Monday, January 31, 2011

How To: Make Your Video Go Viral

New Voices recently began our Tuneage Tuesday series (which will resume again next week on February 8th). So that made us interested in how video information in particular gets passed around the Internet. Blogger Adrienne Royer of Cosmopolitan Conservative shared this image recently, and it speaks for itself. 

How do you use videos online? How do you typically forward the videos you like (if at all)? What types of Tuneage would you like to see in our video and audio selections for upcoming Tuesdays?

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Quotable Quotes: Great Strengths

"Our great strengths as a country have been in our openness to ideas and talent, our capacity to innovate, our excellence in higher education, a willingness to invest public resources strategically in scientific research and discovery, and the political will to confront challenges with wisdom and force."

~Timothy Geithner, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts on the State of the Union Address

Now that it's had a bit of time to sink in, here are our thoughts on the State of the Union address made Tuesday evening.

The following passages are the opinions of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated organizations.

Max's Take:
Science in the SOTU

Innovation is the light at the end of the tunnel for Obama. In his State of the Union speech, he spent an unprecedented amount of time discussing the role of science and research in leading the nation toward renewed prosperity. His remarks were undergirded by a fundamental belief in the societal benefits of science and pursuit of basic knowledge.

Even in the face of shifting national priorities and at a time when both sides of the isle are talking about cuts, Obama has been resolute in his support of science. This is especially striking given that many of the scientific investments being made today may not bear fruit in the short term, and probably not in time for the coming Presidential election.

Obama specifically mentioned the role of government support in the creation of the Internet, GPS, and computer chips. What other groundbreaking innovations should be included here? This is a tremendous opportunity for you to share how research has improved our world.

Heather's Impressions
Structural Integrity

By now you've read all of the promises about investing in biomedical research. Word is spreading far and wide about President Obama's call for innovation and more simply regulated salmon. Our Sputnik moment is upon us. And while others are discussing the verbage, I can't stop thinking about the construct.

I have a bit of a background in speechwriting and oral communications, so much of my time watching speeches is paying attention to rhetorical devices and style. Structurally, the president started with formalities and then led his content sections with science and education. Although I believe it is a priority for him - and that should be reflected in the upcoming budget as promised - I don't think that's why he led with it.

Science and education paved the way in the SOTU because they are topics everyone can get behind (as evidenced by years of public opinion data). No one wants America to be left behind. But it was more than just a warm-up; a unifying set of topics to bring on the applause.

Investment in research and innovation are about to face an epic fight for funding, and by framing it his way first, the president was attempting to counter early attacks. The position in the speech is just as important as the words he used.

As contradictions in the text of the speech already show, not everything mentioned on Tuesday night is going to happen. (I challenge anyone to find a SOTU where everything mentioned was actually accomplished as laid out in the speech.) However, that isn't the point of the SOTU. It's about goals, a vision, an ideal look at the future.

Beyond the structure of the speech is the structural integrity of its vision. Will the president be able to make his vision reality in the face of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression and a Congress with other plans? For the sake of science, I hope so.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union, 2011

For those of you who may have missed it last night, what follows is a complete transcript of President Obama's second State of the Union address. The noted applause is that of Congress. Although we wholeheartedly applaud many of the same issues they did, New Voices will be sharing their perspectives tomorrow. Have something you want to share? Add it to the comments of email hbenson at to be part of the post.

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. (Applause.) And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague -- and our friend -– Gabby Giffords. (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation. (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. (Applause.)

I believe we can. And I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on. Together. (Applause.)

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. (Applause.) No workers -- no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like "What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?"

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. (Applause.) We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. (Applause.) And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living. (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard. Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money. We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. (Applause.) I don’t know if -- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. (Laughter.) So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all -- and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen. (Applause.)

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. (Applause.) We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, "If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money."

