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Ebola restrictions continue to defy CDC advice

As more doctors and nurses return from Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa, public anxiety has soared about the potential for contagion — even though only one person in the United States has died from the virus, and several have recovered or returned from West Africa and never shown symptoms. In response, governors of both parties are struggling to define public health policies on the virus, leaving a confusing patchwork of…

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Politics and religion influence opinions more than facts

Polls relating to publicly controversial scientific issues often trigger a great wailing and gnashing of teeth from science advocates. When large proportions of a population seem poorly informed about evolution, climate change, or genetically modified foods, the usual response is to bemoan the state of science literacy. It can seem obvious that many people don’t understand the science of evolution, for example—or the scientific method, generally—and that opinions would change…

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Points of No Return

AP/NASA photo Recently two research teams, working independently and using different methods, reached an alarming conclusion: The West Antarctic ice sheet is doomed. The sheet’s slide into the ocean, and the resulting sharp rise in sea levels, will probably happen slowly. But it’s irreversible. Even if we took drastic action to limit global warming right now, this particular process of environmental change has reached a point of no return. Meanwhile,…

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Science policy’s 11 constituencies

Red states and blue states? Flyover country and the coasts? How simplistic. Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books, says North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government. “The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of…

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Making science communication look easy

Neil deGrasse Tyson may be America’s best-known and most influential science communicator — the obvious successor to the mantle held by Carl Sagan in the 1980s and early 90s (indeed, Dr. Sagan tried to recruit Tyson to do his undergraduate studies at Columbia where Sagan was a professor, but Tyson opted for Harvard instead). Now the director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, Dr.…

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Rallying to the defense of political science, eventually

First, a full confession: I’ve never really been a big fan of political science. I love politics and have worked in politics, but as an undergraduate I double-majored in astronomy (i.e., real science) and history (i.e., real historical research). My recollection is that historians in particular took a pretty dim view of political science back then. While historians went to great lengths to research, investigate, and write carefully and thoughtfully…

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Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year

Hurricane Claudette, © 2003 NASA At the end of one of the most bizarre weather years in American history, climate research stands at a crossroads. Scientists say they could, in theory, do a much better job of answering the question “Did global warming have anything to do with it?” after extreme weather events like the drought in Texas and the floods in New England. But for many reasons, efforts to…

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Groups Call for Scientists to Engage the Body Politic

When asked to name a scientist, Americans are stumped. In one recent survey, the top choice, at 47 percent, was Einstein, who has been dead since 1955, and the next, at 23 percent, was “I don’t know.” In another survey, only 4 percent of respondents could name a living scientist. While these may not have been statistically rigorous exercises, they do point to something real: In American public life, researchers…

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