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Public Policy Report for 2 September 2008

AIBS CoSponsors Presidential Surrogate Debates on Health, Energy

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has joined with Scientists and Engineers for America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), IEEE-USA, Research!America, and The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services to cosponsor a debate between senior representatives of the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns.

Although it has not been possible to secure a presidential debate on "science," the campaigns are willing to allow surrogates to debate scientific aspects of broader public policy issues. Thus, AIBS will cosponsor two debates. The first, themed "Presidential Perspectives on Health," will be held at George Washington University in Washington, DC, on 18 September 2008. Moderated by Julie Rovner, health policy consultant for National Public Radio, the debate will feature Jay Koshla, health policy advisor to John McCain and Dora Hughes, MD, MPH, health advisor to Barack Obama. Campaign representatives will accept questions from the audience. Individuals unable to attend the debate in Washington, DC, will be able to view it via a web feed.

A second debate on energy policy will be held in the coming weeks, likely at a university in California.

For details about these debates and other information about candidate positions on science, visit

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AIBS Requests Extension for Public Comment on Proposed Endangered Species Act Rule Change

On 19 August 2008, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) officially requested that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service extend the period for public comment on a proposed rule change for the Endangered Species Act. AIBS requested a 60-day extension to the period for public comment, which would provide a total of 90-days for comments on a proposal that some assert will fundamentally change how the ESA is implemented.

It is unexpected that the extension will be granted, given the short window remaining for the current Administration to advance the rule change. Thus, interested scientists with expertise in federal biodiversity conservation and management policy may wish to submit formal comments prior to the current deadline of 15 September 2008. For more information regarding the proposed rule change, please visit

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McCain and Obama Pick Running Mates, Palin Supports Creationism

Presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-Il) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have announced their picks for their Vice Presidents. Senator Obama, the Democratic nominee for President, selected Senator Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate on 23 August 2008. Senator Obama embraced his running mate while making the announcement, stating that Senator Biden is a "statesman with sound judgment." Senator Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Following the Democratic convention in Denver, Colorado, and prior to the start of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota this week, Senator McCain announced that he has chosen Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate. Governor Palin, new to the national stage, has served as Governor of Alaska for the past two years. Previously, she served two terms as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

Given the surprise nature of McCain's announcement, reporters, pundits and policymakers are now working to understand Palin's positions, interests and experience. Of note to scientists and educators, the Anchorage Daily News reported in October 2006 that Palin thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in Alaska public school classrooms. During a gubernatorial debate, Palin said "Teach both…I am a proponent of teaching both."

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NAS Finds Public Participation Improves Policy Making Process

The National Research Council has assessed the effects of public participation on the policy making process. The study, performed at the behest of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Food and Drug Administration and the Forest Service, found that when the public is sufficiently engaged in the policy making process the outcome is higher quality, more legitimate decisions that increase the capacity of everyone involved.

The report provides six recommendations to enhance the public engagement process and create improved policy. Four of these recommendations provide insight as to how to properly carry out the participation process, while the final two speak to effectively implementing these principles. The executive summary entitled, "Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making" is available at

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New in BioScience: "Sweating the Small Stuff"


In the Washington Watch article in the September 2008 issue of the BioScience, Natalie Dawson explores environmental risk and nanotechnology in the United States.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Nanoscience, or nanotechnology, is science or technology that creates functional materials from atomic particles. Once considered to be little more than science fiction, nanotechnology is now a well-established field, as evidenced by various new journals and federally funded research programs, as well as myriad new products ranging from industrial materials to cosmetics. According to the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), more than $60 billion in nanorelated products were sold in 2007, and this number could more than double by the end of 2008. Estimates are that by 2014, more than 15 percent of all products on the global market will have some kind of nanotechnology incorporated into their manufacturing process. This technology boom raises an important question: what is being done to address the environmental risks associated with nanotechnology?

As companies, federal laboratories, and international unions call for more research funding for nanotechnology, emerging scientific investigations into the effects of nanorelated materials on the environment and human health reveal potential problems…

Continue reading this article for free at .

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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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