1/22/18 – The social media giant Twitter just disclosed thousands of accounts associated with the Russian government and a Kremlin-linked troll farm that collectively posted more than a million misleading messages preceding the 2016 US elections, adding that “such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere.” In Issues, a scholar who studies the ethical and social dimensions of emerging technologies recently offered a detailed analysis of such “weaponized narratives,” including how they are used, what factors are catalyzing their spread, and how they might be resisted.
1/20/18 – Voluminous data in two new federal reports suggest that China has become—or is on the verge of becoming—a scientific and technical superpower, says the economics columnist for the Washington Post. In Issues, a scholar at one of China’s leading universities recently provided something of an insider’s look at what may be fueling his country’s gains, and in particular how the scientific and technical background of many of its leaders plays a major role in their exercise of political power.
12/20/17 – Once tipped for elimination, federal income tax credits for buying electric vehicles (EVs) still remain under the newly adopted tax overhaul. But even if credits help put more EVs on the road, other policy and technology advances, described recently by an energy analyst in Issues, will be required to capitalize on their potential for offsetting the climate-changing effects of carbon emissions from the transport sector.
12/19/17 – Among registered Republicans nationwide, only about half say that climate change is happening and fewer than a third say humans are responsible, yet a majority in every congressional district say they support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, according to a new study. In such context, a trio of analysts has presented in Issues a broad portfolio of technology options that could appeal to people of all political stripes, while a conservative scholar has explained what his camp would consider acceptable new climate policies and actions.
12/17/17 – Pregnant women living near an oil or natural gas “fracking” well were more likely to give birth to worryingly small babies than were women living farther away, says a new study described here. In Issues, a team of analysts earlier expressed concern that the public lacks credible information on potential public health and environmental effects of fracking, calling on states to require independent monitoring of air and water quality near all wells and to make the information available so local communities can better participate in managing risks.
12/13/17 – California recently announced that it is studying ways to move from its conventional fuel tax that drivers pay at the pump to a system in which drivers will pay based on how many miles they drove since their last fill-up. This represents a type of vehicle mileage tax that an energy analyst recommended in Issues as a fair and adaptable way to fund highway needs as electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles become increasingly common.
12/9/17 – States and municipalities can significantly aid public heath by working around reluctant federal agencies to establish programs to help smokers reduce the harm they face from cigarettes by switching to e-cigarettes, or vaping, a health behavior expert recently suggested in Issues. In fact, the New York Times reports that more smokers now try to quit by using vaping rather than conventional nicotine-replacement methods, and the idea is even catching on among older smokers who have a greater need to quit but have often been resistant to other options.
12/6/17 – Recent years have seen a steady merging of efforts to deal with crime and immigration—dubbed by some scholars “crimmigration”—and in Issues a leading sociologist has examined the ill effects this has had on the nation. From another perspective, the police chief in Tucson, Arizona, recently wrote in the New York Times that the Trump administration’s “crackdown on immigrants is having a chilling effect on police-community relations” that threatens to “compromise public safety by reducing community confidence in law enforcement.”
12/4/17 – There is significant opportunity to expand apprenticeships in the United States, a new report finds, as the number of occupations commonly filled via apprenticeships could be nearly tripled and the number of job openings covered by this approach could be multiplied eightfold. Issues has also examined the potential of apprenticeships and ways to expand them to help students not bound for college gain skills that will enable them to enjoy satisfying and financially rewarding employment.
12/2/17 – Over the next dozen or so years, automation will force roughly a third of workers in the United States to find other ways to make money, a new study reports. In an earlier take on the automated future, an economic analyst described in Issues the kinds of jobs that robots and information technology might fill over a similar period, concluding that the nation will need to make careful and immediate adjustments to cope with expected disruptions in labor markets.
11/27/17 – The United Nations recently held its first official discussions on how to prevent the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons that can identify and destroy targets without human control. But critics dinged the pace of progress, warning that a “killer robot” arms race is already under way. In Issues, two analysts have approached this matter from a broader perspective, looking at whether and how any devices that rely fundamentally on artificial intelligence should be regulated, and they cited AI-aided lethal weapons as the obvious and most critical place to begin.
