis that challenges those values. By not explicitly articulating President Trump’s war on science (and, accordingly, on all of us) as one of the targets of our protest, the March left room for improvement.

Delta #2: Scientist-activists must embrace the intersectionality of science with politics, race, class, gender, corporatism, and so on. Here, I am referring not to diversity within academia, as exceptionally important and related as it is, but to how the science movement (comprising both scientists and science lovers) sees its place in the world. Unlike the scientific method, the science movement does not—and should never—exist in a bubble. We should embrace opportunities to connect science to real-world issues, both in what we say and who we collaborate with.

In my own field of energy and climate change, for example, we should talk about how last year alone, the solar industry hired more people than the coal industry employs in its entirety. We should talk about how fossil fuel pollution and climate change disproportionately harm and kill minorities and indigenous groups. In short, we should stand in solidarity with those whom our science strives to protect. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is politically effective; by building narratives of shared values, we can broaden our coalition and win the political story wars. The movement for a just and stable low-carbon future doesn’t stop at the laboratory’s edge, but for too many scientists, it still does.

At Saturday’s march, amidst the geeky signs and nerdy chants, Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr.—a leading figure in the climate movement and a VIP guest of the March For Science—was, he reports, a victim in broad daylight of a racist assault by D.C. police officers. “The deeply disappointing truth of this Earth Day case of racial profiling,” Yearwood observes, “was that none of my fellow science marchers stopped or took issue with what was happening. They didn’t question or pause to witness in a way that one would for a member of one’s community.” Of course, the inactions of those present do not represent all marchers or scientists. But in that random sampling—at that moment on that crosswalk—solidarity was absent.

This coming Saturday, April 29, the People’s Climate March offers an immediate opportunity for scientists and science supporters alike to build on the pluses of the March For Science, and to work on our collective deltas. In DC and 250 sister marches nationwide, hundreds of thousands of us will stand up for climate, jobs, and justice. It is an important first test. Can we find the moral courage to not only celebrate values like evidence-based policy, but put them into action on real-world issues like climate change? Are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to call out the Trump administration’s anti-science pandering to fossil fuel interests? Is this a moment, or a movement?

 

Dr. Geoffrey Supran is a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT and in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. He has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from MIT. He has co-led several campaigns to mobilize scientists to engage in climate advocacy, including the fossil fuel divestment campaign at MIT, an open letter from academics urging Donald Trump to take climate action, and the #StandUpForScience rallies in San Francisco and Boston, which were the first major scientist protests against the Trump administration. He spoke at the Harvard March For Science.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

I’m Elise, and I’m a Scientist Marching in the Peoples Climate March. This Is Why.

There have been times throughout history when great people have acted to better unfortunate situations.  However, if we examine social and political history you will find times where man had great opportunity to act but did not. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged this behavior by questioning, “How can a man sleep through a revolution?” With a consensus among scientists that climate change is attributed to human activities, we have a unique opportunity unlike any other to exhibit consciousness in the face of a changing climate.

To me, the Peoples Climate March represents a gathering of the masses to make known that we are not asleep; that we recognize the revolution, embrace its challenges, and welcome equitable solutions that will reshape a more sustainable world for all. The Peoples Climate March is more than just a day of people walking in the streets of DC. It is a collection of love and of care and represents the power of people and sound science.

As a scientist I am well aware of the impacts of climate change. We know with great confidence that the sea level will rise, flooding homes and cities. In the Northeast, for example, the region depends on aging infrastructure that is highly vulnerable to climate hazards. The Northeast has experienced a greater recent increase in extreme precipitation than any other region in the U.S. This increase combined with coastal flooding creates major risk for damage to homes, buildings, infrastructure and life.

We also know that in my home, the Southeast, there will be an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, leaving many vulnerable. We understand that temperatures are rising, increasing heat-related illness and deaths. The U.S. average temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees F to 1.9 degrees F since 1895. According to data from NASA and NOAA, 2016 was the warmest year on record. We know that there will be changes in precipitation causing floods in some areas and droughts in others; and that there will be expansion of the geographic range of hosts of vectors that cause diseases like Zika. These are just a few of the changes we expect to occur.

These changes will mean that people will have to migrate to new areas of the country, more people will deal with the associated mental and emotional health issues, and culture will be lost when people migrate from communities where their family has lived for years to new lands. All of these are consequences of a changing climate, but will those who are rich, those who have made millions of dollars off of carbon intensive industries, have to experience this burden? Not to the extent that the general population will. The impacts of climate change will not be felt evenly.

People of color, Indigenous Peoples, and low-income communities bear disproportionate burdens from climate change itself, from ill-designed policies to prevent it, and from side effects of the energy systems that cause it. Climate change affects our health, housing, economic well-being, culture, and social stability. As a graduate of Tuskegee University, a Historically Black College (HBCU), utilizing knowledge to benefit people, specifically the most vulnerable, was a foundational part of my training. I believe that using my knowledge to work towards a more just climate change agenda is very important and that we must ensure that equity, including addressing racism and classism, be at the cornerstone of all policies and plans.

Climate change presents an opportunity for producing a more just society with a more robust economy. We can provide jobs that help traditionally impoverished people get out of poverty; we can create policies that improve the lives of all, and promote a more sustainable framework for living on this Earth.

