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Public Policy Report for 20 July 2009

New Report Reveals American Attitudes Toward Science

The Pew Research Center has released a report describing public attitudes toward science and scientists. The report is based on a survey performed in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The survey sampled 2,001 adults among the general public and 2,533 scientists. Overall, the report concluded that the American public likes science, with an overwhelming majority saying that science has had a positive effect on society, government investments in science pay off, and scientists, more than most other professions, contribute positively to society. However, only 17 percent of the public thinks that U.S. scientific achievements rate as the best in the world. Scientists differ, with 45 percent believing that U.S. scientific achievements are the best on the world.

Although the public holds scientists in high regard, many scientists offer unfavorable assessments of the public’s knowledge and expectations of science. Among scientists, 89 percent perceive the public’s lack of scientific knowledge as a major problem, and 49 percent believe the public has unrealistic expectations about the speed of scientific achievements. Scientists also believe the media does a poor job of covering science because they oversimplify scientific findings and fail to distinguish between well-founded results and those that are not. Most scientists (87 percent) also cite funding as the biggest impediment to quality scientific research. However, scientists remain positive about their profession in general, with a large majority saying that it is a good time to be a scientist.

To view the full report, please go to http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1276/science-survey.

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Communicating Science Webinar: Register Today

Funding agencies increasingly encourage grant recipients to communicate their findings to appropriate stakeholders. Many researchers, particularly those involved with projects with implications for environmental or public health management and policy, want to communicate research findings to appropriate decision makers, news media outlets, or the general public. This webinar presents information and findings from the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation (HBRF) Science Links Program, an experiment conducted by scientists and engineers affiliated with the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation. The HBRF Science Links Program demonstrates how a team of scientists can identify and plan a program that effectively delivers timely scientific findings to audiences that need the information to inform decision making.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, 30 July 2009, at 2:30 PM EDT. The agenda includes:

  • Introduction: Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS Director of Public Policy;
  • Keynote Presentation: Dr. Charles T. Driscoll, University Professor, CESE Director, Syracuse University; and,
  • Question and Answer: Webinar participants will be able to engage in a question and answer session with Gropp and Driscoll.

Pre-registration is required for this webinar.

For more information and to register, please go to http://www.aibs.org/events/webinar/the-hbfr-science-links-program.html

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Call for Participants: 1st Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Week

This August, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) with the support of Event Sponsors — Sevilleta Field Station, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry - North America, and the Natural Science Collections Alliance — will launch a nationwide event intended to help scientists and research centers illustrate the importance of biological research to their elected officials. The August, while Congress is in recess, is an outstanding opportunity for individuals to meet their elected officials in their own district rather than in Washington, DC. This event will enable elected officials to learn first-hand about the science and research facilities in their district.

During this week, participating scientists and research facilities (e.g., field stations, natural science collections) will meet with their members of Congress to show them first-hand the importance of sustained federal investments in biological science research and education. Participating scientists will either set-up meetings with their elected officials at their district office or may invite them to visit a research facility, laboratory, or classroom to experience first-hand how science is done and taught.

The Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Week is 17-21 August 2009.

Participants will be prepared for their congressional meeting(s) by an interactive online training session that will help individuals create and refine their message. The AIBS Public Policy Office will also provide participating scientists with tips and guidance for scheduling meetings.

Participation is free, but registration is required and space is limited. The deadline for registering is August 5, 2009. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.aibs.org/announcements/090708callforparticipantsfor.html.

If you organization is interested in becoming a Sponsor or Supporter of this event, please contact AIBS director of public policy Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250.

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Agriculture and Energy Spending Bills Advance in Both Chambers

The appropriations bills that fund the Departments of Agriculture and Energy in fiscal year (FY) 2010 have advanced through Congress in recent weeks. On 9 July 2009, the House passed the $22.9 billion Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The bill, HR 2997, passed on a 266-160 vote. The bill exceeds current spending levels by 11 percent. The measure includes $210 million for competitive research grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Institute (AFRI), a $9 million increase over 2009 spending levels. The bill also includes $3.8 million for graduate fellowship grants. An amendment package from Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chairwoman of the Agriculture appropriations subcommittee, was also approved that would increase spending on pollinator and organic research. One of the provisions adds $5 million for research on colony collapse disorder, and another directs USDA’s inspector general to audit the department’s organic certification program.

The Senate version of the bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on 7 July 2009. The bill recommends $23.7 billion in discretionary funding for FY 2010. The Senate version outlines similar funding levels as the House bill for conservation and research, but would more than double spending for a rural renewable energy program. The Senate bill must now be considered by the full Senate.

