President Obama Announces Nominations for Key Science Positions

President Obama announced nominations for two important positions in federal science programs on 5 August. He nominated Richard Buckius to be the deputy director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Cherry Murray to be the director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy.

Dr. Richard Buckius has extensive experience at NSF. He is currently Chief Operating Officer and a senior science adviser. He also held the position of assistant director for the Directorate for Engineering from 2006 to 2008 and headed an NSF division on chemical and transport systems from 2004 to 2005. Buckius is also a professor of mechanical engineering and vice president of research at Purdue University. Dr. Buckius earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Cherry Murray is currently a professor of technology and public policy and physics at Harvard University. She also served as the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University from 2009 to 2014. Murray previously served as science administrator at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In 2010, she was appointed to the national commission to review the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and offshore drilling. Murray received her B.S. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by the White House in 2014.

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NSF Directs Smaller Scope for NEON

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) will have a reduced scope due to delays and budget overruns. Fifteen relocatable monitoring locations have been removed from the plans for the network. Moreover, an aquatic experimentation component of the network has been canceled.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) “identified a descope option that will keep the project scientifically transformational and should bring it in on time and on budget,” according to Dr. James Olds, the head of the Directorate for Biological Sciences at NSF.

NEON Project Manager Javier Martí stated “we are confident that these shifts in construction deliverables will not diminish NEON’s overall ability to meet the evolving needs of the scientific community over the next 30 years.”

Construction of NEON began in 2011 and was supposed to be completed next year. The project, however, was running a year behind schedule.

More information about the new scope of work is available at http://www.neoninc.org/updates-events/update/scope-change-directives-designed-ensure-overall-success-neon-construction.

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Public Access Bill Advances in Senate

A Senate committee has approved legislation that would require federal agencies to make peer-reviewed articles available to the public within one year of publication. The bill would codify in law a similar directive from the White House, which agencies are beginning to comply with.

S. 779 is sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the measure by voice vote in late July. A companion bill has been introduced in the House.

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Lawmakers Urge Federal Investments in Science Research at Middle Class Prosperity Project Forum

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) hosted a forum on 27 July on the importance of federal investments in basic scientific research and innovation in strengthening the American economy and creating jobs. The forum featured former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a panel of experts and researchers from business and academia. The forum was a part of the Middle Class Prosperity Project, which is a collaborative effort by Warren and Cummings.

The underlying motivation for this forum was the crucial role of basic research in medical innovations. The lawmakers claim the high rate of unfunded research has led to stagnation in medical discoveries and drug development.

The Medical Innovation Act, introduced earlier this year in the Senate by Warren and in the House by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), “could boost NIH funding by 20% - without raising taxes,” according to Senator Warren. The legislation requires large pharmaceutical companies that break a law and settle with the federal government to pay a small portion of their net income to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over a period of five years. The payments received by HHS would then be divided between the Food and Drug Administration and the NIH.

Former Speaker Gingrich urged increased federal investments in basic science research during the panel discussion. Gingrich stressed that one of the “most fiscally responsible steps” we can take as a country is to boost research funding for diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer. He addressed the measures that could help to increase funding for fundamental research and discussed the importance of bipartisan partnership in achieving this. He called for doubling the NIH budget and emphasized the importance of basic research in enabling drug companies to develop cures for critical diseases. He also pointed out that collaboration between research organizations and the pharmaceutical industry plays a key role in ensuring medical innovation. Gingrich also called for raising the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget: “We should have tripled the NSF while we doubled the NIH,” speaking of congressional efforts in the late 1990’s that resulted in a doubling of NIH funding.

Gingrich proposed the idea of research bonds that support large research projects with the potential of saving billions of dollars in medical treatments. He suggested that smaller peer-reviewed grants only result in incremental growth and larger grants result in more significant breakthroughs. He also pointed out that federal funding towards basic research is critical because the private sector typically tends to fund projects with short-term commercial goals that provide substantial monetary gains.

Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, RM Phillips Chair in Economics of Innovation at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, insisted that increased public funding in specific research areas drives innovation by attracting private investors and drug companies to also invest in those opportunities. Dr. Carol Espy-Wilson, Founder and CEO of OmniSpeech and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Maryland, emphasized that young researchers do not receive adequate funding due to their lack of experience. This has led to stagnation in research and needs the attention of federal agencies.

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Upcoming Webinar on Evaluating Merit Review

The American Institute of Biological Sciences will host a webinar on “Evaluating Merit Review: Group Dynamics of Face-to-Face Versus Teleconference Peer Review Meeting.” The presentation will be given by Dr. Stephen Gallo, an expert on peer review. Register for free at http://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/evaluating-merit-review-group-dynamics.html.

