Category: Politics (page 1 of 3)

Worrisome Trends in Anti-Science Push Targeting School Children in the US

This morning I came across an unsettling BuzzFeed report by Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28 on Twitter) on how climate change denialism is being peddled to school teachers in the US.  Reports Zahra:

Teachers nationwide are being targeted in a campaign to spread bogus information about climate change…

Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute.

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Attrition through Intimidation, the New Immigration Policy Faced by Immigrant Professionals

This is not a space where I usually indulge in writing about politics per se, except whatever happens to impinge upon science policy, research funding and so forth. Scientists have long been accused of inhabiting a rarefied ivory tower, detached from any engagement with the general populace, but the portents are that the current political climate in the United States makes it imperative for science professionals to hang up their lab-coats and get more involved with the grand American political process in order to bring their educated, informed and expert perspectives to evidence-based, logically-consistent policy-making. Indeed, within the past couple of weeks, I can recall at least two instances of scientists feeling impelled to attempt joining the fray for this nation’s governance— NASA scientist Tracy Van Houten,  and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen —a most encouraging sign.

For me, however, the view of politics is a lot more fundamental than merely engaging in policy making. Political engagement is not ordinarily something I would have time to consider during my regular working hours as a research scientist. But as an immigrant to this land and person-of-color, I do believe that in certain situations, as the one we have reached in this nation, the whole existence of mine and people like me became inevitably political, a state in which remaining neutral for the sake of some esoteric neutrality is not possible without being a hypocrite. I simply no longer have the luxury of remaining blissfully unaware of the rapidly-changing circumstances around me, whose impact on the lives and livelihoods of my family, my friends and me is potentially grave. The most recent example of this blipped onto my radar a couple of hours ago, in form of a report in the Gothamist on the extreme immigration enforcement guidelines released today by the Department of Homeland Security, yes, the same department that is the supreme arbiter of my life and status as an immigrant/Permanent Resident in the United States.

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Ethical Qualifications for Forgiveness in Judaic Law: Thoughts from a Rabbi, with Mine

On the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (referred to in Israel as “Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah” or “Yom HaShoah” in short) —today, January 27— Yerachmiel Gorelik, a Rabbi and Philosopher of Traditional Judaism at the Colorado State University, has written a most thought-provoking essay on the complexities of the human action of forgiveness, usually considered to be an indicator of compassion and strong moral values, with a twist

Friday, Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – an annual day that honors the memories of the victims of the Nazi era. Seven decades after Hitler perpetrated his terrible genocide on the Jewish people, the world is faced with a disturbing question: Can the Nazis be forgiven?

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Urgent Help Requested By Belgian Scientists

My readers may remember a previous post detailing a crisis in animal-based research in Italy. Early this morning I received a note from the Basel Declaration Society alerting me to an urgent situation developing in Belgium. Scientific research with non-human primates appears to be in serious jeopardy in that nation, but it is hardly likely that the fallout from any anti-science policy prohibiting research will remain restricted to Belgium alone. Bioscientists from Belgium are asking for immediate help and support from the world science community; Prof Rufin Vogels, current President of the Belgian Society for Neuroscience, and his colleagues have formulated a petition to the Ministers of the EU and the members of the Belgian parliament. The Basel Declaration Society (to which I am a signatory) is supporting this petition; I am including the text of the petition. Please read it and consider signing.

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ASM Legislative Alert: Urge your Congress-member to end sequestration

US citizens amongst readers and well-wishers of this blog, here is an important legislative alert via the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), of which I am a member. I have shared previous legislative alerts with you – to inform you and enable your participation in this nation’s democratic processes, so that your voice reaches your elected representatives. This time is no different, and this is as crucial as before. I received it via email this morning (the emphasis on the links by bold-face is mine); please read and act.

