Design winner human-organs-on-chips helps rationalize the end of animal research.

Organs

 

It will if Harvard cell biologist and engineer Donald Ingber and University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Don Dongeun Huh, designers of Human Organs-on-Chips, have their way.

Every year, the Design Museum in London holds a competition for the Best Design. The winner this year is Human Organs-on-Chips. A microchip perhaps the size of a domino and containing miniature wells with connections like rivers between the wells is lined with a polymer on which human cells can be grown. The experimenter can, for example, add drugs to one set of cells and measure the effect on the cells in other wells. Organ systems, using cells from individuals, can then be mimicked, and tested.

Human Organs-on-Chips had some tough competitors, in the categories of Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Graphics, Product (the category for Human Organs-on Chips), and Transport.  I saw the exhibit early in June, and was thrilled by the many science-based entries among the 76 entrants. A project that uses a 3D printer to make arm and leg protheses was an emotional favorite of the crowd, but the beauty and simplicity of the Human Organs-on-Chips display took my breathe away. I’d read about them, but seeing them displayed, with the implications boldly stated- “A way to research drugs without testing on animals”- was a thrill…beautiful science done with a stated purpose of being an alternative to animal research.

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Human-organs-on chips is only one example of the many products  being developed to improve in vitro testing on human systems.

There are 3 main reasons scientists say they would like to cut down or eliminate animal testing: animal upkeep and experimentation is expensive, animal models do not adequately represent humans, and there are ethical issues with animal experimentation.

That there are ethical issues with animal treatment is definitely the minority reason given, and even when it is, what is meant is that other people have ethical issues with animal experimentation and that makes it more difficult for animal experimentation to be done. All those rules! And the protesters!

Drug testing is only one of many, many ways animals are used in labs. But anything, whether moral, financial, or convenience-based, that leads scientists to stop assuming that animal experimentation is a given, is good.

Meanwhile, scientists and activists are directly addressing the ethical issues of animal research. For example, physician and lawyer Ruth Decker has been working relentlessly to stop experimentation on monkeys at the University of Wisconsin, starting an on- line petition against Ned Kalin, who studies rhesus macaque monkeys removed from their mothers and raised in isolation. Recently, when Ned Kalin spoke at the Univeristy of California-Davis on his research, scientists and activists, members of UCDavis Primates Deserve Better, demonstrated at the lecture to protest the cruelty of his experiments.

In March, a European Citizens Initiative with 1.17 million signatures proposed phasing out animal research. While it was rejected by the European Commission, the commission did say it would seek to speed up the development and use of alternative methods of research.

Many science organizations and a group of Nobel laureates spoke out in defense of animal research. As pointed out by the pro-animal experimentation group AnimalResearch.Info, 91 of 105 Nobel Prizes awarded for Physiology or Medicine were dependent on animal research. It is hard to change the paradigm. But every aspect of alternatives to animal testing will bring change to the culture of science. The collaboration of scientists and citizens, which brings new perspective, is vital in changing the insular and often conservative nature of science.

One nascent change is that biomedical scientists and physicians can question animal use without appearing to be “unprofessional,” an accusation and judgement that held many scientists from actually considering the morality involved in working on animals.

 

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Japanese academics say no to military research. Please sign their letter!

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There are academics over the world who don’t believe that militarism and war serve humanity, and do not want their institutions or their own work to be guided by military needs or funding.

War is absolutely not inevitable. As with climate change activism, with calls for divestment of university funds from fossil fuel companies, and increased collaborations between scientists and other citizens, scientists can speak out and act on their abhorrence of being part of killing others. We can change the culture of militarism by not participating in it.

This campaign is an effort by Japanese academics, who have noted increased military involvement in universities, to bring awareness of this issue to other academics and scientists. The website, given here in English, gives their rationale. If you agree, please sign.

PREFACE-THE GOAL OF THIS ONLINE CAMPAIGN

Ever since the end of the World War II, Japanese academics have renounced military research. This is consistent with the peaceful principles of the Constitution of Japan, in which Article 9 renounces both war as a sovereign right of the nation and the maintenance of military forces that could be used for the purpose of war. Recently, however, the Japanese Ministry of Defense has been eager to involve academics in joint research and to fund civil scientists to develop dual-use technologies that can be used in military equipment. Such a trend violates academic freedom and Japanese scientists’ vows not to take part in any research tied to war again. The goal of this online campaign is to help scientists and other people become aware of this issue so they may join us in putting a stop to military-academia joint research. Thank you for visiting our website, and we sincerely welcome your signatures to approve our appeal.
APPEAL AGAINST MILITARY RESEARCH IN ACADEMIA

Military research includes the development of arms and technologies that can be used as military equipment and strategic research to gain military supremacy, linking directly and indirectly to war. During World War II, many scientists in Japan were involved in military research to a greater or lesser extent and took part in a war of aggression. College students were conscripted into the army against their will, and many of them lost their young lives. These experiences were matters of deep regret for many scientists at that time. Soon after World War II, scientists made vows to promote science for peace, never for war. For example, the Science Council of Japan, which officially represents the collective will of scientists in Japan, made the decisions to ban military research in 1949 and renewed this commitment in 1950 and 1967. Development of anti-nuclear and peace movements in Japan encouraged scientists and students to establish their own peace declarations at universities and national research institutes. Peace declarations were finally resolved at five universities (Otaru University of Commerce, Nagoya University, Yamanashi University, Ibaraki University and Niigata University) and at 19 national research institutes in the 1980s.

