AIBS Report Documents Returns from Federally Funded Research

Federally funded biological research has a strong record of producing positive outcomes for the nation, according to a new report prepared by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). “Biological Innovation: Benefits of Federal Investments in Biology” highlights some of the innovations and technical advancements resulting from biology research.

“The contributions biological scientists make to our nation are astounding, said Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of AIBS. “From research that saves lives to discoveries that create new jobs and economic opportunities, biology research improves our quality of life in profound ways every day.”

Among the discoveries arising from research funded by the federal government are:

  • Development of an adhesive derived from the carnivorous sundew plant.
  • Nanoparticles in the plant’s adhesive stick to human cells and have the potential for healing wounds, regenerating damaged tissues, and improving synthetic adhesives.
  • Scientists found that dead wood in forests has many ecological functions. Tens of millions of dollars per year have been saved by leaving un-merchantable dead wood in place instead of removing it during logging.
  • University-based biological collections help save human lives. Natural science collections were used to identify the origin of Hantavirus in the southwestern U.S., which helped identify measures to stop its transmission from rodents to humans.

The report also highlights the dividends of fundamental, or basic, science. Although basic research is not conducted with a specific commercial outcome in mind, it is the basis for the applied, or translational, research that ultimately leads to new technologies and products.

The federal government is the main supporter of basic research in the United States, providing more than half of the funding, with additional support coming from academic institutions and private industry. Federal funding for biological research, however, has become stagnate in recent years. In constant fiscal year 2015 dollars, federal investments in the life sciences declined by 14.3 percent from 2003 to 2013.

“Federal research programs provide the resources required to increase our understanding of how life on Earth functions. The rapid global spread of the Zika virus is one high profile example of why it is so important that we invest in understanding the distribution of species around the world, how ecosystems work, how cells and molecules function, how a pathogen evolves or how it can jump from the wild to humans. There are so many pressing issues facing society, we need to renew our national commitment to research if we are to solve these problems,” said Gropp.

The report is available at www.aibs.org/public-policy/biologicalinnovationreport.html.

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Workshop Report Offers Recommendations for Strengthening Biodiversity Collections Communications

A new report from the Biodiversity Collections Network outlines actions the natural science collections community should take to better coordinate its communication with and engagement of the public, decision-makers, and other stakeholders.

The Collections Communications Workshop was convened to consider and offer recommendations about: 1) Opportunities and barriers to communicating the benefits of biodiversity collections to decision-makers and the public; 2) Opportunities provided by national digitization initiatives to engage new stakeholders; 3) Existing communication resources and the need to develop new tools and resources; and, 4) Development of a networked community of communications professionals that could collaborate to deliver a proactive message about biodiversity and biodiversity collections to the public.

Biological diversity collections leaders, scientists, communications professionals, and scientific organization leaders met at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago to provide input on these topics during a workshop organized by the Biodiversity Collections Network.

“Workshop participants were clear: The time for business as usual has passed,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Interim Co-Executive Director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the workshop organizer. “Threats to biodiversity are increasing. There is a real concern that the scientific community does not have the resources necessary to answer important questions.”

This concern has been reinforced recently as state and federal agencies have reduced or withdrawn support for biodiversity collections. The biodiversity community has responded to these developments in ways similar to those envisioned by workshop participants. The responses have been reactive, however, and not proactive.

“These developments show how important it is that we do a better job of communicating about both the increased demand for spatial and temporal data on biodiversity and the vitally important research that biodiversity collections enable,” said Dr. Joseph Cook, President of the Natural Science Collections Alliance and Director of the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. “The report includes a number of significant recommendations for the Natural Science Collections Alliance and we are eager to begin addressing these in collaboration with our membership and partners.”

The Biodiversity Collections Network is establishing a working group to refine and implement the seven recommendations that emerged from its workshop and that are outlined in its new report, “Building a More Networked System for Communicating about Natural History Collections.” These recommendations are:

  1. The community must articulate a compelling and inclusive long-term vision for natural history collections.
  2. The community should work with an existing community-serving organization with links to administrators, policymakers, and communicators to foster greater coordination of targeted messages.
  3. The community must engage new stakeholders to increase the sustainability (i.e., new funding, proper institutional support, adequate workforce) of digitization efforts.
  4. The community must do a better job of communicating outcomes and benefits of digitization efforts to policymakers, administrators, other scientists, and the public.
  5. The community must develop metrics for assessing the impact of current and new communication tools and practices.
  6. The community must develop and embrace innovative communication methods and tool kits.
  7. The community must support and engage in communications training programs that help all biodiversity collections stakeholders, particularly scientists, become more effective spokespeople for natural history collections.

For more information about the Biodiversity Collections Network and to read “Building a More Networked System for Communicating about Natural History Collections,” please visit https://bcon.aibs.org/resources/collections-communications-workshop-report/.

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Congress Begins Work on Appropriations Bills

In spite of an ongoing dispute about the budget for fiscal year 2017, lawmakers are proceeding with three of the twelve appropriations bills that will collectively fund the federal government next year.

House Republicans have still not agreed on a top-line spending total for FY 2017. The deadline to adopt a budget resolution passed on Friday. Under House rules, the chamber could consider spending bills starting on 15 May even without a budget.

To date, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved two bills: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Energy and Water. The House committee has moved those bills as well as an Agriculture spending plan through its subcommittees.

Both chambers are proposing an increase of $50 million for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. President Obama had requested a $225 million increase in his FY 2017 budget request. The program is currently funded at $5.35 billion. There was bicameral disapproval for the administration’s proposal to spend $100 million in new mandatory spending on university research.

