BART protests over cell phone disruption

Samuel Evans | 26 August 2011

BART Protestors. Photo by Cold Storage on Flikr

As I was sitting on the San Francisco Bay Area’s subway line (BART) yesterday, an announcement came on to state that the Civic Center station, in the heart of downtown San Francisco, was closed and would remain so until further notice.  My suspicions on what caused the closure were confirmed when I pulled out my smartphone to check the news: there were more people mobbing the station to protest about BART’s decision on August 11th to shut off cell phone service during earlier protests, which themselves were done to protest the shooting of Charles Hill on July 3rd by a police officer.

That I was able to check this on my phone also gave me confirmation that BART had not cut off cell phone coverage again.  The disruption of cell phone service for the August 11th protests was the first in US history, and in the discussion that has ensued, the BART Board of Directors recognized that they had touched on freedom of speech issues.  There was talk of having a “right to cell phone service.”

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Early Gender Tests

Samuel Evans | 20 August 2011

An early sex test available now

Early gender pregnancy tests have hit the market in the United States. Available direct-to-consumer at online pharmacies and maternity stores, medical genetic tests developed to select for sex in pregnancies with a strong risk of sex-linked hereditary disease are now being marketed as a way to decide whether to buy in pink or in blue as early as the 7th week of pregnancy. Moreover, a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that fetal DNA tests, which detect y-chromosomes in a pregnant woman’’s blood, are 95% accurate.  This offers a reliable method of sex-determination months earlier than standard ultrasound exams, which typically occur at 18-22 weeks.

Some articles recently in the news have commented on how these tests might be used for family balancing or for discriminatory abortions.  Other articles draw out how the tests are only available in the United States through direct-to-consumer options.  This is an area ripe for ethical discussion, but that is not the only point of entry for an STS analysis, as the following scholars point out:

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E coli outbreak and the role of evidence in policy

Elta Smith | 1 July 2011

Francisco Sosa Wagner, Spainish MEP, holding a cucumber in the EU Parliament (via European Parliament on flickr)

In late May, 2011, an outbreak of infections related to a rare strain of E coli dominated the news headlines.  The source remains uncertain, but the finger pointing that followed the outbreak—Spanish cucumbers, an organic bean sprout farm in Germany—has created billions of dollars in damage to fresh produce farmers across Europe and political damage within the EU and beyond.

This episode raises a fundamental question about what constitutes acceptable scientific evidence in policy making. At each stage in the still unfolding food crisis, a definitive link between symptoms and the identified source has not been established. We now know that cucumbers were not the cause of the outbreak in Germany. Bean sprouts served in a German restaurant have tested positive for the E coli strain, but none of the same strain was found at the suspected farm. Public health officials across the EU have been quick to shift the blame away from their own borders, but tracking down the ultimate source of the outbreak could take months or years, and may never happen.

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