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Public Policy Report for 3 August 2009

Natural Science Collections Campaign for Presidential Executive Order

AIBS member organization, the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), has asked President Obama to issue an Executive Order to promote the preservation and use of scientific collections. On 24 June, 2009, NSC Alliance President William Y. Brown sent a letter to Dr. John Holdren, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, requesting the initiation of the formal process required to promulgate an Executive Order. The Order would direct Federal agencies whose actions may affect collections to identify those actions and, as feasible, cooperate with stakeholders to enhance and preserve the collections and to advance access to and use of them by stakeholders. The Order would also establish two federal advisory bodies to develop a National Science Collections Plan.

NSC Alliance is non-profit membership organization of roughly 100 institutions. NSC Alliance works to advance the interests of natural science collections, their human resources, the institutions that house them, and their research activities.

The campaign for a Presidential Executive Order is an outgrowth of a 2009 report issued by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections, which found that “scientific collections are essential to supporting agency missions and are thus vital to supporting the global research enterprise.” Despite the value of science collections, some collections are facing challenges ranging from a lack of qualified curators to limitations in improving accessibility to researchers. The current economic climate also demonstrates a need for a strategic and coordinated national policy structure to preserve and advance the research and education missions of our nation’s natural science collections.

For more information about the Executive Order, including the proposed order and NSC Alliance correspondence, please visit http://nscalliance.org/?p=139. For additional information, please contact Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250.

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Congress Authorizes New Research Programs for DOE

On 21 July 2009, the House of Representatives passed legislation to authorize funding for seven National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs) by a vote of 330 to 96. The NERPs have existed since as early as 1972, and since then have been used by Department of Energy (DOE) scientists for long term ecological studies investigating the environmental risks posed by energy technologies, and studying environmental remediation and restoration techniques. Sponsored by Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), HR 2729 authorizes consistent funding for the parks for the purpose of sustaining and expanding research activities. The legislation authorizes $5 million to be appropriated through the Office of Science for each NERP for each of the fiscal years 2010 through 2014. The seven parks collectively represent six major ecosystems and are located in Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington states. The bill now awaits action by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Another change for the DOE would be the establishment of a new social sciences research program. Sponsored by Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), HR 3247 would authorize $10 million annually over six years for a social and behavioral sciences research program within DOE. A goal of the program would be to better understand why people make certain decisions about energy technologies in an effort to spur greater market adaptation. The bill passed the House Science and Technology Committee on 30 July 2009 on a 22-10 party line vote.

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New Report Profiles Undergraduates Majoring in STEM Fields

A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, an agency within the Department of Education, has found that 23 percent of students entering college in 1995-1996 majored in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field at some point over the first six years of their college career. Enrollment data indicates that students favored biology, natural sciences, computer sciences, and engineering equally well. Math and the physical sciences were much less popular, each comprising only 1 percent of all undergraduates. STEM enrollment differed by gender, with nearly a third of male undergraduates majoring in a STEM field at some point during their college career versus 15 percent of all female students. The gender gap was much smaller for the biological/agricultural sciences, with 8.0 versus 6.3 percent of male and female students majoring in the discipline, respectively. The report also found that students majoring in STEM fields were more likely to attain their bachelor’s degree than students in non-STEM fields. Seventy one percent of students entering the biological sciences graduated with their bachelor’s degree or were still enrolled six years after entering college as compared to 53 percent of all STEM entrants.

In other education news, some American students are still at the top of the game when it comes to Biology. This year at the 20th annual International Biology Olympiad in Tsukuba, Japan, Team USA again garnered four gold medals, for the third year in a row. Furthermore, U.S. students placed 1st and 2nd in the world on the theoretical portion of the examination. The four member team was selected from nearly 10,000 students from across the U.S. who participated in the U.S.A. Biology Olympiad this year. Since 2003, every U.S. team member has medaled, bringing home 20 gold, 6 silver, and 2 bronze medals.

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Congress Advances Energy, NIH Appropriations

Congress continues to make progress in the process to approve twelve fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriations bills. As of 31 July 2009, the House of Representatives has passed all twelve bills and the Senate has approved its own version of three bills relating to energy and water, homeland security, and the legislative branch.

The Senate passed the Energy and Water and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 3183) on 29 July 2009. The bill would fund the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers, and select programs in the Department of the Interior in FY 2010. The $34.3 billion spending plan includes $1 billion more than the version passed by the House two weeks prior. Funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science is comparable between the two chambers’ bills at approximately $4.9 billion, an increase of roughly $170 million over FY 2009. Notably, both bills would provide for the closure of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The next step for the bill will be conference, where differences in the legislation passed by both chambers will be reconciled. Some of the key issues between the House and Senate bills are the amount of funding for new Army Corps projects, flood reduction on the Mississippi River, nuclear energy, and hydrogen vehicle research.

Congress has also made progress on the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 3293). The bill would fund the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as several independent agencies, such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The House of Representatives passed their version of the bill on 24 July 2009. Included in the House bill is $31.3 billion for NIH, $942 million more than last year and $500 million more than President Obama requested. On 30 July 2009, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a more reserved budget for NIH at $30.8 billion. The IMLS, the primary source of federal support for museums and libraries in the United States, would be funded at $275.7 million in FY 2010 in the House bill, an increase of $848,000 over FY 2009. Details of funding for IMLS in the Senate bill are not yet available.

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Obama Fills Key Science Post at State Department

On 24 July 2009, President Obama announced his selection of Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones for the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the State Department. Jones has a PhD in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. During the Clinton Administration, she was Associate Director of National Security and International Affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Prior to that, she worked on science and technology development in New Delhi, India, for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Most recently, Jones was Director of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation, where she advocated for new international research opportunities for early career scientists and research partnerships between U.S. scientists and those from developing nations.

During her 28 July 2009 hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jones said that the “centrality of science” would be one of her guiding principals if confirmed. A vote by the Senate committee has not yet been scheduled, but an easy confirmation is expected.

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Registration Deadline Approaching for Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Week

Do not miss the chance to meet with your members of Congress this August. The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering scientists around the nation the opportunity to convey the importance of biological research to their elected officials in their home state. With the financial support of Event Sponsors Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Sevilleta Field Station, and Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry-North America, AIBS will help prepare scientists and research facilities to schedule and meet with their members of Congress. 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 will be held 17-21 August 2009. Participants will be prepared for their congressional meetings by an interactive online training session that will help them 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 7, 2009. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.aibs.org/announcements/090708callforparticipantsfor.html.

This effort is made possible because of the generous support of the Sponsoring organizations: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Natural Science Collections Alliance; Sevilleta Field Station; and Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry - North America.

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In the AIBS Webstore

  • 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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Now 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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