6/5/18 – Coal is in the news for reasons seemingly at odds. In Issues recently, a longtime analyst showed that coal has declined as an energy source over the past century primarily because of technology innovation, social forces, and price decreases of other forms of energy. Yet the Trump administration has announced plans to stop the closure of struggling coal mines putatively to protect national security, while also cutting the tax that coal companies pay to help miners with the deadly disease black lung, even as new research reveals that more miners have the disease than previously thought.
6/4/18 – Immigrants outpace US residents in forming new start-up companies, especially in technical fields, as observers have documented in Issues (here) and elsewhere (here). But in what some groups see as a shortsighted move (here and here), the Trump administration wants to end an Obama-era program that lets young foreign entrepreneurs remain in the United States for up to five years to manage start-ups they had created. More promising, some experts argue, would be to streamline the federal system for bringing in immigrants with technological and entrepreneurial prowess, and Issues has explored ways to make this happen.
6/1/18 – In a challenge to her political party, a young conservative says that addressing environmental challenges, including climate change, must become a priority. But, she adds, solutions will require “trusting businesses to do what is best for their bottom line and for the ecosystem without government intervention.” In this vein, a scholar of conservative thought has broadly examined in Issues why “conservatives are critical of policy-relevant science in climate and other domains,” and he said that if solutions are to be realized, “they must be compatible with individual liberty and democratic institutions, and cannot rely on coercive or unaccountable bureaucratic administration.”
5/25/18 – Universal conscription—the draft—ended 45 years ago, and NPR is marking the milestone with a new series on the shift to an all-volunteer military. In Issues, two analysts have taken an even deeper look, concluding with a call for return of the draft. “Our thesis is simple,” they said. “We believe it is neither socially nor technically advisable to rely on a progressively smaller group of specialists, increasingly separate from the rest of society, to provide the collective defense, nor does having such a small elite control the tools of modern, automated, and computerized war comply with democratic principles.”
5/24/18 – After examining progress in growing meat in the laboratory, two environmental scholars argued in Issues that it is time to “start thinking about how factory-grown meat might transform our food system, the environment, and even our culture.” Well, thinking has started—and is getting a bit contentious. Missouri may soon become the first state to legally define what “meat” is or is not, and proponents and critics are arguing over whether the legislation will protect food integrity and reduce consumer confusion or thwart an emerging industry that can provide healthier, more humane, and environmentally sustainable food products.
5/23/18 – US residents are losing some confidence in the value and safety of vaccinations for measles and other diseases, according to a new survey, with 70% now saying vaccines are very important, down from 80% a decade ago. Why a decline? In Issues, a philosopher and data analyst recently noted that opinions about vaccines don’t depend solely on scientific evidence, but also reflect deepening social disagreements about the nature of risk and the role of experts.
5/23/18 – Current fears of a “reproducibility crisis” in research are shortsighted, a quartet of scientists and philosophers say, because a key part of scientific inquiry is in fact the integration of conflicting observations and ideas into a coherent theory. But even as failures may lead to success, a longtime science reporter recently argued in Issues that an increasing amount of “poor-quality” biomedical science is amplifying reproducibility problems, and he offered suggestions for reducing built-in pressures on researchers that are having a corrosive effect on output from scientific labs.
5/17/18 – With this year’s US hurricane season approaching and damage from last year’s storms still vivid, the nation has “not fixed the underlying major problem, which is an utterly nonresilient infrastructure that at the end of the day will determine how much suffering there is after a large storm,” says an expert on disaster preparedness. On this front, three researchers recently noted in Issues that social, ecological, technical, and institutional issues often seem to set up infrastructure for failure, and they proposed an integrated and systemic approach for building and maintaining systems that will be more resilient.
5/17/18 – In arguing that college may no longer be worth it for many students, a Boston-based professor says many jobs don’t really require a college degree. So “why do employers demand a degree for jobs that don’t require them?” she asks. “Because they can.” In Issues, a longtime workforce scholar recently foreshadowed this assessment, and he proposed policy changes that would help provide everyone with “opportunities to learn and to advance in accord with their wishes and motivations without sacrificing already meager paychecks.”
