News Updates

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.