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Public Policy Report for 7 June 2010

President Obama to Nominate Engineer as Next NSF Director

President Barack Obama has announced his intent to nominate Subra Suresh to serve as the next director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Arden Bement stepped down as director of NSF at the end of May; Dr. Cora Marrett is currently serving as acting director. Suresh is currently dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Since 1993, he has held joint faculty appointments in the departments of Mechanical Engineering and Biological Engineering, as well as the Division of Health Sciences and Technology. His research into the mechanical properties of engineered and biological materials has included studies of nanostructured materials and the exploration of connections between biological cell mechanics and human disease. He has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and several foreign academies of science. Suresh holds a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, an M.S. from Iowa State University, and a Sc.D. from MIT.

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Third Time Is the Charm: House Passes COMPETES Act

On 28 May 2010, the House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. The legislation aims to stimulate innovation and improve science education by increasing funding authorizations for federal agencies that support basic research. The bill was passed by a vote of 262 to 150, which marked the end of a long and politically fractured journey for the measure through the chamber. The House had twice rejected the bill in recent weeks.

The victory for HR 5116 came after the House voted on nine amendments sought by Science Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). Only two of the amendments were ultimately adopted. One bans the use of funds to pay the salaries of federal employees who are disciplined for watching pornography at work. The other adopted amendment supports an existing prohibition on the award of federal funds to universities that bar military recruiters from campus. The chamber rejected a drastic reduction in the legislation’s authorizations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science). Instead, the budgets of these agencies would be kept on a ten year doubling path, as established in the 2007 COMPETES Act. For NSF, this could mean a budget as large as $10.2 billion in fiscal year 2015, if the funds are actually appropriated.

The legislation would also create several new research and education programs at NSF. At least five percent of the Research and Related Accounts (R&RA) budget would be directed to high-risk, high-reward basic research. NSF could award cash prizes for innovation. Funding for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program 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.

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NAS Releases Final Recommendations on Stem Cell Research

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee has updated its guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research to reflect the creation of research guidelines by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Committee recommends that NIH guidelines on stem cell research should supersede NAS guidelines where there is complete overlap. In other matters that are not addressed by NIH’s guidelines, such as non-federally funded research, the guidelines developed by NAS should continue to be used. NAS offers guidance in several areas not covered by NIH: derivation of new stem cell lines, stem cell lines not derived from excess in vitro fertilization embryos, and broader research uses of stem cells.

The National Academies’ guidelines were revised to address recent changes in federal policy. An Executive Order issued by President Barack Obama in March 2009 lifted certain restrictions on the use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research and directed NIH to formulate its own policy on the matter. NIH issued guidelines in July 2009 that established a mechanism for determining eligibility of human embryonic stem cell lines for federal research funding.

To read “Final Report of The National Academies Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee and 2010 Amendments to the National Academies Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research,” visit http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12923.

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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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Plan Finalized for Digitization of Biological Collections

The biological collections community has finalized a strategic plan to digitize and mobilize images and data associated with biological research collections. The ten year, national effort is the product of two workshops held at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in 2010, as well as surveys of 291 federal and approximately 600 federally supported collections.

The plan outlines three key objectives: digitize data from all U.S. biological collections and make them available online in a standardized format; develop and make available new web interfaces, visualization and analysis tools, data mining, and georeferencing processes; and prevent future backlogs of digitized collections through the use of tools, training, and infrastructure. These goals will be accomplished through the work of collections networks organized by region of the country or scientific theme, such as clade or a particular research question. A national digitization hub will serve as “the administrative home for the digitization effort, fostering partnerships and innovations, facilitating best practice standards and workflows, serving as a repository for data and techniques, and establishing cohesion and interconnectivity among digitization projects,” according to the plan.

The final plan incorporates the comments of numerous stakeholders, including institutions holding collections, scientific societies, and others. On 25 May 2010, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) endorsed the “Final Draft Strategic Plan for Establishing a National Digital Biological Collections Resource.” In its comments on the draft plan, AIBS cited the need to digitize the nation’s biological collections in order to protect the invaluable scientific knowledge contained within them. Moreover, AIBS noted that the digitization effort would also drive innovation and increase access to important scientific specimens and data. AIBS called for the support and participation, both financial and technical, of all federal agencies that maintain collections or have collections housed at non-federal facilities.

The AIBS comments may be read at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100525aibscommentso6.html. To read the final strategic plan, visit http://digbiocol.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/final-report-a-strategic-plan-for-establishing-a-network-integrated-collections-alliance/.

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Short Takes

  • The National Academy of Public Administration is seeking public input on how the National Climate Service can best engage stakeholders. Congress directed the Academy to analyze options for structuring a climate service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Visit http://www.napaclimatedialogue.org/ between 14-28 June to join the dialogue.
  • The number of students enrolling in full time science or engineering graduate programs reached a record number — 108,819 — in 2008. According to the National Science Foundation, the 7.8 percent increase in enrollments between 2007 and 2008 represents the largest one year increase in a decade.
  • The University of Virginia is fighting an inquiry by the state’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, into climatologist Dr. Michael Mann. The university has asked a state circuit court to dismiss the investigation into Mann’s grant applications while he was affiliated with the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli, a vocal climate skeptic, is investigating if Mann violated the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act while he worked at the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2005. Many in the scientific community view Cuccinelli’s inquiry as a politically motivated witch hunt.

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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.

Now In BioScience - “Science Advice in the States”

In the June 2010 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr reports on states’ efforts (or lack thereof) to integrate science into policy making. 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/.

In 2006 this column posed the question, “Where are all the state science advisers?” With states challenged to make more decisions about investments in research, science education, and tech-based industry, author Gillian Andres asked, Who is advising the governors? She found that few US states had science advisers within the governor’s office. An informal survey conducted by the AIBS Public Policy Office in July 2006 found that just six states (Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia) had identifiable positions. A handful of other states, including Kansas, had had science advisers in the past, and about half received advice from science and technology advisory boards. Unlike science advisers, however, these boards generally address narrower issues, such as science education and fostering ties between academia and industry.

To continue reading this article for free, visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2010_06.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 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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