Ask a Scientist

Our monthly ‘Ask a Scientist’ column answers questions that come from UCS members and supporters.


A wide range of stakeholders from across the country met in December 2018 to develop a set of principles to ensure equitable deployment of energy storage technologies. (Photo: Megan Rising/UCS)

Ask a Scientist: How to Ensure Underserved Communities Benefit from Energy Storage

, senior writer

This month’s Ask a Scientist column takes a look at how the revolution in energy storage technology has the potential to wean the United States off fossil fuel-powered electricity and—if implemented correctly—lower residential electric bills, strengthen resilience to power outages, and clean up the air in communities where dirty power plants are usually located. Read more >

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Kenneth Dryden of the Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice and a former Southbridge resident leads a tour of toxic facilities to teach scientists and community members about the dangers of local air pollution. Gretchen Goldman/UCS

Ask a Scientist: Science in Service to Community Health

, senior writer

Communities are fighting against longstanding injustices and science is proving to be a powerful tool. For example, scientific research can provide evidence of the threat posed by toxic air and water emissions, corroborating community concerns about the impact of pollution. Communities can then use this evidence to lobby lawmakers to enact policies that protect them from pollution. Scientists also can suggest potential solutions that, in conjunction with community viewpoints and expertise, increase the chance that public officials will enact policies that are equitable and evidence-based. Scientists have an extraordinary opportunity to partner with community groups and apply their work to promoting equity and justice. Read more >

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Ask a Scientist: How Can Cereal Makers Help Save Our Soil, Support Farmers, and Take a Bite out of Climate Change?

, senior writer

The grains that make up the primary ingredients of most US cereals all too often are grown in ways that degrade soil, pollute water, and contribute to climate change. Fortunately, major cereal makers are slowly beginning to pay attention to the problems caused by unsustainable farming practices, but the operative word is “slowly.” They have made commitments to promote more environmentally friendly methods for growing grains, but those commitments need to be strengthened and expanded. Read more >

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Photo: UCS

Ask a Scientist: Should Scientists Shy Away from Politics?

, senior writer

Scientists have traditionally been uncomfortable discussing or even acknowledging that science is political, but truth be told, science has long played a vital role in politics. The scientific method is commonly viewed as a process of making observations and answering questions. Once scientists ask fundamental questions and develop hypotheses, they gather data and ask whether the collected evidence aligns with their original hypotheses. This process is called ‘the scientific method’ or scientific inquiry. What policymakers decide to do with the evidence-based results is politics. Think about it this way: Determining whether toxic emissions from an industrial facility harms public health is scientific inquiry. Deciding what action to take do in response to that information is political. Read more >

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© iStockphoto.com/Ridofranz

As Global Warming Increases, Is There an Upper Limit to How Much Additional Water Vapor The Atmosphere Can Hold?

, senior writer

I’m sure you’ve heard that old adage, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” Living in Washington, D.C., for the last three decades, I certainly know what it means. That said, it would be more accurate to say, “It’s not only the heat, it’s also the humidity.” Based on a question about water vapor and global warming we recently received from a UCS supporter in Lexington, Kentucky, I talked with the lead author of our recent Killer Heat report, Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist in our Climate and Energy Program, about increasing heat and humidity, global warming, and the choices we face. Read more >

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