President Obama Addresses Research, Climate Change in State of the Union

In his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of science to the nation and announced several new research initiatives.

The Precision Medicine Initiative will tap into a patient’s genetic makeup and other personal characteristics to provide customized healthcare. The President also proposed a doubling of the budget for antibiotic discovery and continued investments in the BRAIN Initiative, which the President has previously pledged $100 million for research to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.

The speech also highlighted the dangers of climate change. The President stated “And no challenge - no challenge - poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Mr. Obama called on lawmakers to stop hiding behind the argument that because they are not scientists, they cannot take action to mitigate climate change.

“Well, I’m not a scientist, either,” said the President. “But you know what - I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”

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Senate Acknowledges Climate Change is Not a Hoax

As part of the ongoing debate about a bill to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canada into the U.S., last week the Senate considered a number of amendments regarding climate change.

The chamber voted 98 to 1 to include language that climate change “is real and not a hoax.” The sole vote against the amendment was Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS).

Support for climate science was more limited in another vote on the cause of climate change. The chamber failed to reach the 60 vote threshold required for adoption of an amendment that acknowledged that climate change is worsened by human activity.

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House Science Committee Outlines Work Plan for 114th Congress

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will vote this week on a draft plan for oversight of non-military federal science programs. The proposed plan includes several topics that the Committee addressed during the last Congress, including duplication of federal programs and prioritization of research funding.

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Science Committee would “trim duplicative and unused programs in an effort to maximize available resources.” Although the document recognizes the value of NSF’s work to the United States’ economic competitiveness, it calls for “more scrutiny and potential cuts in order to ensure that federal investments in basic science remain primarily focused on research that actually benefits the Nation.” The same argument has been used in recent years by House Republicans as a justification for cutting funding for social science research.

With respect to climate change research, the Committee plans “to ensure that existing programs are necessary, appropriately focused, effectively coordinated, and properly organized to prevent duplication of efforts and waste taxpayer resources.”

Doubts about climate change are likely a driver of another oversight priority within the Department of Energy Office of Science. The Committee plans to review prioritization of energy research programs. Last Congress, this included legislation that would have slashed funding for biological and environmental research within the Department of Energy.

At that National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Committee would examine “the impact of large increases in funding for the Earth Science Directorate relative to funding requested for other science disciplines.”

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) also announced the names of the new subcommittee leaders. Four of the five subcommittees will have new leadership. Two of the positions were vacated at the start of the new Congress when the former subcommittee chairs opted for new assignments. Freshman Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA) will chair the Research and Technology Subcommittee. Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is the new chair of the Subcommittee on Environment.

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New Report Documents Role of Non-Profits in Biomedical Research Funding

Non-profits are a “proportionately small but meaningful” element of biomedical research funding in the United States, according to a new report by the Health Research Alliance, which fosters collaboration among non-profit health research funders. Described as a first of its kind analysis, “Bringing Non-Profit Funding of Biomedical Research into the Light,” documents recent funding trends.

In 2012, $2.4 billion of the $130.4 billion in total U.S. support for biomedical research came from non-profits. About half of this funding was directed towards early career development and training for young researchers, a percentage that is significantly higher than federal funding. Non-profit biomedical research funding trends more towards translational and clinical research (68 percent) than basic research (38 percent).

Following the economic downturn of 2008, there was a precipitous drop in non-profit research funding. Award dollars dropped by 34 percent between 2008 and 2009 and only recovered by 26 percent from 2010 to 2012, well short of the pre-2009 levels.

Read the report at http://healthra.org/download-resource/?resource-url=/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/HRA-gHRAsp-report.pdf.

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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a scientific report that is the basis for a pending regulation regarding the connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters. The proposed rule has been controversial and some have criticized the agency for releasing the rule prior to the science report being finalized. Read the report at http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=296414.

  • In a recent notice from the National Science Foundation to the scientific community, Director France Córdova outlined the role of principal investigators in assisting the agency in preparing public award abstracts and titles for funded grants. Read the notice at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2015/in137/in137.jsp?WT.mc_id=USNSF_80.

  • The National Research Council will be hosting a free workshop on 20-21 April 2015 on performance standards in the care and use of laboratory animals. Experts will discuss existing standards and potential improvements. Register for the event at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1941206/ILAR-Roundtable-Performance-Standards-Workshop.

  • Do not forget to accept the challenge to go Beyond the Box. There are only 31 weeks left to enter the Beyond the Box Digitization Competition from AIBS and the National Science Foundation. The competition will award $1 million to the person or team who creates a technology that increases the speed and accuracy of digitization of a drawer of insect specimens and their associated data. Learn more at http://beyondthebox.aibs.org. Also, considering sharing your suggestions for how digital images of specimens and greater access to biodiversity data can inform science and solve problems via Twitter @BeyondtheBugBox.

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Participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held on 13-14 May 2015 in Washington, DC. The first day of the program is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their travel expenses.

Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. The deadline to sign up is 13 March 2015.

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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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