Especially under the hawkish Abe administration, the peaceful principle of the Constitution of Japan has been severely violated. For example, although the export of arms and the related technologies had long been strictly restricted, Abe administration removed this ban in 2014. The Japanese government and various industries have been promoting military-academia joint research for the production of dual-use technologies. In total, as of 2014, more than 20 joint research projects have been initiated since the early 2000s between the Technical Research and Development Institute, the Ministry of Defense, and academia. The Abe administration approved the National Defense Program Guidelines for FY2014 and beyond in December 2013 to further develop dual-use technologies by funding research projects to be conducted in universities and research institutes. This trend should be viewed as governmental counterattack against scientists’ vows not to take part in military research again after World War II.

It is highly inevitable that the achievements of military-funded research will not be open to the public without the permission of the military. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which was forced through the Diet in 2013 and came into effect in 2014, will strengthen control of academia by the military and state power. In addition, scientists who speak of their research may now be accused of leaking confidential information because of this new law.

What are the consequences of military-academia joint research? It is evident that academic freedom will be severely violated. One must only refer to the case of the United States, where the military-industrial-academic complex is already firmly established. In addition, graduate and undergraduate students’ right and conscience will be violated by being forced to take part in military-academia joint research in their university education program, and given their lack of experience, may be accepted without criticism. Is it ethical for professors and principle scientists to involve their students in military-academia joint research? Such research is linking to war, destruction, and murder, and will inevitably result in the devastation of higher education.

Universities should deal with universal values, such as the development of democracy, the welfare of human beings, nuclear disarmament, the abolition of poverty, and the realization of a peaceful and sustainable world. In order to ensure such activities, universities, including national universities, of course, should be independent from any governmental or political power and authority, and they should pursue the goal of human education to encourage students to aspire to truth and peace.

We are responsible to refuse to take part in war through military-academia joint research. Such research is not consistent with the principles of higher education and the development of science and technology for a better future. We are concerned that military-academia joint research will distort the sound development of science, and that men, women, and children alike will lose their trust and faith in science. Right now, we are at the crossroads for the reputation of science in Japan.

We sincerely appeal to all the members of universities and research institutes, including undergraduate and graduate students, and to citizens, not to take part in joint research with military personnel, to refuse funding from the military, and to refrain from educating military personnel.

Organizers

Satoru Ikeuchi, Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics, Nagoya University,

Shoji Sawada, Professor Emeritus of Physics, Nagoya University,

Makoto Ajisaka, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Kansai University,

Junji Akai, Professor Emeritus of Mineralogy, Niigata University,

Minoru Kitamura, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Waseda University,

Tatsuyoshi Morita, Professor Emeritus of Botany, Niigata University,

Ken Yamazaki, Professor of Exercise Physiology, Niigata University,

Teruo Asami, Professor Emeritus of Soil Science, Ibaraki University,

Hikaru Shioya, Communication Engineering and Reliability Engineering,

Kunio Fukuda, Professor Emeritus of International Trade Theory, Meiji University,

Kunie Nonaka, Professor of Accoundancy, Meiji University,

and other 47 scientists.

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Shell, Scientists, and Seattle: If not now, then when?

 

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The image of Seattle kayakers protesting the Arctic-bound Shell oil drilling rig has inspired great excitement as well as derision: It is obvious to supporters and deriders alike that this action will not stop the drilling for gas and oil needed to halt global warming, or even to prevent drilling in the Arctic. It seems to be a token action, then…..but what, exactly, would work?

There is great consensus that drilling in the Arctic doesn’t make sense. If it goes well, more oil is extracted and burned, pushing the 2 degree temperature world even closer. If it doesn’t go well, if there is a spill or leak, the effect on the ocean, on deep currents, microbial and mammal ian survival could be catastrophic.

For scientists, the repercussions of drilling in the Arctic are even more straightforward.

In January, Nature article “The geographical distribution of fossil fuel unused when limiting global warming to 2 degrees C”, by Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins, said that most coal, oil, and gas must be left in the ground as using it will send the temperature higher, and the specific reserves to be reserved were listed: all of the Arctic oil and gas, the authors concluded, should be left untouched.

In April, PNAS article (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) “Amplified Arctic warming by phytoplankton under greenhouse warming,“  lead author Jong-Yeon Park from the Max Planck Institute of Metoerology and colleagues reported on the central importance of the Arctic in the warm-induced blooms of phytoplankton. The fragility and importance of the Arctic to world climate was underscored.

Also in April, Science published two hopeful articles about the USA’s newly started position as chair of the Arctic Council, an 8-nation group with borders in the Arctic. Both articles- “One Arctic“, by new chair Fran Ulmer , and “U.S. lays out its ambitions for leadership in the Arctic”, by Carolyn Gramling, emphasize cooperation and research. However, while Gramling implies this will be directed at global warming, chair Fran Ulmer mentions the need to balance global warming issues with the demand for resources.

And indeed, in May, the Obama administration approved Arctic drilling , and gave Shell- despite its record of spills and bad management, conditional approval to drill in the Arctic.

So if we had a brief belief that politicians might actually promote effective actions and policies, we soon had a reminder that neither science alone or politics alone would be effective.

What can be done? What should scientists do? Anything they can. This is why scientists, activists, environmentalists, and local politicians came together in Seattle to oppose the staging of the Shell oil drilling rig in the Port of Seattle/Foss Maritime- because they realized that, if not now, then when?

In the fall of 2014, the Port of Seattle decided in secret meetings to lease a terminal to Foss Maritime, who would allow Shell to berth its rig at the Foss Maritime facilities in the Puget Sound, after an “intensive industry and labor lobbying effort”  to to use Seattle as a homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet.

When the contract to lease Terminal 5 of the Port  to Foss Maritime for the berthing of the Arctic Drilling rig was finally publicly disclosed in the new year, citizens swung into action.

