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Public Policy Report for 25 October 2010

Scientists Share Insights on Water, Agriculture, and Ecosystems with Policymakers

As water supplies become constrained, science can play an important role in managing water conflicts. Recognizing this, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) brought scientists, natural resource managers, and policymakers to Washington, DC, on 14 October 2010, for the organization’s annual Congressional briefing and science symposium. The theme for the 2010 program was: “Using Science to Balance Society’s Needs for Water, Agriculture, and Ecosystems.”

The AERC Congressional briefing is held each year in conjunction with the organization’s scientific meeting. Individuals representing House and Senate offices as well as federal agencies and non-governmental organizations attended the briefing, where they heard from and asked question of individuals working at the nexus of science and public policy.

Dr. Lucinda Johnson, AERC past-president and director of the Center for Water and the Environment at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, moderated the one-hour Capital Hill science briefing. Program speakers were: Dr. Mark Walbridge of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, Dr. Carol Couch of the University of Georgia, Dr. Cliff Dahm of the Delta Science Program and the University of New Mexico, and Mr. Paul Faeth of CNA Corp.

After the briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group moved down the National Mall to the Smithsonian Institution where AERC convened a half-day scientific symposium and reception.

As a member organization of AIBS and a contributor to the AIBS Public Policy Office, AERC received planning and logistical assistance for the congressional briefing from AIBS. For more information about AERC, please visit http://www.ecosystemresearch.org/. For more information about the AIBS Public Policy Office and its services for AIBS members and contributing societies, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/.

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UN Report Informs Policymakers on Value of Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity

“The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature” seeks to characterize the value of the environment. The document is the seventh and final report from the United Nations Environment Programme on the economic value of ecosystems and biodiversity. The report provides an economic valuation of the natural world that is intended to help policymakers make informed decisions about the environment.

“TEEB [The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity] has documented not only the multi-trillion dollar importance to the global economy of the natural world, but the kinds of policy-shifts and smart market mechanisms that can embed fresh thinking in a world beset by a rising raft of multiple challenges. The good news is that many communities and countries are already seeing the potential of incorporating the value of nature into decision-making,” said Pavan Sukhdev, a banker who heads up the Green Economy Initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Making the value of nature more visible to policymakers and the public
  • Accounting for risk and uncertainty in environmental policy decisions
  • Measuring changes in each nation’s “natural capitol stocks,” such as ecosystem services
  • Including environmental liabilities and changes in natural assets in the annual reporting of businesses
  • Creating economic incentives for environmental protection, such as ‘polluter-pays’

To download the report, visit http://www.teebweb.net.

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IPCC to Reform How It Deals With Scientific Uncertainty and Errors

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has revised its guidelines for dealing with scientific uncertainty in its climate assessment reports. In the future, authors and reviewers of international climate reports will assess the quality of scientific information available to them, as well as the degree of uncertainty in the findings. According to Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC working group on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability: “What I expect us to do is to use the uncertainty guidance very carefully so we can avoid problems where we seem to be asserting more confidence than the data will allow; but also provide value to a discussion where the confidence isn’t necessarily very high.”

The panel also approved procedures for correcting errors in its reports. New guidance on the use of so-called “grey literature,” which is not peer-reviewed, is also expected in the coming months. Other recommendations, including term limits for senior officials and the appointment of an executive director, have been directed to a review committee for consideration.

These changes come in light of a recent independent review of the IPCC. The review panel found fault with the organization’s governance and management, review process, characterization and communication of uncertainty, and transparency.

One recommendation that does not appear likely to be implemented by the IPCC is a limitation to a single term for senior officials. Instead, Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who is in his second term, has stated his intention to stay until the next climate assessment is completed in 2014.

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OSTP Directs Agencies to Plan for the Management of Scientific Collections

Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), has directed all federal agencies to plan for the management of scientific collections. The 6 October 2010 directive was issued as agencies are working internally and with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request. The memorandum directs the implementation of several recommendations included in a 2009 report from the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections. Within 12 months, agencies are directed to assess and realistically project budgets for collections care and maintenance. Additionally, agencies “are urged to share their scientific collections policies and procedures to help [other] agencies develop best practices.” Lastly, agencies are directed to collaborate to document their collections holdings and to make this information available online to the public within 36 months.

The OSTP directive is available at http://nscalliance.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/ostp-collections-memo-1062010.pdf.

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Interior IG Includes Scientific Collections Management as a Top Agency Priority

A new report by the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of the Interior calls for the prioritization of management of museum collections within the department. The report, which outlines major management and performance challenges facing Interior, reflects “what the Office of Inspector General considers significant impediments to the Department’s efforts to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in its bureaus’ management and operations.” Collections management is included within “resource protection and management,” which is one of eight broad priorities outlined in the report.

The recommendation to improve accessioning, cataloging, and inventorying of Interior collections was first made in an IG report in December 2009. The IG “found that DOI is failing to fulfill its stewardship responsibilities over museum collections,” due to “poor program management, ineffective oversight, poor reporting, and an insufficient allocation of resources.” The ongoing nature of these problems, many of which have been documented for twenty years, makes collections unavailable to researchers and the public, and has left artifacts and specimens subject to theft and deterioration. Despite some progress by the Department of the Interior over the past 11 months, the department has not yet fully implemented the 13 recommendations made by the IG.

DOI is the second largest holder of museum collections, with an estimated 146 million artifacts and pieces of artwork at 625 DOI facilities and at more than 1,000 non-DOI facilities. Interior’s collections are comprised mostly of documents (60 percent) and archeological objects (35 percent).

To download the IG report, visit http://www.doioig.gov/images/stories/reports/pdf/X-SP-MOI-0008-2010%20Performance%20Challenges.pdf. For more coverage on the December 2009 IG report, visit http://nscalliance.org/?p=235.

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NSF Fellowship to Recognize STEM Education as Valid Field of Study

Starting in 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will recognize science education as a valid field of study for its prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship. Until now, the fellowship program did not formally recognize science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education as a topic that was eligible for support. Applicants for the fellowship had to choose “other” as their primary field of research, rather than selecting one of the nearly 150 fields that NSF specified. Beginning with the 2011 application, candidates for the fellowship can select from among five fields of study in “STEM Education and Learning Research,” including science education, technology education, engineering education, and math education. For more information about the Graduate Research Fellowship, visit http://www.nsfgrfp.org/.

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Short Takes

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences has launched a Wiki to facilitate collaboration on proposals for the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections solicitation. The website is a social network that will enable researchers to communicate about collaborative proposals. According to NSF, researchers, collection managers and others will be able to briefly describe their expertise and interest in developing collaborative proposals on the Wiki. A "Dear Colleague Letter" from Joann Roskoski, Acting Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, about the new Wiki is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2011/nsf11007/nsf11007.jsp?WT.mc_id=USNSF_25&WT.mc_ev=click. Questions regarding the ADBC solicitation, FAQs or Wiki should be sent by e-mail to biodigit@nsf.gov.
  • Three biologists have been awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor in science. Susan Lindquist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mortimer Mishkin of the National Institutes of Health, and Stanley Prusiner of the University of California, San Francisco are among the ten recipients this year.
  • A new website, "Biodiversity Policy and Practice," is a one stop shop for information on international efforts regarding the conservation of biodiversity. The site provides the latest biodiversity policy news and summaries of ongoing international activities. For more information, visit http://biodiversity-l.iisd.org/.

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Now 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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In the AIBS Webstore

“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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