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Public Policy Report for 30 March 2009

AIBS Asks House to Fund Science in FY 2010

On 27 March 2009, the AIBS Public Policy Office provided testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations in support of increased fiscal year (FY) 2010 federal appropriations for the peer-reviewed research grant programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Testimony recommendations include:

  • AIBS requests that Congress provide the USGS with $1.3 billion in FY 2010, with at least $240 million for the Biological Resources Discipline.
  • AIBS requests that the Committee [on Appropriations] work to provide the NSF with the $7.015 billion requested by the President for fiscal year (FY) 2010.
  • AIBS encourages Congress to provide the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) with at least $700 million for fiscal year (FY) 2010. Within this amount, please provide at least $190 million for human health and ecosystem research.

To read the complete testimony, please go to http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/.

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NSF Releases Stimulus Guidance

The National Science Foundation (NSF) notified the scientific community on 18 March 2009 of the agency’s plans to spend the $3 billion received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e., economic stimulus). NSF will allocate nearly $2 billion to fund grant proposals the agency has already received. These proposals will be reviewed and awarded by 30 September 2009.

NSF will also reconsider proposals that were rejected on or after 1 October 2008, the start of the current fiscal year. Declined proposals with high quality reviews that were not accepted due to a lack of funding at the time of the original decision will be reconsidered for funding.

In addition, NSF will fund the Math and Science Partnership program ($25 million), the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program ($60 million), the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account ($400 million), the Academic Research Infrastructure program ($200 million), and the Science Masters program ($15 million). Solicitations for the latter three programs will be posted this spring. NSF does not anticipate seeking any other proposals that are solely in response to the economic stimulus.

The agency plans to make timely award of the funds while maintaining the established peer review process. Proposals that fund new principal investigators or high-risk, high-return research will be top priorities.

To read the full NSF guidance, go to http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/issuances/in131.pdf?govDel=USNSF_109.

Additionally, on 27 March 2009, the agency published Frequently Asked Questions about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For this information, please go to http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pubsumm.jsp?odskey=nsf09038

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ED Secretary Talks to Science Teachers

On 20 March 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed 4,000 attendees at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Science education is central to our broader effort to restore American leadership in education worldwide,” Duncan said, continuing with stark figures on the standing of United States education in the “science race.” The Secretary continued, stating “[President Obama] understands that a nation not only needs its poets and scholars to give us words and wisdom, but also its inventors and engineers to design new cell phones, rebuild the levees of New Orleans, and find new sources of energy and new treatments for disease. Moreover, he is a president who will not allow scientific research to be held hostage to a political agenda. Whether it’s global warming, evolution, or stem cell research, science will be honored, respected, and supported by this administration.” The Secretary also challenged science teachers to “move the curriculum beyond dinosaurs and volcanoes” and take the best ideas “to scale in tough inner-city districts…as well as rural areas that cannot find qualified teachers in every subject.” “You need to make inquiry-based science relevant to kids, stimulate their curiosity, connect it with their lives,” he concluded. “Together, we need to change the national dialogue about science, to prepare our kids to be both honestly critical and technically competent.”

For more information, please go to http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/03/03202009.html.

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Congress Passes Long-Awaited Ocean Research Legislation

On 30 March 2009, President Obama is expected to sign into law a legislative package of more than 150 land conservation bills that had been obstructed for months by procedural hurdles in Congress. The law will establish more than 2 million acres of wilderness, create a number of new conservation areas, and expand several existing parks. Also included are five ocean research bills that will collectively create three new research programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency charged with studying and managing our nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.

Specifically, the new law addresses five areas of ocean research:

  1. Ocean acidification: The law will establish an interagency committee, chaired by NOAA, to develop and provide Congress with a strategic research plan on ocean acidification. The law also establishes an ocean acidification program in NOAA to conduct research, long-term monitoring and education, and to develop adaptation strategies and techniques for conserving marine ecosystems. The program will include extramural research grants for studies that explore the impacts of ocean acidification on ecosystems.

  2. Ocean exploration: A new national ocean exploration program will be established at NOAA that will conduct interdisciplinary ocean voyages to explore and study little known areas of the oceans, and to inventory and observe marine resources. Priority will be given to missions that explore the deep sea. The program will include extramural research grants.

  3. Ocean observation: The law requires the development and maintenance of an integrated system to collect basic environmental data on the nation’s oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes. The program also has the goal of advancing ocean observation technology and models. The program, which will be administered by NOAA, will include extramural research grants.

  4. Undersea research: The law will establish a coordinated national undersea research program which will be comprised of a network of regional undersea research centers and a National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology. The program will include education and public outreach.

  5. Ocean and coastal mapping: The law also directs the establishment of a committee to integrate federal and coastal mapping activities throughout U.S. waters. The committee will develop a plan that prioritizes ocean mapping efforts and identifies how data management and processing activities will be coordinated.

