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Living Lab Radio: When Science And Politics Mix

Muslim and civil rights groups and their supporters gather at a rally against what they call a "Muslim ban" in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
  • Protests against Trump's ‘Muslim ban’ produced unusual change of heart: It’s not every day that protests actually change people’s minds. In fact, social scientists say it’s pretty rare. But that’s exactly what happened a year ago, after President Trump announced the first executive order barring entry into the U.S. for individuals from certain countries. A survey of 311 people before and after that announcement revealed that roughly a third had changed their opinions. Specifically, those who had supported the ban became less supportive, or outright opposed, to the policy. Loren Collingwood, a political scientist at University of California, Riverside and lead author of the study, says media coverage — particularly, high-profile coverage of protests that portrayed the ban as un-American — was a key factor.
  • Lack Of Science Advisors In Trump Administration: The federal government employs a surprising number of scientists. In addition to the thousands of researchers at federal laboratories, there are hundreds of scientific advisory committees, and 83 high-level science appointees. At the one year mark, President Trump is way behind Presidents Obama and George W. Bush in filling those positions. A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that fewer than a quarter of the appointed positions have been filled, including the top job — director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who usually serves as the President’s top science advisor. The scientific advisory committees are also languishing, with more than half meeting fewer times than directed by their charters. Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and lead author of the new report says the lack of science advisors in this administration is concerning. “Science isn’t the only consideration,” said Reed. “However, when science is not at all considered, then that becomes a problem.”
  • Would You Vote For A Scientist? Shaughnessy Naughton was a chemist and entrepreneur before she decided to run for Congress in Pennsylvania. That was 2014. By 2016, she had founded an organization aimed at helping other scientists run for office. And it’s a booming business — over the past year, some 7,000 scientists have contacted 3-1-4 Action for support, training, and endorsements. Naughton says the Trump administration has waged a war on science, and that has catalyzed public engagement by the science community. Naughton’s view of a pro-science platform goes well beyond securing science funding. She says it’s about fact- and evidence-based policymaking, and changing public perceptions of scientists. And she argues that the nation’s capital would run more smoothly with more scientists around. “Scientists, really, what they quintessentially are is problem solvers,” said Naughton. “Looking at the dysfunction in Washington, I think it’s not a hard argument to make that we need more problem solvers.”
  • Conservation Practices Help Lobsters Weather Climate Change: It’s no secret that the lobster fishery in southern New England is in trouble — the population has declined by almost 80 percent in the past few decades. The lobster population in the Gulf of Maine, however, has grown. So, what gives? Rising water temperatures are a big part of the story, but it's not the only reason for this change. A new study used a computer model to tease apart the influence of environmental changes and conservation practices, which differ significantly between Maine and southern New England. For generations, Maine lobstermen have been throwing back fertile females and the biggest lobsters, but those practices didn’t hit southern New England until a decade ago. The conclusion of the new analysis is a bitter pill for southern New England lobstermen, according to Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer and head of the Ecosystem Modeling Lab at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. “Had they done a management process more like what we have in Maine,” Pershing said, “they would have seen a smaller decline.” 
  • Strong Defense Wins Championships … Or Does It? The conventional wisdom in sports is that offense may get the glory, but defense wins championships. That’s not great news for the Patriots, who are a stronger offensive team. But Mark Otten, who heads the sports psychology laboratory at California State University at Northridge, says “Pats fans should not despair.” Otten and his colleagues analyzed five decades worth of post-season records — 515 football teams — and found that both offensive and defensive strength was correlated with post-season wins. It’s what Otten calls a “null result,” and it doesn’t do much to inform bets about who will come out on top in SuperBowl LII. What’s more, Otten says the pressure of the Super Bowl can completely change a player’s — and a team’s — performance. If they’re confident, even rookies can put in a star performance. And, if there’s a droop in that confidence, even the best can choke. 


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