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Public Policy Report for 27 April 2009

Obama Visits the Academies, Shares Plans for Science

President Barack Obama addressed the annual meeting of the National Academies on 27 April 2009. The President’s address, a blend of history and vision, articulated the five pillars of his science policy. Additionally, the President challenged scientists to share “your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation.”

Political pundits often seek to link current presidents to their predecessors. These connections are often tenuous, but can help frame modern policy discussions. That said, a unique linkage between President Obama and President Lincoln — both from Illinois — might be their recognition of the importance of science to our nation’s well-being. According to prepared remarks, the president said: “The very founding of this institution stands as a testament to the restless curiosity and boundless hope so essential not just to the scientific enterprise, but to this experiment we call America. A few months after a devastating defeat at Fredericksburg, before Gettysburg would be won and Richmond would fall, before the fate of the Union would be at all certain, President Lincoln signed into law an act creating the National Academy of Sciences. Lincoln refused to accept that our nation’s sole purpose was merely to survive. He created this academy, founded the land grant colleges, and began the work of the transcontinental railroad, believing that we must add “the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery… of new and useful things.”

Moving forward, the President said, “…we face more complex set of challenges than we ever have before: a medical system that holds the promise of unlocking new cures and treatments - attached to a health care system that holds the potential to bankrupt families and businesses. A system of energy that powers our economy - but also endangers our planet. Threats to our security that seek to exploit the very interconnectedness and openness so essential to our prosperity. And challenges in a global marketplace which links the derivative trader on Wall Street to the homeowner on Main Street, the office worker in America to the factory worker in China - a marketplace in which we all share in opportunity, but also in crisis.”

Alluding to recent battles with congressional Republicans over the scope of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Budget Resolution working its way through Congress, the President said: “At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been.”

Following a reiteration of negative trends in our investment in research, continuing declines in student achievement, and reports of political interference with science, President Obama set forth his goal for science. “I believe it is not in our American character to follow - but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the Space Race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science. This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.”

In brief, the President pledged the following five steps: 1. Funding - to double the budget of the NSF, NIST, and Office of Science at the Department of Energy. Additionally, the President will seek a permanent extension of the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit. 2. Clean Energy - the Administration will make an unprecedented commitment to a clean energy economy, including funding for the National Research Council recommended ARPA-E program at the Department of Energy. 3. Improving the nation’s healthcare system - American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds will support the step of computerizing America’s medical records, to reduce the duplication, waste, and errors that cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives. The Administration will also seek to increase funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including a multi-year plan to double cancer research at the NIH.
4. The White House pledges to “restore science to its rightful place.” As evidence of this commitment, the President referenced a recent directive to the Office of Science and Technology Policy to “lead a new effort to ensure that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information.” 5. The President issued a renewed commitment to education in mathematics and science. As part of this effort, Obama said “That is why I am announcing today that states making strong commitments and progress in math and science education will be eligible to compete later this fall for additional funds under the Secretary of Education’s $5 billion Race to the Top program.”

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Scientists Visit Capitol Hill: Support NSF, USDA Research

More than 30 scientists and graduate students traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with their members of Congress about the importance of a predictable, sustained investment in biological, agricultural and environmental science. The scientists were in Washington, DC, on 21-22 April 2009 as part of the annual BESC/CoFARM (Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition/Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions) Congressional Visits Day events.

Among this year’s participants were scientists affiliated with AIBS member organizations, such as the Organization of Biological Field Stations, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, American Arachnological Society, and many others. Winners of the 2009 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award also participated in the event, as did several other graduate students.

The two-day event began with a briefing by senior staff from the White House, the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Congress. The briefing provided participants with an insider’s view of the federal budget for research and development, and tips for effectively communicating with members of Congress. On the 22nd, participants fanned out across Capitol Hill for meetings with Representatives and Senators. This year, the group thanked members of Congress for their efforts to include $3 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (i.e. the economic stimulus package) for the National Science Foundation, and to remind members of Congress that a sustained and predictable investment in scientific research is required if the United States is to maintain its global leadership in science.

On the morning of 21 April, representatives of BESC and CoFARM visited with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate Majority Whip, to present him with an award from BESC and CoFARM. Representing BESC were co-chairs Robert Gropp and Nadine Lymn, director of public policy for AIBS and director of public affairs for the Ecological Society of America, respectively. Also representing BESC were Dr. Knute Naddelhoffer of the University of Michigan and Dr. Scott Collins of the University of New Mexico. The two coalitions recognized Senator Durbin for his leadership on behalf of agricultural and environmental research. In discussions with the BESC and CoFARM representatives, Senator Durbin referenced the importance of agricultural research and extension to helping to stabilize troubled regions, such as Afghanistan and Haiti.

In addition to honoring Senator Durbin, BESC and CoFARM will recognize Representative Maurice Hinchey (R-NY). Hinchey has long supported investments in biological, environmental and agricultural research from his position on the Appropriations Committee.

