I read a short book about science and society last weekend, Unscientific America by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. It’s a quick read, and the context is very much the 2008 elections, so you should browse it sooner than later. There are some good ideas, but the focus on web campaigns of 2008 are going to make them sound even more dated in a year.
The book argues strongly for the meaningful popularization of scientific ideas. I love the popularizers of science, and was very influenced by books like Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and Gödel, Escher, Bach when I was a youth. The modern history sections in Unscientific America trace these popularizations to Carl Sagan’s book/television series Cosmos. I should check that out.
Tom Paulson, the global health journalist behind the NPR blog Humanosphere, has been taking on some very non-transparent (opaque?) rules from the Pacific Health Summit here in Seattle. Fortunately, he took a break to laud the transparency with which the institute I’m working at operates. Maybe he thinks we can be an example for the summitteers, or at least a counter balance.
Paulson didn’t mention the aspect of IHME’s work which, as an ivory-tower inhabiting academic, I find most radically transparent, however. The journal Population Health Metrics, which IHME director Chris Murray is the co-editor-in-chief and big booster of, has a scarily open review process. It’s not just open publishing where everyone can read the papers, it’s so open that everyone can read the referee reports, and the responses to referees, and the whole chain of revisions that a paper goes through before being stamped peer-reviewed.
This is great for authors. As a referee, it makes me much more responsible for my actions, which takes longer, but is probably a good thing overall. I even put some PyMC code in a review once, to tell the authors how to do something the easy way. But now I’m not sure I want to go look at this correspondence after all.
The Global Health Metrics and Evaluation conference that I attended two weeks ago was scrupulously videotaped, and most sessions are now online. I had a really good time at the session Responsible data sharing and strengthening country capacity for analysis, which started with this unusual framing by moderator Elizabeth Pisani:
I got some good news for the weekend, an opinion piece that I wrote together with some of the other post-graduate fellows at IHME was published online as a Science e-letter. It is titled U.S. Health Care Reform: The Case for Accountability and it’s about the measuring the outputs, outcomes, and impacts of the reform, whatever shape they end up taking.
The part that I was especially interested in adding to the discussion appears in paragraphs 3 and 4, about what these some of these statistics look like currently:
Disparities in health outcomes in the U.S. are unacceptable. A healthy life expectancy at birth in the U.S. ranks behind 28 other developed countries (1). Sizable groups in the United States have mortality risks resembling those in sub-Saharan Africa (2), including urban blacks between the ages of 15 and 64 living in counties with high homicide rates.
On average, Asian women lived 21 years longer than high-risk urban black males in 2001 (2). Although life expectancy for most American women increased between 1983 and 1999, life expectancy for women in 180 counties in areas such as Appalachia, the Deep South, the southern Midwest, and Texas decreased by 1.3 years (3).
I made some figures to accompany this, which Science didn’t print, so I’ve included them for you here:
Probability of a 45 year-old male dying before age 65, 2001, from Murray et al., Eight Americas: Investigating mortality disparities across races, counties, and race-counties in the United States. PLoS Medicine 2006.
Female life expectancy in US counties, 1961-1999 from Ezzati et al., The reversal of fortunes: Trends in county mortality and cross-county mortality disparities in the United States. PLoS Medicine 2008.
Here’s a half-baked post that I started months ago. I decided to rush it to press for Earth Day, which is today.
The first U.S. auction for carbon emission pollution rights occurred in December of 2008. It raised over $38.5B, which will go to six states in New England. From ScienceNOW Daily News:
The auction’s premise is that putting a price tag on pollution–so-called carbon trading–will eventually reduce emissions industrywide. Companies must pay for the right to emit greenhouse gas emissions and are penalized for excess pollution.
RGGI states, picture
The ten states shown in dark green are participating in RGGI. Observers are represented in lime green.
How did the auction work? online, reserve price, open to investors and environmental groups, required for power companies in RGGI states. Not required for manufacturing or transportation. Any earth-day-interested readers out there to fill in these details? Or, to do a little follow up research about how things have gone? (I wrote this last December.)
Finally, here is a humorous critique of carbon trading, based on the observation that carbon credits are a scarce resource. This is highlighted by a paired example from cheatneutral. I find it compelling.
The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a short piece on public-service applications of computer science that are coming out of a class called Computing for Good (C4G) that TCS star Santosh Vempala co-taught at Georgia Tech last spring.
This is an idea that is emerging in several ACO-related disciplines. Manuela Veloso has been running a similar program at CMU called V-Unit, Karen Smilowitz and Michael Johnson held a session at INFORMS 2007 on community-based operations research, and in 2006 student statisticians started a network of volunteer consultancies called Statistics in the Community.
It’s great to see a tradition of “pro bono” work developing in theoretical fields. It’s not just a way for lawyers to assuage their consciences anymore.
MIT faculty makes scholarly articles freely and openly available to the entire world.
Google Summer of Code returns, and suggested Python projects. (A nice way for students to spend the summer, especially during an “economic downturn”).
And for those of you that are looking for NSF grants to apply to: Foundations of Data and Visual Analytics.
I wrote a few months ago about how research in differential privacy seems very applicable to global public health. There is a new report from the Institute of Medicine which calls for a new approach to protecting privacy in health research, Beyond the HIPAA privacy rule. The Lancet also has an editorial about the report, which is what made me think that I should pass this reference on to theoretical privacy researchers. Lancet’s summary: Continue reading
NSF recently began accepting applications for their annual EAPSI program (due date: Dec. 9). The “East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes” are an opportunity for science and tech grad students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to do some research in an Asian or Pacific country of their choice.
There is this paradox: federal budgets, and, particularly, what is allocated for science, is something so important day-to-day for researchers, yet reading about budgets is so boring that I can hardly bring myself to do it.
It is important, though, so we should try. The folks at ScienceNOW have done a nice summary of the effects of the “continuing resolution” which congress passed last weekend and Bush signed on Tuesday. What this means in dollars is that most all budget items stay the same as last year, except that there is also inflation, so, in real dollars the amount spent on all science decreases.
“I think the next Administration will be very leery of more spending given the current state of the economy,” speculates Samuel Rankin III, a lobbyist for the American Mathematical Society and head of the Coalition for National Science Funding.
For some science agencies, the CR actually puts them below the amounts spent this year. That’s because the legislators excluded the $400 million divvied up among NSF, DOE, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under a supplemental 2008 spending bill passed in June
Let’s not be all doom and gloom, though; Michael Mitzenmacher reports that enrollment in beginning CS at Harvard is up, up, up.
2 years ago — 132
1 year ago — 282
this year — 341