russian state university for the humanities
How Scott Pruitt Is Gutting the EPA on Behalf of the Fossil-Fuel Industry

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, wants you to know that he was responsible for persuading President Trump to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Pruitt has never said that explicitly, of course – he understands that if he wants to keep his job, he needs to pretend that the decision was Trump’s alone. But Pruitt did everything he could to telegraph to the world that he thought Paris was a bad deal for America, and urged Big Coal executives to make their views known to the president as well. Trump, who has dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, was lobbied equally hard by major business leaders and some of his own advisers, including his daughter Ivanka and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to stay in the agreement. But Pruitt, aligned with White House chief strategist and populist provocateur Steve Bannon, won the fight. And when Trump announced the decision to withdraw from Paris in the White House Rose Garden on June 1st, Pruitt was the only Cabinet official who spoke at the ceremony. “We owe no apologies to other nations for our environmental stewardship,” Pruitt said in a strikingly defiant tone.

While the rest of the Trump administration has been mired in scandal or incompetence (or both), and the media has been distracted by the Republican health care debacle and daily revelations about the Trump family’s involvement with the Russians, Pruitt has been quietly tearing down decades of environmental progress. “If there was ever an example of the fox guarding the henhouse, this is it,” says Michael Mann, a noted climate scientist at Penn State University. “We have a Koch-brothers-connected industry shill who is now in charge of climate and environmental policy for the entire country.”

The mission statement of the EPA is simple: “to protect human health and the environment.” It says nothing about promoting economic development or energy security or the glory of fossil fuels. But Pruitt has already carried out an impressive list of corporate favors: He rejected the advice of EPA scientists and approved the use of millions of pounds of a toxic pesticide that causes neurological damage in children; in a gift to Big Coal, he delayed tougher ozone air-pollution rules; he plotted to kill Obama’s signature climate accomplishment, the Clean Power Plan, designed to put America on track to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030; he rescinded the Clean Water Rule, allowing countless streams and rivers to be exempted from pollution controls; he undermined regulations on the release of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, from power plants and other sources; and he submitted a budget that would wipe out more than a third of the funding for the agency, including cutting money for scientific research in half.


Globe-Trotting Virus Hides Inside People’s Gut Bacteria

Every few months, we hear about a newly discovered that’s jumped from birds to people somewhere in the world. And the number of viruses identified in bats is “extraordinary and appears to increase almost daily,” scientists last year in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

But a virus that has been quietly hiding inside millions of people on three continents — and never noticed before? That doesn’t come along often.

Scientists at San Diego State University have discovered what may be the most common and abundant virus in the human gut. And yet, the tiny critter, called crAssphage (oh yes, there’s a story behind that name), has eluded researchers’ radar for decades.

Here’s the cool part: The virus doesn’t just hang out in our intestines naked and alone, scientists Thursday in the journal Nature Communications. Instead, the virus takes up residence inside gut bacteria — specifically inside Bacteroides, a group of microbes that have been linked to obesity and diabetes.

So the system is almost like a Russian nesting doll: The virus lives inside the bacterium, which lives inside our gut.

The new virus doesn’t make us sick, but it may be involved in controlling weight through its effect on Bacteroides. “We suspect this virus is very important in regulating the number of these bacteria [the Bacteroides] in the intestine,” says computational biologist , who led the study.

Edwards and his colleagues found the virus in fecal samples from people across the U.S., Europe, Korea and Japan. “But we think the virus is likely found worldwide,” he tells Goats and Soda. “We’ve basically found it in every population we’ve looked at. If we tested Africans, we think we’d find it in them, too.”

Scientists are just starting to learn about all the organisms that live in and on the human body. Collectively, they’re called the human . And there’s no question they’re important for our health.

So far, most studies have focused on the gut’s bacteria — not other microbes there. These bacteria are known to help regulate everything from our weight and immunity to heart health and . One study even found that changes in gut bacteria malnutrition in young children in Malawi.

Caltech mourns the passing of Ahmed Zewail (1946–2016)

Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry, professor of physics, and director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at Caltech, passed away on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. He was 70 years old.

Zewail was the sole recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering developments in femtoscience, making possible observations of atoms in motion on the femtosecond (10-15 seconds) time scale. These developments lead to the establishment of the discipline of femtochemistry. More recently, he and his group developed “4D” electron microscopy for the direct visualization in the four dimensions of space and time of materials and biological behaviors.

For his contributions to science and for his public service, Zewail received honors from around the globe. Fifty honorary degrees in the sciences, arts, philosophy, law, medicine, and humane letters were conferred on him, including those from Oxford University, Cambridge University, Peking University, École Normale Supérieure, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, and Alexandria University.

Zewail was decorated with the Order of the Grand Collar of the Nile, Egypt’s highest state honor, and was named to the Order of Légion d'Honneur by the President of France, among other state honors. He was an elected member of academies and learned societies including the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Philosophical Society, the French Academy, the Russian Academy, the Chinese Academy, and the Swedish Academy. Postage stamps have been issued in commemoration of his contributions to science and humanity.

“Ahmed Zewail was a great man for chemistry, for science, and for society. All of us at Caltech grieve his loss,” says Jacqueline K. Barton, Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry and Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Among the more than 100 international prizes and awards, he was the recipient of the Albert Einstein World Award, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Leonardo da Vinci Award, the Robert A. Welch Award, the Wolf Prize, the King Faisal Prize, the Othmer Gold Medal, and the Priestley Gold Medal. In his name, international prizes have been established in Amsterdam, Cairo, Detroit, Trieste, and Washington, D.C.; in Cairo, the AZ Foundation provides support for the dissemination of knowledge and for merit awards in arts and sciences.

Following the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the government established Zewail City of Science and Technology as the national project for scientific renaissance, and Zewail became its first chair of the Board of Trustees.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Zewail to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and in the same year he was named the first U.S. Science Envoy to the Middle East. Subsequently, in 2013, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon invited Zewail to join the U.N. Scientific Advisory Board. In Egypt, he served in the Council of Advisors to the President.

Zewail was the author of some 600 articles and 14 books, and was known for his effective public lectures and writings not only on science but also in global affairs. For his leadership role in these world affairs, he received, among others, the “Top American Leaders Award” from The Washington Post and Harvard University.

Born in 1946 in Damanhur, Egypt, Zewail received his early education in Egypt and earned his BS and MS degrees from Alexandria University in 1967 and 1969. He received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and completed an IBM postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley before joining the faculty at Caltech in 1976 as an assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1978 and a professor in 1982. He was Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics from 1990–97, was named professor of physics in 1995, and was named Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry in 1997.

Zewail is survived by with his wife, Dema Faham, and his four children, Maha, Amani, Nabeel, and Hani.