2/26/18 – Three signals recently sounded for the coal industry, according to an opinion article in the New York Times, with all of them suggesting that coal-fired power in the United States is in trouble and likely won’t be making a significant comeback. In Issues, an experienced environmental consultant has laid out a timeline of coal’s decline as an energy source over the past century, tracing it to technological and social changes rather than to what conservative critics have called a political “war on coal.”
2/23/18 – Migratory herds of animals, the lifeblood of many landscapes in the western United States, face increasing perils, says a researcher who tracks them, but in a ray of hope, government and private groups have proposed a variety of creative ways to help these wanderers. In an earlier analysis in Issues, a specialist in the conservation of biodiversity took a global look at threats to animal migrations, calling for international action to sustain these inspiring natural wonders.
2/20/18 – In Issues recently, a scholar who studies the ethical and social dimensions of emerging technologies laid out the ways that nations and groups can use “weaponized narratives” to undermine the common values and beliefs of their adversaries. Now, the concept has struck home, with the US Justice Department indicting a group of Russian individuals and companies for conducting a long-running internet scheme to criminally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and details emerging about how the “troll factory” seamlessly insinuated its workers into the US political conversation.
2/15/18 – President Trump just called for lawmakers to raise the federal fuel tax to help pay for the nation’s roads and bridges, but the proposal met fierce opposition and its fate remains uncertain. There may be a better mousetrap anyway. In Issues, an engineer who studies technological adaptation recently proposed shifting to a vehicle mileage tax, calling it a fair and adaptable way to fund highway needs in the face of coming dramatic changes in the vehicles that people drive and how they use them.
2/14/18 – The Trump administration just announced its long-awaited infrastructure plan, which is light on federal spending and heavy on expected investments from the private sector. But in Issues, two scholars recently detailed how private investors in past efforts to deploy three major types of infrastructure—railroads, electricity, and the internet—initially targeted communities that were already well off. Matters were set aright only by “citizen activism that demanded fairer treatment for average Americans,” they said, adding a call for new policies that “recognize the public benefits of infrastructure and seek to level the playing field for underserved areas.”
2/13/18 – Arrests of immigrants in the United States surged by 40% during the past fiscal year, with the biggest jump occurring among immigrants who had committed no crime other than being in the country illegally. This marks one of many ways that government has defined millions of people as being “outside of civil society,” a leading sociologist recently noted in Issues, adding that “We need to think about whether that is something we want our laws to do…and whether there might be a better way of thinking about the human rights of people and the right to social inclusion.”
2/9/18 – The United States is at a “tipping point” with its fading nuclear power sector, a federal official told a US congressional committee, adding that its future will depend on developing advanced reactors that are cheaper to build and safer to operate. Issues has recently taken several deep dives into these waters, with experts offering an even fuller roadmap for how to revitalize nuclear energy and explaining why it would be a strategic mistake for the nation to abandon its leadership in this important technology market to international competitors who are actively pushing ahead.
2/8/18 – The US Department of Housing and Urban Development just announced that states receiving federal funding for recovery following last year’s three major hurricanes must take into account projected rises in sea level when building in flood-prone areas. The rule aligns with proposals offered recently in Issues as analysts detailed why the nation needs to rethink its infrastructure—the technical components as well as the varied systems for managing them—in the face of climate change and what actions will help ensure resilience.
2/7/18 – As a symbol of the private sector venturing into the space business, little might rise higher than Falcon Heavy, the giant rocket built and test-launched recently by SpaceX, a company owned by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, and carrying as payload a red electric sports car from another Musk company, Tesla. But this is just one example of an emerging trend. A space analyst recently noted in Issues that with more businesses—and more countries—expanding their activities, the United States, long the dominant player, will need to reshape its space agencies and policies beyond their conventional boundaries.
2/6/18 – Mass incarceration in the United States is a public health scourge that hits not only those locked up but also their family members and even the workers in detention settings, says a new review. In Issues, two correctional experts also recently examined the status of health care in prisons and jails, offering a set of policy recommendations that would benefit inmates, their home communities, and the nation at large.
