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Public Policy Report for 3 March 2008

Support NSF, Consider Calling Congress

A bipartisan effort is underway in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) does not become a budgetary casualty in the appropriations process for fiscal year (FY) 2009.

Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Bob Inglis (R-SC), and Brian Baird (D-WA) are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter to each member of House of Representatives asking for their signature on a letter requesting that the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee make NSF a priority in the FY 09 appropriations process. The Dear Colleague letter, a common means for members of Congress to demonstrate support for specific federal programs, requests that the CJS subcommittee restore NSF to a pathway to double its budget as outlined in the America COMPETES Act. Specifically, the letter is seeking a FY 09 appropriation for NSF of $7.326 billion. The President’s FY 09 request is $6.854 billion.

The House Dear Colleague letter also requests that Representatives include the NSF in their “programmatic requests” to the Appropriations Committee. Programmatic requests ARE NOT earmarks – a request to fund specific projects or activities, usually in a specific state or congressional district.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kit Bond (R-MO) are circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter asking the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science to support NSF by providing at least the President’s FY 09 request of $6.85 billion.

Interested scientists might wish to contact their Representative and Senators to request support for NSF. Simply encourage them to sign the NSF Dear Colleague letter. When speaking with your Representative’s office, please also request that he or she includes NSF in their programmatic requests to the Appropriations Committee. The deadlines for signatures in the Senate and House are Friday, 7 March, and Wednesday, 12 March, respectively.

Contact information is available at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov, or in copies of the AIBS Congressional Directory.

For more detailed information about the federal budget and appropriations process, please visit: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_source.html

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Science Committee Reviews NSF FY 09 Budget, Questions Disparity Among Directorates

On 26 February 2008, the Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing to review the National Science Foundation (NSF) fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget request.

For the NSF, the President requested $6.85 billion for FY 09 with $5.59 billion directed to Research and Related Activities (RRA) programs, which includes the various research directorates (e.g. BIO). This proposed funding level would provide an average 16 percent ($772.52 million) cross-directorate increase over the FY 08 estimated appropriation.

The disappointment of the FY 08 omnibus appropriation – where NSF received just a 1.1 percent overall increase in funding for the RRA accounts, from $4.766 billion in FY 2007 to $4.821 billion for FY 2008 – was apparent in the opening statements of Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA), Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), NSF Director Arden Bement, and National Science Board Chairman Steven Beering.

NSB Chairman Beering reflected this sentiment when he said, “The National Science Board and the broader science and engineering community were surprised and disappointed by the actual appropriations in the fiscal year 2008 omnibus bill, which erased most of the anticipated increases in support for research.”

Ranking Member Ehlers added, “Federal apathy to NSF is causing young scientists to seek other careers.”

Chairman Baird directly questioned Bement and Beering about the prioritization of some research directorates, namely those in the physical sciences, over others such as the social and behavioral sciences. He said, “While I understand that not all fields will get equal increases every year, I want to reiterate the importance of the social sciences to all of the major challenges our nation is facing, including energy, water, health, national security and competitiveness. I’m interested in hearing from you today the justification for the budget request for the Social, Behavioral, and Economics (SBE) directorate.”

Baird’s comment struck a chord with the biological sciences community. Like SBE, the Biological Sciences (BIO) directorate is slated for a much smaller increase in FY 09, with only 10.3 percent in new funds, $63.04 million above what BIO may receive from the FY 08 appropriation. In contrast, many of the physical science, engineering and cyber- related directorates would receive budget bumps on the order of 19 to 20 percent over FY 08 estimated appropriation. For example, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate would increase $235.36 million (20.2 percent) and the Engineering directorate would increase $122.46 million (19.2 percent) over their respective FY 08 estimated appropriations.

With regard to the differential allocation of resources among the directorates, Bement explained that NSF had to align the budget with both the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act, signed into law August 2007 (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20070820.html#003930).

Baird referred Bement to language in America COMPETES that calls for parity. Public Law No: 110-69, Sec. 7018(b) specifies, “The Director shall give priority in the selection of awards and the allocation of Foundation resources to proposed research activities, and grants funded under the Foundation’s Research and Related Activities Account, that can be expected to make contributions in physical or natural science, technology, engineering, social sciences, or mathematics, or that enhance competitiveness, innovation, or safety and security in the United States.”

Indeed, last year the House recognized the need to ensure that all directorates have the resources required to fund the research our nation needs. Report language explaining House priorities and concerns for the FY 08 NSF appropriations, stated:

“The Committee strongly supports increases for the math and physical sciences, computer sciences, and engineering directorates in fiscal year 2008 for research and related activities (R&RA). However, the Committee also believes the Foundation should maintain comparable growth in fiscal year 2008 for the biological sciences, geosciences, and social, behavioral and economic sciences directorates. As the Innovation Agenda moves forward, it is important to note that maintaining U.S. competitiveness will depend on advances in, and the interactions among, all fields of science. The Committee expects NSF to ensure that the biological sciences, geosciences, and social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorates receive increases in fiscal year 2008 that are comparable to the other directorates.”

