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Public Policy Report for 22 December 2009

NSF, NOAA, NIH to Receive Budget Increases in 2010

Nearly three months after the 2010 fiscal year (FY) began, Congress has approved significant budget increases for several scientific agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF; 6.7 percent increase over FY 2009 appropriations, excluding the economic stimulus), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA; 8.6 percent increase), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH; 3.3 percent increase). The budgets for these agencies passed the House of Representatives and the Senate as part of a package of six appropriations bills (HR 3288) that were signed into law by President Obama on 16 December 2009.

The $6.926 billion budget for NSF will keep the agency on a path to budget doubling over a ten year period. The Research and Related Activities (RR&A) accounts will receive most of the $436 million increase, with some of the funding increase going towards high-risk, high-reward basic research, ocean acidification research, support for 2,000 graduate fellowships, climate change education, and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The Education and Human Resources (HER) directorate will receive a $27.5 million increase, while the budget for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) will decline by $34.7 million.

The joint statement accompanying the bill calls for “formal reviews from both the NSF directorate and the Office of the Inspector General on the agency’s personnel management practices.” The Senate Appropriations Committee previously identified “systemic workforce management problems propagated from senior management creating a hostile work environment between Federal employees, rotational directors and the [Senior Executive Service]-level directorate,” and with the agency’s “enforcement of policies prohibiting gender discrimination, offensive work environments, and retaliation.” The joint statement also supported Senate language that addressed NSF grant management, calling for more performance evaluation of awarded grants.

Other science agencies included in the omnibus appropriations bill will also receive increased funding in FY 2010. NOAA will receive $4.7 billion, $372 million more than FY 2009, with some of the increase going to the Integrated Ocean Observing System ($7.1 million additional), ocean acidification research ($6.0 million additional), research on and management of marine protected species ($41.2 million additional), ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes research ($6.3 additional), and competitive climate research ($12.2 million additional). NIH will receive $31 billion, a $692 million increase. Of interest to some natural history museums, the Institute of Museum and Library Services will receive $282.3 million, a $7.4 million increase.

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Senators Coburn and McCain Grumble About 'Wasteful' Science Spending

On 8 December 2009, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), along with co-sponsor Senator John McCain (R-AZ), released a report entitled “Stimulus Checkup: A closer look at 100 projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” The 55-page report takes aim at grants for arts and academic research projects, spending to boost tourism, improvements for leisure facilities, and administrative and advertising costs associated with the $787 billion stimulus package. Supersonic jets, toxic clean-up efforts, and several educator-training programs also come under fire.

Coburn, who began the year opposing funding for museums, zoos and aquaria, uses this document to continue the attack on biological and environmental research. Many of the 100 projects referenced in the report are for biological science or biological science-related research projects. These projects range from animal systems studies aimed at understanding alcohol and drug use, to climate change research, to projects intended to improve curation of science collections. Some of these projects criticized include:

  • A $1.57 million NSF grant to researchers studying plant fossils in Argentina in order to understand the region’s biodiversity;
  • A National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant for $390,000 to study risk factors of alcohol abuse in young adults;
  • A $95,000 NSF grant to the University of Massachusetts to use pollen grains from Iceland in order to assess environmental variation and answer questions about the intersecting roles of landscape change and farm production;
  • A $210,00 grant to the University of Hawaii to study memory and taste in honeybees, the findings of which are expected to improve honeybee health;
  • A NIH funded study on drinking and sexually-promiscuous behavior in female college students;
  • A $448,000 grant for a study measuring the affects of changing temperatures on wildflowers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory;
  • A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant to protect wildlife and restore habitats along the Oregon coast by recovering crab pots, lines, and other marine debris;
  • An NSF award to Duke University to send students to study tropical ecology and ecotourism at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica as part of the successful Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) program;
  • NSF grants to the University of Arizona and Arizona State University to study ant colony fitness;
  • A $187,632 grant to Michigan State University to combat carpet beetles which are destroying the extensive national and international holdings in their insect collection; and,
  • An NSF-funded award to researchers studying behavioral dynamics of bird populations and how this behavior applies to sharing behavior in humans.

Coburn and McCain also took issue with the fact that 25,000 new government jobs were created in order to oversee and implement stimulus spending projects.

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OSTP Requests Comments on Public Access to Scientific Literature

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is considering the development of a new policy on public access to scientific literature resulting from federally funded research. A Federal Register notice published on 9 December 2009, states OSTP’s intent to create a policy that increases access for the scientific community and the general public to scientific literature that results from research funded by federal science and technology agencies. Although no specific policy proposal has been released, OSTP is considering the model that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has implemented: all peer-reviewed manuscripts that result from research funded by NIH must be provided free of charge in an electronic database.

