AIBS, 58 Scientific Organizations Write to Trump about Science

A group of leading scientific organizations wrote to President-elect Trump to urge him to make scientific research and education a priority in his administration.

“Science has not been, nor do we think it should be, a partisan issue. Rather it is a public benefit,” states the letter.

Specifically, the letter calls for the Trump administration to take swift action to make scientific research a budget priority, to appointment a presidential science advisor with strong scientific credentials, and to use peer-reviewed scientific information to inform decisions.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) led the letter. Read the letter and the full list of signatories at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20161222trumptransition_letter.html.

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Congress Passes Innovation Bill Before Adjourning

Prior to adjourning and heading home until January, Congress passed the “American Innovation and Competitiveness Act,” S. 3084. The Senate unanimously approved the bill on 10 December, the last day of the legislative session. The legislation was then adopted during a pro forma session of the House of Representatives.

“Sending this bill to the White House is an overtime victory for science in the closing days of 2016,” said Senator John Thune (R-SD), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “This bill only passed the Senate in the early morning hours of Saturday after the House had already finished its business. It looked like the clock had run out, but the bipartisan team of House and Senate supporters behind this bill kept pushing.”

S. 3084 is a partial successor to the America COMPETES Act, which authorized funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Standards and Technology and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The legislative authorizations for these agencies expired three years ago.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) - the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology - supported the bill, but regretted that it did not recommend funding levels. “I believe that is a missed opportunity to send a signal to U.S. scientists and the world about how much we value and need a vibrant U.S. science and technology enterprise.”

The bill sets new policy directions for NSF, as well as reaffirms some existing policies. It sustains the current system of evaluating proposals on the basis of intellectual merit and broader impacts, but adds that this system is “to assure that the Foundation’s activities are in the national interest…” This is a departure from the language included in the House-passed bill that would have required NSF only fund grants that meet one of six categories in support of the “national interest.” In response to the strong concerns of representatives of the scientific community, this provision was removed from the final legislation.

The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act directs the NSF to provide public justification of each grant awarded, including a non-technical description of the project’s purpose. The agency has already been working to improve communications about its funding decisions to the public. These policy changes were motivated because of additional congressional scrutiny over particular award decisions, especially for social science and climate research.

New oversight will be given to large research projects funded by NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account. Several projects have been the target of congressional oversight due to projected cost overruns and lax management by NSF.

The legislation further directs NSF to evaluate needs for mid-scale research instrumentation and facilities. The agency currently funds more expensive projects ($100,000-$4,000,000 for instruments and $100 million or more for major facilities), but there is no dedicated funding for less expensive projects.

NSF will also have to report to Congress annually about rotators who are paid higher than the maximum rate of pay for the Senior Executive Service. Some lawmakers have expressed concern that temporary employees on loan to NSF from universities and other research institutions are paid more than permanent federal employees.

The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) will be renamed to the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The program directs funding to states and U.S. territories that have historically received less federal research funding than other states.

A new interagency working group will be established to provide recommendations on eliminating unnecessary and redundant paperwork for researchers and institutions. The group is directed to explore uniform grant proposals and financial disclosures, and to review regulations on research progress reports.

The bill directs federal science agencies to update policies on attendance at scientific and technical workshops. For the past five years, federal scientists have experienced difficulties in attending scientific conferences due to guidance issued by the White House for agencies to cut travel costs.

The legislation also includes numerous sections regarding science education, including a new advisory panel on diversity in the federal scientific workforce and program changes to improve retention of science teachers in NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

S. 3084 is awaiting signature by President Obama.

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Trump Announces Climate Skeptics as Picks for Energy, Interior Secretaries

Although President-elect Trump has garnered significant attention for nominating business executives to senior posts in his administration, his picks for two cabinet posts have held elective office.

Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) has been picked to head the Department of Energy and Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) has been selected to take the helm of the Department of the Interior.

Perry is the longest serving governor in Texas history. In 2011, during his unsuccessful campaign for president, Perry advocated for the elimination of the Department of Energy.

“As the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state, and he will bring that same approach to our entire country as Secretary of Energy,” Trump said in statement. “My administration is going to make sure we take advantage of our huge natural resource deposits to make America energy independent and create vast new wealth for our nation.”

Perry is a climate change denier who believes “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”

Perry has a bachelor’s degree in animal science.

Zinke is finishing his first term in the House of Representatives and was re-elected to a second term in November. He is a self-described conservationist in the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt and has cited the former president’s creed that “conservation means development as much as it does protection.” Zinke has earned low scores from environmental groups on his congressional voting record. The League of Conservation Voters gave him a score of 3 percent as compared to an average score of 41 percent for all House members.

Although a freshman in the House, Zinke sponsored a bill to designate segments of a waterway near Billings, Montana as part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. He voted against the 2016 budget—crafted by members of his own party—“because it included vaguely-written language that would allow the sale of public lands,” according to Zinke’s campaign website. Zinke also opposed the “State National Forest Management Act of 2015” over similar concerns and resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Committee in protest of the party’s platform calling for federal lands to be transferred to the states. He also supported a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps states buy new lands for recreation purposes.

