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Public Policy Report for 12 October 2010

Action Alert: Ask Your Senators to Reauthorize America COMPETES

Developing a skilled workforce and stimulating economic growth requires investments in scientific research and education. Currently, many federal programs supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science, and other federal agencies are in jeopardy because of the expiration of the authorization of the America COMPETES Act.

Enacted in 2007, the law aims to stimulate innovation and improve science education by increasing funding authorizations for federal agencies that support basic research. To date, the law has helped to increase funding for NSF and establish science education programs that benefit students from the kindergarten to graduate school.

Congress is considering legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The legislation passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in June, but the Senate has yet to act. It is important that the Senate pass its version of the legislation this year.

Please show your support for science by asking your Senators to act on this important legislation. Please visit http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=18156501 to send a letter to your Senators today.

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AIBS Recommendations Included in Final Interior Department Scientific Integrity Policy

On 29 September 2010, the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a Secretarial Order establishing a DOI-wide policy intended to ensure the integrity of the science and scientific products used in departmental decision making and policy development. The directive came less than two weeks after a public comment period closed on a draft scientific integrity policy that was criticized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

In a letter to Secretary Salazar, AIBS expressed support for a strong DOI-wide scientific integrity policy and noted that such a policy could increase public trust in DOI decision making. AIBS also warned that the draft DOI policy failed to establish a system that would protect DOI scientists and scientific findings from political interference or manipulation in service of a policy agenda. Furthermore, AIBS expressed concern that the draft policy was confusing and vague and lacked appropriate employee protections and guidance, failed to provide timelines for implementation, and failed to cover the actions of decision makers.

“The directive issued by Secretary Salazar is an improvement from the draft policy,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O’Grady. The final order specifically responds to AIBS’ concern that the policy must apply to all DOI employees. According to the Secretarial Order, the policy applies to all employees “when they engage in, supervise or manage scientific activities, analyze and/or publicly communicate information resulting from scientific activities, or use this information or analysis in making agency policy.” Importantly, the policy also applies to all contractors, volunteers, and permitees.

AIBS also recommended that DOI develop a mechanism that would enable the public to track allegations of scientific misconduct. As stated in Secretary Salazar’s order, “DOI will identify, address, track, and resolve instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may have been compromised.”

Today’s order also articulates a number of principles for scientific integrity that AIBS strongly endorses. Of note, the policy includes language directing that knowledge, credentials and integrity should be core considerations in selecting candidates for scientific and decision making positions.

“It is good to see that the policy clearly states that individuals who report misconduct are covered by whistleblower protections,” said AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp. “Reporting misconduct is important and it should not be discouraged. Individuals must know that they will be protected from retaliation if they report misconduct.”

Although the Secretarial Order is a significant improvement from the draft policy, it could be strengthened. “The policy still relies on each bureau to develop its own processes for investigating claims of misconduct,” said Gropp. “It might be more efficient for DOI to provide a standard from which each bureau could develop its processes for investigating claims of misconduct.”

“We look forward to seeing how the policy is implemented across Interior. If done correctly, the public trust will grow in DOI decisions,” said O’Grady.

AIBS comments on the draft scientific integrity policy are available at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100917september2010_1.html. The Secretarial Order for DOI is available at http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Salazar-Issues-Secretarial-Order-to-Ensure-Integrity-of-Scientific-Process-in-Departmental-Decision-Making.cfm.

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A New Director for NSF

The Senate has confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Subra Suresh to the post of director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Suresh most recently served as dean of the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 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. Suresh holds a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, an M.S. from Iowa State University, and a Sc.D. from MIT. The Director of NSF is appointed to a six year term.

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Census of Marine Life Releases Report

A ten year effort to explore and document the world’s oceans has resulted in a treasure trove of scientific information. The Census of Marine Life, an international effort by 2,700 scientists from 80 countries, has revealed what, where, and how much lives and hides in the world’s oceans. The effort has discovered close to 6,000 new species and described 1,200 of them. Thirty million observations of species and their distributions have been digitally archived and are now available in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (www.iobis.org), an online, open-access, globally distributed network of systematic, ecological, and environmental information. The project also served to establish a baseline of human impacts on marine ecosystems.

