June 1, 2008


On 17 April, AIBS Executive Director Richard O’Grady and AIBS Public Policy Director Robert Gropp joined staff from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to speak at the spring meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Biology Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The agenda and slides from the meeting are online at www.nsf.gov/events. James Collins, NSF assistant director for biological sciences, spoke about the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s fiscal year 2009 funding priorities for “Life in Transition” studies. He also spoke about the new study that the NSF commissioned from the National Research Council, “The Role of Theory in Advancing 21st-Century Biology: Catalyzing Transformative Research.” Collins met with the AIBS Board of Directors in May.

Staff from AIBS, AAAS, and FASEB then spoke about “biology in the federal science enterprise” with respect to the following three points:

  • How does your organization describe and represent the bio­logical sciences/biology with respect to science policy and budget?

  • What are your metrics for determining the effectiveness of “science on the Hill” and other similar activities for Congress with respect to science policy and budget?

  • Will your organization provide science policy advice for the transition to a new administration? To the next Congress? If so, will your efforts be targeted to a particular group or groups within the new administration or Congress, and will they emphasize any specific area or areas of science?

The talks went very well and discussions continue. In coming decades, the public and decisionmakers will demand that scientists provide answers to questions of great societal importance. Informed responses to global environmental change, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, nanotechnology, biometrics, artificial intelligence, public health threats, and food security and quality, among many other issues, will require a coordinated and prioritized response from the research community. Currently, however, few individual scientists are prepared to provide this response. As a result, few scholarly or professional organizations are positioned to appropriately inform a collective response.

In order for the biological sciences to advance, a new, efficient, and coordinated transdisciplinary community will be required. Biologists need to employ new technical skills and theoretical frameworks that build upon and surpass traditional taxonomic and integrative approaches. More important, biologists from various subfields must be prepared to work collaboratively with each other and with scientists from other fields, members of the media, policymakers, and science educators. A cultural shift within the scientific community’s traditional organizations and new models for supporting research are required.

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