Skepticism About Biotechnology Isn’t Anti-Science

By Tess Doezema

“Keep Frankenfish off my Dish!” a protester’s sign read. Another, adorned with six red hearts, suggested that “real people love real salmon.” A couple of years ago, protests against the approval and sale of genetically modified salmon targeted the Food and Drug Administration and supermarket chains across the country, attempting to halt the approval and sale of the AquAdvantage salmon—an Atlantic salmon modified with DNA from the Chinook salmon and the ocean pout. The borrowed genetic material lets the fish grow year-round and reach market size in half the time as its natural counterpart, but it’s also spurred passionate public debate.

In November 2015, the FDA approved the AquAdvantage salmon as the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption. According to the hype, the AquAdvantage salmon could help with reducing global hunger, decreasing the carbon footprint of aquaculture (the cultivation of fish and other aquatic life), and shoring up dwindling wild fish stock. The regulatory process behind the approval of the AquAdvantage salmon took almost 20 years.

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The Public Deserves to Know Exactly What’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership

By Dan Gillmor

In the next few weeks, Congress may give special status to a massive “free trade” treaty that you are not allowed to read. Based on leaks of portions of the deal, however, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) appears to be at least partly a grab bag of special favors for corporate interests—among them the entertainment and pharmaceutical industries—and an end-run around domestic law.

Naturally, given that Congress seems increasingly owned by moneyed interests, this mockery of thoughtful governance and policy may well happen. But there’s still time to modify it, or block it outright if the worst provisions remain, and I’m glad to see an emerging coalition aiming to do just that.

The few government and corporate officials who are permitted to read the TPP insist that the proposed multilateral deal among Pacific Rim nations is a 21st-century approach to trade and other economic issues. President Obama and his trade representatives call the TPP a vital boost for American interests. Oh, and it’s so wonderful and important that it absolutely must get “fast track” status, which basically means Congress would only be permitted to say yea or nay with little or no debate.

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Why Cancer Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Athena Aktipis

If your life has been touched by it, cancer can seem like the least normal thing imaginable. It disrupts all aspects of life, threatens many things we hold dear, and baffles us with its mysterious ways. It seems possessed with an uncanny ability to evade our treatments, rise from the dead when we think it’s finally gone, and even hijack our bodies’ resource-delivery systems to feed its growth. But cancer has been with us since the beginning of multicellular life, and it’s not going anywhere. It has been a supporting character throughout humanity’s story. In fact, it predates us.

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In Praise of Self-Driving Cars and Fender-Benders

By Elizabeth Garbee and Andrew Maynard

Two weeks ago, a driver failed to yield to another vehicle making a turn at a cross street just minutes away from my office in Tempe, Arizona. The two cars collided, causing the one making the turn to roll on its side. Sadly, this kind of thing happens all the time. A colleague who lives in the neighborhood in which the crash happened told us, “That intersection has crashes weekly—and not just fender-benders. … [T]wo weeks ago, there was a car in our yard.”

So why did this particular crash make the national news? It just so happened that one of those vehicles was driving itself.

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Why Engineers Should Refuse to Work on Trump’s Wall

By Darshan Karwat

When it comes to Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico (never mind the fact that many such physical barriers already exist), many people have focused on two questions: Shouldn’t there be comprehensive immigration reform instead? And who’s going to pay for it?

But there’s another question we should ask. Who is going to build it?

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Keeping an Eye on Climate Change

By Tanya Harrison and Daniel Bednar

You may not think about it, but space is critical to your daily life. Weather forecasts, GPS navigation systems, environmental monitoring, and synchronized time for banking and electricity grids are the most typical ways we interact with space resources daily. Gone are the days where the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union–dominated Earth orbit. Modern space politics and economics involve complex networks of dozens of governments, private companies, and research entities. We have entered an era known as New Space.

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The Proper Role of NASA

By Craig Hardgrove

The U.S. government has long funded missions of exploration to seed future growth. Famously, Lewis and Clark were sent to explore the American West to make maps, find suitable land to settle, and find routes. Eventually, these would help in the creation of railroads, which could be used to ferry people, goods, and services. These, in turn, would eventually spur new businesses (or even whole new industries) in what was then uncharted territory.

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The Corrupt Personalization of Netflix

By Ed Finn

This essay is adapted from What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing, by Ed Finn, published by MIT Press. On Tuesday, March 28, Ed Finn will discuss What Algorithms Want at an event in Washington. For more information and to RSVP, click here.

David Fincher’s new television project for Netflix is a moody and bloody serial-killer drama that explores the depths of human psychology. The show is going to be a hit—and Netflix knows it. I’m not saying this because Fincher’s work is great (though it is), but because Netflix has designed a system where it can count on millions of people who will think that they, individually, organically, and of their own free will, have chosen to love this show that was recommended especially for them.

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Space Exploration Isn’t Just About Science

By Lindy Elkins-Tanton

On Wednesday, March 8, Future Tense—a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University—will host an event in Washington called “Will Collaboration or Competition Propel Humans to Mars and Beyond?” For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.

When young Charles Darwin stepped onto the Beagle, he wasn’t planning to gather data for science, eventually changing the way humans view life. He had been a mediocre student in school and simply was hired on to be the gentleman companion of the captain. The main purpose of the Beagle’s voyage was to survey and produce better maps for trade.

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What Do People Around the World Think About Killer Robots?

By Heather M. Roff

Over the last few years, global leaders have started debating how to handle the prospect of autonomous weapons—aka killer robots—capable of selecting and engaging targets without human intervention. The implications here are, of course, enormous: Such a system would be able to identify a potential target and decide to fire upon it without a human telling it exactly what to do or perhaps even knowing what it’s going to do. While no military has announced that it possesses autonomous weapons, some countries’ armed forces do possess systems capable of loitering in an area “hunting for a target” and then firing upon it, such as the Israeli Harpy and Harop. Others have systems that can navigate by themselves, communicate with other weapons, and “decide” which target to fire upon from a preselected area or class of targets, like the U.S. Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile. These arms are halfway to a true autonomous weapon.

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