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Public Policy Report for 13 August 2012

Biologists To Meet with Members of Congress

On 2 August 2012, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) announced the start of the 4th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This nationwide initiative helps individual biologists and research centers meet with lawmakers while they are in their district for the August congressional recess. Scientists participating in the event are able to discuss the importance of life sciences research with the individuals responsible for casting the votes that shape the nation’s science and science education policy.

“Scientists are constantly generating new data and testing hypotheses of relevance to decisions being made by policymakers, and it is important that we take advantage of opportunities to meet and discuss our activities with them at every opportunity,” said Dr. Larry Page, President of the Natural Science Collections Alliance, a 2012 sponsor of the event. “The more information that is available to policymakers, the better their decisions are likely to be and the more positive the economic and environmental impacts of those decisions.”

The 4th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event occurs during the month of August. Participating scientists and research facilities will meet with elected officials and their staff members to show them in-person the people, equipment, and processes involved with modern scientific research.

“It is exciting to see the growing interest in this effort from members of the scientific community,” said AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp. “This year a number of leading scientific societies and organizations have joined us to sponsor and participate in this important event.”

In addition to AIBS, 2012 sponsors are the Long-Term Ecological Research Network, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and the Natural Science Collections Alliance.

Gropp further said, “Federal lawmakers are in the midst of discussions to set the future economic course for our nation. Scientific research can and must play a central role in these discussions. It is through scientific innovation that we create quality jobs, new markets, and a stronger economy. These meetings help scientists show lawmakers how investments in research benefit society.”

Participants in the 2012 event include individual scientists and educators, field stations, museums, and other research centers across the nation.

“My involvement in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits stems from my desire to promote science policy issues that impact federal and local legislation,” said Lauren Neighbours, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I firmly believe that advocating for science policy changes and improvements are critical for scientific advancement in our country.”

Participants were prepared for meetings by an online training session presented by AIBS that helps scientists understand how to translate their research in meaningful ways for non-technical audiences.

More information about the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at

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A Detailed Look at State R&D Expenditures

State agency expenditures for science rose by seven percent between fiscal years (FY) 2007 and 2009, according to a recent report by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In FY 2009—the most recent year for which data is available—states spent a total of $1.2 billion.

Most science activities funded by state agencies were applied research and development (R&D), with basic research comprising about a quarter of the portfolio. Roughly 44 percent of state R&D expenditures went to academic institutions. Companies and individuals comprised about 21 percent of expenditures. Roughly a quarter of R&D was done internally by state agencies.

For the first time NSF asked state agencies to classify their R&D activities into five categories. The largest amount of funding was spent on environment and natural resources R&D (26 percent), closely followed by health (23 percent) and transportation (20 percent). Agriculture represented the least funded R&D activity at 6 percent of expenditures. All other types of research accounted for the remaining quarter of expenditures.

R&D expenditures differed dramatically by state. California spent $147 million in FY 2009 versus the $0.5 million spent by the District of Columbia. Five states (California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida) accounted for nearly half of total state agency R&D expenditures.

Read the report at

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Ideology Evident at Senate's Latest Climate Change Hearing

On 1 August 2012, Senators discussed and debated the evidence underlying anthropogenic climate change at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing titled “Update on the Latest Climate Change Science and Local Adaptation Measures.” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) repeatedly challenged each other’s positions, as well as the witnesses invited to testify.

Boxer opened the hearing by affirming that climate change is real, is caused by human activities, and threatens humans and other organisms. “I believe that to declare otherwise is putting the American people in direct danger,” she stated. Inhofe used his opening statement to attack the global warming “alarmist” movement, climate scientists, and President Barack Obama. Instead of investing further in the green energy “disaster,” he encouraged “embrac[ing] the United States energy boom…[as a way to] turn the economy around, [and] become totally energy independent.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) acknowledged “profound disagreements” between Inhofe’s climate change positions and his own, and called Inhofe’s beliefs “extreme” and “dead wrong.” Sanders then invoked the moral and economic responsibility the United States has to “lead the world in cutting greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions and transforming our energy system to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.”

Although Boxer and Sanders acknowledged the strong scientific evidence of and consensus on anthropogenic climate change, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) avowed that “empirical data…has validated Senator Inhofe’s skepticism and has demonstrated the incorrectness of the computer modeling” used to predict the effects of GHG emissions. He then asked that the Congress not burden working families to fix a global warming problem that is not materializing.

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted the many recent, extreme weather events that are harbingers of a bleak future, including wildfires, droughts, coastal erosion, and flooding. Cardin referenced the high cost of extreme weather and the concomitant rise in food prices, and asked the Senate to be mindful of public health and safety when debating climate change effects.

Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama-Huntsville, who was invited to testify by the committee’s Republican members, opened his testimony by dismissing the notion of recent extreme weather events as indicative of anthropogenic climate change. He then described some recent, as-of-yet unpublished data showing that the reported temperature increases over the past decade are due to urbanization changes and not to GHG emissions. However, the other two witnesses, Dr. Christopher Field of Stanford University and Dr. James McCarthy of Harvard University, asserted that anthropogenic climate change is real, and that its effects can be observed presently in altered precipitation patterns and ocean temperatures.

