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Public Policy Report for 22 October 2012

Plan to Vote This November

Election day is rapidly approaching. Participate in democracy by voting on Tuesday, November 6th.

The next Congress and President must address many significant issues. Many of these will affect every American and, potentially, the level of support for scientific research for years to come.

Make your voice heard, vote on November 6th.

Contact your state board of elections to find your polling location or to learn about early voting opportunities.

To learn more about how some candidates, including both candidates for President, have responded to several questions about science, please visit http://www.sciencedebate.org/debate12/.

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'Gang of Eight' Senators Meet Privately about Solutions to Fiscal Cliff

A bipartisan group of eight Senators has been meeting behind closed doors for months in an effort to reach a deal to avoid the negative impacts of the fiscal cliff - nearly $7 trillion in deficit reduction set to begin in early 2013. The fiscal cliff is a combination of expiring tax cuts and already approved budget reductions, including $1.2 billion in budget sequestration that will impact all aspects of the federal government, including science, environmental and public health programs, and defense and security programs.

The Senators recently took advantage of the current congressional recess to meet for three days. Details about the discussions have been closely guarded from public scrutiny.

The ‘Gang of Eight’ is comprised of Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Michael Crapo (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Johanns (R-NE).

Even if the bipartisan group of lawmakers is able to reach a compromise on how to address the nation’s deficit, the rest of Congress may not concur. Any grand bargain will need support from Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress. A major sticking point has been new revenue. Republicans have been unwilling to agree to tax increases, whereas Democrats are insisting on increased taxes for the wealthiest Americans. According to administration officials, President Obama will veto legislation to address the fiscal cliff unless it includes higher tax rates for the wealthy.

No announcement about a compromise is expected before the November election. Republicans and Democrats are expected to use the Presidential and Congressional election results as a way to bolster their respective bargaining positions, especially if control of one of the legislative chambers changes parties.

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Congressional Leaders Answer - and Ignore - Questions on Science Policy

Science is important to the future health and well being of the nation, according to leaders in Congress. Despite these repeated claims, however, only a handful of members of Congress have opted to respond to questions about science policy. ScienceDebate.org, a collaborative initiative that aims to elevate the role of science in political campaigns, posed eight questions about federal support for research, science education, climate change, and other issues to congressional leaders. To date, only 9 of 33 congressional committee leaders have responded.

Although few members of Congress have responded, the answers received reflect bipartisan support for research and science education. All of the respondents recognized the importance of science to past and future U.S. economic growth, and many called for continued investments in science by the federal government. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said: “For the sake of the nation’s health as well our economic future, we simply cannot afford to lose our emphasis on research.” Others saw a need for the government to refocus its support on basic research, rather than late-stage development.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education was another issue with universal support. Lawmakers differed, however, in their beliefs on the role that the federal government should play in improving STEM education; a few politicians saw the issue as one best addressed by state and local governments.

Read the responses at http://www.sciencedebate.org/congress12/.

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AERC to Policymakers: Ecosystems are Important National Security Interests

Scientists are well aware of the importance of ecosystems to national security. These connections are often less well appreciated by policymakers. Thus, on 18 October 2012, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC), an AIBS member organization, conducted a science briefing for policymakers. The congressional briefing provided an opportunity for scientists to share timely information about the importance of ecosystem services to national security. The AERC briefing is held annually in conjunction with the organization’s scientific meeting in Washington, DC.

Dr. David Smith, AERC president and professor at the University of Virginia, moderated the one-hour science briefing. Dr. Howard Passell of Sandia National Laboratory made the connection between ecosystem resilience and stability in the developing world. Dr. Molly Brown of NASA described methods to assess food security using remote sensing. Dr. Paolo D’Odorico of University of Virginia addressed water availability in light of global trade. Dr. Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies spoke about connections between biodiversity and human risk for infectious disease. Dr. Avner Vengosh of Duke University addressed the environmental impacts of energy production.

After the briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building, the group moved down the National Mall to the Smithsonian Ripley Center, where AERC convened a half-day scientific symposium and reception. The symposium was videotaped, and the video has been posted on the AERC website (http://www.ecosystemresearch.org/2012-meeting/index.htm).

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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Five 2012 Nobel Laureates Received NSF Support

Of the ten Nobel Prize winners announced last week, five received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The 2012 winners include recipients of NSF research grants, as well as two former Graduate Research Fellows. Since its creation in 1950, NSF has supported 204 Nobel laureates.

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Short Takes

  • The Department of the Interior's regional Climate Science Centers have awarded $10 million for research on how climate change will affect natural resources. The research will address the impacts of sea level rise on coastal resources and how changing temperatures and precipitation will affect vegetation, wildlife, and ecosystem services. The results of the research could help guide Interior's management of natural areas.

  • The National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics has updated its online tool for accessing information about science and engineering in each state. The tool has the latest data available and allows users to generate science and engineering profiles that summarize state-specific data. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/states/start.cfm.

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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/legislativeactioncenter.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. These exciting new advocacy tools 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 policy advocates 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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