Comments on any aspect of expanding public access to peer reviewed publications arising from federal research are being accepted through 7 January 2010. For more information, please see the notice in the Federal Register at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-29322.htm.

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USDA to Spend Additional $90 Million on Climate Mitigation Research

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced on 16 December 2009 that the United States would join 20 other countries to form an international research collaboration aimed at combating climate change. The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases will conduct research and development aimed at increasing food production and improving the resilience of agricultural systems to climate change while decreasing the carbon intensity of agriculture. Globally, agriculture produces 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. “Just as climate change has no borders, our research should not,” said Vilsack. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will contribute an additional $90 million over the next four years to agricultural climate change mitigation research, bringing the agency’s total investment in climate mitigation and adaptation research to $320 million.

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House Science and Technology Committee Losing Chairmen

The House Science and Technology Committee will undergo a major change during the next Congress. Two of the Committee’s senior Democrats have announced that they will not seek re-election.

Committee Chairman, Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), will retire at the end of the 111th Congress. The 13-term Representative made his announcement on 14 December 2009. Gordon joined the committee as a freshman in 1985. He has been a strong supporter of research. Among his accomplishments is the American COMPETES Act, a law which reauthorized the budgets of the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy Office of Science. Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL) is expected by many science policy watchers to replace Gordon as Committee Chairman; Costello is the second most senior Democrat on the committee.

In a surprise announcement on 9 December 2009, Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), Chairman of the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, announced that he will not seek re-election in 2010, citing his need to spend more time with his family. Baird, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, has ruffled feathers over the years, often voting against his party on issues like the Iraq war and health care reform. He has been a champion for science during his 12 years of service in Congress, and has sponsored such bills as the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act (HR 1736), legislation that would create a committee to coordinate all international science and technology activities among federal research agencies and the Department of State. Baird also sponsored HR 3247, a bill to establish a social and behavioral sciences research program at the Department of Energy.

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Italian Science Agency Stirs Up Controversy with New Book

Italy’s science agency, the National Research Council (CNR), has stirred up controversy with the release of a new book entitled Evolutionism: the decline of a hypothesis. The book was written by Roberto de Mattei, politically-appointed vice-president of CNR and professor of Christianity and Catholicism at the European University of Rome. De Mattei assembled the book from the proceedings of an anti-evolution conference that he organized at CNR in February 2009. In it are claims that evolution is a flawed theory because fossil dating methods are wrong, fossil stratification was determined by the Deluge, and dinosaurs died only about 40,000 years ago.

The book states that it was published with financial contributions from CNR, a statement that has not been denied by agency officials. According to the CNR press office, the president of CNR, physicist Luciano Maini, has confirmed that CNR hosted the conference and contributed to the publication costs of the book, but does not officially endorse the book. Maini does however defend the vice-president’s right to publish the book, citing academic freedom. The publication has caused dismay among many Italian scientists, who have issued statements or written letters to the CNR protesting the publication of the book.

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Short Takes

  • The White House Council on Environmental Quality released a draft framework for marine spatial planning on 14 December 2009, which aims to alleviate competing interests for use of the nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. The framework plans to sustainably manage, protect, and restore our aquatic ecosystems using science-based approaches while decreasing user conflicts and streamlining regulatory processes. Public comments are being accepted through 12 February 2010 at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-30071.htm.

  • The U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comments on the potential environmental impacts of a new land management plan for the National Forest System. Comments are being accepted through 16 February 2009. More information is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-30174.htm.

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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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Now in BioScience - "A Research and Education Agenda for Biology?"

In the December 2009 issue of BioScience, Robert Gropp writes about two new reports, and a growing call within the biological science community to develop disciplinary research while improving interdisciplinary communication. 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/.

For some time, biologists have argued that a greater federal investment in biological research and education is required to move science forward and solve urgent societal problems. Arguably, this call has been heard, but a response has been muted by the lack of a clear articulation of need from the scientific community. However, recent efforts from within the community suggest that biologists might be attempting to define plans that will advance science and solve real-world problems. “Plants are central to the future of scientific discovery, human well-being, and the sustainable use and preservation of the world’s natural resources,” says Andrea Kramer, executive director of the US Office of Botanical Gardens Conservation International. Yet, Kramer and others warn that federal agencies have failed to make investments in research and training that will drive discovery and inform decision-making. Kramer and colleagues recently convened academic scientists, government managers, and representatives from non-governmental organizations. The meeting, held at the Chicago Botanic Garden, assessed the nation’s botanical capacity.

To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2009_12.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 on the AIBS Public Policy page.

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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