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Public Policy Report for 19 January 2010

Inspector General Finds Fault With Interior's Management of Collections

The Inspector General (IG) for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) has “found that DOI is failing to fulfill its stewardship responsibilities over museum collections.” In a December 2009 report, the IG found that DOI has failed to properly accession, catalogue, or inventory museum collections, leaving artifacts “unavailable for research, education, or display and … subject to theft, deterioration, and damage.”

The most widespread problem is a failure to properly document museum holdings. The IG reports that as of fiscal year 2007, DOI had not catalogued 53 percent of their collection holdings. Although several bureaus within DOI have backlogs of objects to be catalogued, the National Park Service has the worst backlog, with 60 million uncatalogued objects. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and United States Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to conduct annual inventories of collections to verify the existence of objects within their collections. The Department estimates that it will take at least 20 years to complete inventories of all Interior collections.

Moreover, the IG reports that DOI has paid too little attention to the management of DOI-collections held by other facilities. Four bureaus were not even sure what non-DOI facilities hold their collections. Where the facility is known, the bureau often did not maintain inventory listings or conduct the required annual physical inventory.

“These widespread accountability issues are largely due to poor program management, ineffective oversight, poor reporting, and an insufficient allocation of resources,” concludes the IG. Several of these problems have been chronicled back to at least 1990, when the IG released a report on the condition of DOI museum collections. In 1993, DOI implemented department-wide standards for collection management, however many bureaus have failed to follow that guidance.

The IG also found that lack of staff has been a major hindrance to proper collection management. Fish and Wildlife Service officials told the IG that the agency “simply lacks the staff, time, and funding to adequately respond to many of its conservation, cataloging, and curation issues.” National Park Service officials stated that staff “often has only a small percentage of time devoted to museum management with no technical oversight by a professional level curator.”

The report did note instances of proper collection management. Among the best practices used by individual museums were partnerships with colleges and universities, consolidation of facilities, and developing site-specific procedures for cataloging and inventory.

The report makes a number of recommendations for improving collection management, including requiring all bureaus to comply with department-wide collections management policies; developing a plan to address the accession and cataloging backlog; and ensuring annual physical inventories. The IG also recommends consolidating collections held within and among bureaus and pursuing partnerships with outside organizations.

In response to the report, DOI voiced support to improve management of collections, although the department does not believe that the status of its collections is consistent with the IG’s report. Interior points to the number of improvements made since 1993, including a unified collection management system.

The DOI is the second largest holder of museum collections, with an estimated 146 million artifacts and pieces of artwork at 625 DOI facilities and at more than 1,000 non-DOI facilities. Interior’s collections are comprised mostly of documents (60 percent) and archeological objects (35 percent). Approximately 82 percent of Interior’s collections are held by the National Park Service.

To read the IG report, please visit http://www.doioig.gov/upload/2010-I-0005.pdf.

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New Biosecurity Measures Recommended for U.S. Labs

The Working Group on Strengthening Biosecurity of the United States has issued a set of recommendations to improve security at labs that handle dangerous pathogens and select toxins. The interagency working group is co-chaired by the Secretaries of the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. The major recommendation made by the working group is the stratification of the current list of 82 biological select agents and toxins. The report concludes that not all agents on the list pose the same level of security risk. Other recommendations include improvements in the screening of lab personnel, more comprehensive guidance on inventory management and recordkeeping in labs, and proscribing risk-based security standards for labs. The working group’s recommendations are generally similar to recommendations made by a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences. The Senate is currently considering legislation (S 1649) sponsored by Senator Lieberman (D-CT) that would implement several of the changes recommended in these reports.

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2010 Science and Engineering Indicators Released

On 15 January 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released the most recent snapshot of the nation’s scientific research and education system. According to this year’s report, “The state of the science and engineering (S&E) enterprise in America is strong, yet its lead is slipping….” Prepared biennially and delivered to the President and Congress on even numbered years by January 15 as statutorily mandated, Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) provides information on the scope, quality and vitality of the nation’s S&E enterprise.