Seattle activists and environmental groups began organizing in February . First came legal attempts . A coalition of environmentalists went to court to ask that the Port of Seattle’s lease with Foss Maritime be vacated because staging arctic drilling is opposed to the intent of the the Port to be a distributor of cargo and goods, and violated the State Environmental Policy Act and the Shoreline Management Act. Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council tried a similar strategy and declared the Port’s contract with Foss to be possibly inappropriate. The Port asked Foss to wait until there could be an investigation of the lease. Foss simply said no.

Saturday, May 16th, was a family-friendly kayak and shore event near the rig. Signs, singing, chanting on the Puget Sound.

The mass day of protest and civil disobedience ended peacefully on Monday, May 18th, when police refused to engage with the protesters blocking the Port’s Terminal 5, at the request of the Port. The protests had been well organized and communicated, and the Police and the Port no doubt decided to avoid bad publicity for themselves and to downplay the protests. Since the year had marked public outrage in response to 2 videos of disturbing Seattle police action (high school teacher Jesse Hagopian was pepper-sprayed while talking to his mother on the phone after the peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and an older African American man was arrested and accused of assaulting a police officer for using a golf club as a walking stick), it’s easy to understand why arresting peaceful kayakers and other activists might not go well.

And also on the 18th, the City of Seattle declared that Shell and Foss Maritime lacked the proper permit to host the drilling rig, that the rig must be removed, and that proper permits must be obtained by June 4. Foss and the Port of Seattle are appealing the earlier determination that Foss could not use Terminal 5 for the rig.

Using a technicality to obtain a result seems opposed to the scientific method- but it is an important part of politics and the legal system. Scientists should learn to use the legal system, and find the collaborators that can help and provide expertise.

Scientists are taking a variety of approaches to fight climate change. For example, March 24th letter signed by climate scientists and biologists urged museums to not accept funding from the Koch brothers and from other associated with fossil fuel companies. (Signatures to the letter are still being accepted.)

Scientists were part of the planning and protests against the Shell drilling rig. Sarra Tekola is part of ShellNo!, a coalition of environmental and activist groups, and is a School of Environmental and Forest Sciences student at the University of Washington, where she is also involved with convincing the University of Washington to divest its investment portfolio of stocks in the fossil fuel industry. Tekola was advised, as many scientists have been, that science and activism could not be combined, but is proving that to be a conservative fallacy.

Susan Crane Lubetkin, with a Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management, studied bowhead whales in the Arctic, testified at the Port meeting on the secrecy of the Foss contract, and has commissioned a musical piece on climate change. A Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship gave her the start on learning the advocacy techniques that could help science have an impact on environmental change.

Six environmental activists from Greenpeace climbed the drill rig mid-Pacific as it headed toward Seattle as a protest against drilling the Arctic. Australian Zoe Buckley Lennox is studying Environmental Science in Brisbane, and with American Aliyah Field, joined with the Backbone Campaign and other organizations to plan the days of activism. Lennox also testified at the Port meeting on May 12 about the damage that could be caused by Shell in the Arctic. For Lennox, research needs to be balanced with action through activism, in order to protect the world we share.

Protecting the world is a good reason to practice science, but data alone won’t save it. Find your people.

————

Update May 24rd

Environmental justice student at Western Washington University, Chiara D’Angelo remains attached (so far, for almost 2 days)  to the anchor chair of Shell ship “Arctic Challenger,” in Bellingham in protest of Arctic drilling. Activist Matt Fuller, who had joined her, asked for help to come down: the conditions are extremely uncomfortable. Kayakers rallied from Cornwall Beach in Bellingham in support of the activists.

Oh, and the Navy is planning war “games” in the Arctic.

Contributions welcome and needed for the sHELLNo! campaign!

–Update September 29, 2015

From Popular Resistance!

Major Victory: Shell Abandons Arctic Drilling
Greenpeace activists rappel off the St Johns Bridge, and join people in kayaks in the Willamette river to protest Shell Oil’s drilling in the Arctic. Shell’s Fennica ship is being repaired at Vigor Industrial, on July 29, 2015. Mike Zacchino/Staff
RESIST! ARCTIC DRILLING, SHELL, SHELLNO!
By Terry Macalister, www.theguardian.com
September 28th, 2015
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The Social Movement for Economic, Racial and Environmental Justice played huge role in the result: “Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.”

Note: The movement has done an incredible job over the last three years protesting Shell’s arctic drilling culminating with the #SHellNo campaign this summer. The stock of Shell was dropping, its public image was taking a major hit and the company was going to see an escalation of protest against it. This was always a risky and foolish invesment. 1shell3

An important lesson for the movement, one we have seen repeated in our experience on a wide range of issues: you never know how close you are to victory. It looked like the protests had failed to stop Shell. They got their equipment into the Artic and began drilling. There were no indications of Shell giving up even last week. This should hearten all of those fighting what seem like impossible campaigs. You may be closer than you think. Keep fighting, never give up!

Of course, this is not over. There is still a rapacious desire for oil and we need to continue to push for an end to all licenses for drilling in the Arctic. We are urging people to take action to finish the job.

Send an email to President Obama today urging him to ban arctic drilling.
Tell President Obama No More Drilling In The Arctic
READ THE PETITION
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Oil giant’s US president says hugely controversial drilling operations off Alaska will stop for ‘foreseeable future’ as drilling finds little oil and gas

Shell has abandoned its controversial drilling operations in the Alaskan Arctic in the face of mounting opposition.

Its decision, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, follows disappointing results from an exploratory well drilled 80 miles off Alaska’s north-west coast. Shell said it had found oil and gas but not in sufficient quantities.

