The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has launched the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The online resource allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. The AIBS Legislative Action Center is located at www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html.
This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, and the Botanical Society of America.
Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, biodiversity conservation, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues.
This exciting new advocacy tool allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.
AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become a policy advocate today. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.
For additional information about the AIBS Legislative Action Center, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html. To further help AIBS advance biology and science education, consider joining AIBS. To learn about other membership benefits and to join AIBS online, please visit www.aibs.org.
The President released his budget principles for fiscal year (FY) 2010 on 26 February. A more detailed budget will likely be released in April. Although the preliminary budget is short on specifics, it does outline broad priorities for the Administration, namely clean energy, education, health care, and the economy. However, funding for the sciences, especially to address climate change, would be increased.
The National Science Foundation would receive an additional $100 million, bringing their total budget for FY 2010 to $7 billion. The agency is already set to receive $3 billion from the economic stimulus. The additional funding would go to “substantially” increasing funding for graduate research fellowships and faculty early career development programs; strengthening the education of technicians in high-technology fields; encouraging promising high-risk research; and making climate change research and education a priority.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive increased funding to study climate change, including an additional $1.3 billion for weather and climate satellite acquisition. Funding would also be included for research and monitoring of ocean acidification. Additionally, funding would be included to fully implement the requirements set in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to end overfishing by 2011.
Several other science agencies should also see budget increases in FY 2010. The Office of Science in the Department of Energy would receive substantially increased support for climate science, expanding graduate fellowship programs, and international science and energy experiments. The Environmental Protection Agency would receive $10.5 billion, an increase of $2.7 billion, in addition to the $7.2 billion included in the economic stimulus. Nine hundred million dollars in additional funding would go to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, some of which would be used to develop new space-based research sensors in support of a global climate research and monitoring.
The Department of Interior would receive funding to address climate change. An additional $130 million in funding would be used to monitor, adaptively manage, and assess the impacts of climate change on the nation’s lands, fish, and wildlife.
On 25 February, the House of Representatives passed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2009. The legislation is a compilation of nine appropriations bills that Congress did not pass last year and includes the budgets for almost all environment, energy, and science programs. Congress passed three other appropriations bills (Defense, Homeland Security, and disaster relief) last September in a continuing resolution, which funds the government until 6 March 2009.
The omnibus makes climate change a priority, by including $2.2 billion for climate change research, $232 million for addressing climate change, and $1.1 billion for developing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency.
In addition, the omnibus increases funding for many science agencies and programs, most notably:
-National Science Foundation: $6.5 billion ($362.9 million increase from 2008), including $230.0 million to research climate change, carbon cycles, land use, and impacts on ecosystems; $101.2 million for plant genome research; $691.8 million for education; and $133 million to stimulate cooperative research across the country.
-United States Geological Survey: $1.0 billion ($37.3 million increase from 2008), including $185.3 million for biological research; $10.0 million for the new National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center; and $3.0 million to study geological and biological carbon sequestration.
-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $4.4 billion ($376.7 million increase from 2008), including $394.0 million for climate sensors on satellites, climate computer models, and climate data access; $26.5 million for ocean observation; $32.3 million for education; and $15.8 million for external research grants on harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and regional ocean ecosystems.
-National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $17.8 billion ($380.5 million increase from 2008), including $1.3 billion for climate change research; $1.4 billion for earth science research; and $169.2 million for education.
-National Institutes of Health: $30.3 billion ($937.5 million increase from 2008), which will create 10,600 new research grants.
-Department of Energy Office of Science: $4.8 billion ($754.9 million increase from 2008), including $423.6 million for biological research and $177.9 million for climate change research.
The report language which accompanied the bill directs the National Science Foundation to “provide for a balanced program across all science disciplines.” Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would increase funding for external grants in future budget submissions.
Congress must pass spending legislation for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2009, which ends 30 September, by 6 March to prevent a federal government shutdown. The Senate is expected to take up the omnibus during the week starting 2 March.
On 24 February 2009, President Obama addressed a Joint Session of Congress. Although the speech focused on the ailing economy, the President highlighted the need for investments in energy, education, and health care.
President Obama pressed for increased supplies of renewable energy. “[T]o truly transform our economy, to protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.” He also called for Congress to pass legislation that caps greenhouse gas emissions.
The President will also seek education reform. “In a global economy, where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity. It is a prerequisite… [W]e know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” His Administration will push for every child to have access to a “complete and competitive education,” by creating funding for new teachers, new incentives for teacher performance, and investing in charter schools. The President’s goal is for America to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
Congress has once again taken up the issue of climate change. Three hearings were held on the subject during the week ending 27 February 2009.
The House’s Ways and Means Committee held a hearing entitled “Scientific Objectives of Climate Change Legislation” on 25 February. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), and featured testimony from Dr. James Hansen, Adjunct Professor at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel, a geochemist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The panel concentrated on assessing the costs and benefits associated with regulating greenhouse gas emissions; many of the questions posed by the Representatives were focused on whether cap and trade or dividend taxes would be better for regulating emissions.