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities. Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado -- located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their families to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, "Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it." (Applause.) That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. (Applause.) We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. (Applause.) And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you. (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. (Applause.) That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. (Applause.) And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too. As Kathy said, "I hope it tells them to never give up."

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago: By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.)

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. (Applause.) I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information -- from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet. (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a "D."

We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts. (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. (Applause.) This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down. (Laughter and applause.) As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans. This isn’t just about -- (applause) -- this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change. (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit. It can be done. (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible. (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks. (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. (Applause.) But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people. (Applause.) That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century. It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws. It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. (Applause.) And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients. (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law. (Laughter.) So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses. (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do -- what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition. (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ -- parents’ coverage. (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward. (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. (Applause.) Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. (Applause.) And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact. (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won’t. (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes. (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. (Applause.) We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. (Applause.) Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success. (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. (Applause.) This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them. (Applause.)

So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further. We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable. We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient. We can’t win the future with a government of the past. (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV. There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. (Laughter.) I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed. (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done -- put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it. (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West. No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity. And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. (Applause.) American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end. (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family. (Applause.)

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe havens are shrinking. And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you. (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists. (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense. We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas. Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it. In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. (Applause.) Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: "This was a battlefield for most of my life," he said. "Now we want to be free." (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country. (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us -- by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. (Applause.) And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation. (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The costs. The details. The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth. (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me. (Laughter and applause.) That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour -- three or four days at a time without any sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. (Applause.) But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged. He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, "We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things." (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, "I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company." "I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree." "I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try." "I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there. I know we will."

We do big things. (Applause.)

The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Transcript courtesy of the White House.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Macintosh Saves the World?

On January 24, 1984, Apple introduced Macintosh. Macintosh would launch a new philosophy toward computing, one that would eventually lead to the ubiquity of computers and proliferation of mobile computing.

The advertisement that launched this new product was nothing short of striking, profound, and groundbreaking. Some consider it to be the most effective television advertisement ever conceived.

The commercial was directed by Ridley Scott, who had recently directed Alien (1979) and clearly adapted thematic elements from the film to the Macintosh commercial.

In the first 10 seconds of the ad, we immediately get a sense of the world that Scott has created. It is bleak, monochromatic, orderly, and authoritarian. At the time, it was thought that this world was an allusion to the current business leader of computing – IBM – a company that was known for its strict standards that even applied to the style of ties that employees could wear. In sharp contrast is the heroine. She is the only female in the commercial and committed to rousing the proletarians.

The ad concludes with a reference to Orwell’s 1984. The implication is that Macintosh will ‘save’ us from the conformity and tyranny offered by Apple’s competitors. Clearly, Apple is making a profound statement and they did it in just 60 seconds.

Has Apple changed the world? What would the technological landscape look like without Macintosh?

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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Science of Beer

With the Super Bowl just around the corner you can bet that beer sales will get a major boost. This year, I urge you take a moment and think about where beer comes from and how it’s made.

All beer includes four basic ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. Beer is mostly water and for that reason, it is important to start with high quality water, but brewers have a variety of standards. Some breweries use filtered water - several Belgian microbreweries even use spring water! The Brooklyn Brewery in New York prides itself on using New York City tap water.
The first step in brewing involves bringing water to a boil and combining it with malt extract, which is a monosaccharide. Malts come in dozens of varieties and can impart a diverse set of flavors from almonds, to coffee, to chocolate.

Hops are also added into the wort (unfermented beer) during the boiling process. It turns out that hops are actually flowers and are in the same family as Cannabis sativa. Like malt, hops come in wide variety of flavors, but are used to add bitterness, which is measured using the alpha acid (AA) scale. Milder beers typically have an AA of 3-5% whereas stronger ales like India Pale Ale’s may use hops with AA ratings as high as 14%.

