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Public Policy Report for 30 January 2012

NSF Releases 2012 Science and Engineering Indicators

Worldwide expenditures on research and development (R&D) have increased dramatically over the past decade, but the United State’s lead is slipping, according to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) recently released Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. The report highlights major developments in international and U.S. science and technology.

The combined R&D investments of 10 Asian nations, including China, India, and Japan, now match U.S. expenditures on science at about $400 billion a year. Most of the growth in Asia was driven by China, where R&D spending grew by 28 percent between 2008 and 2009. In the U.S., science expenditures declined by 0.3 percent over the same period. The decline in domestic spending was due to reduced funding by private industry, which was partially offset by increased government spending through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The federal share of support for basic research continues to drop, from 60 percent a decade ago to 53 percent in 2009. The government spends about $40 billion annually on basic research, about $27 billion on applied research, and $57 billion on development. The report suggests a growing imbalance among research areas: over the past decade, federal support for the life sciences and math/computer sciences increased by more than 35 percent, after inflation. Environmental and social sciences saw federal support shrink by 7 and 12 percent, respectively.

In terms of education, the U.S. continues to rank second in the number of awarded doctorates in the natural sciences and engineering. Nearly 40 percent of these doctorates were earned by temporary visa holders. China became the world leader in doctorate recipients in 2007, a trend largely driven by a steep increase in engineering doctorates.

According to the report, it appears that the economic recession has less severely impacted workers in science and engineering jobs. The unemployment rate in 2010 for such workers was 3.8 percent, as compared with 5.0 percent for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, and 9.6 percent for all U.S. workers.

The report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/.

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Congressional Supporters of Science to Retire

As the 2012 elections approach, more members of Congress are announcing their intention to withdraw from public life at the end of the 112th Congress. To date, 17 Representatives and 9 Senators plan to retire when the current session of Congress draws to a close. Among the soon to be retirees are several members who have been strong supporters of science.

Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) announced earlier this month that he plans to retire. Hinchey, who has served 10 terms in Congress, is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. In that role, he has defended federal investments in science. Hinchey has been treated for colon cancer, but recently was given a clean bill of health.

Last week, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) announced that he will retire. He publically acknowledged that North Carolina’s newly drawn congressional map motivated his departure from Congress. Following redistricting, Miller’s current district was combined with the district of fellow Democrat Rep. David Price. Miller has served five terms in the House of Representatives and has held leadership positions on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. He is currently the senior Democrat on the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

Also of note, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) resigned last week to focus on her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head last January. Giffords had previously chaired the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee.

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Military Proposes Budget Cuts, Protects Research Programs

The Department of Defense has released a blueprint for how it would reduce its spending by $259 billion over the next five years. The reductions would bring the department’s budget in line with the spending caps mandated by last year’s deficit reduction agreement.

At a press conference to announce the plan, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff defended the proposal as a carefully crafted, balanced package. Secretary Panetta noted, “while some programs are eliminated or delayed, others are increased. The budget looks to re-shape the military to be more agile, quick and flexible that incorporates the lessons learned in 10 years of war.”

The proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 would be one percent less than current spending; this does not include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Programs targeted for spending reductions include several weapons programs, military base closures, and changes to the military’s health care program.

Military investments in research and development may be protected. According to a document released by the Department of Defense: “The Department believes that accelerating trends in both technology development and a dynamic threat environment dictate that we must maintain our edge by protecting our investments in development of future capabilities. As such, science and technology programs are largely protected within this budget.”

Since the release, various Department of Defense officials have publically stressed that the budget plan is based on strategy and will help shape the force for the future. “While the pain of cuts will be felt across the country, it will also ensure a strong, agile military for the future,” said Panetta. The budget must pass Congress, and the secretary has said he hopes members of Congress understand the strategy and nuances of the budget.

“My hope is that when members understand the sacrifice involved in reducing the defense budget by half a trillion dollars, it will convince Congress to avoid sequestration, a further round of cuts that would inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations,” Panetta said.

Full details on the proposed budget reductions will be available on 13 February, when President Obama releases his spending plan for FY 2013.

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Opportunity: Thank President Obama for Highlighting Science in the State of the Union

On 24 January, President Obama delivered his third State of the Union address. In the speech, the President called on Congress to sustain investments in science:

“Innovation also demands basic research. Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally-financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched. New lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet. Don’t gut these investments in our budget. Don’t let other countries win the race for the future. Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.”

Please write to President Obama today to thank him for highlighting the benefits of and need for federal investments in research. Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=60814801.

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Learn about the Political Highs and Lows for Science in 2011

Now that 2011 is in the books, it is worth pausing briefly to consider some of the year’s notable science policy developments at the White House, in the Capitol, and across the nation.