The move is a major climbdown for the Anglo-Dutch group which had talked up the prospects of oil and gas in the region. Shell has spent about $7bn (£4.6bn) onArctic offshore development in the hope there would be deposits worth pursuing, but now says operations are being ended for the “foreseeable future.”

Shell is expected to take a hit of around $4.1bn as a result of the decision.

The company has come under increasing pressure from shareholders worried about the plunging share price and the costs of what has so far been a futile search in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell has also privately made clear it is taken aback by the public protests against the drilling which are threatening to seriously damage its reputation.

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, is also said to be worried that the Arctic is undermining his attempts to influence the debate around climate change.

His attempts to argue that a Shell strategy of building up gas as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way to a lower carbon future has met with scepticism, partly because of the Arctic operations.

A variety of consultants have also argued that Arctic oil is too expensive to find and develop in either a low oil price environment or in a future world with a higher price on carbon emissions.

In a statement today, Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said: “Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the US. However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”
The new cold war: drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic
Read more
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“Big oil has sustained an unmitigated defeat. They had a budget of billions, we had a movement of millions. For three years we faced them down, and the people won.

“The Save the Arctic movement has exacted a huge reputational price from Shell for its Arctic drilling programme. And as the company went another year without striking oil, that price finally became too high. They’re pulling out.

“Now President Obama should use his remaining months in office to say that no other oil company will be licenced to drill in the American Arctic.”

Related Posts:

Protests Against Shell Arctic Drilling Will Continue, sHELLno! June 1, 2015
Shell Oil Faces Long Odds With Arctic Drilling August 18, 2015
Shell Leaves Climate Project It Helped Set Up Amid Arctic Drilling Row September 11, 2015
Shell’s Arctic Drilling Faces Setback As Ship Forced Back To Port July 9, 2015
Kayactivists Across The Country Protest Arctic Drilling July 21, 2015
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Dealing with the neuroscience of unstable income- or not.

Whether you choose “Apps for Everything but Compassion” (print, 5/7) or “The Shaky Moral Compass of Silicon Valley” (web, 5/2) as your favorite title, the message is clear: the reputation that wealthy tech workers have little empathy for the poor is based in reality.

It may be lack of awareness, or it may be the sense of entitlement and self-interest that studies have shown are associated with access to money. See, it isn’t even their fault that they retreat from the poverty and homelessness of the Silicon Valley….but actually, as a nation, we ignore homeless folks, and it is only the shocking difference between poverty and google etc wealth  that makes the apparent lack of compassion in Silicon Valley so glaring.

Obviously, as stated in the article by Nick Bolton, there are rich techies who do reach out to help, but many are stymied by the lack of technical solutions. (There are economic ones, but no one wants consider higher taxes, or ceilings on wealth.)

But a very interesting Silicon Valley company actually does have a technical solution, an app that addresses income volatility.

Income volatility – income swings, with money coming in irregularly-  makes it very difficult for those living near the edge of survival and/or working at jobs that are seasonal or unpredictable to save money. While a person may make enough money over the year to cover costs, that money comes in a trickle or a flow, and there are often times when bills come due when the money isn’t there…bills such as rent and food purchases. Debt and penalties begins to accrue, hopelessness sets in.

Even, a for-profit company, floats its clients during hard times, and banks their surplus during good times with an app that smooths out the ups and downs of their earnings and enablles them to avoid debt. It is described in “Want a Steady Income? There’s an App for That,” by Anand Garidharadas in the April 29th, 2015 NY Times.

Even was conceived of by 28 year old techie Jon Schlossberg, who was influenced by a `2013 Science paper, “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,”  a collaboration between behavioral psychologists and economists to examine why those without money seemed to act in ways that would only compound poverty. According to Garidharadas, the Science paper rejected  “the left’s structural theories, the right’s theories about character- in favor of neuroscience,”  and explained that the complicated juggling that the poor must do to survive hampered the ability to focus.

Schlossberg partnered with entrepreneur Quinten Farmer, who brought in the idea of income volatility as a target to address poverty: Farmer recalled his own childhood, in which a divorce left he and his mother financially struggling. For a fee of $3 a week, those with volatile incomes are freed of the impossibility to pay debts with money that is not yet there, and hopefully, and that this can give them the psychological as well as physical space they need to solve problems.

As some reader comments mentioned, there are plenty of fundraisers and good works among techies in Silicon Valley: one reader mentioned Rippleworks, a non-profit that connects entrepreneurs in developing countries with Silicon Valley workers who mentor and give technical advice. It was clear from the comments that many people want to help, and don’t know how. It was also clear that most people don’t consider the deeper economic and social forces behind poverty, or behind their own successes, and that the moral compasses of the commenters were pretty darn shaky. Still, techie activists might be changing the culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The House Armed Forces Services Committee debates blocks protection for ….the Sage Grouse.

The House Armed Forces Committee blocks protection for the Sage Grouse.

Aagrouse

How is it that the military, through Congress, is deciding on the future of the Greater Sage Grouse, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act?

This is how.

Congress is currently hammering out the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. There is a provision recommended by the chair of the House Armed Services committee that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from actually putting the Greater Sage Grouse, which suffers from loss of habitat, on the endangered list. This was a recommendation from the Army.

When Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass)  proposed to strip that provision, there was a contentious debate that ended in a vote to not protect the sage grouse. Democrats argued that the provision not only had no place in a defense bill, and that the provision was an attack on science and federal conservation areas.

Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah) (who actually heads the House Natural Resources Committee- isn’t that consoling?) was one of the Republican members who argued that the bird’s large population hampers military facilities throughout the USA.  The example he gave is that the Army at the Yakima Training Center in Washington spends around $1.5 million a year to manage (only) 250 birds.

Yakima is one of only 4 sage grouse populations in the state, but giving the Greater Sage Grouse protection under the Endangered Species Act (EPA) as an endangered species would restrict gunnery ranges part of the year.

Scientists have spoken out on the dangers of oil and gas projects to the Greater Sage Grouse breeding sites, as well.

The sage grouse has also become a pawn in the Republican move to reduce federal power: The U.S. House Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal to delay an Endangered Species Act listing for the Greater Sage Grouse for 10 years, as well as to transfer the management of millions of acres of federal lands to states in the west. Democrats countered that the provision has no place in the defense bill, seeing it as an attack on science and federal conservation efforts.

The militarization of science and nature marches on.

—-

Update

June 8, 2015  In an editorial, “G.O.P. Assault on Environmental Laws,” the New York Times blames republicans only for the disinterest in saving the habitat of the Great Sage Grouse. The editorial made no mention of the influence of the military, which (along with fossil fuel companies) rules both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

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Do the scientific data on fracking damage matter to policy makers? Sometimes!

Do the scientific data on fracking damage matter to policy makers?

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Discussion on the health and environmental damage of fracking, initiated by scientists, journalists, and activists, is moving fast. Will it matter? It did in New York state, where scientists and activists working together convinced the governor to ban fracking. Scientists have not yet been as effective in Oklahoma in getting the message out about the dangers of fracking, and fracking continues although it has been linked to recent earthquakes. (See update at the end of this post.)

You wouldn’t think fracking was a problem from today’s New York Times. Energy and business correspondent Clifford Krauss’s article, “New Balance of Power,” gives cursory mention of the environment in his fracking-happy discussion.

The US is now responsible for 10% of global production of oil, and oil from the fracking of US shale fields since 2008 accounts for roughly half of the world’s oil production growth. The US is overtaking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in oil production, weakening OPEC’s control (the goal of most US energy businesses and politicians) of the price of oil. But rather than reduce oil outout to keep demand (and price) high, OPEC has maintain production in order to retain market share- and the price of oil and gas has plummeted. Krauss sees the marginalization of OPEC and the lowered oil and gas prices as excellent outcomes. He also seems quite delighted that oil-producing “foreign foes” like Venezuela and Russia have been weakened by the drop in oil prices.

What about the environment?

Oh, well, there is some distant discussion of the environment. Krauss mentions that environmentalists believe the low oil and gas prices will drive consumption up. He says that “President Obama has applauded the drop in gasoline prices, but he still straddles the interests of environmentalists with those of the oil companies when it comes to hot-button issues like offshore drilling and expanding exports of United States oil and natural gas.”

And Krauss does say that hydraulic fracking is “still considered risky by many environmentalists because of the escape of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during exploration, production and transport, along with potential seepage of toxic fluids into water supplies.”

But this completely misrepresents the dangers of fracking. He writes off damage to people and to the fracking areas as an example of the “interests of environmentalists.”  He alludes to “potential” seepage of toxic fluids. He says nothing about the many scientific studies that have linked health and environmental damage to the technique of fracking. The article is an excellent description of what activists and scientists are facing when the health and environmental issues of oil and gas production are pitted against business and political issues.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of pumping large amounts of water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure into a well and surrounding rock formations to extract deep reserves of gas or oil. Its use increased in use in 2003, and more so after 2004 (when the FDA found that fracking did not harm underwater drinking water and 2005 (when fracking was exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act by the Bush Administration).

It is a messy, dirty process, and problems just keep coming.

Problems such as earthquakes, fires, contaminated water, and radon generation. Problems scientists have been documenting for years.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins recently found that fracking may cause the release of radon. Uranium occurs naturally in soil and bedrock and decays to radium-226, which then decays to radon, an inert, odorless, and carcinogenic gas. It is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. Indoor radon levels in Pennsylvania were correlated with fracking, as well as with well water (and with weather and a rural versus a town location).

NBC news reported flammable tap water in homes located near fracking sites in Portage County, Ohio. The injection sites themselves are dirty and dangerous. A few days ago, a fracking waste-water injection site in Greeley, Colorado exploded in flames, not far from the site of an injection well that had been linked to earthquakes  in 2014. The stored oil and gas wastewater that is used for injection contained hydrocarbons that can vaporize and it is thought that a lightening strike caused the the explosion.  On and on, in scientific publications and on the media, the problems of fracking are described and decried.

But it is the earthquakes associated with fracking that perhaps have been best documented and are drawing the most attention from the scientific and environmental world.

In November, 2011, several earthquakes- including one of 5.7 magnitude- struck Prague, Oklahoma, destroying more than a dozen homes. The quakes were located near wells where fracking has been ongoing for 20 years.

The mainstream press  reported on studies showing that a 2011 earthquake in central Oklahoma was linked to fracking. One of these was a March, 2013  paper in Geology by scientists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University, and the United States Geological Study (USGA),  examined the  correlation between wastewater injection and the 5.7 magnitude earthquake.

A more recent article in the NY Times, online titled as “As Quakes Rattle Oklahoma, Fingers point to Oil and Gas Industry,” gives a bleak and excellent description of the interplay between scientists, citizens, the oil industry, and local politicians.

It mentions some to the earthquakes seen associated with fracking in other states, such as Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Kansas. Nowhere though, have the earthquakes approached the number and scope of Oklahoma’s, and scientists believe this is because Oklahoma’s main waster disposal site is a bed of porous limestone thousands of feet underground that lies close to the hard and stressed rock that contains faults. The soaked limestone expands and gets heavier, and impacts these faults directly or indirectly, by nearby pressure.

