Science isUS

When Science is Politicized Everyone Loses

The Covid-19 pandemic taught us a lot about science. From appropriate, science-based public health measures to keep us safe, to treatments for those infected, to the quick development of highly effective vaccines, science was our safety blanket.

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Science and Engineering in Florida

Science is US and Enterprise Florida launched a new series of virtual events that emphasize the essential nature of science and engineering to Floridians. The first session in the series kicked off on February 24 with Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeannette Nuñez and a panel of science and engineering experts in a discussion on Florida’s aerospace industry.

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🚨New tool alert! Wondering what the earmark landscape looks like? Read & explore here:

Meet the people of science.

People of Science: Claire Bowen, Data Scientist, Urban Institute (remote worker in New Mexico)

“I’m a data scientist at a public policy research institution. I help distill complex data in a manner that makes sense to people. Data isn’t always clean or perfect. Data scientists take that data and help translate it into narratives. How will this data make impact? How can we use it to make better policy choices?

I specialize in data privacy and confidentiality. One of the projects I’m working on is helping the IRS to find a better way to release taxpayer data. The President recently approved a $1.9 trillion budget. If we had access to taxpayer data, we could figure out which groups are more vulnerable to better shape public policies. But, we want expand access to this data to other researchers without violating the confidentiality of anyone who contributed to the data.

We also recently led the rollout of a COVID-19 job loss tool – an interactive tool that tells us where low-income job loss due to COVID-19 is happening most across the country. What areas were being hit the hardest? What jobs were more vulnerable? We were able to roll this out in about a month and quicky work with local and state governments to help them address the loss. 

When I was young, I was very curious and math and science explained how things worked to me. Despite growing up in a rural area in Idaho where not many girls pursued careers in science, my family was encouraging of it. I was raised by a single mother and my grandmother was definitely the matriarch of the house. Growing up around strong women helped me to pursue my love of science and ultimately end up where I am today.

I know it can be a cliché, but try to pursue what you love. And do your best to silence other voices and just focus on your goal. And find a good support system! This is especially important in a male dominated field like STEM. While I was the only woman that graduated in my cohort, I had a great support network and that made all the difference.”
People of Science: Hadas Kotek, Linguist, Apple (CA)
“When tech companies build virtual assistants, they use machine learning models, which are essentially large-scale statistical tools. But to truly work, the assistant also needs to understand the context of the conversation and more broadly the social and cultural background of its users. More and more, companies are recognizing this fact, and that’s where linguists come in: we bring in the human aspect that ultimately enriches the user experience.

I’m a linguist at Apple. My job combines data science and project management. Specifically, I help Siri understand its users. I’ve always been interested in the intersection between science and language, and eventually received a PhD in linguistics from MIT. I also spent several years teaching linguistics at the college level.

My academic background did a lot to train me for the job I have now. For example, it taught me how to design human-centered experiments, how to identify patterns in diverse and sometimes complex data, and how to work in multi-national collaborations. I work with data scientists, engineers, and annotators, and that kind of collaboration is something I really enjoy. Seeing a product go from inception to widespread use and having that kind of impact is another rewarding aspect of my job.

I’m active in a mentoring group that supports women and other minorities in linguistics. I would say to any young aspiring STEM professional: there are resources and networks out there that can help you. I’ve learned that finding those connections is crucial. While asking for help can be hard at times, it’s reassuring to know there are both resources and more importantly people out there who want to help.”
People of Science: Dr. Ai Takeuchi, VMD, Veterinarian at Lucerne Veterinary Hospital

“I am a small animal general practice veterinarian in central Maine treating and caring for dogs and cats. That’s everything from wellness exams to sick visits to routine spay/neuter surgeries to foreign body operations and ruptured tumors. I also do orthopedic surgeries, fracture repairs, and plate and screw fixation. Never in a million year did I think I would be doing orthopedic surgeries. But I am a problem-solver and I got tired of amputating perfectly good legs that could be saved because owners couldn’t  afford surgery at a specialty clinic or couldn’t drive two hours south for surgery. We’re two hours away from the closest board-certified surgeon.