Many people are surprised to learn that yeast is actually fungus and for every style of beer, there is a variety of yeast that is perfectly adapted to it. Yeast is really the workhorse of beer as it converts the malt sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. But the yeast can also add flavor and complexity to beer. For example, when wheat beer is fermented at lower temperatures (60 degrees F) the yeast will impart a distinct clove flavor. But raise the fermentation temperature to 70 degrees, and the yeast adds a banana overtone.

So the next time you enjoy a cold one, remember all the science behind beer. Cheers!

Want to read more? 
Check out these posts from the New Voices archives: Draft Beer, Not People and St. Patrick's Day Special: Beer.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Even More on the Merging of Medical Methods

Part 3: PM and CER go hand in hand

Francis Collins, MD, PhD, Director of the NIH, gave an example of a CER trial that helped researchers understand PM information and identify the best treatment for patients.

A clinical trial was conducted comparing chemotherapy to the drug gefitinib (Iressa) in patients with lung cancer. Gefitinib is a drug that specifically blocks the functioning of EGFR, a molecule important in cell growth. Some lung cancer patients have a mutation that affects EGFR, which can cause cells to grow uncontrollably, leading to cancer.

In this trial, it was found that gefitinib was more effective than chemotherapy in a subset of lung cancer patients — the ones who have a mutation in the gene for EGFR - but not in patients who do not have a mutation in EGFR.

Without CER, researchers might have thought that gefitinib was not effective in the overall population, when in fact some patients do much better with it. Now patients with a mutation in the gene encoding EGFR can be prescribed gefitinib instead of chemotherapy.

Rather than opposing each other, CER and PM should be used hand-in-hand to identify the best therapy for each patient.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

More on the Merging of Medical Methods

Part 2: We need CER to advance PM

In the last post, I described personalized medicine (PM) and comparative effectiveness research (CER), two methods that could change medicine. A recent conference held at NIH explored the necessity of using CER and PM in concert to best treat each patient: Comparative Effectiveness and Personalized Medicine: an Essential Interface. This conference brought together many of the stakeholders in medical research to discuss the needs and implications of PM and CER.

A speaker at the conference, Dr. Euan Ashley sees the future of PM as when every patient has their genetic sequence in their medical records. The genetic sequence will help with diagnosing an illness and choosing the right treatment, even choosing the right dose of that treatment. Although we aren’t there yet, in the future, everyone may get their genome sequenced--sequencing is becoming cheaper and faster, making that possible.

Dr. Stephen Quake, another speaker and a researcher, has had his genome sequenced. He said that knowing you carry the sequence of DNA that predisposes you to a disease is much more effective at changing your behavior than information based on family history or environmental factors. In addition, he now knows what dose of which medication would work best for him, based on his genetic sequence.

Genetics is a large part of PM. Scientists are working hard to understand the genetic changes, or mutations, that cause diseases. Also, drugs are being developed that target specific mutations, which means each patient can be prescribed a therapy that will work best for their particular disease.

But, we need CER to understand the genetic information and the drugs that target those mutations. Thus, we need CER to advance PM.

Come back tomorrow for the last installment in this series.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Merging of Medical Methods

Part 1: Intro to PM and CER

It seems obvious that each person is unique, right? Then why is it that our medical system doesn’t always take that into account? Our current system for testing drugs in clinical trials requires that participants fit strict criteria to take part in the study. So, the results of the trial can only show how a therapy will work in people who fit those criteria, which most patients don’t.

Personalized medicine (PM) and comparative effectiveness research (CER) are two important movements in biomedical research both working with the understanding that patients have diverse backgrounds and thus need more personalized treatment.

PM takes into account a patient’s individual information, particularly their genetic makeup, when making treatment decisions. CER aims to test treatments against each other in patients with diverse backgrounds to understand which treatment is better for different subpopulations.

Some people think these two concepts are in opposition because PM is concerned with individuals, while CER studies the outcome in populations. But the truth is that PM and CER work in concert to identify the right treatment for the right person at the right time. In fact, we need CER to test and advance PM so that each patient can get the most effective treatment.

