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Congressman Makes Virtual Appearance at Climate Summit

Bu_markey_avatar_bx103 Since Representative Edward Markey couldn't be in Bali for the United Nations climate change meeting, he appeared virtually instead. With the help of a staffer, Markey created an avatar in Second Life, and addressed the meeting via video screen, from his place in the virtual world. Sadly, he didn't get too adventurous with his dress. Even his avatar looks like a Capitol Hill insider.

Markey said he couldn't be there because he needed to be in the US to help pass a clean energy bill, but he should've taken a greener-than-thou route instead. Why did any of them waste the jet fuel going to Bali? They all should have stayed home, saved the fuel, and met in Second Life instead.—Gregory Mone

Via SFGate

A Science-Only Debate For the 2008 Presidential Candidates?

Sealpresidentialcolor A group of well-known scientists, science writers and politicians is calling for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the environment, medicine, health and other important issues of science and technology policy. More than 40 science bloggers climbed aboard the debate train in the first 24 hours.

Among the issues that could be debated are some of the hottest topics of the day, ranging from climate change to stem cell research. Want to join the political party? Go to sciencedebate2008.com. The petition is also circulating on Facebook. —Dawn Stover

The Health Effects of Climate Change

390pxjulie_gerberding Last week, Julie Gerberding, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed the Senate on the health impact of global warming. But the news emerged recently that her planned speech had been drastically cut down by White House editors.

The Senate did not, for example, hear her say that people in the Midwest and Northeast are expected to experience more heat-related illnesses as heat waves increase, or that the public health effects of climate change basically haven't been addressed. Presidential science adviser John Marburger responded to the resulting criticism, noting points on which he and his staff believed that Gerberding's conclusions drifted from the scientific consensus.

But another prominent scientist, University of Wisconsin Professor Jonathan Patz, insists that her original testimony was scientifically accurate, and, more importantly, that we need to start dealing with the fact that climate change poses serious health risks. Read his unsettling conclusions here.—Gregory Mone

Did Yahoo Give False Testimony to Congress?

Shi_tao The House Foreign Affairs Committee is calling for two Yahoo executives to appear at a November 6th hearing that will address whether or not the company gave false testimony last year in the case of an imprisoned Chinese poet and journalist.

Previously, Yahoo's general counsel told Congress that the company was not aware of why the Chinese government asked for information regarding pro-Democracy advocate Shi Tao (left). In 2004, Yahoo turned over details that helped Beijing police find Shi, and he has since been sentenced to ten years in prison. Now the committee says that Yahoo couldn't have been so clueless with regards to the government's intentions, and wants to find out more about whether the company is truly protecting the privacy rights of its overseas customers.—Gregory Mone

Via PC World

Resolved: In Support of Scientific Freedom

Editor_jannot_170x245_1 Perhaps it's a bit early to start talking about New Year's resolutions, but as the January issue of PopSci hits stands this week, I've got 2007 on the brain. My resolution? To get into more arguments. Well, OK: debates. Principled debates. Debates about principles.

First I’ll probably engage in a few informal, impromptu debates with my fellow editors in which we kick around our ideas about what the core principles of this magazine are, and how those principles do and should find their expression in these pages. I’ve been thinking about this for a while—that we all (editors and readers) would benefit from the bracing clarity that comes from the crafting and setting in type of a PopSci manifesto, a declaration of principles.

I can tell you already where this conversation begins: with unswerving support for scientific freedom. We at Popular Science will always advocate for the ability of scientists to engage in open inquiry without threat of sanction or censure, and with the assurance that the fruits of their research will be considered and debated publicly, carefully, and without prejudice. Science, both basic and applied, is, I believe, the primary engine for improvement in this world. But to be so, its practitioners’ efforts cannot be squelched before they begin, and their findings cannot be suppressed, no matter how socially or politically inconvenient they might be.

You may or may not agree with all that—I certainly don’t hold these truths to be self-evident—and so I expect I’ll be enjoying a healthy debate with and among PopSci readers. Normally, I wouldn’t expect a debate around such principles to be conducted along partisan political lines. Unfortunately, though, that kind of polarization is exactly what has been happening over the past six years, with a president in the White House whose actions and policies are often blatantly antagonistic toward scientific freedom—and, until next month, a same-party Congress so unwilling to challenge him that he felt the need to exercise his veto power exactly once (last July, to strike down a bill that would have established guidelines for federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research). My hope is that the political realignment brought about by the midterm elections will end up raising the level of discussion, in Washington and across the country. Let the debate begin. —Mark Jannot

Sauron at the Gates!

Brilliant Photoshopping courtesy Philadelphia Will Do

It’s comforting to know that our elected officials can really grasp a nuanced concept and break it down into terms we common folk can understand. Take global terrorism, for example: In comments made earlier this week, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) equated terrorists to the “Eye of Mordor” trying to harass the hobbits scaling Mount Doom (no kidding—read it here) and went on to say that right now, the Eye of Mordor (ed.: Don’t you mean the Eye of Sauron, Rick?) has been drawn away from the U.S. to Iraq. Hooray! We’re safe! Mission accomplished!

First of all, if the terrorists are Sauron and the U.S. hobbits, then who the heck is Saruman? The Fighting Uruk-hai? Gollum? Where is Mount Doom? How does Gandalf fit in here, and what does Tom Bombadil really stand for?

And if this is the best analogy—the best thinking—a U.S. legislator can do on a subject, can we possibly trust his judgment when looking at such a nuanced and fraught issue as stem-cell research? I can’t wait to hear the analogy he comes up with for that (Perhaps the evil chest creature from Alien exploding out of the great stomach that is America?).

If you have any other ideas as to who belongs where (Osama bin Laden? Tony Blair? Poland?) in the Santorum LotR mythos, please let us know. And frankly, I’m dying to hear some more fantasy/sci-fi metaphors for the big issues of today. So we common folk can understand, see? —Martha Harbison

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