Links 4/27/17

Trump_itsokwhenivankadoesit
Links for you. Science:

An asteroid will not destroy Earth today. But let’s consider that for a moment.
Giraffes must be listed as endangered, conservationists formally tell US
Why Are Some Mice (and People) Monogamous? A Study Points to Genes
Poverty, open sewers and parasites: ‘America’s dirty shame’
Medieval medical books could hold the recipe for new antibiotics

Other:

How I Got a Tampon Dispenser Installed in the West Wing
Sorry, Republicans, but most people support single-payer health care
No, Mr. President, you can’t do what you want
Trump and the Trumpists
Educated Evangelicals, Academic Achievement, and Trumpism: On the Tensions in Valuing Education in an Anti-Intellectual Subculture
Sorry, Republicans, but most people support single-payer health care
Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet
We’re Now In the Second Biggest Housing Boom of All Time
These photos show what it’s like being a punk in Burma
The couch surfing provacateur
Trump’s private spook
A Millennial Feminist Explains the New Feminism to a Boomer Feminist Philosopher (a little long-winded but good)
PALIN, BREITBART, AND FOX SEEM TO BE STRUGGLING WITH THE CONCEPT OF LINEAR TIME
The House Democrats Would Likely Have Had Much, Much Worse Leadership Without Pelosi– And When She Finally Goes, They Will
Chechens tell of prison beatings and electric shocks in anti-gay purge: ‘They called us animals’
What makes Sanders so significant is that he’s the first left (visible) politician in decades to offer a political analysis of the economy.

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Old And Alone

Observed in Blagden Alley, D.C.:

Alone, tired

Posted in DC | 1 Comment

Thoughts On “The Nonpartisan Nerd Parade”

To use Buzzfeed’s phrase. Hughes (boldface mine):

The programming could be called a lot of things. Inspiring, maybe. Nerdy. Wholesome. Boring. But it was not in any way controversial. And in that way it felt like a missed opportunity, bizarrely disconnected from the crowd of thousands, many holding cutting signs about the president’s hair, hands, skin color, intellect, tweets, and policies. Because for the people in the streets, it wasn’t just a march in support of science, it was a march against the President’s anti-science policies. Yet the march’s leadership, in a bid for inclusion, shied away from that. That was a mistake.

It was billed as the march for science. But just about everyone actually marching, even the kids I talked to, was quick to say what the march was really about: Trump….

It’s not that a global pep rally for science is a bad thing, necessarily. It’s not in a scientist’s nature to opine from soapboxes (it’s why they write research papers in the passive voice). They’re much more comfortable advocating for facts and truth. The thing is, as Yale scholar Dan Kahan pointed out on Twitter, most people, no matter their political or religious orientation, agree that science makes our lives better. What we don’t all agree on is whether Trump is making good decisions.

As much as scientists may want their work to have bipartisan support, those days are long gone. For the past four years, the House Science Committee has become one of the loudest voices against climate science, repeatedly calling scientists “alarmist” and dishonest. Trump’s budget chief says that NIH funding should be cut because of “mission creep” and that climate research is “a waste of your money.” The president has suggested that vaccines — the greatest public health effort of the modern era — cause autism.

These are very real divides, but the march pretended they don’t exist. That neutral stance, however admirable, likely came at an opportunity cost. The march’s organizers had tens of thousands of motivated voices at their disposal. Would that energy have been better directed at electing Democrats in 2018? (The Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton tweeted support of the march.) Or fighting against Trump’s hostile stance on immigrants, who make up nearly 20% of the scientific workforce? Or convincing scientists to run for office themselves?

For the record, I attended the D.C. march. The problem, as I see it, is that the march had three main objectives (I’ll describe them in no particular order). The first was to increase diversity and to address issues facing historically marginalized groups (and I’m including immigration in this). Despite much of the online/Twitter heat about this, I think most march participants supported this. That said, parts of the left need to learn how to write a mission statement that doesn’t mangle English using Sociology 101 terminology (really, it didn’t help. At all). If phrased properly, this wouldn’t have been very partisan at all (unless you’re Attorney General and elite racist Jeff Sessions).