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Temporary Reprieve: Can Kicked Down The Road

Back to work (Source Credit: www.freephotosbank.com/10083.html)

Image Credit: Free Photos Bank

So… It was done. Since late last night, the shutdown has been over, the government offices re-opened this morning, and Federal workers are back at work. The worked-out deal in its final form provides for appropriations at the current (post-sequester) spending levels for all Federal agencies through January 15, 2014 (which includes back pay to Federal workers who had been put on furlough), and extends the Treasury’s borrowing authority through February 7. The leaders of the legislative bodies have agreed to work towards a financial framework leading to subsequent tax and entitlement reform legislation. Meanwhile, economists have come up with a figure of US $24 billion as a cost of the 16-day shutdown kabuki theater, made up entirely of lost government productivity and revenue, and even then, the nation’s Legislative has simply kicked the can down the road, to the beginning of next year. We may very well find ourselves again in a similar mess come January or February, if broader reforms are not undertaken and if sequestration isn’t altered or repealed.

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Third Week Into US Government Shutdown: Wide-Ranging Local And Global Impact on Scientific Research

As the US government shutdown and the consequent budgetary stalemate rolls into its third week, I contemplate that I am, indeed, one of the fortunate ones – in that my work, in a private educational institution, does not depend directly upon the US Federal government, and therefore, has not been hampered to a significant extent, yet, although some collaborative work with an NIH division has been put on limbo. Many of my friends, some of whom work at the NIH, have not been so fortunate – just what I was so apprehensive about. Many of them have been put on furlough, which accounts for a whopping 73% of NIH employees. Some who were made provisionally ‘essential’, so that they could have time to wrap up their already-started work, have been under intense scrutiny, and are being rendered ‘non-essential’ (therefore, furloughed) as time passes. (Update: Read Sara Reardon‘s report in Nature News on how research work at the NIH is on the path of a slow decay, and how researchers are suffering in unexpected ways.)

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Italian Biomedical Scientists Petition EC Officials and Italian Politicians Protesting Extreme Restrictions on Animal Research

I have written earlier about the peril that Italian Biomedical research finds itself in, due to extreme, immoderate and unreasonable restrictions on animal experimentation that the Italian Parliament approved recently. Via a missive from the Basel Declaration society (Disclaimer: I am an individual signatory to and supporter of the Basel Declaration), I learnt this morning about a PETITION (in Italian, and in English) that several prominent Italian Biomedical Scientists have launched, directed at European Commission officials and copied to several relevant ministers in Italy.

I am including here the text of the English version of the petition. Please read, support and share it. The place to put your name, email, and optionally, location and degree, is to the right side of the petition text (see the petition page link above). The field-names are unfortunately written in Italian even in the English page, but they are not difficult to understand. Upon signing the petition, you’d receive an email with a validation link which you must remember to click in order for your signature to be registered.

Please stand with these scientists for the sake of not only saving Italian scientific research, but also maintaining the integrity and continuity of biological research as a whole throughout the world.

Dr. Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for the Environment
Directorate General for the Environment
European Commission
B-1049 Bruxelles
(janez.potocnik@ec.europa.eu)

Cc:

Dr. Susanna Louhimies
Policy Officer- Use of animals for scientific purposes
Directorate General for the Environment
Unit 3
European Commission
B- 1049 Bruxelles
(susanna.louhimies@ec.europa.eu)

Ccc:

Minister of Health of Italy
On. Beatrice Lorenzini
(segreteria.ministro@sanita.it)

Minister of EU Affairs of Italy
On. Enzo Moavero Milanesi
(seg.ministromoavero@governo.it)

Minister of the University and Scientific Research of Italy
On. Maria Chiara Carrozza
(segreteria.particolare.ministro@istruzione.it)


Subject: Implementation in Italy of EU Directive 63-2010 on the protection of animals used for scientific research in Italy. Art. 13, Law n. 96/2013.

Dear Dr. Potočnik:

We are writing to share our concerns on the criteria approved by the Italian Parliament concerning the implementation of the European Directive 2010/63 on the protection of laboratory animals in Italy.