I am marching because as a scientist, I understand the science that leads to the impacts; as a person, I empathize with those who are vulnerable to those impacts; and as a global citizen, I have a duty to take action.

 

Elise Marie Tolbert is an ASPPH/EPA Environmental Health Fellow in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Indoor Environments Division. She is currently working on a project to better understand and address heat stress among vulnerable populations. Through her work, she hopes to ensure equity in environmental planning and decision-making. Elise received her B.S. in Environmental Science from Tuskegee University and Masters of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan. Elise’s research has explored how pollutants and unhealthy features of the environment can affect human health. Furthermore, she seeks to examine how improving environmental health can produce social justice. Ms. Tolbert’s interests include climate change, environmental health policy, environmental justice and sustainable community development. Her future interest includes continuing her professional education and developing a career in which she can strategically work to alleviate the burden of environmental hazards, specifically for historically disadvantaged populations. Elise also serves as the Founder and Director of Next Step Up, a mentoring and tutoring program in Tuskegee, AL. Through this program, college students assist local high school students by providing the skills and motivation needed to reach their academic and personal goals.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

March for Science: A Search for Truth, Trust, and Public Support

“Sure, this is nice and all, but be honest, can’t you prove just about anything with ‘a study?’” I’m all too familiar with this question, and I think it stems largely from one simple fact. As scientists, my colleagues and I spend too much time in our labs worried about truth and too little time connecting with the public and building trust. That’s why you’ll find me at the March for Science this weekend along with thousands of my friends and neighbors.

As a professor at Wayne State, the focus of my research is combustion. Almost everyone uses combustion every day. When controlled correctly, combustion in a car’s engine maximizes fuel economy, with a minimum of pollutant emission. These regulations directly impact the economy and public health. But from 2009 to 2015 vehicles sold from VW cheated on these regulations.

How was this cheating uncovered? It was research done a small university lab in the mountains of West Virginia that provided the data which alerted the public to this problem. The shocking part? The WVU study was published May 30, 2014, but the notice of violation from the air resources board did not go to VW until September 2015 and appeared only after VW had made its own public admission. The lack of communication among scientists, the media, and the public prevents environmental crises like this, and others, from reaching us quickly enough.

This is part of what the March for Science is all about. Getting attention paid to science and making sure science gets the support it needs. President Trump’s budget proposal cuts funding to basic science, slashing programs within the NIH, EPA, NASA between 10 and 30 percent, for a net savings of just less than 10 billion, while simultaneously ballooning spending in the military by 52 billion. This kind of policy shift away from science and towards the military is a dangerous shift in US priorities towards ‘might makes right.’  We must stand together against this dangerous idea.

Science brings us together because the essence of science is consensus. That’s a word I wish I heard more coming out of Washington. We must hold all elected leadership accountable to facts. Without support for and trust in science, we don’t have a common basis of facts to decide  what to do next.  I hope you’ll agree that the time is ripe to March for Science and that you’ll walk alongside me as I hold up my sign: “Science is pro-testing,” but if you can’t, then I hope to see you back in Detroit!

 

Dr. W. Ethan Eagle is a faculty member in Mechanical Engineering at Wayne State, and he supports the student-led effort to charter a bus from WSU to DC to attend the Science March on Washington. You can help support those students here https://www.gofundme.com/march-for-sciencewsu.  In Michigan, there are planned marches in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing. Find out more about the events at marchforscience.com.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Marching for Science and Climate Protects Our Communities

Until three years ago, you could have called me a scientist, educator, or mentor—but not an activist or marcher. Over time, however, I have recognized that I have the knowledge, privilege, and responsibility to act and march to protect the communities I love.

Early in my studies at MIT, I believed I could only contribute to solving the climate change dilemma by creating energy efficient and renewable energy technologies. This all changed after I participated in the first People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014. Now I am convinced that activism as a citizen-scientist is an equally valid way to highlight problems and advocate for solutions.

Attending the People’s Climate March was a life-changing experience. I marched alongside more than 310,000 individuals in the heart of NYC to call our world leaders to start taking serious action against climate change. That day I understood the difference I could make by becoming part of something greater than myself.

Furthermore, I recognized that staying on the sidelines to claim “objectivity” as a scientist was not an option. Sitting this fight out would mean staying silent while I watched disenfranchised and vulnerable communities suffer. By staying silent, I would be denying my own relationship to these communities, my own humanity, and I would be ignoring my responsibility as a citizen to fully participate in the democratic process.

As a son of poor immigrants from Central America who grew up in the inner city, I am painfully aware that poor communities are disproportionately affected by environmental threats like climate change. For example, the tragic outcomes of Hurricane Katrina overwhelmingly affected low-income and minority communities. Of the 250,000 evacuees that arrived in Houston, and were housed in shelters, 90 percent were African American, of which 6 in 10 had incomes below $20,000. Today we see similar structural inequalities and issues arising from water contamination in Flint, Michigan, and in the potential impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Understanding that climate change, like other environmental problems, is an issue of equity and justice has further motivated me to take action. As Einstein once said, “those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” I believe scientists, engineers, and experts should be working not just to address climate change, but to do so in a way that empowers communities that do not have an equal seat at the negotiation table.

