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Public Policy Report for 26 September 2010

AIBS Urges Interior to Improve Proposed Scientific Integrity Policy

On 17 September 2010, AIBS commented on a Department of the Interior (DOI) proposal that would establish a DOI-wide scientific integrity policy. In short, AIBS expressed support for a strong scientific integrity policy but warned: “…the proposed policy…is inadequate. The policy fails to create a system that would protect DOI scientists and scientific findings from political interference or manipulation in service of a policy agenda.” AIBS also recommended a number of changes to improve the proposed policy, including expanding coverage to all Interior employees, establishing department-wide procedures for reporting scientific misconduct, and implementing uniform procedures for investigations of possible misconduct.

The full AIBS statement may be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100917september2010_1.html.

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Storm Clouds Build, NAS Releases Gathering Storm II

On 23 September 2010, the National Academies released a new report warning that “America’s ability to compete for quality jobs in the global economy continues to deteriorate, and the nation needs a sustained investment in education and basic research to spur innovation and keep its competitive position from slipping further.” The warning was issued in “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5,” a report prepared by some of the authors of the influential 2005 report “Rising Above the Gather Storm.”

The new warning was released at a briefing in the United States Capitol Building. On hand for the release were Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Representatives Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Frank Wolf (R-VA). Some members of Congress have said the report provides further reasons to enact legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act of 2007, which is set to expire this year. The America COMPETES Act authorized recommendations from the original Gathering Storm report, but many of these recommendations have not been fully funded.

The new report is available online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12999.

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Reports Recommend Improvements in STEM Ed

Mid-September marked the rollout of two major reports on the future of science education. A proposal from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommends a two pronged approach to improve K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. “We must prepare students so they have a strong foundation in STEM subjects and are able to use this knowledge in their personal and professional lives,” wrote Dr. John Holdren and Dr. Eric Lander, co-chairs of PCAST, in their introduction to the report. “And we must inspire students so that all are motivated to study STEM subjects in school and many are excited about the prospect of having careers in STEM fields.”

The report, “Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education for America’s Future,” includes calls for improving state science and math education standards, and teacher recruitment and preparation. The report also acknowledges that the federal government lacks a coherent strategy for K-12 STEM education within its multitude of science ed programs.

Meanwhile, a report from the National Science Board focuses on identifying and developing the next generation of STEM workers. “Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators” considers all levels of education and recommends improvements in three areas: providing opportunities for excellence, casting a wide net for potential talent, and fostering a supportive environment. Although the report does not offer recommendations as specific as those made by PCAST, both take the approach of encouraging engagement in STEM fields by girls and minorities, and providing students with opportunities to engage in hands on science.

To read the PCAST report, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports. To read the report from the National Science Board, visit http://www.nsf.gov/nsb.

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Russian Seed Bank Receives Temporary Reprieve

The Pavlovsk Experiment Station and its living plant collections in Russia have been threatened by plans to convert the facility into commercial development. A Russian court had rejected pleas to halt a planned land auction. However, following international expressions of concern, the facility has received a temporary reprieve. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently intervened in the matter and ordered a review of the proposed redevelopment plan. This has resulted in a delay of the land auction until October. Meanwhile, an independent, international commission will be established to assess the value of the plant collection. The station houses Europe’s largest collection of fruits and berries. More than 90 percent of the collection is reportedly found in no other research collection or genebank.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the Ecological Society of America (ESA) recently pressed for the preservation of the station’s genetic resources. In a letter to international and United States policymakers, AIBS and ESA drew attention to the station as an irreplaceable resource for humanity. The groups further warned that the loss of the genetic information held in the collection would reduce options for adaptation to future plant diseases, environmental changes, or the need for increased agricultural productivity.

AIBS and ESA also called attention to the threats facing natural science collections around the world due to lack of funding, loss of technically trained staff, and inadequate protection against natural disasters. The two scientific societies recommended that governmental and non-governmental organizations that fund scientific research increase investments in the physical and human infrastructure of living and non-living natural science collections. “Scientific collections should not be sacrificed for short-term economic gains nor allowed to slowly degrade by lack of funding. It is imperative that governments around the world recognize the value of these collections and act accordingly,” warned AIBS and ESA. To read the joint letter, visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100916aibsesa_statem.html.

