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Number 650 • October 23, 2015 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

Speak Softly: Yet Another Scientist Finds Himself in the Congressional Spotlight for Saying His Piece

Thanks to the polarization of scientific issues such as climate change, it’s become popular to implore scientists to join the public conversation and no wonder. Perhaps now more than ever, we need clear and expert guidance to help us understand complicated data and sift fact from opinion.

But while having more scientists advising science policy seems like an obvious advantage, the reality has been quite different. From the past travails of Michael Mann to recent inquiries into Roger Pielke, Jr. to the investigation of numerous National Science Foundation researchers, it’s clear that simply being a scientist can make one a political target—never mind being a scientist who speaks his mind.

The most recent example of this contradictory dynamic is climate expert Jagadish Shukla, who dared to join 19 other scientists in writing a letter suggesting that the Obama administration should investigate corporations that deliberately spread misinformation about climate change.

Within a month, the George Mason University professor and president of the Institute of Global Environment and Society learned his organization was the subject of a congressional investigation by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

“I signed this letter as a private citizen on personal time, urging action on climate change, and I have been shocked by the reaction,” Shukla told InsideClimate News. “Any allegations of inappropriate behavior are untrue.”

Shukla had been the first signatory on the September 1 letter, which recommended using RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) to hold corporations responsible if they could be found to have “knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.” *

Shukla’s mistake seems to be briefly posting the letter on the IGES Web site. Because IGES is the recipient of grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NSF, and NASA, the committee insinuated that federal funds were being used to promote biased political opinions.

“The letter raises serious concerns because IGES appears to be almost fully funded by taxpayer money while simultaneously participating in partisan political activity by requesting a RICO investigation of companies and organizations that disagree with the Obama Administration on climate change,” states an October 1 letter to Shukla from committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R).

The fact that the letter was removed from the Web site (replaced with a notice that it had been “inadvertently” included there) shortly after posting with was also an issue, according to Smith.

“IGES’s recent decision to remove documents from its website raises concerns that additional information vital to the Committee’s investigation may not be preserved,” his letter stated.

Since IGES completed its three-year grant cycle in July and is in the process of dissolving, the committee’s action might end in nothing more than an exercise in onerous paperwork. What’s more impactful, though, is the chilling effect the investigation is likely to have on scientists advocating for policy action.

“The House Science Committee isn’t going after Dr. Shukla and his colleagues for their scientific work, but for their opinions as private citizens,” Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists told InsideClimate. “Scientists have the same right as anyone to engage in the political process and express their beliefs without fear of being hauled before Congress for their views.”

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, expressed a similar opinion.

“To be clear about my own position, I would resist any attempt to stifle the constitutionally protected right of any citizen, including the nation’s scientists, to engage in free speech without interference,” she told ScienceInsider.

Ironically, Shukla might have saved himself some trouble with a bit of procrastination. Several weeks after the scientists sent their letter, an unrelated special report by the Los Angeles Times, as well as reporting by PBS Frontline and InsideClimate, found internal memos that indicate Exxon Mobil has been duping the public about the contributions of greenhouse gases to global warming since 1989. The reports have led two congressmen to request the same action as Shukla, et al.

While it might have worked better for IGES if Shukla remained quiet, it’s heartening that the scientists choose to speak out at all. Past congressional inquires of scientists (which are contentious by nature) means it takes a certain amount of bravery to open oneself up to possible scrutiny. But as Halpren points out, it’s vital to public understanding.

"[Investigations] can send the wrong message to researchers about how valuable their expertise is to society,” Halpren said. “We need scientists to engage in public conversations on science-based issues, no matter how contentious the topic.” 

* The idea of using RICO to launch an investigation was originally put forth by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in a Washington Post op-ed. In that article, Whitehouse makes the case that oil and gas companies intentionally mislead the public about human contributions to climate change in the same way that cigarette manufacturers downplayed the risks of smoking in the 1990s. As such, he argues, they should be investigated using the same successful application of RICO legislation that the U.S. Department of Justice used to end unethical tobacco marketing.

—Jolie Breeden

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Not-So-Traditional: How a Female Scientist Thwarted Malaria in Communist China and Won the Nobel Prize

Although Chinese traditional medicine (CTM) has been gaining popularity in the West for sometime, there’s still a bit of stigma attached to the herbal treatments and acupuncture that much of the world has come to rely on to treat their illnesses. That could change, though, thanks to Tu Youyou, who recently won Nobel recognition for a malaria cure based on CTM.

Tu, an 84-year-old Chinese scientist, was awarded half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 for discovering a novel therapy against malaria on October 5. The other half was awarded jointly to scientists working with roundworm therapies.