Therefore, as I prepare for the March for Science on April 22 and People’s Climate March on April 29, I want to remind my colleagues that science or technology alone will not solve the major challenges facing our society. Peaceful marches and protests are valid and necessary means of creating the societal momentum needed to make change. More importantly, if we are going to address these challenges in a fair and equitable way, we must use our privilege to empower and uplift the most marginalized communities in society.

If you can identify with me as a scientist, educator, person of color, or son or daughter of immigrants, then I ask you use your voice to speak up. For me that means marching to protect the communities I care about. I ask that you do the same. If we are truly going to protect and empower our urban and rural communities from an environmental and health hazard as big as climate change, we need everyone to fight.

 

Josué J. López is an educator, mentor, and active citizen-scientist. He is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research and MIT Lemelson Presidential Fellow. Josué was born in Los Angeles, studied in Houston, and now feels like a true Bostonian. He has worked on educational initiatives focused in promoting ‘green’ careers to inner-city youth. Most recently, he has analyzed investment and marketing trends in clean tech and contributed to a blog for the New England Clean Energy Council.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Behind the Carbon Curtain: How the Energy Corporatocracy Censors Science

In my forthcoming book, Behind the Carbon Curtain, The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech (University of New Mexico Press), I tell the stories of scientists, artists and teachers who have been silenced by the collusion of energy corporations and public officials. My purpose is to provide witness, to record events, to give voice—and in so doing to shift the balance of power ever so slightly to bring us closer to a tipping point of outrage and change.

These stories and my analysis will not change society—at least not these alone. But maybe they will as part of a national narrative that includes the families in Pennsylvania driven from their homes by leaking methane, and whom energy companies compensate only in exchange for their silence. The nation’s story includes the citizens in West Virginia who were sued for libel by a coal company for criticizing the industry in a newsletter. And our country’s narrative involves the professor in the University of Oklahoma’s ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics who was intimidated into silence when an oil tycoon and major donor demanded the dismissal of scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquakes. Free speech is under attack by the energy industry across the nation.

I’d like to share a few vignettes from the varied and disturbing tales of censorship to provide a sense of what is happening in Wyoming and elsewhere.

A typical fracking operation requires 2 to 8 million gallons of water (along with 40,000 gallons of various, often toxic, chemicals, including acids, alcohols, salts and heavy metals). The outpouring of tainted waste water is dumped into lined evaporation pits. Behind the pit can be seen the drill rig and tanks that provide fracturing fluid for the drilling (photo by Ted Wood).

In 2001, Dr. Geoff Thyne was a research scientist in the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources when he was contacted by a reporter from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle who was investigating the development of an enormous gas field in southeastern Wyoming. When she asked Thyne how much water would be needed for fracking, he offered a range of figures based on the available scientific literature.

After the story came out, a University vice president notified School of Energy administrators that Noble Energy and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming were on the warpath. Thyne explained to the frenzied administrators that he’d, “made the comments based on my experience as a member of the scientific advisory board for the current EPA hydraulic fracturing study.”

At a meeting with university and corporate bigwigs, Thyne was ordered to write a full retraction. Mark Northam, the director of the School of Energy Resources, told Thyne: “I will edit your letter and you will sign it. You shouldn’t have said anything and don’t say anything ever again.”  Thyne relented to the director’s revisions, but the scientist refused to retract his estimates of water usage. Soon after, Thyne was fired and told that: “Mark Northam gets a lot of money from these oil companies and you are screwing with that.”

The Sinclair Oil Refinery in the eponymously named town of 450 stalwart souls. The Wyoming plant processes crude oil at a rate equivalent to the output of about ten fire hoses running 24 hours/day. In 2013, the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied a $707,000 fine for workplace safety violations—the largest such penalty in the state’s history (photo by Scott Kane).

In 2008, the University of Wyoming’s Office of Water Programs was headed by a committed climate change denier who dismissed the findings of the world’s leading experts by saying, “All these climate change models look like a bunch of spaghetti.” Director Gregg Kerr defended the fossil fuel industry by asking, as if this were a serious question, “Are we going to stop energy production and starve to death?”

He convinced the university that any mention of climate change was politically untenable. So Dr. Steve Gray, the state climatologist, met with fierce administrative resistance when he fulfilled his obligations to the people of Wyoming and spoke about climate change.

Eventually, Gray realized that “there was no chance to expand the program to better meet the State’s needs.” He left Wyoming for the US Geological Survey’s Climate Science Center in Alaska, where, Gray says, “It’s not hard for people to see the relevance of climate change when your village is falling into a river as the permafrost melts.” So it is that Steve Gray was the last state climatologist of Wyoming.

In 2014, nobody would’ve foreseen a problem with updating the Next Generation Science Standards, unless they were privy to emails from the chairman of the State Board of Education. Ron Micheli objected to the inclusion of climate change as “fact” rather than “theory” in the Next Generation Science Standards and he insisted that, “The ice pack is expanding [and] the climate is cooling.”

In the waning minutes of the spring legislative session, Wyoming’s politicians passed a budget footnote prohibiting the use of state funds to implement the science standards. The bill’s author explained that the standards treat “man-made climate change as settled fact… We are the largest energy producing state in the country, so are we going to concede that?” At issue was not the veracity of the science but the vitality of the energy companies. The governor defended the use of ideological indoctrination with a rhetorical question, saying: “Are the Next Generation Science Standards…going to fit what we want in Wyoming?”

