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Public Policy Report for 8 December 2008

Employment Opportunity: AIBS Public Affairs Associate

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The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit scientific association with individual and organizational members, seeks a Public Affairs Associate to join its energetic Public Policy Office. The successful applicant will work to develop and help advance science policy and media relations initiatives. Responsibilities will include working on legislative and regulatory policy issues, writing policy analyses for online and print publications, developing materials for policy and news briefings, helping to develop and implement the Public Policy Office's policy advocacy/communications strategies, making public presentations, and representing AIBS in a variety of settings. Travel and occasional work on evenings, weekends, or holidays is required.

Duties Include:

  • Represent AIBS and its members in the public policy arena to promote the use of scientific information in decisions pertaining to scientific research, education, and applications;

  • Monitor and report on policy developments in Washington, DC;

  • Draft public policy statements, background papers, press releases, white papers, reports to the membership, and other materials;

  • Cultivate and maintain working relationships with members of the scientific, policy, and media/communications fields;

  • Work collaboratively with AIBS staff, members, and others on public policy and media relations issues identified by the Director of Public Policy;

  • Provide planning and logistical assistance for science policy/media briefings and advocacy events; and

  • Conduct outreach initiatives for members, including workshops and other training sessions.

Minimum Requirements:

  1. Excellent and demonstrable written and oral communication skills;
  2. Excellent and demonstrable science policy analysis skills;
  3. Understanding and appreciation of the scientific community, the nature of science, and the goals and objectives of a professional, membership organization such as AIBS;
  4. Reliability, attention to detail, and ability to work under strict time constraints;
  5. Ability to self-direct, think creatively, and anticipate work needs as part of a team of professionals;
  6. Ability to synthesize and accurately communicate complex concepts to varied audiences;
  7. Possession of common sense and good judgment with strong interpersonal skills and a sense of humor;
  8. A Bachelor's degree in the biological sciences, science policy, science communication, or journalism (or a closely related field). A graduate degree and prior work experience in public policy/affairs are highly desirable.

Compensation and Benefits: This is a full-time position in downtown Washington, DC. Salary is commensurate with experience. AIBS offers a competitive benefits package that includes a retirement plan, health and disability insurance, paid annual and sick leave, and paid holidays.

To Apply: Send a cover letter, resume, salary history and requirements, names and contact information of three professional references, and a writing sample (approx. 750 words) to or via fax to 202-628-1509. Application review will begin immediately and continue until this position is filled.

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Supreme Court Rejects DOJ Wetlands Request

The United States Supreme Court has declined a request from the Justice Department to clarify the Court's Rapanos v. United States decision. In 2006, the Court split 4-1-4 on the Rapanos decision which questioned whether the Clean Water Act prohibition on unpermitted discharges into navigable waters extended to nonnavigable wetlands.

The Justice Department recently asked the Court to clarify its statements on federal regulations on wetland protection as the ruling relates to a current case involving an Alabama pipe manufacturer (McWane Inc. v. U.S.). The central issue in the McWane case is whether the neighboring stream being polluted by the defendant qualifies for protection under the Clean Water Act. Lower courts have differed in their interpretation of the Rapanos ruling. A recently identified Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memo has also brought attention to the fact that the agency's enforcement of Clean Water Act violations has declined since the Rapanos case, likely a function of the jurisdictional uncertainty created by the decision.

The task of clearly defining waterways that are to be regulated may now fall at the feet of the 111th Congress. Senator Russell Feingold (D- WI) and Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) plan to introduce legislation that restores protections to wetlands that have lost protection following the Supreme Court's ruling that muddied the definition of "navigable waters."

On 3 December, possibly in response to the Court's inaction and general confusion about the matter, the EPA and the Department of the Army announced they are issuing a revised guidance to ensure that American waterways have improved protection under the Clean Water Act. "This revised interagency guidance will enable the agencies to make clear, consistent, and predictable jurisdictional determinations within the scope of the Clean Water Act," said John Paul Woodley Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

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Texas and Science Education: Here We Go Again

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is revamping its science education standards for grades K-12. The current standards adopted in 1998 are up for a 10-year review and possible revision. Controversy abounds over the modification of the standards which currently includes language requiring that both the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution be taught to students. The SBOE released its second draft of the proposed Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Science in November after receiving testimony from witnesses and public comments.

"The new draft contains loaded buzzwords that evolution deniers have used repeatedly to launch phony attacks on evolution," commented Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller.

The Texas Citizens for Science criticized the SBOE's selection of "science expert reviewers" stating that three of the witnesses selected by the board are Intelligent Design Creationists (IDC) and anti-evolution advocates. In addition, two of these reviewers, Stephen Meyer and Ralph Seelke, are not from Texas and are co-authors of an anti-evolution textbook that could potentially be purchased by Texas schools if the current standards are readopted. "This situation creates a tremendous financial conflict of interest for the two co-authors and disqualifies them to serve on any panel that will review science standards," states Dr. Steven Schafersman of the Texas Citizens for Science. The SBOE is expected to adopt new science standards in February or March 2009.

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Hollywood Science

The National Academy of Science recently announced a new program: "The Science and Entertainment Exchange." The purpose of the program is to connect the entertainment industry with professional scientists, with a desired outcome of better coverage of science in Hollywood programming. For additional information, please visit

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New in BioScience - "The Cost of Conservation: The National Wildlife Refuge System"

In the December 2008 issue of the American Institute of Biological Sciences journal, BioScience, Sarah Smiley explores how negative budget trends are impacting the United States National Wildlife Refuge System. An excerpt from this article follows:

More than a century ago, the federal government established the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) to conserve fish, wildlife, and plants, as well as their habitats; today the NWRS manages more than 40 million hectares of federal land on 548 individual refuges. However, several reports warn that the system lacks the financial and personnel resources-including biologists-necessary for carrying out its mission effectively.

A report prepared for the NWRS by Management Systems International (MSI), an international development firm, determined that three core NWRS operations have been severely affected by declining funding: (1) law enforcement, (2) the pace of realty acquisition, and (3) biological surveys and monitoring. MSI also determined that the NWRS has failed to meet some of its own strategic goals, largely because of an 11 percent decline in real purchasing power between 2002 and 2007. A $36 million boost in funding for fiscal year 2008 partly offset the decline, but the problem is resurfacing: appropriations for FY 2009 show little promise of increased funding for refuges.

Addressing NWRS funding at a recent congressional hearing, Noah Matson, of Defenders of Wildlife, said, "The Refuge System now needs an additional $20 million each year simply to pay its staff, put gas in the trucks, and keep the lights on."

To continue reading this article for free, please go to

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Graduate Student Opportunity: 2009 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS, 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:

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

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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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