Every month, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
• HEALTH CARE
One in five American women use services provided by Planned Parenthood, with three out of four of its patients considered to have low incomes. Despite providing a crucial role in women’s health and welfare, the nonprofit has come under recent attack, with several calls to revoke the group’s federal funding, which, along with state sources, accounts for almost half of its $1-billion budget. Stripping Planned Parenthood of federal funding would sacrifice 97 percent of its public health work that has nothing to do with abortion. See: Science Agenda: Protect Women's Health
• NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Since February 2010, Iran has enriched uranium to 20 percent and has recently tripled production rates; uranium enrichment at 90 percent would provide the core material of four nuclear bombs. It has also experimented with centrifuges that are up to six times more efficient than the first-generation centrifuges it currently operates. These acts can be viewed as significant steps toward making a bomb. The best way to deter Iran from building a bomb in the short term is to maximize the likelihood that such an act will be discovered and met by an attack. The U.S. should aggressively explore the offer made by Iran’s president Mahmoud Ah madinejad last fall to end all enrichment beyond low-enriched uranium in exchange for the purchase of fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. See: Forum: Slinking toward the Bomb
• PUBLIC HEALTH
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, biodefense spending soared at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, from $17 million in 2002 to $50 million in 2003 to $100 million in 2004. Funded research included studies of influenza virus strains, like H1N1 and H5N1 (bird flu). New research shows that lab-made H5N1 strains are already easily transmissible among mammals. Some virologists are worried as public health reports claim that 60% of people infected could die. While biodefense experts are concerned—arguing that research and academic publication on the new H5N1 strains should be restricted— scientists argue that research on dangerous pathogens is important for improving surveillance of natural outbreaks. See: Infectious Disease: Waiting to Explode
Family responsibilities, not sex discrimination, may be the reason fewer women than men pursue tenure-track jobs in science. See: Advances: The Motherhood Gap
New ways of modeling tremors could help warn of disastrous volcanic eruptions hours or even days before they happen. See: Advances: Thar She Blows!
Using little more than hydrogen, ITER (formerly the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is supposed to generate around 500 megawatts of power—10 times the energy needed to run it. Yet the ITER fusion project may never deliver on this promise. Billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, the reactor will not start power-production experiments until 2026 at the earliest. The complex reasons behind the troubles include unforeseen engineering difficulties and the baroque bureaucratic squabbles of a global partnership of seven major stakeholders. See: Technology: Fusion’s Missing Pieces