2/1/18 – As the flu continues to spread, false reports have also marched across the internet, including claims that a government doctor linked the epidemic to the flu vaccine itself. Indeed, an innovator in digital networks recently suggested in Issues that coping with major disease outbreaks will likely be complicated by misinformation magnified through the explosion of unfiltered channels of communication, and he called for assembling a global volunteer corps of scientists and communicators who can respond quickly and precisely to social and scientific challenges that arise during health emergencies.
1/29/18 – Reflecting on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a New York Times columnist declared that the most interesting participants were the entrepreneurs striving to use technology and other tools of business to address social problems. In Issues, a leading social thinker recently offered an even broader perspective, suggesting that society most needs technologies that will help shift “the focus of our actions from seeking ever-greater wealth to investing more of our time and resources in social lives, public action, and spiritual and intellectual activities.”
1/28/18 – In what he hoped would help drive an ongoing national analysis, an economic analyst examined in Issues the types of skills and jobs that are now or will soon become vulnerable to replacement by artificial intelligence and robotics, seeing possible problems for many current workers, but also potential for significant gains. In an expansion on this theme, Newsweek recently explored how the emerging “alternative data industry,” powered by AI systems able to connect many pieces of data into a holistic view, will likely create a variety of new jobs never before imagined.
1/27/18 – A powerful Republican lawmaker is expected to introduce a bill in the US Senate that would more than double the number of temporary visas available to high-skilled workers from overseas, as other legislators call for reducing the number of visas offered. But even as arguments swirl, proposals are already available in Issues for practical ways to improve the immigration and visa systems to meet the nation’s scientific and engineering needs while protecting opportunities for US workers and students.
1/26/18 – More than two-thirds of states significantly reduced their prison populations between 2008 and 2016, and all but one of them saw a simultaneous drop in crime rates, according to an analysis of new federal statistics. As part of a series on mass incarceration in Issues, two officials at the Council of State Governments Justice Center described the experiences of four states, noting lessons that others might apply in reducing incarceration while ensuring public safety.
1/22/18 – The social media giant Twitter just disclosed thousands of accounts associated with the Russian government and a Kremlin-linked troll farm that collectively posted more than a million misleading messages preceding the 2016 US elections, adding that “such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere.” In Issues, a scholar who studies the ethical and social dimensions of emerging technologies recently offered a detailed analysis of such “weaponized narratives,” including how they are used, what factors are catalyzing their spread, and how they might be resisted.
1/20/18 – Voluminous data in two new federal reports suggest that China has become—or is on the verge of becoming—a scientific and technical superpower, says the economics columnist for the Washington Post. In Issues, a scholar at one of China’s leading universities recently provided something of an insider’s look at what may be fueling his country’s gains, and in particular how the scientific and technical background of many of its leaders plays a major role in their exercise of political power.
12/20/17 – Once tipped for elimination, federal income tax credits for buying electric vehicles (EVs) still remain under the newly adopted tax overhaul. But even if credits help put more EVs on the road, other policy and technology advances, described recently by an energy analyst in Issues, will be required to capitalize on their potential for offsetting the climate-changing effects of carbon emissions from the transport sector.
12/19/17 – Among registered Republicans nationwide, only about half say that climate change is happening and fewer than a third say humans are responsible, yet a majority in every congressional district say they support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, according to a new study. In such context, a trio of analysts has presented in Issues a broad portfolio of technology options that could appeal to people of all political stripes, while a conservative scholar has explained what his camp would consider acceptable new climate policies and actions.
12/17/17 – Pregnant women living near an oil or natural gas “fracking” well were more likely to give birth to worryingly small babies than were women living farther away, says a new study described here. In Issues, a team of analysts earlier expressed concern that the public lacks credible information on potential public health and environmental effects of fracking, calling on states to require independent monitoring of air and water quality near all wells and to make the information available so local communities can better participate in managing risks.
