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Public Policy Report for 24 May 2010

House Fails Twice to Pass COMPETES Act

The United States House of Representatives has failed twice in the past two weeks to pass legislation that would reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The legislation, which proponents contend would stimulate innovation and improve science education by increasing funding authorizations for federal agencies that support basic research, was first brought to the House floor on 13 May 2010. After consideration of more than 50 amendments, Science Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) moved to send the bill (HR 5116) back to the Science Committee. Halls’ motion to recommit the legislation included instructions to cut $47.5 billion in authorizations over the next five years for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and to completely eliminate funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Additionally, Hall wanted to ban the use of funds to pay the salaries of federal employees who have been disciplined for viewing pornography at work. In recent years, at least seven NSF employees were fired or disciplined for watching pornography on government computers.

Hall’s motion passed overwhelmingly in a 292-126 vote, which included the support of more than 120 Democrats. Only one Republican, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a physicist who is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, voted against the motion. Democratic leadership quickly pulled the bill from further consideration on the House floor, allowing them time to consider their next move.

A week later, the bill’s sponsor, Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), reintroduced the COMPETES Act, now numbered HR 5325, with two significant changes. Gordon cut the duration of research authorizations from five years to three years, although he left the funding levels unchanged, maintaining the doubling path established in the 2007 COMPETES Act. Additionally, HR 5325 includes an anti-pornography provision that would prevent funds authorized by the act to be used to pay the salary of any government employee caught watching porn at work. Despite these changes, the House once again failed to pass the bill on 19 May 2010 when it was considered on the Suspension Calendar, a move that requires that legislation be passed by a 2/3 majority. The final vote of 261 to 148 fell nearly thirty votes shy of the threshold for passage. Unlike the previous vote on COMPETES, Democrats stuck together, with no members of the majority party voting against the legislation. Additionally, 15 Republications voted for passage of the bill.

“I’m disappointed, but not deterred,” said Rep. Gordon. Gordon and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the bill will soon return to the House floor.

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Senators Kerry, Lieberman Release Long-Awaited Climate Bill

After months of closed door negotiations, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) finally released a draft of their climate change mitigation and adaption legislation on 12 May 2010. The release of the draft bill was considered a victory in itself by some, after the loss of co-collaborator Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last month over Graham’s concerns about the Senate’s timeline for addressing climate and immigration reform legislation.

Similar to the measure passed by the House of Representatives last summer, the Kerry-Lieberman bill would require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 through a cap-and-trade program — a market-based approach to establish an absolute cap on emissions and allow trading of emissions allowances. Implementation of the program would be staggered over time, with power plants subject to the first restrictions on emissions. Energy-intensive manufacturers wouldn’t be subject to the program until six years later.

The Kerry-Lieberman bill also outlines a number of provisions related to climate research and natural resource adaptation. The bill would establish a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel, chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This panel would create a national adaptation strategy for our nation’s natural resources and would coordinate its implementation by federal agencies. The strategy aims “to protect, restore, and conserve natural resources so that natural resources become more resilient, adapt to, and withstand the ongoing and expected impacts of climate change.” States would also develop natural resource adaptation plans, which would be eligible for federal funding generated by emission allocations auctions.

With respect to the dissemination of climate science, the Kerry-Lieberman bill would charge both the National Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey’s National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center to provide technical assistance, conduct research, and furnish decision tools, monitoring, and strategies for climate adaptation. This differs from the House-passed bill, which granted the National Climate Service the primary authority to serve as a central clearinghouse of climate data and models for end users.

Additionally, in its present form, the Kerry-Lieberman bill would create a National Fish and Wildlife Habitat and Corridors Information Program within the Department of the Interior to help states develop GIS databases of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors. The program would also facilitate the use of database tools in wildlife management programs.

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Register for the 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits Event

Would you like to help inform the nation’s science policy without trekking to Washington, DC? Why not meet with elected officials in your home state this August? Register now to participate in the 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their members of Congress to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 2nd Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event will be held throughout the month of August 2010, when Representatives and Senators spend time in their Congressional districts and home states. This event is an opportunity for scientists and representatives of research facilities to meet with their member of Congress to demonstrate how science is conducted and why a sustained investment in research and education programs must be a national priority. Participating scientists will either meet with their elected officials at a district office or may invite them to visit their research facility.

Participants will be prepared for their Congressional meetings through an interactive training webinar. Individuals participating in this event will receive information about federal appropriations for biological research, tips for scheduling and conducting a successful meeting with an elected official, and resources to craft and communicate an effective message.

