News Updates

New Push in Criminal Justice


11/23/15 – The governor of Connecticut has proposed extending protections of the juvenile justice system to some slightly older offenders as well, arguing that this would divert them from an adult criminal justice system that may only make them more likely to re-offend. Several articles in Issues may offer varied lines of support, reviewing scientific evidence on adolescent brain development and on the expansion and effects of mass incarceration.



Lessons on Incarceration


11/21/15 – As part of a series on incarceration in the United States, Issues recently examined evidence-based ways to reduce the number of people imprisoned and to prepare inmates to reenter society. Within this context, the Urban Institute has published an online tool “designed to highlight the unique drivers of the federal prison population and the types of policy changes that will be necessary to reduce [that] population.” And on a more personal level, this video lets former felons tell how one city program is helping them to find productive jobs and protect their health.



Economics as Climate Aid


11/19/15 – Political leaders in the United States and Europe seem to differ about whether any agreement resulting from the upcoming United Nations meeting on climate change would be legally binding or simply a statement of what participating countries think they can do. To avoid such international wrangling and other problems, a leading economist has proposed in Issues that smaller groups of countries might jointly adopt binding economic measures aimed at limiting emissions of atmosphere-warming carbon gases from within their regions and beyond.



Changing Climate Winds


11/19/15 – One science watcher is seeing “fantastic news” in how some Republicans are viewing climate challenges, with separate groups of federal legislators declaring intentions to “protect our environment and climate while also bolstering clean energy innovation” and to be “good stewards of our environment…and base our policy decisions in science.” In Issues, a scholar of conservative policy has looked at areas where action on climate measures might win favor, while an energy analyst has proposed combining climate policies drawn from across the political spectrum.



Facing and Fixing Visa Flaws

11/18/15 – Global outsourcing companies are increasingly gaming the U.S. visa system so they can use their own foreign employees to take over technical work for U.S. businesses, often forcing domestic workers out of their jobs, says a report in the New York Times. In Issues, a leading policy analyst has examined the nation’s visa and immigration programs for scientists and engineers on a broad scale and proposed comprehensive improvements, including cutting visas to firms that pull skilled jobs offshore.

You and Your App-etite


11/16/15 – In a rumination on his personal relationship with his smartphone, a researcher who uses the device as a fitness coach observed in Issues that, among other things, people will be most likely to trust their devices with personal data if they are given clear, transparent choices about how the data will and will not be used. Now, a massive new study seconds this notion, while also providing a trove of other information on how people use the myriad “apps” available on their smartphones.


Incarceration: What’s Wrong, How to Fix It


11/10/15 – The nation’s prisoner population is falling slightly, but there is far to go, according to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice. In a series of articles that draw on a report from the National Academies, Issues has examined incarceration from various angles, including how to reduce incarceration rates, help those already in the criminal justice system reenter society, address the impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, and improve health care provided by prisons and jails.




Spending NIH Funding Wisely


11/10/15 – With the recent lifting of budget caps on federal government spending, hopes are rising for an increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. In Issues, an experienced observer of medical policy has offered suggestions on how the agency can get the most bang for its bucks, including by linking its goals of creating and disseminating knowledge with sharper attention on the role of research in boosting economic growth.


Scientists Speaking Out


11/3/15 – The United States “needs more scientists who are willing and able to step out in the public arena and to weigh in, clearly and strongly,” the president of a leading research university system argued recently, citing several successes. In Issues, a communications specialist sharpens this point, laying out how scientists can best communicate their findings to policymakers, including by highlighting evidence and options that can appeal to opposing ideologies.


Planning Beyond Sandy


11/2/15 – Following Hurricane Sandy, a multidisciplinary team developed a “decision tool” to aid recovery efforts, and in Issues a strategic planner involved in the project described lessons learned and called on the nation to shift from its tendency to react to natural disasters and instead to prepare for them. This message is amplified in a new report, described here by a former head of federal emergency management that proposes a national mitigation investment strategy to ensure that future generations are better prepared for the next disaster.




Climate Fight Clubs


10/30/15 – This year is on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, easily beating out 2014 and possibly signaling a return to a sustained period of rapid global warming. As many observers look to international voluntary limits on carbon emissions that drive atmospheric warming, a leading economist suggests in Issues that groups of countries might better form “climate clubs” that promote reductions by setting uniform prices on emitted carbon and penalizing nonparticipating countries through tariffs on goods they hope to export to member nations.



New Focus on Fusion

10/29/15 – A number of young companies are working to fulfill the promise of nuclear fusion, believing that they can succeed where government has fallen short. In Issues, the researcher who once headed the U.S. fusion program has indeed argued that the current approach being pursued jointly by several nations is a technological dead end, and he laid out lessons from the experience that should guide others pursuing alternative routes.



Recipe for Lab-Grown Meat


10/13/15 – At a recent conference in the middle of beef country, the head of a nonprofit group focused on the future of biotechnology in food production described what she called the “post-animal bioeconomy,” with laboratory-grown meat on the menu. In Issues, two Arizona specialists in sustainable engineering have earlier suggested that it is time to “start thinking about how factory-grown meat might transform our food system, the environment, and even our culture.” Check here to see just how meat is grown in the lab.




Juvenile Lifers and Neuroscience


10/10/15 – Five counties nationwide account for a quarter of all individuals sentenced as juveniles to life without parole, according to a report released just before the U.S. Supreme Court began examining whether to extend its ban on such sentences to retroactively cover those already incarcerated. One argument often cited for such a change: As detailed in Issues by a pioneering neuroscientist, young brains are not fully formed and thus juveniles may not be fully capable of assessing the risks and consequences of their actions. Check here for an update on opening oral arguments at the court.




