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Public Policy Report for 22 December 2008

Obama Fulfills Pledge, Names Science Advisor

During the campaign, then candidate Obama pledged to make the appointment of a presidential science advisor a priority if elected president. On 20 December, President-elect Obama officially fulfilled his pledge when he publically announced that Dr. John Holdren had been selected to serve as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The announcement was the focus of Obama’s weekly ‘radio’ address (available at: ). The announcement also included the announcement that Dr. Jane Lubchenco would head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the selection of Dr. Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander as co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology; a post they will co-char with Holdren.

Obama said, “The truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources-it’s about protecting free and open inquiry,” President-elect Obama said. “It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient-especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States-and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.”

“John is a professor and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, as well as President and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center. A physicist renowned for his work on climate and energy, he’s received numerous honors and awards for his contributions and has been one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change. I look forward to his wise counsel in the years ahead,” said Obama.

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Obama Selects Marine Biologist for Top Spot at NOAA

President-elect Obama has selected Dr. Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2004 Lubchenco received the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Distinguished Scientist Award, which has been presented annually since 1972 to individuals who have made significant contributions in biological science, with a focus on the fields of integrative and organismal biology. Dr. Lubchenco’s research interests cover a broad range of disciplines, including marine biology, biodiversity, climate change, and environmental sustainability. Lubchenco is an innovative marine scientist and has been a prominent advocate for marine conservation research. Moreover, she has also been a powerful and articulate voice over the years for the role of science in serving humanity and the environment.

Dr. Lubchenco is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology and Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University. She is one of the nation’s leading marine biologists and a prominent conservationist and has spent most of her career encouraging more scientists to get engaged in public policy issues. Some of her public policy efforts include the establishment of the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which teaches academic environmental scientists how to be effective leaders and communicators, and the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS), a collaboration between academic scientists and media specialists that communicates marine conservation science matters to policy makers, media, managers, and the public.

NOAA’s mission is to enrich life through science, by providing planners and policy makers with cutting-edge scientific information and enabling them to forecast weather, monitor climate, manage fisheries, restore coasts, and support marine commerce. In recent years, NOAA has experienced some turbulent times. Agency scientists have reported feeling political pressure to remain silent when scientific findings could be viewed as inconvenient to the Bush Administration’s political priorities. Additionally, the agency has been scrutinized for cost overruns on a major environmental satellite program. All this while the agency must also oversee marine biodiversity conservation programs and manage the commercial fisheries, among many other research and resource management functions. NOAA’s budget of roughly $4 billion represents approximately half the budget of its parent organization, the Department of Commerce.

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Employment Opportunity: AIBS Public Affairs Associate

For complete details, please go to

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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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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Bush Administration Finalizes ESA Rule Change

On 11 December 2008, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the Bush Administration would issue a final rule making changes to the implementation of section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The final rule changes, proposed on 15 August 2008, were published in the 16 December 2008 Federal Register and will take effect on 15 January 2009.

Announcing the rule changes, Kempthorne said, “I am confident that we have taken a common sense approach, developed over months of work, to adopt needed and legally appropriate changes to our existing regulations.” Some members of Congress and the scientific and environmental communities have expressed concern over how quickly the Administration reviewed approximately 235,000 comments received during the 60-day public comment period, which closed in October.

The final rule seeks to “clarify[y] several definitions, provides assistance as to when consultation under section 7 is necessary, and establishes time frames for the informal consultation process.” Some congressional Democrats and environmental groups have strongly opposed the rule changes, asserting that they will reduce the number of consultations between the federal agencies and the scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. The rule changes also include language to prevent the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the ESA, even if they threaten the survival of listed species (e.g., polar bear). In his announcement of the final rule, Kempthorne said, “If science can not draw a direct causal link between an action and an effect on a listed species, as is currently the case for global processes like climate change, then consultation under the ESA is not necessary.”

Representative Markey (D-MA) stated at a hearing of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, “the Department of Interior is seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act by removing scientific input, weakening protections for iconic species like the polar bear and preventing consideration of the impacts of global warming. The Administration is seeking to make these sweeping changes to the ESA while minimizing public input and review.” As the final rule will go into effect more than 30 days before Bush leaves office, President-elect Obama and members of Congress will have to work through normal rule-making processes to reverse the Bush Administration decision.

The Center for Biological Diversity has already filed a legal complaint at a federal court in San Francisco concerning the rule.

The final rule is available online at:

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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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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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