December 2012 Briefing Memo

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• In an expose of drug-industry influence on research, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN traces the flow of money from drug companies to scientists and faults funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health for failing to police conflicts of interest. See: Medical Ethics: Is Drug Research Trustworthy?

Global warming will lead to harsher winters. The increased loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic has altered atmospheric conditions that influence winter weather in the U.S. and Europe. The changes lead to invasions of Arctic air into the middle latitudes, increasing the likelihood of severe winter storms, like the ones which occurred in the eastern U.S. in 2010 and 2011. The deck may be stacked for harsh outbreaks during the 2012–2013 winter in North America and Europe. See: Climate Change: The Winters of Our Discontent

• From 1976 to 1999 the average thickness of ice in the Arctic Ocean had dropped 43 percent. To reverse the effects of thinning ice in the Arctic Ocean in the short term, the best option may be geoengineering—radical methods to artificially lower surface temperatures by blocking the sun. These ideas are not long-term solutions, but unless changes are made, the Arctic may soon experience a summer where the entire ice cover will collapse, never to reform. We still need to reduce carbon emissions and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. See: Forum: The Arctic “Death Spiral”

• The world’s growing appetite for cheap palm oil is destroying rain forests and amplifying climate change. Americans should demand transparency about where the palm oil in all consumer products comes from—and take our money elsewhere when products endanger ecosystems. See: Science Agenda: The Other Oil Problem

• Transportation officials and public health experts are pilot testing a Web site that calculates the risk that passengers coming off any given flight are carrying an emerging infectious disease. See: Advances: A Deadly Jet Set

• The Pentagon is pushing for legislation to require the private sector to cooperate with government on cybersecurity issues. A prototype for a program to help thwart a potentially devastating U.S. cyberattack is on track for government testing by the end of 2012. See: Advances: Digital Danger

• In the near future, microparticles could help administer oxygen to asthma sufferers or people who are choking, small drones may aid in collecting traffic information for our daily commute and wastewater from manufacturing plants could be cleaned using inexpensive milk oil. These are a sample of 10 possible innovations highlighted by SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN in the annual World Changing Ideas special feature. See: Innovation: World Changing Ideas

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