This event is organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences with the generous support of Event Sponsors Botanical Society of America, Genetics Society of America, Long Term Ecological Research Network, Society of Systematic Biologists, and University of Michigan Biological Station, and Event Supporter Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve—Stanford University.

Participation is free, but registration is required and space is limited. For more information and to register, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Inspector General Finds DOI Lacks Scientific Integrity Policy

A new report issued by the Inspector General (IG) for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) finds that the department has failed to implement a comprehensive policy regarding scientific integrity. The IG found that DOI violated a decade old requirement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to implement a scientific integrity policy to address scientific misconduct. “Without sound policies to protect the scientific community and general public from potentially flawed scientific research, data, and publications, Interior’s reputation and its public trust are at risk,” the report concludes.

Although DOI lacks a comprehensive department-wide policy, Interior bureaus have individually developed scientific integrity policies. The IG, however, found that only the United States Geological Survey created a comprehensive policy, as defined by OSTP. The scientific integrity policies of all other Interior agencies — Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, and Office of Surface Mining — were found to be deficient.

The 2000 memo from OSTP required the following elements in each federal department’s policy: definition of scientific misconduct; requirements for making a determination of research misconduct; responsibilities of federal agencies and research institutions to investigate and address misconduct; guidelines for fair and timely procedures; and agency administrative actions.

The IG report recommends that DOI “develop and implement an Interior-wide comprehensive scientific integrity policy that addresses required elements of the OSTP scientific misconduct policy, to include provisions for both internal and external scientific research, applicable to all agents, appointees, employees and contractors involved in researching and publishing scientific results of any kind, include a misconduct allegation reporting requirement, and a range of disciplinary actions.” The IG also recommended that DOI designate an official to guide the development of the policy and the implementation of the policy by Interior agencies.

The IG report is available at http://www.doioig.gov/upload/2010-I-0020.pdf.

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National Lab Day Launches

On 12 May 2010, K-12 students in classrooms across the county connected with scientists and other professionals to engage in hands-on learning through the National Lab Day initiative. The event also drew participation from a number of scientists serving in the Obama Administration, including Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Dr. John Holdren and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco.

“National Lab Day is proud to bring together partners from the Administration, education, science, and artistic communities to promote inquiry-based learning,” said Jack Hidary, National Lab Day Chairman. “Today’s launch will benefit students, educators and our local communities by connecting K-12 kids with top experts and enabling them to learn through experimentation and discovery. The collaborations occurring across the country through our website — www.nationallabday.org — will inspire the next generation of innovators.”

National Lab Day is a multi-year initiative which promotes hands-on learning through collaborations between K-12 classes and working professionals. Scientists who are interested in being paired with a K-12 teacher should visit www.nationallabday.org. Since its unofficial launch in January, National Lab Day has grown to include more than 1,000 schools located in all 50 states.

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AIBS Recognizes Excellence in Science and Education

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) recognized excellence in science and science education during an awards ceremony and lecture at the National Academies’ Keck Center in Washington, DC, on 18 May 2010. Each year, AIBS recognizes scientists, educators, and organizations for their leadership and contributions to science and education. Award categories are: Distinguished Scientist, Outstanding Service, Education, and the President’s Citation. Nominations for the various AIBS awards are reviewed and approved by the AIBS Awards Committee and Board of Directors.

In addition to the presentation of the annual AIBS awards, the program included a lecture by Dr. Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. “Dr. Ruse is recognized as a leading contributor to the intellectual underpinnings of evolutionary biology and the history and philosophy of biology. His talk, ‘Is Darwinism Past Its Sell-By Date?’ captivated the audience and was quite thought provoking,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O’Grady.

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network received the 2010 AIBS Distinguished Scientist Award, which is presented annually for significant scientific contributions to the biological sciences. The LTER program concentrates on ecological processes that play out at time scales spanning decades to centuries. Long-term data sets from LTER provide a context to evaluate the nature and pace of ecological change, to interpret its effects, and to forecast the range of future biological responses to change. Instituted in 1980 by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program has grown from six sites to 26 sites. As the program has matured, it has shifted focus from individual site research to a broader synthetic view aimed at identifying general ecological principles that apply to many ecosystems at many different scales.

Accepting the Distinguished Scientist Award on behalf of the LTER Network was Dr. G. Philip Robertson, Professor of Ecosystem Science in the Department of Crop and Soil Science at Michigan State University and Chairman of the LTER Network. Robertson is also the Principal Investigator for the Kellogg Biological Station LTER site in Michigan.