Inhofe opened the question and answer session by denigrating the work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and by recalling “Climategate,” when emails stolen from University of East Anglia scientists were released to the public. Later, McCarthy stated that the numerous investigations which resulted from the scandal confirmed there was not “any reason to question the science” underlying climate change conclusions.

Senator John Boozman (R-AR) seemed to chastise the scientists for arrogance, saying that it is “dangerous to say: ‘it’s this way, period,’ and I’m hearing that from some of you.” He then went on to ask, “If this is manmade…how do we respond to that?… If it were true that we were in a global warming situation due to CO2 [carbon dioxide], what could possibly be done to counter that, especially with places like China, India…not going along?” Christy stated that any mitigation involving decreasing domestic GHG emissions would not have any effect on the climate; the result of such action would be “undetectable, unpredictable, unattributable.”

A second panel of witnesses commenced with Secretary John Griffin of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources describing the effects his state has witnessed due to climate change and severe weather. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health, then discussed threats to public health he is anticipating due to climate change. Lastly, Dr. Margo Thorning of the American Council for Capital Formation highlighted the challenges to businesses as they try to prepare for climate change.

Thorning was the focus of most of the questions. Since businesses plan at most fifteen years into the future, they have started adopting “no regrets” strategies as pertaining to long-term climate uncertainty, meaning that “changes made in the normal course of doing business…[are taking climate change] into account…[so that] whether it shifts sharply or not, you would still be better off. [A no regrets strategy will] enable them to sustain business and potentially be ready for what may come in terms of climate.” Boxer called this “a breakthrough moment” and a philosophy the Congress should adopt.

The hearing ended with dispute over the effects of a carbon tax or cap and trade on energy prices and the economic recovery. Democrats argued that cap and trade would result in job creation, affect households positively, and only increase energy prices minimally; Republicans argued that cap and trade would increase energy prices prohibitively, result in job loss, and affect households negatively. Although there was much debate, every Senator’s belief was entrenched and intransigent—a fitting conclusion to a hearing where both sides professed to have science supporting their positions.

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Federal Employees Sue to Halt New Financial Disclosure Requirement

Federal scientists are outraged over new reporting requirements for senior government employees. Employees from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NASA are party to a lawsuit to block the posting of their individual financial reports online.

The financial disclosure requirement is part of legislation enacted earlier this year to prevent insider trading by members of Congress. The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act also requires 28,000 senior employees in the executive branch to disclose their assets and other sources of income. This information must be publicly posted online by the end of the month, according to the law.

Last week, some federal employees filed a complaint in federal court to prevent the disclosure requirement from going into effect. The plaintiffs are concerned that the disclosure could make them vulnerable to identify theft or affect salary negotiations.

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BP-Sponsored Research Initiative Awards New Grants

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, or GoMRI, announced on Friday that it has approved funding for 19 grants that will support studies of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Roughly $20 million will be awarded to these researchers over the next three years.

“Today is a significant milestone for the GoMRI,” said Dr. Rita Colwell, chairman of the GoMRI Research Board. “We have complemented the eight research consortia we have already funded with important smaller grants that significantly extend the scope of work being done by GoMRI. These grants help fill some gaps in GoMRI’s research portfolio that existed between the consortia.”

The GoMRI has now awarded more than $130 million of the $500 million that BP committed to independent research into the effects of the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.

The research proposals being funded today were submitted in response to the GoMRI’s RFP-II initiative. This program funds research with defined goals within at least one of the following five themes: 1) Physical distribution, dispersion, and dilution of petroleum (oil and gas), its constituents, and associated contaminants under the action of physical oceanographic processes, air-sea interactions, and tropical storms; 2) Chemical evolution and biological degradation of the petroleum/dispersant systems and subsequent interaction with coastal, open-ocean, and deepwater ecosystems; 3) Environmental effects of the petroleum/dispersant system on the sea floor, water column, coastal waters, beach sediments, wetlands, marshes, and organisms, and the science of ecosystem recovery; 4) Technology developments for improved response, mitigation, detection, characterization, and remediation associated with oil spills and gas releases; and, 5) Impact of oil spills on public health.

The GoMRI received 629 letters of intent from potential applicants. Applications were evaluated for scientific and technical merit by an expert panel. The Research Board considered the panel’s recommendations and approved funding for 19 of the research proposals.

Full details about the funded grants are available at

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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

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Short Takes

  • A number of presidentially appointed positions in the federal government will no longer be required to be approved by the Senate. S. 679 exempts about 200 executive positions from the Senate confirmation process. Among the exemptions are members of the National Science Board and the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill was passed by both chambers of Congress and has been signed by President Obama.

  • The National Science Foundation is seeking proposals for rapid response research to study the potential impacts of the debris field from the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami to the west coast of North America. More information is available at

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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 to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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