Tomorrow I'll describe how medicine can be advanced when PM and CER work in concert. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival begins on Thursday, and so for today's Tuneage Tuesday, here are some links and trailers to films we think those of a New Voices mind might like. Which ones are you excited to see?

Another Earth
Dreaming of Lucid Living
Glowing Pathfinder Bugs
Hippocampus 2
The Majestic Plastic Bag

Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology

How to Die in Oregon

The Last Mountain

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Friday, January 14, 2011


For many of our university-affiliated readers, this is the last weekend of winter break. Hope your batteries are recharged for an exciting year ahead full of great New Voices posts!

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Thursday, January 13, 2011


Given that this is my last day at Research!America, I looked up the definition to “bittersweet” to get some inspiration. Here is what I found:

Bittersweet: poisonous perennial Old World vine having violet flowers and oval coral-red berries

Whoa, that’s not right. I don’t equate this experience with poison!

Let’s try again--this is more like it:

Bittersweet: tinged with sadness

I have had the amazing opportunity to be a Science Policy Fellow at Research!America for the past 5 months, but it’s now time to move on. While I am excited to try something new and test the skills I have developed, I am sad to leave the wonderful people I have worked with and the excellent initiatives I have undertaken.

I have learned so much over the course of such a short time. I sought this position so that I could learn more about the governmental process and science policy, but I will be taking much more away.

I have seen how important advocacy is, in particular the necessity for scientists to be involved, and I have learned how to effectively advocate. My newfound insight into the legislative process and Congress will help me navigate the system.

I have seen my writing style change from academic to…well…a little less academic. But at least through that process I have learned how to better communicate scientific principles to non-scientists. In fact, my experience writing for New Voices opened my eyes to a whole new career opportunity – science writing - an area I will be joining after my fellowship.

Though I may not be involved in policy for my job, I am sure to remain active in the policy community. I fully believe in Research!America’s mission and I now have the skills and knowledge to support that mission.

Thus, today is bittersweet. I am grateful for this opportunity and the knowledge I’ve gained, so will be sad to leave, but I look toward an exciting future.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Civic Scientist

Our jobs encompass a major part of our lives. When we think about our professions, it is essential to consider how our community of professionals is perceived by others, especially policymakers.
This is true for scientists. Science is vital to the well being of our nation and that is why practicing scientists and even students of science receive special treatment from the government, often in the form of grants, subsidies, or scholarships.

At the end of the day, we have policymakers (often without science backgrounds) making decisions about science that could have negative impacts on research and the scientific community. The scientific community often criticizes policymakers on the grounds that they don’t really ‘get’ science, yet few scientists have any training or interest in policy or politics.

However, when scientists combine their academic credentials along with a desire to change the world, the results can be dramatic. Well known examples include Albert Einstein, whose writings on the threat of nuclear proliferation informed policymakers on the specter of a nuclear armed world. James Hansen, now at Columbia University, was the first to alert members of Congress about the dangers of climate change. You may not recognize his name, but a PhD physicist and former professor, Dr. Vern Ehlers recently stepped down as the representative from Michigan’s 3rd district after a distinguished career in Congress.

What these individuals all have in common is a commitment to science, but also an awareness of the role that science plays in the well being of our nation. They dedicated their intellect and zeal to ensure that science would continue to serve society, while advocating for a government that was willing to support a vibrant scientific community.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Health Disparities

As we approach MLK day next week, New Voices is taking a look at health disparities. Here's the start of PBS special on the topic:


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Monday, January 10, 2011

Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District

Flags at half mast in front of the US Capitol.

By now, I’m sure you have all read about the shooting that took place over the weekend that claimed six lives and wounded 14 people. As we learn more about the victims and those affected, it is clear that they all had one thing in common – they cared deeply about our nation. These were individuals who dedicated their lives to improving the lives of Americans.

