I have written exhaustively about CRISPR-Cas technology, and its potential to change science and the world as we know it.
But with this change in science as we know it, we’re faced with some pretty important ethical questions (also not the first time I’ve talked about this on NiB). However, what is new is this excellent post by Osagie K. Obasogie, who researches ethical issues surrounding reproductive and genetic technologies.
He addresses how the Trump administration, and the rise of white nationalism is concerning with the new CRISPR possibilities. It’s not like we haven’t experienced scientific projects trying to engineer better humans, one only needs to remember the aftermath of the Holocaust and the public Nuremburg trials.
It’s an interesting line of thought to walk down, and I strongly recommend reading the piece here.
You may remember that ResearchGate is under a brutal assault and may not survive to tell the tale.
Excerpt below is from Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe. Lisa is the Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library and an affiliate faculty member in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“ResearchGate is under assault. As a scholarly collaboration platform that enables both public and private sharing on a networked scale, ResearchGate is seen as dangerous, not only because it is potentially infringing copyright, but because it is doing so on a massive publisher-independent scale. A group of publishers tried to tame ResearchGate through a proposal that it endorse the STM Voluntary Principles on Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks and implement antipiracy measures, but ResearchGate rejected this proposal. Though ResearchGate now faces the threat of thousands of takedown notices and a lawsuit, it is positioned to emerge at least unscathed, if not strengthened, from these assaults.”
“On April 22, more than a million people took to the streets, in Washington, D.C., and over 600 satellite locations around the world, to march for science. But six months later, the eponymous organization behind those gatherings—March for Science (MFS)—is still struggling with many of the same issues that have troubled it since its conception.
On Monday, Aaron Huertas, the former communications lead for MFS, posted an open letter that called out the group’s leaders for creating a culture beset by miscommunication, opacity, and disorganization. “Though the organization calls itself an open, grassroots movement, it is run like a closed, hierarchical organization,” the letter says. Seven other people told The Atlantic that their experience of working with March for Science was consistent with the open letter. “I really do think everyone has the best intentions, but not everyone has the skill sets they need to run a grassroots organization,” Huertas says.
“This is what happens when you have a group of very passionate, well-meaning people without the organizational experience who take on a tremendous amount of work, with this sort of Herculean mission of saving science,” says Jacquelyn Gill, who volunteered for the March for Science in its early stages, left the organization in April, and had signed the new open letter. “It set the stage for a culture that was big on enthusiasm and energy but weak on logistics.”
In a statement responding to the letter, Temple-Perry notes that the organization has taken several steps to address these problems, including soliciting feedback from partners and volunteers, running a retreat in May, issuing an open invitation to join an internal communications network, and staging biweekly calls with satellite organizers and partners. “Unfortunately, individuals on the letter have not yet called in to participate,” she notes. “That being said, the concerns brought up in this letter are being discussed by the board. We will continue to work toward greater transparency in all stages of our development as an organization and movement.”
Given the degree to which science is under attack in the US at the moment, this is an important movement and important time to be pro-science. And as a community we need to address these concerns.”
How comfortable do you feel knowing that there is no group coordinating a national biology strategy in the US, and that a single for-profit company holds a critical mass of intellectual property rights to the future of genomic editing?
Crispr can be used to engineer agricultural products like wheat, rice, and animals to withstand the effects of climate change. Seeds can be engineered to produce far greater yields in tiny spaces, while animals can be edited to create triple their usual muscle mass. This could dramatically change global agricultural trade and cause widespread geopolitical destabilization. Or, with advance planning, this technology could help the US forge new alliances.
Without a plan, the US is left with the existing democratic instruments of change: patents, regulation, legislation, and lawsuits. And society is trusting our lawmakers, political appointees, and agency heads to apply those instruments to biological technologies that could literally change the future of humanity.
The White House and Congress have lost their way when it comes to science. The congressional committees that craft legislation on these matters do not even have formal designated science advisers. That’s a big problem. Instead of seeing science as a threat, officials should recognize it as an invaluable tool for improving legislation.
To educate members about the best available research, both the House and Senate science committees should create independent groups of impartial researchers and policy specialists to advise them on science and technology issues, including those related to energy, genetically modified foods, and clean air and water. (Industry representatives would still have a voice, but they would counsel the committees separately). Congress used to have a body of this kind—the widely respected Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA was an office of Congress: it served members and committees, and a bipartisan board of senators and representatives oversaw it. Until 1995, the OTA created reports on scientific issues ranging from alternative fuels to cancer and presented Congress with options it could pursue to reach different goals. Then the Republican-controlled Congress axed its funding during budget cuts. Many have advocated for the OTA’s return, including Scientific American. Last year Representative Bill Foster of Illinois introduced a resolution calling for its revival.
