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Public Policy Report for 23 June 2008

New Report Provides Next President with Recommendations for OSTP

Most scientists would assert that it is an understatement to say that there have been concerns within the scientific community about how science has and has not been used to inform policy decisions during the George W. Bush presidency. At a recent Washington, DC, press conference, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars released a new report intended to prompt the next President to revisit how the White House receives scientific advice. The report, “OSTP 2.0: Critical Upgrade,” is timely, both presidential candidates are expected to begin developing a transition team in this summer.

As former Indiana congressman and Wilson Center director Lee Hamilton noted during the press briefing, “there is a need to strengthen the relationship between scientists and policymakers”. Hamilton continued, “can’t understate the importance of strengthening the dialogue.”

The report was informed by past science advisors from Democratic and Republican administrations, as well as interviews with other experts and an extensive literature review, according to report authors.

The science and technology policymaking capacity of the White House must be enhanced so that the next president can better address key issues facing the nation—from energy and the environment, to national security and the ability of the United States to compete and collaborate internationally, according to materials accompanying the report. Key recommendations in the report include:

  1. The next President quickly appoint a nationally respected leader to be Assistant for Science and Technology Policy who will serve at the Cabinet level;
  2. The Office of Science and Technology Policy be funded adequately, staffed fully, and integrated closely with other policymaking bodies within the White House; and,
  3. Robust mechanisms to obtain expert and timely advice be established and maintained through the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology, the President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness, the National Science and Technology Council, the National Academies, and a Federal-State Science and Technology Council.

For more information, visit http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.item&news_id=448130

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Louisiana Politicians Politicize Science Education

As residents of Louisiana, readers of the New York Times editorial page, and scientists and educators concerned about the integrity of science education are aware; Louisiana is poised to become the next state to allocate tax-payer money to defend a lawsuit resulting from a policy adopted to placate a narrow political interest. The Louisiana state legislature has approved Louisiana Senate Bill (SB) 733, the so-called “Louisiana Science Education Act.” The measure is intended to permit teachers to introduce non-existent questions about scientific information into the classroom. The legislation, which some in Louisiana have noted is backed by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute – the leading proponent for intelligent design/creationism – was introduced in the State Senate by Ben Nevers. A Democrat, Nevers is a long-time supporter of creationism education. SB 733 is currently awaiting a signature or veto by the Louisiana Governor Jindal, a Republican.

On 3 June 2008, the American Institute of Biological Sciences added its voice to the chorus of scientific and educational organizations opposing passage of SB 733. On 13 June, AIBS and seven member societies wrote to Governor Jindal urging him to veto SB 733. To read these statements, please visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/ .

For additional information on developments in Louisiana and to learn how you can help, visit the Louisiana Coalition for Science at http://lasciencecoalition.org/ or the National Center for Science Education at www.ncseweb.org. AIBS information about threats to evolution education may be found at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/teaching_evolution.html.

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War Funding Bill Includes Money For Science

On 19 June 2008, the House of Representatives passed H.R.2642, the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act. The legislation contains funding for agencies authorized in the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69), including an additional $62.5 million in FY 2008 funding for the National Science Foundation and $62.5 million for the Department of Energy Office of Science.

"I am very pleased that this supplemental appropriations bills includes $400 million in additional FY08 funding for science programs, including $125 million to boost funding for critical programs at the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy Office of Science that were authorized in the America COMPETES Act. This funding will help avert layoffs and job losses at our national labs and boost research and teacher training programs that are critical to our nation's competitiveness," said Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.

The supplemental moved through the House as two amendments. The first amendment included $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and passed by a vote of 268-155. The second amendment was a $95.5 billion vehicle for various domestic spending programs, including scientific research, and passed by a wide majority of 416-12. The measure now moves to the Senate.

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Heinz Center Releases New Ecosystem Report, Calls for Action on Monitoring

Before a packed room on Capitol Hill, the Heinz Center released “The State of Nation’s Ecosystems 2008.” The report provides an authoritative documentation of key environmental trends. Accompanying the release of the 250-plus page ecosystem report, the Heinz Center also issued a call for action. In “Environmental Information: A Road Map to the Future,” the Center calls for bold federal and state action to strengthen and integrate the nation’s environmental monitoring.

