Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Iowa Legislature’

Save tenure; save science; save Iowa education

In University research on March 3, 2021 at 7:35 am
Campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, one of the state regents institutions that a tenure ban would devastate. Credit: University of Northern Iowa.

The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, one of the state regents institutions that a tenure ban would devastate. Credit: University of Northern Iowa.

With complete control of the governor’s office and both houses of the General Assembly, the Iowa Republican Party passed some terrible anti-science, anti-intellectual bills last year, in a pandemic-shortened session.

But that doesn’t compare with what they’re attempting this year.

The GOP increased its majority in both houses in the 2020 election, apparently emboldening its caucus. Besides further restricting voting, they’re considering expanding exemptions for vaccinations and forbidding businesses – even hospitals and clinics – from requiring vaccines for employees.

But the worst of a bad bunch might be the attempt to ban tenure, the policy that helps protect academic freedom, at the state universities.

What would it mean for Iowa?

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The COVID-19 pandemic “personal responsibility” political crutch

In Government on February 22, 2021 at 7:35 am
Des Moines Public Schools employee receives COVID-19 vaccination on February 13, 2021.

Des Moines Public Schools employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine on February 13, 2021. Photo credit: Phil Roeder Vaccinate to Educate via photopin (license).

In October, I wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register (which didn’t publish it, as often happens) about the rise in Iowa COVID-19 cases. I cited New York Times statistics, which showed with a seven-day average of daily new cases in the state that ranged from 638 to 927. Average daily deaths varied from a low of six to a high of 10.

The charts show the state never really got the pandemic under control. While it varied, by fall there were around a thousand new cases and about 10 deaths every day – 70 a week, 300 a month.

Yet it wasn’t until November, when cases hit a seven-day average of around 4,700, that Gov. Kim Reynolds enacted a loophole-filled mask mandate.

She abandoned that requirement, and other preventive measures, in early February, citing a decline in new case and hospitalizations. But the seven-day average of positive tests still is around 455 and even more people are dying – a seven-day average of about 16 (as of Saturday, February 20). That’s 112 a week, 480 a month.

Now we’d be grateful to lose just 300 people a month. The baseline for death has moved up, making what once was horrifying seem acceptable.

As she lifted almost all restrictions on Iowans, Reynolds returned to the mantra she chanted throughout most of 2020 to avoid mandating masks: “I trust Iowans to do the right thing,”  she said, relying on the conservative “personal resonsibility” slogan.

It sounds great, right? Our governor trusts us! We’re all going to be responsible!

If only it were that simple. The idea of “personal responsibility” is complex – and even moreso when it come to science-based pandemic restrictions. For many reasons, we can’t count on it to keep Iowans healthy.

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Stepping up in Iowa to support science, facts and evidence

In Government, STEM on March 15, 2017 at 7:13 am

A postcard to President Trump from Deborah Bunka, via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

A postcard to President Trump from Deborah Bunka, via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

I authored this post, which first appeared on the Iowa Starting Line blog. – TRO

Even before he was elected, commentators and experts noted a strong anti-science streak in Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Now that he’s been inaugurated, they’re calling him the most anti-science president ever. Trump is enacting an agenda that, at best, selectively supports scientific evidence and research.

With the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s clear that climate change will be downplayed or dismissed in the Trump administration. Pruitt took a moderate stance in his nomination hearings, but now is proudly revealing his anti-science views. Earlier this month he said he disagrees with the overwhelming evidence that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global climate change.

Trump and Pruitt are putting their words into actions. The administration has offered a plan to cut the budget for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development by 40 percent. The EPA as a whole would get a 24 percent cut. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a major climate research agency, also would get a severe reduction. Other proposals under consideration would roll back Department of Energy financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy and for research on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Trump’s disdain for sound science goes beyond climate, however, and spans political parties. He’s given credence to the disproven notion that vaccinations cause autism and met with noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (of the famed Democratic family).

It’s easy to pick on Trump, but in truth his election and views are just the culmination of years of attacks on science, evidence and research – attacks that aren’t solely from conservatives. Now, scientists and those who value research and evidence as a foundation for sound public policy are fighting back.

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