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Senate Confirms Two Science Picks

Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s pick to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and serve as Science Advisor to the President, has been confirmed by the Senate. The confirmation followed a two month delay as various Senators held-up the confirmation vote in an attempt to garner attention for issues unrelated to the confirmation. “Holds” are often used by Senators for this purpose. Holdren was ultimately confirmed in a late-night vote on 19 March 2009.

Also confirmed during this vote was Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the President’s pick for Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lubchenco, who comes to NOAA from Oregon State University, is the first ecologist and woman to lead NOAA.

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Education Evolves in Texas

Every ten years the Texas Education Agency (TEA) revises the curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). In addition to guiding classroom content, the TEKS inform textbook content and adoption. Science education advocates have been focused on Texas since the latest revision of the Science TEKS began in 2008.

The battle over the Science TEKS has been brewing since 1997, when the standards were last revised. Those standards included evolution for the first time, but contentious wording to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, particularly of chemical and biological evolution. Strengths and weaknesses is language lobbied for by intelligent design/creationism advocates. This phrase was included as compromise language because the TEA was concerned that creationist members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) would object to the addition of evolution in the standards. A 2003 attempt to use the language to guide statewide textbook adoption was unsuccessful.

The Texas debate has national implications. After California, Texas is the largest textbook purchaser. If Texas requires books include non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena, then textbook publishers would likely introduce this content into books.

The TEA released new draft science standards in September 2008 that no longer included “strengths and weaknesses” language. In January 2009, the Texas SBOE voted to accept the revised science standards in a 7-7 decision. A majority vote was needed to defeat the proposed change. Thus, the tie vote supported removal of the language. However, the process still required a public comment period, and the final vote on adoption of the TEKS was not cast until March 2009.

The 25-27 March 2009 SBOE meeting featured testimony from science education experts, including Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education. Following a day of testimony, the SBOE held the final vote on the “strengths and weaknesses” language. The final vote was a 7-7 tie, and therefore upheld the preliminary January decision to remove the controversial language from the TEKS. The revised TEKS will guide science instruction in Texas for the next ten years.

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UK Considers Science Stimulus

The United States is not alone in pursuing an economic stimulus package, nor is the United States alone in viewing science as an important component of economic recovery. The United Kingdom (UK) has been working to develop its own economic stimulus plan, and the agency responsible for science, technology, and higher education is pushing for a 1 billion pound investment in science. The Department for Innovation, Universities, and Skills is hoping to follow the example of the United States by funding scientific research and building new labs. Some leaders in the European science community believe that unless the UK increases funding for scientists, especially graduate students and early career scientists, the UK may experience a brain drain to the United States. The UK economic stimulus plan is expected in early April.

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SWS Calls for Sustainable Management of Cypress Forests

The Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) published an open letter on 2 March 2009 calling for the sustainable management of cypress forests. These wetland forests, which occur throughout the southeastern United States, are increasingly being harvested to produce mulch for landscaping, notes the SWS statement. Studies indicate that cypress forests are difficult to regenerate, either naturally or artificially. “We question whether harvesting cypress in permanently or semi-permanently flooded areas is sustainable given the current levels of harvesting,” said SWS President Dr. Christopher Craft. The society hopes that the ecosystem services provided by intact cypress forests, such as water filtration, floodwater storage, and wildlife habitat, will be recognized by natural resource managers when making decisions regarding the management of cypress forests.

The SWS letter is available at http://www.sws.org/docs/SWS0011.pdf.

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House Panel Considers International Science Partnerships

On 24 March 2009, the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to discuss legislation on international science partnerships. The “International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009” (HR 1736) would establish a Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET) to coordinate all international science and technology activities engaged in by the United States. CISET would help to facilitate and enhance partnerships between American and foreign scientists by identifying new opportunities for collaboration and by providing funding. The committee would also serve to coordinate partnerships between federal research agencies and the United States Department of State, in order to assist the use of science as a diplomacy tool. CISET would revive a committee that was disbanded in 2001.

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Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today!

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.

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In the AIBS Webstore

  • PREORDER YOUR COPY OF THE AIBS CONGRESSIONAL DIRECTORY

AIBS Congressional Directory - 111th Congress, 2009

A valuable primer on Capitol Hill and the legislative process, the Congressional Directory contains biographies, photographs, and contact information for all members of Congress. Contact information and assignments for all Congressional Standing Committees, Select Committees, and Joint Committees are included. This pocket-sized resource (9” x 4”, 190 pp., spiral bound) also includes Executive Branch and Supreme Court data, a glossary of legislative terms, and maps of Washington, DC, and Capitol Hill.

To pre-order your copy today, please go to https://ssl4.westserver.net/birenheide.com/secure/aibs/cart/. This publication is expected to be available for shipping after 16 April 2009.

  • “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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