According to Robin O’Malley, director of the Heinz Center’s Environmental Reporting program, “…the acreage burned every year by wildfires is increasing, non-native fish have invaded nearly every watershed in the lower 48 states, and chemical contaminants are found in virtually all streams and most groundwater wells, often at levels above those set to protect human health or wildlife. In contrast, ecosystems are increasing their storage of carbon, there are improvements in soil quality and crop yields have grown significantly.”

The companion policy document, “Environmental Information,” notes critical gaps in environmental monitoring and various management challenges. “Environmental data gaps mean we don’t have the entire environmental picture. For example, we don’t track the area of sea grasses – important for every estuary, we don’t adequately measure the storage of carbon in ecosystems – important for future climate change, and we don’t track ground water levels – important for people and ecosystems,” said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center.

On the same day the Heinz Center released its reports, the White House issued a directive to Cabinet Secretaries and Administrators. In short, the directive from the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of Management and Budget states: “For many years, the Administration has supported a variety of efforts to develop national indicators of environmental and natural resource conditions. In 2006, we initiated a study with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to identify and assess institutional options for developing a national system of environmental indicators. The NAPA Panel of Fellows provided its report in December, 2007. The accompanying Policy Memorandum on National Environmental Status and Trends Indicators (NEST Indicators) sets forth an action plan for key Federal agencies and other partners that will take the next step to further develop our capacity for regular production of national environmental indicators.”

According to the directive, the environmental indicators are envisioned to be a set of high-quality, science-based, statistical measures of selected conditions of our environment and natural resources. To initiate the process, a pilot project has been announced. Federal agencies will work in collaboration with non-federal partners to develop status and trend indicators of water availability, including both quality and quantity.

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What Do the Candidates Think About Science?

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has teamed-up with fifteen other organizations to launch a campaign to highlight the importance of science in the upcoming congressional elections. The campaign, coordinated and spear-headed by Scientists and Engineers for America, also includes the American Chemical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academies, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and other national organizations (see partners at http://sharp.sefora.org/innovation2008/).

Campaign organizers have sent a list of questions to all congressional candidates. The campaign now needs the assistance of individual scientists and engineers. You can help by taking a few moments to send an email to your candidates requesting they answer the questions. You may find information about your candidates at http://sharp.sefora.org/innovation2008/ , this site also includes a summary of the campaign project questions sent to all congressional candidates.

Individual scientists may also wish to write to their candidates about other federal science policy questions, such as research funding for biodiversity research, the national investment in biological research infrastructure, or other similar federal issues.

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New in BioScience: "Shale Oil: Alternative Energy or Environmental Degradation?"

In the Washington Watch article in the June 2008 issue of BioScience, Noreen Parks explores the on-going debate over a policy to exploit oil shale in the western United States. This and prior Washington Watch articles may be viewed for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

An excerpt of the June article follows:

In the continuing quest to diminish US dependence on foreign oil, in 2005 Congress passed the Energy Policy Act (EPAct), which calls for developing unconventional fuels. To fast-track the commercial development of oil shale and tar sands, the law directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a leasing program, and to issue leasing regulations within two years thereafter. Last December the BLM released its draft EIS, endorsing a strategy to open roughly 1.9 million acres of public lands for development in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Shale-oil development was last on the national energy scene after the 1970s Arab oil embargo, when the Synthetic Liquid Fuels Program burned through $8 billion of congressional subsidies and propelled western Colorado through a boom-and-bust economy before Congress shut the program down in 1985. “Despite all the attempts to develop a shale-oil industry in the US over the past 100 years, the fact remains that no proven method exists for efficiently removing the oil from the rock,” Bob Loucks, a former shale-oil project manager, attested at a Senate committee hearing last June.

Continue reading at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_06.html

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Now In the AIBS Webstore: "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 in the AIBS Webstore.

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