Become a Voice for Science

by John Nemeth | Feb 09, 2016

John NemethOn January 13, 2016, I invited you to become a voice for science by participating in a communication experiment. Today, as promised, I am pleased to welcome you to the first installment of Sigma Xi Speaks! Through this new initiative, we will provide you with policy-relevant information generated by the Society’s communications and publications staff. We encourage you to share this information with your friends, family, colleagues, and local and national elected officials via social media, email, or in-person. Please let us know how you shared it and stay tuned. We’ll be distributing new installments of Sigma Xi Speaks on a regular basis.

Sigma Xi’s magazine, American Scientist, often contains unbiased, scientific information that can be shared with policymakers at all levels to inform policy decisions. Articles from the November–December 2015 and January–February 2016 issues include research and insights on four national issues—consideration of future energy options, the environmental impact of dam building, the problem of sexism in science, and the secondary benefits of federally funded innovations.

In the article, The Rising Cost of Resources and Global Indicators of Change,” (NovDec 2015, pages 410417) author Carey King, assistant director at the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, explains the importance of considering the biophysical and socioeconomic context in which we make decisions about our energy future.

This may interest you because:

  • The author states that the turn of the 21st century marked an important societal milestone, as the time of the cheapest food and energy the world has ever known. However, the trend of increasing food and energy services consuming a declining proportion of our economic output (in terms of gross domestic product) seems to be over.

  • It is practically impossible for us to significantly alter many of the long-term causes of energy and food cost trends. As a consequence, the ability of our energy system to aid in the achievement of environmental and socioeconomic goals lies primarily in using technology to consume less energy and deal with the fact that Earth is a finite planet.

  • We have, and we will, continue to develop innovations in our food and energy systems, but we must be humble in what we expect to achieve in terms of the cost of these necessities.

XinguWork that contributes to understanding the impact of future megadams on global biodiversity is featured in Where the Xingu Bends and Will Soon Break” (NovDec 2015, pages 395403). Mark Sabaj Pérez, interim curator of ichthyology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, served as co-principal investigator on the iXingu Project, a collaborative effort to help establish ecological and biological baselines for the Xingu River in Brazil. His team gathered a wealth of specimens and empirical data that, when combined with Brazilian-led studies, afford a valuable snapshot of the fauna and ecology of the middle and lower Xingu. Such knowledge is essential for assessing the eventual impacts of the Belo Monte megadam building project and will inform future efforts to conserve what remains of the Xingu.

Pat Shipman, professor emerita of anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University, shares her experiences dealing with institutional sexism, in Taking the Long View on Sexism in Science” (NovDec 2015, pages 392394). Decades after Shipman’s departure from academic science, too many others are still leaving for the same reasons. She states that as long as the leadership in science is so overwhelmingly oblivious to discrimination, the fight to root out conscious and unconscious bias against women will continue.

The applications of airborne LiDAR are growing ever more diverse. In their article, Archaeology from the Air” (JanFeb 2016, pages 2835), William Carter, Ramesh Shrestha, and Juan Fernandez-Diaz describe the scientific benefits of this technology. It was originally developed for use by state departments of transportation and environmental protection to reduce the time and cost of acquiring the information they needed to build new highways, measure beach erosion, delineate flood zones, and quantify damage from forest fires and other natural disasters. In addition to refining federal engineering projects, use of airborne LiDAR systems by archaeologists has revolutionized the mapping of remote ancient ruins hidden by vegetation. Today, airborne LiDAR is used to meet a range of research needs, from research designed to test geomorphic transport laws, map channel incision, explain hydrologic processes, define vegetation patterns and explore their controls, document snow accumulation, quantify floodplain sedimentation, document and discover active faulting, map landslides, predict fire hazards, characterize impact craters, quantify lava flow mechanics, document sediment transport and erosion, and monitor beach erosion. The prospects for LiDAR continue to expand thanks to continued investment by federal agencies.

We look forward to hearing about how you’re spreading the word and the feedback you’re receiving.

John C. Nemeth is the executive director and CEO of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

Photo caption: Brazil's Xingu River, the third largest tributary to the Amazon, harbors rapids among the most extensive in the world. The man in the photograph above is from the Juruna ethnic group and, although posed, is showing a traditional form of fishing with bow and arrow in the Xingu's rapids. Image courtesy of Verena Glass/Xingu Vivo.

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