Promoting College Togetherness


10/10/15 – Two respected educators have argued in Issues that higher education can be most effective by adopting “blended learning” that captures the best of online and face-to-face instruction. Extending this idea, David Brooks of the New York Times suggests that as technology makes the transmission of information “a commodity,” colleges should emphasize those things that require physical proximity, including moral and spiritual development, declaring: “Very few of us cultivate our souls as hermits. We do it through small groups and relationships and in social contexts.”



Shifting Gears for Saving Species


10/7/15 – In a significant shift detailed in the New York Times, many environmentalists are now arguing that conservation must work on a larger scale, focusing not on preserving single species in small islands of wilderness but on large landscapes and entire ecosystems, and on the benefits that nature provides to humans. Issues has provided the backstory, introducing some of the key players and their roles in this battle for the soul of conservation science.



Share Water, Avoid Conflict

10/5/15 – On the Blue Nile, construction is under way on a huge dam intended to guarantee water to the three countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan—that are supporting the project. Such cooperation, an observer of environmental politics has said in Issues, is just what will be needed to overcome future conflicts over water in numerous regions, especially in international river basins.

GOP Acclimating to Change


10/2/15 – A majority of Republicans, including 54% of self-described conservatives, believe that the world’s climate is changing and that humans are playing some role, according to a new survey conducted by three Republican pollsters and reported in the New York Times. In Issues, a political analyst has looked at measures that conservatives might accept as part of a climate action plan, while an energy analyst has proposed combining control strategies drawn from across the political spectrum.



Temporary Visas Hurting U.S. Workers


10/1/15 – Global outsourcing and consulting firms are using visas to bring into the United States foreign workers who then take over jobs previously held by U.S. workers, according to a report in the New York Times that describes a variety of ways by which companies are allegedly abusing the system. Adopting improvements in the visa and immigration systems for scientists and engineers, as detailed in Issues, would help solve some of the industrial problems while also boosting the nation’s education system and improving the overall economy.



Tinkering with Human Genes


9/30/15 – Scientists in Britain have applied for permission to genetically modify human embryos as part of a project to study the earliest stages of human development, according to a report in the Guardian. Such work, a scientist-writer team has said in Issues, calls for sharper attention to matters of global bioethics, while another group has argued for a new, deliberative, and public-encompassing approach to evaluating emerging gene-editing technologies.



Press “UP” for Space


9/29/15 – A Canadian company, Thoth Technology, has announced plans to build a 12-mile-tall space elevator—for which it recently won a U.S. patent—to carry vehicles, payloads, and even people into orbit. As described in Issues, this is but one of several imaginative propulsion alternatives to conventional rockets that could make reaching and working in space more practical and affordable over the long run.



Thinking Boldly about Education


9/27/15 – The Washington Post is out with a description of how the University of Central Florida and Arizona State University are changing higher education by opening access on a grand scale and at lower costs, partly by relying on an ever-widening menu of online and semi-online courses. Arizona State President Michael M. Crow says the schools are pointing the way to a new era for U.S. research universities, based on a model he has explored in detail in Issues.



Feds Boost Behavioral Science


9/25/15 – In keeping with an exploration in Issues of how the social and behavioral sciences can nudge people in useful directions, President Barack Obama in mid-September issued an executive order calling on all federal agencies to ensure that their policies “reflect behavioral science insights,” adding that such efforts will lead to “substantially improved outcomes for the individuals, families, communities, and businesses those policies serve.” In a related move, the National Science and Technology Council released a report detailing how the government was already using behavioral insights “to strengthen the ways in which federal programs and policies serve the Nation.”


Considering Climate Change


9/24/15 – With Pope Francis joining numerous other observers in urging the U.S. government to take greater action to mitigate climate change, Issues has offered several discussions (including here, here, and here) of strategies that could help while minimizing political turmoil.


Biotech Regs Get New Review

Government regulations are suffocating the use of biotechnology to bring more and better food crops and animals to consumers, two leading observers of the field recently argued in Issues. In apparent agreement, the Obama administration announced in early July (here and here) that it is planning to update regulation of a variety of biotechnology products, saying that the system had become outdated and confusing and did not foster public confidence.


Why We Go to Space


Details of getting to and working in space have been regular grist for the mill at Issues, including why the United States should pursue joint international projects and why it should develop advanced launch technologies with capabilities beyond today’s rockets. But sometimes it is worth taking a grander look at why humans journey into space, as Charles Krauthammer did recently in the Washington Post, concluding that “For the wretched race of beings we surely are, we do, on occasion, manage to soar.”


New Thinking for Highways

With expiration looming for the Highway Trust Fund, some federal legislators are looking for a short-term extension to be followed by a six-year deal that would enable lawmakers to investigate direct user fees for funding infrastructure projects. In Issues, a transportation policy analyst has already proposed a shopping list of user fees that would be more efficient and more equitable than the fuel taxes now at the heart of highway funding.



Looking beyond Funding at NIH


After more than a decade of essentially flat funding, the National Institutes of Health appears likely to get a considerable budget boost from Congress for next year. But a policy analyst has pointed out in Issues that addressing a number of questions reaching beyond overall funding levels could help the nation get the best continuing return on its investments in health research.



Science v. World Poverty


The behavioral and social sciences have yielded benefits in the United States in areas such as national security, health care, and education, as described in Issues. In advances on the global stage, reported in the Wall Street Journal, new bands of scientific “randomistas” are adopting data-driven programs drawn largely from psychology and behavioral economics to help poor people save more, live better, and scramble up in their own way.



Muppet Lessons for MOOCs


“Sesame Street” has delivered lasting educational benefits to millions of children, a pair of economists has reported, adding that lessons from its decades’ of experience might extend to the massive open online courses entering higher education. In Issues, for example, two educators have examined how MOOCs can benefit research universities by blending the strengths of technology for delivering basic information with the person-to-person skills of faculty members for sharpening creative thinking and problem solving in their students.



