Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Drake University’

To get candidates to debate science, ask the right questions

In Government on May 20, 2019 at 7:19 am
David Courard-Hauri, Dierdre Egan and David Kurns at Drake University for the March for Science Iowa "Science on the Stump" panel.

David Courard-Hauri makes a point at Drake University during the March for Science Iowa “Science on the Stump” panel. Dierdre Egan and David Kurns look on. Photo by Joe Sheehan.

Hordes of candidates are cutting across Iowa, touring ethanol plants and farms and chatting up voters in coffee shops and living rooms.

It’s to up us to get these would-be presidents to take science seriously, leaders in education and agriculture told an Iowa audience at a recent discussion, hosted by March for Science Iowa. We must demand that they support their views with solid research.

The session (which I helped organize) was designed to get Iowans – and, more importantly, journalists and candidates – talking about science, research and evidence-based policy, subjects that usually get little attention on the campaign trail.

It was illuminating discussion, illustrating Iowans’ diverging views on such science-based issues as climate change and water quality. One thing most spoke to: science advocates must change how they address the issues if they’re to gain support from other voters.

The big question is how to do it.

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Putting science on the Iowa presidential caucus campaign agenda

In Government on April 24, 2019 at 11:13 am
The science commandments, from a 2017 March for Science Iowa participant: Thou shalt: Question, Research, Hypothesize, Test, Analyze, Conclude. Thou Shalt NOT: Jump to Conclusions on "Alternative Facts," Illogical arguments, Ideology instead of Reason.

The science commandments, from a 2017 March for Science Iowa participant.

For something that affects our lives in so many ways, science gets remarkably little attention when candidates at all levels – especially for president – talk to voters.

Science-based policies govern our air, water, health, food, communications – nearly everything we do, hear, see, taste and smell every day. A president’s appointees to such scientific agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy Office of Science, Agricultural Research Service and National Institutes of Health can affect our lives more deeply than Congress.

So why doesn’t science get a bigger share of a candidate’s standard campaign speech? Why don’t reporters and news anchors press them on whether they’re prepared to base energy, environmental, health and agricultural policy on scientific evidence? Why aren’t candidates announcing up front what kinds of experts they will appoint to head agencies that support research and create science-based policies?

The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Science Debate has tried to address this problem since the 2008 presidential election. It’s still working to drive discussion on these issues – including providing grants to local organizations with similar goals.

March for Science Iowa is joining in that mission with an event next month.

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Just the facts, ma’am (and sir): Website offers valid science to reporters and the public

In STEM on September 3, 2018 at 8:20 am
A page from Science comics, circa 1939, when newspapers warned of a mad scientist rampage – and the president trusted the FBI. Via the Digital Comic Musem.

A page from Science comics, circa 1939, when newspapers warned of a mad scientist rampage – and the president trusted the FBI. Via the Digital Comic Museum.

If you’re looking for it, there’s good science news reporting everywhere. There’s a long list of science blogs (this is only a few), many written by researchers themselves. There also are innumerable podcasts and videos – some authoritative, some not.

But unless you’re seeking such information, you probably won’t see it. Science coverage in general-interest publications, like newspapers, is almost nonexistent. (Exceptions include the USA Today section in Gannett papers around the country, which often has a science story anchoring its cover, and the New York Times Tuesday section.) Most media can no longer afford reporters who specialize in science.

So what’s a local newspaper or television station to do when science issues burst onto the scene? How can they answer readers’ questions about whether the latest flood or wildfire is related to climate change? How can they address the latest discovery at their local university and gauge its importance?

A nascent website, financed through donations grants from foundations, offers those local reporters quick, scientifically valid and understandable explanations on these issues, free of charge. Its organizers were in Iowa recently to promote the effort and attract both reporters and the scientists who can help them.

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This Iowa mom uses a scooter. This Olympian vaults hurdles. A rare condition links them.

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2016 at 7:20 am
Jill Viles (with her son, Martin) uses an electric scooter to get around. Patricia Lopes-Schliep is a world-class hurdler. The women have discovered they share a rare muscle condition. For Viles, it's part of the reason she can no longer walk. For Lopes-Schliep, it's part of the reason for her dominance on the track.

Jill Viles (with her son, Martin) uses an electric scooter to get around. Patricia Lopes-Schliep is a world-class hurdler. The women have discovered they share a rare muscle condition. For Viles, it’s part of the reason she can no longer walk. For Lopes-Schliep, it’s one reason for her dominance on the track. Image via the Toronto Star.

The idea seemed ludicrous: A muscle-bound world-class athlete and an Iowa mom with arms and legs reduced to sticks, sharing the same rare muscle condition.

When her sister suggested it, Jill Viles scoffed. “Who in a million years would possibly put together somebody who can’t walk and somebody who’s an Olympic hurdler?” Viles said this week from her home in Gowrie, in north-central Iowa

But doctors had been wrong before about Viles, who lost use of her legs several years ago. And the more she examined photos of Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, a Canadian who won bronze in 2008, the more she began to think her sister was right.

Looking a picture of Lopes-Schliep from the back, “it was absolutely my dad. It was something I had seen since I was a little girl,” said Viles, a Des Moines native. “Our family is connected to that picture and we have a mutation” in a gene that led to the unusual physique. “It’s uncanny.”

But did they really share a genetic hiccup? And if so, why did it put Jill Viles into a motorized scooter but made Priscilla Lopes-Schliep a track champion?

The search for answers led Viles onto another leg of an already remarkable tale of discovery. It’s a science story, but also a human-interest story that has gotten attention from across America and around the world.

The quest goes on. Viles is seeking donations to support research into the differences and similarities between her and Lopes-Schliep – the anti-Jill Viles – with the hope it could lead to new therapies, even for those suffering from more common muscle conditions. With enough donations, Viles also hopes to help others travel to consult with the world’s leading expert in her condition.

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