Tu’s work is remarkable for a number of reasons. Not only does it lend credibility to traditional medicine (which the World Health Organization has said has been grossly underestimated as a public health tool), but she was also able to make the discovery while working under the dictatorship of Mao Zedong.

Tu attended pharmacology school in Beijing but has no medical degree, no doctorate, and has never worked overseas. She was recruited in 1969 to join a covert military operation called Project 523 that was tasked with finding a malaria cure.

At the time, Mao’s regime was particularly motivated to prevail over the deadly disease not just because it was a problem in China, but also because it was decimating the Vietnamese and Chinese troops that were fighting the U.S. Army in North Vietnam.

Project 523 was a response to the failed WHO worldwide malaria eradication campaign of the 1950s, which relied on the drug chloroquine to achieve its goal. Unfortunately, after some local success, the disease rebounded in many places, in part because of the emergence of chloroquine-resistant parasites.

While heading Project 523, Tu combed ancient texts and folk remedies for possible leads to an effective alternative to chloroquine. Two years and hundreds of herb extracts into her search, Tu and her team found a medical text by Fourth Century Chinese physician and alchemist Ge Hong that described using sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua L) to treat a disease which symptoms suggested was malaria.

Tu tweaked the recipe, and after successfully testing it on animals, she tested the drug on herself.

“As the head of the research group, I had the responsibility,” she told Chinese media, according to BBC News.

In 1971, the drug was tested on 21 people with two different strains of malaria and the associated fever and blood-borne parasites disappeared in both groups. 

The drug, called Qinghaosu in China and commonly called Artemisinin in the West, has saved millions of lives in the past 40 or so years. Since her discovery, Tu has further modified Artemisinin and generated a compound called dihydroartemisinin, which delivers ten times more punch and reduces risk of disease recurrence. The compound forms the foundation of today’s therapies.

The most important lesson that can be learned from Tu’s success, according to Liu Qingquan, head of Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is that the development of TCM must be combined with science and technology.

"If we cling to traditions and shun modern technology, all talks about TCM's development will be empty slogans," Liu told Chinese new agency Xinhua. “This is a proud moment for the Chinese people, and even more so for traditional Chinese medical practitioners.”

—Elke Weesjes

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Disaster News Redux: Ebola—The Once and Future Virus

Last Look: It’s been a about a year and a half since an outbreak of a novel strain of Ebola gripped headlines across the world. Originating in Africa, the disease spread widely through Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, with cases found in Mali, Senegal, and Nigeria, as well. Localized transmission of cases far from the initial outbreak (including Spain and the United States) fanned public fear and led to border shutdowns and sometimes drastic quarantine measures in Europe and the U.S.

In all, the lethal hemorrhagic fever had claimed more than 11,000 lives and prompted the World Health Organization to say that it was the most challenging outbreak it had ever faced before cases began to decline in Spring 2015.

Even while the number of cases began to diminish, the specter of a worldwide outbreak spurred new discussions on dealing with disease transmission and put Ebola vaccine testing on a fast track.

Second Sightings: More than in past outbreaks, the 2015 epidemic has given researchers insight into how the Ebola virus affects survivors of the disease.
It was known that the virus could continue to live in the eyes, semen, and spinal fluids of those that had recovered from the disease, but most recently, doctors surprised were a Scottish nurse became critically ill with meningitis related to a previous Ebola infection.

“I am not aware from the scientific literature of a case where Ebola has been associated with what we can only assume as life-threatening complications after someone has initially recovered, and certainly not so many months after,” Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, told The Guardian.

While the nurse, Pauline Cafferkey, is beginning to recover, her recent illness was a wake up call regarding the virus’s ability to reinfect the victim and what that could mean for transmission opportunities.

“We've always known that it wasn't completely over,” Daniel Bausch, an infectious disease expert at Tulane University told NPR. “There's always the possibility that whatever first seeded this outbreak, likely a fruit bat, is still out there. “So, we've always known that there was the potential for reintroduction from the wild. But I think more recently and with these data coming in, we're understanding that there's also this potential for reintroduction from persistent virus production in humans, most notably from sexual transmission.”

Sexual transmission
of Ebola is rare and transmission from other bodily fluids of past victims is unheard of. It’s also important to note that Ebola isn’t known to lurk in the bodies of all survivors—some are thought to clear the virus entirely. Still, doctors are cautious about what Cafferkey’s relapse might mean in terms of public health and the reintroduction of the disease.

A Peek at the Future: The breadth of the 2015 outbreak will provide researchers with ample opportunities to study the ongoing effects of Ebola infection.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has partnered with Liberia health officials to study survivor immunity and transmission in about 7,500 people. Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises has funded seven studies, including one that will investigate geographic spread and another that will look at behavioral factors in transmission. Numerous other research projects exploring vaccines, diagnostics, and antivirals are also in progress.