Scientists are speaking out in Oklahoma and elsewhere, but many are unable to hear or deal with the implications of the dangers of fracking. The oil and gas wells bring money to Oklahoma, to corporate owners but also royalties to farmers and landholders and taxes to the state. The oil and gas industry gives millions to Oklahoma universities, a situation that may be an incredible conflict of interest for academic scientists and administrators. Another conflict of interest is that the oil and gas industries are major political contributors to Oklahoma legislators, and to all three elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees many regulatory aspects of fracking. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 jobs in Oklahoma are dependent on the oil and gas industry. It is not a good atmosphere in which to examine and act on data.

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Governor Mary Fallin has named a council to “exchange information” about the tremors.

Activists have been working in Oklahoma to point out the dangers of fracking, but Oklahoma law enforcement has come down hard. In a widely publicized case, activists protested fracking at Devon Energy headquarters in Oklahoma City, and two were charged for enacting a terrorism hoax after hanging two banners with glitter (That’s right! Could have been bioterrorism!) and two were arrested for trespassing.

The state of New York is listening a bit better.

New York state and Governor Cuomo’s administrations’s decision to ban fracking at the end of 2014 are a blueprint for scientists and activists to modify for their own towns and areas. New York was the first state with significant natural gas resources to ban fracking.

New York state under Governor Paterson had a virtual ban on fracking for 6 years while the state studied the health effects of fracking that were being brought up again and again. But communities, worried the state would give in to pressure from energy companies, used zoning laws to ban fracking: this was upheld by the Court of appeals in June, 2014.

When the decision to ban fracking was announced, Dr. Howard A Zucker, the acting state health commissioner, not only said his department had found insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking (itself an unusual decision in a business in which health dangers have to be proven before a ban would be issued), but that he would not want his family to live in a community in which fracking was taking place. His words as a scientist and a community member were quoted widely.

But none of the science would have been acted upon without the many members of activist groups who have been researching, educating, and protesting for the past 6 years. Some see this as a bad thing, a dilution of the science. For example, as described in “Fracking Movement Wins as NY Bans Fracking  in Popular Resistance, Tom Wilber, who writes Shell Gas Review  said, “Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don’t make these kind of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics + policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.”

Ecologist and activist Sandra Steingraber, speaking at a victory party after the inauguration of Governor Cuomo talked of the synergy between scientists and activists that was so effective. She described the 400+ peer reviewed scientific articles that documented the danger of fracking, and the citizen activism that brought the data to the public.

“First, you issued invitations to scientists to come into your communities—into your church basements, town halls, middle school gymnasiums, chambers of commerce, and Rotary Clubs. Thus, for a couple years running, some of us PhDs and MDs spent a lot of Friday nights and Sunday afternoons in one small town or another in upstate New York, giving Powerpoint presentations and laying out the data for audiences of common folks and town board members.

“Every church and town hall became a seminar. This cadre of traveling scientists and health professionals included Tony Ingraffea, Bob Howarth, Adam Law, Bill Podulka, Larysa Dyrszka, Kathy Nolan, Mary Menapace, Sheila Buskin, and Yuri Gorby, among many others.

The second way science was disseminated to and by the people was through the public comment process. Do you recall the 30 Days of Fracking “Regs? Remember those days? A few of us laid out the science like a trail of breadcrumbs, and you all followed. In these and other ways, we sent 204,000 well-informed, scientifically grounded comments to Albany. They spoke very loudly.

“Science alone is just a lot of black dots on white mathematical space. Like a musical score that sits on a shelf, it doesn’t become a song until someone picks up the score and sings it. And you sang it! You informed your friends and neighbors about the science and so pushed the needle on public opinion. You changed providence itself.”

Other states are trying to emulate the successful model of the New York State fracking ban. The model must be modified for each state- New York, for example, may not have the shale reserves of other states such as Oklahoma, and resistance by those who profit by the oil and gas industry might be more difficult in more oil-rich states. But it is a useful and inspiring model for scientist citizens.

A list of worldwide bans against fracking, as well as activist tools, can be found at “Keep Tap Water Safe.”  Not all countries are as hesitant as the US in acting on the dangers of fracking. France and Bulgaria have banned it,  as have Wales and Scotland , and Germany has signed off on a draft law to do so .

Of course, the bottom line is that fracking and conventional extraction methods must be sharply minimized, even if they weren’t immediate dangers. British scientists Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins recently published paper in Nature early this year that strongly suggested that 1/3 of the world’s oil reserves, and half of its gas reserves (as well as over 80% of the coal) must be left in the ground until 2050 to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting earth warming of 2 degrees Celsius.

It is vital that scientists who either investigate fracking, see the dangers of it through other’s data, or take part in citizen activism, do not accept the judgement of those who deem activism to be contrary to science. Scientists working as citizens with activists are powerful- and that is why criticism is so passionate.

Kathy Barker

April 23, 2015

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Update April 24, 2015

Yesterday, the USGA released its first comprehensive analysis of the link between oil and gas operations and thousands of earthquakes in the U.S. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/us-maps-areas-of-increased-earthquakes-from-human-activity.html?ref=topics ). 17 areas were identified in 9 states, and Oklahoma was determined to be the hardest hit. Interestingly, though fracking itself garners most of the press, it is the injection of water to dispose of the waste from drilling or production that is the greatest contributor to earthquakes.

2 days before the report was released to the public, the Oklahoma state government acknowledged the scientific data saying that wastewater disposal linked to oil and gas drilling was to blame for the hundreds-fold (!) increase in earthquakes there.

