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.
10/2/17 – The controversy that erupted when many professional football players protested during the national anthem is misguided, an opinion writer says in the New York Times, adding that “we need a public argument clearly tethered to the two big policy questions raised by police misconduct and the broader crime and incarceration debate.” Addressing these questions, he says, “could point to a stable policy consensus around race and criminal justice, in a way that our present ‘Make America Great Again’ versus ‘You’re All White Supremacists’ culture war does not.” Well, Issues has provided a start, offering a series of articles by criminal justice experts that examine ways to reduce incarceration rates while protecting public safety, help current prisoners re-enter society, and ease the particularly damaging effects of incarceration on communities of color.
9/27/17 – Though Australia has been active in space for decades, and was among the first countries to launch a satellite, it has never had a national space agency—until now. In announcing the new agency, an official said it would help the nation keep up with the “global space industry” that is “growing rapidly.” In Issues, an analyst recently surveyed the worldwide expansion of space activities by governments and private companies, adding a caution that the United States will need to adjust its policies to changing conditions.
9/26/17 – Congress is investigating Russia’s alleged use of social media to influence the 2016 US presidential campaign, and Facebook has handed over more than 3,000 ads believed to have played a role. Attacks on the United States using such “weaponized narratives” are likely to expand, a researcher who studies emerging technologies recently explained in Issues, as adversaries experiment with new ways to undermine the nation’s beliefs and values.
9/20/17 – Two new scientific achievements illustrate the wide-ranging potential of the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9: the first-ever manipulation of a key gene in human embryos that yielded fundamental insight into how single cells transform into complex babies, and the laboratory creation of colorful butterfly wings that may offer clues in evolutionary biology. The advances also suggest the array of social concerns accompanying the new technology, as covered recently by Issues in a series of articles.
9/19/17 – Three environmental groups are now suing the US government for delaying higher fines for automakers whose new vehicles don’t meet fuel economy standards. The delay seemingly aligns with federal plans to consider lowering the standards for the 2021-2025 model years. But two leaders of a major energy study maintain in Issues that fuel economy standards, combined with carefully crafted fuel taxes, represent the nation’s most practical bet for cutting energy use and funding infrastructure in the transportation sector.
9/17/17 – In a report on efforts in Maine to grow a classically hybridized and healthy strain of the blight-devastated American chestnut tree, a Portland-based newspaper also examines the prospects of genetically modified versions that carry a useful gene taken from wheat. In Issues, a philosopher considers the genetically modified candidates from her camp, concluding that public debates about their value will likely turn on both metaphysical and practical considerations.
9/12/17 – As Texas and the Southeast still reel from hurricane waters, the primary focus remains on meeting residents’ immediate needs. But from a broader perspective, an environmentalist has explained in Issues his hope that flood events can serve as a “teachable moment” that spurs people and governments in coastal communities to fundamentally rethink how they make local land-use decisions in the face of predicted rising sea levels. And at the website The Conversation, two experienced analysts offer a set of practical rules for designing infrastructure to better cope with extreme weather events.
9/8/17 – A major US investment bank reported recently that China will soon catch up with the United States in developing and applying artificial intelligence to drive economic progress. In Issues, a scholar at a leading Chinese university has suggested that his country’s recent and continuing progress in various areas of science and technology is linked strongly to the support of large numbers of government officials at all levels who have some form of technical education.
9/5/17 – A city official in San Francisco has called for a tax on robots that automate jobs and put people out of work, saying that “it’s important to think now about how people will earn a living as more U.S. jobs are lost to automation.” In Issues, an economic analyst surveyed the kinds of jobs that robots and information technology might fill over the next two decades, but noted that with careful planning humans can find ways of interacting with their automated creations to the benefit of workers and society alike.
9/5/17 – As floodwaters still plague Houston after Hurricane Harvey, two water-resource specialists say that a report on the Great Flood of 1993 in the upper Midwest showed policy makers how to mitigate or prevent severe flooding, but the advice went largely unheeded. In Issues, another pair of experts commenting five years after that report pointed out a host of actions still needed—many of them missing even today—and stressed that the key would be adopting a more informed kind of flood management that involves working with the forces of nature instead of simply trying to eliminate them.
9/3/17 – To meaningfully reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States, more attention should be paid to paroling inmates convicted of violent crimes “who may have been dangerous in the past” but “are no longer a threat to public safety,” a criminal justice scholar argues in the Atlantic. Two expert analysts recently made a similar case in Issues as part of their analysis of mass incarceration and what states have learned about reforming the correctional and judicial systems.
9/1/17 – Recent conflicts in the United States stirred by extreme right-wing protestors have been featured on social media recently as a Russia-based network cranked out alarmism and disinformation, according to a group that monitors such messages. In Issues, a scholar of emerging technologies says use of “weaponized narratives” is increasingly common, providing an ideal asymmetric strategy for adversaries to attack US beliefs and values that support the nation’s culture and resiliency.
8/25/17 – Even as negotiators have barely started talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Trump declared at a recent rally in Arizona that he doubted the United States can reach a deal with Mexico and Canada. But in Issues, an expert on international economics has argued that NAFTA has been a boon for US industry, and by making some proposed improvements and expansions, the three partners can even increase their competitiveness in world markets.
8/24/17 – Two leading entrepreneurs are among investors backing a California-based start-up company that plans to make and sell meat on an industrial scale from self-producing animal cells, eliminating the need to raise and slaughter livestock or poultry. Looking toward such commercialization, two specialists in sustainable engineering explored in Issues how factory-grown meat “might transform our food system, the environment, and even our culture.”
8/22/17 – In a recent examination in Issues of whether artificial intelligence should be regulated, a technologist and a social scientist argued that the case for regulation is clear in one specific area: the development of autonomous weapons that employ AI to decide when to fire, how much force to apply, and on what targets. Now, leaders of AI companies worldwide have sent an open letter to the United Nations urging quick action “to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.”