5/15/18 – The Open Government Partnership, created to bring citizens and governments closer in policy-making, just released a new “toolkit” that details best practices and action plans proven to work in projects around the world and explains how other groups can use the lessons in pursing open government reforms. In Issues, a self-described “change maker and engineer” recently offered a view from the trenches at ways, including expanding public participation, to scale up policy innovations in federal government.
5/12/18 – Negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement have reportedly hit a snag that may make it impossible to reach agreement on a new deal by a fast-approaching deadline for gaining approval from the US Congress. But in a broader look behind the scenes, an economic analyst has argued in Issues that the three partners, who are already well served by the agreement, could gain even greater benefit by acting as a regional partnership to jointly engage the global community on a range of trade issues.
5/11/18 – An Arizona-based scholar of emerging technologies recently described in Issues what he called weaponized narratives, or the use of communication tools and services to spread stories intended to undermine an adversary’s resiliency. Even as he saw the United States being particularly vulnerable, the threat has now reached into Mexico, with a variety of false messages flooding both mainstream and social media in advance of the country’s upcoming presidential election.
5/9/18 – Months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, some rural areas of the island still lack electricity, and even restored sections of the power grid face regular outages. Such disruptions of basic infrastructure by extreme weather events are likely to become more common with climate change, a trio of analysts recently noted in Issues, and they proposed some technological and policy innovations for designing, building, and maintaining energy and other critical infrastructure systems that will be more resilient to future challenges.
5/7/18 – Recent accidents involving self-driving cars have rekindled debate about regulating their use and prompted one state to require companies testing them to more fully report glitches that occur. In Issues, an analyst who focuses on governance of emerging technologies recently took a deep look at how self-driving cars may change the world in ways both anticipated and unexpected, and he proposed that any new rules should be flexible while ensuring that the vehicles are safe, broadly accessible, and avoid problematic unintended consequences.
5/5/18 – The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency recently told a New York radio show that he planned to end what he called the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” declaring that the government should not use its regulatory power to pick “winners and losers” in the energy industry. But in Issues, the head a major consulting firm recently explained coal’s decline as an energy source over the past century, tracing it to technological and social changes rather than to political factors, let alone a presumptive war on coal.
4/30/18 – Entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates says the US government needs to develop an overarching strategy and new tools to prepare the nation and the world for the “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.” One challenge will be counteracting the misinformed texts, tweets, e-mails, blogs, and videos that will run rampant, another technology innovator recently explained in Issues, calling for the creation of a volunteer corps of scientists and communicators who can quickly provide accurate, clear, and credible information to the public.
4/25/18 – Around the globe—except in the United States—climate change is a nonpartisan issue even among conservatives, says a video report in the New York Times. And as Issues has presented, even as US political waters roil there are a number of ways to address climate change that could find political and public support across the ideological spectrum, including some specific ideas that reflect core conservative convictions.
4/24/18 – Not long ago in Issues, a space analyst described how private industry was moving increasingly into the space business, adding that the shift would require the US government to adjust its space programs and policies accordingly. Well, that trend is only gaining altitude, says a report in the Washington Post, as an expanding roster of companies are building rockets to carry satellites—and people—into orbit or beyond.
2/26/18 – Three signals recently sounded for the coal industry, according to an opinion article in the New York Times, with all of them suggesting that coal-fired power in the United States is in trouble and likely won’t be making a significant comeback. In Issues, an experienced environmental consultant has laid out a timeline of coal’s decline as an energy source over the past century, tracing it to technological and social changes rather than to what conservative critics have called a political “war on coal.”
2/23/18 – Migratory herds of animals, the lifeblood of many landscapes in the western United States, face increasing perils, says a researcher who tracks them, but in a ray of hope, government and private groups have proposed a variety of creative ways to help these wanderers. In an earlier analysis in Issues, a specialist in the conservation of biodiversity took a global look at threats to animal migrations, calling for international action to sustain these inspiring natural wonders.
