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Public Policy Report for 12 September 2011

NSF Finally Names New Assistant Director for BIO

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has a selected a new Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Dr. John C. Wingfield will assume the post that has been held in an interim capacity by Dr. Joann Roskoski since October 2009. Wingfield joined NSF from the University of California at Davis in September 2010 as Division Director of Integrative Organismal Systems.

Wingfield is an environmental endocrinologist. His research centers on the neural endocrine mechanisms underlying organism-environment interactions. Of particular interest to Wingfield are the neural pathways for environmental signals affecting seasonality, mechanisms of coping with environmental stress, and the social modulation of hormone secretion. This research also interfaces with how animals deal with global climate change, endocrine disruption and conservation biology.

“It is indeed a great honor and a challenge to be appointed Assistant Director for BIO,” said Wingfield. “This is a transformational time for biological sciences in the post-genome era as we try to understand life on Earth from its most fundamental components at the molecular levels to functioning organisms interacting with their environments, and with each other, at ecosystem scales.”

From 2003 to 2005, Wingfield served as President of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, and from 2006 to 2010 he was President of the XXV International Ornithological Congress.

Wingfield received his Ph.D. in Zoology and Comparative Endocrinology from the University College of North Wales, U.K. in 1973.

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Students Urge Lawmakers to Invest in Science

More than 2,900 students pursuing a Ph.D., Master’s, or bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) have now signed a letter to federal lawmakers encouraging sustained investments in the nation’s scientific research, education, and training programs.

“Throughout the 20th century, sustained investments in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics helped build our nation’s economy and improved quality of life for people around the world,” states the letter. “If the United States is to remain a global leader, both economically and scientifically, we must sustain and reinvest in STEM research and development.”

“As future scientists and educators, federal funding is important to us all,” said Rachel Meyer, one of the co-authors of the letter. “While addressing the nation’s budget challenges is essential, now is not the time to sacrifice investments in science.” Meyer is a doctoral candidate at the City University of New York, and Student Representative on the Board of Directors for the Botanical Society of America.

The petition was sent to all members of Congress on 8 September 2011. Congress is considering legislation to fund the National Science Foundation and other science agencies in fiscal year 2012.

“Science is a proven driver of economic growth in the United States,” said American Institute of Biological Sciences President Dr. James P. Collins. “Federal support for research and science education is vital for job creation and economic recovery, and for continued advancements in human health, national security, agriculture, energy, and environmental stewardship. The views expressed in this letter are a real credit to the foresight of these thousands of students.”

Students from all 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam signed the letter. The students are pursuing degrees across a wide range of scientific disciplines, including biology, geology, chemistry, physics, linguistics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering.

The letter is the result of a joint effort between student members of the Botanical Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

A copy of the letter is available online at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/StudentSciencePetition_9.8.2011.pdf.

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AIBS Comments on NSF and EPA Draft Scientific Integrity Policies

On 6 September 2011, AIBS commented on draft scientific integrity plans for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The comments highlight areas of support for the draft policies, as well as offer recommendations to further improve the policies.

NSF’s draft policy focuses heavily on the actions that it has already taken, such as its investigator conflict-of-interest policy and its information sharing via the Open Government Initiative. The plan also outlines a new policy for how NSF will handle media inquires.

AIBS urged NSF to make the policy applicable to all employees, appointees, and contractors who engage in, supervise, or manage scientific activities; analyze or communicate scientific information; or use such information to make decisions. “Universal coverage is essential to ensuring that the policy is effective,” states the AIBS letter.

Another AIBS recommendation for NSF is the inclusion of codes of scientific conduct and ethics for employees and managers; something other agencies have added to scientific integrity policies. Additionally, AIBS strongly encouraged NSF to revise its policy to allow employees to freely join and participate in scientific and professional societies.

EPA’s draft policy addresses the promotion of scientific ethical standards, communications with the public, the use of advisory committees and peer review, and professional development.

“Science is the backbone of EPA’s decision-making,” states the draft policy. “The ability to pursue the Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment depends upon the integrity of the science on which we rely…. When dealing with science, it is the responsibility of every EPA employee to conduct, utilize, and communicate science with the highest degree of honesty, integrity, and transparency, both within and outside the Agency.”

AIBS commended EPA for applying its policy to all employees and appointees who engage in, supervise, or manage scientific activities; analyze or communicate scientific information; or use such information to make decisions. EPA was encouraged to further extend this policy to contractors. EPA was also urged to include codes of scientific conduct and ethics for scientists, managers, and supervisors.

EPA was commended for supporting the participation of agency scientists in the leadership of professional and scientific societies, the publication of results in peer-reviewed journals, the presentation of research at scientific meetings, and active participation in professional societies. The creation of an agency-wide committee and the designation of a senior official to oversee the implementation of EPA’s scientific integrity policy were also commended.

To read the comments submitted by AIBS to NSF, http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20110906nsfintegrity.html. For more information about NSF’s draft scientific integrity policy, visit http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-04/html/2011-19701.htm.

To read the comments submitted by AIBS to EPA, visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20110906epaintegrity.html. For more information about EPA’s draft scientific integrity policy, visit http://www.epa.gov/osa/.

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Senate Starts Work on FY 2012 Funding

After returning from its month-long recess, the Senate wasted no time in getting to work on fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations. The quick start to the current legislative period is necessary, given that the new fiscal year starts on 1 October.

On 7 September, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its allocations for the 12 bills that collectively fund the federal government. Overall, discretionary spending would be $1.043 trillion in FY 2012, $7 billion less than this year. Defense spending would be the same as in FY 2011, but all other areas of spending would be reduced slightly.

Two Senate subcommittees also approved spending plans for the agencies under their jurisdiction. The Department of Energy Office of Science would receive $4.843 billion, the same as FY 2011, despite cuts to the top-line budget for the department. This is $43 million more than the House-passed bill.

Research programs at the Department of Agriculture would receive $2.309 billion, $39 million less than this year. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative — a competitive extramural research grants programs — would receive $266 million, a $1.5 million increase. This is $36.5 million more than the House approved for the program.

To date, the Senate has passed one of the 12 annual appropriations bills. The House of Representatives has passed half of the bills. Given the short legislative window until the beginning of the next fiscal year and anticipated partisan bickering, it is extremely unlikely that Congress will finish FY 2012 appropriations on time. As in past years, it is expected that Congress will have to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government until it completes its appropriations work.

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Short Take

  • The National Park Service hopes to create a new graduate fellowship that will sponsor 24 Ph.D. students from biological, physical, social, and cultural disciplines to conduct research in national parks. The agency plans to implement the program by 2016.

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2011 AIBS Congressional Directory Available in AIBS Webstore

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that copies of the AIBS guide to the 112th Congress are now available in the AIBS Webstore for only $19.95 per copy. There is a limited supply of this handy resource, so please order your copy today. To learn more about this or other publications available through AIBS, please visit http://webstore.aibs.org/category/35373945661/1/Books.htm.

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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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