Whether it comes from a resurrected OTA, a new, dedicated advisory panel or some other body, independent, evidence-based advice on scientific matters would provide a strong counterbalance to the opinions of special interests. Science would get a voice, no matter who was in power. This voice could not force members of Congress to accept scientific truth over alternative “facts.” But at least it would give them the opportunity to do so.*
*This is all an excerpt from here. Want to know more? Read more.
Everyone I know is leaving academia. It started a few years ago with great postdocs taking alternative academic positions (head of an NSF institute, lead of a nature preserve, etc.), and has now progressed into most of my friends moving to industry (data science, start ups and biology industry).
So it’s really refreshing to read a post about someone who flat out loves their job. Maybe there is still hope?
I don’t know how to respond to the shooting in Las Vegas, and I especially don’t know how to do it publicly. But over at Medium, a wonderful guest post by a North American Grey Wolf really brought it home for me (or added some humor in a dour and humorless time).
I am a North American Gray Wolf and I’m mad as hell. Yes, I am a bit of a loner but let me be clear, I would never do something like this. You humans never care about me unless it’s to describe a psychopath mass murderer. Just because I’ve chosen not to reproduce or run with a pack doesn’t mean you can use my name to describe white mass shooters. Stop appropriating wolf culture and come up with your own term for it. I have a suggestion: Terrorist.
Do you even know what actual lone wolves like to do? We like running, howling, eating small mammals, smelling, and more running. You know what we don’t like to do? Shoot up concerts with weapons your founding fathers never could have imagined.
In conclusion, a murderer with a lawfully purchased personal arsenal is nothing like a lone wolf. A lone wolf is a majestic grey animal who just wants to do his own thing and maybe get married when he’s ready, ok?
And they highlighted a short peer-reviewed paper that they wrote about how to promote equity and inclusion, which you can find the full text here and the PDF here.
TL;DL version: they have 12 recommendations for broadening participation and communicating about diversity.
Recommendations for Broadening Participation and Communicating About Diversity in Entomology
Build meaningful long-term collaborations with faculty and students in Minority-Serving Institutions.
When focusing on diversity for seminar series and symposia, take into account not only gender and ethnic diversity, but also institutional diversity.
Develop broader impacts for research proposals that provide training opportunities for undergraduates in underserved institutions, because implementation of broader impacts fostering the inclusion of underrepresented groups is uncommon (McGlynn 2013a). However, parachuting into institutions to recruit the “quality” candidates without building relationships with the faculty and supporting long-term mentoring relationships will not serve the purpose of broadening participation (McGlynn 2013b).
For graduate admissions, eliminate the GRE requirement and lower GPA thresholds.
Observe or participate in conversations in social media with academics representing a range of ethnic, cultural, and institutional backgrounds.
Emphasize quality over quantity when developing a piece of work for communication (e.g., blog post, video, podcast). Low-quality work rarely reaches its intended audience.
If you make the choice to build your own platform for communication, establish a regular frequency for new material, and stick to that schedule. Blogs are a form of outreach that involves a long-haul investment, because audiences build slowly, and only with regular feeding.
You don’t need to build your own platform, as range of existing platforms are available to you, such as Facebook, Twitter, Medium, guest posts in established blogs, and op-ed pieces in newspapers.
Don’t be afraid to get it wrong; as long as you are open-minded and respond positively to critical feedback, then you will not become infamous on the internet.
Play to your strengths and communicate in a medium and style that works best for you.
Engage in communication with the community in a manner that anneals your professional goals.
Evaluating your work by comparing your successes to the successes of others is only a recipe for disappointment. Establish benchmarks for yourself, and compare yourself to those benchmarks over time.
Utahraptor, 23 feet long and weighing over a ton, was one of the largest dromaeosaurs, feathered, sickle-clawed dinosaurs closely related to birds. Since its discovery in 1991, it has been the subject of a popular novel, assorteddocumentaries and tie-in toys from “Jurassic Park.” But for all its fame, the predator has been known primarily from only a few remains. That changed in 2001, when a geology student found a leg bone emerging from a hillside in the Cedar Mountain formation in eastern Utah. You see, millions of years ago, on a mud flat somewhere in Cretaceous Utah, a group of Utahraptors made a grave mistake: They tried to hunt near quicksand. The pack’s poor fortune has given modern paleontologists an opportunity to decode the giant raptor — its appearance, growth and behavior — but only if they can raise the money.
Enter “The Utahraptor Project,” started on GoFundMe last year with a $100,000 goal. It offers backers access to a field worker’s blog, a live “Raptor Cam” and digital models of the find put together through the process of photogrammetry.