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Public Policy Report for 20 May 2013

President Obama Orders Federal Agencies to Make Data More Accessible

On 9 May 2013, the White House released a policy on public accessibility to government data. The new policy directs federal agencies to implement practices so that new data is digital and therefore more accessible. Agencies are encouraged, but not required, to make existing data “machine-readable.”

The policy does not necessarily call for making all data public, but data sets that can be released to the public should be listed on data.gov. Agencies will be required to create an ‘in-house’ inventory and public list of data sets.

In addition to outlining detailed instructions for how to make data available and the format of the data, the policy requires agencies to apply metadata about where and when the information was collected.

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New Committee to Advise Interior on Climate Change

The Department of the Interior has appointed 25 members to its new Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. The committee will advise the Secretary of the Interior about the Department’s climate change adaptation science initiatives.

“Responding to climate change and its effects on our natural and cultural resources is an important priority for the nation,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “This committee embodies our commitment to working closely with our partners to strengthen our efforts to develop sound science that will help inform policymakers, land managers and the public in making important resource management decisions.”

More than 100 nominations were received for the committee. Members represent Interior and other federal agencies; tribal, state, and local governments; nongovernmental organizations; academic institutions; and the private sector.

“The Climate Change Advisory Committee will play an important role in the department’s climate adaptation strategy by providing advice on critical issues such as science priorities, relations with key partners, ensuring scientific excellence and coordinating with other climate adaptation initiatives,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes.

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Action Alert: Voice Your Support for a Science Laureate

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced legislation to create the position of Science Laureate for the United States. The bill would allow the President to appoint up to three Science Laureates to engage the public and increase public awareness of science. Appointments would be made on the basis of an individual’s scientific contributions and ability to foster public interest in science.

If you support the establishment of a Science Laureate, you can send a letter to your Representative and Senators asking them to co-sponsor the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013.

Take action on the AIBS Legislative Action Center at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62675261.

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AIBS Summarizes Threats to Evolution Education

AIBS has released an updated fact sheet that summarizes threats to evolution education in nearly thirty states. Learn about developments from 2004 to the present. Download a free copy of the fact sheet at www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/EvolutionFactSheet_5.2013.pdf.

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Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies Briefs Policymakers on Water Resources

On 9 May 2013, the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS) briefed policymakers on water resources. The briefing took place on Capitol Hill as the U.S. Senate debated the Water Resources Development Act, the legislation authorizing water resource projects in the United States. Representatives from congressional offices, federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations attended the event. This is the second annual briefing organized by CASS.

Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall, Aquatic Ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, kicked off the event with a crash course on river ecology which emphasized the dynamic, connected nature of rivers. Drawing on examples from around the country, Rosi-Marshall highlighted the need for management strategies to balance the many societal benefits of rivers such as flood control, hydropower, waste assimilation, and recreation.

Dr. David Strayer, Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, focused on the interplay between invasive species and water resource projects. Managing and combating invasive species costs the U.S. more than $100 billion per year. Invasive species can be particularly damaging to water resource infrastructure. At the same time, water resources projects such as canals can create new pathways for invasion.

Colin Apse, Senior Freshwater Conservation Advisor for The Nature Conservancy, presented examples of infrastructure projects designed or retrofitted to meet the needs of people and the environment. In each of the case studies, a slight modification of water resource operations resulted in improved ecological function and in some cases yielded economic benefits as well.

Following the formal presentations, the speakers fielded questions from the attendees.

For further information, including copies of the speaker presentations, please contact Adrienne Sponberg, ASLO Director of Public Affairs, at asponberg@aslo.org.

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New in BioScience: Biobanks and Genome Sequencing

In the Washington Watch column in the May 2013 issue of the journal BioScience, Eve McCulloch explores the balance between patient privacy and scientific progress in genome sequencing.

The complete article is now online at www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2013_05.html. The following is an excerpt from the report:

Genome sequencing coupled with medical and personal data holds enormous promise for unraveling the mysteries of the human body and advancing disease treatment. Increasingly, research projects are collecting data on large numbers of people to determine links among diseases, lifestyle, environment, and genes. The biobanks being created with these data raise questions about protecting the privacy of individuals whose DNA and medical records fuel research.

Repositories of human genetic material emerged more than a decade ago in Iceland with the company deCODE genetics. The United Kingdom has created a biobank with 500,000 enrolled volunteers. In the United States, researchers at Kaiser Permanente have revealed early findings based on a treasure trove of genetic and medical data collected from 100,000 Californians. This effort, establishing perhaps the largest biobank in the United States, has already shown new links between disease traits and genetic variants.

Continue reading the article for free at www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2013_05.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a draft five-year research and development plan. Public comment will be accepted on the draft plan through 3 June 2013. Read the plan at http://nrc.noaa.gov/CouncilProducts/ResearchPlans.aspx.

  • The National Institutes of Health plans to award 703 fewer competing research grants this year as a result of budget sequestration. Total funding for research projects will decline by $976.0 million relative to fiscal year 2012, with most of the cuts coming from non-competing grants.

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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 Entomological Society of America, Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of 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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