Update May 5, 2015

An analysis of drinking water from 3 homes in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, found  organic compounds used in shale gas development in wells. The PNAS paper, “Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development,” was published on May 4 by scientists from Penn State University, the Leco Corporation, and the Appalachia Hydrogeologic and Environmental Consulting, and used instrumentation not commonly available in commercial labs. This was not an anti-fracking paper: authors suggested that better analysis and management could prevent contamination of aquifers.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, research subjects, and lack of universal health care in the USA.

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The headline: “Research Partnership Will Seek Human Subjects for Cancer Work.” (Hartocollis, Anemone, The New York Times, Friday, April 3, 2015, p A16-17.)

The happy content: The basic researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on Long Island are collaborating with North Shore-L.I.J. to access human subjects. What’s not to like?

It is hard to say why this is a news article, as there are already many medical centers that combine basic and clinical research, including Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan. As the article points out, this is exciting especially for the CSHL scientists who are excited to be involved in work that is closer to achieving an actual cure in patients, and to be dealing with patients who are not necessarily white and affluent.

But perhaps it is that the patients are not affluent (translation- may not have health insurance) that this supposedly exciting news is disturbing. And the following sentence from the article says it all:

“Although the researchers will not know the identities of the patients who have given tissue samples, if a breakthrough discovery were made, it would be possible to retrace the identity of the donor and perhaps apply the new knowledge to that person’s treatment.”

This is not good enough. “Perhaps” is not good enough.

People donate their time and their health for the idea of cures, and generally will not receive any personal return. Altruism and wanting to make a difference are wonderful traits, and don’t need a reward. But this is happening in a system in which industries and personal fortunes and jobs are build on the basis of clinical trials, and in which many people do not have good health care. Really, do we want to make the most vulnerable- those sick and without the funds to explore experimental treatments- the only folks in the system who will see no benefit for their sacrifice?

Having a universal health care system where all folks receive health care is the start to ensuring all people will see the benefits of research. Patient information, which is now bought and sold and protected and hoarded as its analysis can potentially yield more insights than experimental manipulation, might also be more readily contributed if everyone had access to emergent treatments.

 

 

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Military recruiting at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention

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Military recruiting at the 2015 Experimental Biology convention.

Curiously placed among the “Publishers” in the Exhibition Hall at the 2015 Experimental Biology Convention in Boston was the Army Medical Recruiting table.

Military recruiters are ubiquitous in high schools (the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 section 9528 stated that military recruiters must be allowed in high schools and must be given student home contact information or the school could lose federal funding.) They are present in colleges and universities, where the targets’ brains are closer to maturity, and where  there is still occasionally protest about their presence.

During and for several decades after the Vietnam War, many scientists refused to take military money for research, but no dissent was shown at this conference. Most passing scientists didn’t seem to notice the table or the 2 soldiers staffing it. But really, how could they miss the incongruity of a gigantic photo of a soldier with gun among the books and journals?

The Army section that was recruiting was the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, in nearby Natick. Its mission is to “Provide solutions to optimize Warfighter health and performance through medical research,” and the vision is “Recognized by the Department of Defense as the trusted leader in medical research for Warfighter health and performance optimization.”

Many partners are listed, from military, universities, and companies. For some, helping with the US’s constant wars might be deliberate and idealogical, but money is probably the main motivator: over half of the discretionary US budget goes to war, even as the NIH and NSF budgets barely move. This ready money has blinded scientists to the implications of taking Department of Defense (DoD) money for their research.

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There are 4 research divisions in USARIEM, and glossy pamphlets were available for each: Biophysics & Biomedical Modeling, Military Nutrition, Military Performance, and Thermal & Mountain Medicine. From traumatic brain injury to improving soldier’s running styles (!), the projects range from the mundane to the tragic, with a presumptive trickle-down benefit to civilians. Or not- do civilians even matter, these days?

We need to think more about war, and science’s (and our own) place in that war. We might have a range of opinions, but we need to be thoughtful and deliberate about participation in something as devastating and all-encompassing as war.

 

 

 

 

 

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March is Brain Awareness month: Someone tell the legal and health systems.

Brain awareness

March in Brain Awareness Month, but this didn’t stop the March 2015 execution of Cecil Clayton, who became violent after the loss of 20% of his frontal lobe after an accident in 1974.

His personality changed immediately, and Clayton became depressed, violent, and paranoid. He sought medical care, but he was not helped, and his downward trajectory continued, culminating in the murder of a sheriff’s deputy in 1996. It was this delay of 20+ years between injury and murder that convinced a jury that brain injury could not explain his actions and could not protect him against a guilty verdict and execution.

The law lags far behind the understanding scientists have of the brain.

At the “Neuroscience and the Law” session at the 2012 AAAS meeting in Vancouver, with a panel and an audience of lawyers, scientists, and other civilians, the differences among the panel and audience became clear to me.

The non-scientists could not really conceive of a brain’s decision based entirely on neurons and other cells, somehow still seeing a black box of individualism, morality, and character that was separate from the rest of the brain and did not follow the same rules. The vestige of religion, and the belief that mankind is more than animal are challenged by the reality of how brains work.

Neurobiological evidence is being considered at sentencing, but the entire legal system would have to change to encompass the biology of behavior and crime. It would become clear that poverty or abuse or injury does not merely make one crabby, but changes the brain in a fundamental way. The system would have to redefine culpability and free will- and admit that there is no equality in the ways different people live and in the ways they think.

