The President Needs to be Ready…Science is Changing Fast

“What science-related issues will the next president face? Climate change is sure to loom large, as will the annual debates over how much the government should spend on basic research and which fields are likely to provide the biggest short-term economic payoff. Technological advances, from self-driving cars to genome engineering, will pose new regulatory challenges. And surprises such as disease outbreaks, oil spills, and natural disasters are all but certain.”  D. Malakoff and J. Mervis, Science Magazine

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key


Excerpt: Science lessons for the next president By David Malakoff and Jeffrey Mervis,  Science Magazine

“In each case, a little science savvy might help a president better understand the issues and how best to respond. With that in mind, we offer the winner a crash course in areas of science that are likely to demand attention in the Oval Office over the next 4 or 8 years.

Pathogens change faster than our defenses. The viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that cause disease in people, farm animals, wildlife, trees, and crops are in an arms race with their hosts… Evolving pathogens can threaten our food and water supplies, natural resources, and health.



Seas are rising sooner than you think. Regional variation means Atlantic shorelines are already at risk of flooding. Nearly 40% of the U.S. population lives near the coast, and shorelines host extensive infrastructure— Already, shorefront communities in hot spots of sea level rise, such as Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Miami Beach, Florida, are seeing tidal floods—even on sunny days—that clog traffic, poison lawns, and corrode utilities.image-investmentu

Machines are getting much, much smarter. Advances in artificial intelligence carry promise and peril. After years of halting progress, artificial intelligence (AI)—which aims to give machines a humanlike ability to gather information, learn, and make independent decisions—is taking off… Products and services from self-driving cars to systems that guide medical care and treatment could bring major benefits, including increased labor productivity, lucrative new markets, and fewer deaths from traffic accidents and medical mistakes. But AI brings worries, too. It will enable employers to automate more tasks and displace workers, and economists predict that some low-wage jobs will be among the first to be eliminated, possibly increasing economic inequality.elon-musk

We aren’t so great at assessing riskGut instinct can lead to poor policy. When experts calculate risk, they rely on statistics, but ordinary people tend to rely on their guts. Both approaches have their pitfalls, says Paul Slovic, a pioneer in the psychological study of risk at the University of Oregon in Eugene. There is wisdom and foolishness on both sides of the divide, he says.  One downside of gut assessments is obvious: They lead us to overestimate the chances of horrible things happening and underestimate more familiar risks. For example, since the attacks of 9/11, terrorists have killed at most a few hundred Americans. Over the same period, car accidents have killed more than 500,000 and heart disease roughly 8 million—perils we tend to take in stride.image-world-economic-forum

The  president will face a lengthy list of policy decisions surrounding known risks, including terrorist attacks, foreign conflicts, domestic crime and violence, flu pandemics, and natural disasters. But there will be emerging issues, too, including the potential risks of new technologies such as DNA editing and autonomous cars. With each, the challenge will be correctly assessing the risk, communicating it to the public, and developing sensible policies that can win support from voters, affected industries, and local, federal, and state policymakers.”


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ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. New presidents typically move into the White House.
  2. Some say they would cut taxes, promote education, and boost the economy.
  3. They do not intend to spend much time on arcane technical issues.
  4. Two science-focused events bracketed the 9/11 attacks
  5. Scientists derided President Ronald Reagan’s attempt to build a space-based laser system.
  6. The year 1976 had what the media dubbed the swine flu fiasco.
  7. In each case, a little science savvy might help a president.
  8. Pathogens change faster than our defenses.
  9. This poses the threat of a global pandemic that could kill millions.
  10. uses of certain  gene-editing technology could also raise ethical concerns.

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

A month earlier,___ wrestled with whether to___ federal funding for ___involving stem cells taken from___embryos. And just a week after the attacks, someone___anthrax-filled letters to media outlets and___, killing five people and ___the White House to launch a ___effort to improve bioterror defenses.

WORD LIST: human, prompting, massive, Bush, mailed, politicians, allow, research,

Grammar Focus

Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Other brain/bran health issues abroad/abound. Learning disabilities are a big/bag issue in classrooms; mental/metal illness is common in the homeless, in addicts/addictions, and in prison/prism  inmates; and concussions/conclusions have become a major concern in sports. The military farces/faces the burden of treating traumatic brain/bane injuries and the psychological aftereffects of combat. Effective/effects diagnostics and treatments could make a huge difference.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?


Ask/Answer  Questions

Directions:  Place students in groups and have each group list 3  questions they would like to pursue in relation to  the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading or  one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


Category: Science