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Senior Appropriator Charged with Racketeering, Fraud

Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was charged with racketeering, conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud in a 29-count indictment on 29 July, as revealed by a probe launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service. Fattah subsequently stepped down from his post as Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) will replace Fattah as the senior Democrat on the panel.

The 11-term congressman allegedly arranged for the award of federal grant funds to a political consultant in order to extinguish $130,000 in campaign debt incurred after his 2007 Philadelphia mayoral campaign. Other accusations include creating a false paper trail for a $1 million campaign loan and misuse of campaign funds to repay his son’s student debt.

Despite allegations, Rep. Fattah has declared his innocence and reaffirmed his intension to run for reelection in 2016.

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Nominations Sought for New Climate Assessment Panel

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is creating a new federal advisory committee to provide sustained assessments of the impacts of climate change on the United States. The new panel will facilitate continuous participation of scientists and stakeholders in the government’s synthesis of climate information. The effort will complement the National Climate Assessment report, which is released every four years.

Nominations are being solicited to serve on the committee. Individuals are sought with expertise in communications, engagement, and education; risk management and risk assessment; economics and social sciences; technology, tools, and data systems; and/or other disciplines relevant to the sustained National Climate Assessment process. In addition, individuals are sought with expertise in climate change and variability, spanning the range from climate science (physical, biological, chemical) to impacts and societal responses.

The deadline to submit a nomination is 14 September 2015. Learn more at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/08/06/nomination-period-open-sustained-national-climate-assessment-federal-advisory-commit.

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USGS Releases Updated Arctic Strategy Focused on Climate, Energy

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has released an updated five-year strategy for the agency’s research on the rapidly changing Arctic climate.

“Although warming and cooling cycles have occurred over millennia, in the Arctic region, the current warming trend is unlike anything recorded previously and is affecting the region faster than any other place on Earth, bringing dramatic reductions in sea ice extent, altered weather, and thawing permafrost,” explains the strategy statement released on 20 July. These changes have resulted in rapid coastal erosion, changes to wildlife habitat, increased greenhouse gas emission from melting glaciers and a threat of invasive species. “It is imperative that the USGS establish and undertake an Arctic science strategy that is responsive to national priorities and objectives for the region.”

As outlined in the new strategy for 2015-2020, the goals of the USGS are to improve scientific information for coastal communities and ecosystems; advance an integrated and holistic understanding of the changes across Arctic ecosystems; assess mineral and energy resources as well as evaluate the environmental implications of resource development; understand the effects of the changing Arctic on environmental health, including the spread of mercury and wildlife diseases; enhance the understanding of unique physical processes in the Arctic region, such as the cryosphere and glacier dynamics; and improve statewide geospatial data and mapping.

The earlier goals for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released in May 2013, included pursuing responsible stewardship in the arctic region; strengthening international cooperation on various issues in the region; and making well-informed decisions based on current science as well as traditional knowledge.

The USGS plans to provide science that informs climate change adaptation strategies for the Alaskan coastal communities, which are especially vulnerable to coastal erosion, and also quantify and forecast the effects of a changing Arctic on threatened and endangered species and habitats. Another priority is to develop a full spectrum of Arctic energy and mineral resource assessments, including oil and gas, gas hydrates, coal, coal bed methane, geothermal energy and critical minerals. They also plan to assess carbon fluxes and carbon sequestration potential in the Arctic regions and assess the environmental implications of resource developmental activities like the Royal Dutch Shell Arctic drilling plan recently approved by the Obama administration.

A fact sheet on the USGS Arctic Science Strategy is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2015/3049/fs20153049.pdf.

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Now in BioScience: Lawmakers, Scientists Divided on COMPETES

In the August 2015 issue of BioScience, Julie Palakovich Carr highlights the contentious effort to reauthorize a landmark law that was intended to bolster American innovation. An excerpt of the article follows:

Legislation that would create a 2-year roadmap for basic research and science education is progressing through Congress, to the dismay of most of the research community. Hailed by supporters as a plan to advance innovation while cutting wasteful spending and denounced by opponents as political meddling in research, HR 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, has embedded science in populist politics.

“Legislation that is supposed to maintain the nation’s leadership on science and energy research is now being reauthorized in a manner that actively undermines our ability to do just that,” wrote Andrew A. Rosenberg and Michelle Robinson of the Union of Concerned Scientists in a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. “What should be a bipartisan legislative undertaking includes some of the recurring partisan attacks undermining science that are becoming commonplace in the House.”

Continue reading the article for free here.

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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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