AIBS Webinar to Provide Guidance on Science Policy Careers

The AIBS Leadership in Biology series continues on 7 April 2016 with a webinar designed to help scientists learn about career opportunities in science policy.

The program will feature discussion and insights from panelists who have successfully navigated careers in science policy, including careers working for Congress, federal agencies, and scientific societies.

Attendees will acquire knowledge of the skills that are needed to pursue a policy career and have ample opportunity to ask questions of the panelists.

Register for this free event at https://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/so-you-want-a-job-in-science-policy.html.

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Biology Community Concerned with NSF Funding Hiatus for Collections Program

Three leading organizations that advocate for the preservation of natural history collections have voiced concerns about the National Science Foundation’s decision to suspend the Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) program. In a letter dated 24 March 2016, the organizations called for the agency to “reconsider this action, which can jeopardize the long-term care, stewardship, and accessibility of these irreplaceable biological specimens and their associated data.”

The Natural Science Collections Alliance led the effort to rally the collections community. The American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections contributed to and endorsed the letter.

In early March 2016, NSF posted on the CSBR website that the program “has been placed on hiatus… New proposals will not be accepted in 2016. During this time the program is being evaluated for the long term resource needs and research priorities in the Biological Sciences Directorate.”

Staff at AIBS first spotted the announcement and alerted the collections community.

Science recently reported on the community response to NSF, including the group letter. Nature also published an article about the CSBR hiatus.

Organizations and individuals are encouraged to submit their own comments to NSF about the value and uniqueness of the CSBR program. Comments can be submitted to DBICSBR@nsf.gov.

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House Budget Committee Proposes Changes to Federal Research Agencies

More details are emerging about the House budget resolution and its potential impacts on science. The plan passed by the House Budget Committee last month calls for rearranging the federal research portfolio by eliminating the Department of Commerce (DOC) and restricting funding for several research programs under the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

The plan states that the DOC “has expanded in size and scope to include many elements whose priorities would be better suited in other agencies. As a result, the DOC and its various agencies and programs are rife with waste, abuse, and duplication.”

Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Census Bureau.

The budget proposes consolidating NOAA into the Department of the Interior, moving NIST into the NSF, placing the Census Bureau under the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and establishing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as an independent agency.

President Obama previously proposed moving NOAA to Interior and consolidating six Commerce agencies that handle business and trade into one entity.

The resolution emphasizes the value of basic research but calls for “stable funding” for three of NSF’s six research directorates (biology, computing and information science, and math and physical sciences). There is no mention of the other three directorates—engineering, geosciences and the social and behavioral sciences—in the plan. The budget also calls for stable funding of STEM education programs within NSF.

According to the plan, spending for the DOE Office of Science includes “several high-risk projects, which in a time of needed fiscal constraint, should be embarked on by the private sector instead.” The plan mentions that Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s high-risk/high-reward energy projects, which receive $300 million in funding, are not transformative and could be taken on by the private sector.

Read more coverage about the House budget resolution from AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20160321.html#040334.

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Congress Continues Consideration of NSF Budget Request

Although it is still relatively early in the appropriations process for fiscal year 2017, there may be encouraging signs coming from Congress about future funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Members of the House of Representatives lined up their support for NSF in two ‘dear colleague’ letters recently sent to the Appropriations Committee.

A bipartisan letter led by Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and David McKinley (R-WV) called for NSF to be funded at $8 billion in 2017. A total of 143 Representatives, including seven Republicans, signed the letter. This was seven more members than signed an NSF funding letter last year.

Another dear colleague letter reaffirmed NSF’s current practice of setting national research priorities, instead of allowing politicians to insert themselves into the process. That letter, by Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Richard Hanna (R-NY), was signed by 34 Representatives; seven signers are Republicans. “The merit review system remains the best means for meeting national scientific priorities, fostering innovation, and determining which grant proposals to fund,” stated the lawmakers. “We hope the [Appropriations] Committee will reaffirm these practices by refraining from including specific funding levels—either within the bill text or accompanying report—for individual NSF research directorates in the fiscal year 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act.”

