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Public Policy Report for 31 March 2008

AIBS Provides Testimony to House Appropriations in Support of NSF

The AIBS Public Policy Office recently submitted congressional testimony in support of increased fiscal year (FY) 2009 funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF)

AIBS encouraged Congress to provide NSF with at least $7.326 billion for FY 2009, the funding level authorized by the America COMPETES Act (PL 110-69). Nearly $500 million more than the President requested, the increased funding levels would allow the Biological Sciences directorate (BIO) to increase 19 percent over its FY 2008 appropriation. This would place BIO more on-par with the growth trajectory of research directorates in the physical sciences that are slated to receive 19-20 percent increases in FY 2009 (compared to the 10.3 percent increase for BIO requested by the President).

Additionally, in testimony to the House, AIBS reminded and thanked members of the Appropriations Committee for recognizing the importance of balanced investments in the FY 2008 Committee Report (H. Rept. 110-240).

AIBS congressional testimony is available in the Position Statements section of the AIBS web site at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/. Additional information about the federal budget process is available at the AIBS Public Policy Office Federal Budget Resource Web page, http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/budget_source.html

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Is Education Still OK in Oklahoma?

AIBS recently wrote to members of the Rules Committee of the Oklahoma State Senate to express serious concerns with HB 2211, the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act. If enacted, the legislation would have serious negative consequences on education, including science education, in Oklahoma.

Like legislation signed into law in Texas by Governor Perry (R) in June 2007, the so-called “academic freedom” bill now moving through the Oklahoma legislature would explicitly permit public school students to express religious viewpoints and beliefs in classroom assignments and public events where student speakers are permitted.

AIBS wrote:

“HB 2211 grants permission to individuals with specific, narrow religious agendas to disrupt the teaching of evolutionary science in Oklahoma public school classrooms. This legislation would allow non-scientific concepts, such as creationism and “intelligent design,” to be taught as though they represented accepted scientific principles, which they are not. To require that teachers accept non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena is counter to quality science education. Further, it risks setting the students of Oklahoma well behind their national and international counterparts.”

HB 2211 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on 13 March 2008 by a 71-25 vote. It was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, rather than the Education Committee, and must be reported out of the Committee by 2 April 2008 or it will be considered ‘dead.’

Science education advocates in Oklahoma report that the Rules Committee has received a large number of letters and calls opposing the measure. However, they remain concerned that Republican members of the committee could use a special loophole to advance the bill or that it could re-appear as an amendment to other legislation.

The AIBS letter can be viewed at: http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/

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Conference Considers Ecological Elements of Biofuels

On 10 March 2008, the Ecological Society of America held a special conference to consider the ecological dimensions of biofuels. The symposium was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. Dr. William Parton — an AIBS member, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist with the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University – opened the meeting with a brief overview of some of the ecological issues associated with biofuels. Dr. G. Phillip Robertson, also an AIBS member and scientist at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, spoke on the “Biogeochemistry of Bioenergy Landscapes: Clean Water, Clean Air, and Climate Mitigation vs. Business as Usual.” Dr. Robertson indicated that while corn will not produce enough biomass to fuel the country’s growing demands; biofuels, if done correctly, could be part of the solution. Echoing the sentiment of many bioenergy scientists, Dr. Robertson stated that grain-based biofuels are not an effective climate mitigation strategy from a biogeochemical perspective.

Of note, in fall 2007 the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) also briefed national policy makers about the importance of considering ecosystem dynamics when developing bioenergy policy. Information about the 2007 AERC Capitol Hill briefing, Ecosystem Science: Informing a Sound Bioenergy Policy, is available at http://www.ecosystemresearch.org/2007%20Meeting/index.htm

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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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Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media

Evolution, climate change, stem cell research — Scientists are frequently called upon to provide expert information on hot button issues that pervade the daily news headlines, yet most find themselves woefully unprepared for the bright lights of the television studio or leading questions from a newspaper journalist. A new publication from AIBS, “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” by Holly Menninger and Robert Gropp in the Public Policy Office, will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Recognizing that many scientists are reluctant to engage in media outreach, “Communicating Science” outlines compelling reasons for scientists to interact with the media and describes key differences between journalism and science that may not be apparent to practicing scientists. Step-by-step, Menninger and Gropp walk scientists through the entire interview process - from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one’s best on-air or on-camera.

The information and advice in “Communicating Science” is presented in eight easy-to-read chapters that provide vital information for scientists new to media outreach, as well as a quick refresher for seasoned experts - an ideal text for a graduate course on science communication or a professional development course for students and faculty. The primer’s authors speak from their own experiences as PhD scientists in the biological sciences with years of experience in media outreach.

The concise, user-friendly volume has several unique features that set it apart from other media guides for scientists. “Communicating Science” includes first-person interviews with nearly a dozen scientists who have successfully navigated print, radio, and television interviews. The scientists-including the “Island Snake Lady,” Kristin Stanford, recently featured on the Discovery Channel show, “Dirty Jobs” - share advice and experiences on a number of topics, including safely speaking on behalf of an organization, avoiding trouble when discussing socially or politically controversial topics, and reflections on first interviews.

“Communicating Science” also provides worksheets to assist readers with interview preparation: building a message framework with talking points and transition phrases, developing analogies, and using illustrative props or images. It includes pages for readers to organize contact information of journalists with whom they have worked directly and those who have reported on stories related to their own research to keep as potential contacts for future story pitches.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available now at www.aibs.org/bookstore/

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