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Public Policy Report for 13 September 2010

NIH Halts Intramural Stem Cell Research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stopped all of its internal research involving human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). The move came in response to a recent ruling by a federal court that halts federal funding of research involving hESCs. Lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees NIH, determined that the court's preliminary injunction applies to intramural research at the agency. Consequently, NIH researchers on eight projects have been forced to stop their work on hESCs.

The ban on federal funding of research involving hESCs is a result of a lawsuit filed by opponents of stem cell research. On 23 August, United States District Judge Royce C. Lamberth found that the government's policy on hESC research violates a federal law that bars the government from funding research that destroys human embryos. The judge directed the government to cease funding stem cell research, including intramural research at NIH, as well as future external research grants. NIH Director Francis Collins has reassured scientists whose work is already funded that they can continue their research.

The ban on hESC research will continue for the foreseeable future, despite an attempt by the Department of Justice to temporarily lift the ban. In a legal brief filed on 31 August, the government argued that the court's ban should be lifted "to avoid terminating research projects midstream, invalidating results in process, and impeding or negating years of scientific progress toward finding new treatments" for human ailments. Judge Lamberth ruled last week to keep the ban on hESC research in place: "Defendants are incorrect about much of their 'parade of horribles' that will supposedly result from this Court's preliminary injunction."

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Review Panel Finds Fault with IPCC

An independent panel has called for changes in the way the United Nations handles its assessments of climate change. Although the panel found that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been “successful overall,” it needs to improve its governance and management, review process, characterization and communication of uncertainty, and transparency.

The panel made several recommendations, including the formation of an Executive Council to make ongoing decisions and the selection of an executive director to handle day-to-day operations. The panel also suggested changes to the review process for climate assessments, such as adopting “a more targeted and effective process for responding to reviewer comments,” and indicting controversies within a report. To deal with the issue of scientific uncertainty, the review panel recommended the implementation of a “qualitative level-of-understanding scale” in the Summary for Policymakers. The review was conducted by the InterAcademy Council, a consortium of science academies from around the world, at the request of the IPCC and the United Nations. The review was prompted by recent allegations of mistakes in the 2007 IPCC report and of exclusion of climate science from the assessment process. Harold Shapiro of Princeton University, who chaired the independent review panel, wrote in his introduction to the review that these controversies, both real and perceived, have detracted from an otherwise successful program. “I think the errors made did dent the credibility of the process,” Shaprio told reporters.

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Judge Blocks Investigation of Climate Researcher by Virginia Attorney General

A judge has blocked an investigation of climate researcher Michael Mann launched by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). Cuccinelli, a vocal climate skeptic, was investigating if Mann had committed fraud while applying for research grants to study climate change. The county circuit court judge ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena of hundreds of documents from Mann’s former employer, University of Virginia, was unfounded. Judge Paul Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli failed to demonstrate that Mann had committed fraud while a professor at University of Virginia: “The nature of the conduct is not stated so that any reasonable person could glean what Dr. Mann did to violate the statute,” the judge wrote. “… The Court…understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did that was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

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NSF In Search of New Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is looking for a new chief for their Education and Human Resources directorate. In a recent letter, Dr. Cora Marrett, Acting Director of the National Science Foundation, announced that NSF has initiated a national search for a new assistant director to oversee the agency's efforts in undergraduate and graduate education, research on learning in formal and informal settings, and human resource development. Nominations are sought for candidates with outstanding leadership; a deep sense of scholarship; a grasp of the issues facing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research and education; and the ability to serve effectively as a key member of the NSF management team. More information about the candidate search and the directorate's activities are available at http://www.nsf.gov/od. Recommendations are due by 8 October 2010.

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Short Takes

  • The Department of the Interior has released a draft policy on scientific integrity. The policy, which applies to all department personnel who engage in scientific activities or who directly supervise such employees, is the first of it's kind for Interior. Public comments are being accepted through 20 September 2010. More information is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-21591.htm.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) is now accepting nominations for the 2011 Alan T. Waterman Award. Each year, NSF bestows the Waterman Award in recognition of talent, creativity, and influence of a singular young researcher. Established in 1975 to commemorate the Foundation's first Director, the Waterman Award is NSF's highest honor for researchers under the age of 36. Nominations are accepted from any field of science or engineering that NSF supports. The award recipient will receive a medal and an invitation to the formal awards ceremony in Washington, DC. In addition, the recipient will receive a grant of $500,000 over a three-year period for scientific research or advanced study in any field of science or engineering supported by NSF, at any institution of the recipient's choice. For detailed information, please visit https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/honawards/.

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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! (www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislative_action_center.html)

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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