To download the Census of Marine Life “Highlights of a Decade of Discovery” report, visit http://origin.coml.org/pressreleases/census2010/PDF/Highlights-2010-Report-Low-Res.pdf.

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BP Releases Plans for Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Research Fund

On 30 September 2010, BP announced that a $500 million research fund to study the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would be administered by the governors of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative will fund research over the next 10 years to study the environmental and human health impacts of the spill. Research will be focused in five areas: physical distribution and ultimate fate of contaminants; chemical and biological degradation of the contaminants; environmental impacts and ecosystem recovery; technology developments for oil spill detection, mitigation, and remediation; and human health.

The announcement comes after four months of silence from BP about the fund. The company originally provided $30 million for research at universities in the Gulf region and $10 million in research on human health at the National Institutes of Health. But the Obama Administration slowed distribution of the rest of the funds in June when it directed BP to work with Gulf state governors and other authorities “to design the long-term monitoring program to assure the environmental and public health of the Gulf Region.”

The fund will be managed by a board of scientists from academic institutions, who will be appointed by BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a partnership of the Gulf states. According to a press release from BP, it appears that the funds will be primarily directed to academic institutions in the region, but partnerships with institutions based outside the Gulf will be allowed. BP also made it clear that the results of research funded by the initiative will not be subject to BP approval prior to publication.

In September, AIBS joined other scientific societies to call for the establishment of an independent source of funding for research on the impacts of incidents caused by industry, such as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The complete statement is available at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100915september2010.html.

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New in BioScience: Congress Learns about 21st Century Biology

In the October 2010 issue of the journal BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on a recent congressional hearing exploring the potential of biology to contribute to the solution of societal problems and to stimulate new economic opportunity. An excerpt from the article, “Congress Learns about 21st Century Biology,” follows:

Last year, the National Research Council (NRC) issued A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Coming Biology Revolution. Described by some scientists as biology’s “moon shot,” the 112-page report makes a case for new research and funding models that can stimulate fundamental discovery and solve complex problems in the areas of environment, energy, agriculture, and health. Policymakers have since begun to consider the report’s recommendations.

In June, shortly after the House of Representatives passed its version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010—legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) and several other federal science programs—the chamber’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education convened a hearing to examine the future of the biological sciences. Spurred in part by the NRC report, the hearing considered how potential scientific advances can be translated into technologies that benefit society, and how to prepare researchers to thrive in areas of research that do not fit easily into a single academic department.

To read the entire article for free, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2010_10.html.

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AIBS Now 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

  • On 28 September 2010, an appeals court ruled that federally funded research involving human embryonic stem cells could continue until the underlying lawsuit, which questions the legality of research involving stem cells derived from human embryos, is formally decided. The ruling assures that research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can continue uninterrupted; the agency's intramural research was disrupted for two weeks in early September after a court injunction. The ruling also allows NIH to move forward with approval of new research grants and grant renewals. Some legal experts speculate that a final ruling on the case could be made by Thanksgiving, although it is likely to be appealed.

  • A new video from AIBS explores the features of the AIBS Legislative Action Center. The center is an easy-to-use tool that enables biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively engage in science policy. From writing to your members of Congress to learning about pending science legislation, the site is your one stop shop for information on science policy. To learn more about the AIBS Legislative Action Center, watch the video at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/news/new_video_explores_the_features_of_aibs_legislative_action_center.html#029636. To access the Legislative Action Center, visit www.capwiz.com/aibs.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking nominations for its Board of Scientific Counselors, which provides the agency with independent scientific and technical peer review, advice, consultation, and recommendations about the Office of Research and Development. Scientists with expertise in any of the following areas are sought: ecology, toxicology, informatics, socioeconomics, science policy, endocrine disrupting chemicals, climate change, sustainability, and risk assessment and management. For more information, visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-24805.htm.

  • Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), a vocal climate skeptic, has restarted his investigation of prominent climatologist Michael Mann, despite a court ruling last month that Cuccinelli's investigation of Mann had no basis. Cuccinelli is now demanding that the University of Virginia, Mann's former employer, turn over seven years' worth of emails and documents relating to a state-funded research grant that Mann received while at the university. The university has until the end of October to respond to the request.

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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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