2/20/18 – In Issues recently, a scholar who studies the ethical and social dimensions of emerging technologies laid out the ways that nations and groups can use “weaponized narratives” to undermine the common values and beliefs of their adversaries. Now, the concept has struck home, with the US Justice Department indicting a group of Russian individuals and companies for conducting a long-running internet scheme to criminally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and details emerging about how the “troll factory” seamlessly insinuated its workers into the US political conversation.
2/15/18 – President Trump just called for lawmakers to raise the federal fuel tax to help pay for the nation’s roads and bridges, but the proposal met fierce opposition and its fate remains uncertain. There may be a better mousetrap anyway. In Issues, an engineer who studies technological adaptation recently proposed shifting to a vehicle mileage tax, calling it a fair and adaptable way to fund highway needs in the face of coming dramatic changes in the vehicles that people drive and how they use them.
2/14/18 – The Trump administration just announced its long-awaited infrastructure plan, which is light on federal spending and heavy on expected investments from the private sector. But in Issues, two scholars recently detailed how private investors in past efforts to deploy three major types of infrastructure—railroads, electricity, and the internet—initially targeted communities that were already well off. Matters were set aright only by “citizen activism that demanded fairer treatment for average Americans,” they said, adding a call for new policies that “recognize the public benefits of infrastructure and seek to level the playing field for underserved areas.”
2/13/18 – Arrests of immigrants in the United States surged by 40% during the past fiscal year, with the biggest jump occurring among immigrants who had committed no crime other than being in the country illegally. This marks one of many ways that government has defined millions of people as being “outside of civil society,” a leading sociologist recently noted in Issues, adding that “We need to think about whether that is something we want our laws to do…and whether there might be a better way of thinking about the human rights of people and the right to social inclusion.”
2/9/18 – The United States is at a “tipping point” with its fading nuclear power sector, a federal official told a US congressional committee, adding that its future will depend on developing advanced reactors that are cheaper to build and safer to operate. Issues has recently taken several deep dives into these waters, with experts offering an even fuller roadmap for how to revitalize nuclear energy and explaining why it would be a strategic mistake for the nation to abandon its leadership in this important technology market to international competitors who are actively pushing ahead.
2/8/18 – The US Department of Housing and Urban Development just announced that states receiving federal funding for recovery following last year’s three major hurricanes must take into account projected rises in sea level when building in flood-prone areas. The rule aligns with proposals offered recently in Issues as analysts detailed why the nation needs to rethink its infrastructure—the technical components as well as the varied systems for managing them—in the face of climate change and what actions will help ensure resilience.
2/7/18 – As a symbol of the private sector venturing into the space business, little might rise higher than Falcon Heavy, the giant rocket built and test-launched recently by SpaceX, a company owned by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, and carrying as payload a red electric sports car from another Musk company, Tesla. But this is just one example of an emerging trend. A space analyst recently noted in Issues that with more businesses—and more countries—expanding their activities, the United States, long the dominant player, will need to reshape its space agencies and policies beyond their conventional boundaries.
2/6/18 – Mass incarceration in the United States is a public health scourge that hits not only those locked up but also their family members and even the workers in detention settings, says a new review. In Issues, two correctional experts also recently examined the status of health care in prisons and jails, offering a set of policy recommendations that would benefit inmates, their home communities, and the nation at large.
2/1/18 – As the flu continues to spread, false reports have also marched across the internet, including claims that a government doctor linked the epidemic to the flu vaccine itself. Indeed, an innovator in digital networks recently suggested in Issues that coping with major disease outbreaks will likely be complicated by misinformation magnified through the explosion of unfiltered channels of communication, and he called for assembling a global volunteer corps of scientists and communicators who can respond quickly and precisely to social and scientific challenges that arise during health emergencies.
1/29/18 – Reflecting on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a New York Times columnist declared that the most interesting participants were the entrepreneurs striving to use technology and other tools of business to address social problems. In Issues, a leading social thinker recently offered an even broader perspective, suggesting that society most needs technologies that will help shift “the focus of our actions from seeking ever-greater wealth to investing more of our time and resources in social lives, public action, and spiritual and intellectual activities.”