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Public Policy Report for 29 August 2010

NABT Partners with AIBS Public Policy Office

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) are pleased to announce a new strategic partnership that will help advance the science and education policy interests of the biological sciences community. Through the arrangement, NABT members will be able to access and utilize a suite of AIBS public policy services and resources.

NABT is a nonprofit professional society dedicated to empowering educators to provide the best possible biology and life science education for all students. AIBS is a nonprofit scientific association dedicated to advancing biological research and education for the welfare of society.

“AIBS and NABT have a long history of working together to help teachers bring the excitement of modern biology to students and make sure that their education keeps pace with the rapid growth of biological knowledge,” said AIBS president Dr. Joseph Travis. “We are excited to expand this partnership; AIBS will now help NABT members stay informed about developments in science and education policy in Washington. Our biology teachers are vital for our nation; they lay the groundwork for students who pursue 21st Century careers in medicine, science, and biotechnology and help all students understand the living world.” Travis said.

The partnership will help AIBS and NABT leverage resources to ensure that decision-makers understand the needs and challenges facing biology teachers. Through the arrangement, NABT members will be able to access and utilize the AIBS Legislative Action Center, participate in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event, and participate in AIBS webinars and workshops that provide scientists and educators with resources that help them effectively communicate with decision-makers and reporters. Additionally, AIBS will provide NABT with timely news reports on science education policy developments.

“Since 1938, NABT has been advocating for biology teachers. Today, more than ever, biology and science education are on the front lines of reform. Our partnership with AIBS furnishes an extensive membership service replete with credible information, resources, and a more expansive voice for biology and the life sciences, most especially in a greater formal interaction with policy makers. It makes sense to utilize our partnership with AIBS to provide an additional toolkit of available and accessible opportunities,” said NABT president Ms. Marion “Bunny” Jaskot.

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Judge Halts Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research

A federal judge ruled on 23 August 2010 that the federal government must immediately stop funding research that involves human embryonic stem cells (hESC). United States District Judge Royce C. Lamberth found that the Obama Administration’s policy on hESC research violates a federal law that bars the government from funding research that destroys human embryos.

The decision is the result of a lawsuit filed by opponents of stem cell research, including the Christian Medical Association, Nightlight Christian Adoptions, two couples seeking to “adopt” unused embryos, and two researchers. Judge Lamberth originally dismissed the lawsuit, but a federal appeals court found that two of the plaintiffs, Dr. James L. Sherley and Dr. Theresa Deisher, had a case. Both are medical researchers who claim that they are disadvantaged by the Obama Administration’s stem cell policy because they study induced pluripotent stem cells (stem cells derived from adult cells). The researchers claim that the government’s guidelines would “result in increased competition for limited federal funding,” thus hindering their ability to seek federal research funding.

In response to the reinstatement of the case by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Lamberth found that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is violating the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, language which Congress has enacted annually since 1996 to bar the use of taxpayer funds for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero….” “The language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed,” Lamberth wrote. “This prohibition encompasses all ‘research in which’ an embryo is destroyed, not just the ‘piece of research’ in which the embryo is destroyed,” as the Justice Department argued.

The court’s preliminary injunction prohibits NIH from funding research under guidelines issued by President Obama in March 2009. These guidelines expanded the number of stem cells lines eligible for federal research funding. Of further concern to some stem cell advocates is that the judge’s ruling may also bar federal funding under the policy created by President George W. Bush, thereby making all research on hESC illegal.

The Justice Department has already announced its intent to appeal the ruling. Lawmakers have also signaled an interest in addressing the issue when Congress returns from recess in September. In the meantime, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins has said that the ruling does not affect currently funded research. Grantees were notified via email to continue their research for the current award period. The fate of other research projects is less certain. NIH has already set aside 50 grants awaiting peer review, as well as another dozen grants that had passed the first stage of peer review and were headed to NIH advisory councils. Twenty-two other grants totaling $54 million, which are pending annual renewal in September, will also be held.

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NSF Announces New Grant Program for Digitization of Biological Collections

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a new grant program, “Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections,” for scientific collections. According to NSF documents, the program seeks to “create a national resource of digital data documenting existing biological collections and to advance scientific knowledge by improving access to digitized information (including images) residing in vouchered scientific collections across the United States.” NSF has stated a goal of making 7-12 competitive awards totaling $10 million in fiscal year 2011, assuming adequate appropriations of funds. Of these planned awards, 6-11 are anticipated to be “Thematic Collections Networks,” and one award is planned to be a “Home Uniting Biocollections (HUB).”

For more information, including links to the Request for Proposal (RFP), please visit http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgmsumm.jsp?pimsid=503559&org=NSF&sel_org=NSF&from=fund.

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Mid-Term Elections Approaching: Don't Forget to Vote

This November, voters will head to the polls to elect all members of the United States House of Representatives, 37 Senate seats, and various state government offices. To find out more about elections in your district, visit the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/election/home/. If you have recently moved, you will need to re-register to vote. Visit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission at http://www.eac.gov to obtain a voter registration form.

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Short Takes

  • The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is requesting public comment on synthetic biology, including its potential applications and risks, as well as the appropriate ethical boundaries. Comments are due by 1 October 2010. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-21359.htm.

  • The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has updated its Best Practices for Biospecimen Resources. Major revisions include the addition of new sections on biospecimen resource management and operations and conflict of interest, expansion of recommendations related to custodianship and informed consent, and harmonization with current federal guidance documents and recommendations from international biospecimen organizations. Public comments on the revised best practices are being accepted until 22 September 2010. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-20872.htm.

  • The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is seeking comments on the draft Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard. The standard provides a means of classifying ecological and habitat units using a common terminology. Comments are being accepted until 13 December 2010. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-20851.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 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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Professional Development: AIBS Workshops on Communicating Science to the Media and Policymakers

Staffed by professionals with years of experience working with scientists, law-makers, and opinion shapers, the AIBS Public Policy Office provides public presentations and small-group training programs that help scientists and educators become effective advocates for science.

Learn more about this exciting AIBS program, including how your organization can schedule a program, by visiting http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.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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