A second objective was to convince people to take scientific and scientists’ claims seriously (e.g., global warming). This is both political and, regrettably, partisan. It is political in that these problems require political solutions–and thus recognition by our political system. In the case of global warming, it is partisan in that the Republican Party has decided to pretend the overwhelming scientific consensus backed by multiple lines of evidence is wrong. It’s worth noting this wasn’t always the case: pre-Iraq war, many Republicans agreed that global warming was happening and that it was significantly affected by human activity, but many also argued it was too expensive to do anything about it. Lighting billions of dollars on fire for Our Excellent Middle East adventure kinda dinged the fiscal argument, leaving little choice but to assail the science. So there really isn’t any way around this, except to be political and partisan.

A third objective, one that I think was ignored by some march participants, was the issue of science funding. As we’ve written many times on this blog, if you claim to love science, but you don’t fund it, you don’t love science at all, you’re just ogling its butt (or grabbing it by the…). The actor James Earl Jones, when asked why he was doing commercials, responded, “You can be an actor or you can be unemployed. You can’t be an unemployed actor.” Ditto scientists. Funding matters–and if you’re worried about diversity issues (which is good!), ask yourself this: who gets hit the worst when funding gets cut? (Hint: not senior, white, male scientists).

The problem is that funding is a hard issue. It doesn’t neatly map onto party lines, but, at the same time, certain areas are quite partisan. For some funding areas, such as NIH, there are many Republicans who support maintaining funding, even increases. There are also those, of course, who want to cut things to pay for stupid tax cuts and that wall. This is where it gets tricky: if science is turned entirely into a partisan football, then Republicans, even in non-partisan areas of science, will be backed into a corner by Fox News et alia, and be pressured to slash funding. At the same time, there are cuts planned for completely partisan purposes (largely having to do with global warming) that are hideous. And we do like the concept of solidarity–we shouldn’t throw climate science overboard to ‘save’ medical science*. So the strategy here isn’t straightforward.

While this might seem craven to some, if you support Science, but aren’t willing to support actual scientists, which means both our research and our earning a living, well, again, you’re just ogling science’s butt. Science doesn’t happen without funding–and funding cuts wouldn’t be trivial in their effects on individual scientists. That is inherently a political issue (as are emergency medical services)–the government spends money. In some cases, it’s also a partisan issue. Splitting that difference is hard.

It’s also why, for better and for worse, I think there was a major push to keep the marches ‘non-partisan’ by some scientists.

*Or should we? I don’t like it, but there is a case to be made: the ethics of awful situations are not trivial.

Posted in Conservatives, Funding, Global Warming, NIH | Leave a comment

Links 4/26/17

Trump_ragetweetdyinglight
Links for you. Science:

Why the Menace of Mosquitoes Will Only Get Worse (must-read; the U.S. simply isn’t prepared for this)
The Hype Cycle of Ancient DNA
Dueling BRCA Databases: What About the Patient?
Its location a mystery for centuries, huge Indian city may have been found in Kansas
For Cods Sake: The Future of a Collapsing Fishery

Other:

What It Would Really Take To Sink A Modern Aircraft Carrier (in case you’re wondering…)
Fighting All the Battles at Once.
Trump’s pick for rules czar would hand more power to Trump
Want to rescue rural America? Bust monopolies. (and these monopolies made people sick–or dead)
The evidence is piling up — Silicon Valley is being destroyed
The Jobless Economy
Metro GM proposes ‘new business model’ and $500 million a year in extra funding to save D.C.-area transit agency
How D.C. Became the Darling of Education Reform
How to Stop Drug Price Gouging
Mexico’s Revenge
13 Questions That Expose Charter School Falsehoods
Now is the perfect time to discuss how and why Bernie Sanders could’ve beaten Donald Trump
Chemist’s Misconduct Is Likely to Void 20,000 Massachusetts Drug Cases (have been writing about the WRATH OF DOOKHAN for a while now)
Andrew Sullivan’s Pathology
Long rated by test scores, schools may soon be judged on student absenteeism too

