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Public Policy Report for 29 March 2010

AIBS Policy Director Testifies Before House Committee

On 25 March 2010, AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp testified before the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations about the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Gropp appeared before the panel in his capacity as co-chair of the USGS Coalition.

During his remarks, Gropp thanked current and former Subcommittee members for their efforts to provide increased funding to the USGS. His statement stressed that the USGS is more than the science agency for the Department of the Interior; it is an internationally respected natural resource science agency and should be treated similarly to other federal science agencies in the federal budgeting and appropriations process. Additionally, the research and related products generated by USGS personnel save money, protect lives, create new economic and employment opportunities, and promote informed environmental stewardship.

Gropp expressed concern that the Administration’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2011 does not fund fixed (uncontrollable) cost increases, such as increases for office rent, utilities, salary increases, and similar expenses. Although the Administration proposed an increase of $21.6 million for the USGS, when $13.5 million for unfunded fixed costs are factored into the budget the increase is only $8.1 million — which would be allocated to important new initiatives. However, an additional $11 million would be cut from USGS programs in the Water Resources Discipline, Biological Resources Discipline, and Enterprise Infrastructure accounts.

AIBS was a founding member of the USGS Coalition, which was established to increase the federal investment in the unique combination of biological, geological, hydrological, and geographical programs of the USGS.

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Obama Picks Nobel Laureate for OSTP Science Post

On 22 March 2010, President Obama selected Dr. Carl Wieman to be associate director of science at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Wieman, who was among the recipients of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics, is currently on the faculty at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver and the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has been a proponent of science education reform, including serving as the founding chair of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education. If confirmed by the Senate, Wieman would lead the Science division of OSTP, which formulates and coordinates federal research and development policy, as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education policy.

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Help Influence FY 2011 Science Funding: Write Congress Today

Through the AIBS Legislative Action Center it is possible to send letters to your members of Congress requesting their support for increased funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in fiscal year (FY) 2011. Letters from constituents at this time will help remind members of Congress that their constituents care about funding for these agencies. Please visit the AIBS Legislative Action Center today to quickly send a letter to your elected officials.

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NSF, DOE, USDA Joint Initiative to Improve Climate Impact Predictions

The National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to fund $250 million worth of climate modeling research over the next five years. The goal of this effort is improved prediction of localized impacts of climate change. The Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models (EaSM) program is designed to generate more powerful models that can help decision-makers develop regional climate adaptation strategies. The program aims to improve climate predictions by modeling on smaller geographic scales and over shorter time frames than was previously possible. Currently, most climate modeling capacity is at the continental scale. “People live in regions, not on the global mean,” said NSF Director Dr. Arden Bement.

Specifically, the program will support interdisciplinary approaches to forecasting climate-induced drought, ecosystem stress, diminished crop production, and other societal problems. The program will be funded with approximately $50 million each year for the next five years. NSF will provide $30 million in the first year for improved modeling on regional and decadal climate and impacts, as well as potential climate adaptations by living systems. NSF will also fund research to test climate predictions and to study regional climate impacts on nutrient and water cycling. DOE will provide $10 million to develop models that better account for natural climate variability and climate extremes under a changing climate, and to identify the indirect effects of aerosols on climate. The $9 million provided by USDA will be used to forecast crop yields under a changing climate and to evaluate risk management strategies.

About 20 projects will be funded in the first year, with up to $300,000 available for three year projects that address capacity/community building activities. Up to $1 million is available for three to five year “large, ambitious, collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts that advance Earth system modeling on regional and decadal scales,” according to the agencies. Letters of intent are due by 24 May 2010. For more information, please visit http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2010/nsf10554/nsf10554.htm?org=OPP.

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New Report Examines Causes of Gender Gap in Science

A new report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” examines the social and environmental causes underlying the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. In the last several decades, girls have been catching up to boys in terms of elementary, middle, and high school science and engineering courses, and nearly the same number of girls as boys graduate from high school prepared to study science or engineering in college. Yet, research findings indicate that popular beliefs about intelligence, stereotypes, college environments, and implicit bias still contribute to the gender imbalance in science and engineering.

The AAUW report considers the factors limiting participation and provides recommendations for parents, teachers, and faculty. Among the recommendations for reducing the gender gap: societal and educational changes must begin early in life and extend throughout a women’s professional life. First, girls must be taught that they can excel in STEM careers. Parents and teachers can foster the idea that intellectual skills are acquired and strengthened with practice, and should discuss negative stereotypes of women and expose girls to positive female role models in science and engineering careers. At the collegiate level, departments should actively recruit female STEM majors, emphasize real-life applications in STEM courses, and create faculty-student support groups. Colleges and universities can increase the number of female faculty in STEM fields by assessing departmental cultures, implementing mentoring programs for junior faculty, and providing child care and allowing parental leave.

The recommendations in the AAUW report differ from those of a 2006 National Academy of Sciences report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.” That report largely focused on the role of university and departmental administrators in changing their institution’s hiring, tenure, and promotion policies in order to actively eliminate gender bias.

The AAUW report is available at http://www.aauw.org/research/whysofew.cfm. A Washington Watch article from BioScience that describes the 2006 NAS report is available at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2006_11.html.

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House Passes Bills on Ocean Education, Mississippi River Water Quality

The House of Representatives passed two pieces of water-related legislation on 19 March 2010. If enacted, the Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program and National Environmental Literacy Grant Program Act (HR 3644) would authorize an annual 10 percent increase in funding over the next five years for the ocean education program administered by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The B-WET program currently supports environmental education programs in six coastal regions: California, Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, New England, and Pacific Northwest. The House also passed legislation (HR 3671) that would direct the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to monitor nutrient and sediment loads in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

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NSF Letter Writing Campaign a Success

An impressive number of scientists and educators recently dedicated a couple of minutes to send a letter to their Representative about funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year (FY) 2011. These efforts through the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Legislative Action Center helped to produce results: 70 Representatives signed a “Dear Colleague” letter to Chairman Mollohan and Ranking Member Wolf of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Justice. This display of support for $7.424 billion in funding for NSF in FY 2011 is a promising sign for sustaining the federal investment in NSF-sponsored research. To see the complete list of Representatives who signed the Dear Colleague letter, please visit http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=14843506.

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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking comments regarding the measurement of impacts of ocean acidification on U.S. waters. Comments are being accepted until 21 May 2010. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-6239.htm.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will host a series of webinars about the agency’s proposed Climate Service. The re-organization would centralize climate research, modeling, and information dissemination activities within NOAA. On 1 April 2010 at 2:30 pm, NOAA will host a webinar targeted to the academic research community. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-6085.htm.
  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is seeking comments and best practices on the commercialization of university research. Comments are due by 26 April 2010. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-6606.htm.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an online database of the scientific sources its uses when formulating risk assessments for pollutants or chemicals. Health and Environmental Research Online includes more than 300,000 scientific articles, although the full text of the articles is not provided.

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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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