Monday, December 23, 2013

FDA Food Safety Proposed Rule

The FDA is proposing a rule that would "require the largest food businesses in the United States and abroad to take steps to prevent facilities from being the target of intentional attempts to contaminate the food supply." Under the proposed rule, a food facility would be "required to have a written food defense plan that addresses significant vulnerabilities in its food production process" and identify and implement strategies to address these vulnerabilities. Companies would also need to "establish monitoring procedures and corrective actions, verify that the system is working, ensure that personnel assigned to the vulnerable areas receive appropriate training and maintain certain records."

More information is available from the FDA News & Events page or from the proposed rule.

MOOCS Letter to the President - Science & Technology Advisory Council

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has released a December 2013 report to President Obama evaluating the present and future impact of MOOCs. The report concludes:
After only two years of practical experience with MOOCs and related technologies, it is too early to tell whether substantial gains in the quality of instruction, access, achievement, and cost will be realized. But there is no question that the new technologies offer the potential for expanding access for millions of Americans, not only to college degrees, but to a wide range of effective and low-cost training modules and courses that might assist in providing the vocational skills that a twenty-first century workforce needs. To be truly successful in promoting both expansion of access and improvement in the quality of education, the MOOCs and their relatives will need to (1) employ excellent technology, (2) foster excellent pedagogy, (3) apply the results of learning science, (4) deploy new techniques of big data analysis to provide rapid feedback to teachers and learners, and (5) cultivate an online social ecosystem to enhance peer-to-peer learning and teaching. Although the jury is out, and there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical, PCAST believes that all of these conditions for success can potentially be met.

The recommendations that follow reflect PCAST’s thinking about how the Federal Government might most effectively contribute to achieving the potential of MOOCs to help address the Nation’s challenges in higher education. Going forward, we intend to explore the potential of information technology to improve K-12 education, technical training, and adult education as well as higher education, and we will report on our findings in the future.

Read the full report at

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer

On December 16, 2013 the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a new science and technology report by John F. Sargent, Jr. addressing three topics of interest to Congress regarding nanotechnology: "federal research and development (R&D) in nanotechnology; U.S. competitiveness; and environmental, health, and safety (EHS) concerns." Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer addresses those three topics plus nanomanufacturing and public understanding of and attitudes toward nanotechnology. The report is available as a PDF.

Google Transparency Reports and Government Requests

In 2010 Google launched the Transparency Report "to provide hard evidence of how laws and policies affect access to information online." They recently released numbers showing how many requests Google received from various governments to remove content from their services. There was a 68 percent increase of government requests to remove content from the last six months of 2012 to the first six months of 2013. Various types of governments or government officials have asked Google to remove political content ranging from judges, police departments, and town councils to countries such as Turkey and Russia. Reasons given for the requests include defamation, privacy and copyright laws.

Google emphasizes:

While the information we present in our Transparency Report is certainly not a comprehensive view of censorship online, it does demonstrate a worrying upward trend in the number of government requests, and underscores the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests.

The report also includes a link to a safe browsing page detailing how many malware and phishing websites Google detects each week, how many users they warn, and which networks around the world host malware sites. Google also has a series of videos that describe malware infections and the cleanup process.