Business Support for Climate Protection


Six of Europe’s largest oil and gas companies have called on the United Nations and world governments (here and here) to agree on “carbon pricing” to limit global warming, even as U.S. companies oppose such collective action. In Issues, two economists have argued for a carbon tax as a promising pricing mechanism, while a senior policy analyst, recognizing past resistance to such options, has called for a Plan B that places more emphasis on “technology-push” solutions.



Latest Look at Global Warming


Based on new research, federal scientists suggest that an apparent recent slowdown in global warming—a common talking point for many people who dispute human-caused climate change—did not occur, but only seemed so based on incorrect data. If this new view should add to calls for action, a longtime government energy staffer has proposed in Issues an approach to draw the best from “liberal” and “conservative” policies and practices.



Immigration Problems Roll On


Issues recently presented a comprehensive plan for improving the U.S. visa and immigration systems for scientists and engineers. But moving forward has remained challenging, as evidenced by talks at a forum organized by the National Journal (video here), and by reports of the continued prevalence of a key problem, the too-frequent granting of visas used to outsource high-tech jobs to foreign workers.



Building a Butterfly Highway


The White House recently announced plans to set aside a “highway” of conserved habitat between Texas and Minnesota that will aid embattled monarch butterflies on their annual migrations, part of a larger federal effort to protect crop pollinators. An ecologist who studies biological diversity has argued in Issues that such policy innovations are also needed elsewhere in the world to protect animal species whose long migrations place them in heightened peril.


Asians Missing from Top Sci/Tech Jobs

Asian professionals are nearly as common as white professionals in five large technology companies in Silicon Valley, yet Asians—especially women—are severely under-represented at executive levels, according to the latest federal diversity data examined by the Ascend Foundation, which also offered possible explanations for the leadership gaps. Issues has previously reported on federal data indicating that Asian women are rare not only in top positions in industry, but also in academia and government.

Hunting for Subs with Robots

Seagoing robots are likely to play a significant role in shaping how the United States and its allies fight future wars, if a number of technical, operational, and policy questions are answered, a national security and intelligence analyst recently argued in Issues. Now, in a first-of-its-kind advance on the technical front, a NATO research vessel taking part in an annual naval exercise successfully deployed for testing several prototype robotic underwater vehicles designed to hunt for submarines.


Helping Impoverished Students Learn

Students from low-income families are concentrated in particular regions and schools across the nation, and black students are more likely than white students to attend these high-poverty schools, according to a new report and interactive maps from the Urban Institute. In a pair of articles, Issues has examined what research says about how to improve the educational outcomes of impoverished students, including the need to address out-of-school factors that affect their academic performance.


Troubles for Overweight Kids

A decade ago, Issues featured an article based on a landmark report by the Institute of Medicine that described the growing obesity epidemic among U.S. children and proposed comprehensive remedies. But two new scientific reports provide glimpses of challenges that remain—one describing what some observer see as limited progress in changing how foods are advertised to children, and another revealing that nearly all parents think their overweight children look “just right.”


What’s the Value of Student Testing?

In all of the talk about testing students and holding schools, teachers, and principals accountable for their performance, one question commonly surfaces: Does the current testing regime work? This was recently debated in the New York Times. And in a broader examination, Issues presented the results of a major study—mostly disappointing—of how much standardized testing drives improvement in student learning and whether it can serve as a broad-based evaluation tool.


Living with Technology’s Impact on Jobs

A policy analyst recently argued in Issues that economics provides a compelling model of how labor markets adjust to technological change, though often with painful, if temporary, consequences. In the Atlantic, an economist and former software company CEO reaffirms this thinking, proposing that technology will primarily shift workers into new jobs demanding new skills, and that the country must adjust by adopting broad-based policies that will help workers gain the tools needed to prosper.


Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Record

For the first time since the federal government began tracking carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere, the monthly average concentration of this greenhouse gas surpassed 400 parts per million in March 2015, according to latest results. Soon after, the Republican head of the Senate environment committee repeated his claim that carbon pollution is good for the Earth. In what may be a way to help square this circle, a leading conservative scholar has described in Issues policies that might win bipartisan support for reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change.


Gene Tests Spark Ethical Concerns

Tests by scientists in China of a technology for modifying the genetic code of human embryos, even though unsuccessful, are fueling intense debate in public and scientific arenas (here and here). In Issues, a scientist and a writer recently explored how new voices from various quarters are fostering dialogue on the ethics of such emerging—and deeply personal—health sciences.


Call for More Health Funding

Government funding for the National Institutes of Health should be roughly doubled during the next budget cycle, with an accompanying set of reforms to guide its operation, Newt Gingrich, a Republican and former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, declared in the New York Times. In Issues, a policy analyst at Duke University has examined the forces behind the ups and downs of NIH funding over recent decades, pointing out that the “place to start is with an understanding of NIH’s political context, and the fact that the NIH budget rests on several tectonic plates, subject to different political pressures.”


New Moves for MOOCs

In an examination of how massive open online courses, or MOOCs, may reshape higher education, two education leaders noted in Issues that “colleges and universities may get to the point of offering their introductory courses online” and that “there is an opportunity for worldwide availability of courses.” Both of these futures are reflected in Arizona State University’s new plan to offer students anywhere in the world an online slate of first-year courses that will earn official credits toward graduation at a greatly reduced cost, which is consistent with ASU president Michael Crow’s vision for higher education.

Electric Vehicles Taking Off

Global sales of electric vehicles grew by more than a third in 2014 over the previous year, according to Bloomberg Business, and manufactures are preparing to increase output as production costs plunge. Such encouraging projections are among the reasons behind the argument made in Issues by a team of analysts that the United States should continue government support for electric vehicles until at least 2017, when the next review of federal auto policies is due.

