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Public Policy Report for 25 August 2014

New Initiative Will Improve Access to Biological Collections, Data

Scientists have launched a new national initiative to build a research and end-user community dedicated to developing a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA). The project is an outgrowth of recent scientific meetings in which scientists have articulated a need to digitally capture biological specimens and associated data held in natural science collections for use in research, education, and for the public interest.

Millions of biological specimens are curated in more than 1,000 biocollections housed in museums, universities, colleges, and herbaria across the United States. These collections, which are the result of more than 250 years of scientific exploration and study, document life on Earth and provide the basis for research that can help answer the most vexing questions facing society, such as how biological systems may respond to climate change.

The project, Organizing, Coordinating, and Sustaining a Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance, is supported by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Initial partner organizations are AIBS, the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), and the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance). The project is also coordinating with iDigBio, a national digitization initiative led by the University of Florida and Florida State University.

“We greatly appreciate NSF’s support for this initiative, and we look forward to additional support from other organizations that recognize the tremendous research and public benefits to be realized from this work,” said AIBS executive director Dr. Richard O’Grady. “In addition to our current partners, AIBS anticipates great interest from our 150 member organizations.”

“We are pleased to be involved at the outset of this important initiative,” said Andrew Bentley, president of SPNHC and collection manager of fishes at the University of Kansas. “SPNHC members are eager to contribute because this is central to our field. This will assist in identifying ways in which collections can be managed more efficiently. I suspect we are going to start seeing additional career paths for collections professionals, too. It’s exciting.”

“Natural science collections hold irreplaceable specimens and data,” said Dr. Larry Page, president of the NSC Alliance.

Importantly, these collections also inspire new research. “We have teams of biologists, computer and data scientists, software engineers, and others collaborating in new ways,” said Dr. Chris Norris, past-president of SPNHC and a senior collection manager at Yale University.

Additional participants will be invited to join an advisory committee in the coming weeks. This group will then develop plans for engaging with the wider scientific community in the work of this project.

“This is going to be an open process,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, director of policy for AIBS. “We are eager to have the active participation of all interested parties.”

Please visit www.niballiance.org to learn more and to receive project updates, including information about opportunities to participate in the project.

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White House Reverses Rule Banning Lobbyists from Federal Advisory Committees

In response to a lawsuit filed by a group of lobbyists, the White House has reversed course and changed its policy prohibiting registered lobbyists from serving on federal advisory committees. Although not yet decided by the courts, the group asserts that the ban unconstitutionally limited their first amendment right to petition the government.

The rule change still does not allow lobbyists to serve on all federal committees. They will be allowed to serve on committees where they represent a specific organization, but not where they would serve in an “individual capacity,” exercising their personal beliefs and judgments.

Jeff Holmstead, current lobbyist and former Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation praised the change, saying that the old rule “eliminated a lot of the best qualified people” from advising on policy issues. On the other hand, Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, called the change “disheartening,” saying it will increase the power of special interests.

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AIBS To Convene Meeting of Journal Editors and Science Leaders to Discuss Public Access to Data

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) will convene a meeting of scientific society leaders, scientific journal editors, scientists, and government officials in Washington, DC, this December to facilitate a discussion of issues related to increasing public access to scientific data. The daylong meeting, which will be held in association with the annual meeting of the AIBS Council, is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We are pleased to have this opportunity to foster an important conversation among scientific societies and journal editors,” said Dr. Timothy Beardsley, Editorial Director for AIBS and Editor-in-Chief of the journal BioScience.

“Data are the currency of science,” said Dr. Richard O’Grady, executive director of AIBS. “The ability to find and share data makes it possible for scientists to validate research findings and also to ask and answer new questions; many of which were out of reach just a few years ago. This is an exciting time for science.”

Practical challenges and a lack of shared standards of practice for reporting and archiving data remain. “This meeting is an opportunity for core stakeholders to come together to start a discussion about common interests,” said Beardsley.

AIBS looks forward to having the broad participation of its 150 member organizations and other interested stakeholders. More information about this meeting will be made available at www.aibs.org.

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NSF Awards $7.5 Million for Digitization of Biodiversity Collections

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded six grants totaling about $7.5 million to digitize biodiversity collections. The funding is part of a nationwide effort coordinated by the iDigBio program based at the University of Florida.

This is the fourth round of awards made by NSF to establish new Thematic Collections Networks, groups of institutions organized to focus on a biodiversity “grand challenge.” New funding will be used to study the impacts of the rapid temporal and regional changes taking place in species diversity of North America’s arthropods and mollusks, biodiversity changes in the Appalachians, and impacts of invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Lead principal investigators for the new grants are based at Appalachian State University, the Field Museum of Natural History, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Brigham Young University, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Vermont & State Agricultural College.

“There are specimens that have been around for 100-200 years, but they are in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere, and it’s hard to know where everything is and how to get the data you need,” said Larry Page, director of iDigBio. “If it’s online, you can touch a button and find in seconds what it might have taken you a lifetime to know was there.”

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State Department Seeks Expert Comments on World Ocean Assessment

The U.S. State Department has invited experts to participate in a review of the draft World Ocean Assessment (WOA). The WOA was developed by the United Nations in order to report on and assess the state of the global marine environment. It contains over fifty subject areas, grouped within four main themes: marine environment and understanding of the ocean’s role in the global integrated Earth system; food security and food safety; human activities that influence the ocean or are influenced by the ocean; and marine biological diversity.

Experts can register to review the draft at http://review.globalchange.gov. The draft will be open and available for comments from 2 to 30 September 2014.

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NOAA Releases Climate Change Education Resources

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed a website with resources for educators to teach students about climate change. Resources include general information on what climate is, how scientists study it, and how and why it is changing. Based on findings from the National Climate Assessment, the site also includes information on the impacts of climate change at the regional level. With resources geared towards middle school, high school, and early undergraduate level students, the site encourages students to think about the ways climate change affects their region and ways they can respond.

The full set of resources for students and teachers can be found at http://www.climate.gov/teaching/2014-national-climate-assessment-resources-educators.

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Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers better understand the breadth of biology by entering the Faces of Biology Photo Contest. The competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the contest must depict a person, such a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The depicted research may occur outside, in a lab, with a natural history collection, on a computer, in a classroom, or elsewhere.

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 2014 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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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the 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 policy.aibs.org to get started.

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