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Public Policy Report for 13 October 2008

AIBS Cosponsors Second Presidential Candidates' Forum

The date and location for a second forum for the presidential campaigns to share their visions and perspectives on science-related policy issues has been announced. Organized by Scientists and Engineers for America, "Presidential Perspectives on Energy and Innovation," will be held on Tuesday, October 21, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the Kresge Auditorium on the campus of Stanford University (555 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California).

Representing the campaigns:
-Kurt E. Yeager, Co-chair, McCain California Energy Security Coalition
-Daniel M. Kammen, Senior Adviser on Energy and Environmental Policy for Barack Obama

Seating for this event is limited, so individuals interested in attending this event must RSVP to rsvp@SEforA.org
or 202.223.6444 by 17 October 2008.

The forum may also be viewed live online at www.SHARP.SEforA.org/candidate-forum/ Questions will be accepted from the audience, or in advance at Questions@SEforA.org

This second Presidential Forum on science related policy issues is cosponsored by:

-American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
-American Chemical Society (ACS)
-American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
-American Institute of Physics (AIP)
-American Physical Society (APS)
-American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)
-IEEE-USA

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Congress Extends Funding, Science Agencies Flat

On 30 September, President Bush signed into law the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2638, P.L. 110-329), a stopgap measure that funds the federal government through 6 March 2009 or until the enactment of regular appropriations bills. The continuing resolution (CR) funds the majority of the federal government at FY 2008 appropriations levels, with exceptions for relief and recovery from natural disasters. The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received an additional $400 million under a supplemental FY 2008 spending bill that passed in June, yet did not receive that additional funding in the CR.

NIH is facing a budget that is just one percent over the FY 2007 amount, due to the elimination of $150 million received in the supplemental. According to a Science news article, due to the uncertainty of how much NIH will receive for the remainder of FY 2009, the agency will likely award fund fewer grant applications in December.

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AERC Briefs Policymakers on Carbon Sequestration by Ecosystems

With an ever increasing number of reports showing that climate change will impact human health, economic and national security, and agricultural and natural resource management, policymakers are increasingly paying attention to the issue of climate change and trying to understand how best to respond. Legislation has been introduced to implement cap and trade systems and carbon taxes, and to promote carbon sequestration. Informed policy decisions require that policymakers understand the potential role of ecosystems in mitigating the problems caused by carbon emissions. Thus, on 25 September 2008, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers - an AIBS member society, held a special science briefing for policymakers in Washington, DC. The briefing, "Climate Change: A Role for Ecosystems," was held in conjunction with AERC's annual science meeting, and was conducted with the assistance of AIBS Public Policy Office staff.

The briefing allowed policymakers to hear directly from six leading ecosystem researchers. Speaking at the briefing were: Dr. Robin Graham of Oak Ridge National Laboratory ("Environmental Policy and Carbon Sequestration by Ecosystems"); Dr. Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ("Ocean Fertilization: Ironing Out Uncertainties in Climate Engineering"); Dr. Peter Curtis of The Ohio State University ("Forest carbon storage in the upper Midwest: Lessons from the past and predictions for the future"); Dr. J. Patrick Megonigal of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center ("Carbon In, Methane Out: The Greenhouse Gas Balance of North American Wetlands"); Dr. Charles Rice of Kansas State University ("Carbon Sequestration in Agro-ecosystems"); and, Dr. John Arnone of the Desert Research Institute ("Carbon Sequestration in Deserts").

The timely and useful nature of the 2008 briefing drew a large audience and even broader interest from the policy community. Approximately 50 individuals attended the science briefing for policymakers, including representatives from key congressional offices, executive branch agencies, and non-governmental organizations. In 2007, AERC held a successful briefing to explore the state of our scientific understanding of the ecosystem-related issues associated with the nation's bioenergy policy. AERC plans to once again convene a science briefing in Washington, DC, next fall. For more information about AERC or to view the presentations from the 2008 briefing, please visit www.ecosystemresearch.org.

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Mammals Perfect Disappearing Act

A new study from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and more than 1,800 scientists worldwide shows that at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals on Earth are threatened with extinction. The real number could be even higher as 836 mammalian species have little to no data available concerning their current status. Habitat loss and degradation along with threats from overharvesting are the largest threats to mammals. Although this project reveals an extinction crisis, it also found that five percent of currently threatened mammals are exhibiting signs of recovery.