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Government Funded Stem Cell Research Awaits Court Action

Research involving human embryonic stem cells has resumed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) after a court order suspended the work for two weeks. On 9 September 2010, a federal appeals court suspended a preliminary injunction that halted NIH in-house research. The injunction was a result of a pending lawsuit filed by opponents of human embryonic stem cell research.

The reprieve, however, is temporary, as the court will hear oral arguments on 27 September to determine if a longer suspension of the injunction is warranted. The court can either allow for government funded research to continue or halt it until the case is formally considered. If the latter occurs, intramural and extramural NIH research will be impacted. In the meantime, NIH has pressed forward with funding renewal requests, as well as expedited consideration of some new research proposals.

Congress has also waded into the issue. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education considered the matter in a hearing on 16 September. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), a long-time advocate for biomedical research, introduced a bill (S. 3766) to codify research involving human embryonic stem cells lines derived from unused embryos from fertility clinics. A similar measure, sponsored by Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Michael Castle (R-DE), is pending in the House of Representatives.

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USGS Coalition Hosts Capitol Hill Reception, Honors Members of Congress

Representatives Jim Moran (D-VA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) were presented with the annual USGS Coalition Leadership Award at a congressional reception on 20 September 2010. They were honored for their continuing support for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The reception is an annual event sponsored by the USGS Coalition.

Representative Moran is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment and Representative Simpson is the Ranking Member. In addition to the awards, the USGS Coalition reception highlighted research, information sharing, and services provided by the USGS. This year, nearly 200 individuals representing scientific societies, government agencies, and congressional offices attended the reception.

“The USGS Coalition is pleased to honor Representatives Moran and Simpson,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, co-chair of the USGS Coalition and AIBS director of public policy. “They understand how important USGS science is to the nation and that funding for the USGS is an investment that pays returns in the form of improved public safety from natural hazards, wise ecosystem management, and improved conservation of biological diversity. Indeed, the USGS is much more than the science agency for the Department of the Interior. Data and products developed by the USGS and its highly skilled workforce are vital to our economy and can help drive the development of new products and markets.”

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AIBS Participating in the Combined Federal Campaign

Federal employees may now contribute to the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC, see http://www.opm.gov/cfc/). The mission of the CFC is to “promote and support philanthropy through a program that is employee focused, cost-efficient, and effective in providing all federal employees the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all.”

According to the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the CFC is the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign, with more than 300 CFC campaigns throughout the country and internationally. Pledges made by federal civilian, postal and military donors during the campaign season (September 1st to December 15th) support eligible non-profit organizations.

The AIBS CFC # is 69973. To make a contribution to AIBS, please visit http://www.aibs.org/donate/.

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Short Takes

  • AIBS joined with 13 other scientific societies to send a letter to the United States Senate expressing the need for public access to independent scientific research assessments of the impacts of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The letter calls for the formation of an independent panel to review research proposals and for protections to ensure that scientists retain their right to independent peer-reviewed study. To read the letter, visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100915_september_2010.html.
  • Former Director of the National Science Foundation and AIBS past president, Dr. Rita Colwell, has been selected to serve as a science diplomat to the Muslim world. The selection of Colwell brings the total number of U.S. science envoys to six.
  • On 16 September, the Senate confirmed Dr. Carl Wieman as associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Wieman, a Nobel physics laureate and a proponent of science education reform, will lead the division of OSTP that formulates and coordinates federal research and development policy, as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education policy.
  • The U.S. Global Change Research Program is seeking public comments on its plans for the next National Climate Assessment. "US National Climate Assessment Objectives, Proposed Topics, and Next Steps" describes the objectives of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) process, provides an initial outline of the next NCA synthesis report, and describes the next steps in planning for and implementing the NCA process. Comments are due by 8 October 2010. For more information, please visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-22229.htm.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking experts to review the interagency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan, which describes restoration priorities, goals, and specific actions for restoring these bodies of water. Scientists and engineers with demonstrated expertise are needed from the following areas: limnology, landscape ecology, restoration ecology, ecotoxicology, population biology, aquatic biology, fisheries and wildlife management, invasive species, environmental engineering, environmental monitoring, and environmental assessment. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-23982.htm.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a report on the implementation of ecosystem-based management in national marine sanctuaries. "Examples of Ecosystem-Based Management in National Marine Sanctuaries: Moving from Theory to Practice" is available at http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/science/conservation/nceas.html.

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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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