I actually had the pleasure and privilege to work with Congresswoman Giffords on the House Science Committee. I remember when we met - we had great discussion about solar energy and it was not until later that I realized I had been speaking with a Congresswoman. She is without a doubt, Congress’s expert on solar power and she has always recognized that initiating new policies for solar development and deployment are good for Arizona and good for the country. I found her to be one of the most dynamic and personable representatives on the Hill.

The assassination attempt represents an attack upon democracy. It was an assault upon the free society that is core to America. It raised questions of why this happened, how it happened, and what the country should learn from this great tragedy. We have already heard calls for a more civil political dialogue, one that avoids the vitriol that has colored recent campaigns and elections. This is not the first time that a concerted call for civility has been made. It wasn’t long ago that John Stewart convened the Rally to Restore Sanity on the Mall in Washington, DC.

It is difficult to say just what lessons the country will take away from this event. Without a doubt, the country needs more moderated and grounded voices that can shift the discourse from one of political retribution to reasoned compromise.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

We're Not Gonna Take It

The U.S. is ranked 35th in math and 29th in science worldwide. We've talked about these rankings on New Voices before. You've heard them for ages. Of course everyone wants us to be number 1. But what can any one person do? What's the point?

The truth is, if you're reading this post you know the statistics. You know we're dismally behind other industrialized countries where math and the sciences are concerned. You can blame it on the variance in international school systems. You can account for differences in total students being educated or percentage of education funded by the federal government. You can say that American students are just getting a more well-rounded education.

Or you can stand up and say, "We're not going to take it anymore."

You can pledge to get involved. To stand up for American students by personally interacting with an American student. This isn't someone else's responsibility. It is mine and yours.

Maybe your area doesn't have a wide variety of options for young people to get engaged in exciting STEM enrichment activities; but there are two things you can do right now:

1. Volunteer as a mentor or tutor. Local communities and schools have many after school and sometimes evening programs to help engage students with academic topics.

2. Invite a local science or math class to come and see where you work. If you're not sure that your work environment is worth a visit, try to remember what it was like to go on field trips as a kid. Anywhere new is exciting and interesting.(a la Fever Pitch below)

Connect a mind in your community. If not you, than who?

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Your New Congress

Yesterday, your new Congress was sworn into office for the 112th time in America’s history. I was lucky enough to be on the Hill for the occasion, watching the ceremonies from a closed circuit television at a reception in the Library of Congress.

One of the most symbolic moments of the ceremony was when the House gavel transferred from the outgoing Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to the new speaker. As John Boehner stood by, waiting for Speaker Pelosi to conclude her remarks and hand off the gavel, he was visibly nervous, fidgeting, and seemed anxious for his turn to offer his thoughts to the chamber. Not surprisingly, he was wiping away tears before he even began to speak.

Members of Congress aren’t that different from you or me. They have weaknesses, make mistakes, and often have only a surface-level understanding of the multitude of issues that cross their desk. This is why they rely heavily upon their staff, who in turn rely heavily upon experts to provide them with the best information possible. Hence, your expertise and awareness can make a difference in changing policy in the US. But in order for that to happen you must not be afraid to reach out to your representatives, tell them your story, and why they should listen. It could be the first step in improving our nation.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Women in Science

We all know of some amazing women in science: Marie Curie, known for her work on radioactivity, Rosalind Franklin for identifying the structure of DNA, and Barbara McClintock who described gene transposition. So why is there always a fuss about not enough women in science?

Women have historically been underrepresented in the sciences, though there are certainly more women in science now than there have been in the past. In 1996, 35% of doctorate degrees in STEM fields went to women; in 2006, that number jumped to 46%. But the numbers are still grim in the workforce. In 2006, only 28% of tenured or tenure-track academicians were women. Of course, we can’t compare that to the number of doctoral degrees awarded to women in the same year, so I’ll walk through time.