11/25/17 – Black men are sentenced to far more time in prison than white men for committing similar crimes, says a new report from an independent agency of the US judicial branch, and racial disparities in sentencing appear to have increased over the past two decades. The findings seemingly align with observations that people of color are overrepresented in US prisons and jails, as a sociologist and a former judge recently explained in Issues, and that mass incarceration disproportionally hurts communities of color in a variety of ways.
11/19/17 – Despite its stated goal of dramatically reducing carbon emissions by aggressively pursing clean energy technologies and phasing out fossil fuels, Germany is still burning lots of an especially dirty form of coal and is likely to badly miss its upcoming emission-reduction targets. In Issues, a renewable energy expert who worked as a manager at a large German utility group recently took an in-depth look at the problems Germany has encountered in moving to a clean and affordable energy system and offered lessons that other nations can learn from its experiences.
10/18/17 – As one of a number of companies looking to provide fast and affordable access to space, Boeing is developing a “spaceplane” called the Phantom Express to carry satellites routinely into orbit while operating much like its passenger jet cousins. Indeed, Issues recently examined the increasing role of private companies in space activities and how the US government will need to adjust its space programs and policies to capitalize on shifting opportunities.
11/16/17 – One idea for cooling the atmosphere and curbing climate change is to “brighten” marine clouds by seeding them with saltwater, thereby increasing their ability to reflect solar rays. Indeed, federal policy-makers recently examined how government might play a role in advancing the research. And from another perspective, a professor working on this technology joined with two professors of ethics and religion to suggest in Issues that researchers of climate engineering should be chosen not only for their technical skills but also for their moral habits of character.
11/14/17 – A congressional subcommittee recently held hearings on the potential of geoengineering to keep climate change in check. But two dozen prominent thinkers in the field cautioned in a letter to the lawmakers that though this approach may hold promise, “Any consideration of a federally funded and coordinated research program into geoengineering must be in the context of a strategic portfolio of responses to climate change, which leads with climate science, mitigation and adaptation.” Two of the letter’s signers have also argued this case here and here in Issues.
11/7/17 – Contrary to statements by President Trump and many of his advisers, the global climate has warmed considerably over the past century and it is “extremely likely” than human activities are the “dominant cause,” according to a major new report. But even as wrangling continues, there are practical climate-related policy and technology options available, described in Issues here and here, that could appeal to government officials and private citizens all along the political spectrum.
11/2/17 – The Trump administration is reportedly considering raising federal motor fuel taxes, perhaps by seven cents per gallon, to pay for its infrastructure investment plan. But a sustainable-energy analyst recently argued in Issues that it would be better to institute a tax based on vehicle miles traveled, which would more accurately track with vehicle-caused road damage and offer a wider range of options for navigating the looming revolutions of electric, autonomous, and shared vehicles.
11/1/17 – The increasing span of social media is raising dramatically the ability of adversaries of the United States to spread “weaponized narratives” aimed at undermining public faith in the nation’s culture and institutions, a scholar who studies the ethical and social dimensions of emerging technologies recently observed in Issues. Now comes new data on just how big this has become, with Facebook telling Congress that Russia-linked divisive posts about the 2016 presidential election may have reached 126 million people and Twitter saying that Russia-generated tweets reached 288 million people.
10/31/17 – The US government should mount a comprehensive effort to study the ocean on a sustained basis over 10 years to gain information essential for monitoring and forecasting changes in Earth’s climate, says a new report from an influential science advisory group. In the same spirit, a policy analyst has argued in Issues for paying added attention to the ocean and its role in a variety of national concerns, recommending that the job be assigned to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which would be greatly expanded using funds redirected from NASA.
