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Public Policy Report for 16 February 2010

New AIBS Report Reviews President's FY 2011 Budget for Biology

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Public Policy Office has prepared a new report that analyzes the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request for biological and environmental science. This initial analysis provides key details that will be useful in the coming months as Congress works to develop the FY 2011 appropriations legislation that will ultimately fund scientific research next year.

President Obama released a $3.8 trillion budget plan on 1 February 2010. As pledged by the President, the budget includes proposed increases for various federal research and development (R&D) programs. On average, federal investments in R&D would increase by 6.4 percent to more than $61 billion under the President’s plan. Included in these proposed new investments are the Department of Energy (DoE), Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and United States Geological Survey (USGS). However, some agencies, such as the USGS, would trim spending on biological and environmental research.

To read the complete report, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/AIBSBudgetReportFY2011.pdf.

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NSF Director to Retire

Dr. Arden L. Bement will retire at the end of May to lead Purdue University’s new Global Policy Research Institute. Bement has served as director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) since 2003.

“Under Bement, NSF has seen its budget move onto a doubling path, created a series of new science and engineering initiatives around innovation themes, increased its role in the international scientific policy arena and increased its commitment to core basic research areas,” according to a press release issued by NSF.

“I want to thank Dr. Bement for his nearly seven years of distinguished service at NSF’s helm and his unwavering commitment to America’s research and education enterprise,” said Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Bement was appointed to a six year term in 2004 by President George W. Bush after serving as acting director of NSF for 10 months. He will be vacating his appointment six months before it ends.

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NOAA Creates One-Stop Shop for Climate Data

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched a new online portal for climate information and predictions. Climate.gov will serve as “a single point-of-entry for NOAA’s climate information, data, products and services,” according to the agency. The website is designed to address the needs of decision makers, scientists, educators, business users, and the public by providing climate forecasts to data end-users, such as natural resource managers, water utilities, and state governments.

The new Climate Service Portal is the first step to creation of a National Climate Service within NOAA. Currently, climate modeling, forecasting, and observations are spread throughout the agency. The new initiative would centralize these functions within NOAA, much like the National Weather Service.

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke pointed out that the reorganization does not require Congressional approval. However, allocation of funding for the climate service will need to be addressed in the fiscal year 2011 budget. “This does not require formal legislation,” Locke said. “We do need to have the concurrence of the House and Senate appropriators, since ultimately it will require movement of funds that go to various agencies within NOAA to the new climate service office.” Locke hopes that the reorganization will be complete by October 2010.

Support for a National Climate Service has been growing. The House of Representatives included authorization for the program in the climate change legislation (HR 2454) the chamber passed last June. That effort ultimately stalled in the Senate.

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AIBS Shares Thoughts on K-12 STEM Ed with House Science Committee

As reported in the last issue of the AIBS Public Policy Report (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20100201.html#027178) the House Science and Technology Committee plans to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act before the 111th Congress closes later this year. As part of this effort, the Committee has solicited comments from various stakeholders about the role of K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs at the nation’s scientific research agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). In response, AIBS recently shared some thoughts and recommendations with Committee staff.

The full text of AIBS’ written comments may be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100128stemed.html.

An excerpt from the comments follows:

It is the case, appropriately, that federal science agencies make some investment in science education. Many federal agencies allocate some resources to the recruitment and training of the future STEM workforce. Various federal programs also support the development of K-12 classroom materials and pre-service or in-service training that help teachers translate for students the results of federal investments in scientific research. Often, it is through these exciting snapshots of science that students learn how scientists work or begin to consider a career in a STEM field.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that these educational materials and programs are an outgrowth of research supported by federal agencies. As the Committee is aware, it is difficult to know how much a science agency should invest in K-12 education programs, especially when there are limited resources available for research.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), for example, makes grants in support of fundamental research in all fields of science. This unique mission of funding all fields of basic science and science education is unique and presents opportunities for cross-disciplinary discovery that are less likely to occur without NSF research funding. Thus, it is arguably the case that NSF should be restrained in its investment in K-12 education programs. It might be that the best investment for NSF K-12 education resources is support of centers for innovative and pedagogically appropriate curriculum development. These centers could address the needs of the K-12 system as well as the needs of the university science education system. For instance, these centers could provide training and resources for current and future faculty who teach introductory science courses, modeling STEM teaching for future educators by illustrating the way STEM is practiced. These centers should be jointly funded with the Department of Education and/or other federal science agencies. Through these strategic investments, NSF could support the development of classroom materials and teachers while remaining true to its unique mission of funding fundamental research in all areas of science.

