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Public Policy Report for 30 July 2012

NSB Expresses Concern about America's Capacity to Innovate

The National Science Board (NSB) is worried about recent trends in science and engineering. “Surveying the past decade, we see several troubling trends that, taken together, could have an impact on capacity to innovate in both the near and long term,” said Ray M. Bowen, who chairs the board’s Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators.

The NSB was established as part of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950. According to the Act, the NSB works with the Director of the National Science Foundation to “recommend and encourage the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of research and education in science and engineering.”

One major concern is recent decline in private investments in research and development. Between 2008 and 2009, American businesses cut funding for science by five percent. Some of the reductions were offset temporarily by increased spending by the federal government. Government support, however, focuses more on fundamental research than industry’s support of development.

“Private-sector R&D [research and development] investment is sensitive to economic trends,” said Arthur K. Reilly, a former senior director for Strategic Technology Policy at Cisco Systems. “During recessions, it’s not surprising that businesses would spend less. But the volatility also reflected shifts of private equity, venture capital, and angel funding from early stage investment to the less risky late-stage investment,” said Reilly, who led the development of the report.

The NSB also expressed concern about recent trends in funding for education. State funding for major public research universities declined by 20 percent per student between 2002 and 2010.

Despite some troubling trends, the NSB did find reasons for optimism. For instance, the annual rate of growth of the science and engineering workforce was considerably higher than for other fields over the past decade. Additionally, unemployment is lower and salaries tend to be higher for workers in science and engineering occupations.

The NSB report is available at http://nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2012/nsb1203.pdf.

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AIBS Joins Science Debate to Ask Presidential Candidates Questions

As the November elections near, it is important that all voters have an understanding of where candidates for public office stand on key issues. Thus, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has provided guidance to the organizers of Science Debate as they have developed a series of questions to pose to each Presidential candidate. Last week, 14 questions related to science and public policy were submitted to the presidential campaigns. Download a copy of the questions at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/TASQ2012_President.pdf.

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White House Creates STEM Master Teacher Corps

President Obama will establish a new program to recognize and reward excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The new initiative, known as the STEM Master Teacher Corps, will identify exceptional STEM teachers and provide them with an annual stipend of up to $20,000 on top of their base salary in exchange for their expertise, leadership, and service.

The STEM Master Teacher Corps will initially recruit 50 teachers and will eventually expand to 10,000 teachers. Educators will be selected to participate in the program through a competitive process based on demonstrated teaching effectiveness, content knowledge, and contributions to the improvement of teaching and learning within their school and more broadly.

The program will immediately receive $100 million of the existing Teacher Incentive Fund. This funding helps school districts create and implement career ladders that identify, develop, and leverage highly effective STEM teachers. School districts will compete for funding to compensate highly effective teachers who can mentor other educators in STEM instruction.

President Obama said of the program: “If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible. Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.”

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Senate Panel Approves Bill to Phase Out Research on Chimps

nvasive research on chimpanzees and other great apes could be banned in the United States under a proposal making its way through Congress. The legislation would phase out such research over three years unless it is deemed necessary for combating a human disease.

The legislation defines invasive research as any research that may cause death, injury, pain, distress, fear, or trauma to a great ape. This includes penetrating or cutting the animal’s body, restraining or anesthetizing a great ape, testing drugs that may be detrimental to the animal’s health or psychological well-being, or subjecting a great ape to isolation or social deprivation.

If enacted, the measure would allow for invasive research on great apes if deemed necessary by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. A task force would then be convened to review and authorize research proposals. Research would only be allowed if there is no other suitable research model available, if research could not ethically be performed on humans, or if the research is needed to avoid a significant slowing of scientific advancement.

The bill would also establish a fund in the United States Treasury to pay for the retirement of the approximately 500 chimps that are federally owned and currently housed in laboratories. In total, there are about one thousand chimps housed in laboratories in the U.S.

The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011 (S. 810) was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on 25 July 2012.

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Congress Passes Bill to Force White House to Calculate Impacts of Sequestration

Legislation sailed through both chambers of Congress last week that would require the Executive Branch to produce a detailed analysis of how $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, or budget sequestration, would be implemented over the next decade.

H.R. 5872 was approved unanimously by the Senate and with the bi-partisan support of 414 Representatives; two House members opposed the bill.

Under current law, the sequester will start in January 2013 unless Congress takes action to avert it. The cuts were agreed to last August as part of the bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit.