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Variegated

Observed on P Street NW, between 17th and 18th, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Variegated

Posted in DC | 2 Comments

Why Silicon Valley Keeps Getting Biotech Wrong

Last week, an article about Why Silicon Valley keeps getting biotech ‘wrong’ made the rounds, and concluded (boldface mine):

But the “move fast and break things” mantra that has helped Silicon Valley disrupt countless industries over the last two decades is more dangerous when applied to medical science. The roadblocks that health tech companies run into are not qualitatively different from the ones that all tech companies run into. But when Uber or Airbnb run afoul of their respective laws, the result is abstracted lost money out of someone’s pocket — the government, independent contractors, independent businesses, other segments of the market. When Airbnb keeps viable apartments off the market so they can be rented short-term to its users, the money can theoretically be remanded if someone determines that Airbnb is doing something wrong. The “things” being broken by the current generation of unicorns are regulatory regimes. (Valuable, useful regulatory regimes, to be sure.) The “things” being broken by health start-ups are laws of science and ironclad guidelines for research. When a health start-up “moves fast and breaks things,” it can directly result in the death, dismemberment, and injury of real people. You can’t un-kill someone who died thanks to a bad diagnosis (at least, there’s no start-up hawking that yet).

While I don’t think this is wrong, I think it’s very incomplete. There are two significant differences between biotech and tech. The first is that much of tech does is “abstracted” (to use the author’s phrase). It is a virtualization or a simulation of the real world. In the case of Facebook or Twitter, it’s a construction out of whole cloth of a virtual reality (one that obviously draws on actual reality). As such, the rules can be rewritten. Unless one collides with regulators or some physical reality (Pets.com learned the hard way that shipping heavy bags of dog food to different locations one at a time is really expensive), it’s a ‘Green Lantern economy’: your magic slide deck or elevator pitch can be translated into (virtual) reality with enough smart programmers.

But biology, like Honey Badger, doesn’t give a shit. A cancerous cell will keep on metastasizing, aging will still happen, and so on. It’s analogous to what I once had to tell someone coming to terms with a new diagnosis of Crohn’s disease: you can fool your family and friends, you can fool the doctor, but you can’t fool your intestine.

That brings me to the second difference: natural history matters. In the day job, I work closely with computer scientists, who, on the whole, are very, very smart people. But there have been multiple occasions where either what appears to be an obvious solution will be hung up on those stupid fucking natural history facts, or what appears to be a difficult problem can be greatly simplified due to the biology. To be successful at biology, you have to know things (or listen to the people who do). That is, biological expertise matters–and it often has grey hair as well, something Silicon Valley disdains.

Just two more reasons why I think Silicon Valley has had biotech problems.

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Links 4/25/17

Trump_startofdisastermovie
Links for you. Science:

This tech was meant to explore space. Can it also solve the mysteries of breast cancer?
Federal biomedical science policy under Donald Trump, nearly 100 days in
Why slashing the NIH budget is indefensible
A Cautionary Tale About Antibiotics
The war on science is war on America’s future

Other:

United Airlines Exposes Our Twisted Idea of Dignity (excellent)
The Russians are Hacking Us Again
The American Dream Is Killing Us
As D.C. families get richer, staggering disparities persist, report finds
Metro says it will activate free WiFi at 30 stations by year’s end (but have they fixed the air conditioning?)
Trump’s D.C. Economy Plans for Life Beyond Millennials
Neighbors
California senator gets called a sellout at town hall for saying she ‘isn’t there’ for single payer
The Violent Clashes In Berkeley Weren’t ‘Pro-Trump’ Versus ‘Anti-Trump’
They’re Coming for Elizabeth Warren
Road To Single-Payer: Understanding Different Universal Health Care Systems
Don’t lose sight of what really matters about Ivanka Trump
Americans are having less sex than they once did
Europe could have the secret to saving America’s unions (card check would help too. Got EFCA?)
Math Professor: Why Our Freshmen Need Remediation
Your Broadband is About to Get Much More Expensive

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