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Public Policy Report for 15 March 2010

Support NSF: Write Your Representative Today

Congress is now considering appropriations for the federal agencies for fiscal year 2011. It is vital that members of Congress understand why federal investments in the National Science Foundation (NSF) are important to the nation and their district.

NSF provides roughly 68 percent of federal funding for competitive, peer-reviewed grants in fundamental and environmental biological research at our nation’s universities and non-profit research centers.

Please write to your Representative today to ask him/her to support increased funding for NSF by signing the “Dear Colleague letter” being circulated by Representatives Ehlers (R-MI), Holt (D-NJ), Inglis (R-SC), and Lipinski (D-IL). This bipartisan letter will be sent to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF’s budget. The more members of Congress that sign this letter, the more likely NSF is to receive increased funding.

Act today to ensure that your Representative has time to sign this letter by March 17, 2010. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=14773891 to send a prepared letter to your Representative.

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AIBS Names 2010 Emerging Public Policy Leaders

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has selected Meredith Niles, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, Ryan Richards, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Leslie Smith, a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, to receive the 2010 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA).

“AIBS is committed to fostering a productive dialogue between policymakers and scientists,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O’Grady. “We applaud Meredith Niles, Ryan Richards, and Leslie Smith for exemplifying this commitment through their work.”

Since 2003, AIBS has recognized the achievements of biology graduate students who have demonstrated an interest and aptitude for contributing to science and public policy. Niles, Richards, and Smith will travel to Washington, DC, in April to meet with their Congressional delegations and to attend a budget briefing on the federal investment in scientific research. These events are part of the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. Niles, Richards, and Smith will also receive a certificate and one-year membership in AIBS, which includes a subscription to the journal BioScience.

“By participating in the 2010 Congressional visits event, Meredith, Ryan, and Leslie are playing an important role in bridging the communication gap between our nation’s policymakers and the scientific community,” said AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp.

“Engendering collaborations between scientists and policymakers is vital for the continuation and success of both disciplines,” said Niles. “I hope to be a part of the future generation making such efforts possible.”

Niles is a former Fulbright Scholar pursuing a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of California, Davis. Her thesis research on sustainable agriculture practices has implications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. She is a participant in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program at Davis. Her work has included directing a national campaign to increase public awareness of the effects of climate on food production. Before graduate school, Niles worked for the U.S. Department of State where she was involved with policy and public affairs relating to the international fight against AIDS. She earned a bachelor’s degree in politics from Catholic University of America.

“Congressional Visits Day will provide a valuable opportunity to interact with elected leaders and relate the importance of science and federal funding for research,” said Richards.

Richards is pursuing dual Master’s degrees in conservation biology and environmental policy at the University of Maryland. His research has taken him to Namibia to study the impacts of bush encroachment on rangeland. As part of his graduate work, he is developing guidance for the Namibian government to address invasive species. Richards has worked on wildlife conservation policy at a number of scientific and conservation-focused organizations, including the Society for Conservation Biology and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Richards has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife, fish and conservation biology from the University of California, Davis.

“This experience will give me the opportunity to communicate first hand with federal decision makers, not just on the facts of the present state of science, but the necessity of scientific research itself,” said Smith.

Smith is a Ph.D. candidate in biological oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. While interning for Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, she wrote a report on the effects of climate change on coastal ecosystems in Rhode Island. She later presented this information to government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local schools. For her graduate research, Smith is studying the environmental impacts of pollution on coastal waters. Her work could be used by state managers to better anticipate and prevent episodic events of poor water quality. Smith has participated in the NSF IGERT program. Her undergraduate degree in biology is from Davidson College in North Carolina.

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Comments Sought on Strategic Plan to Digitize Biological Collections

A strategic plan is being developed for a 10-year, national effort to digitize and mobilize images and data associated with biological research collections. The plan aims to create a publicly available, comprehensive collections resource that will increase access to biological collections across the country. The plan was drafted by workshop participants at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in February 2010.

The strategic plan is seen as “a grand challenge” and will be undertaken “as a unified mission involving a coordinated funding program and well designed strategy for execution.” The plan calls for the development of cyberinfrastructure “to promote efficient and standard capture and mobilization of these data to make the national biological collections resource publicly available for analysis.”

The plan has several goals for the digitization effort:

  • Making images and data from all U.S. biological collections available in an integrated, web accessible interface using shared standards and formats.
  • Developing and launching new web interfaces, visualization and analysis tools, data mining, image analysis, and georeferencing processes.
  • Digitizing and web mobilizing the existing backlog of non-digitized collections, and developing tools, training, and infrastructure to prevent the reoccurrence of such a backlog.

These goals would be accomplished via a three tiered approach:

  1. Develop a coordinated effort to provide technological support for the nationwide collections digitization effort, to organize new efforts with existing collections-based projects and international efforts, and to disseminate standards, techniques and best practices.
  2. Develop a network of regional collaborations for collection digitization.
  3. Develop investigator-driven and cross-regional collaborations driven by the specific needs of collections of a particular clade or preservation type, or motivated by a particular scientific question to be addressed by the use of collections images and data.

Feedback on the strategic plan from the collections community is sought and can be made on the plan’s website (http://digbiocol.wordpress.com/) or by sending an email to wg-digitization@nescent.org. Group feedback based on institutional priorities or taxon-based needs is welcomed. Specific feedback is needed in areas such as support for the proposed model, suggestions for revision, ideas regarding the three-tiered approach, priorities for collection digitization, and ways to maximize collaboration across institutions and federal agencies, and at the international level. This feedback will be aggregated and provided to participants in future planning sessions that will develop a final strategic plan.

