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Public Policy Report for 2 December 2013

NSF to Initiate New Transparency Measures

The National Science Foundation (NSF) intends to make funding decisions “in the context of broader research portfolio objectives” and to better communicate how such investment decisions align with the agency’s mission, according to a recent memo.

On 19 November 2013, Dr. Cora Marrett, acting director of NSF, sent a memorandum to staff about “a portfolio framework we are adopting to ensure and enhance transparency and accountability at NSF.” The changes are the result of months of internal planning and are not in response to congressional actions, according to a senior agency official.

Through funding decisions, employees will cultivate a portfolio of awards. This means that staff will consider the balance of the portfolio in regards to the types of research being funded and its relative risk when making award decisions. Portfolios of grants will not necessarily align with existing programs, and some will cross disciplinary divisions within NSF.

Program officers will also be expected to more clearly explain to the public a project’s significance and funding justification. NSF employees currently prepare grant abstracts to post online. Some of those abstracts, especially for social science research grants, have been subject to congressional scrutiny. NSF will hold training for program staff on writing effective abstracts and titles beginning in January.

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EPA Appoints New Scientific Integrity Officer

Dr. Francesca Grifo will be the new scientific integrity official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The position is responsible for carrying out the agency’s scientific integrity policy and chairing EPA’s scientific integrity committee.

Dr. Grifo previously worked at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where she led the organization’s efforts to strengthen federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies.

“Science is, and continues, to be the backbone of this agency and the integrity of our science is central to the identity and credibility of our work,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator of EPA. “Dr. Grifo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to EPA that will help continue our work to implement the agency’s scientific integrity policy.”

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Texas Board of Education Holds Up Textbook Approval Over Evolution

The Texas Board of Education delayed preliminary approval for one biology textbook because of concerns raised by citizen reviewers over the book’s content on evolution. The review panel raised twenty criticisms, including on lessons on natural selection. The publisher, Pearson Education, thus far has refused to make the changes suggested by the review panel.

The Board ultimately voted to pick three outside experts to further scrutinize the book. Final votes on all science textbooks will occur in January.

The Texas Board of Education arguably has less influence than in past years because of a change in state law that allows school districts to choose their own textbooks. Most schools, however, continue to use the books approved by the Board. Because of the size of the Texas textbook market, it’s actions influence publishers and consequently has implications for textbooks available in other states.

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Graduate Student Leaders Sought to Shape Science Policy

Applications are now being accepted for the 2014 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on 9-10 April 2014. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, and information on trends in federal science funding and the legislative process.
  • Meetings with Congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A 1-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”
  • An award certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.

The 2014 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible. Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Monday, 13 January 2014. The application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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New Resource on Importance of Fossils to Research

The Natural Science Collections Alliance, an AIBS member organization, has prepared a short report on how fossils are used in scientific research. “Celebrating the Knowledge and the Mystery of Fossils” shows how researchers use fossils to understand evolution of species and reconstruct Earth’s ancient climate.

“Fossil collections are extremely important for those of us who study evolutionary biology because 99 percent of species lived in the past, by some estimates,” explains Dr. Judith E. Skog, professor emeritus at George Mason University. “If we did not understand these organisms and their environments, we would have a skewed view of evolutionary processes.”

Download a free copy of the issue brief at http://nscalliance.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/nscafossils.pdf. Access other reports in NSC Alliance’s series “On the Importance of Scientific Collections” at http://nscalliance.org/?pageid=10.

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Short Takes

  • Congress has removed a barrier to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) plan to retire most of its research chimpanzees. A provision in a bill passed by Congress in mid-November would remove a cap on how much money the federal government can spend to support retired chimps living at a sanctuary in Louisiana. NIH can now spend $9 million a year for the next five years for the sanctuary if it is a cheaper alternative than keeping the chimps at research facilities.

  • After running into financial difficulties, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature will be hosted at the University of Singapore. The organization is responsible for setting rules for naming newly identified species. The Natural History Museum in London will continue to host the Commission's bulletin editor. The two organizations will support the Commission's $155,000 annual expenses, giving the Commission an opportunity to get its trust back into financial shape.

  • The American Society of Mammologists is accepting applications for a new Graduate Student Science Policy Leadership Award. Any graduate student who is a member of the society is eligible to apply. Learn more at http://www.mammalsociety.org/committees/graduate-student-science-policy-leadership-award#tab6.

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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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