Among the highlights:

  • Congress nearly shutdown the federal government in April by failing to reach a compromise on fiscal year 2011 spending. A last minute spending deal cut budgets for nearly all federal science programs.
  • President Obama signed into law a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.
  • Federal agencies developed policies to ensure scientific integrity.
  • In July, a federal judge dismissed a case brought against the federal government that had previously halted federally funded research involving human embryonic stem cells.
  • Dr. John C. Wingfield was named the new Assistant Director for NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences.
  • The congressional deficit reduction Super Committee failed to reach a deal to reduce the nation’s deficit, triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to discretionary funding beginning in FY 2013.

Read the full summary of science policy highlights from 2011 at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/2011inReview.pdf.

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AIBS Public Policy Office 2011 Annual Report Now Available

The AIBS Public Policy Office 2011 Annual Report is now online. Learn about our activities and accomplishments last year and find out how you can participate in the future.

A few key accomplishments from 2011:

  • Helped to secure $173 million in new funding for the National Science Foundation.
  • Defended peer review and social science research from political attacks.
  • Influenced the development of sound scientific integrity policies at the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Organized a petition signed by 2,900 students on the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education programs.
  • Helped secure the right of federal scientists to fully participate in scientific professional societies.

To download the report, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/PPOAnnualReport_2011.pdf.

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White House Declares Acid Rain Program a Success

A federal program to reduce pollutants that cause acid rain has improved ecosystem and human health, according to a new report to Congress by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The nation’s Acid Rain Program, created in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, has successfully reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides beyond the law’s original goals. Sulfur dioxide emissions in 2009 were 36 percent lower than the statutory cap. Nitrogen oxide emissions were cut by 67 percent between 1995 and 2009. Emission reductions from power plants were achieved by a market-based cap-and-trade program.

In addition to being successful at reducing pollution, the program has been cost efficient. At roughly $3 billion a year, the program is “a fraction of initial estimates,” according to OSTP. The benefits to human health alone amount to $170 to $430 billion per year.

Despite the Acid Rain Program’s ability to reduce emissions, ecological recovery of some sensitive areas is not likely without further declines in pollution. Regulations to address transport of ozone and fine particles, and other rules affecting mobile sources of pollution are needed for ecological recovery in acid-sensitive areas.

Read the report at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/2011napap508.pdf.

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Public Input Sought on Draft National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy

The Obama Administration is working to develop a national strategy to respond to the impacts of climate change on our nation’s natural resources. The draft National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy has been developed with input by federal, state, and tribal organizations and seeks to provide “a unified approach—reflecting shared principles and science-based practices—for reducing the negative impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, and the natural systems upon which they depend.”

The strategy is unique in that it aims to be national in scope, not just a federal framework for cooperative climate response.

A series of online public workshops will be held in January and February to educate the public about the draft strategy and to receive public comments. Comments will also be accepted in writing through 5 March 2012. See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-01-20/html/2012-1179.htm for more information.

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Now in BioScience: "Will Lawmakers Reform Immigration Rules for STEM Graduates?"

Increasingly, foreign-born students who pursue an advanced degree in a scientific field are choosing to leave the United States after graduation. This outflow concerns lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum. The possibility of immigration reform is evaluated in the Washington Watch column in the January 2012 issue of BioScience. An excerpt from the article, “Will Lawmakers Reform Immigration Rules for STEM Graduates?,” follows:

Ranjini Prithviraj is at the start of a promising career in neuroscience. She is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), serves as an editor on the NIH Fellows Editorial Board, and mentors students interested in careers in science. Despite her strong résumé and her PhD in cell and molecular biology from a well-regarded American university, Prithviraj’s ability to continue to work in the United States is uncertain, because she was born in India and raised in Dubai.

“I would like to stay in the US long term, but I’m not sure as of now,” said Prithviraj. “The reason I’m not sure is because the US makes it so hard for us foreign nationals to get a green card, irrespective of how qualified we are.”

To read the entire article for free, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2012_01.html.

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Short Takes

  • A bill sponsored by the chair of the Indiana Senate Committee on Education and Career Development has been passed by the committee. The legislation, if enacted, would allow schools to require the teaching of "various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science." The bill received bi-partisan support and passed in an 8-2 vote. Senator Dennis Kruse (R-District 14), who is sponsoring S.B. 89, introduced similar legislation in the 2000 and 2001 sessions of the Indiana legislature.

  • The White House has withdrawn its nominee for chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scott Doney was nominated in August 2010 to oversee NOAA's science and technology programs. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has blocked the nomination for more than a year over an unrelated matter: the Administration's halt of deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The position of chief scientist at NOAA has been vacant for more than a decade.

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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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