"The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions," says Dr Jane Smart, Head of IUCN's Species Programme. "We now know what species are threatened, what the threats are and where - we have no more excuses to watch from the sidelines."

The project results are further described at http://cms.iucn.org/what/species/mammals/index.cfm?uNewsID=1695

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Biology Standards Beefed Up in the Longhorn State?

The Texas Education Agency has released its draft of proposed state science education standards developed by a committee of teachers and academics. The document will be open for public comment prior to revision by the science panel, and debate and editing by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). The SBOE will begin discussing the draft this fall and have set a tentative March 2009 deadline for new standard adoption. Texas science standards remain in place for ten years and are used to adopt textbooks, design curriculum, and construct evaluative tests during that time.

The proposed changes from the current standards in biology include dropping the requirement that students be exposed to both the "strengths and weaknesses" in the theory of evolution and adapting a National Academy of Sciences description of the limits of what material qualifies as science. The second change is meant to make it clear that supernatural explanations cannot be scientifically tested and, thus, do not belong in the science classroom.

The state of Texas recently completed its revision of their English Language Arts and Reading standards, which proved highly contentious. The science standards also face a controversial uphill battle. Although supported by the Texas Freedom Network and the Science Teachers Association of Texas, the draft changes have evoked opposition from several SBOE members -- seven of the 15 members are Young Earth Creationists. SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy has stated that he will oppose the recommendations. "I like the present language on strengths and weaknesses," McLeroy commented, continuing that, "This is something we've been doing for over 20 years in Texas, and we should keep doing it. To teach it [evolution] as scientific fact presents a real problem for me," McLeroy added.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, counters, "It's time for state board members to listen to classroom teachers and true experts instead of promoting their own personal agendas." Miller went on to state, "Our students can't succeed with a 19th-century science education in their 21st-century classrooms. We applaud the science work groups for recognizing that fact."

Dr. Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science points out that although the new standards would be an improvement over the status quo, there are areas that remain worrisome. He notes that the National Academy of Sciences language was not added to all science disciplines, that human evolution was omitted from the standards, and the use of "theory" regarding evolution is not defined. Schafersman hopes the biology panel corrects this at their next opportunity.

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Meteorologists Hold Briefing on Climate Change and Ecosystems

On 10 October, the American Meteorological Society continued its Environmental Science Seminar Series for Congress. Dr. Camille Parmesan, associate professor in the Section on Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, briefed lawmakers on "Impacts of Recent Climate Change: Current Responses and Future Projections for Wild Ecosystems." Parmesan was a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports whose assessment of the current impact of climate change earned the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The presentation explored the question: Is species rescue part of the prognosis for the future? Her meta-analysis documents species effects that culminate in extinction due to heat, altered spring behaviors that uncouple species interactions, and range shifts that create invasive competition. She proposed two platforms to mitigate widespread and accelerating species extinction. The first is to redefine "habitat" within the Endangered Species Act. The current definition is a species' historic range, similar in concept to a realized niche, under which species have lost protection as they migrate out of their historic range. She proposes to broaden "habitat" to a definition mirroring a species' fundamental niche to continue protection within a changing climate.

Changing the definition of habitat would allow, too, use of assisted migration. Parmesan argues for passive assisted migration to protect the path and future sites of migrating species. She also recommends limited active assisted migration to physically move select blocked species, though this would be restricted by resources and the high risk of reintroduction. The strategy has been successfully tested in moving non-endangered species of butterfly from Wyoming to Colorado.

Whether or not legislative changes include these strategies in particular, change is needed according to Parmesan. She indicated that laws should be broad enough to allow responses to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and reminded legislators that doing nothing already carries great risk.

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New in BioScience: "Science Advice for the Next President"

In the Washington Watch article in the October 2008 issue of the BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on the scientific communities efforts to inform the next president on matters of science policy.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Next month, voters will choose the next president of the United States. Whether they elect Senator Obama or Senator McCain, the president's responses in coming years to national and global problems and opportunities will require access to scientific and technical expertise. Science and technology (S&T) policy organizations are thus working to provide recommendations and advice to both campaigns as they are undoubtedly already considering candidates for senior administration posts.

Many scientists believe that the current Bush administration has marginalized or ignored science. "I think many people feel that science has been politicized...especially in the areas of climate change, stem cells, and energy," said Samuel M. Rankin III, associate executive director of the American Mathematical Society. What science and public policy organizations are therefore attempting to communicate to Senators McCain and Obama is that …

Continue reading this article for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_10.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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