Category Archives: Science

Skelton stood up for science regarding prairie chicken

lesserprairiechickenOn Wednesday the Sedgwick County Commission added its voice to the many others in Kansas opposing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, voting to send a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback endorsing legal action challenging the federal move. Commissioner Karl Peterjohn proposed the letter, which calls the federal listing “harmful to important agricultural and energy interests in Kansas,” and persuaded Commission Chairman Dave Unruh and Richard Ranzau to support sending it. But Commissioner Jim Skelton, before joining Commissioner Tim Norton in voting “no,” lashed out at the move. “There’s no way on Earth I’m going to support a letter by us supporting a bunch of politicians in Topeka that want to trump trained biologists and scientists…. It burns me up. It’s bad policymaking, and it goes against the grain of what good sportsmanship and outdoorsmanship means.”

Pompeo convinced that GM foods are safe, needed

food“The science is clear” that genetically modified foods are safe, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board. Pompeo introduced a bill this week that would require that new GM foods be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; currently, such review isn’t mandated. The bill also would give the FDA sole authority on whether to label GM foods – barring states from imposing their own regulations. Supporters of labeling argue that it informs consumers, but Pompeo contends that a patchwork of unscientific state regulations creates burdens and barriers for Kansas farmers. “It’s a big deal to our growers,” Pompeo said.

Fewer Republicans believe in evolution

evolutionThe purging of moderates from the GOP might explain why the percentage of Republicans who believe in evolution has decreased sharply. In 2009, 54 percent of Republicans believed that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” but now only 43 percent believe that, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. In contrast, 67 percent of Democrats believe in evolution, up 3 percentage points since 2009. Sixty percent of U.S. adults believe that humans have evolved over time, about the same as in 2009.

Evolution not issue in State BOE primaries

Unlike in some past elections, evolution doesn’t appear to be a big issue in Kansas State Board of Education races, at least not in the two races with primaries on Tuesday. In District 8, which includes much of Wichita, incumbent Walt Chappell and GOP challenger Kathy Busch both support the teaching of evolution. So do both Democratic candidates for District 6 in northeast and north-central Kansas. Jim McNiece, the only candidate in District 10, which includes west Wichita, also supports teaching evolution.

KU’s NCI designation is huge win for Kansas

Congratulations to the University of Kansas Cancer Center for winning designation as a National Cancer Institute facility, and to the countless individuals who’ve dedicated themselves to making it happen for several years. The long-term benefits to the state’s economy and health promise to be worth the effort. This isn’t just a triumph for northeast Kansas, either: The KU School of Medicine-Wichita and the vast population served by its faculty and students will be part of the success story, as KU secures new research funding and more Kansans are able to get cutting-edge cancer treatment without leaving the state.

Please, not another reversal on evolution

From 1999 to 2007, the state went through a pattern of electing socially conservative members of the Kansas State Board of Education who would vote to de-emphasize or question evolution in state science standards. The international science community would condemn the standards, and the state would become the butt of jokes. Embarrassed voters then would elect new board members who restored the standards. Then voters would go back to sleep and the pattern would repeat. The current state standards, which reflect mainstream science, have been in place for five years. But board member Ken Willard of Hutchinson raised concerns this week that proposed new national standards describe evolution as a core scientific concept. To be considered one of the 26 lead states working on the Common Core standards, the board had to agree to give “serious consideration” to adopting the science standards, the Kansas City Star reported. But a socially conservative majority could reject them. It’s a warning for voters to pay attention in the August and November elections, when five of the 10 board seats will be on the ballot.

Kansas up to a B on science standards

Kansas, infamous not so long ago for having “banned” evolution, scored a B grade and stood out among its neighbors in a damning new study of states’ science standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The researchers declared Kansas’ standards a “decidedly mixed bag,” describing the life science and physics standards as “generally clear and rigorous,” those covering chemistry “middling,” and those for earth and space science “mediocre at best.” The report added that “evolution is sidestepped or ignored until grades 8-12, where a brief but very good treatment appears.” Oklahoma and Nebraska were among 10 states to earn F’s. Only California and the District of Columbia had straight A’s.

Blindness to science is bipartisan

Republicans take all the flak for being stupidly anti-science, usually related to evolution, global warming and embryonic stem cells. But Alex Berezow argues in USA Today that Democrats can be just as blind to science on other issues. He cites their activism against vaccination (“Unlike denying evolution, refusing vaccinations can be deadly), genetically modified food and animal research. “We can also thank progressives for blocking the construction of nuclear power plants, even though nuclear power is supported by 70 percent of the scientific community,” he writes. “Ironically, they oppose this technology despite the fact it would help reduce carbon emissions and limit the impact of global warming.”

GOP shouldn’t become the ‘anti-science party’

“The minute that the Republican Party becomes . . . the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012,” former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” Huntsman was responding to fellow GOP presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who denied that global warming has been proved. Huntsman added: “When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.”

