Congress Averts Shutdown, Commences Budget Talks

Weeks of speculation about a possible government shutdown ended on 1 October with the passage of a Continuing Resolution to maintain fiscal year 2015 funding levels until mid-December. The measure will keep the federal government open while lawmakers engage in broader discussions about budget sequestration, the debt ceiling, and transportation funding. President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker John Boehner have begun preliminary talks.

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Lawmakers Tour Research Facilities as Part of 7th Annual AIBS Event

Dozens of biologists met with their lawmakers as part of the 7th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative, organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), encourages scientists across the nation to showcase for federal and state lawmakers the people, facilities, and equipment required to conduct scientific research.

“Funding for research and research infrastructure, which includes the people doing the research and teaching students, are active topics of debate for lawmakers around the nation,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of AIBS. “The biological sciences community needs to inform these and other aspects of science policy. Sadly, we see in Illinois an example of what can happen when politics take over. The Illinois State Museum is a recent casualty of a political impasse.”

This nationwide event enables scientists to meet with their elected officials in their local area rather than in Washington, DC or the state capital. Lawmakers are able to learn first-hand about the scientific assets and research facilities in their district. Participants ranged from graduate students to senior researchers.

“I believe that communicating science to the public and to policymakers is a vital part of the scientific process. As someone trained in science and research, I think I can help inform policymaker’s decisions with my expertise,” said Nichole Bennett, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin. Bennett met with staff for U.S. Representative Roger Williams (R-TX).

Dr. Janice Voltzow, a biology professor at The University of Scranton, hosted a tour of a new university science building for Pennsylvania state Senator John Blake. “I am not usually very actively engaged politically but have come to appreciate that it is our responsibility as scientists to help elected officials understand the significance of climate change and to make ourselves available as resources to them.”

The 7th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits were made possible by AIBS, with support from event sponsors Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Participants in the event were prepared for their meetings during an interactive training webinar. The program provided information about how best to communicate science to non-technical audiences, tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official, and information about trends in funding for research.

Highlights of the event include:

  • U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) toured the Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience at the University of Florida.

  • The Pepperwood Preserve, a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), hosted Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA).

  • Congressman Mike Bishop (R-MI) will tour the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

  • James Madison University has arranged a tour of a new biosciences building on campus for Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

  • OBFS member Pierce Cedar Creek Institute will host Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) to discuss its science education programs.

  • Sagehen Creek Field Station in California hosted a briefing at the field station that was attended by staff of seven congressional offices and a state legislator.

  • Tours of research facilities were arranged for state lawmakers from Michigan, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

  • A state senator will visit the Missouri Botanical Garden and meet with researchers at the garden.

  • Numerous other meetings were held with the staff of state and federal elected officials.

More information about the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Representatives Receive USGS Coalition Leadership Award

On 29 September, the USGS Coalition honored Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) with the 2015 USGS Coalition Leadership Award.

“The USGS Coalition is pleased to recognize Representatives Cole and Bonamici for their efforts to advance the scientific fields that further our understanding of Earth’s living and nonliving systems,” said Robert Gropp, chairman of the USGS Coalition and Interim Co-Executive Director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. AIBS is a founding member of the USGS Coalition. “The U.S. Geological Survey plays an important role in improving public safety and informing natural resource management. The biological, geological, geographic and hydrologic research the USGS conducts improves the quality of life of every American, every day.”

Congressman Cole is serving his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. He serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which oversees funding for the Department of the Interior. As a member of the subcommittee, Cole plays an important role in ensuring that the USGS has the resources it needs to provide the department and the nation with the scientific information required to make informed decisions.

Representative Bonamici is serving her third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Oregon’s 1st Congressional District. She serves as the ranking member on the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment. Bonamici has advocated for the development of an earthquake early warning system by USGS. She is also the sponsor of legislation to reauthorize the nation’s tsunami warning system and to address marine debris.

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New Study Improves Understanding of Best Practices in Peer-review of Research Proposals

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has published findings from research it conducted on the relationship between panel discussion and scoring in teleconference and face-to-face scientific peer-review panels. The study, part of AIBS’ Science of Peer Review initiative, appears in the journal BMJ Open.

Peer-review is a process used by most governmental and many non-governmental scientific research programs in the United States to review, analyze, and identify the most promising research. Most experts agree that peer-review has played a critical role in driving the nation’s R&D system, which has been the foundation for economic growth and advancements in security, health, and environmental stewardship throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2014 alone, the U.S. government spent approximately $136 billion on R&D.

