AIBS, 48 Member Organizations Send Letter to Senate on Future of NSF

AIBS and 48 scientific organizations have sent a letter to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee regarding legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF). The letter outlines several principles that should be the basis of the legislation, including outlining a path for new investments, supporting all of NSF’s research programs, and supporting the existing merit review system.

The organizations that signed the letter span the breadth of the biological sciences.

The Senate panel plans to draft and advance a bill to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. That law, passed in 2007, outlined ambitious funding goals for NSF and other federal programs that support basic research.

Read the letter at www.aibs.org/position-statements/20150821competesletter.html.

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Report: Eliminating Budget Sequestration Could Create 1.4 Million Jobs

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report this month, which found that eliminating budget sequestration could create up to 1.4 million jobs over the next two years.

The report analyzed the effects of eliminating automatic spending reductions in federal spending and suggested that, “Fully eliminating the reductions would allow for an increase in appropriations of $90 billion in 2016 and $91 billion in 2017.”

The CBO estimates that ending budget sequestration would increase the gross domestic product for calendar year 2016 by 0.1 to 0.6 percent and for calendar year 2017 by 0.1 to 0.4 percent. These spending changes would likely increase full-time-equivalent employment in 2016 by 0.2 to 0.8 million and in 2017 by 0.1 to 0.6 million, compared to the projections under current law.

The report emphasized that even though “eliminating the reductions to the spending caps for 2016 and 2017 would increase output and employment over the next few years, the resulting increases in federal deficits would, in the longer term, make the nations output and income lower than they would be otherwise.”

The full report, which was requested by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is available at https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/50725-SpendingCapsLetter_Sanders.pdf.

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Study Shows Disparity between Resource Inputs and Health Impacts of U.S. Biomedical Research

A provocative new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that despite dramatic increases in funding and knowledge in the biomedical sciences over the past 50 years, there has been little impact on U.S. public health. The study suggests that poor research practices have been hindering progress in biomedical research.

Co-author Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said in a press release, “The idea of public support for biomedical research is to make lives better. But there is increasing friction in the system. We are spending more money now just to get the same results we always have, and this is going to keep happening if we don’t fix things.”

The authors compared “inputs” and “outputs” of biomedical science over the past five decades and concluded that the amount of science being done does not directly translate into public-heath benefits. Data on “inputs” included inflation-adjusted budgets for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the number of articles published in the PubMed database. These were compared to “outcomes” of biomedical research, such as the number of drugs approved by the U.S. government and gains in life expectancy.

The study revealed that NIH budget grew exponentially for four decades before leveling off over the past ten years, annual publications increased six-fold, and the number of authors increased nine-fold. On the other hand, the total number of drugs approved by the federal government only increased two-fold and the life expectancy has increased steadily, but only by two months every year.

Co-author Anthony Bowen, an MD/Ph.D. student at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement, “There is something wrong in the process, but there are no simple answers. It may be a confluence of factors that are causing us not to be getting more bang for our buck.” These authors conclude that these factors possibly include the pressure to publish in high-impact journals, pushing researchers to cut-corners and publish hyped and irreproducible studies.

Pierre Azoulay, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been studying the same phenomenon for several years, believes that the study may be rife with limitations and assumptions. New drugs and life expectancy improvements lag the science that lays the foundation for them often by years or even decades. Azoulay told The Washington Post, “I would say it is possible the productivity of biomedical research expenditures has been going down over time. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities, but we’re not going to learn whether this is a fact from this study.”

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New Vision and Change Report Documents Undergraduate Ed Reform

A new report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science summarizes the initiatives that have been implemented by college faculty towards reforming undergraduate biology education. “Vision and Change (V&C) in Undergraduate Biology Education: Chronicling Change, Inspiring the Future” includes information compiled from over 500 faculty and staff at nearly 300 universities and colleges, professional societies, and other institutions. The report is available at http://visionandchange.org/files/2013/11/aaas-VISchange-web1113.pdf.

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Wildfires Are Also Devastating Forest Service Budget

In order to pay for the skyrocketing costs of fighting wildfires, the U.S. Forest Service has been forced to transfer $3.2 billion from other parts of the agency since 2002. This practice of “borrowing” has impacted the Forest Service’s ability to conduct research, mange invasive species, and repair facilities. Forty-eight million came from the Forest and Rangeland Research program, according to new data released by E&E Publishing.

Fire borrowing has become an annual occurrence. It happens when the Forest Service runs out of fire suppression funding during the summer and must “borrow” money from other non-suppression programs. The money is only returned if Congress provides additional wildfire funding, which does not always happen.

The Obama Administration has pushed for Congress to end the practice of borrowing by providing the agency non-discretionary disaster funds to fight wildfires. There are also two bills pending in Congress that would address the issue. S. 235 and H.R. 167 have bipartisan support to allow the Forest Service to use disaster funding to fight wildfires, just as the government funds responses to other natural disasters like floods and hurricanes. The bills are sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID).

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Fresh Research Goals for U.S. Antarctic Program

A new report by a National Academies committee details a “strategic vision for NSF investments in Antarctica and Southern Ocean Research”. The report was commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds the United States Antarctic Program.

Recognizing the program’s logistical needs, a ten-year research strategy was proposed. Priority was given to topics with compelling science, high potential for societal impact, and significant partnership potential both within NSF and between NSF and other agencies.

The report recommends new research goals for the Antarctic region, including initiatives to better understand how melting polar ice sheets will contribute to sea-level rise, attempts to decode the genomes of Antarctic organisms in order to understand evolutionary adaptations, and plans for deep-space observations of cosmic microwave background radiation to answer questions about the nature and origin of the universe.

The report also recommends certain key requirements for implementation of the strategy, including expanded access to remote areas, improved communications and information technology systems, access to new heavy ice breaker ships and other advanced equipment, and efforts to facilitate data collection, sharing and integration.

The report is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21741/a-strategic-vision-for-nsf-investments-in-antarctic-and-southern-ocean-research.

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Register for the Online Conference on Biodiversity

The International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will hold a virtual conference to scope two forthcoming assessments on invasive species and conservation of biodiversity. The e-conference will take place in three sessions over three weeks from 7-25 September 2015. Participants will provide input through online discussion boards. That information will be used to create iterative versions of a synthesis report. Learn more and register to participate at http://esa.org/ipbes/econference/.

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Invitation: AIBS Program on "Evaluating Merit Review"

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) will host a webinar on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Dr. Stephen Gallo will present findings from recent research evaluating the group dynamics of face-to-face versus teleconference peer review panels to evaluate research proposals.

There is no cost to participate in this webinar, but pre-registration is required. Please register at http://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/evaluating-merit-review-conflicts-and-bias-in-peer-review.html.

This webinar is part of AIBS’ Topics on Leadership in Biological Program. To learn more about this initiative, please visit http://www.aibs.org/events/latest_events.html.

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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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