Elizabeth Blackburn’s work on telomeres, for which she was jointly awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, has turned her into a socially minded scientist. In a keynote lecture at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in June, Blackburn — a biologist at the University of California, San Francisco — called on scientists young and old to follow the same path: “Let’s use our scientific prowess to be more active, politically.”
In January, justices of the Supreme Court of India gathered to discuss the country’s national identification system, called Aadhaar. Since 2010, authorities have enrolled 1.19 billion residents, or about 93 percent of India’s population, in the system, which ties fingerprints, iris scans, and photos of Indian citizens to a unique 12-digit number.
Almost a decade later, India is still grappling with the technical, legal, and social challenges of launching the world’s most ambitious government identification program. Aadhaar’s reach and ubiquity has made it a tempting vehicle for centralizing activity, including welfare payments and mobile number registrations. But it has also raised major privacy and security issues. Continue reading
One fresh, sunny morning this spring, a dozen ex-convicts gathered around a table in a back room down a quiet side street of London. Considering the company, the scene was sedate. Someone with a manslaughter conviction stubbed out a cigarette. Onetime drug dealers snacked on croissants. A man with tattoos covering his substantial forearms shuffled reading material on a table. Someone who once served a prison sentence for embezzlement put a kettle on and offered the others tea.
No police officer would worry about this crowd: It was an academic congregation of so-called convict criminologists.
Over the past few decades, some ex-convicts have turned to academia, aiming to put their experience “inside” to good use. They use their knowledge of the criminal justice system to select research questions and design studies. They use their history to gain prisoners’ trust. And they work to counteract what they see as a strong bias in academic criminology toward the perspectives of authorities in the criminal justice system.
Two German plant breeders this April released newly developed tomato and wheat varieties under open-source licenses. The breeders, Göttingen University’s Bernd Horneburg and his team, and Dottenfelderhof researcher Hartmut Spieß, issued the licenses to encourage other scientists and breeders to experiment and improve these plants varieties under a legal framework. Under the OpenSourceSeed initiative, agricultural scientists can access open-source seeds, by paying a small fee to cover maintenance breeding and delivery costs. They are then allowed to “use the seeds in multiple ways,” according to the open-source license. But should users develop subsequent varieties, they are not allowed to issue patents on them, and instead must agree to release them under the original open-source license. Continue reading