“The data begin to tell a worrisome story,” said Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal research and development (R&D) in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Calling SEI 2010 a “State of the Union on science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” he noted that “U.S. dominance has eroded significantly.”

Koizumi and OSTP hosted the public rollout at which National Science Board (NSB) Chairman Steven Beering, NSF Director Arden L. Bement, Jr., and NSB members presented SEI 2010 data and described a mixed picture. NSB’s SEI Committee Chairman Lou Lanzerotti noted good news for those in the S&E community regarding public attitudes about science. “Scientists are about the same as firefighters in terms of prestige,” he said.

Over the past decade, R&D intensity—how much of a country’s economic activity or gross domestic product is expended on R&D—has grown considerably in Asia, while remaining steady in the U.S. Annual growth of R&D expenditures in the U.S. averaged 5 to 6 percent while in Asia, it has skyrocketed. In some Asian countries, R&D growth rate is two, three, even four, times that of the U.S.

In terms of R&D expenditures as a share of economic output, while Japan has surpassed the U.S. for quite some time, South Korea is now in the lead—ahead of the U.S. and Japan.

Investment in R&D is a major driver of innovation, which builds on new knowledge and technologies, contributes to national competitiveness and furthers social welfare. R&D expenditures indicate the priority given to advancing science and technology (S&T) relative to other national goals.

To review Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, please visit http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators.

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Another Victory for Science in California Creationism Case

According to a recent report from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), “the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a federal district court’s summary judgment in favor of the University of California system in ACSI et al. v. Stearns et al.” The ruling was released on 12 January 2010.

“The case, originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, centered on the University of California system’s policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The plaintiffs — the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school — charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college,” reported NCSE’s Glenn Branch.

Branch further reported: “After the trial judge granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on August 8, 2008, the plaintiffs promptly appealed, asserting, inter alia, that the University of California’s policy on high school biology courses ‘constitutes viewpoint discrimination, content discrimination, and content-based regulation, which conflict with the First Amendment.’ Of particular interest in the preparation from the appeal was the California Council of Science and Technology’s amicus curiae brief. Coauthored by attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP who were part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case over ‘intelligent design’ creationism, the brief argued, ‘Students educated with these textbooks will not be adequately prepared for science courses.’”

“The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the University of California’s policy was constitutional on its face and as applied, writing, ‘The plaintiffs have not alleged facts showing any risk that UC’s policy will lead to the suppression of speech. …the plaintiffs fail to allege facts showing that this policy is discriminatory in any way. … The district court correctly determined that UC’s rejections of the Calvary [Baptist School] courses [including a biology class that used Biology: God’s Living Creation] were reasonable and did not constitute viewpoint discrimination. …The plaintiffs assert a myriad of legal arguments attacking the district court’s decision, all of which lack merit.’ Documents from the case are available on NCSE’s website, in a special section devoted to ACSI v. Stearns.”

For the Ninth Circuit’s ruling (PDF), visit: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/memoranda/2010/01/12/08-56320.pdf.

For more information about NCSE, please go to: http://ncse.com/.

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Attention Graduate Students: Deadline Approaching for 2010 EPPLA Applications

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is pleased to announce that applications for the 2010 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA) are now being accepted. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science and science policy. To learn more about the application process and the Award, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/EPPLAapplication-2010-announcement.pdf.

Applications are due by 5 pm EST on 5 February 2010.

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Short Takes

  • After months of delay, Dr. Paul Anastas was confirmed by the Senate to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research Development. Anastas is a chemist who was most recently the director of the Yale University Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. His confirmation had been blocked by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) over unrelated matters.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking proposals for extramural research, education and outreach, and/or conference sponsorships. Proposals can address ocean conservation, climate change, weather and water information, and/or marine transportation and will be accepted through 30 September 2010. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/E9-31300.htm.
  • Comments are being sought on the public’s ability to submit applications in a timely manner on Grants.gov, the federal grant application website. Comments are being accepted through 31 January 2010. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-24.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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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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