As a scientific community we have approved and supported the decision to generate an harmonized approach shared by the whole Community.  The European discussion has lasted almost a decade and has led to a well-balanced compromise between the demands of animal welfare and the interests of research.

This well balanced compromise has been challenged by the Italian Parliament with
severe risks for the future of biomedical research in the country.

We ask you to help re-balance the discussion by warning the Italian Government that the Parliament has approved decisions is in violation of art. 2 of Directive EU 63-2010. If transformed into a legislative decree by the Government,  those decisions  will make the Italian law much more severe and restrictive than the EU Directive.

Specifically we ask you to convince the Italian Government to implement in Italy the EU Directive 63-2010 as the UE Parliament and Commission have licensed it. This will require the rejection of the Art. 13 of the national law of implementation of the EU Directives for 2013 (Legge di delegazione europea 2013, n. 96, published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale, Serie generale n. 194, 20/08/2013, into force since 04/09/2013).

The different paragraphs of art. 13 of the above mentioned law contains a severe limitation to the use of cats, dogs and non-human primates for basic research, limitations in the re-use of animals of any nature previously employed in procedures classified as of “moderate” severity, prohibition of research on non-anaesthetized animals, limitation in the use of genetically modified animals, a ban of animal experiments on xenotransplantation and drug addiction, a ban of animal breeding centers in the national territory.

We trust that the strict control and ethical review mechanisms proposed by the EU Directive are the most effective mechanisms to prevent unnecessary and unjustified pain and suffering for animals. The Italian scientific community is very supportive of this strict review process but opposes any total bans, as fully inappropriate to regulate the complexity of biomedical research, and liable to damage it severely without adding significant benefits to animal welfare.

In the interest of biomedical research in Italy, we ask you to follow our recommendations and help us obtain a new and well balanced Italian animal welfare legislation, in line with the European directive.

Yours sincerely,

Fabio BenfenatiProfessor of Physiology, University of Genova

Giovanni BerlucchiProfessor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Verona 

Roberto CaminitiProfessor of Physiology, University of Rome SAPIENZA, Chair, Committee of Animals in Research (CARE), Federation of the European Neuroscience Societies (FENS)

Enrico CherubiniProfessor of Physiology, SISSA, Trieste, President of the Italian Society of Neuroscience (SINS)

Francesco ClementiProfessor Emeritus of Pharmacology, University of Milan, and National Council of Research, Milan

Gaetano Di ChiaraProfessor of Pharmacology, University of Cagliari

Silvio GarattiniDirector, Institute for Pharmacological Research Mario Negri, Milan

Jacopo MeldolesiProfessor Emeritus of Pharmacology, University Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan, past President of the Italian Federation of Life Sciences

Giacomo RizzolattiProfessor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Parma

Carlo ReggianiProfessor of Physiology, University of Padua, President of the Italian Physiological Society

Piergiorgio StrataProfessor Emeritus of Physiology, University of Turin

NIH statement for the NIH Extramural Grantee Community during shutdown

On the heels of my previous post on the severe impact of the shutdown on US biomedical research community and the general populace, comes this statement from the NIH. I present it here in its entirety.

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Severe impact of the US government shutdown on biomedical research, health and welfare

I am not a citizen of the United States. I come from a country where political demonstrations against the government are commonplace, and work-strikes (called ‘bandh‘ in the vernacular, literally meaning ‘cessation’) organized by trade unions and/or political parties are an accepted means of protest. But it is completely inconceivable to me that in a democracy, the entire economy, the governance of the entire country is being held hostage by a small, vocal, well-funded minority, who did not like the outcome of the last popular mandate. To me, this action seems utterly irresponsible and undermining the whole democratic process. Anyway, I would not like to use this space to discuss politics as such, but I want to put on record what I have learnt of the impact this unseemly ‘government shutdown’ has on scientific research in the US.

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