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What Is a Nanomaterial?

By Gary Marchant

ow do you regulate something you cannot define? It’s a dilemma that policymakers around the world are struggling with as they try to enact regulations for nanomaterials—that loosely defined group of very small particles with very large implications and applications for everything from self-cleaning windows and mirrors, to better renewable energy materials, to more precise and effective cancer treatments. Yet, the same properties of nanomaterials that enable these beneficial applications, including small size and increased reactivity, may also make these same materials more dangerous inside our bodies or in the environment.

Read on Slate.com

The EU Is on a Crusade to Make Apple Pay More Taxes. There’s a Bigger Problem It Can’t Fix.

By Adam Chodorow

Everyone involved in the European Union’s crusade to make Apple pay more taxes has a reason to be pissed off. The tech giant, livid EU officials say, has dodged more than $14 billion in taxes in Ireland, where its European operations are based. Apple is outraged, obviously—and astoundingly, so is Ireland. American politicians and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, who routinely lambast domestic companies for shifting profits to overseas tax havens, are enraged that the European Union is targeting U.S. firms who have allegedly received sweetheart deals from Ireland and other countries. The politicians are clearly pandering, but the Treasury knows that if Ireland taxes Apple’s profits, that money will effectively come out of its own coffers. So who, amid the uproar, is right?

Read on Slate.com

FCC Support for Hackable Wireless Routers Is a Win for All of Us

By Dan Gillmor

It’s increasingly dawning on people that they don’t really own a lot of the goods they buy, not in a world where software is infiltrating everything and can be modified at the whim of the seller. Amazon can remove books people have “purchased” for their Kindles. Apple decides what software you’re allowed to load on an iPhone. Coffee-machine companies try to prevent customers from using competitive refills. And our legislators and regulators rarely seem to notice, much less block, such control-freakery.

Read on Slate.com

Keeping Grandma and Grandpa Safe Online

By Jamie Winterton

In June, a collective “awwwww” reverberated across the internet, as the story of a polite British grandmother who included please and thank you in her Google searches gave everyone the warm fuzzies. “I thought, well somebody’s put [the search results] in, so you’re thanking them,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “I don’t know how it works to be honest. It’s all a mystery to me.”

That mystery, however, can be dangerous.

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Citizen Science Isn’t Just About Collecting Data

By Jason Lloyd

The earthquake near Washington, D.C., five years ago in August 2011—the one that damaged the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral but had little other noticeable impact—caught me by surprise. Sitting in an office on the 12th floor of a building downtown, I thought it might have been an improbably large truck on the street below, until a co-worker suggested we probably ought to leave the building. We spent the rest of that sunny afternoon milling around with other office workers before calling it a day and heading to happy hour.

What I did not do, but really wish that I had, was enter a description of my experience into the U.S. Geological Survey’s crowdsourcing initiative, Did You Feel It? The system collects data from people who have felt tremors to determine the extent and intensity of earthquakes in near-real time. The submitted data are used in the USGS ShakeMaps, which help organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency prepare for and respond to earthquakes.

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What Do You Think About Scientists Creating Human-Nonhuman Hybrids?

By Andrew Maynard

The U.S. National Institutes of Health wants to support responsible research into human-nonhuman hybrids, and they’d like your help. Sort of.

On Aug. 4, the NIH proposed two changes to the way the agency will oversee research using human stem cells in nonhuman primates. Policy changes like these are required to go out for public review and comment before being implemented, so we’re now entering a 30-day public comment period—everyone with opinions on research into combining humans with other animals has a chance to have his or her say.

Read on Slate.com

Can Sports Survive Our Environmental Crisis?

By Andrew Hudson

In Brazil, Olympic rowers and sailors will chase gold through dying rivers and poisoned lagoons. Even amid all the crises piling up on this year’s games—unfinished infrastructure, political drama, financial turmoil, the Zika epidemic that had prominent experts calling for the games to be moved—the water stands out. Reports say athletes may have to compete in oil-slick water stinking of raw human sewage and contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Their boats are already turning brown.

Read on Slate.com

How to Develop This Cutting-Edge Genetic Research Responsibly

By James P. Collins

From ancient soothsayers to Wall Street stock pickers, humans have always yearned to be able to tell the future. The ability, needless to say, has mostly been overstated.

But what if there were a sense in which you really could tell the future? And what if we could also make a particular outcome more likely, even certain? The emerging technology known as gene drives offers just such a prospect for favoring particular traits in future plants and animals—to increase agricultural output, to reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission, or something we haven’t yet imagined. Indeed, some have already suggested using gene drives to eliminate certain mosquitoes that can spread Zika, malaria, and other ailments. But is that a good idea? How should we think about employing such a technology in ways that anticipate, and weigh, its benefits and harms for current and future generations?

Read on Slate.com

The Muddled Legacy of Alvin Toffler

By David Guston

Futurist Alvin Toffler’s death on June 27 at age 87 has brought out the usual obituaries, marveling at the way his self-educated intellect grappled with the complex intertwining of technological and social change and created best-seller buzz around his predictions. The account of his life in the New York Times follows a familiar arc: from child of immigrants, to self-made man, to adviser to some of the most powerful men on the planet. His books, especially Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980), achieved required reading status among a certain set, apparently including politicians as diverse as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang.

Read on Slate.com

Hillary Clinton’s Technology Policy Is Surprisingly Solid

By Dan Gillmor

In an era when most politicians don’t even pretend to understand much about technology and innovation, it’s at least a little refreshing to see a campaign actually treat these critical issues with respect. The one in question is Hillary Clinton’s, and its just-released “Initiative on Technology & Innovation” has a lot to recommend.

I’ll start with a disclosure: Despite some serious reservations about Clinton, I’m so freaked out by even the possibility that Donald Trump could become the next U.S. president that I plan to a) donate to the Clinton campaign and b) volunteer to help in other ways. (I’m also well aware of the all-too-normal disconnect between campaign vows and governing reality.) That said, the Clinton tech/innovation proposals offer a considerable amount of common sense. They suggest a practical worldview, though one that operates—perhaps too much—within boundaries created and controlled by the wishes of big business and government.

Read on Slate.com

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