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AIBS Names 2008 Emerging Public Policy Leaders

AIBS is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2008 Emerging Public Policy Leader Award: Cheryl Logan of Stanford University and Caroline Ridley of the University of California–Riverside.

Logan and Ridley receive an AIBS membership, including a subscription to BioScience, and will travel to Washington, DC, in April to participate in a congressional visits event sponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition. They will meet with members of Congress and their staffs and attend briefings on federal funding for research by senior members of the science policy community.

Cheryl Logan is a doctoral candidate in biological sciences at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. She was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2005 to study the effects of environmental change on marine fishes. Logan’s dissertation research examines how long-jawed mudsuckers, a common estuarine fish, are able to adapt to changes in water temperature that might occur with climate change or heat effluent from power plants. She is also active in the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, a research consortium involving marine scientists from four universities along the western coast of the United States who are working collaboratively to develop a comprehensive understanding of how coastal marine ecosystems function.

Caroline Ridley is a doctoral candidate in plant biology at the University of California–Riverside. She was awarded a US Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results Fellowship in 2005 to support her doctoral research investigating how hybrids formed between the cultivated radish species and a wild cousin have developed into a weed that has successfully invaded areas prone to human and natural disturbance throughout California. By understanding the genetic and evolutionary factors that have led to this new invasive radish hybrid, Ridley hopes her research will inform invasive plant management throughout the state. Ridley is a member of AIBS, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the California Invasive Plant Council.

Allison Leidner, a PhD candidate in zoology at North Carolina State University, and Yiwei Wang, a PhD candidate in environmental studies at the University of California–Santa Cruz, received honorable mention.

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Political Science: Physicist Makes Real Run for House

For several years, scientists have criticized how elected officials have or have not utilized science in public policy decisions. Indeed, the few members of Congress who were once active scientists have for years encouraged more scientists to enter the political arena. More recently, organizations have even formed to help practicing scientists understand what might be involved with running for elected office.

Bill Foster, a physicist, is running as a Democrat for the congressional seat once held by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL). Foster, who spent the majority of his career at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has been holding onto a slight lead against his Republican opponent, Jim Oberweis. The race will be decided in a special election to be held on 8 March.

Foster, if elected, would join Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) – both Ph.D. physicists. Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and Representative McNerney (D-CA) holds a Ph.D. in mathematics.

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Harvard Endorses Open Access

On 12 February 2008, Harvard became the first university to make open access to faculty-published scholarly articles a standard practice. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University voted to “give the University a worldwide license to make each faculty member’s scholarly articles available” to scholars and the public worldwide, free of charge. Faculty members can opt-out of the open access program by requesting a waiver, which officials say will be granted.

Harvard professor Stuart M. Shieber attributed the need for this change to rising costs of journals, canceled subscriptions, and the lack of freedom many scholars were afforded in the past. Harvard Provost, Steven E. Hyman stated, “The goal of university research is the creation, dissemination, and preservation of knowledge. At Harvard, where so much of our research is of global significance, we have an essential responsibility to distribute the fruits of our scholarship as widely as possible. Today’s action in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will promote free and open access to significant, ongoing research. It is a first step in the creation of an open-access environment for current research that may one day provide the widest possible dissemination of Harvard’s distinguished faculties’ work.”

While details of how the program will work are not available, some familiar with scholarly publishing remain concerned that open access could devalue peer-reviewed, scholarly journals, and could seriously jeopardize the quality of peer reviewed literature.

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New in BioScience: "Theory and Funding for 21st Century Biology - Maybe"

The March 2008 Washington Watch column from the journal BioScience reports on a recent National Academies report that could change the way biology is conducted in the coming decades. The article, “Theory and Funding for 21st Century Biology – Maybe” also considers the challenges facing the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) at the National Science Foundation as it strives to advance the findings of this recent report at a time when BIO funding is flat, at best.

An excerpt of this article follows:

Compared with other scientific disciplines, some leaders in the science community have said, biology is too heavily centered on facts, with too little emphasis on underlying theory. The propagation of this misperception in recent years has very likely contributed to a drive to allocate larger portions of the federal research budget to nonbiological disciplines, a move that some assume will have a “transformative” impact on the nation’s research enterprise.

To stimulate thinking about the role of theory in biology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) commissioned the National Acad­emies of Science to study the explicit role that theory plays in shaping basic biological research. According to James Collins, the NSF’s assistant director for BIO, the report—The Role of Theory in Advancing 21st Century Biology: Catalyzing Transformative Research—“shines a bright light on the fact that there are lots of theories in biology; it is a theory-rich discipline that goes beyond the theory of evolution.”

Continue reading this article online for free, go to: http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_03.html

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