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All Politics Is Local

This week, it took me quite a while to figure out how to answer the Ask a ScienceBlogger question: “What are some unsung successes that have occurred as a result of using science to guide policy?”

As a relative newcomer to the United States, and even more a newcomer to American politics, I was not around long enough to pay attention to various science-driven policies of the past. Most of what I know are far from “unsung” successes – from Manhattan Project, through Clean Air and Clean Water acts, to the EWndangered Species Act, to the international Kyoto Protocol. Dealing with DDT, DES, thalidomide is also well-known. The space program is quite well sung! Various policies in other countries are also well known at least to the local population.

So, I thought, I should probably take a look at some issues that, informed by science, became policy at the state or local level. Then, my wife reminded me about the topic I know something about, as I have written about it several times before, e.g., here, here and here.

That’s right. Forward-looking school systems in reality-based communities around the country have, over the last several years, implemented a policy that is based on science – sending elementary school kids to school first in the morning, middle-schoolers next, and high-schooler last. This is based on the effects of puberty on the performance of the human circadian clock. For teenagers, 6am is practically midnight – their bodies have barely begun to sleep. Although there have been some irrational (or on-the-surface-economics-based) voices of opposition – based on conservative notions of laziness – they were not reasonable enough, especially not in comparison to the scientific and medical information at hand, for school boards to reject these changes.

So, click on the links above for my long-winded rants on the topic, both the science part and the policy part. I am very happy that my kids are going to school in such an enlightened environment, and I am also happy to note that every year more school systems adopt the reasonable starting schedules based on current scientific knowledge.