Our picks in Science Policy writing April 1-8
Written by Ben Wolfson
Originally published at https://wp.me/p8tLO8-26
Why does it matter that the President has no Science Advisor?
One of the positions that remains unfilled in the Trump white house is that of science advisor. In this article, Obama’s science advisor, John P. Holdren, goes into what the presidential science advisor does, what the history of the role is, and why the role is important. In short, science and technology impact almost all policy decisions made, whether they’re related to the economy, public health, energy, agriculture, the environment, national security, diplomacy etc. The role of the science advisor and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is to ensure that these factors are taken into account, and to give relevant, factual advice. This is a critical position in the white house, and hopefully one President Trump will fill soon.
Why President Trump needs to finally name a science advisor
The reproducibility crisis may be fuel for science denial
One of the principle tenants of science is self-governance. Regulation works best when it is designed by the scientific community (see regulation concerning recombinant DNA and more recently CRISPR), and one of the key ways science governs itself is through peer-review and reproducibility. However, while this is an important aspect of science, it is not one that should be legislated on. Legislation is too broad, and often has unforeseen consequences. Too often it is abused for political gain. While calling for reproducibility is a good thing, forming legislation around it is asking for abuse of power and silencing of scientists.
Should we be able to patent organisms created through synthetic biology?
This article details the controversy surrounding patents in synthetic biology, and is part of a great series by Slate detailing what synthetic biology is and why it’s important. The precedent surrounding patents relating to biology is complicated. The patent for the BRCA1 gene mutation went to the Supreme Court before eventually being refused, and the different groups behind the CRISPR patent are currently at war in the different patent courts across the world. One of the driving reasons behind consumer hatred for GMOs and companies such as Monsanto is their patenting and ruthless litigation surrounding genetically modified organisms. However, synthetic biology is different. Creations in synthetic biology are generally novel, organisms either created from pre-fabricated genetic building blocks or from the combination of naturally occurring genetic material and organisms. At least to me, an organism that is created fully from scratch is a novel invention. However, open knowledge is a building block of science, and attempts to patent discoveries run up against significant opposition from the community and its open-source culture. This is something the field will need to litigate amongst itself. Scientist and innovators will have to decide between the open spread of knowledge and the lust for profit and copyright.
Can You Patent an Organism? The Synthetic Biology Community Is Divided.
Science funding results in significant economic gains
The proposed Trump budget has resulted in numerous think-pieces describing the necessity of science and critical nature of federal funding to the American scientific community (including my own). This article details the economic benefit of scientific research. While only 8.4% of NIH grants led to a patent, 30% produced research that was cited in a future patent for a drug or medical technology. This is a significant return on the investment that is federal funding. While the multitude of articles describing the true benefit of scientific research become redundant, it is crucial that these facts are prevalent, as the commercial benefits of science must be understood so that continued funding will be supported.
NIH research grants yield economic windfall