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Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Why Ensuring Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Is the Hardest Problem in Health Policy

Prescription drug costs in the United States have risen to an unsustainable level, accounting for 1 in 6 dollars spent on health care and compromising many patients’ ability to afford the medications they need. Although there is broad, bipartisan agreement that policy action is required, several aspects of the problem make it unusually hard to solve. Drawing on a recent report by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Dr. Mello will discuss those problems and paths forward recommended by the committee.

» Michelle Mello, Stanford Law School


Recent Events

Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Linguistics in the Courtroom

Our written and spoken language provides a wealth of data that can be used to inform legal disputes. In matters ranging from criminal prosecutions (some of which can be elucidated by speaker or author identification) to trademark litigation (for which consumer confusion can be dispositive) to wrongful-termination suits (which may call for assessment of a co-worker’s accusations), linguists have been called upon to direct their analytical skills to issues that may be of importance to the finder of fact. For example, a combination of vocal overtones and dialect shadings served to cast doubt on suspicions that a disgruntled employee had phoned in anonymous bomb threats to his company. Linguistic quantification techniques helped to end a dispute between two competing mortgage lenders with similar-sounding trademarks. And a survey of the psycholinguistic factors which may impede the aural recognition of a familiar voice was instrumental in challenging the attribution of a threat by 15 confident and outspoken earwitnesses. These and other examples will illustrate some of the possibilities afforded by forensic linguistics.

» Sandra Disner, University of Southern California


Tuesday, November 27, 2018
The Rise of the Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Promise of the Antipoverty Vaccines

The neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) represent the most common afflictions of people living in extreme poverty. Through an integrated program of mass drug administration we have seen important gains in the prevalence reductions of several NTDs including lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, and trachoma. However, new 21st century forces of war and conflict, shifting poverty known as 'blue marble health', and climate change have been allowed a new set of NTDs to emerge. There is an urgent need for new antipoverty vaccines to combat the NTDs, which are now under development and in clinical trials Success will require overcoming a rising tide of antiscience including a well organized and financed antivaccine movement.

» Peter Hotez, Baylor College of Medicine


Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Climate Change, Insect Biology, and the Challenges Ahead

Our climate is changing. C02 levels in the atmosphere are growing at unprecedented rates and temperatures are increasing so quickly that in less than one hundred years humans will be living on a planet that will be hotter than at any time in the evolution of the human species. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric C02 are already effecting insects and plants. Rainfall patterns are changing. These effects lead to series of critical challenges that we must overcome even as human populations are rapidly growing. Clearly, we must find ways to increase the global food supply. Among our biggest competitors will be insects. Climate change and global travel are enhancing the introduction of new agriculturally and medically important insects into natural and agricultural systems. Some of these movements are predictable and plans for their introductions should be made in advance. From a scientific viewpoint, the likely ecological changes in insect-plant interactions are fascinating. From a societal point of view, now is the time to begin training the next generation of agricultural scientists and farmers. Unfortunately, the current trend is for universities to cut back on agricultural departments, and many students do not find agricultural disciplines to be as exciting (or as profitable) as manufacturing, engineering, and the sciences that have taken us into space. We have to do a better job of showing our students how advanced and interesting agricultural sciences really are. Eventually the need for food will drive the need for more scientists and improved farming techniques, but unless we act on all of these challenges now, we risk falling too far behind to sustain either the population or our environment.

» John Trumble, University of California, Riverside


Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Safer Made: Chemistry Even New Parents Will Love

Have you ever wondered what is in the toy that your baby just put in their mouth? Or about what goes into your hair conditioner and what happens when it gets washed down the drain? Chemicals, both natural and synthetic, are the building blocks of everything that you interact with every day. At Safer Made we support companies that create chemicals and materials that make our consumer products healthier for people and the natural world. This means creating alternatives to harmful chemicals and thinking about product design, from manufacturing through the end of a product’s useful life. In today’s marketplace, consumers are demanding safer and more sustainable products and this translates into a multi-billion opportunity for safer chemistry and product innovation. I will highlight current innovation trends in safer chemistry that are reshaping the way that packaging, textile and apparel, building materials, and formulated products are made. At Safer Made we believe that everyone plays a role in shaping the future of chemistry and this talk will share ways that you can get involved in supporting the creation of safer and more sustainable products.

» Martin Mulvihill, University of California, Berkeley


Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Accelerating the Clean Energy Transformation

The key outcomes of the Paris COP21 meeting in 2015 included: first, both an acknowledgement that global warming must be held below two degrees Celsius and national commitments to start down the road of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; second, a multinational recognition that clean energy technology innovation is at the center of solutions to the climate challenge with associated commitments to double their innovation R&D budgets. Today, a consensus is emerging that we are collectively well behind any semblance of a successful trajectory to those ends. We must dramatically accelerate the clean energy transformation to a deeply decarbonized energy economy. This calls for a significantly expanded and refocused innovation agenda across multiple sectors of the economy – not just the electricity sector. The innovation pathway to a deeply decarbonized energy economy will be addressed.

» Ernest J. Moniz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Double-Dipping and Other Food Peculiarities

Have you ever eaten food after it has been dropped on the floor or double-dipped a chip? What about the cleanliness of restaurant menus or how sanitary it is to play beer pong. Paul Dawson will talk about what the research says on these and other topics related to the bacterial transfer on and around food. We’ll look at the ways bacteria live and move around the surfaces where we eat, drink and celebrate. Ice, lemon slices, sharing food, and even blowing out birthday candles will be placed under the microscope for close examination. So if you are still wondering who was correct, George Costanza (the infamous double-dipper from Seinfeld) or Timmy (the dip protestor), then come out on September 12th to hear some trivia and find the answer to these and other questions about food and bacteria.

» Paul Dawson, Clemson University


Wednesday, August 15, 2018
The Science of Magic and the Art of Deception

“Magic takes place not in the hands of the magician but in the mind of the spectator.” —magician’s adage

Magic is dramatized deception, lying as performance art, cons as theatre. Magicians trick our brains into seeing what isn’t real, and for whatever reason our brains let them get away with it. Turns out, you can learn a lot about how the mind works—and why it sometimes doesn’t—by looking at how magicians distort our perception. Through a mix of psychology, storytelling, and sleight-of-hand, Stone explores the cognitive underpinnings of misdirection, illusion, scams, and secrecy, pulling back the curtain on the many curious and powerful ways our brains deceive us—not just when we’re watching a magician stage his swindles, but throughout our daily lives.

» Alex Stone, writer and entertainer, New York City


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