The House Science and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, chaired by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), received testimony on 24 February on monitoring and verifying greenhouse gas emissions. Witnesses from government, non-profit, and industry agreed that the technology exists today to accurately monitor and report carbon dioxide emissions, but that too much scientific uncertainty exists for the emissions of other greenhouse gases, especially methane. John Stephenson of the Government Accountability Office urged policy makers to start with verifying carbon dioxide emissions and to deal with the other greenhouse gases later as technology advances.
In the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman Barbara Boxer of California heard updates on climate change science on 25 February. Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was a witness. Dr. Pachauri warned that we only have about six years left to act to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions before the consequences will be irreversible. Several Senators used the hearing as an opportunity to attempt to debunk climate change. One witness, Dr. William Happer, a professor of physics at Princeton University and a well known climate change skeptic, likened the current concern over rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to Prohibition in the 20th century. Back then, “[d]eeply sincere people thought they were saving humanity from the evils of alcohol, just as many people now sincerely think they are saving humanity from the evils of CO2,” said Dr. Happer.
While the flurry of committee activity is promising, at this point it is unclear which chamber will take the lead on formulating legislation to address climate change. In the House, the chairmen of the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee have both indicated that they will try to move climate legislation by Memorial Day. In the Senate, Senator Boxer has expressed her intent to move a climate bill through her committee again this Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that he will try to bring a climate bill to the Senate floor by the end of the summer. To date, only one climate change bill has been debated on the floor of the Senate. The House has yet to have a floor vote on the issue.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on 18 February a national search for a new Assistant Director for Biological Sciences. The current Assistant Director, James Collins, has served in this position since October 2005.
The Assistant Director for Biological Sciences oversees five programs within NSF: Biological Infrastructure, Environmental Biology, Emerging Frontiers, Integrative Organismal Systems, and Molecular and Cellular Bioscience. Together, these divisions span a wide range of research topics: molecular and cellular biology, organismal biology, population ecology, and ecosystems. These programs also support the growth and development of science through investment in technology such as databases, informatics, and the development of new instrumentation. Additionally, the Biological Sciences Directorate promotes research experience for students. The Assistant Director for Biological Sciences leads a staff of 130 people and administers a budget of over $600 million.
Dr. Barbara Schaal of Washington University in St. Louis will head the Search Committee. The Search Committee is looking for a candidate with “outstanding leadership; a deep sense of scholarship; a grasp of the issues facing the biological science community in the areas of education and research; and the ability to serve effectively as a member of the NSF management team.” Nominations for candidates, including any supporting materials, should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 31, 2009.
For information about candidate qualifications, how to make a nomination, or about the NSF biology, go to www.nsf.gov/od/searches/bio-090218/nsfadbiosearch_letter.jsp.
In fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations legislation, Congress included $1.5 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to establish a new national climate change research center, the purpose of which would be to improve the science capacities of federal agencies when responding to global warming and wildlife management issues. In late 2008, the USGS, the Ecological Society of America, and the Wildlife Society convened a workshop that brought together nearly 200 representatives from government agencies, tribal organizations, academia, and non-governmental organizations to identify research priorities, devise strategic partnerships, and begin to design an operational structure for the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC).
The workshop summary report was released on 25 February 2009 and is available at http://nccw.usgs.gov/. Some specific objectives discussed in the report included how to build science capacity, how to develop management tools, and how to organize the Center. Opinions differed, but some general themes emerged in the report include: The center should have a small core staff that was well-connected and prepared for rapid response; the overall goal for the center should be to develop protocols and facilitate communication between scientists at different agencies; and the research of the center should be bio-focused and concentrate on ecosystems, rather than individual species.
Overall, workshop organizers noted that because so many organizations from the fish and wildlife community participated in designing the center, the USGS gained a much deeper understanding about the needs of resource managers when responding to natural communities affected by climate change.
In the Washington Watch article in the March issue of the AIBS journal, BioScience, Adrienne Sponberg reports on recent machinations related to the Clean Water Act. To read this and other Washington Watch columns online for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/. An excerpt from the March article is below.
For two decades, Michigan developer John Rapanos battled the US government over the extent of protection for wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Now, more than two years after the Supreme Court issued its 4-1-4 split decision, Rapanos and the government have reached a settlement: Rapanos will pay a $150,000 civil fine and about $750,000 more to mitigate 54 acres of wetlands that were filled without authorization. While Rapanos may finally have some closure, confusion over CWA protections remains, leaving all three branches of the federal government struggling to provide clarity for CWA implementation and enforcement.
The main source of confusion? The three opinions the Supreme Court issued in the Rapanos case set forth different tests for whether a body of water is protected. Lower courts have interpreted the Rapanos decision inconsistently. Some circuit courts have cited Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test as the controlling law; others have employed Justice Scalia’s stricter interpretation in the plurality opinion: waters must be continuously flowing and have a surface connection to navigable waters. These conflicting jurisdictional tests led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to petition the Supreme Court for a clarification of Rapanos. In arguing for the review, the DOJ warned that confusion caused by different interpretations of Rapanos will “inevitably hinder the [government’s] ability to implement the Act in a uniform and workable fashion.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court denied the DOJ’s request.
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.