We live in a time in which people take it to be normal that most everything is treated as a commodity—including speech. And in this frenzied marketplace, the energy industry has purchased academic positions, scientific questions, and classroom curricula.

But perhaps there’s hope. Prompted by years of legislative and corporate meddling, the editorial board of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle [subscription required] put the situation into stark terms:

What is the value of academic freedom? That’s the question all Wyomingites should be asking themselves. To state lawmakers, it is a commodity that can be bought and sold, like coal or oil… What was once non-negotiable at UW now has a price tag on it. Lawmakers have sold the school to the highest bidder—the energy industry…

The journalists also incisively portrayed the nature of self-censorship, which may be the most insidious manifestation of oppression in the scientific community. There is no doubt that researchers simply decide not to pursue certain lines of inquiry, fearing retribution by legislators, CEOs and administrators. But my colleagues at the University of Wyoming have been adamant that they will take what comes, rather than asking me to be quiet. Living behind a carbon curtain of silence is too high a price to pay.

 

Bio:  Jeffrey Lockwood earned a Ph.D. in entomology from Louisiana State University and worked for 15 years as an insect ecologist at the University of Wyoming.  In 2003, he metamorphosed into a Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities in the department of philosophy where he teaches environmental ethics and philosophy of ecology, and in the program in creative writing where he is the director and teaches workshops in non-fiction.  His writing has been honored with a Pushcart Prize, the John Burroughs award and inclusion in the Best American Science and Nature Writing.  You can follow his work through his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

Restoring California’s Coastal Ecosystems

Over two-thirds of Californians live in coastal counties. Californians love their coastline for good reasons—the mild weather, recreational opportunities, and of course their iconic beauty and natural diversity.

The California coastline hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from sand dunes to rolling grasslands to mixed evergreen forests. These ecosystems not only are beautiful and provide habitat to many species of plants and animals, they also provide important services to people. Coastal wetlands, for example, help to improve water quality, reduce shoreline erosion, and buffer against sea level rise.

Mission Bay Wetlands in San Diego. Photo by Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.

But the millions of Californians who live near the coast have had significant impacts on these ecosystems. Less than 10 percent of original wetland habitat remains. Likewise, the forces of urbanization and agriculture have made California’s coastal grassland and scrub ecosystems among the most endangered in the nation. The challenge is finding the balance between meeting the needs of people and conserving these ecosystems and the many species that depend on them, including humans.

Valuing, conserving, and restoring our coastlines

Example of sand dune ecosystem. Photo: K. Holl.

Fortunately, California has visionary leaders and a general population that has recognized the need to protect the coast for future generations. In 1972, voters passed an initiative to establish the California Coastal Commission, which was tasked with balancing development and protecting coastal resources. Californians continue to recognize the importance of coastal ecosystems, as we saw in the June 2016 election: 70 percent of voters in nine San Francisco Bay Area counties approved a $12 parcel tax that will provide an estimated $500 million to support wetland restoration efforts over the next 20 years.

Conserving remaining intact ecosystems must be the first priority. But ecological restoration is also an important component of conservation efforts, especially where there has been extensive habitat conversion and degradation, as in many areas of coastal California. The question is how to restore coastal ecosystems in an ecologically appropriate and cost-effective manner. This is where the work of my students, my collaborators, and me plays an important role.

Improving restoration success

Developing methods to restore ecosystems starts by documenting what is out there. How degraded are the hydrologic and soil conditions? Which species are missing entirely? If left alone for a few years, will the site recover on its own? If not, will changing the management regime favor native species?

For example, our coastal grasslands host approximately 250 native wildflower species, many of which are now threatened or endangered due to habitat loss and competition with tall-stature invasive grasses, primarily from Europe. My lab has studied how different management regimes, such as grazing and fire, can be used to help restore native wildflowers. Our results show that properly-managed cattle grazing can help to increase the density of a number of wildflower species.

Much of my research aims to develop restoration methods that are practical and safe for humans. To do this, I work with land managers at government agencies like California State Parks, private land trusts, and other groups to understand their challenges and identify research questions they need answered. For example, herbicides are widely used in many coastal restoration projects to control invasive plant species prior to planting native species. But, there is growing concern about the effects of herbicides on the health of those who apply them and on nearby communities. Hence, we have been testing various non-chemical methods of invasive control, measuring not only their ecological effectiveness but also costs, to evaluate whether alternative methods would be practical at a larger scale.

Training the next generation of environmental leaders

Students learning at the UC Natural Reserve System. Photo: K. Holl

As a professor at the University of California, one of my most important roles is training the next generation of environmental leaders. Therefore, both undergraduate and graduate students are an integral part of my research. Each year, the University of California Natural Reserves staff and I work with 50-60 students doing hands-on restoration research and implementation. This gives students an opportunity to develop both critical thinking and practical job skills. We aim to ensure that the students involved in these projects reflect the diversity of the state. We know that low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by negative environmental impacts, but they are generally under-represented in ecology. We offer introductory field courses for students who have not had ample opportunities to study outdoors, and we are raising funds for paid internships so they can gain these important job skills and contribute to the growing restoration economy.

My goals are to do research that improves how we restore coastal ecosystems and to provide educational opportunities for learners of all ages. My hope is that together we can conserve California’s amazing coastal ecosystems for future generations.