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Call Outs: Calls for Papers, Abstracts, Proposals, and More

Call for Participation
Master’s Degree in Information Systems for Emergency Management Survey
Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management
Deadline: Available for a limited time

The education committee of Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) is requesting participation from emergency management professionals and academics in determining the curricula needs for a degree program with a concentration on information systems in EM professions. The four-section survey will assist ISCRAM in establishing guidelines for master’s-level degrees. Participation is anonymous and input from individuals in related fields is welcome.

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Call for Submissions

EERI Annual Student Paper Competition
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Deadline: November 1, 2015
The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute is accepting submissions to its annual student paper competition. Papers of 12 pages or less that directly address earthquake engineering or risk reduction are eligible. Papers must be authored by the student alone. For more information on guidelines or to submit a paper, visit the EERI Competitions page.

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Call for Comments
Recovery Policy: Stafford Act 705, Disaster Grant Closeout Procedures
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: November 2, 2015
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is requesting comment on a proposed policy that will direct how it implements Section 705 of the Stafford Act in relation to Public Assistance grants. Section 705 was enacted by congress to protect governments from having funds “deobliged” by FEMA after work had been completed and funds spent. For the text of the proposed policy and to submit a comment, visit the call for comments in the Federal Register.

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Some New Web Resources

Federal Flood Risk Management Standard Fact Sheet
Earlier this month, the Water Resources Council approved guidelines for establishing a federal flood risk management standard, which was required by executive order. This Federal Emergency Management Agency fact sheet addresses questions the agency has received about the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, including how it will impact the National Flood Insurance Program. The recently approved guidelines and associated documents can be found on the FEMA Web Site.

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Meteotsunamis
Think tsunamis and earthquakes go hand-in-hand? Guess again. While earthquake-generated tsunamis get top billing on the awareness scale, tsunamis can also be caused by meteorological events. This page from the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program will tell you everything you want to know about how meteotsunamis form, where they’re most likely to happen, and what’s being done to forecast and issue warnings about meteotsunami events.
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Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program
From Texas to Mississippi, the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program has a wealth of resources, news, webinars, and data tools to help you track extreme weather in the South Central United States. The climate hazards research program focuses on preparedness and resilience to climate-related weather extremes that include drought, hurricanes, storm surges, heat waves, wildfires, and just about any other hazards faced in the six-state region.

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Emergency Management Institute Independent Study Courses
If you’re having a hard time making it to Emmitsburg, you might want to look into one of the many online courses offered by the FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. Courses are available on numerous topics relevant to emergency managers, first responders, and anyone else interested in hazards and emergencies. College and continuing education credits are available in many instances, and like other EMI courses, they’re free!

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2015 World Disaster Report
If all disasters are local, then it would make sense that local actors would be the most effective in launching a humanitarian response. Unfortunately, not all government and aid organizations make the best use of local response—that’s why this year’s World Disaster Report by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent focuses on local actors. With recommendations on how large-scale response can make better use of locals, how funding mechanisms can support those efforts, and how to better build capacity, this report looks to find balance between global response and the boots already on the ground.

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Conferences and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]

November 4-6, 2015
2015 Canadian Risk and Hazards Network Symposium
Canadian Risk and Hazards Network
Calgary, Canada
Cost and Registration
: $630, open until filled
This symposium will deconstruct disaster resilience using multifaceted discussions of the factors that contribute to hazards and how they can be addressed during all phases of disaster. Topics include scientific communication and psychosocial impacts of disaster, spontaneous volunteers, resilience among indigenous people, children’s needs in emergency planning, using the HAZUS model for Canadian disaster losses, and managing construction projects after disaster.

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November 17-19, 2015
Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity Conference
Pacific Northwest Preparedness Society and the Emergency Preparedness for Industry and Commerce Council
Vancouver, Canada
Cost and Registration: $630 before October 23, open until filled

This conference will look at a broad perspective of emergency preparedness and business continuity issues with an emphasis on preparedness awareness, emergency social services, healthcare facilities, and recent disasters. Topics include disaster staging, emergency plan audits, critical infrastructure assessments for local authorities, pets in disaster, cybersecurity and business continuity, aviation interoperability for emergency response, and communicating dam risk.

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November 19-22, 2015
Second World Congress on Disaster Management
Disaster Management, Infrastructure and Control Society
Visakhapatnam, India
Cost and Registration: $310 before November 19, open until filled

This conference will address linkages in environmental, technical, social, and economic risks, as well as examine initiatives for building resilience. Topics include earthquakes, rescue and evacuation, chemical and nuclear threats, medical and healthcare response, crisis communication, infrastructure management during disasters, and media and disasters.