In 2016, appropriators broke a decades long tradition by specifying that 70 percent of NSF research funding would be restricted to specific directorates. Notably, the chair of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF reversed course on the issue during a hearing in March, saying that he wanted “to avoid directorate level funding.”

The House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology took up the issue of NSF’s budget request during a hearing on 22 March. The chair and ranking member of the subcommittee noted that it was “unlikely” that Congress would fund the $400 million in new mandatory spending requested by the Obama Administration.

“I like to think of myself as an optimist, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which there is agreement any time soon on new mandatory funding,” said Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “I wish, therefore, that the Administration had found additional support in the discretionary budget for the Foundation.”

France Cordova, Director of NSF, noted the need for additional research funding. In constant dollars, funding for NSF research has declined since FY 2010. Moreover, the grant funding rate has dropped from 30 percent in 2000 to just 22 percent presently. The situation is even worse for first time investigators, with only 16 percent of proposals funded. Dr. Cordova said that to fund all proposals rated ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’ in any given year, NSF would require an additional $4 billion.

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AIBS Asks Congress to Invest in NSF

The American Institute of Biological Sciences urged the House Appropriations Committee to increase funding for the National Science Foundation in fiscal year 2017. Funding rates have become “dangerously low,” according to the agency. The proposed funding level of $8.0 billion would allow for a one percent increase in proposal success rates across NSF.

Over the past 50 years, roughly half of the economic growth at private businesses in the United States has resulted from advances in knowledge resulting from research and development. Evidence for this is the fact that in the last decade, 80,000 U.S. patents were based on discoveries arising from research initially funded by the NSF. Additionally, data show that employers continue to seek workers with scientific and technical skills. Since 1960, growth in U.S. employment in science and engineering has outpaced growth in total employment, increasing by an average rate of 3 percent per year.

The NSF is the primary federal funding source for biological research at our nation’s universities and colleges, providing nearly 68 percent of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

Read the testimony.

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AIBS Urges House Appropriators to Fund USGS, USFS, and EPA Research

AIBS submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Committee in support of fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The testimony encouraged Congress to provide the USGS with at least $1.2 billion in FY 2017 and $173.9 million for the Ecosystems activity, to provide the USFS Forest and Rangeland Research program with at least $296.0 million, and EPA Science and Technology with at least $754.2 million.

Funding for these programs has shrunk in actual dollars in recent years. In FY 2016, EPA research received less funding than it did in FY 2008. USGS Ecosystems funding is currently at the same level as in 2011. Forest Service research funding has also been cut in recent years.

Read the testimony.

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Share Your Stories of STEM Education Innovation

The White House is collecting examples of science education discovery and invention as part of the lead up to the sixth annual White House Science Fair. The Obama Administration is interested in stories about students and teachers doing science fair projects in K-12 classrooms across the country. Submit your story at https://www.whitehouse.gov/webform/stem-commitments-2016 by 5 pm on 5 April.

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Microbiomes of the Built Environment

The National Academies will hold a meeting on “Microbiomes of the Built Environment: From Research to Application” on 11 April 2016. The meeting will provide an introduction to the study, with presentations from researchers in the field on the sources of microbes in the built environment and potential routes of human exposure.

The meeting will be webcast. Register for in-person or online attendance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/microbiomes-of-the-built-environment-meeting-1-tickets-22462532038.

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AIBS Launches 6th Annual Faces of Biology Photo Contest

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has launched the 6th Annual Faces of Biology Photo Contest. The competition recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

“Over the past five years, this contest has been effective at showing the public and decision-makers what the scientific process looks like,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of AIBS. “Whether it is sharing photos of biological research or enabling visits by lawmakers to research facilities, AIBS is committed to disseminating information that will guide informed decisions about matters that require biological knowledge.”

The theme of the contest is “Faces of Biology.” Photographs entered into the competition must depict a person, such as a scientist, technician, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, at a natural history collection, at a field station, on a computer, in a classroom, or anywhere else research is done.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside the journal, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The winning photo from the 2015 contest is featured on the cover of the March 2016 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 30 September 2016.

For more information or to enter the contest, visit http://www.aibs.org/public-programs/photocontest.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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