President Obama is likely to sign the legislation, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney. The White House has so far resisted releasing details on the cuts, and has instead pushed for Congress to come up with a deal on tax and spending issues to avert them. “Let me be clear, there is no amount of planning or reporting that will turn the sequester into anything other than the devastating cut in defense and domestic investments that it was meant to be,” Carney said.

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AIBS Urges Congress to Avert Sequestration, Protect Core Government Functions

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has joined nearly 3,000 other organizations to urge Congress to avert sequestration by adopting a “balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not include further cuts to NDD [non-defense discretionary] programs.” The letter to Congress advocates for lawmakers to take action to prevent $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to take place over the next decade.

Non-defense discretionary programs include funding for the National Science Foundation and other federal science programs, education, public health, environmental conservation, foreign aid, and other non-defense programs.

The letter was signed by nearly 3,000 national, state, and local organizations from all fifty states representing the scientific, health, education, and public safety communities, among others. Despite the diverse interests of the groups, they share a common purpose of protecting from further cuts the core government functions that make up NDD spending.

In 2011, NDD spending represented less than one-fifth of the federal budget and 4.3 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Under strict discretionary caps in the bipartisan Budget Control Act, by 2021 NDD spending will decline to just 2.8 percent of GDP, the lowest level in at least 50 years. If sequestration is allowed to take effect, cuts to NDD programs will be even deeper.

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Now in BioScience: Data Show that Federal Investment in Research Pays Dividends

In the Washington Watch column in the July 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr explores some of the economic returns on federal investments in research.

The complete article is now online at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2012_07.html. The following is an excerpt from the report:

In 1990, the federal government formally launched an ambitious initiative to sequence the human genome, to identify all the genes in human DNA, and to develop the tools to store and allow access to this information. The effort took 13 years and cost the federal government $3.8 billion. As is evidenced by technological advancements, the cultivation of new lines of research, and countless subsequent scientific discoveries, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was a success by nearly all measures. A question of interest to policymakers, however, is what the economic return on this kind of federal investment is.

The HGP generated great prosperity, according to a 2011 report by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. Between 1988 and 2010, human genome sequencing and associated activities by private industry and researchers generated $796 billion in US economic output. This represents a return on investment of $141 for every $1 spent by the government. The HGP has also generated an estimated 3.8 million job-years of employment and increased government revenue. As was reported by the Battelle group, the genomics-enabled industry generated more than $3.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 alone. “Thus in one year, revenues returned to government nearly equaled the entire 13-year investment in the HGP,” states the report.

Continue reading the article for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2012_07.html.

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Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Science education is becoming more interactive through the use of technology and inquiry-based learning. Help the public and policymakers to better understand these new directions in science education by entering the Faces of Biology: Teaching and Learning. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The contest is an opportunity to showcase science education. Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person or persons engaging in science education. Any level of education (K-12, undergraduate, graduate, or adult) is eligible. The depicted education may occur in a classroom, laboratory, museum, natural history collection, botanical garden, zoo, or elsewhere. Photos of education in any discipline of science, not just biology, are welcome.

The Grand Prize Winner will have his or her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The First and Second Place Winners will have his or her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The contest ends on 30 September 2012 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.html.

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Short Takes

  • New technology aims to improve access to earth science data. Data Observation Network for Earth (DataONE) was created by a team comprised of several hundred investigators. The recently released ONESearch tool queries data centers located around the world for relevant earth science information and provides integrated access to science metadata and corresponding datasets. Access the tool at http://www.dataone.org/.
  • Graduate Research Fellows sponsored by the National Science Foundation are invited to enter a video contest to communicate how their research will shape the future. Submissions are limited to 90 seconds or less and are due 14 September 2012. More information is available at http://nsfgrfp.org/grfp_video_contest.
  • On 8 July 2012, the AIBS Public Policy Office conducted a short workshop at the Botany 2012 meetings in Columbus, Ohio. The program provided participants with an introduction to the tools and techniques that can be used to communicate with and influence science policymakers. AIBS offers an array of programs designed to provide students and practicing scientists with information about how to communicate effectively with policymakers and the news media. To learn more about these programs, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/policy_training.html.
  • Organizers of the presidential Science Debate 2012 appeared on National Public Radio's Science Friday. Listen to the discussion of the state of science in politics at http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/07/27/2012/why-science-is-a-non-issue-in-the-election-again.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!

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, 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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