Seeking Space Cooperation

Even as relations between the United States and Russia remain rocky, the two nations plan to work together on a roadmap to send humans to the Moon and Mars, according to a statement by NASA’s director reported in Space Daily. Such cooperation would reflect advice offered in Issues that given the U.S. budget climate, “space exploration is now a discretionary activity, not a national imperative,” and that one sustainable path would be “making space exploration a cooperative global undertaking.”

Rethinking Conservation

The successful spread of invasive species, such as the migration of coyotes from the wild into urbanized areas, is driving some conservationists to rethink their science and strategies, according to a report in Salon. Journalist Keith Kloor has taken a broader look in Issues at this emerging controversy in conservation circles about whether human activity is an integral lpart of nature or a force from which nature must be protected.


NASA Needs to (More) Boldly Go

NASA recently announced a dozen grants to private companies to develop technologies for getting to and working in space, including a rocket that its developers say could carry humans to Mars in less than six weeks. But a space historian has argued in Issues that such approaches will not be enough, and that the government should pursue radically new launch technologies that could truly open the door to vast opportunities for space exploration and development.


Political End Run on Climate

Political scholar Steven F. Hayward recently presented in Issues the conservative position on global warming and climate change, including a look at measures that conservatives might accept as part of any action plan. He has now extended his views in the Wall Street Journal, describing several ways for “the GOP Congress to get ahead of Mr. Obama” and “restore some balance to climate-change policy.”


Visa Demand Calls for Reform

Once again this year, demand for U.S. visas for skilled workers exceeded the year’s entire supply in the first week that employers could file applications, and some critics say qualified U.S. workers are displaced by cheaper foreign hires through the program, says a report in the Wall Street Journal. In Issues, a leading policy analyst has offered a detailed blueprint for improving the visa and immigration systems for scientists and engineers, including increasing the cap on visas for skilled workers and cutting visas to companies that outsource high-tech jobs to foreign workers.

Lab Burgers Aim for the Menu

When the first laboratory-grown hamburgers hit the grill, two Arizona specialists in sustainable engineering said in Issues that their $300,000-plus price tag “doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start thinking about how factory-grown meat might transform our food system, the environment, and even our culture.” Now, Dutch researchers report that costs have dropped to around $11 a patty, still a ways from commercial reality, but tipping the scale in favor of paying increased attention to the potential impact of faux meat.

Alternative Routes to Highway Funding

Some states are trying to reduce rewards for owners of electric vehicles to help offset declining revenues from the federal excise tax on motor fuels, says a report in Slate. But a group of researchers has made the case in Issues for continuing economic incentives for electric vehicles for at least several more years, while another analyst has proposed adopting a national system of direct user fees that can equitably and efficiently support a range of transportation activities.



What Comes after Job Losses?

The transformation of labor markets being swept in by information technology and robotics, as explored in Issues, will challenge society’s ability to adjust. Among possible strategies cited in the New York Times, some observers say the government might provide displaced workers with an unconditional basic income so they can serve as volunteers in socially important areas such as elder care, child care, cultural activities, and environmental protection.


Fracking Hits the Road

A quartet of scientists and policy analysts recently noted in Issues that little information is available publically on the side-effects of “fracking” to tap oil and gas resources. As something of a cautionary tale, Newsweek has reported that some municipalities in New York and Pennsylvania spray briny wastes from local gas wells on roads to melt winter ice or suppress summer dust, without tracking their use or considering new research that points to their potential health risks.


Climate Cues from Ronald Reagan

George Shultz, former secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, recently argued in the Washington Post that “the globe is warming and that carbon dioxide has something to do with that fact,” adding that deniers “will wind up being mugged by reality” and that his boss would have taken corrective action as an “insurance policy.” In Issues, a scholar of conservative thought has offered details about what an acceptable policy might look like.


Higher Education: Web or Walls?

In a new book cited by nprEd, an education policy analyst and writer envisions a future in which “the idea of ‘admission’ to college will become an anachronism” as online higher education produces a “University of Everywhere” that will be open to everyone. In Issues, two leading educators have agreed that massive open online courses, or MOOCs, hold great promise, but they argued that the best solution will be to blend the strengths of electronic study with the benefits of the traditional college experience.



Good Time for Carbon Tax

With the recent steep fall in oil prices and associated declines in other energy prices, the stars are aligned for adopting a carbon tax on consumption of fossil fuels, Lawrence Summers, a former treasury secretary and presidential adviser, says in the Washington Post. While favoring such a move, two economists have argued in Issues for even broader changes in tax policies, such as ending various energy supply subsidies, to maximize reductions in carbon emissions linked to global climate change.


Making Babies and Bioethics

The United Kingdom has moved toward becoming the first country in the world to authorize a “three-person” in-vitro fertilization technique that combines two parents’ genetic material with that of a third female donor. In Issues, a researcher and a writer have previously joined forces on an essay examining the global bioethical debate that is emerging alongside such revolutionary technological developments.



Ramping Up U.S. Entrepreneurship


Despite a widespread impression that the United States is a hotbed of innovation, the past three decades have seen a dramatic slowing in the formation of new companies, says a report in the newest Foreign Affairs. Among various proposed solutions: inviting in more talented immigrants who combine technological prowess with an appetite for entrepreneurial risk. And Issues has provided a detailed blueprint for how to make this happen.



Helping Students in Poverty

For the first time in at least half a century, a majority of public school students in the United States come from low-income families, according to new federal data reported in the Washington Post. This shift underscores the need cited in Issues to take a more comprehensive approach to improving educational outcomes for low-income students (as well minority students and English learners) and to address the many out-of-school factors that affect their academic performance.