The study was conducted by AIBS to provide a better understanding of how the use of teleconferencing for grant peer-review panels may alter outcomes as compared to traditional face-to-face peer-review panel meetings.

“A better understanding of how setting or the use of technology influences the dynamics of a peer-review panel will enable the research evaluation community to make more informed funding decisions,” said Scott Glisson, AIBS Co-Interim Executive Director. “To fund the highest impact research we need to understand how factors that can influence the functioning of a peer-review panel may impact deliberations and ultimately funding decisions.”

This study considered the influences of the use of teleconferencing because funding agencies are often interested in using this technology to reduce costs and the time burden placed on panel members who travel to on-site panel meetings.

Previous research by AIBS found that discussion times were significantly shorter for teleconference settings as compared to face-to-face, but the influence of discussion on application scoring was unclear. This analysis compared proposal scores by reviewers before and after the peer-review meeting. The authors measured the magnitude and direction of score changes. Comparisons of these score shifts were made for face-to-face and teleconference settings, which provided insights into the effect of communication medium on the subsequent scoring patterns.

“Scoring shifts post-discussion were, on average, small in both settings. Discussion was important for at least 10% of applications, regardless of setting, with these applications moving over the threshold to receive funding or not,” said Dr. Stephen Gallo, an author of the study. “Small, but statistically significant differences in post-discussion scoring patterns were uncovered between settings, including a decrease in the magnitude of score shifts in the teleconference panels as compared to face-to-face. However, discussion time had little influence on the magnitude of these score shifts.”

Interestingly, panel discussion was found to often result in poorer scores when compared to the initial premeeting scores. In other words, review scores worsened after panels came together and discussed a proposal. This was true regardless of setting.

The subtle differences observed between settings were potentially due to reduced reviewer engagement in teleconferences. More research is needed to understand the extent of this phenomenon, as well as the psychology of decision-making, team performance, and persuasion to better elucidate the effects of peer-review panel setting.

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Nominations for National Science Board Class of 2016-2022 Now Open

The National Science Board (NSB) is accepting nominations for candidates from the scientific community to serve on the board. The NSB is a 24-member board that oversees the activities and develops the policies for the National Science Foundation. It also advises the President and Congress on policy related to science and engineering, as well as science and engineering education. Every two years, eight members of the NSB are rotated out and the President appoints new members to the board.

The deadline to submit nominations is 30 October 2015.

The nomination packet should include: a letter of recommendation, the nominee’s biography, and the nominee’s curriculum vitae. Nominations can be submitted electronically through the NSB portal: http://www.research.gov/research-portal/appmanager/base/desktop?nfpb=true&eventName=createNSBNominationForm_nsb.

For more information on the process and eligibility criteria for candidates go to: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/members/nominations.jsp.

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Biologist Appointed Executive Director of the National Invasive Species Council

Dr. Jamie Reaser, a biologist, has been selected to lead the National Invasive Species Council. She is the former CEO of Congruence LLC, where she implemented invasive species programs with organizations such as the United Nations. She has also worked as a biodiversity officer at the State Department and as an ecologist at the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Reaser served as a member of the U.S. Invasive Species Advisory Committee for six years and is currently a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Invasive Species Specialist Group. The biology graduate from College of William and Mary, who also has a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University, will lead the coordinate the work of 13 federal agencies and departments.

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Short Takes

  • Legislation to reauthorize the National Defense Act is moving through Congress. The conference report accompanying H.R. 1735 includes language expressing support for "robust participation in scientific and technical conferences." Fewer government scientists have been attending conferences in the past several years since the White House issued guidance to federal agencies to reduce travel costs. The House passed the conference report on 1 October.

  • AIBS and a dozen other scientific societies have commended a group of House lawmakers for their efforts to address climate change. Recently, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution on climate change. To read the statement from the scientific organizations, please visit http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20150925_climate_resolution.html.

  • A National Academies committee has proposed a new quasi-governmental entity that would identify ways to reduce regulatory burdens on researchers. The recommendation is included in a report requested by lawmakers. The board would review the impacts of existing regulations.

  • The Association of Ecosystem Research Centers will hold a briefing on extreme events and ecosystem resilience on 22 October 2015 at 10:30 AM in Washington, DC. The event is free. For more information and to RSVP, visit www.aibs.org/rsvp/aerc.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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