Scientists Warn President of Risk of Biological Attack

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) have sent a letter to President Obama offering guidance about how the United States should prepare for and respond to pathogens released in a biological attack.

“While the ongoing growth of biotechnology is a great boon for society, it also holds serious potential for destructive use by both states and technically-competent individuals with access to modern laboratory facilities,” stated the letter. “As the security challenges evolve rapidly with technological advances, it is important that the Federal Government’s own thinking about how to protect the Nation keeps pace.”

PCAST pointed out the commonalities in defense from intentional biological attacks and preparing for natural disease outbreaks of new and emerging infectious diseases.

Among the recommendations is strengthened leadership for situational awareness, threat assessment, response coordination, and strategic planning and accountability for deliberate biological attacks and natural disease outbreaks. PCAST recommends strengthening the national lab network to monitor for pathogens and using genomic sequencing to identify new risks early.

The group also recommended that lawmakers create a new Public Health Emergency Response Fund to support government mobilization to outbreaks.

A ten-year goal would be for the government to be able to complete the development, manufacture, clinical testing, and licensure of a new vaccine within six months.

Read the letter here.

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New Resource on Federal R&D Funding

A new report prepared by a coalition of scientific societies offers insights into congressional decisions regarding federal research funding. This analysis of the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process covers the major issues lawmakers are debating relative to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, climate science, and various scientific disciplines.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences co-authored the chapter on biological and ecological sciences with the Ecological Society of America.

Despite being two months into the 2017 fiscal year, Congress has only passed one of the twelve bills that collectively fund the federal government. The continuing resolution that is currently funding agencies expires on 9 December.

Report the report at

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Trump Nominates Education Secretary

President-elect Donald J. Trump announced his pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education. Betsy DeVos will be nominated as education secretary. She is currently chair of Windquest Group, an investment firm, and serves as chair of the board of the Alliance for School Choice. According to her personal website, she is “an advocate for children” and has “been involved with education issues for 28 years.”

DeVos has said that she is “not a supporter—period” of Common Core.

Common Core is English language and math education standards for grades K-12 that 42 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted. A separate set of standards was developed for science; 17 states have adopted those benchmarks.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged that he would eliminate the Department of Education in order to pay for his tax plan.

Trump also said, “there is so much waste” at the department that he would cut its budget to “shreds.”

The Department of Education provides college support for low-income students, aid to schools in low-income and rural areas, funds research on education, provides funds to states for special education services for children with disabilities, and provides funds to states for the provision of vocational rehabilitation services for adults with disabilities.

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Federal Research Funding to Universities Declines for Fourth Year

Federal funding for higher education R&D has declined nearly 13 percent—after adjusting for inflation—since it peaked in 2011, according to data from the National Science Foundation. This four-year decline is the longest multiyear decline in federal funding for academic R&D since 1972, when annual data collection began.

Total funding has declined in both actual and constant dollars. Federal funding now accounts for 55.2 percent of higher education R&D expenditures—down from 62.5 percent in 2011.

Funding trends have varied among federal agencies. Universities spent about $26 million less on R&D in 2015 relative to 2011 because of reduced funding from the National Science Foundation. The departments of Energy and Health and Human Services also reduced external funding. Conversely, Defense and Agriculture provided 6 percent and 11 percent more funding to universities.

To address this lost revenue, universities provided an additional $4.1 billion to support their research programs. Funding from businesses and non-profits has also increased.

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Public Input Sought on Data Sharing

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking information on strategies for data management, sharing, and citation. Specifically, they seek public comment on what types of data should be shared, the costs and benefits of sharing different types of data, and standards for citation of data and software. Learn more about the request for information and how to submit comments at Comments will be accepted until 29 December 2016.

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Expand Your Broader Impact Skills: AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’ highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

The Boot Camp is an intensive, two-day, hands-on training program that will be held in Washington, DC on 27-28 February 2017. Please note that registration for the December workshop is full.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview, including broadcast interviews
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What policymakers want and need to know from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Participants will also have the opportunity for formal and informal discussions with science policy and communications experts working in Washington, DC. A course outline is available here.

AIBS Individual Members and individuals nominated to participate by an AIBS Member Society/Organization receive a $75 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at

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Graduate Students: Apply for the 2017 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are being accepted for the 2017 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.

Winners receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation’s capital to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on April 25-26, 2017. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding.
  • Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2017 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners, honorable mentions, and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on 9 January 2017. The application can be downloaded at

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Short Takes

  • Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will succeed Barbara Mikulski as the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Mikulski is retiring. Leahy currently serves as the most senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
  • Next Congress, the leading Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be Tom Carper (D-DE). The current ranking member, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), is retiring. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) was previously announced as the incoming chair to replace James Inhofe (R-OK), who is term limited as chair.
  • The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make it easier for Congress to block new regulations issued by an outgoing president. H.R. 5982 would enable lawmakers to overturn major rules—defined as a rule that has an annual economic impact of $100 million or more—en masse. Congress currently has the authority to act within 60 days of a rule being finalized to disapprove it, but has to pass a separate resolution for each rulemaking.
  • A public webinar will be held on 8 December at 11 am (Eastern) regarding the federal government’s upcoming ten-year ocean research plan. The draft plan will describe the most pressing research questions and promising areas of opportunity within the ocean sciences. Public input will be accepted during the webinar or in written form through 1 January 2017. Learn more at
  • The National Institute of Justice is seeking doctoral students to serve as research assistants to support research activities advancing criminal justice policy and practice. Potential research areas include digital forensics, data science, and geospatial analysis. Learn more at

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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 to get started.

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