On 17 July 2009, the $3.3 billion FY 2010 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill was overwhelming passed by the House, with a vote of 320 to 97. The bill, HR 3183, provides funds for the Department of Energy (DOE) ($26.9 billion), the Army Corps of Engineers ($5.5 billion), the Department of Interior’s water programs ($1.1 billion), as well as several independent agencies. Included with the bill is an amendment that would increase, from 6 to 7 percent, the amount that DOE labs can spend on laboratory directed research and development. It also includes two water amendments that would transfer funds among agencies to provide funding for the Chesapeake Bay Oyster and California Bay-Delta Restoration programs. The Office of Science is set to receive $4.9 billion, $171 million above FY 2009 levels. A total of $2.4 billion is directed towards applied research, including biological and environmental research. The Senate’s $3.4 billion version of the bill has yet to head to the floor.

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President Announces Nominations for NIH, USGS

President Obama has chosen geneticist Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and geophysicist Marcia McNutt to lead the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Both nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.

Dr. Francis Collins is perhaps best known as a leader of the Human Genome Project. Collins served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of NIH, from 1993 until August 2008. During this time, he led a team of researchers racing to complete sequencing of the entire human genome. Upon completion of the project in 2000, Collins led the development of a haplotype map of the human genome to aid in the identification of genetic markers of disease risk. Collins has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Marcia McNutt has served as CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute since 1997. She was previously director of the Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering, a program jointly offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. During the Clinton Administration, McNutt chaired the President’s Panel on Ocean Exploration. Her research has included work on ocean island volcanism and continental break-up. McNutt has a Ph.D. in earth sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. If confirmed, McNutt would be the first woman to head USGS.

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NOAA Seeks Nominations for Science Advisory Board, Announces Grants

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking nominations for members of the NOAA Science Advisory Board, the Federal Advisory Committee that advises the NOAA Administrator on long and short-range strategies for research, education, and application of science to resource management and environmental assessment. Board members are appointed for a three-year term. Nominations are due by 14 September 2009. For more information, go to http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/20090717.html#010873.

NOAA also announced the availability of almost 40 grants in fiscal year (FY) 2010. Funding is available for projects ranging from harmful algal bloom research to education to coastal habitat restoration. All grant announcements will be available on the www.grants.gov website. Deadlines vary by program. For more information, go to http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/20090717.html#010874.

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Evolution Education Update

Battles over evolution education continue around the country. Most recently, on 10 July 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) named Gail Rowe to chair the State Board of Education (SBOE). Lowe will replace Don McLeroy, the avowed creationist who failed to win confirmation from the Texas Senate on 28 May 2009. Evolution advocates are not happy with the appointment of Ms. Lowe, who in 2003 and 2009, voted to include creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.

Also in Texas, House Bills (HB) 2800 and 4224 died when the state legislature adjourned on 1 June 2009. HB 2800 would have allowed institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research’s (ICR) graduate school to offer a master’s degree in science education despite the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (THECB) 2008 decision to deny the ICR’s request to offer the degree. The ICR is currently suing in federal court over the THECB decision. The second bill, HB 4224, would have required the SBOE to restore the controversial “strengths and weaknesses” language in the Texas state science standards that was removed after a vote during the 25-27 March 2009 meeting of the SBOE.

In South Carolina, Senate Bill 873 was introduced on 21 May 2009. This bill, if enacted, would require the state board of education to review all science curricula for neutrality towards religion to ensure that it does not show preference for “those who believe in no religion over those who hold religious beliefs.” The sponsor of the bill, Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), has previously sponsored bills that would support the teaching of intelligent design in science courses.

In Ohio, the John Freshwater saga continues. Freshwater, the eighth grade science teacher facing dismissal for allegedly preaching in the classroom, has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the Mount Vernon School Board, four district administrators, and several others involved in the 2008 federal lawsuit against him. Freshwater had been sued in June 2008 for allegedly bringing religion into school by posting the Ten Commandments and Bible verses in his classroom, branding crosses into students arms with an electrical device, and teaching creationism. The Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education has been involved in proceedings to terminate his employment since October 2008.

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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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New in BioScience - "A Rising Tide of Support for a National Climate Service"

In the July/August 2009 issue of BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on growing support for the creation of a new federal program to coordinate and synthesize climate information. An excerpt from the article follows, but the complete article (along with prior Washington Watch columns) may be viewed for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

Climate change is a hot topic in the halls of Congress. News coverage has centered on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (HR 2454), which the House passed by a slim margin—219 to 212—on 26 June. The House Committee on Science and Technology has also been busy, crafting legislation to create a National Climate Service.

Hot air emanating from some media talking heads might lead the casual observer to believe that Congress routinely creates new agencies; in fact, however, lawmakers rarely direct the establishment of a new federal office. Nonetheless, stakeholders ranging from scientists to local utility managers have been encouraging Congress to create a new climate forecasting function—a “National Climate Service” or “Climate Services Program,” which would be housed in NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_07.html.

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Become an 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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