Conservatives Discover Climate Change

The Politico news group recently sketched out the insider maneuverings when all but one of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted to acknowledge that climate change is real, though they balked at tying rising global temperatures to human activities. So what should be done? In Issues, a scholar of conservative thought has written that whatever policies are developed to address climate change, they must be compatible with individual liberty and democratic institutions, and cannot rely on coercive or unaccountable bureaucratic administration.


Military Taps Social Science to Save Energy

The behavioral and social sciences have helped shape public policies in many diverse areas, but their contributions are not always apparent to the broader science community or the public, two leading analysts have pointed out in Issues. For example, the Washington Post reports that the military is increasingly turning to psychology and the behavioral sciences to find ways of saving energy, and the “opportunities that we see. . . are phenomenal,” says one specialist in the Pentagon.


Robots Advancing on Europe

Just as an economic analyst recently reported in Issues how advances in artificial intelligence and robotics may eliminate or modify many types of jobs in the United States, a study cited in the Global Post predicts that a new wave of robots and computerization may take half or more jobs, especially among the white-collar workforce, in Germany and elsewhere across Europe. But at the same time, the European Union is investing heavily to speed up the development of robotics, convinced that the net result will be creation of many more new jobs across a variety of fields.


China Promoting Electric Cars

A quartet of authors has argued in Issues that the United States should continue its push to commercialize electric vehicles until at least 2017, when a review of federal auto policies is scheduled. China seems to be following an even more aggressive route, as the government recently announced plans to extend its current incentives for electric cars until 2020, while also reducing subsidies for traditional vehicles.


Protecting Animal Migrations

Migratory animals face increasingly perilous times, their challenges magnified by their long journeys. Among examples in the recent news, monarch butterflies, which commute annually between North America and Mexico, have just been added for consideration for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, while elephants, which wander across vast spaces of Africa, were lost in record numbers to poaching last year. But a specialist in the conservation of biodiversity has argued in Issues that timely international action can save many of the great animal migrations, gaining aesthetic, ecological, and economic rewards.


Losing Track of What Kids Eat

As part of a comprehensive plan to reduce childhood obesity in the United States, an Institute of Medicine report, highlighted in Issues, recommended giving the Federal Trade Commission authority to monitor how the food industry markets its products to kids. The government agreed, and the commission set to work—but Politico says it may now be quitting the job.


Military Limits on Energy Innovation

Despite the Department of Defense’s history in innovation, it is not practical to look to the military for the kind of transformational energy technologies that will be needed to mitigate climate change, say two analysts on Future Tense. In a more detailed look at this situation, a scholar working at the intersection of national security and economic policy has detailed in Issues how the military faces fundamental limits in driving major energy innovation, adding that it would be better to seek more limited gains by focusing defense-led technology development on energy projects that actually align with military missions.


Community Colleges Can Pay Off

New research described recently on nprEd shows that some community college degrees or certificates can significantly increase a student’s potential income. In Issues, the head of another major study has reported similar results, adding that some of the patterns observed “are likely to surprise anyone who spends most of his or her life thinking about and working in elite institutions and strong research departments.”


Poor Reporting of Fracking Risks

Development of oil and gas resources enabled by fracking is rapidly growing across the United States, but there is little information available to the public on the risks associated with such efforts, according to a recent Issues. Even investors are shortchanged, says a new report, as the majority of oil and gas companies engaged in fracking fail to adequately inform the business community about practices and progress in reducing risks of their operations.



Going to Space Together

A long-time observer of space policy and history has written in Issues that in charting its future in space, the United States would be wise to heed President John F. Kennedy’s advice and make exploration a cooperative global undertaking. NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, recently added a note of agreement, pointing to the roster of countries with growing space capabilities and adding philosophically that “When we go to explore, we do it as a globe.”



Value of Teaching Coding?

In a scene reported by Politico, President Barack Obama recently sat down with some middle school students to write a bit of computer code, to help promote a popular campaign financed by the tech industry to advance education in computer science. But along with examining projected benefits of boosting such educational efforts, Politico also cited an Issues article arguing against the need to train large numbers of new science and technology workers, as their career rewards might be limited and they would mainly serve to help companies keep their costs down.


Getting Drivers to Pay

With the Highway Trust Fund going broke and Congress delaying a long-term fix, California and a handful of other states are considering mileage-based user fees to replace or supplement fuel taxes. In Issues, a longtime California-based civil engineer and urban planner has worked through the advantages of this and several related options for supporting transportation activities.


Putting Social Sciences to Work

Using the recent outbreak of Ebola as an example, the World Bank explored in its 2015 World Development Report how advances in understanding human behavior can be used to improve personal and social well-being. Striking the same theme, two leading scholars have argued in Issues that applying the social and behavioral sciences to policy and practices in the United States will be essential to achieving national goals in areas ranging from health care to national security.


Examining a Planetary Reboot

Newsweek is out with a major survey of possible ways to modify Earth’s systems to mitigate or avoid human-caused climate change. The prospects and pitfalls of “geoengineering” have also been explored in Issues, with authors offering such pragmatic advice as convening a government advisory committee to guide projects from research to implementation, and making sure that public interests dominate the decision-making process.


Heading the Wrong Way

NASA recently launched its latest advanced rocket on a mission designed to lead ultimately into deeper space. But in Issues, a long-time observer of science and society has argued that the federal government and its space agency should be looking more actively in a different direction—toward the oceans, which offer more promising solutions to the world’s energy, food, environmental, and other problems.


Looking Hopefully to Yeast

Canada has awarded a pioneering network of researchers $2.3 million to use yeast, along with several other key organisms, to investigate the molecular mechanisms of rare diseases in search of effective therapies. This reflects in some measure the hope expressed in Issues that science funding agencies and institutions would continue to invest time, infrastructure, and patience into working with this little organism that has so much discovery yet to offer.


