Notebook > Science

Doctors' orders

Campaign 2008 | Hillary Clinton courts scientific community

On the muggy, drought-plagued Washington, D.C., morning that marked the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) arrived at the Carnegie Institution to outline her candidacy's vision for science and research. In front of a crowd that included Ph.D. scientists, Clinton articulated her science policy and criticized what she calls a war on science. "By ignoring or manipulating science, the Bush administration is letting our economic competitors get an edge in the global economy," she said.

Clinton's list was extensive: the president's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, the "muzzling" of climate-change scientists, budget cuts for earth-observing satellite missions, Bush-appointed FDA commissioners who blocked over-the-counter access to Plan B. The senator from New York said that as president she would lift the ban on stem-cell funding, strengthen federal scientific advisory committees, increase funding for earth science and aeronautics studies, and appoint a scientific adviser to report directly to the president. She also reminded the audience of her ambitious, $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, aimed at promoting conservation, combating global warming, and searching for energy alternatives to foreign oil. Oil companies will foot the bill.

Such promises are a boon not just to environmentalists but to scientists disgruntled by Bush policies. Some-notably NASA official James Hansen-have accused the Bush administration of silencing or skewing global-warming reports, and in June the world's largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), issued a statement criticizing Bush's veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. After listening to Clinton's speech at the Carnegie Institution, AAAS policy director Al Teich told Wired News that Clinton "seemed to know the concerns of the science community, and she pushed all the right buttons."

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Scientific accountability may be the right button for scientists in general, but with an ethical twist that could spur science further toward a brave new world.

Lab notes

BIOLOGY: Long labeled a vestigial organ, the human appendix may play an important role in maintaining useful digestive bacteria. A new study suggests the worm-shaped organ acts as a bacterial storage unit, repopulating the digestive system with flora when sicknesses flush out the intestines.

GENETICS: Two Americans and a Briton received the 2007 Nobel Prize in medicine for their work on "gene targeting." The technique, now used on lab mice around the world, allows researchers to disable chosen genes and thereby discover their function and relationship to genetic illnesses.

ANIMALS: New evidence indicates migrating birds may be able to "see" Earth's magnetic field. If the theory is correct, molecular compasses in birds' eyes connect with the visual processing center in their brains, creating an image that defines north and south.

ANTHROPOLOGY: Early Polynesians were apparently capable of navigating thousands of miles of open water for trade or exploration. An evaluation of 19 stone woodworking tools called adzes suggests that boaters made the 2,500-mile trip between Hawaii and the Tuamotus-an island group east of Tahiti-between the 10th and 15th centuries A.D. Discovered on the Tuamotus, the adzes are made of basalt, a volcanic rock not native to the islands, and one in particular is made of fine-grained hawaiite, known only to exist on the Hawaiian island Kaho'olawe.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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