10/30/17 – Scientists in China have now used the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas 9 to produce pigs that can better regulate their body temperatures by burning fat, resulting in leaner animals that can survive better in cold weather. But in a cautionary note, two researchers argued recently in Issues that society should not focus narrowly on the “pursuit of our scientific capacity to engineer animals for consumption,” but should also address the “ethical challenges of our relationships with animals,” recognizing that “far from being merely editable genetic material and edible flesh, they are also living individuals that merit our serious moral consideration.”
10/29/17 – In a bid to catalyze new high-tech companies, Canada is now marketing itself as more welcoming than the United States for skilled foreign workers looking to set up shop. Issues has examined this international action from various angles, exploring the outsized role of immigrants as entrepreneurs and inventors in the United States and detailing how the US government can reform its visa and immigration policies to capitalize on the talents of foreign scientists and engineers while remaining fair for native-born students and workers.
10/19/17 – The reward system in biomedical research can lead scientists to overlook potential biases—often unconscious—and fool themselves into believing a study’s splashy but flawed findings, a longtime science reporter recently argued in Issues, adding that such distorted studies “pervade the biomedical literature” and contribute to what’s become known as the “reproducibility crisis.” Extending this analysis, a scholar who works at the intersection of machine learning and computational linguistics says the best way around the reproducibility problem to scrap the current focus on the statistical significance of individual studies and instead pursue science in a way that “explicitly recognizes its communal and interconnected nature.”
10/17/17 – Two former high-ranking officials in the United States and Mexico recently argued for keeping—and strengthening—the North American Free Trade Agreement, which may be edging toward collapse, saying it has boosted the US economy and transformed the three-nation region into a global powerhouse. A trade policy expert made this case earlier in Issues, while proposing some updates to make NAFTA work even better as the partners engage world markets.
10/14/17 – As part of its drive to overturn the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency recently released significantly lower estimates of the so-called social cost of carbon dioxide, a measure widely used to weigh the value of actions aimed at stopping climate change. Arguments about the numbers ensued. But in Issues, analysts have identified a more fundamental problem—the social cost of carbon dioxide is the wrong guide to follow—and they proposed an alternative method that better reflects what is known about long-term effects of climate change and how these effects should be valued by today’s decision-makers.
10/12/17 – If every cigarette smoker switched to using e-cigarettes, the result would be “tremendous health benefits” and a “significant gain in years of life,” according to a new study said to be the first to examine the health outcomes of such a switch. The findings align with an idea proposed in Issues that states should “move immediately and decisively beyond the serious limitations of federal tobacco law” and launch programs to test vaping and other tobacco alternatives as ways to reduce overall smoking rates.
10/11/17 – Raising livestock in large numbers for food is an ethical failing and environmental disaster, a columnist recently argued in the Guardian, a British newspaper, adding that the solution will come “only with the advent of cheap artificial meat.” With such a day in mind, two Arizona-based analysts have said in Issues that society should start thinking about “adaptive and responsible policy and institutional responses to the unpredictable and far-reaching social consequences of a transition to the production and consumption of factory-grown meat.”
10/9/17 – The steady increase in measles outbreaks in the United States is most likely due to people who choose not to vaccinate their children, a major new government study has found. But increasing vaccination rates will not be achieved “simply by pointing to the scientific evidence that vaccines are safe and effective,” a philosopher of science said recently in Issues, explaining that “science” must often compete with deeper political and philosophical matters, such as varying perceptions of risk and the role of expertise in a democracy.
10/8/17 – A thick bloom of algae now covers a huge area of western Lake Erie, nourished by nutrients running off of agricultural and urban lands, and such algal explosions are projected to become increasingly common in waterways across much of the United States. In Issues, three researchers have presented a range of options for restricting nutrient runoff, not only to protect the environment but to help rein in climate change.
10/3/17 – General Motors “believes in an all-electric future,” an official said in announcing plans to greatly expand its lineup of electric vehicles, and Ford said it plans to do likewise. But to fully capitalize on the potential of electric vehicles for reducing climate-altering carbon emissions from the transport sector, an analyst recently explained in Issues, new investments are needed in large-scale electricity storage and new public policies are needed to encourage recharging when renewable energy sources are providing the power.