 

Karen Holl (holl-lab.com) is a professor of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a leader in the field of restoration ecology and the faculty director of the Norris Center for Natural History. You can watch a short video on her grassland restoration research here.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Safer Blood Products: One Researcher’s Story on Why Federal Support Matters

In 1982, a crisis was beginning to unfold. Gay men were dying of an unknown cause, which years later was shown to be the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  At that time, I was not involved with the gay community, with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), or with HIV. But federal funding of my research on blood products helped us prevent the transmission of HIV and hepatitis to tens of thousands of Americans.

I led a small team of research scientists at the New York Blood Center (NYBC) interested in developing new therapeutic products from plasma, the fluid portion of blood. What was known in 1982 was that a plasma product called AHF used in the treatment of hemophilia occasionally transmitted hepatitis B virus and transmitted another virus eventually to be known as hepatitis C. The risk of hepatitis C in this patient group was accepted because the infection was believed to be mild and the benefit of treating the patient with the plasma product was great.

The challenge

If we were going to succeed in developing new plasma products useful to large numbers of patients, such as ones that accelerate wound healing, we had to eliminate viral risk. The only way of doing this with certainty was the use of viral killing methods. The challenge was to find methods that would kill large quantities of virus without damaging the therapeutic protein.

Finding a solution

Supported by the virology laboratories and others at NYBC and based on preliminary studies demonstrating virus kill, in 1983 we received an award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling just over $750,000 for the “Detection and inactivation of non-A, non-B hepatitis agents in blood”. This award enabled us to greatly accelerate our work which, by that time, included exploring the use of organic solvents and detergents such as had been used in the preparation of viral vaccines. The idea was to disrupt viral structures by stripping away essential fatty acids with the hope that the proteins of interest would be unaffected. Our hopes were fully realized.

We showed that the method we developed, commonly referred to solvent/detergent or SD treatment, completely inactivated hepatitis B and C viruses in a chimpanzee model, and, in collaboration with Dr. Gallo at the NIH, we showed that HIV was rapidly and completely inactivated. As importantly, the valuable proteins such as AHF appeared to be unaffected.

Based on these results, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed the NYBC’s plasma product for the treatment of hemophilia in 1985. More complete clinical studies run cooperatively by NYBC and the FDA showed that the AHF protein was undamaged and HIV and hepatitis viruses were not transmitted.

Impact

For the next fifteen years, over 60 organizations worldwide adopted SD technology and applied it to a wide variety of products including AHF, intravenous immune globulin used in the treatment of immune deficiency disorders, and even monoclonal antibodies and other recombinant technology derived proteins. Hundreds of millions doses of SD-treated products have been infused in people; countless transmissions of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV were eliminated; and the lives of tens of thousands of patients were saved or improved.

The importance of federal support

Success stories like these are not guaranteed. Without federal support, I am reasonably certain that our findings would have made for a nice publication or two and little else. Additional federal grant support that I received resulted in improving the consistency and viral safety of transfusion plasma, now available broadly, and spawned efforts leading to red cells and platelet products with enhanced viral and bacterial safety.

I am forever grateful for the grant support that I received, and the granting agencies and the nation should take pride in the initiatives they foster. My, no really our story, demonstrates the impact of federal funding and the degree to which the scientific enterprise is a collaborative effort, bringing together many diligent minds from research institutes, private organizations and multiple federal agencies. We should all hope that this continues unabated. Our population deserves it.

 

 

Dr. Bernard Horowitz is recognized internationally for his research on blood viral safety and the preparation and characterization of new therapeutics from blood. He has served on several company scientific advisory boards and as a director of Omrix Therapeutics, Biogentis, Inc., Dermacor, Inc., Protein Therapeutics, and V.I. Technologies, a company he co-founded. At the New York Blood Center, Dr. Horowitz was its Vice President for Commercial Development and a Laboratory Head in its Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute. He has served as a scientific consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Hemophilia Foundation, the International Association of Biological Standardization, and the World Health Organization. Dr. Horowitz is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including the Robert W. Reilly Leadership Award from the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association, the Morton Grove Rasmussen Prize from the American Association of Blood Banks, and the 11th International Prix Henri Chaigneau from l’association francaise des hemophiles. Dr. Horowitz received his B.S. in biology from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cornell University Medical College.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

The Importance of Public Funding for Earthquake Hazard Research in Cascadia

In 2015, the New Yorker published “The Really Big One”, a story that brought public awareness to the dangers posed by the Cascadia subduction zone. The Cascadia subduction zone is a large fault that lies underwater, just off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. As a scientist and professor who researches this fault and its dangers, I really appreciated the large impact this article had in raising awareness of the importance of preparing for the next large earthquake here, especially among the many residents who live in this region. The New Yorker article, and plenty of ongoing scientific research, suggests that we need to prepare for the possibility of a major earthquake in this region—but we also need more research to help with this preparation.