In 1988, women earned 41% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. By 1990, when those students would be earning their next degree, only 34% of master’s degrees went to women. In 1996, women earned 34% of doctorate degrees, and ten years later women represent only 28% of tenured or tenure-track faculty. There is a continued decrease in the percentage of women at these milestones.

Some may argue that women are “choosing” to drop out of science to have a family, but why should women have to make that choice? Surely, there are men in science who have families, and they aren’t leaving the field. There are still still factors above and beyond life choices that are making it difficult for women to attain the highest levels in science.

My point is certainly not to discourage women from entering the sciences. Quite the opposite. Women are valuable employees and can bring strong and important perspectives to their jobs. A recent study showed that groups that include women are better at problem-solving, and with the renewed focus on scientific collaboration, group problem solving will be integral.

Marie Curie once said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

Great strides have been made in diminishing the gender gap, but this issue must remain at the forefront so the gap will continue to improve.

Statistics from National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010 and 2000

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Science of Pop Music

On the surface, science and music don't seem to have much in common. However, from solving musical mysteries by studying frequencies to technology programs that break down what makes a song popular, it's evident that there's plenty of crossover. So why do we like the music we do? The race is on between scientists and musical artists to crack the code of great music. Some comedians have also gotten into the act...

**This clip contains some explicit language**

Hat tip to GrrlScientist for her post on the Axis of Awesome last spring.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Budget Bewilderment

It’s a new year and time for a new budget! President Obama is expected to release his federal budget request for 2012 in early February. This makes for a confusing navigation of budgets, though. You see, Congress may receive the President’s request for the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget before they have even passed the FY 2011 budget, despite the fact that FY 2011 started three months ago. And this means that most agencies are operating at FY 2010 levels. Whew!

The budget process itself is dizzying. For one, what is the fiscal year? Unfortunately, the fiscal year is not concurrent with the calendar year, which just confuses everything. The fiscal year begins October 1 of the previous year and ends September 30 of the following year. So FY 2011 began October 1, 2010 and will end September 30, 2011. Ideally, the FY 2011 budget, the layout for how much money government agencies receive for that fiscal year, should have been passed by the two chambers of Congress before the fiscal year began on October 1, 2010, but that is rarely the case, especially in an election year.

There is a lot for the chambers of Congress to get through and agree upon before they can pass the budget. After receiving the President’s budget request, the House and Senate Budget Committees each develop a budget resolution, which is a ceiling for how much money Congress can spend in certain categories, or “functions”. This is the allocations process. Then, each chamber debates the budget resolution. Finally, a House-Senate conference resolves the differences between the House and Senate resolutions, and the conference report must be passed by both houses. This is all supposed to be accomplished by April 15th, but rarely makes that mark.

Although the budget resolution is an incredibly important step, it’s not a bill and doesn’t actually give any money to anyone, but sets the spending limit for government functions. Legislation for spending, or appropriations bills, must also be passed in the House and the Senate and the spending must fall within the allocations laid out in the budget resolution.

Because the FY 2011 budget is not yet decided upon, you may have heard words thrown around like “continuing resolution,” “omnibus” and “government shutdown.” Technically, if appropriations have not been made by the beginning of a fiscal year, the government agencies should not be able to continue work and would shutdown. However, in these circumstances, Congress usually passes a continuing resolution for a set amount of time, perhaps another month, so that the government can continue operating at the previous year’s levels while Congress continues to work on an appropriations bill. For FY 2011, Congress has passed four continuing resolutions, the most recent lasting until March 4, 2011, halfway through the fiscal year!

Oftentimes, when appropriations have not been made before the start of the fiscal year, the spending is combined into one large omnibus appropriations bill rather than separate bills. Congress just withdrew an omnibus bill for FY 2011 in favor of a continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown. Now the incoming Congress will have to finish the FY 2011 budget and start debating the FY 2012 budget nearly simultaneously.

Let’s hope this year’s budget process goes a little more smoothly than last.

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