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House Passes Bill to Study Harmful Algal Blooms

On 12 March 2010, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would expand research on harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in U.S. marine and fresh waters. The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009 (HR 3650), sponsored by Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), passed by voice vote after falling two votes shy of passage under expedited consideration earlier in the week. If enacted, the bill would double authorizations for harmful algal blooms and hypoxia research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), up to $41 million a year. The legislation would also require NOAA to oversee the development of regional research and action plans for addressing these poor water quality events. The Senate is currently considering similar legislation (S. 952), which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee last year.

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NSF BIO Program Launches Online Tool to Enable Science Partnerships

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Integrative Organismal Systems has launched a Wiki to facilitate partnerships between researchers and end-users of science. “NSF intends to use a Wiki, a social networking vehicle, to facilitate and increase the number of collaborations between end-users and investigators who develop tools and resources, and to promote downstream dissemination and development of outcomes,” according to Joann Roskoski, acting assistant director of the Biological Sciences Directorate. Click here for more information. To sign up for the Wiki, visit https://extwiki.nsf.gov/signup.action.

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NRC Report Calls for Exploration of Connections Between Climate and Human Evolution

A new report by the National Research Council (NRC), “Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution,” considers the research needed to answer fundamental questions about impacts of Earth’s climate on human origins. “Significant progress into the question of whether past climate changes influenced human evolution will require a coordinated, focused, and cross-disciplinary research program designed specifically to address this problem,” the report states. Specially, the NRC calls for two research initiatives over a 10-20 year period. The first theme would study the impacts of climate change and climate variability on human evolution and dispersal. Secondly, climate modeling, environmental records, and biotic responses would be integrated. To accomplish these goals, the report calls for a major exploration initiative to locate new fossils sites, and an integrated effort to better understand climate history where hominins evolved by sampling lake and ocean sediments and a major investment in climate modeling. To read the report, please visit http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12825.html.

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BioScience Article Finds That More Maize Ethanol Production Could Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In the March 2010 issue of BioScience, researchers present a sophisticated new analysis of the effects of boosting use of maize-derived ethanol on greenhouse gas emissions. The study, conducted by Thomas W. Hertel of Purdue University and five co-authors, focuses on how mandated increases in production of the biofuel in the United States will trigger land-use changes domestically and elsewhere. In response to the increased demand for maize, farmers convert additional land to crops, and this conversion can boost carbon dioxide emissions.

The analysis combines ecological data with a global economic commodity and trade model to project the effects of U.S. maize ethanol production on carbon dioxide emissions resulting from land-use changes in 18 regions across the globe. The researchers’ main conclusion is stark: These indirect, market-mediated effects on greenhouse gas emissions “are enough to cancel out the benefits the corn ethanol has on global warming.”

The indirect effects of increasing production of maize ethanol were first addressed in 2008 by Timothy Searchinger and his coauthors, who presented a simpler calculation in Science. Searchinger concluded that burning maize ethanol led to greenhouse gas emissions twice as large as if gasoline had been burned instead. The question assumed global importance because the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandates a steep increase in U.S. production of biofuels over the next dozen years, and certifications about life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are needed for some of this increase. In addition, the California Air Resources Board’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires including estimates of the effects of indirect land-use change on greenhouse gas emissions. The board’s approach is based on the work reported in BioScience.

Hertel and colleagues’ analysis incorporates some effects that could lessen the impact of land-use conversion, but their bottom line, though only one-quarter as large as the earlier estimate of Searchinger and his coauthors, still indicates that the maize ethanol now being produced in the United States will not significantly reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, compared with burning gasoline. The authors acknowledge that some game-changing technical or economic development could render their estimates moot, but sensitivity analyses undertaken in their study suggest that the findings are quite robust.

For more information about this or other peer-reviewed articles in the March issue of BioScience, please visit http://www.aibs.org/publications/.

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Back To School: Education Policy Discussions Start

The Obama Administration has released its plans for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (more recently referred to as No Child Left Behind). According to Department of Education documents, the Administration’s plan will “help states raise expectations of students and reward schools for producing dramatic gains in student achievement. The blueprint provides incentives for states to adopt academic standards that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and create accountability systems that measure student growth toward meeting the goal that all children graduate and succeed in college.”

Additionally, on 10 March 2010, the influential National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released the first “official public draft of the K-12 standards” as part of the “Common Core State Standards Initiative,” a process being led by members of the two organizations from the states, territories, and the District of Columbia.

According to an NGA news release, “These draft standards, developed together with teachers, school administrators and experts, seek to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce. The NGA Center and CCSSO have received feedback from national organizations representing, but not limited to teachers, postsecondary education (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. The NGA Center and CCSSO encourage those interested in the standards to provide further feedback by Friday, April 2, 2010, at www.corestandards.org.”

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards are:

  • Aligned with college and work expectations;
  • Clear, understandable and consistent;
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • Informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • Evidence- and research-based.

The standards are expected to be finalized in early spring. For more information, visit www.corestandards.org.

For more information about the Department of Education’s framework for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, please go to http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/blueprint/.

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Short Takes

  • Major changes have taken place in the leadership of the House Appropriations Committee after the death of Representative John Murtha (D-PA) in February. Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA), formerly the Chairman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, has been selected to replace Murtha as Chairman of the Defense Subcommittee. The Interior Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the budgets of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency, will now be lead by Representative Jim Moran (D-VA).
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is seeking public comments regarding the permitting of research on species protected under the Endangered Species Act. FWS Form 3-200-55 regulates research, enhancement of propagation or survival, and interstate commerce of endangered and threatened species. Comments on ways to enhance the permit and to reduce the burden on applicants will be accepted until 10 May 2010. Please see http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-5030.htm for more information.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking public comments regarding proposed changes to federal permits that regulate scientific and conservation interactions with marine mammals. Comments will be accepted until 10 May 2010. More information is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-5142.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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