Smart Automation to Help Humans

Advances in information technology and robotics will transform the labor market over the next few decades in ways that will challenge society’s ability to make timely adjustments, says an exploratory study reported in Issues. One approach to helping workers find a satisfying fit in such a technological future, according to an essay in the Wall Street Journal, is to develop “human-centered automation” that gives the unique talents of people precedence over the useful but limited skills of machines.


Improvements in Immigration System Still Needed

President Obama’s recent decision on immigration, whatever its effects, will not address the problems that trouble technology companies the most, including tight limits on temporary visas for high-skilled workers, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. In Issues, a leading analyst on science and technology policy laid out a comprehensive set of proposals that might offer an effective, achievable, and secure way to streamline the nation’s visa and immigration systems for scientists and engineers.

Politics and Climate Change, Revisited

A new United Nations report has reaffirmed the major role that humans are playing in driving climate change. With the Republicans now in control of the U.S. Congress, the recent Issues article outlining conservative views on climate change may provide some pragmatic advice for designing and implementing therapeutic actions.

Climate Change and Coastal Risk

A new report from the National Research Council, described in the New York Times, declared that “as a compassionate nation, we rally each time a disaster strikes and provide resources for postdisaster recovery that far exceed those we are willing to provide to manage risk.” In Issues, a strategic planner involved in recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy pointed out the same problem and offered some practical lessons for breaking out of this default survival strategy.


Understanding the Adolescent Brain

Noted psychologist Laurence Steinberg recently explored in Issues how adolescents’ brain development may make them more likely than adults to take risks and ignore consequences—and what this should mean for policymakers. In a new book, described on National Public Radio’s website, he expands the discussion, arguing that the nation’s education and legal systems, as well as parenting, have yet to catch up with emerging scientific insights.



Julia Child in the Lab

Two scientists in Arizona who study the intersection of technology and social change recently examined in Issues the status and prospects of factory-grown meat. Now, a team of chefs, designers, and artists in Amsterdam has published The In Vitro Meat Cookbook, which describes such dishes as “maple-smoked labchops” and “meat fruit tartlets.” The authors explain on the Future Tense blog that they want to help people “visualize a wide range of possible new dishes and food cultures to help us decide what future we actually want.”


Renewed Focus on Geoengineering

A number of new reports and meetings on climate change and its projected effects are injecting new saliency and urgency into the conversation, says an expert in the field writing in The Hill. But several authors have argued in Issues that before any geoengineering efforts are launched, the United States, for its part, should convene a government advisory committee to guide research and implementation, and also take steps to ensure that activities will not be influenced by any vested interests.

Defusing Water Conflicts

Islamic State militants reportedly are increasingly using water as a weapon in Iraq, cutting off supplies to villages and pressing to control dams and other water infrastructure. Troubling, for sure. Yet many regions of the world potentially face even more complicated conflicts over water, and an expert examines in Issues how they may be defused through informed government policies and management decisions.


Electrifying Africa, but Not Enough


President Obama has announced that private companies and government institutions will provide an additional $12 billion to the administration’s electrification program for Africa, with a goal of adding 30,000 megawatts of capacity. But two analysts have argued in Issues that far more electricity would be needed to adequately boost productivity and raise living standards among poor people there and in other impoverished regions.


Learning from MOOCs

The Atlantic recently examined the status and prospects for massive open online courses, or MOOCs, highlighting many of the ideas explored in Issues by two leading educators. Among the shared observations is the value of incorporating the insights from the MOOC revolution back into the traditional classroom through such mechanisms as “blended learning” and restructuring of the lecture-then-exam model of teaching.


Control Algae, Protect Climate

Nutrient-driven algae blooms in Lake Erie recently forced Toledo, Ohio, to warn residents against drinking water from public supplies. In Issues, a trio of experts have examined options for restricting input of nitrogen and phosphorus into the nation’s waterways, not only to improve environmental quality but to rein in a driver of climate change.


Blurred Lines in the Work World

The line between jobs that are considered routine and able to be done by a machine and those that require a human brain is blurry and becoming blurrier, says a New York Times article, citing a recent working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Issues has also examined this shift, surveying the potential for information technology and robotics to transform jobs over the next several decades.


Innovating Women

Immigrants have made out-sized contributions to science and technology innovation in the United States, entrepreneur and researcher Vivek Wadhwa has said in Issues (here and here). Looking at the international scene from another angle, he recently focused on the dominance of men in executive high-tech positions, reporting on LinkedIn that educational trends are now making the future look brighter for women in Indian firms than in Silicon Valley.


Paying by the Mile

In keeping with ideas explored in Issues, the Center for American Progress urges in a new report that Congress use the current debate over the beleaguered Highway Trust Fund to begin switching from federal gas taxes to mileage-based user fees to provide robust, sustainable support for surface transportation activities, and at least one House member is already taking action.


Backlash against Foreign Workers

An expert in labor markets has argued in Issues that the United States is producing more than enough quality workers in scientific and engineering fields, making it unnecessary to further tailor immigration policies to the needs of specific industries. Now, a story by the Associated Press says that a backlash is growing among U.S. workers against foreign workers brought in under policies that favor employers over the domestic workforce.


Welcoming the Robots

The co-founder and chief executive of Google, Larry Page, said recently (and perhaps not unsurprisingly) in a video recorded at a venture capital meeting that the expansion of robots in the workplace—a prospect examined in Issues—may actually improve the lives of many workers in a variety of ways, including by enabling them to “just reduce work time.”


Conservative Movement on Climate Change?

Henry “Hank” Paulson, who served as Treasury Secretary under Pres. George W. Bush, told a television talk show recently that many Republicans are ready to acknowledge the serious threats posed by climate change and discuss options. In an examination of what such movement might look like, three analysts have suggested in Issues a broad and effective portfolio of technology options that could provide the common ground on which conservatives and liberals agree.