Duke University Professor of Biology Dr. Kathleen K. Smith received the AIBS Outstanding Service Award in recognition of her leadership of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Smith is a former Director of NESCent. The Center is a collaborative effort of Duke University, North Carolina State University, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Founded in 2004 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, NESCent has established itself as an international Center for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research in evolution. NESCent plays an active role in developing cyberinfrastructure for the scientific community, with a focus on open source software, database development, and analytical tools in evolutionary biology. The Center also works to improve evolution education, expand opportunities for underrepresented groups, and communicate research to the general public.

NESCent is a leader in the field of synthetic research. Synthetic research in evolutionary science takes many forms but includes integrating novel datasets and models to address important problems within a discipline, developing new analytical approaches and tools, and combining methods and perspectives from multiple disciplines to answer and create new scientific questions.

The 2010 AIBS Education Award was presented to Dr. Jo Handelsman of Yale University. Handelsman is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. The Education Award is presented annually to individuals or groups who have made significant contributions to education in the biological sciences at any level of formal or informal education. Handelsman is nationally recognized for her efforts to improve science education and increase the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in science at the university level.

Prior to joining Yale earlier this year, Handelsman spent 25 years on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she served as Director of the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching. This program works to enhance undergraduate biology education by training a new generation of scientific teachers. Handelsman is a co-chair of the National Academies’ Summer Institute program, which works with university faculty to help them review their teaching practices and develop successful new teaching strategies. She co-founded the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin, which helps to enhance the participation of women in science. Her leadership in this effort led to an appointment as the first President of the Rosalind Franklin Society and to service on the National Academies’ panel that wrote the 2006 report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.”

The 2010 AIBS President’s Citation was given to Dr. Mark A. McPeek, the David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College. The President’s Citation recognizes meritorious accomplishments by an individual or group in the biological sciences. McPeek’s research integrates empirical and theoretical studies of the ecological processes that structure biological communities and how some ecological processes have shaped the adaptation and diversification of the organisms that constitute these communities.

“Mark epitomizes the well-rounded biologist. His work on adaptation and ecology in damselflies integrates work in community ecology, population biology, molecular phylogenetics, biochemistry and physiology, behavioral ecology, and mathematical theory. From developing methods for comparative analyses to performing demanding field experiments, Mark has integrated discoveries in different areas to reconstruct one of the most compelling of our modern case studies of adaptation in the whole organism,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis.

For more information about the 2010 AIBS award recipients, please visit http://www.aibs.org/aibsrecognizes2010.html.

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Short Takes

  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) has launched an investigation into climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann, who has been the target of climate skeptics after the release of emails stolen from the University of East Anglia. Cuccinelli has ordered Mann's former employer, the University of Virginia, to turn over any information relating to state-funded grants Mann applied for or received during his employment at the university. The university has indicated that it will comply with the request to the extent required by law. Many scientists believe that Cuccinelli is conducting a political witch-hunt that has no scientific basis. On 18 May 2010, the AAAS issued a statement calling for the withdrawal of the Attorney General's information request.
  • Representative Allan Mollohan (D-WV), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, was defeated in his bid for a 15th term in the House of Representatives. Mollohan lost to Mike Oliverio in the West Virginia Democratic primary on 12 May 2010. As chair of the subcommittee, Mollohan oversaw the budgets of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and was quite supportive of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will hold a public meeting on 2 June 2010, in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to solicit comments from interested persons on how the agencies can more effectively collaborate to advance the translation of biomedical research discoveries into approved diagnostics and therapies as well as promote science to enhance the evaluation tools used for regulatory review. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-11008.htm.
  • The Obama Administration released its final strategy for restoring the Chesapeake Bay, as directed by an Executive Order issued by the President in May 2009. The strategy outlines new regulations to restore clean water, implements new conservation practices on 4 million acres of farms, conserves 2 million acres of undeveloped land, and rebuilds oysters beds in 20 tributaries of the bay. Under the plan, federal agencies will be held more accountable and will establish milestones every two years for progress towards environmental goals. Read the restoration strategy at http://executiveorder.chesapeakebay.net/.

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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 publication from AIBS, “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Whether you are new to media outreach or just in a need of a media refresher, “Communicating Science” offers advice, case studies, and training exercises to prepare scientists for print, radio, and television interviews. 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. “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.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available at http://webstore.aibs.org.

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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 AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, 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.

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.

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.

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