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  • Obama's BRAIN Initiative: Brilliant Policy or Brute Waste?

    July 15, 2013
    In April, President Obama  announced a new BRAIN Initiative. Its stated goal is to “give scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain.” After a multitude of recent failed trials for Alzheimer’s drugs, it’s become increasingly apparent there is a need for a more basic understanding of the way the brain operates. As big pharma continues to funnel money into later-stage trials in hopes of blindly stumbling upon a potential blockbuster drug, the BRAIN Initiative aims to give researchers a better working understanding of the brain so development money can be more...
  • Beauty and the Beast: Agriculture for the Future

    July 8, 2013
    It’s a tale as old as time. How will we feed all the people on this planet of ours, especially with the global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050?

    Proponents of organic agriculture have their answer: we must return to nature, our roots, a Jeffersonian ideal of what a farm really is. Meanwhile, advocates of conventional farming say we must reach for higher yields, using science and technology to push the limits of nature. The two are often at odds: a consortium of organic seed growers even took Monsanto to court based on the very fear that the agricultural giant might sue them for inadvertently growing their patented genetically modified seeds.
  • Her Majesty's Initiative: Innovation for All?

    July 2, 2013
    On Monday, the Financial Times published an editorial praising the United Kingdom’s government for its “provisional approval” of a new in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure aimed at ending rare diseases that occur in mitochondrial DNA.

    The UK has showed surprising concern for scientific method and expert opinion as it has considered the novel form of genetic engineering that promises to cure a handful of babies each year of debilitating diseases. In addition, it has displayed foresight in developing regulations for the method before polarizing politicians and mad Members of Parliament attempt to debunk the science with phony arguments and trap innovation in a corner of unwieldy regulations.

    Mitochondria are small energy packets within our cells that, when defective, can lead to...
  • My Kingdom for a Peanut

    June 21, 2013
    Poking fun at United States agricultural policy is low hanging fruit. From catfish to sushi to alfalfa, most agriculture industries are handsomely subsidized via the half-a-trillion dollar farm bill. So after the House’s 195-234 defeat of its version of the bill, what’s the proverbial forest to see for the trees, as The Wall Street Journal put it in an editorial this morning?...
  • Farm Bill: One Big Catfish (Part 2)

    June 11, 2013
    Every five years, like pigs to the trough, the special agricultural interests line up on Capitol Hill, making sure to get their tasty little provisions written into the latest pork-laden farm bill. There was the National Cotton Council, the National Milk Producers Federation, the American Sugar Alliance, and countless others. Even United States catfish got some protection from their imported Vietnamese counterparts.

    While the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954) was widely praised for ending the $5 billion-a-year direct payment program that dropped money in farmers’ pockets whether they planted crops or not, it sets up “adverse market payments (AMP)” and “agricultural risk coverage (ARC)” that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will eat up two-thirds of the $40 billion savings...
  • Farm Bill: One Big Catfish

    June 10, 2013
    In addition to the new, costly “agricultural risk coverage,” “adverse market payment,” and "supplemental coverage option" programs in the Senate’s Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 954), there are a variety of provisions carved out for special interests of all crops:

    There’s a provision requiring the study of the feasibility of making popcorn a “covered commodity,” which would allow it to join the ranks of rice, corn, sorghum, soy beans and other crops, potentially costing $94 million over a ten-year period. There’s also an amendment requiring research regarding a crop insurance program for alfalfa.

    Dairy farmers milked the Hill’s purse as well as any lobby, cementing a new...
  • The Calm of the Genetically Modified Storm?

    June 7, 2013
    While the passionate and irrational debate about the health and environmental safety of biotech, or so-called genetically modified (GM), crops rages on, evidence of the potential they have to alleviate a variety of world problems, from food insecurity to global warming, continues to pile up. “Frankenfoods reduce global warming,” The Economist  declared in March. Its revelation is based on the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications’ (ISAAA) annual report showing that, for the first time, less developed countries grow more acres of GM crops than industrialized countries in 2012.

    According to ISAAA, a not-for-...
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