Which Way to Space?

Traveling to Mars has been called the next step for U.S. spacefarers, though arguments swirl about whether to get there via the moon or an asteroid. But observers have argued in Issues that attention should focus instead on developing radically new propulsion systems that will make getting to space cheaper, or on joining with other nations to make space exploration a global undertaking.


Bill Clinton on education and opportunity

Former President Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at a Brookings Hamilton Project conference on “Addressing America’s Poverty Crisis.” Clinton’s remarks followed several panel discussions of apprenticeships and other ways of training high-skill workers. Panelists included Harry Holzer and Robert Lerman, who have written about this topic in Issues.

Clinton emphasized the need for policies such as income-contingent student loan repayment, lower tuition, and retention programs  that enable low-income people to afford and finish a quality education. He also recommended that we eliminate the misleading distinction between education that develops workplace skills and academic knowledge.

Need for Carbon Tax…and More

Robert J. Samuelson recently said in his Washington Post column that the best near-term idea for moving against global climate change is a carbon tax to help finance government and stimulate energy-saving technologies and new forms of non-carbon energy. Two economists made a similar argument in Issues, adding that other useful tax-related policies include an end to energy supply subsidies, a green tax swap, a tightening of the gas guzzler tax, and conservation incentive programs.

Katie Couric Takes on Childhood Obesity

The co-executive producer and narrator of the new documentary Fed Up, Katie Couric said in Time that its key message is that the nation’s epidemic of childhood obesity is due mainly to “the food we’re eating every day and the sugar that’s hidden in so much of it.” A groundbreaking Institute of Medicine report nearly a decade ago offered a broader description of—and prescription for solving—the problem, as presented in Issues by several of the report’s authors.

Climate Change in a Conservative World

Climate change is here and action is needed now, says a new White House report detailed on But a conservative scholar says in Issues that for the nation to be most effective, government policymakers will need to understand how conservatives view the climate change debate—and science issues more broadly—and take their fundamental principles into account.

Tapping User Fees for Transportation

Facing a depleted highway trust fund and a flat motor fuel tax, the Obama administration recently opened the door for states to collect tolls on interstate highways to help pay for transportation projects. Looking beyond this modest foray into charging people directly for their highway use, Martin Wachs, a longtime transportation analyst, has suggested in Issues that several types of more efficient, and more equitable, user charges are ready to be phased in.

FIRST Act Generates Resistance

The proposed Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act, which is the House Republicans alternative to the America Competes Act, is producing a strong reaction from the science community. At the May 1 AAAS Forum on S&T Policy, presidential science adviser John Holdren empasized the importance of maintaining NSF’s independence in making research funding decisions, and earlier in the week the National Science Board raised concerns about some aspects of the bill.

What Climate Change Means for Security

A retired Navy rear admiral and current professor of meteorology said in Slate that human-driven climate change is a growing security threat for the United States and many other nations. In Issues, a recent examination called the case for linking climate change and national security “robust but imperfect,” adding that people who are persuaded say there is much the United States can and should be doing on this front.

New Federal Boost for Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships, which Issues has explored as a practical tool for preparing the nation’s emerging workforce for good jobs today and into the future, will now become a key part of a major new federal job-training program. Newly announced by President Obama, the program will provide $100 million in competitive grants to expand apprenticeships nationwide, along with additional funding to encourage businesses and community colleges to collaborate on vocational training that targets critical industrial needs.

Technology’s Workplace Impact

A recent New York Times article examines a worrisome question: what if the rush of technology in many fields is becoming a substitute for labor, pushing people out of good jobs without opening promising new employment opportunities? In Issues, Stuart W. Elliott presents his latest findings on how advances in information technology and robotics are likely to transform the workplace in the next few decades, concluding that the nation should regularly track emerging technological capabilities in order to anticipate their full consequences.

Upping the Odds for Geoengineering?

In its latest report on climate change, the United Nations makes its first mention of a possible future need to remove heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and inject it underground, according to the Toronto Star. But experts have cautioned in Issues that long before the United States takes such a step toward even modest “geoengineering,” it should establish an official oversight mechanism for evaluating research and making public decisions.

Returning to Energy Basics

Investment in renewable energy projects declined in the United States and globally during 2013, according to a new report, in large part because of worries about future government support. But an expert on energy markets has argued in Issues that progress will be maximized only if the U.S. government stops trying to drive commercialization of particular technologies and returns to doing what it does best, supporting conceptual and technical research to find new and better technologies.

More Doubts about Farmer Suicide Link

In Issues, a journalist recently debunked the common perception that the use of genetically modified cotton in India has precipitated an epidemic of suicides among its small farmers. Now, a statistician has released data making the same case, arguing that not only does available data show no increase in suicides following the introduction of genetically modified cotton, but that the suicide rate among farmers has actually declined since then.

Seeking the Cultured Burger

A well-known wealth manager in Silicon Valley recently examined in Forbes the prospects for factory-made “cultured meat,” noting, among other things, that global demand for meat is projected to increase by more than two-thirds by 2050. In Issues, two scientists from Arizona State University have taken a more detailed look, suggesting a likely blueprint for initial industrial-scale production of meat and noting that obstacles may be as much social as technical or economic.

Expanding Routes to Good Jobs

James Fallows, a longtime observer of the American scene, reports in The Atlantic on a Georgia high school in which all students not only take traditional academic classes but also participate in one of five “academies” emphasizing specific occupational skills, adding that such programs seem to be on the rise across the nation. Issues has also explored (here and here) how apprenticeships and other forms of technical training can prepare students, including those not interested in college, for jobs that are interesting, pay well, and likely to be secure.