And then, there is war and the effect of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Neither is understood by the public, and the military minimizes the effect of TBI and PTSD on its people perhaps to maintain machismo, or prevent people from realizing another huge cost of war. There is no cure for PTSD, and the Army determined that each young vet with PTSD would cost about 1.5 million dollars over a lifetime. The response to this at Madigan Army Medical Center? 40 % of the PTSD diagnosis were reversed by Madigan health care workers after orders from above.

Ivan Lopez killed 3 other soldiers and wounded 12 at Fort Hood in 2014 . Even though he had been in a convey that was blasted by a roadside bomb in Iraq and said he suffered a TBI, the military said in an investigation that there was no proof  that or the PTSD that he was being evaluated for, or the anxiety and depression he was being treated for  had any part in the shooting.

One “success” (success in that knowledge is leading to change in policies) story in brain injury prevention has been the realization of the harm that repeated concussions cause in football players.

Over the past few years, increasing knowledge and awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) resulting from head injury has involved dozens of football players and multiple scientific teams, and many football players have donated their brains for research: 76 out of 79 brains donated by former National Football League (NFL) players have shown evidence of CTE. Within a year, 3 former football players who showed symptoms of CTE, killed themselves by shooting themselves in the chest rather than the head so research on their brains could save future players. This astounding and generous act i.

Machismo perhaps prevented earlier impact of brain research- as did the monetary interests of team owners. But once football players themselves starting going public with their stories and scientists with their research, awareness of CTE is now is changing regulations in high school and collegiate football as well as in the professional leagues.

In March 2015, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, age 24, became the most prominent football player to retire because of worry about CTE. Although he has no symptoms, Borland consulted with scientists, players, and family, and decided to be proactive and leave his lucrative career and save his life. His action, with the donations and activism of other players, will undoubtedly save more lives.

Talk about brains.

May 2015 update:

Awareness of the seriousness of concussions has spread, and other college athletes- including elite women soccer players– are stopping the game. Many of these students are speaking openly about the many months of recovery, and  huge effect on memory, focus, and emotional stability, that even one concussion can have.

 

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Teaching students about scientists’ role in helping fellow citizens: Science4society week in UK

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Announcing Science4society week 2015

Science4society week is a new collection of science education activities, designed to inspire young people. The project was set up to provide an alternative to activities funded by the arms and fossil fuel industries, such as ‘The Big Bang Fair’. Science4society week 2015 runs from 16th to 23rd March.

Media release, 6 March 2015

It is organised by Scientists for Global Responsibility, a UK membership organisation which promotes science, design and technology for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.

This year’s activities include:

  • Trips/tours. School children and university students will visit inspiring schemes, such as:
    • community-run renewable energy projects, including hydro, solar and biomass systems;
    • super-insulated eco-homes; and
    • innovative technology sharing schemes, such as cohousing and car clubs.
  • Interactive lessons on science, technology and ethics. Children will take part in an exciting range of classroom activities, including:
    • planning renewable energy schemes for an island community;
    • building model wind turbines; and
    • debating technology justice and science ethics.

Activities are designed to integrate with the national curriculum. They will take place in North England, as this is where SGR is based. In future years, more activities will take place further afield.

Co-ordinator of Science4society week, Dr Jan Maskell said, “There are many inspiring examples of science and technology being used to support environmental sustainability, social justice and peace, but mainstream education events often fail to include them. We aim to fill this gap, and also provide a space for debating what the ethical role of science and technology should be in our society.”

 http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/announcing-science4society-week-2015

Notes

1. More information about Science4society week can be found at: http://www.sgr.org.uk/projects/science4society-week

2. Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an independent membership organisation of about 900 natural and social scientists, engineers, IT professionals and architects. It was formed in 1992. SGR’s work is focused on several issues, including security and disarmament, climate change, sustainable energy, and who controls science and technology? For more information, see http://www.sgr.org.uk/

2. A summary of pilot activities in 2014 can be found at: http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/children-learn-about-green-technologies-and-eco-living

 

Update

Students get inspired by ethical science and technology

Dr Jan Maskell, SGR, summarises the activities of our first Science4Society Week, including school visits to community renewable energy projects and classroom debates.

ResponsibleSci blog, 27 March 2015

During Science4Society Week 2015, over 1000 students took part in a range of inspiring science education activities focusing on the positive contribution that science, design and technology can make to peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.

The Week was organised by SGR and, unlike many high-profile science education activities, it was not funded by any arms or fossil fuel corporations, just a group of charitable trusts.

Students from schools and university visited locations where they could see in action examples of community-run renewable energy projects, super-insulated eco-homes; and innovative sharing schemes, such as cohousing and car clubs. The activities took place in northern England.

‘It was wonderful that they could see practical applications for solar, biomass and hydro power’ said one teacher after a tour of sustainable energy projects in the area.

Young people also took part in interactive lessons and classroom activities about science, technology and ethics including: planning renewable energy schemes for an island community; building model wind turbines; and debating technology justice and science ethics. One teacher commented about the debate ‘I didn’t know what to expect – but they came up with some really good ideas!’ By gradually sharing different views, students changed their opinions about issues, showing the positive effects of discussion. Another teacher reflected ‘The activity worked really well – I wouldn’t change it’ about a practical, group problem solving activity which engaged students in considering options and making justifiable decisions.

A variety of resources are available on our website for teachers to download and use and all of the activities are designed to integrate with the national curriculum.

With continued support we will expand Science4Society week events and activities. We will run sessions for educators later in 2015 and develop more resources to share with them for 2016.

Dr Jan Maskell is Vice Chair of SGR and co-ordinator of Science4Society Week. She is a professional psychologist, with a PhD in education studies.

Issues: Climate change and energy, Who controls science and technology?
Types: ResponsibleSci blog

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