“He has built one of the strongest track records on championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development and public land issues,” Trump said. “America is the most beautiful country in the world, and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands.”

Zinke has an undergraduate degree in geology, but he is a climate skeptic. His stance on climate change science has changed over the years as he has moved into higher elected offices. In 2010, he was one of 1,200 state legislators who signed a letter urging President Obama and Congress to pass “comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate change legislation.” By 2014, while running for Congress, he said of climate change during a debate: “it’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.” In 2015, Zinke told PBS that climate change is not manmade nor is it a national security threat.

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Energy Refuses to Provide Climate Scientists' Names to Transition Team

Officials at the Department of Energy have reported that the Department will not provide the Trump transition team with the names of department employees and contractors who work on climate change initiatives. The transition team had requested the names.

“We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team,” Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said in an email. “We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees.”

“Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled,” said Burnham-Snyder. The department would provide “publicly available information.”

Members of the presidential transition team are not privy to information that is not publically available.

The 74 questions posed by the transition team were denounced as a “witch hunt” by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and “deeply disturbing” by Representative Bill Foster (D-IL). Trump advisors asked for names of individuals who attended any of the international meetings leading to the Paris climate accord or interagency working group meetings on the social cost of carbon.

Twenty-six Democrats in the House sent a letter the President-elect on 19 December expressing concern about other parts of the questionnaire, especially the request for “a list of the top 20 salaried employees of the [national] labs, the labs’ peer-reviewed publications over the past three years, a list of their professional society memberships, affiliations, and the websites they maintain or contribute to ‘during work hours’.” The lawmakers requested that Trump explain the purpose of the questions and to clarify how the information will be used.

After the fact, the Trump transition team distanced itself from the questionnaire. “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol. The person who sent it has been properly counseled,” said a Trump transition official.

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New in BioScience: President Obama's Scientific Legacy

The December 2016 issue of BioScience evaluates the science policy accomplishments achieved during President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House. An excerpt follows.

Nearly 8 years ago, Barack Obama was sworn into office. During his inaugural address, he pledged to “restore science to its rightful place.” As President Obama concludes his second term, it seems appropriate to consider whether his administration has met this ambitious—and ambiguous—goal.

“President Obama has put science in the center of decisionmaking with stellar appointments—for example John Holdren, Steven Chu, Ernest Moniz—and by ensuring that science is involved at the highest levels of decisionmaking,” said Thomas Lovejoy, university professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University. “This includes science-driven environmental decisionmaking, most significantly on climate change. He has also gone out of his way to inspire students.”

Read the full article for free at http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/12/1011.full.

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Deadline Approaching: 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 http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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New Episode of BioScience Talks: Microbial Biodiversity

The BioScience Talks podcast features discussions of topical issues related to the biological sciences. The science of human microbiomes is advancing at an incredible pace. With each passing day, more is known about the vast suite of microorganisms that inhabit human bodies—and about the important role that they play in maintaining our health. This episode of BioScience Talks takes a look at the human microbiome from an environmentalist’s perspective. What are the health benefits of microbiota from environmental sources? What are the threats of altered microbiota? How should we manage the landscapes that play host to this crucial microbial diversity? The guest for this episode is Craig Liddicoat of the University of Adelaide and the South Australian government’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Liddicoat and his colleagues recently published an article in BioScience that shines a light on the myriad benefits of preserving environmental microbiomes and proposes a unifying conceptual framework for the multidisciplinary approach needed to tackle this emerging research area. Listen at http://bioscienceaibs.libsyn.com/episode-19-microbial-biodiversity-in-the-environment-can-alter-human-health.

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Upcoming Webinar on International Research Funding

Have an interest in pursuing science outside of the U.S.? Tune in for a discussion of opportunities to do research or to train abroad. A panel of experts will provide details about programs that enable researchers from the U.S. to collaborate internationally. Panelists will discuss programs through the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Scholar Program, and the German Research Foundation.

This webinar is part of the AIBS Leadership in Biology webinar series. The event is free and open to the public due to the sponsorship of Burk Inc. It will be held on 13 January 2017 at 1 pm (Eastern).

Register at https://www.aibs.org/events/webinar/inter-research-funding-opportunities.html.

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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.

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 https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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AIBS to Help Scientists Develop Interdisciplinary Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and research managers.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, and even policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was developed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team.

Who should attend?

  • Research program managers
  • Departmental leaders
  • Scientists engaged in collaborative projects
  • Graduate students and post-docs looking to augment basic research skills
  • Scientists working at the interface of different fields
  • Groups interested in developing successful research proposals
  • Academic, government, and industry scientists

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together.

Participants will develop and hone the skills needed to:

  • Engage in collaborative scientific ventures;
  • Eliminate barriers to effective team science;
  • Execute the factors that make collaborations successful;
  • Build the right scientific team;
  • Perform with a variety of personalities and work approaches;
  • Create a team roadmap;
  • Enact the five keys to leadership;
  • Develop effective communication strategies and techniques
  • Facilitate scientific collaborations; and,
  • Apply practical solutions for team science concerns.

Learn more and register at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.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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