The House has proposed $2.85 billion for agriculture research programs. This would reduce funding for Department of Agriculture intramural research by $104 million, while increasing extramural, competitive grants by $25 million.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the Commerce, Justice, and Science draft bill on 19 April.

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Upcoming Webinar on Evaluating Merit Review

The AIBS Leadership in Biology webinar series will continue on 19 May 2016 with a program on “Evaluating Merit Review: Content-Based Reviewer-Manuscript Assignment and Bayesian Article Scoring.”

Science relies on experts evaluating the correctness, quality, relevance, and importance of manuscripts. Finding appropriate matches between reviewers and manuscripts is surprisingly labor intensive, leading to unintended tardiness, subjectivity, and errors. In this talk, Dr. Daniel Acuna, from Northwestern University, will describe his work on making this matching automatic using machine learning. Dr. Acuna will also describe an article scoring approach that attempts to correct for excessive harshness and other biases.

Register for this free webinar at https://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/evaluating-merit-review-large-scale-automated-reviewer-suggestion.html.

A recording of the science policy careers webinar organized by AIBS on 7 April is now available online. Panelists discussed the skills that are needed to pursue a policy career and offered insights on how to launch a career in science policy. Watch a recording at https://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/so-you-want-a-job-in-science-policy.html.

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White House, Congress Squabble Over Zika Funding

The White House has changed its tactics for securing funding to fight Zika virus. Although the administration had originally requested $1.9 billion in new emergency funding from Congress, the White House now plans to transfer $589 million from other programs, including more than $500 million from unspent funds to fight Ebola.

Some members of Congress had questioned the need for supplemental funds to respond to and prevent a Zika outbreak in the United States. Instead, they had pressed the administration to reprogram existing funds.

Last week, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said: “We’re prepared to try to do a supplemental bill if it’s needed. But we can’t decide whether it’s needed or not because we can’t get the information from the agencies of the government, as to what they need it for.” Rogers said that Congress needs more information from the White House about how the funds would be used.

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USGS Study: Ecosystem Restoration Boosts Local, Regional, and National Economies

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) published a study on 5 April detailing the significant economic impacts of ecosystem restoration projects on local, regional, and national economies.

“This report highlights the importance of restoration activities not only for the benefit of natural resources impacted by oil spills or hazardous chemicals, but also for the economic well-being of human communities,” explained Steve Glomb, director of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of Restoration and Damage Assessment.

The study was conducted by USGS economists and includes economic evaluations of 21 DOI restoration projects associated with Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration cases and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. It was found that there was a two- to three-fold return on investment in these projects, which positively impacted the local, regional, and national economies.

USGS economist and lead author Catherine Cullinane Thomas said, “Based on case study results, we found that for every $1 million invested in ecosystem restoration, between $2.2 and $3.4 million flow through to the U.S. economy, demonstrating how such investments support jobs and livelihoods, small businesses and rural economies.”

Case study projects included restoration efforts associated with sagebrush and sage-grouse habitat restoration, wastewater treatment, post-fire landscape restoration and fuels reduction. The report describes the methods used to quantify economic impacts of the evaluated projects based on jobs and business activity generated through money invested on restoration activities. For example, at the Sagebrush restoration project in South Beaver, Utah, investments of $3.5 million were made towards restoration efforts. The resulting local economic impacts included labor income of $1.9 million, economic output of $4.2 million, and a contribution of $2.5 million to GDP. On a regional level, the project added $3.5 million in labor income, $8 million in economic output and $4.6 million to GDP. Similar analyses are available for all the 21 case studies, which can be found at https://www.fort.usgs.gov/economic-impacts-restoration.

The complete report is available at https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr20161016.

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Assessment Strengthens Link Between Climate Change and Human Health Concerns

On 4 April, the United States Global Change Research Program released a new, comprehensive assessment of ongoing climate change and its relationship to threats to human health. According to the report, “the impacts of human-induced climate change are increasing nationwide” and “every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.”

The report builds upon the 2014 National Climate Assessment as well as published literature to provide an evidence-based and, where possible, quantitative account of climate related health impacts.

Topics covered by the report include extreme heat, air quality, flooding, and disease, among others. Each section also seeks to establish how strong a link exists between the climate changes and each specific health issue. Additional attention is paid to identifying at-risk populations, including children, the elderly, and disproportionately vulnerable groups such as those with low income or communities of color.

The full report can be found at https://health2016.globalchange.gov/.

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White House Launches Citizen Science Website

A new government website was created to promote opportunities for citizen science and crowdsourcing initiatives. Citizenscience.gov has more than 300 projects from 25 federal agencies. The White House is touting this as “the first official catalog of government citizen science and crowdsourcing projects.” The site also includes a toolkit to help federal employees use citizen science to advance the mission of their agency.

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Outreach Program Manager Position Opening

The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) seeks qualified applicants for the position of Outreach Program Manager. This is a full-time, benefits eligible position reporting to the Director of SREL. The successful candidate will be located at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

This position is intended to provide support to the Director of the SREL for meeting contractual obligations to external funders by providing vision to the SREL outreach and public relations programs, supervising current and future outreach staff, and contributing to the ongoing demands of SREL outreach and public relations programs for development and delivery of educational materials and other content. Duties are performed with minimal supervision and work is reviewed through observation of results.

Read the full position description at https://www.aibs.org/classifieds/otherpositionsavailable.html#40408.

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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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