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Climate Legislation Still Alive

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held four hearings during 21-24 April 2009 on climate legislation sponsored by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA). The legislation seeks to cut United States greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

More than 60 witnesses have testified before the committee, including heads of federal agencies, industry leaders, think tanks, and university scholars. Although some moderates on the Committee are increasingly expressing concerns that action on climate change could staff the economic recovery and cause additional domestic job loss, Chairman Waxman reportedly remains hopeful that legislation will be reported from the Committee by Memorial Day.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also increased its activities on climate change. Recently, EPA released a proposed finding that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare. The 133-page “endangerment finding” was the agency’s response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA. That decision found that greenhouse gases can be considered air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The Court held that the Administrator must evaluate the science and determine whether or not it conclusively supports the assertion that greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles contribute to air pollution and endanger public health.

The 17 April 2009 EPA release contained two distinct findings. First, the atmospheric mix of six key greenhouse gases constitutes the “air pollution” that threatens public health and welfare. Second, the combined emissions of these gases from motor vehicles contribute to climate change. The draft does not include any proposed regulations. However, “it follows President Obama’s call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation,” said EPA Administrator Jackson. Many in Congress have praised the decision, but assert that legislation establishing a cap and trade or other market-based system is desirable.

For more information on EPA’s jeopardy finding, please see the notice published in the Federal Register (http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/20090424.html#010242).

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No Child Left Inside Act Reintroduced

Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) reintroduced the “No Child Left Inside Act of 2009” on 22 April 2009. The legislation, HR. 2054, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to prepare students for the workforce of the 21st century and to combat “nature-deficit disorder.” If enacted, the legislation would authorize grants for the development of state environmental literacy plans, for professional development for teachers, and for implementing environmental education programs. HR. 2054 had 43 cosponsors in the House of Representatives as of 27 April 2009. The “No Child Left Inside Act” had passed the House of Representatives last September but was never acted upon by the Senate. Because the legislation did not pass both chambers in the 110th Congress, it must once again work its way through the House and Senate in the current Congress.

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President Fills More Science Posts

President Obama has announced two picks for science positions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Energy. The President’s announcement came on 17 April 2009. Obama chose Rajiv Shah for Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics at USDA and William Brinkman for Director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. If confirmed, Shah will oversee several USDA programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. Shah is a medical doctor who has managed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s agricultural development program since 2001. Brinkman is a physicist at Princeton University who was Vice President of Research at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. If confirmed by the Senate, Brinkman will oversee ten national laboratories and six interdisciplinary research programs, including the Biological and Environmental Research program.

In other news, the nomination of Sherburne Abbott to be Associate Director for Environment at the Office of Science and Technology Policy cleared the Senate Commerce, Science, and Justice Committee on 23 April 2009. Abbott’s confirmation must now be approved by the full Senate.

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Forest Restoration Funds Requested

On 10 April 2009, six congressional committee and subcommittee leaders asked President Obama to include $40 million in the upcoming FY 2010 federal budget proposal for large-scale, high-priority forest restoration projects. This money was authorized by the Forest Landscape Restoration Act (FLRA), part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 signed into law by Obama in March.

The Forest Landscape Restoration Act is meant to improve watershed and habitat function, reduce wildfire management costs, and help local economies. The $40 million per year authorized by the FLRA would create a national fund that would supplement local and state funds and could be used to pay for up to half the cost of restoration projects. To be eligible for funds, a project would have to span 10 years and 50,000 acres, use the best available science, maximize preservation of large trees, be collaboratively developed, and make use of the woody biomass produced by projects.

The letter was signed by leaders of forest and natural resources-related committees. Signatories included Senators Jeff Bingaman (NM), Ron Wyden (OR), and Dianne Feinstein (CA), and Representatives Nick Rahall (WV), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Norm Dicks (WA).

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USGS Gets New Research Vessels

Michigan Senators Carl Levin (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D) announced on 15 April 2009 that the Department of the Interior will allocate funds for two new United States Geological Survey (USGS) research vessels in the Great Lakes. The money for the vessels will come from part of the $30 million dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) set aside for facilities maintenance. They will replace two 50-year old research vessels on Lake Erie and Ontario that are essential for research and monitoring of the Great Lakes. The new research vessels will come with cutting-edge technology, gear, and wet labs. The price tag on the ships will ultimately be determined by competitive bidding.

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Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective! 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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New in BioScience - "Grand Theories: How Far Have We Come and Where Will We Go?

In the April 2009 issue of the AIBS journal, BioScience, Jenna Jadin reports on a recent National Science Foundation effort to stimulate theoretical research in biology. The Washington Watch article is available in the print edition of BioScience or may be read online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_04.html.

A short excerpt from the article follows:

President Obama’s call for science to be “restored to its proper place” excites science policy advocates. Science, it appears, may play an important role in informing societal decisions and restarting the country’s economic engines. Lawmakers heeded his call during the construction of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: upon passage, the act included more than $17 billion for scientific research and infrastructure, intended in part to “secure America’s role as a world leader in a competitive global economy…[by] renewing America’s investments in basic research and development.”

But can these investments spur the innovations necessary for the country to find good alternatives to fossil fuels, help stem climate change, and lead the world in finding solutions to other catastrophic problems? It depends. Innovation comes from transformative, integrative, and often risky research, say influential reports from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Research Council (NRC), among others. The question is, then, has such transformative, integrative, and risky research become part of the culture and practice of biologists?

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