Court Sides with Whales

The United Nations’ highest court has halted Japan’s large “research whaling” program in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. But the decision will not stop all whaling by Japan or several other countries, and creating a “whale conservation market” that sells sustainable “whale shares,” as described in Issues, may provide an effective alternative to legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect global whale populations.

Looking for New Ways into Space

In the spirit of a call in Issues for bold new technologies to advance space exploration and development, an international group of experts has backed the use of beanstalk-like “space elevators” to carry people and goods into orbit, and NASA has announced plans to build ion thruster engines popularized in “Star Wars” to power a mission to capture an asteroid.

Promoting Free Internet Speech

Speaking during a visit to Beijing, Michelle Obama declared that freedom of speech, particularly on the Internet and in the news media, provides the foundation for a vibrant society. Striking a similar theme in Issues, Hilary Rodham Clinton, then the U.S. Secretary of State, said that protecting open communication—online and offline—is essential to ensuring the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere.

Protecting the Unwanted Fish

The conservation group Oceana has released a new report detailing how “bycatch” is damaging the health of U.S. fisheries. Ecologist and writer Carl Safina has examined this and related problems in Issues, calling for a new era of fisheries management that will beef-up old tools and adopt an array of new “smart tools” to protect these valuable and threatened resources.

Alternate Routes to Career Success

Education expert Michael J. Petrilli argues in the online magazine Slate that many students would be best served not by focusing them on pursing a traditional college education but rather by providing them with sound early education followed by programs in high school and at community colleges that help them develop strong technical and interpersonal skills. Issues has examined various ways of structuring such alternative routes to the middle class, including the expansion of occupational certificate and apprenticeship programs.

Progress in Childhood Obesity, yet Challenges Remain

A major new federal health survey has reported a 43% drop in the obesity rate among young children over the past decade, but older children and adolescents have made little or no progress. In Issues, Jeffrey P. Koplan and colleagues presented lessons from an earlier groundbreaking study by the Institute of Medicine on what the nation should be doing to address this epidemic and its higher risks for serious disease.

Pitbull Promotes Education

Along with making school attendance compulsory, states and cities should develop programs to keep students—especially those at risk of absenteeism and poor performance—engaged in learning from elementary grades through high school graduation, two education experts have noted in Issues. In an innovative application of this spirit, the pop star Pitbull is supporting a charter school in Miami that engages students by drawing its lessons in all subjects, including science and math, from the world of sports.

Immigration and the Economy

The financial services company Standard & Poor’s has recently released a report suggesting that increasing the number of visas issued to immigrants with technical skills will boost the U.S. economy and even spur job growth for native-born workers. Several Issues articles have made similar cases (here and here), but an expert in labor markets has also argued that the nation is producing more than enough quality workers in scientific and engineering fields—and policymakers and industry leaders should proceed accordingly.

Leveling the Playing Field for Women in Science

Issues has explored the status of women in science from several angles, including in an examination of how to plug the leaks of both women and men in the scientific workforce, and in a personal essay about the choices women often face when confronting the “system” of science. Many of these and other ideas are explored in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Mary Ann Mason, co-author of the recently published book Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower.

Toward a Smarter Electric Grid

Utilities have installed more than 60 million smart electric meters in North America in the past decade, the Wall Street Journal recently noted, adding that the challenge now is figuring out what to do with all the information the devices are generating. In Issues, Lawrence Makovich examined the perceptions and reality of implementing a “smarter” grid system, which faces some bumps along the way but offers significant potential rewards.

Climate Change and National Security

The latest report from an international panel of scientists details the increased certainty that human activities are driving climate change and surveys the range of effects thought likely to result. Some observers argue that climate change will touch directly on the United States’ security, and in Issues, Richard Matthew examines the case and offers some possible actions the nation might take.

New Rides into Space Needed

The launch by SpaceX of its newest Falcon 9 rocket, which followed hard on the heels of the arrival of Orbital Science Corporation’s Cygnus cargo ship at the International Space Station, collectively mark the reach of private companies into space. But Jonathan Coopersmith argues in Issues that rockets are so 20th century, and a government effort to develop new launch technologies could open the door to vast opportunities for space exploration and development.

Countering a Blooming Problem

Blooms of toxic algae, nourished by nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into waterways, are increasingly common across much of the United States, according to a recent report described here. In Issues, a trio of experts has explained how better managing use of these nutrients—in agriculture and in urban areas—can yield environmental, socioeconomic, and national security benefits, especially as atmospheric warming drives climate change.

The Little Reactor That Could?

The United States and several other nations are pursuing small modular nuclear reactors as vital components in their energy futures, Issues reported in summer 2011. Progress in developing such reactors continues apace, as described recently in National Journal, spurred by their potential economic and safety advantages over larger nuclear cousins, as well as by their projected role in diversifying energy production and reducing carbon emissions.

Crafting Better Strategies to Fight Drugs

A new international study suggests that the supply of illegal drugs in the United States and globally is increasing, with drugs also becoming cheaper, purer, and more potent. In Issues, four experts on public drug policies proposed a new research agenda—less focused on current approaches and more attentive to alternatives—that may lead to improvements in public welfare.

Skilled Migrants Looking Elsewhere

The value of encouraging migrants to enter and stay in the U.S. science and technology enterprise is hotly debated, as presented in Issues here, here, and here. But an expert working on the immigration frontlines raises a point in National Journal that may affect the conversation: most potential migrants with technical skills are now looking to other countries—and those countries are putting out the welcome mat.

Manufacturing’s Rustbelt Resurgence

Issues has examined several ways to revitalize manufacturing in the United States, including fostering widespread use of advanced production methods and improving the competitiveness of small- and medium-sized firms. Some of these approaches seem to be working in the rustbelt, according to The Daily Beast, as new technologies and an abundance of skilled workers are reviving the often-scorned region’s industrial base.