More cash for CIBOR

Good for the Kansas Bioscience Authority for approving $1.5 million for Wichita’s Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research — spending that will be good for both Wichita’s growing reputation as a hub for composites research and for the Kansas economy. “We’re very excited about it,” Tom Thornton, the authority’s chief executive, told The Eagle editorial board. CIBOR had complained earlier this month to area legislators that the authority’s funding to CIBOR had been slow in coming and less than expected. Thornton said he took “great exception” to suggestions that CIBOR had a five-year, $20 million commitment from the authority, saying the support is year-to-year. But he said of CIBOR, “We think they’re going the right direction.”

Brownback wants creatures to remain mythical

centaurThe long-running crusade by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., against chimera research has some people tittering. Brownback attracted 20 co-sponsors (including one Democrat) for the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act, introduced Friday, which would ban the laboratory creation of “part-human, part-animal creatures” that “blur the line between species,” according to his Web site. “This legislation works to ensure that our society recognizes the dignity and sacredness of human life,” he said.
But among the reactions:
“As our nation suffers through the greatest economic decline in a generation and our country’s brightest minds are working tirelessly to reverse course, what does Sen. Brownback propose? Banning mermaids,” wrote Chris Harris of Media Matters.
And a Daily Kos posting is headlined “Mermaids, Centaurs, Minotaurs and Satyrs Against Brownback.”

Obama made correct decision on stem cell research

stemcell2President Obama made the difficult but correct decision today to lift restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. He acknowledged that “many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about or strongly oppose this research,” but that a majority of Americans “from across the political spectrum” support it. Stem cell research, he noted, could “help us understand, and possibly cure, some of our most devastating diseases and conditions.” Obama also rejected the “false choice between sound science and moral values,” saying that “I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research — and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”

Pro-con: Has a link between autism and vaccines been disproved?

autismThe verdict is in. There is no connection between vaccines and autism. And it is time that all of us get our children vaccinated. In 2008, the United States had the highest measles rate in 10 years. An increasing number of parents have been refusing to vaccinate their children against measles because of this fear of a connection. It is not grounded in science. Major medical groups and government research are unanimous: The measles vaccine is safe, and you must get your children vaccinated, because if you don’t, you are endangering my children. You are endangering your neighbor’s children. You are endangering all of our children. This is serious stuff. Measles can be deadly. Parents, please don’t endanger all of our children based on a myth. Medical science has proved there is no link. — Campbell Brown, CNN

It would be a big mistake to take the recent U.S. Court of Claims opinion as the last word on whether vaccination can contribute to the development of regressive autism in some children. The U.S. Court of Claims special masters are hampered from considering evidence that has not yet been published in the medical literature regarding potential associations between vaccines and the development of regressive autism. There is inappropriate pharmaceutical industry influence on which vaccine studies do get published and widely cited in the medical literature. What is thought to be a scientific truth today can be proven false tomorrow. The answers will come when independent researchers, without ties to industry or government agencies concerned about protecting the status quo, can conduct appropriate scientific investigation into why many children who are healthy regress into autism after vaccination. — Barbara Loe Fisher, National Vaccine Information Center president

Biodefense lab will boost Kansas economy

Kansas’ weakened economy received a big boost today, as the Department of Homeland Security reportedly is recommending Kansas as the site for a new $450 million biodefense laboratory. The lab, which will be located in Manhattan, is expected to have a $3.5 billion economic impact for the state. But with that amount of money at stake, expect the losing states to try to block the decision – just as Kansas did with the air-refueling tanker contract.

Is spreading sea ice a good sign?

gobaliceSome climate change deniers like to point out that sea ice actually is growing in Antarctica, so isn’t that a sign that climate change fears are overblown?

Actually, as this Slate piece explains, although Antarctic ice is spreading at the continent’s edges, this is misleading; the entire ice mass of Antarctica has been decreasing markedly, according to scientists. In the Arctic, meanwhile, despite a cold winter that led to slight increases in seasonal ice, the North Pole’s oldest ice mass continues to disappear at a rapid clip, according to NASA scientists.

Is ‘war on science’ phony?

evolution“There are few things in American politics more irrationally ideological, more fanatically faith-based, than the accusation that Republicans are conducting a ‘war on science,’” wrote Michael Gerson of the Council on Foreign Relations. Gerson claims that this accusation is a political ploy aimed at shutting down debate. “Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled ‘anti-science,’” he wrote. “Any ethical question about the destruction of human embryos to harvest their cells is dismissed as ‘theological’ and thus illegitimate.” No doubt this happens some, and the “war on science” rhetoric can be hyperbolic. On the other hand, there are plenty of scientists at the EPA and elsewhere who have complained about the Bush administration watering down or ignoring science for ideological purposes.

EPA scientists ‘under siege’

scientistAn update on the Bush administration’s war on science: More than half of Environmental Protection Agency scientists who responded to a recent survey said they experienced political interference in their work, reports the Los Angeles Times.

