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Public Policy Report for 26 April 2010

House Committee to Consider COMPETES Act Reauthorization

The House Science and Technology Committee is expected to consider (“mark-up”) legislation on 28 April 2010 that would reauthorize the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act. On 22 April, Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) introduced HR 5116, which is a combination of legislative proposals developed by the panel’s various subcommittees.

As introduced, HR 5116 is intended to foster innovation, support scientific research, and improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education by boosting federal investments in the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science). Although the Committee has not settled on budget authorization levels for these agencies, some speculate that NSF may be kept on a doubling path.

Within the proposed authorization for NSF, several new programs would be created. At least five percent of the Research and Related Accounts (R&RA) budget would be directed to high-risk, high-reward basic research. Scientists that collaborate on an interdisciplinary research project could receive up to $5 million in a single grant. NSF could also award cash prizes for innovation to teams that are the first to develop a solution for a pressing problem.

Research infrastructure would benefit under the current version of HR 5116. Although no funding levels are specified, HR 5116 expresses the sense of Congress that NSF should fund research infrastructure at 24 to 27 percent of the agency’s total budget. This funding range is consistent with the recommendations from the National Science Board report, “Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century.”

In recent weeks, some members of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) have requested that the House Science and Technology Committee include a provision in the reauthorization of the COMPETES Act addressing natural science collections. For instance, Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), The Field Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and the Tulane University Museum of Natural History have requested that the Committee include language that would reflect the policy objectives of the NSC Alliance proposed Presidential Executive Order on Scientific Collections (see http://nscalliance.org/?p=262). Although falling short of this request, HR 5116 does include a provision that would direct the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to work with all relevant federal agencies to develop policies on the use, access, and preservation of federal scientific collections. Part of this interagency process would be the establishment of an online clearinghouse for public access to the digitized contents of federal collections.

Several reforms to K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral education and training programs have also been proposed. NSF would be directed to balance their support for the Graduate Research Fellowship and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The programs’ budgets would be required to increase or decrease at the same rate each year, although the funding levels for the programs would not necessarily be the same. Additionally, two new postdoctoral fellowships would be created - one in STEM education research and the other a more traditional scientific research fellowship. Additionally, institutions of higher education could receive competitive grants to improve undergraduate and graduate education. These funds could be used for the development of interdisciplinary courses, programs, or research opportunities; mentoring programs; programs to improve teaching and mentoring skills of faculty and graduate students; and professional development opportunities for graduate students.

Lastly, HR 5116 would establish an interagency committee to coordinate the policies of federal science agencies related to the dissemination and stewardship of federally funded research, including peer-reviewed publications and digital data. Although the working group would not be required to develop such public access policies, it would be charged with ensuring a uniform set of standards for data and publications when such policies are created. The inclusion of this language may be to ensure adequate stakeholder input in the process commenced by OSTP to create a public access policy. In comments submitted to OSTP in January 2010, AIBS called for broader involvement of the scientific publishing community.

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Scientists Visit Capitol Hill: Support NSF, USDA Research

Biological scientists traveled to Washington, DC, last week to meet with members of Congress about the importance of federal investments in fundamental biological, agricultural, and environmental research. The scientists and graduate students were in the nation’s capital on 21-22 April 2010 as part of the annual BESC/CoFARM (Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition/Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions) Congressional Visits Day.

Among this year’s participants were scientists affiliated with American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) member organizations, including the Organization of Biological Field Stations, Ecological Society of America, and the Poultry Science Association. The recipients of the 2010 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award also participated.

The two-day event began with a briefing by senior staff from the National Science Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture, and Congress. Policy staff from AIBS, the Ecological Society of America, and the Crop, Agronomy and Soil Science Societies also provided participants with budget analysis and advocacy training. On 22 April, participants fanned out across Capitol Hill for meetings with Representatives and Senators. This year, the group emphasized the importance of federal investments in research that will help the nation respond to grand challenges, such as those identified by the National Research Council in “Biology for the 21st Century.” The report highlights the need for research to help address the issues of food, environment, human health, and energy.

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Help Influence FY 2011 Science Funding: Write Congress Today

Use the AIBS Legislative Action Center to send a letter to your Representative and Senators requesting they support 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 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, NIH Offer New Bridging the Sciences Program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are offering two new research grants that aim to support cutting-edge, visionary research at the interface of the life, physical, mathematical, and computational sciences. The “New Biomedical Frontiers at the Interface of Life and Physical Sciences” grant will support interdisciplinary basic research that may create entirely new areas of biomedical investigation. The “Transforming Biomedicine at the Interface of Life and Physical Sciences” grant will support interdisciplinary research with clinical or translational implications.

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NRC, NAS Release Reports on Ocean Acidification, GMO Crops

The National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences have released reports on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and the impacts of genetically modified crops on U.S. agriculture. “Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean” makes several recommendations for policymakers, including the need for an integrated ocean acidification observation network, research in eight broad areas, data management, and engagement with stakeholders. “Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States” found that farmers are realizing economic and environmental benefits by growing genetically engineered crops, including lower production costs, less use of pesticides, and higher yields.

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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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