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Public Policy Report for 24 November 2008

Natural Science Collections and the Economy: Preliminary Survey Results

The NSC Alliance recently completed a survey to gather data to better understand how current economic conditions are starting to impact on natural science collections. A summary report will be released before the end of the year.

Preliminary analysis of survey responses indicates that nearly 90 collections participated in the survey. The overwhelming majority of responses were from collections in the United States. Collections responding to the survey are located in all regions of the United States, and included small, mediun, and large collections affiliated with public and private universities, government agencies, and free-standing institutions.

Survey findings include:

  • 66 percent of survey respondents reported that they "anticipate a budget cut in the coming 12-24 months." Roughly 14 percent do not anticipate a budget cut, but 20 percent remain uncertain about whether they will experience a budget cut in the coming two years.

  • 86 percent of the respondents report receiving philanthropic donations. Of these, 48 percent expect to see reduced donations in the coming 12-24 months.

  • 50 percent of responding collections report that they "anticipate that government grants and contracts will play a more important role in research and education programs in the coming 12-24 months.

  • 42 percent of responding collections with public programs report no significant change in attendance during the past 12 months. However, 55 percent of collections report a slight or significant increase in public attendance during this same period.

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Obama Administration to Review Bush Administration Rules

As President-elect Barack Obama continues to form his Administration and identify early policy priorities, he has announced that his team is reviewing many of President Bush's Executive Orders to determine which orders should be repealed, amended, or retained. The review includes some of the Bush Administration's controversial science policy directives, including measures related to stem cell research, Endangered Species Act implementation, climate change, oil and gas drilling on federal lands, among many others.

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Supreme Court Rules for Navy in Marine Sonar Case

In a five to four decision, the United States Supreme Court has reversed a U.S. District Court decision that would have limited the United States Navy's use of mid-frequency sonar in training operations. Evidence suggests that marine mammals are negatively impacted by this technology. The original suit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) asserted that the Navy was in violation of several environmental laws.

In January, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled for the NRDC and issued an injunction limiting the Navy's use of mid-frequency sonar. Following the District Court ruling, President Bush and the white House Council for Environmental Quality sought to exempt the Navy from the injunction. Following this, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper and then the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the exemption; prompting the Administration to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Authoring the Court's majority decision were Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justices Stephen G. Breyer, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter authored the dissenting opinion. Chief Justice Roberts quoted a 1986 Court decision that asserts the Court must "give great deference to the professional judgment of military authorities" in making decisions that affect them. Justice Roberts stated that for the NRDC "the most serious possible injury would be harm to an unknown number of marine mammals that they study and observe" while "forcing the Navy to deploy an inadequately trained antisubmarine force jeopardizes the safety of the fleet."

Justice Ginsburg countered, writing that "Sonar is linked to mass strandings of marine mammals, hemorrhaging around the brain and ears" and "lesions in vital organs."

Commenting on the decision, Chris Parsons, a George Mason University professor who has been involved with marine mammal issues, stated, "The worrying aspect of this is that in the worst-case scenario, the military has the power to invoke national security concerns and thereby trump any environmental judicial concerns." Parsons further stated, "One hopes that the Navy will take their often quoted policy of being 'stewards of the marine environment' seriously and be restrained in invoking military necessity when faced with environmental issues."

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Groups Want Congress to Reauthorize Migratory Bird Conservation Program

The Bird Conservation Alliance (BCA) held their annual meeting on 12 November 2008 at The Nature Conservancy Worldwide Offices in Arlington, Virginia. BCA is a network of organizations including the American Ornithologists' Union, the Cooper Ornithological Society, many Audubon Society Chapters, and other groups working to promote bird conservation. The 2008 BCA meeting, "Bird Migration Matters; Building Support for Migratory Bird Conservation," focused attention on "The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA)." This law, passed by Congress in 2000 (Public Law 106-247), provides grant dollars for projects that conserve, monitor, or provide education programs for migratory birds and their habitats. Many funded proposals have components both in the United States and Latin America or the Caribbean where many US birds winter. However, the original legislation has expired and House and Senate legislative proposals (H.R.5756 and S. 3490) to reauthorize the program are pending. Groups are now pressing Congress to reauthorize these conservation grant programs. Additionally, the BCA is advocating for increased funding; from the current $5 million to $20 million in 2015.

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Graduate Student Opportunity: 2009 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS, www.aibs.org) is pleased to announce that applications are being accepted for the 2009 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). The EPPLA program enables graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the science policy arena.

Recipients receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, during spring 2009 to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day (target dates are 21-22 April 2009). The BESC CVD is an annual event that brings scientists to Washington, DC, to advocate for federal funding for the biological sciences.
  • The EPPLA will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a Capitol Hill reception honoring a member of Congress.
  • The EPPLA will meet with their Representative and Senators.
  • A certificate and 1-year AIBS membership, including subscription to BioScience and a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.

For application details and requirements, go to: http://www.aibs.org/announcements/081031aibsacceptingapplications2009.html

Applications must be received by 5:00 PM eastern, 6 February 2009.

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New in BioScience: "The Sound of Silence at the Environmental Protection Agency"

In the Washington Watch column in the November 2009 issue of the journal BioScience, Megan Kelhart explores recent practices at the Environmental Protection Agency that have silenced scientists and devastated morale. To read the full article for free, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_11.html.

The following is a short excerpt from the article.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created on 2 December 1970 to "establish and enforce environmental protection standards, conduct environmental research, provide support to others combating environmental pollution, and assist the White House Council on Environmental Quality in developing and recommending to the President new policies for environmental protection." In its early years, the EPA made sweeping changes to improve the environment and health of the United States and its citizens. In the 1970s, the EPA, among numerous other accomplishments, banned the use of DDT, set the first national standards limiting industrial water pollution, and banned the use of chlorofluoro-carbons in most aerosol cans.

Yet 38 years after the inception of the agency, its funding and morale have under-gone severe declines, and its administrator has been accused of allowing partisan politics to overshadow science. Some interested observers go so far as to say that instead of the EPA advising the president, the White House is advising the EPA.

To continue reading, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_11.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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