New federal models for support of K-12 science education materials development may offer a productive method for developing science educators with the skills and resources needed to teach students about the nature of science; rather than simply training students to memorize facts. Consider the federal investment in educational materials and resources about bioenergy, or some other issue which falls within the jurisdiction of multiple federal agencies. It is conceivable that several federal agencies are funding initiatives to develop these resources. In some cases, the intent may be to provide resources to K-12 educators. These materials might best be developed through a collaborative effort between the Department of Energy, US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, and the National Science Foundation. The Department of Education might be charged with coordinating this kind of effort, as it offers, among other things, access to experts in curriculum development, state-of-the-art instructional models, and mechanisms to deliver new programs to educators through state and local education authorities.

In addition to reviewing the role of science agencies in K-12 STEM education, the Committee should ensure that science agencies are properly positioned to help support the needs of college and university science educators. As a growing list of reports chronicle, there is a need to reinvent how we teach science - not only to K-12 students, but also to undergraduate students. It is important to keep in mind that many of today’s undergraduate students will become teachers.

In July 2009, NSF and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) convened a conference entitled Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A View for the 21st Century. At this meeting, various science education stakeholders identified key goals that could drive reform of undergraduate biology education. These included exposing all students to authentic research experiences, with real scientific methods, data, and tools. Such an approach has been shown to increase student understanding of and interest in science (Seymour et al, 2004, Science Education 88:493-534; Lopatto, 2007, CBE-Life Sciences Education 6:297-306). Because science agencies have established relationships with scientists, this is the kind of effort that federal science programs can effectively support. These efforts would produce greater results if coordinated and linked to teacher preparation programs. Science agencies should collaborate with the Department of Education, scientific and professional societies, and other appropriate organizations toward this and other goals articulated during the Vision and Change conference.

Biology majors expect to be prepared for the science careers of the 21st century. For this to happen, new educational models must be implemented. Teaching the way we did 100 years ago no longer meets the needs of students, scientists, or society. To be scientifically literate members of society or future scientists, students must learn by engaging with real-world problems in an interdisciplinary manner. A recent report from the National Academies entitled “A New Biology for the 21st Century” describes the societal value of this integrated and interdisciplinary approach and states that: “Development and implementation of genuinely interdisciplinary undergraduate courses and curricula will both prepare students for careers as New Biology researchers and educate a new generation of science teachers well versed in New Biology approaches.”

A strategic and wise investment of federal resources must be informed by a thoughtful and deliberate process. The Committee should consider including in the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act a requirement that the President, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy, President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and the Domestic Policy Council, conduct a government-wide review of federal investments in STEM education. These offices would convene appropriate officials from federal agencies to review current programs and practices, identify opportunities for interagency collaboration, and assess future needs and opportunities. Moreover, Congress could direct the White House to include in this review an appropriate array of non-governmental stakeholders. This effort could provide answers to the questions included in the Committee’s Survey on K-12 STEM Education. As with other Congressionally-directed activities, the Administration could report to Congress on a regular basis with recommendations for a coordinated federal investment in K-12 STEM education.

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Short Takes

  • Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), the highest ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, will not seek re-election in November. Ehlers is the first research physicist to serve in Congress. During his ten terms, he has championed science, including funding for the National Science Foundation, science education, and authorization of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in law.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has rejected a petition to list the American pika as a threatened or endangered species. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy organization, had previously requested that the FWS list the species due to the impacts of climate change on its mountain habitat. “American pika can tolerate a wider range of temperatures and precipitation than previously thought,” wrote the agency in a notice published in the Federal Register this week.

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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.

NOW IN BIOSCIENCE - “STIMULATING SCIENCE: ONE YEAR AFTER THE RECOVERY ACT”

In the February 2010 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr reviews the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on American science and considers the implications for 2011, when the stimulus funding has been allocated. 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/.

A year ago, as the US economy was on the brink of meltdown, Congress and President Obama enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA; PL 111-5). The $787-billion economic stimulus promised a new future for America, a future that not only brought economic growth and jobs but also addressed society’s most pressing issues: education, human health, infrastructure, and clean energy. The act included more than $24 billion for federal science programs, much of which was designated for research and development (R&D). These funds were intended to create or save jobs by directly supporting researchers and student fellows and spurring the manufacturing of scientific instrumentation and equipment, as well as initiating the repair and construction of research facilities. One year later, stimulus funds have been used to address a backlog of scientific needs and to usher in a new age of science. The question now, however, is what will happen to our scientific enterprise in 2011, when the ARRA funds have been spent?

To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2010_02.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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