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Public Policy Report for 9 September 2013

Scientists Meet with Federal and State Policymakers

In August, biological researchers and educators participated in the 5th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This nationwide event enabled scientists to meet with members of Congress in their local area rather than in Washington, DC, and allowed elected officials to learn first-hand about the scientists and research facilities in their district.

Scientists participating in the event discussed the importance of life sciences research with the individuals responsible for casting the votes that shape the nation’s science policy.

Highlights of the event include:

  • U.S. Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) will visit Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in September.
  • U.S. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) will visit the campus of the University of Central Missouri.
  • Representative Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA) will tour a lab at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
  • Participants met with five other members of Congress at district offices, including Representatives Mike Doyle (D-PA), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Mike Honda (D-CA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Scott Peters (D-CA).
  • Meetings with five state officials from Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Virginia.
  • Tours of research facilities were organized for staff of Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and staff of Representatives Ann Kuster (D-NH), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Austin Scott (R-GA), and Filemon Vela (D-TX).
  • Meetings were also arranged with staff for Representatives Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), John Garamendi (D-CA), Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), George Holding (R-NC), Patrick Kennedy (D-MA), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Sean Maloney (D-NY), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Scott Perry (R-PA), Bill Posey (R-FL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Mark Takano (D-CA).

Over 100 scientists took part in the event. Individuals from 34 states signed up to meet with their elected officials. Participants ranged from graduate students to senior researchers and educators.

Individuals in the 2013 event participated in an interactive training webinar. The program provided information about how best to communicate science to non-technical audiences, tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official, and information about trends in funding for research.

The 5th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event was made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and Entomological Society of America, with support from event sponsors: American Society of Naturalists, Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Society for the Study of Evolution.

The 6th annual event will be held in August 2014. More information will be posted in spring 2014 at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Action Alert: House of Representatives to Vote on Creation of Science Laureate

On Tuesday, 10 September 2013, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on legislation to create the position of Science Laureate for the United States. HR 1891 has bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.

Write to your Representative to urge them to vote “yes” on HR 1891.

The legislation 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, please send a letter to your Representative asking them to support passage of the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013. Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62914716.

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Survey Documents Impacts of Declining Federal R&D Investments

Multiple years of cuts to federal science spending are having an impact on the U.S. research enterprise according to a new survey from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). More than two-thirds of 3,700 researchers who completed the survey said that they do not have funds to expand their research operations, thereby postponing scientific advances. Moreover, nearly half of respondents work at institutions that have laid off researchers.

The survey was designed to measure the impacts of declining federal investments in science. When adjusted for inflation, government research and development investments have fallen by nearly 20 percent since 2002. About two-thirds of survey respondents are receiving less grant money now than in 2010. This has resulted in about half of respondents turning away promising young researchers because of a lack of funding.

“For the first time, we are able to definitively tell the story of the federally funded scientist,” said Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for ASBMB. “The data show that deep cuts to federal investments in research are tearing at the fabric of the nation’s scientific enterprise and have a minimal impact on overcoming our national debt and deficit problems. I hope leaders from both parties in Washington review these findings and join with scientists to say ‘enough is enough.’”

Read the report at http://www.asbmb.org/Advocacy/advocacy.aspx?id=22422.

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Government Says New Rule Would Allow Flexibility in Wildlife Management

The federal government has proposed a new rule that would allow more flexibility in estimating and monitoring potential impacts to protected species. The rule would allow use of “surrogate” information when making decisions about projects that would kill or harm endangered or threatened wildlife. Examples of “surrogate” factors include habitat loss, ecological conditions, or impacts to similar species. Such information could replace assessments and monitoring of direct impacts on a listed species when logistically difficult, time-consuming, or expensive, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some environmental conservation groups are concerned that the proposed rule would allow federal agencies to use surrogates instead of conducting a more direct analysis. “We would all concede there are a narrow set of circumstances where it is nearly impossible to come up with a meaningful incidental take statement,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. But the rule, he said, is “going to encourage them to take the easy way out.”

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USDA Releases Report on Farm and Forestry Contributions to Climate Change

The federal government has released a draft report that outlines scientific methods for quantifying greenhouse gas sources and sinks on farms, ranches, and forestry operations. Sources and sinks, for example biomass, soils, and animal production, are addressed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture anticipates that the methods will be used to improve agricultural management practices that affect climate change. Landowners interested in participating in voluntary state and regional greenhouse gas registries could also use these guidelines.

Public comments will be accepted on the report through 11 October 2013. More information is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-08-27/html/2013-20701.htm.

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Head of Agricultural Research Service Retires

Dr. Edward Knipling, the head of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) since 2004, has retired. Knipling worked for the agency for 46 years. During that time, he served as a research plant physiologist and director of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, among other positions.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made the following statement about Knipling’s retirement: “Dr. Knipling has guided nearly 2,000 scientists with a focus on ARS as the working arm of USDA science and an organization of national responsibility… Under his leadership, ARS has developed a globally recognized program of breeding and genetics for plants and animals. Crops improved by ARS for disease resistance—against the devastating wheat disease, Ug99, for example—and genetic markers developed for animal selection have advanced U.S. agriculture and improved lives worldwide.”

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Enter the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers to better understand these broader impacts in biological research by entering the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The theme of the contest is broader impacts of biology. Photographs entered into the contest should demonstrate how biological research is transforming our society and the world. Examples of broader impacts include, but are not limited to, informing natural resources management, improving human health, addressing climate change, enhancing food or energy security, advancing foundational knowledge, and improving science education.

The First Place Winner will have his/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 Second and Third Place Winners will have his/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 2013 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

  • The National Science Foundation is soliciting nominations for the 2014 Vannevar Bush Award, which recognizes exemplary science leadership and contributions to the welfare of the nation, and 2014 Public Service Awards, which honor individuals and groups that have made substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science. Nominations are due 30 October 2013. Learn more at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=128952&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recruiting college students to serve as EcoAmbassadors. Program participants work with the EPA and school representatives to green their campuses and promote environmental awareness. Learn more at http://epa.gov/oncampus/.

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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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