EPA scientists have complained bitterly about Bush administration flacks who repeatedly water down language on climate change or ignore toxic chemical findings that impose costs on industry.

The survey shows that the agency is “under siege from political pressures,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

No intelligence allowed in anti-evolution film?

expelled.jpgI haven’t seen “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” the anti-evolution film by Ben Stein. The mainstream reviews certainly haven’t been good. The New York Times critic described it as “a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry.” A number of reviewers said the movie doesn’t support its central premise: that all these academics are being persecuted because they question evolution or believe in intelligent design. There are a few people in the movie who claim they were persecuted but, according to the reviews, the film doesn’t present evidence of how widespread this is or whether what these people say is actually true. Were they really let go or denied tenure because of evolution, or were there other reasons? For example, the film suggests that one of these people lost his job at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History because of intellectual discrimination, but the Times reported that it “neglects to inform us that he was actually not an employee but rather an unpaid research associate who had completed his three-year term.” The film really goes off the rails, according to Time magazine, when it tries to link the theory of evolution to abortion and the Holocaust.
Have any of you bloggers seen the film? If so, what did you think?

Hawking says life exists in galaxy

hawkingFamed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said this week that he thinks primitive life-forms might exist somewhere in our galaxy. But he believes that advanced, intelligent beings are rare in the universe. And he discounted reports of UFOs.
“We don’t appear to have been visited by aliens,” he said. “Why would they only appear to cranks and weirdos?”

We assume he’s including Dennis Kucinich?

Pass the test-tube meat?

stemcellPeople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal-rights group, has announced a $1 million prize for the first person who can create test-tube meat.

Parts is parts? PETA says that growing meat without real animals is more humane and environmentally friendly.

Still, I doubt if consumers will find the idea of lab-grown Frankennuggets appetizing.
But don’t scoff, says Slate writer William Saletan, who points out that scientists are already having success growing replacement organs such as livers and hearts.
“To put it crudely,” he writes, “if you can grow a hunk of flesh for transplant, you can grow it for food.”

Are we on the verge of a Brave New World of food?

Not all bioscience money for northeast Kansas

The Wichita region has opportunities to participate in all areas of the state’s bioscience effort, Tom Thornton, president and CEO of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, told The Eagle editorial board this week. That’s good to hear, given that the initiative has seemed mostly focused on northeast Kansas. But our region needs to be aggressive in seizing those opportunities.

The authority announced this week that it was helping fund an eminent scholar position at Wichita State University and Via Christi’s Orthopaedic Research Institute. The authority may also choose Wichita this year for a biomaterials center for innovation. And Thornton said Wichita could play a key part in bioenergy development and health care clinical trials. Wichita’s strength, Thornton said, is the collaboration between WSU researchers and “customers” such as aviation companies and the medical community.

Candidates will talk about faith — but not science?

evolutionIt’s fine that Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will talk about “faith, values and other current issues” at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa., on April 13 — but so far they’ve declined invitations to take part in ScienceDebate 2008, a proposed election-year debate on science issues ranging from climate change and space travel to energy policy and America’s technological leadership.

These are complex, substantive issues that have received too little media attention in the election cycle but that will affect America’s future far more than Colombian trade policy or the candidates’ bowling scores.

The next best chance for a science debate appears to be in early May before the Oregon primary.To learn more about the effort, check the ScienceDebate 2008 Web site.

Science debate waiting on candidates

podiumIt’s official. A date and time have been set for a presidential science debate: April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, four days before the Pennsylvania primary.

Now it’s up to the candidates to agree to address a range of science and technology issues that are vital to the nation’s economic future.

For example, as debate organizer Shawn Otto points out, “Science and technology have driven 50 percent of our growth in GDP over the last 50 years, and yet by 2010, 90 percent of all scientists and engineers will live in Asia. That’s a huge fundamental change the next president is going to have to be dealing with, and yet nobody’s talking about it.”

Lawmakers should expand their global warming reading

warmingState Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, has sent the book “Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years” to state legislators and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in an effort to spread the word that global warming is no big deal.

The book, by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery — well-known climate skeptics — discounts the role of human-generated greenhouse gases in climate change and suggests global warming is just a natural cycle of warming.

It’s fine for lawmakers to get opposing points of view, as long as they understand that the view Singer and Avery represent is decidedly in the minority among scientists and largely discredited.

They’d do better to read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report (“Summary for policymakers” online at Or read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book “Field Notes From a Catastrophe.” Or check out the RealClimate site, run by respected climate scientists who have refuted the Singer and Avery book’s assertions point by point (they called it “Unstoppable Hot Air”).

With so much hard data and consensus science out there, why would lawmakers want to hang important policy decisions on this marginal book?

Science debate takes step forward

debateThe group trying to organize a presidential science and techology debate (see my column in support of the idea) got a big boost this week with an endorsement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s most prestigious science organizations.

Here’s hoping more support will follow to make the debate a reality.