I see quite a bit of animals that need critical care services. Before moving to Maine, I worked 10 years in emergency medicine, so I’m used to managing and stabilizing critical patients. There is an emergency clinic where I serve on the board that’s open night/weekends and holidays. Even with kids and pets and a spouse with a demanding job, I try to give back when I can. It’s the last emergency clinic before the Canadian border. 

What’s interesting about veterinary medicine is that it involves a lot of detective work. The analytical skills used in the profession are natural for me. Some cases are obvious like when an animal is brought in and its face are covered with quills. Chances are he or she got into it with a porcupine. While other cases may require more investigative medicine like in the case of treating a dog who has been vomiting. Depending on what’s going on, I may need to delve further to see what is happening below the surface. Is the vomiting caused because the dog ingested something? It is a viral illness? A symptom of pancreatic disease? Could there be an obstruction in the intestines? I may have to step into the role of pathologist one day and observe cells under a microscope or step into the role of a surgeon the next day because there is an obstruction in the gastral tract.” ... continued in comments
People of Science: Kristina Pistone, Research Scientist, Bay Area Environmental Research Institute (CA)

“I didn’t set out to get into science as a career. I didn’t grow up in a family of scientists or anything. I had a really great high school Physics teacher who inspired me to study astrophysics in undergrad. During a summer research program, my astronomy professor mentor introduced me both to the idea that research could be a career, and to the Keeling Curve - the long-term observational record showing the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The following year I took a course on the physical climate system (basically physics applied to earth systems) and that was it for me. I ended up doing my PhD at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, down the hill from where I studied in undergrad and where the Keeling Curve is still maintained.

I’m now a research scientist with the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute working on a NASA led project that studies how aerosol particles affect cloud properties and our climate. Right now we’re continuing to analyze data from a field campaign over the Southeast Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. We chose this location because, similar to California, it’s a region with uniform clouds just off the coast, and a consistent amount of atmospheric smoke due to agricultural fires, which makes it a good place to study the interactions between the two. Like California in recent years, the region sees millions of tiny aerosol particles released into the atmosphere from fires. The main difference is that these African biomass burning fires (and their smoke over the ocean) are consistently present in the springtime (which is good if you only have a limited time to collect data), whereas in California the wildfires are fairly unpredictable. 

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People of Science: Jennifer Chambers, Math & Science Department Chair, The Siena School
“I wanted to be a marine biologist. That was my childhood passion. I was fascinated by humpback whales, dolphins, and seals. My mother was born and raised in Hawaii, so I got to spend a lot of time visiting my grandparents and visiting the ocean in Maui. I became intimately connected to the ocean during those visits. I even wrote to President Reagan when I was 10 years old asking him to help baby harp seals from being hunted in the northern territory of Canada. But when I got to college, I deviated from my childhood passion pursuit and studied political science instead.

I was accepted to the marine science program at the University of South Carolina. Then during my college visit, things took a turn. The program director at the college discouraged me from pursuing that major and cited failure rates among women studying marine science and convinced me that the likelihood of me graduating with a marine science degree was low. Hearing this at 18 was scary. With my confidence shot and fear of failure, I switched majors after that preliminary visit to USC.
After graduation, I moved to D.C. and worked on several political campaigns and public policy initiatives. I primarily worked on public policy issues that centered around women infected and affected with HIV/AIDS. After many years working in that genre, I decided to study women’s studies. While earning my master’s degree at SUNY, Buffalo, I developed and taught an undergraduate course on the history of the HIV / AIDS epidemic in women. It is also where I discovered my passion for teaching.
When I returned to D.C., I deviated from politics and instead pursued teaching, substituting at first and then getting hired as a Social Studies teacher. During a 10-year break from teaching, I founded Hiking Along LLC, whose mission was to lead and teach kids of all ages the science they were experiencing while hiking. In 2011, I returned to the classroom to teach Science, my childhood passion, to middle schoolers at The Siena School, where I also serve as the Math/Science department chair.”

