science policy

Scientists are humans, too. And, just like other humans you know, some of them aren't very good at their jobs. There are three main ways in which scientists can mess up.

First, some scientists feel as if they have something valuable to say on any topic under the sun. (Far too often, it's politics.) Like those suffering from the dreaded Nobel Disease, they act as if their true expertise in one subject gives them wide latitude to speak boldly on every subject. They are wrong.

Consider a poll of scientists who belong to the American Association for...

The war on expertise is not a new phenomenon. Nearly 60 years before Tom Nichols published his bestselling book, The Death of Expertise, author C.S. Lewis wrote about it in an essay titled "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," a follow-up to his internationally renowned book The Screwtape Letters.

In the novel, a senior devil, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to a junior devil, Wormwood, on how to be a good tempter. Thus, every moral pronouncement in the book is precisely the opposite of how humans ought to behave. The Enemy, to whom Screwtape refers constantly, is God. 

In his toast, Screwtape explains to a large gathering of "gentledevils"...

Soda taxes are many things. Obnoxious. Unscientific. An example of government overreach. The one thing they aren't is racist, yet precisely that case was made by Seattle Times reporter Gene Balk1

His argument goes like this: Blacks and Hispanics consume more sugary beverages than whites and Asians, while whites and Asians drink more diet beverages than blacks and Hispanics. Because the tax does not apply to diet beverages, it is racist. 

Supporting data provided by the Seattle...

At the end of my senior year in high school, our class opened a time capsule that we made in 2nd grade. Each of us had filled out a piece of paper asking us questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I wrote "Scientist."

Of course, in 2nd grade, I didn't have a lot of insight into what scientists actually did. (In fact, I didn't truly appreciate it until graduate school.) I thought science was cool. I owned a chemistry set. Whatever science was, I wanted more of it. 

Oddly, the website for the "March for Science," which was organized by scientists, reads a lot like what I wrote in 2nd grade. After weeks of planning, the site's page on Principles and Goals continues to be...

Few things are more exciting than saving the world. James Bond and Superman have done it. Now, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan want to do it, too. It's a sufficiently sizable goal for a couple with a sufficiently sizable ego. And their goal will be best accomplished by spending their money on boring stuff.

The duo (Z-Chan? Chuckerberg?) recently announced their intention to "cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children's lifetime." But according to Nature News, the first grants will...

The position of Science Czar is just one of thousands that President-Elect Trump must consider in the coming weeks. The incumbent, John Holdren, was a flawed choice. His fringe views on demographics and environmental policy, expressed in a book he co-authored with Paul Ehrlich (who notoriously wrote the now discredited The Population Bomb), should have disqualified him from the post. 

President Trump can do much better. The optimal candidate is a polymath, somebody who can quickly explain to the President anything from biotechnology to space policy. Additionally, he or she must be good at communicating; neither Mr. Trump nor his advisors are trained in...

How should scientists respond to the rising tide of anti-scientific sentiment in the world? The backlash against modern technology is widespread: Protests against genetic engineering, vaccines, "chemicals," modern agriculture, neuroscience, nuclear power (and almost any other form of power), animal research, and embryonic stem cell research threaten to hold back, if not reverse, decades of progress. What can scientists do to address this problem?

The typical response, as elaborated in a report by the National Academy of Sciences, is "public engagement," which can range from education to the alignment of values between scientists and the public....

There was much excitement on Twitter after it was announced that Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Jill Stein answered the questions posed by Science Debate 2016. (Gary Johnson has yet to respond.) But how seriously should we take their answers?

Perhaps more so than in any election in recent memory, the two mainstream candidates have shown a shocking willingness to abandon the truth at a moment's notice. Answers to simple questions change, sometimes in the matter of hours or even minutes, as if the candidates neither realized nor cared that video cameras and instant replay can expose their duplicitousness. The problem has become so acute that, in a...