Weighing the probabilities of earthquakes—room for uncertainty

Loma Prieta Earthquake damage on the Bay Bridge in California, 1989. Credit: Joe Lewis https://www.flickr.com/photos/sanbeiji/220645446

The Cascadia subduction zone has the capacity for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the same size as the devastating Japanese earthquake that occurred in 2011. The 2011 Japan earthquake caused a large tsunami, widespread destruction, and an ongoing nuclear disaster. We expect the next great Cascadia earthquake will have similar effects, hopefully minus the nuclear disaster. This fault directly threatens the urban areas of Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon, in addition to the many more residents in rural and suburban areas of California, Oregon, and Washington. In a 2013 report, The Cascadia Region Working Group estimates that if a magnitude 9.0 earthquake were to happen in the near future in this region, “the number of deaths could exceed 10,000”, and “more than 30,000 people could be injured”, with economic losses “upwards of $70 billion”.

It is very difficult to predict when this next great Cascadia earthquake will occur. A recent report published by the U. S. Geologic Survey estimates the probability of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake at roughly 10% in the next 50 years. The probability of a somewhat smaller, but still very destructive earthquake in the southern section of Cascadia (located just offshore, stretching from Cape Mendocino, CA to Florence, OR) is roughly 40% over the same timeframe.  These probabilities are high enough to be scary—and to indicate the urgency of preparing for a a major earthquake disaster in this region.

These probability numbers represent decades of scientific progress and breakthroughs in studies of fault behavior, but they are not as useful as they could be. What the public and emergency managers want to know is “Will a destructive earthquake occur in the next 50 years, or not?”. The best answer we currently have is these probabilities. What that really means is, “we don’t know, so prepare just in case”.

While the New Yorker article raised awareness, over time this fades and people go about their usual lives. It is really difficult to maintain vigilance making sure you are personally prepared for a major earthquake at all times for the next 50 years, especially when there’s a good chance nothing will happen. Therefore, it would be really great to put some more certainty in those probabilities. If we can revise these probabilities closer to 0% (no chance of an earthquake) or 100% (definitely going to be an earthquake) we can reduce uncertainty when planning for the future.

The public depends on earthquake research

EarthScope infrastructure across the United States. Credit: Jeffrey Freymueller

Increased certainty can only come from increased scientific understanding of this fault, and the mechanics of faults in general, which is at best only partially understood. We are also monitoring this fault for long-term changes that might indicate a large earthquake is imminent.

Making progress improving earthquake forecasts for Cascadia is a multi-disciplinary research problem. Scientists like myself use techniques such as numerical models of friction on faults to study the rupture process, laboratory experiments to study fault behavior, field geology studies to look at the signatures of past earthquakes, and data-driven studies using multiple instruments planted all along the subduction zone.

The vast majority of these studies are publicly funded using federal funding from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Science Foundation. The instruments we use were placed as part of a major scientific initiative called Earthscope, which was featured by Popular Science as the #1 “Most Ambitious Experiment in the Universe Today”. Earthscope is funded completely by the National Science Foundation, and funding is scheduled to end soon. The future of the critical scientific instrumentation in Cascadia is currently uncertain. These instruments have been, and continue to be, vital in improving our understanding of the mechanics of the Cascadia subduction zone and the size and timing of the next large earthquake there.

Budget cuts and uncertainty have a large effect on this field. The U.S. Geological Survey, under the recently released Trump budget blueprint, is going to take a 15% cut. The National Science Foundation is not specifically mentioned in the blueprint, but the working assumption among scientists is a 10% cut. While the cuts certainly hinder our efforts to study the Cascadia subduction zone, even the uncertainty is a hindrance to this science, as funding proposals take 6 months or more to receive an answer because of budget uncertainty. For scientists to do our jobs and give emergency managers and the public the best available information, it is critical that we continue to receive federal research funding.

 

Noel M. Bartlow is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Missouri. She is a geophysicist who studies slow earthquakes and frictional locking in subduction zones. She earned her Ph.D. in Geophysics from Stanford University in 2013, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California–San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography before joining the University of Missouri faculty in 2016.  She is currently the principal investigator for the National Science Foundation funded project, “Collaborative Research: Improving models of interseismic locking and slow slip events in Cascadia and New Zealand.”

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

You Can Support Science and Push Back Against the Anti-Science Agenda: Here’s How

Dazed and confused is not a phrase typically used to describe scientists, yet many of us are feeling that way in the wake of the dramatic policy changes implemented in the first few months of the new government administration. A seemingly endless flurry of executive orders impact everything from what science is funded, what government scientists can talk about, what areas of science are considered appropriate for presentation on the official White House website, and who can work in our labs.

Yet many scientists I speak with are reluctant to participate in political activities for fear of making science too political. I argue that these new policies have intentionally made science political, and if scientists and supporters of science sit back and do nothing, we will allow the anti-science rhetoric to drown out rigorous, scientifically backed information.

You may be left asking yourself “what can I do”? Quite a lot, in fact. Below are some of the things that you can do today to get involved.

Increase science communication

Photo: Will Sweatt/VASG

One of the easiest ways to get involved is to join Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media. These outlets can be a great resource for new scientific articles, information about speakers at conferences, awards that your peers are winning, and a place to share the latest scientific discoveries that you read in the journals with a bit of perspective and context provided by you. You can also share reliable information about how new government policies affect scientists and research.

For the more adventurous, you can start a blog, or help trainees start a blog, speak with journalists about your research, or write opinion articles in local papers, scientific society newsletters, or even scientific journals. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have resources on their pages on how to write effective letters to the editor and op-eds. Lastly, work with your public relations office to promote your own research findings. Be sure to tweet and post that story.

