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Science and an uncertain future

Vaccination syringes

Tabitha M. Powledge covers, to the extent possible, the outlook for climate science, the Affordable Care Act, and vaccines in a Trump administration: "I’ve been putting off writing about what the TrumPets will do to science and medicine because it’s been so unclear. That’s still true, but what with the inauguration almost upon us, it seems important to lay out some of the possibilities — even though real plans are still a mystery. Assuming there are any real plans."

A roundup of science news roundups

2016 graphic

Tabitha M. Powledge pulls together best-of-2016 lists from sources as far-flung as Cosmos, New Scientist,, LiveScience, the New York Times, Wired, and Retraction Watch to mark a final end to a year that not too many people are likely to miss. Of the stories, she writes: "At least some were encouraging. Still, many believe that 2016 has concluded not a moment too soon, and are finding it hard to summon optimism about what lies ahead in 2017. Anyway."

Trump, Mars, and NASA's future

Mars rover

Tabitha M. Powledge speculates on what's ahead for America in space: "It seems likely to nearly everybody that the TrumPets will try to get rid of NASA’s work on climate change, given that Trump has declared it to be a Chinese hoax and surrounded himself with fossil fuelers. But what will they do about space? Sending a (successful) manned mission to Mars would probably Make America Great Again. But it couldn’t be carried out in the lifetime of a Trump administration."

Scientists prepare for a battle

Fountain pen on paper

Three open letters from scientists to the incoming Trump administration are being circulated, Tabitha M. Powledge writes, but their prospects for success are probably not good: "Were all these open-letter writers really aiming at Trump with hope in their hearts? … If they truly wanted to reach the President-elect, they should have chosen his usual methods of information gathering: cable news and Twitter." Also, stories about science writing win a science writing prize.

On the illness that gets no respect

1945 menstrual cramps ad

Tabitha M. Powledge unloads on writer Frank Bures and his Slate post — excerpted from his recent book — about premenstrual syndrome: "He declares that PMS is a 'cultural syndrome,' or 'cultural idiom of distress.' That doesn’t mean, he says, that the physical symptoms are imaginary, only that they are prompted by beliefs and expectations. Well, you can imagine. Nearly 400 comments so far. Quintessential mansplaining, as several commenters of the other sex have noted."

Good news and bad on dementia

Silhouette of man in front of tree and clock

Dementia rates have declined over the past dozen years, but some of the most promising treatments for a leading cause, Alzheimer's disease, are failing to live up to expectations, Tabitha M. Powledge writes: "Despite these continuing disappointments, will the hunt for a magic bullet against Alzheimer’s disease continue? You bet. Medicare is now spending around 20% of its funds on caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Not to mention that the profit potential is ginormous."

Does Trump want a bigger population?

Baby surrounded by dolls

Tabitha M. Powledge examines the president-elect's positions on abortion, gay marriage, and health care and concludes that Donald Trump may be a "pronatalist," or a supporter of growing the U.S. population to boost the economy: "I wandered into this notion while trying to figure out why Trump currently embraces two policy ideas that on the surface appear antithetical: pro-life and pro-gay marriage. He expressed them most recently in last Sunday’s 60 Minutes broadcast."

Science in a post-Trump nation

President-elect Donald Trump

From climate change and Obamacare to the EPA and marijuana research, Tabitha M. Powledge reviews what Donald Trump's election means for science: "Note that speculation is pretty much all it is — or can be — at this point. That’s because, while Trump’s policy declarations have been sweeping and startling, they also utterly lack details." Also, why Trump's victory can be explained better by voters' skin color than by their education, intelligence, or socioeconomic status.

Pushback on some GMO reporting

Tomato and syringe

Discussion of a New York Times story raising questions about genetically modified organisms is summarized by Tabitha M. Powledge: "If there’s one thing we should have learned, it’s not to look at GMOs as A Thing. Case-by-case is the only sort of analysis that makes sense. But of course case-by-case means lots of detail and a very long piece, not a popular approach for writers (or editors)." Also, the state of marijuana research as five more states vote on legalization.

Good and bad in TV health news

John Oliver

Tabitha M. Powledge reviews John Oliver's take on the problem of prescription painkiller abuse and Big Pharma's role: "This time his topic was the opioid epidemic and its accompanying thousands of deaths. Which he laid at the feet of drug companies, especially Purdue Pharma, maker of the hugely successful opiate, OxyContin." Also, the sorry state elsewhere of television health news reporting, as evidenced by the latest evaluations at the website.