12/13/17 – California recently announced that it is studying ways to move from its conventional fuel tax that drivers pay at the pump to a system in which drivers will pay based on how many miles they drove since their last fill-up. This represents a type of vehicle mileage tax that an energy analyst recommended in Issues as a fair and adaptable way to fund highway needs as electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles become increasingly common.
12/9/17 – States and municipalities can significantly aid public heath by working around reluctant federal agencies to establish programs to help smokers reduce the harm they face from cigarettes by switching to e-cigarettes, or vaping, a health behavior expert recently suggested in Issues. In fact, the New York Times reports that more smokers now try to quit by using vaping rather than conventional nicotine-replacement methods, and the idea is even catching on among older smokers who have a greater need to quit but have often been resistant to other options.
12/6/17 – Recent years have seen a steady merging of efforts to deal with crime and immigration—dubbed by some scholars “crimmigration”—and in Issues a leading sociologist has examined the ill effects this has had on the nation. From another perspective, the police chief in Tucson, Arizona, recently wrote in the New York Times that the Trump administration’s “crackdown on immigrants is having a chilling effect on police-community relations” that threatens to “compromise public safety by reducing community confidence in law enforcement.”
12/4/17 – There is significant opportunity to expand apprenticeships in the United States, a new report finds, as the number of occupations commonly filled via apprenticeships could be nearly tripled and the number of job openings covered by this approach could be multiplied eightfold. Issues has also examined the potential of apprenticeships and ways to expand them to help students not bound for college gain skills that will enable them to enjoy satisfying and financially rewarding employment.
12/2/17 – Over the next dozen or so years, automation will force roughly a third of workers in the United States to find other ways to make money, a new study reports. In an earlier take on the automated future, an economic analyst described in Issues the kinds of jobs that robots and information technology might fill over a similar period, concluding that the nation will need to make careful and immediate adjustments to cope with expected disruptions in labor markets.
11/27/17 – The United Nations recently held its first official discussions on how to prevent the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons that can identify and destroy targets without human control. But critics dinged the pace of progress, warning that a “killer robot” arms race is already under way. In Issues, two analysts have approached this matter from a broader perspective, looking at whether and how any devices that rely fundamentally on artificial intelligence should be regulated, and they cited AI-aided lethal weapons as the obvious and most critical place to begin.
11/25/17 – Black men are sentenced to far more time in prison than white men for committing similar crimes, says a new report from an independent agency of the US judicial branch, and racial disparities in sentencing appear to have increased over the past two decades. The findings seemingly align with observations that people of color are overrepresented in US prisons and jails, as a sociologist and a former judge recently explained in Issues, and that mass incarceration disproportionally hurts communities of color in a variety of ways.
11/19/17 – Despite its stated goal of dramatically reducing carbon emissions by aggressively pursing clean energy technologies and phasing out fossil fuels, Germany is still burning lots of an especially dirty form of coal and is likely to badly miss its upcoming emission-reduction targets. In Issues, a renewable energy expert who worked as a manager at a large German utility group recently took an in-depth look at the problems Germany has encountered in moving to a clean and affordable energy system and offered lessons that other nations can learn from its experiences.
10/18/17 – As one of a number of companies looking to provide fast and affordable access to space, Boeing is developing a “spaceplane” called the Phantom Express to carry satellites routinely into orbit while operating much like its passenger jet cousins. Indeed, Issues recently examined the increasing role of private companies in space activities and how the US government will need to adjust its space programs and policies to capitalize on shifting opportunities.
11/16/17 – One idea for cooling the atmosphere and curbing climate change is to “brighten” marine clouds by seeding them with saltwater, thereby increasing their ability to reflect solar rays. Indeed, federal policy-makers recently examined how government might play a role in advancing the research. And from another perspective, a professor working on this technology joined with two professors of ethics and religion to suggest in Issues that researchers of climate engineering should be chosen not only for their technical skills but also for their moral habits of character.