Stand up for and promote science

There are over 390 satellite marches planned for the March for Science—and growing. Learn more at marchforscience.org.

The March for Science has received a lot of publicity, and you can check if there is a satellite March happening near you. You can also speak at local schools to create energy and excitement around science and scientific discovery, and potentially inspire the next generation of scientists. You can also join an organization that is working to defend science, like UCS, or local activist organizations. The UCS Science Network has an initiative to help be a watchdog against attacks on science. You can also share your story or donate money to organizations that promote science and discovery.

Communicate your views to elected officials

American Association of Immunologists fellows, members, and staff at breakfast preparing for Capitol Hill Day. Photo: American Assn of Immunologists.

A great way to communicate how proposed or enacted policies affect scientists is to directly call or meet with legislators. Tell them your story. Several scientific societies, including the American Association of Immunologists, also offer training and “Hill days” where they schedule meetings with many different legislators to discuss policies.

Run for office

Although there are several physicians in Congress, there is a definite lack of research scientists. There is currently only one, Bill Foster (D-Illinois), but that may soon change if Michael Eisen, an evolution and computational biologist from University of California, Berkeley, is successful in his bid for the Senate in California. He is not alone. Many scientists are becoming interested in running for office and the 314 Action (first 3 digits of pi) group is helping them get there. 314 Action is raising money to support political campaigns for scientists and provide candidate training.  Admittedly, not everyone has the people skills or the inclination to run for such high-profile positions. Keep in mind that the seeds of change are planted at the local level. So even running for school boards, city councils, or other local elected positions will make a difference.

I challenge you to find one way to promote and advocate for science. You may think that you don’t have time to participate, but there is no longer an option not to. We need every single scientist to stand up and get involved. Think big, start small, commit. The very foundation of science is at stake.

 

Cynthia Leifer is an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University. Her research focuses on how our immune system detects and fights infection, and what goes wrong with the immune system during autoimmune disease. In addition to her research, she participates in science outreach and communication. She has written on vaccines, women in STEM, and science denial, for such outlets as CNN, Huffington Post, and Pacific Standard. @CIndyLeifer Leiferlab.com

 

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

Putting Science Into Practice: Why We Need to Play Our Part

I cross the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois almost daily. During the winter months, I’m thankful when the stoplight across the bridge turns yellow, then changes to red, giving me time to count the many eagles nesting and fishing along the slough by the lock and dam.

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. Photo: USDA.

That any of these eagles are here today is testament to the research of Rachel Carson, an ecologist whose public science shaped the course of policy and inspired the birth of the environmental movement in the United States.

As scientists, we are well trained in the process of conducting scientific research, but most of us have fewer teachers when it comes to engaging in the process of applying that research to public action or policy. Carson’s work continues to teach us how science can be a transformative tool; one that can change our course from extinction, pollution, and harm to one of regeneration.

Recent debate over whether scientists should engage in political action stems from a debate that Carson knew a lot about: science as a public good.

To march or not to march: what is the question?

A March for Science is planned on April 22—Earth Day—in Washington DC and (to date) in 323 communities across the globe. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Robert Young sparked a lot of debate on scientific listservs and in academic hallways across the country about the role of scientists in the public realm.

From this debate emerges the expected chorus of those worried about losing their status asking “Is this the right time? Is this our role?”

AAAS Stand Up for Science Rally, 2/19/17. © Audrey Eyring/UCS

These questions are usually followed by the strange claim that our actions, inspired by scientific questions to which we’ve devoted our lives to studying—climate change, environmental racism, public health, and on—may (insert theme from Jaws here)….POLITICIZE SCIENCE!

Private and partisan interests have already politicized science. Our concern today should instead be how we reclaim science as public good. That is a political concern, but need not be a partisan one.

The politicization of science

In his op-ed, Young claimed that Al Gore is responsible for “politicizing” the science of climate change in the United States through his production of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. However,  sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap document that the politicization of climate change in the U.S. happened much earlier than 2006 and that it was not because of well-intentioned documentaries; rather, it was due to the strategic work of the George W. Bush administration on behalf of private interests.

This is not a new story. Silent Spring was published 55 years ago, yet the agricultural industry continues to try to tarnish Rachel Carson’s reputation. More recently, we see this continued bullying and silencing of scientists in Syngenta’s attempted defamation of Tyrone Hayes, the North Carolina Pork Council’s threats toward the late Steve Wing, or Rush Limbaugh and the religious right’s personal attacks on Kari Norgaard for her research studying climate change denial.

Our country has a long history of industry and special interest groups, and their political advocates, attacking scientists for “doing science” when it doesn’t support their profit making. It is important to differentiate though that these examples are not the fault of scientists “politicizing” science, but of industry and politicians politicizing and manipulating science. It is on us to take it back.

Reclaiming science as a public good

The eagles nesting along the Mississippi River are here because a scientist took a risk and engaged with the public.

I agree with Young when he argues that this engagement begins at the local levels. This engagement with the public—and political—realm can be frightening and comes with consequences, as confronting privilege often does, but we must do this hard work if we want a future for our disciplines, our loved ones, and our planet. We already have some of the tools we need: we are trained to manage and account for the uncertainty that comes with engaging the unknown. We now need to begin to employ the critical and creative parts of the scientific process as we experiment with new venues, new messaging, and varied approaches to sharing and advocating for science that is much needed by the public.

