Science Education & Policy


Is this really necessary? Credit: EPA

By John Weeks, SOAS, University of London

The Obama administration has proposed several ad hoc multi-country economic agreements, and in doing so has abandoned de facto the World Trade Organization (WTO) as insufficiently malleable to its interests. The two most important of these are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the more recent Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).


The use of unnecessary medical tests and procedures driven by a fear of malpractice lawsuits, commonly known as 'defensive medicine', has been estimated to cost up to $46 billion annually in the U.S. 

It used to be that we didn't want medical decisions being made by insurance companies, and instead they became dictated by lawyers. 

For a recent paper, the authors estimated the cost of defensive medicine on three services – tests, procedures or hospitalizations – by asking physicians to estimate the defensiveness of their own orders. The authors invited 42 hospital physicians to complete a survey, which 36 physicians did and rated 4,215 orders for 769 patients in the research letter.  



If bloggers are journalists, should they all benefit from the same legal protections? Credit: Jonathan Ah Kit/Flickr

By Jane Johnston

A New Zealand High Court judgment handed down on Friday will have far-reaching implications for journalists and bloggers, as courts around the world consider the rapidly changing definitions of journalism.

There was a time when medicine was considered 'at all costs' but the costs were a lot lower. With malpractice attorneys on call and 'defensive medicine' to include every test so that during fact-finding all of the bases are covered, costs have skyrocketed.

But governments that fund health care want to get the most effective treatment for the money. Both the vaguely defined "pre-diabetes" and hypertension drugs for low-risk people are worrying trends. In a new paper, Dr. Stephen Martin and colleagues urge clinicians to be cautious about treating low risk patients with blood pressure lowering drugs.



The Tangshanpeng Wind Farm in China. Credit: Flickr/Land Rover Our Planet, CC BY-SA

By John Mathews and Hao Tan, University of Newcastle

The Obama administration recently began claiming that the unemployment rate had dropped to 6.1 percent, evidence that its economic policies were working. Yet over 90 Americans of working age are unemployed or working at low paying jobs outside their fields. How can they both be correct? 

Estimating the unemployment rate has become more difficult than in the past - because the definition of unemployment has changed and so has the design of metrics to track it. Millions of people cannot get unemployment benefits because they have been out of work too long, for example. To the government, that means they are not unemployed, even though they clearly are. Others have taken part-time jobs. 


If you want the best education and you are rich or are a non-Asian minority born with your heart outside of your body, go to Princeton. If you are Asian and rich, go to Caltech.

If you are none of the above, but still smart enough to get into a top school, U.C. Berkeley is the best place to be for the 17th straight year, according to US News  &  World Report rankings, which mean quite a lot to schools in the top 20 and little to anyone else. Berkeley again placed 20th overall and, since it is a public university, its tuition and fees are low compared to Caltech and Stanford, at least if you live in the state.

After the last wave of 'American children don't perform well on international standardized tests' articles in news media, the Obama administration gutted No Child Left Behind, the program approved with overwhelming bipartisan over a decade earlier, and replaced it with Common Core standards. American teachers, who didn't like the feeling that they were having to 'teach to the test' in order for students to do as well on standardized tests as kids from countries who primarily teach to the test, have now been handed an entirely new and even more restrictive set of demands to teach to the test.


Nearly 1 in 3 young adults ages 19 to 25 years lacked health insurance in 2009 - in most cases, they didn't want to incur the cost but one of the goals of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was to get all young people or their parents paying for coverage so that the people who could not get it could afford to be subsidized.

Thus, an early provision of Obamacare mandated that young people had to pay for health insurance - or insurance companies had to let them stay on their parents' policies until age 26. For a recent paper, Meera Kotagal, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues examined coverage, access to care and health care use among 19- to 25-year-olds compared with 26- to 34-year-olds after the Obamacare mandate. 


Talk of a 'secret sauce' in decision-making and charges that government groups like the Environmental Protection Agency are politically motivated are not new. Every president has its opposition party contending that the administration is manipulating science to suit its agenda - in the 1990s, Democrats got it for scuttling the Superconducting Super Collider and gutting the NIH and NASA while a decade later Republicans were called anti-science for limiting federal funding for human embryonic stem cells to existing lines.

No one voted or did not vote for a candidate because of the SSC or hESCs, they were simply talking points to confirm decisions.