Repost: Keep Funding Planned Parenthood

This week a grand jury in Harris County, Texas decided to indict two anti-abortion activists in the case of Planned Parenthood supposedly selling fetal tissue. Because of this, we decided to repost one of our planned parenthood articles.  -Michelle 

Recently, the pro-life community has been up in arms over hidden camera footage published online by the Center for Medical Progress. The clearly edited videos feature two people from the anti-abortion activist group posing as representatives of a company interested in illegally purchasing fetal tissue for non-research use from Planned Parenthood. The controversy has caused an uprising of critics, including Republican presidential candidates, calling for the federal government to end funding of the organization. Three states have already ceased funding of the organization. If any wrong-doing can be proved, then executives at Planned Parenthood should face consequences, but banning or limiting funding for the organization would be short-sighted and irresponsible.

Importantly, this blog has nothing to do with abortion. This may be confusing because Planned Parenthood is often referred to by pro-lifers as simply an abortion clinic. However, multiple sources have shown that abortion services only account for 3% of the organization’s annual budget. The vast majority of funding for Planned Parenthood is used for the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and providing contraception. Defunding Planned Parenthood would severely limit American’s, especially those with low income and those who do not qualify for comprehensive healthcare benefits, access to both of these services, and have a significant, negative impact on human health.Planned Parenthood

STIs are infections commonly spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. These infections are irritating, painful, and sometimes lethal. Although most are treatable, they remain highly prevalent in the population. In 2013, there were nearly 1.8 million reported cases of syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea combined in the U.S. The reason these infections continue to spread is due to their ability to lay dormant in the body for months, even years, before causing symptoms. Thus, affordable testing and education about safe sex, like that performed at Planned Parenthood clinics, is critical to prevent the spread of these harmful infections.

Access to contraception is another vital health service that Planned Parenthood provides the public. Firstly, the attempt of reducing teen pregnancy and abortions by providing free or reduced cost contraception has been an overwhelming success in research studies and in practice in Colorado.  Beyond preventing unwanted pregnancy, oral contraception (the pill) regulates hormone levels and treats irregular periods. Secondly, the pill can prevent endometrial cancers (cancers of the womb), including ovarian, cervical, and uterine. A recent study estimated that the pill has prevented 400,000 cases of endometrial cancers in the last 50 years; half of which have been prevented in the last decade. Planned Parenthood also allocates 9% of their budget specifically for cancer screening and prevention, which is three times as much money allocated for abortion services.

The leaked videos of Planned Parenthood personnel are worrisome and warrant investigation, but prove nothing. Even if there are personnel at Planned Parenthood negotiating for-profit deals on fetal tissue, it is clearly not representative of the organization as a whole. Overall, federal funding for Planned Parenthood is important for public health, especially in preventing the spread of STIs, unwanted pregnancy, and cancer. Regardless of personal opinions on abortion, it is imperative that Planned Parenthood, and organizations like it, continue to receive adequate funding.





Nuclear Autopsy: Dissecting the latest tests on the Korean peninsula

This month in “humanity’s march towards total annihilation”, North Korea claimed to have detonated a hydrogen bomb and the international community cried foul (and bullshit). North Korea has the range to target many nations – including the United States – if it developed small enough warheads. Such a situation could lead to North Korea passing the U.S. for the “most people killed by nuclear weapons” award. In fact, the U.S. almost left the competition in the radioactive dust when it nearly decimated Goldsboro, North Carolina! These weapons are certainly frightening, but the design of a thermonuclear bomb is actually pretty inventive. I’m going to guide you through the basics of hydrogen bombs, and what evidence leads us to believe that North Korea does not actually have thermonuclear capabilities.

 Let’s start with your run-of-the-mill atomic bomb. They are powered by fission reactions, where atoms are split into atoms with smaller nuclei. You start with a small mass of a radioactive isotope, usually uranium or plutonium, that is unable to sustain fission chain reactions. You can then either shoot a smaller pellet of that radioactive isotope at the mass or compress it with 360 degrees of explosions. Either way, you create a mass capable of sustaining fission reactions and you end up with mushroom clouds. These reactions release kilotons (equivalent to thousands of tons of TNT) of explosive energy.

Why bother giving you that fission bomb refresher? Because in order to provide enough heat and energy for a hydrogen bomb, you need to detonate an atomic bomb first! This is why hydrogen bombs are commonly referred to as thermonuclear bombs – they require immense heat. Below is a generalized diagram of this weapon. The “primary” or first reaction is the fission bomb, which creates subatomic shrapnel and heat. In the “secondary” reaction, the heat and subatomic shrapnel causes fission of the fusion fuel, which releases hydrogen atoms. The immense heat and pressure causes these hydrogen atoms to fuse, meaning that their atomic nuclei join to create an entirely new helium atom. When the hydrogen atoms fuse and form helium, they release energy that catalyzes more rounds of fission and fusion. But don’t blink! All of these necessary chain reactions happen within milliseconds before the bomb explodes.

You might recognize the fusion of hydrogen as that thing the sun does. Therefore, using the transitive property of terrifying physics, you can imagine what it would be like creating a tiny sun right here on earth. While those puny atom bombs can be measured in kilotons, hydrogen bombs actually release megatons (equivalent to millions of tons of TNT) of energy. What does it mean to have weapons thousands of times more powerful than atomic bombs? Check out this comparison from CNN of atom bombs (little boy, fat man, and ivy king) to hydrogen bombs (B53, Castle Bravo, and Tzar Bomba).

In other words, Tzar Bomba is the colon blow to little boy’s fart in the wind. While I’m certainly concerned that countries have these weapons, the immense scale of their power should give you a clue as to why the world feels North Korea is lying about their claims of testing a hydrogen bomb. Here’s a map of nuclear tests performed by North Korea and the corresponding earthquakes each one caused.

