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Willie Soon, Academic Freedom, and How We Can Deal With Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest

In the last week, the Internet has blown up. There were llamas, dresses, and bird-riding weasels. But what also blew up was an important discussion about conflict of interest disclosure and what information academic scientists should be expected to make public. Above all else, the debate has made clear that conflict of interest disclosure rules are lacking and that we need clarity from Congress, scientific societies, and academic institutions on how these issues should be addressed. Read More

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China’s Not So Silent Spring: Can One Video Save China’s Environment?

Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival (春节), is a time each year when hundreds of millions of Chinese travel home to reunite with family and friends. Observers routinely note it is the largest human migration event on the planet.

This year, on the Sunday before returning to work from Spring Festival, an equally impressive number of Chinese downloaded an explosive on-line exposé on Chinese air pollution produced by former CCTV reporter Chai Jing. The film, called “Under the Dome,” is not the first Chinese effort to document the country’s growing environmental problems, but it is the first to generate this much interest. Read More

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Rep. Grijalva’s Requests and the Real Problem with Conflict of Interest Disclosure

On Tuesday, Arizona’s U.S. representative Raul Grijalva asked seven academics for their sources of funding and earlier drafts of testimony they have delivered before congressional committees. Since then, many have debated whether the requests cross the line into harassment or witch hunts or McCarthyism. Lost in the discussion around whether the requests are too broad is a bigger question to address: Why don’t we already know who funds the work of those who testify before Congress? Read More

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Stormy Seas, Rising Risks: New Analysis Shows Undisclosed Climate Change Impacts at Oil Refineries

Ten miles outside New Orleans stands a two-million barrels per day oil refinery, surrounded by the Meraux, Louisiana community. On low-lying ground along the Gulf coast, an elaborate network of pipes and smoke stacks looms beyond double-wide trailers, rows of single-family homes, and a playground. By 2050, the refinery and surrounding areas could be underwater, given intermediate sea level rise estimates. But this won’t be the first time the refinery has seen high water levels. Read More

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What Kinds of Scrutiny of Scientists are Legitimate?

This morning, Rep. Raul Grijalva sent letters to seven universities seeking documents related to academics who have testified before Congress on climate change. The requests come in the wake of revelations over the weekend that the Smithsonian Institution agreed not to disclose payments from the Southern Company, a major utility, to fund and review the work of Smithsonian aerospace engineer Willie Soon. As all of the researchers in question have been critical of mainstream climate science, some are wondering if Rep. Grijalva’s requests can be considered a witch hunt. So is it? Read More

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Willie Soon’s Failure to Disclose Industry Funding for Contrarian Climate Research is Another Reason to Support Transparency

My first job in science communication was as an “Explainer” in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The program helps visitors – particularly students – understand the forces of flight. Our uniforms included red polo shirts that said “The Explainer Program” on the front and had the name of the company that sponsored the program – Cessna Aircraft – on the sleeve.

I recall this old uniform because the Smithsonian is under scrutiny for an entirely different type of sponsorship that was hidden from public view. Read More

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The Problem with the Environmental Movement

Guest Bogger

Alexis Goggans
M.S., Interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies

Washington, DC

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always an environmentalist. In fact, I didn’t know about composting or environmental justice until I was 19 years old. I often tell people with a precarious smile that it was my undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder that turned me into the person I am today. But my journey to full-blown New Age hippy didn’t start with “save the whale” protests or “save the rainforest” campaigns. It began with environmental justice.  Read More

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No Scientist Should Face Harassment. Period.

Last week, UCS released a report detailing the cases of many scientists who have been the targets of open record requests filed by their critics. These attacks have come from the left (e.g., gay marriage) and from the right (e.g., climate change). That same week, Science reported that an advocacy group had submitted extensive open records requests to multiple universities for significant portions of the email correspondence of several scientists who work in genetic engineering. On whether this constitutes harassment, it’s worth revisiting what should be disclosed and what should not. Read More

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Big Sugar Is Watching You: Four Ways the Food Industry Is Trying to Rig the Game

Most of us ask a doctor for advice about our health. We consult a dentist about care for our teeth. No one queries General Mills, the maker of sugary Lucky Charms and Betty Crocker cake mixes, for the latest science on diabetes or cardiovascular disease. And no one in their right mind calls up Coca-Cola or PepsiCo for evidence-based guidance on sugar and dental disease. Read More

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Four Ways Scientists Can Give Good Answers to Bad Questions

This post originally appeared on the American Geophysical Union’s Plainspoken Scientist blog.

One of the reasons I love working with scientists is that they tend to be very direct. Ask a question: get an answer. Sometimes the answer is a little long and makes me revisit basic physics I haven’t thought about since middle school, but I definitely get an answer.

Thankfully, most of the questions journalists, policymakers and citizens ask scientists are straightforward. But many are off-base and sometimes even badly framed. If a scientist provides a direct answer to a bad question, they can inadvertently leave audiences with an inaccurate impression of their work. While the examples below won’t happen to every researcher, they illustrate good principles for effectively dealing with such questions. Read More

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