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November 23-25, 2015
Practitioners’ Workshop on Risk Reduction and Resilience in Asia
Asian Disaster Preparedness Network
Bangkok, Thailand
Cost and Registration: Contact Workshop Organizers

This workshop will reflect on the outcomes of the Sendai Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and how to translate the commitments made there into practice. Themes of the workshop include enhancing community resilience, expanding preparedness, guiding risk-informed development, and mainstreaming disaster risk reduction across sectors.

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December 1-4, 2015
National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference
National Healthcare Coalition Resource Center
San Diego, California
Cost and Registration: $575 before October 29, open until filled

This conference will examine issues related to disasters and emergencies from the perspective of community healthcare coalitions. Topics include hospital planning for pediatric disasters, communicating disease risk, integrating homelessness into disaster response, Ebola readiness, federal initiatives in emergency management and health care, biopreparedness, regional approaches to infectious disease, and resilience in behavioral health care.

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December 8-10, 2015
AHIMTA Educational Symposium
All Hazards Incident Management Teams Association
Denver, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $340 before November 1, open until filled

This conference will address challenges faced by incident command professionals and focus on building leadership skills. Topics include all-hazards search and rescue, situational awareness and social media, rural departments in large-scale incidents, National Guard roles in all-hazards response, and traffic incident management,

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Hydraulic Civil Engineer, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Denton, Texas
Salary: $74,195 to $96,459
Deadline: October 28, 2015
This position will manage engineering-based flood studies and mapping projects and assist communities in reducing their flood risk using RISK MAP. Duties include reviewing proposed contracts between FEMA and public and private contractors, serving as an expert on hydrologic and hydraulic floodplain studies, and preparing replies to congressional correspondence regarding natural hazards. One year of experience at the GS-11 level, an engineering degree, and professional certification are required.

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Disaster Risk Reduction Mentor

The Anglican Church of Melanesia
Luganville, Vanuatu
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: October 30, 2015
This position will implement response and recovery activities related to Cyclone Pam and work to build capacities for future disasters. Duties include providing mentoring and technical assistance to volunteers working on Cyclone Pam recovery projects, reviewing plans for the use of donor funds, reporting on project progress, creating rapid needs assessments for future emergencies, and identifying disaster risk reduction needs for communities. A strong background in disaster risk management, the ability to work in cross-cultural environments, and a PhD in social research or development are required.

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Assistant Structural Engineering Professor

Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: December 15, 2015
This tenure-track assistant professorship will teach in the area of the built environment with a focus on structural engineering and mechanics related building resilience natural and manmade hazards. Duties include developing an externally funded research program, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in civil and environmental engineering, and pursuing scholarly research. A focus on the improvement of built infrastructure, knowledge of structural resilience to disasters, and the potential to make global impacts through transformative research are required.

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Continuity of Operations Assistant Director

New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation
New York, New York
Salary: $62,306 to $79,321
Deadline: April 7, 2016
This position will work under the vice president of emergency management to oversee the corporation’s continuity of operations program. Duties include developing and implementing continuity of operations plans for all locations, ensuring trainings, drills and exercises are conducted in a timely way, and leading activities that promote the growing all-hazards emergency management approach within the corporation. A degree in health care, public health, or hospital administration, the ability to compile and analyze data, general knowledge of business continuity, and at least four years of administrative experience are required.

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Office of Special Projects Associate Program Officer
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will oversee the Resilient America Roundtable pilot program. Duties include conducting research and preparing reports, communicating with staff at the six pilot program sites, tracking issues, coordinating project activities, and ensuring the project meets stated objectives. A bachelor’s degree in a field related to hazards and disasters and at least three years of related experience is required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Webinar
Incentivizing Pre-Disaster Mitigation
October 28, 2015, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT
National Institute of Building Sciences
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before October 27

This webinar will look at approaches for leveraging incentives that help attract private-sector investment in pre- and post-disaster mitigation projects. Topics include real estate and lending strategies, tax incentives, and grants and regulatory assistance.

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Webinar
Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in a Disaster
October 29, 2015, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EDT
National Pediatric Readiness Project
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before the event
This webinar will discuss practical ways to incorporate the specific behavioral health needs of children into disaster plans. Topics include the effects of disaster on psychological functioning, emotional and developmental impacts of disasters on children, and ways to support families after disaster.

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Training
First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis
May 23 to June 24, 2016
Smithsonian Institution and ICCROM
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $1,025, apply before November 9
This course was designed to teach heritage professionals and researchers how to respond quickly and effectively after a disaster in order to preserve artifacts of cultural importance. Attendees will learn how to train and manage preservation teams to be deployed during disaster, manage cultural heritage risks, secure and stabilize cultural materials, and communicate with other emergency officials.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to jolie.breeden@colorado.edu. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/.
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