Given that true hydrogen bombs are thousands of times more powerful than atomic bombs, don’t you think one might cause a greater earthquake than the last atomic bomb North Korea tested in 2013? Experts certainly think so, which is why they concluded the latest test was just another atomic bomb.

While a lot of creative science goes into making hydrogen bombs, I’m sure many of you like myself are perplexed by North Korea’s intentions. Why would they lie about detonating a hydrogen bomb in the first place? My brother actually visited North Korea in 2013, and I figured his insider information could give a fresh perspective. When asked about North Korea’s motives, he replied:

They saw what happened in Japan. The Korean peninsula has been invaded by multiple empires, and the USA is building bases and positioning ships closer and closer, and showing off its might with military practices. The leaders are scared. When that happens, the people are scared. And much like NRA members in the USA, they feel safer with something dangerous around…for protection, of course!

Maybe the second amendment can be applied to national defense, but the right to bear nuclear arms is a discussion best left for political scientists. However, I do think it’s important to be mindful of the risks we take in the pursuit of such ideals. Nuclear physics is as powerful as it is enthralling, and I hope humanity will continue to tap into its potential rather than its destructive force. Just remember that when it comes to identifying nuclear explosions, trust the earthquakes and not the rhetoric.

Austen (President)
austen_avatarAusten is a 5th year graduate student and president of Science ACEs. His dream is to go fishing every day once he’s finished with this bacterial pathogenesis thing. You can follow him on twitter @austenleet.

Ted Cruz

Name: Ted Cruz

Party Affiliation: Republican

Government Position: Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness; Junior US Senator from Texas

Education: Princeton University (Bachelor’s of Arts), Harvard (J.D.)

Stance on:

Science research: Since he is the chairman of the Subcommitte on Space, Science and Competitiveness, Senator Cruz’s statements have mostly focused on NASA.  During a Senate Commerce hearing, Cruz stated that earth science is not a hard science and that NASA should focus more on astrophysics, and planetary science.

Climate change and alternative energy: Cruz does not believe that climate change is a real issue or that humans have any impact. In December 2015, Cruz spear headed a congressional hearing titled “ Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate.” Further, Cruz has said that “satellite data shows that “there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years.”

STEM Education: In March 2015, Senator Cruz proposed increasing nonimmigrant work visa fees with the extra money going to grants to promote STEM education.

Obamacare: Cruz is adamantly against Obamacare and will repeal it.

Vaccines: Cruz believes children should be vaccinated, statingbut on the question of whether kids should be vaccinated, the answer is obvious and there’s widespread agreement — of course they should.” However, Cruz believes that each state should decide vaccine requirements. Further, he has called vaccine controversieslargely silliness stirred up by the media.”

Internet: Senator Cruz wants to block net neutrality because he believes that policy would tie the hands of service providers and blocking innovation. Furthermore, he is against any tax for accessing the Internet at any level (federal, state or local).

Summary: Cruz has been vocal about his desire for NASA to return to space. Further he has also expressed his belief that climate change is not real and that humans have no effect. Cruz is for vaccines and against net neutrality.


Michelle Rubin (Editor-in-Chief)
Photo on 3-31-13 at 9.15 PM #2 Michelle is  a fourth year biomedical PhD student. She is extremely interested in science policy and hopes to pursue that after her  studies. Let her know what you think of the blog on twitter! @michellejrubin.

“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”: How scientifically accurate is The Martian?

With The Martian winning best motion picture-comedy or musical and Matt Damon winning best actor, we thought we’d look back at just how the cool the science in The Martian really is! 



Image from @MartianMovie

Movie Title: The Martian
Genre: Science fiction
Based on: The Martian by Andy Weir (2011)
Release date: October 2, 2015
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara,Kristen Wigg, Jeff Bridges
Synopsis: Botanist turned astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is on a mission on Mars in 2035.  After a fierce storm, his fellow astronauts and NASA think he’s dead and strand him on Mars without any communications and very limited food. The next scheduled mission to Mars is four years away. So Watney is “going to have to science the shit out of [it]”.

With a catchphrase like that how could we not cover this movie on our blog?

But how valid is the science in this movie?

Making Oxygen
Movie: The movie uses as “oxygenator” to convert the atmosphere from Mars into breathable gas.
Real-World Science: NASA calls it MOXIE and it’s completely real and scheduled to be used in NASA’s real-life 2020 mission.

Cultivating Food
Movie: Watney has very little food but his botany skills help him grow a crop of potatoes.
Real-World Science: NASA has studied the soil on Mars and while Watney would have had to remove or neutralize salts, perchlorates and hydrogen peroxide, it contains the critical biologically–active form of nitrogen needed to grow plant life.

Finding Water
Movie: Watney burns hydrogen liberated from rocket fuel to get water risking a massive explosion.
Real-World Science: NASA confirms that they have evidence of water on Mars. Watney would have only had to dig up some ice or boil some dirt.

The Martian dust storm that stranded Watney
Movie: Watney is stranded after he’s thought to have died in a storm of  “hurricane-force winds”.
Real-World Science: Mars’s atmospheric pressure at the surface is 0.6% of Earth’s. Winds could reach hurricane speeds, but they would not move enough air mass to cause damage. In fact, a 150-mph wind on Mars would feel like a breeze.

As scientists we expect to have to suspend our skeptical nature when watching a movie or TV show so it’s really exciting when the entertainment industry can get (mostly) factual science in a big budget film that an audience without any science background can enjoy and be excited by.

I look forward to seeing it this weekend. Maybe I’ll see you there!