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People of Science: Priyanka Kushwaha, Post-doc researcher, University of Arizona
“I figured out my career path as I went along. Initially, I was getting my PhD in Biochemistry with the intent to focus on forensic science research. I had joined my PhD lab because I was interested in the use of soil microbial DNA for soil provenance purposes. Soon after, soil microbial nutrient cycling piqued my interest, and I studied the role of microbial functions in urbanized Florida soils for my PhD research.
From there, my interest in soil grew. Here in Arizona, we’re trying to better understand desertification which we’re seeing more of due to climate change. You can monitor the impact of this in the Sonoran Desert by tracking loss of plant density and soil microbial changes. We also have contaminated soils here that need to be rehabilitated. Understanding how microbes in the soil interact with plants and how plants get nutrients from soil will help us get ahead of these issues.
I spend my time both in the lab and in the field collecting soil samples. Surprisingly, the work is similar to my PhD research! I used to collect soil samples from urbanized and wetland areas. Now I do the same but with desert and contaminated soils. In the lab, I extract DNA from soil and sequence the DNA to identify which microorganisms are present.
One of the projects I’m working on right now involves soil samples from Poland to better understand the role of microbes in helping the plants to grow on metal contaminated soils. It’s like a puzzle I want to solve.
Sometimes there can be pressure to have a set path, particularly in science careers. I’m a big believer in doing what you love and what interests you. Everyone’s path is unique and part of the fun is figuring that out as you go along.”
People of Science: Iverson Bell, PhD, Artificial Intelligence Research Scientist, Engineering Manager & Product Owner at Cubic Mission and Performance Solutions (Maryland)

“Both of my parents were scientists and that gave me a good foundation to pursue STEM. My favorite subjects in high school were AP physics and all of the science classes that involve math. While figuring out my college career path, it was my sister, a civil engineer, who encouraged me to look into electrical engineering.

As an undergrad, I studied electrical & electronics engineering at Howard University, and earned a MS degree in electrical engineering and a PhD. from the University of Michigan. My doctoral work was on electrodynamic tethers and its feasibility use in miniature spacecrafts, and the research is currently being tested in space. It's exciting to see its potential uses, eg. emergency preparedness/relief, atmospheric surveillance, earthquake monitoring, etc.

Currently, I’m an engineering manager and product owner at Cubic Mission and Performance Solutions. I work on enhancing the capabilities of Unified Video, a secure video management platform that enables users to view, manage and understand massive amounts of real-time and/or archived videos. The technology is mostly used by the military, and an example of its application would be how intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) operators use the platform to gain situational awareness quickly and efficiently. The proprietary AI technology helps our customers leverage giant pools of data easier thus helping them make informed decisions.

Moving forward with a new administration, I’m optimistic that the United States will continue to make progress and that science and engineering continues to be a priority. In my opinion, funding new research, ideas and innovations will be critical in emerging fields. The U.S. is home to the world’s leading companies. But the next generation of problem-solvers will need to be scientifically savvy and mathematically aware in order to think critically. We have all the tools, all the technology, and all the resources to do this. Whether or not that is a priority is a whole other question.”
People of Science: Nadya Bliss, Executive Director, Global Security Initiative, Arizona State University
“When we design our Information Systems, security can often be an afterthought. As our reliance of online platforms grows, our threat landscape grows with it – from breaches to disinformation to phishing scams to attacks on our critical infrastructure. As a computer scientist, we need to ensure we are prioritizing security alongside capability. This is a major focus of the organization I lead at Arizona State University, the Global Security Initiative (GSI).
One of GSI’s centers is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. This is a great example of mission-driven research that has a clear impact on national security and people’s lives. For example, one of the Center’s efforts is looking at the airport security screening process to optimize efficiency and speed while maintaining security. Before the pandemic, when I used to travel, it was neat to see our students collecting data at the airport.
It’s critical that scientists be involved in the policy discourse. Computer scientists absolutely need to be at the table during policy discussions, and that responsibility cuts both ways – computer scientists need to recognize their responsibility to society, and policymakers need to recognize the value computer scientists can contribute to policy discussions.
I always knew – even when I was a child – that I wanted to study math and science, and that I wanted to work in areas with a public service mission. Thankfully, I’ve been able to do both of those things throughout my career.”

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