Sandra Steingraber often uses the metaphor of the symphony to describe the situation we now find ourselves in: we are each musicians being called to play our instruments as best we can in order to save the world. The imperative for those of us housed in institutions of higher education to play our part is especially important, as Bard College president Leon Botstein recently wrote, not only for science, but for democracy itself. We are citizens, too, and now, more than ever, scientists are needed to play our part.

March for public science. Advocate for more funding and institutional support for public science. Engage in public science partnerships with community groups and policy makers. If you’re so inspired, please run for office. Remain transparent because we do not have anything to hide. It is okay and good to love the work we do, and to share that we do it because we love our families, our homes, and our planet. We won’t all be successful, but we’ve been trained for that, too: revise, resubmit, revise again. Here’s to seeing you in the streets, at the city council meeting; to reading your letters to the editor; to hearing your voices at the legislative forums and at the rallies. Science is a public good—let’s put it into practice.

 

Angie Carter is an environmental sociologist and teaching fellow at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

Restoring America’s Wetland Forest Legacy

Like many white, middle-class, suburban kids, I grew up with one foot in the forest. To me, that small woodlot, a green buffer along a half-polluted tributary, was a paradise unmatched by any other forest in the world. Unfortunately, like many other tracts of land across the United States, my childhood forest is gone—cleared for a housing development.

Wetlands, including wetland forests, are the “filters” of our natural system, combating pollution, removing excess nutrients, and securing fresh drinking water for surrounding and downstream communities. Photo: Dogwood Alliance.

Wetland forests offer massive economic benefits

Even small forests across the United States work to provide “ecosystem services”—non-monetary benefits like clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration, hunting, fishing, and yes—recreation for children. Ecosystem services may sound like “lip service” to the natural world, but it’s not. New York city chose to spend $500 million to protect and preserve its upstream watershed (and resulting water quality), to avoid the $3-5 billion price tag of a new water supply system on the Hudson river. Forests in the U.S. offset about 13% of our yearly carbon emissions. In 2002, southern forests supported over a million jobs in the recreation/tourism sectors, generating $19-76 billion dollars in annual revenue. All of these services require healthy, standing forests across the landscape.

As our country continues to grow, we are increasing the pressures on our forests. We need clean air and clean water, but we also need wood products, food, and housing. As Research Manager at Dogwood Alliance, I work every day with other organizations and communities to improve the quality and quantity of southern forests. Much of my day-to-day is focused on coordinating and organizing a new initiative, the Wetland Forest Initiative, to conserve, restore, and improve southern wetland forests.

Cypress-tupelo forests, also known as bottomland hardwood forests, can occasionally have trees live for over a thousand years. Photo: Dogwood Alliance

Wetland forests are the best of both worlds. You can visit during a dry season to walk beside ancient trees, or explore during the wet season by kayaking in submerged habitat, teeming with aquatic invertebrates, migratory birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. “Wetland forest” describes so much of the American landscape—from forests edging creeks and the culturally treasured bayous; to coastally influenced forests, which somehow survive the onslaught of the ocean. Wetland forests span 35 million acres across 14 southern states, and provide twice the ecosystem services value of upland forests.

Taking action to save our wetlands

Yet, with a majority of wetland forests lost—cleared for agriculture, drained for commercial or residential development, even cut and converted to fast-growing commercial pine plantations—we are at a fork in the road. Will we allow our wetland forests to dwindle to less than one percent of their original range, like we did with longleaf pine? Or will we take action now to conserve these vital ecosystems, before it’s too late?

Wetland forests are home to many endemic species, found nowhere else on earth. This photo was taken during a flyover search for the swallow-tailed kite, a bird native to southern wetland forests. Photo: Maria Whitehead

The Wetland Forest Initiative is working to conserve, restore, and improve these habitats. In special places, we will work to protect the legacy of rare, threatened, and endangered species, ensuring that they will have habitat for decades to come. In places where wetland forests have been degraded by lack of management, changes in hydrology, or pollution, we will work with local groups and governments to restore the land to ecological function. Beyond the tree line, we will work with politicians and government agencies to ensure that landowners are awarded with fair compensation for their restoration and conservation efforts. And perhaps most importantly, we will work with communities, to educate them about the beauty and importance of what’s happening on the ground in their local wetland forests.

Although I never thought I would leave academia, I am happy to spend my working hours on a project that has the potential to impact 35 million acres across 14 states. Despite the differences in opinion that some of our member organizations may have, it is inspiring to see so many people from different walks of life (academic, community, environment, forestry, government, land management, landowners, social justice, and tribal) come together and create meaningful change. I am excited for the future of our southern wetland forests.

I encourage you to head over to the Wetland Forest Initiative website to learn more, endorse the platform, and get your organization or university involved.

Sam Davis is Research & Program Manager at Dogwood Alliance. A life-long treehugger, Sam earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Science in 2015 at Wright State University, and completed a postdoc at University of California Merced before leaving academia for greener forests. Sam is thrilled to be translating science into action with Dogwood Alliance. On the weekends, Sam enjoys hiking, home improvement, and gaming with friends and family.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.