Scientific Societies Speak Out on Immigration

The American Institute of Biological Sciences signed a letter, along with 150 other scientific organizations, to express concern over a recent presidential executive order.

The executive order, signed on 27 January 2017, prevents citizens of seven countries from traveling into the U.S. Federal courts subsequently suspended the travel ban while the case is being considered.

“The Executive Order will discourage many of the best and brightest international students, scholars, engineers and scientists from studying and working, attending academic and scientific conferences, or seeking to build new businesses in the United States,” states the letter. “Implementation of this policy will compromise the United States’ ability to attract international scientific talent and maintain scientific and economic leadership.”

Another letter circulated within the scientific community has received more than 42,000 signatures in opposition to the travel ban, including more than 60 Nobel Laureates and 800 members of the National Academies.

Read the multi-society letter at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170131_immigration.html.

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Federal Hiring Freeze

President Trump signed an executive memorandum on 23 January 2017 that implements a hiring freeze across the federal government. Any positions that were vacant at noon on 22 January cannot be filled and no new jobs can be created. There is no end date specified for the freeze. The military and positions related to national security or public safety are exempted.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the guidance would halt the “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.”

Federal employment has grown from 2.78 million civilian workers in 2008 to 2.8 million employees eight years later. Most of this rise came from hiring at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

President Trump has directed the hiring of 10,000 additional immigration officers and ordered a review of military readiness, which could call for an expansion of the military workforce.

The White House Office of Management and Budget later stated that some newly hired federal workers might see their employment offers rescinded. Anyone who accepted a job before noon on 22 January and has a start date on or before 22 February can still report to work.

The White House is working on a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.”

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Concerns about Science Gag Orders: What Do We Know?

During the first full week of the Trump Administration there were sometimes contradictory news reports surfacing about gag orders within various federal agencies. Now that the dust has largely settled, here’s what actually happened.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all grants and contracts were frozen during a ‘temporary’ review. The agency resumed issuing such funding on 27 January 2017. EPA’s release of information on social media and to the press is still limited, however. The last tweet from the @EPA Twitter account was on 19 January, the day before President Trump’s inauguration.

There had been reports of the EPA climate change webpage being removed from the agency’s website, but this has not happened. Information on climate change that was included on WhiteHouse.gov during President Obama’s tenure was removed, but each administration uses the site as a tool for drawing attention to its priorities.

A report that caused significant concern was that a spokesman for the presidential transition team at the EPA said that agency scientists will likely need to have their work reviewed on a “case by case basis” before distribution. Such a move would be in conflict with EPA’s scientific integrity policy, which prohibits the suppression, alteration, or impeding the timely release of scientific findings.

A similar report from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture was later walked back. ARS chief of staff Sharon Drumm sent a memo on 23 January stating that “starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents.” Later the same day, the Department released a statement saying that its guidance was “misinterpreted by some to cover data and scientific publications. This was never the case; those data and scientific publications are not covered by the interim operating procedures.”

Other agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, have instructed employees not to post to social media accounts or release other information to the public. This directive was not specific to science.

The Department of Health and Human Services ordered employees to avoid “any correspondence to public officials.” Some members of Congress have spoken out against this gag order.

The White House denied any involvement in these communication bans. “They haven’t been directed by us to do anything,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. “From what I understand … [staff] have been told within their agencies to adhere to their own policies, but that directive did not come from here.”

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Delays in the Nomination Process: Who's Next in Line for Senate Confirmation?

Several of President Trump’s nominees who require Senate confirmation have encountered hurdles in their nomination process. Currently, the Senate has confirmed five cabinet nominees and three others are likely to be voted on this week.

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, was confirmed by the Senate on 1 February 2017. The vote was primarily along party lines, with three Democrats breaking rank and supporting Mr. Tillerson for the position. His confirmation vote by the Senate was nearly delayed as Democrats tried to question him further on President Trump’s recent executive order that banned travel from seven mostly Muslim countries.

Committee votes on nominees for Secretary of Energy and of the Interior, Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke, were delayed following collegial confirmation hearings. A notice of indefinite delay for a committee vote was issued several days later. Nicole Daigle, communications director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the delay was due to a miscommunication between Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA). She noted that Senator Murkowski “wants to start 2017 on a good footing with her ranking member.” Senator Cantwell told reporters that Democrats wanted more information from Perry on how he will deal with energy efficiency and that they also objected to a committee vote being held without three days advanced notice. Zinke and Perry ultimately received bipartisan support from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on 31 January 2017. Currently, no date has been scheduled for a Senate floor vote for either nominee.

Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been fought fiercely by Democrats, primarily due to his stance against certain EPA rules and alleged conflicts of interest with the gas and oil industries. On 1 February, Democratic members of the Environment and Public Works Committee boycotted the meeting for his confirmation vote. To bypass this situation, committee chairman Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) suspended the rules, which require that a member of the minority party must be present for the committee to conduct business. Republican members of the committee then confirmed Pruitt by an 11-0 vote. No date has been scheduled a vote by the full Senate.

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Join Us for the 2017 Congressional Visits Day

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are invited to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of federal funding for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation, as well as other federal agencies.

BESC is co-chaired by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the Ecological Society of America.

This year’s event will be held on April 25-26, 2017 in Washington, DC. The first day of the program is a training program that will prepare participants for meetings with congressional offices. The second day is spent on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staff.

There is no cost to participate in this event, but space is limited. BESC and its member organizations are not able to pay/reimburse participants for their travel expenses.

Learn more about the event and express your interest in participating at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html. The deadline to sign up is March 1, 2017.

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AIBS Comments on Paleontological Resources Rule

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) weighed in on a draft rule regarding the protection and preservation of paleontological resources on federal lands.

The draft rule from the Department of the Interior would create a new permitting process for researchers who want to collect fossils on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Park Service.

In its comments, AIBS highlighted the burdens the new permitting system would have on academics, as the four agencies will use two different permitting forms. Even when agencies have proposed to use the same form, they have their own instructions. The differences in the instructions are significant enough that an applicant would have to complete a new application for each permit they seek.

AIBS also raised concerns about the proposed prohibition on releasing the location of paleontological resources and new criminal punishments for scientific misconduct.

Read the letter at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170130aibscommentso8.html.

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Research and Practice: Reducing Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Through Infection Prevention

The Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria held its fifth public meeting on 25 January 2017. This advisory council offers advice, information, and recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance (ARB).

The council was formed as a result of an executive order issued by President Obama in 2014.

The meeting focused on three “buckets” of knowledge for infection prevention in humans, including best practices, implementation, and workforce and education.

Opening remarks by Dr. Peter Lurie of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the committee on the new antibiotic drug approval process through the Limited-Population Antibacterial Drug (LPAD) pathway. This streamlined development program distinctively labels new antibiotics with the words “limited population.” The labeling and correct use of these LPAD drugs is critical in helping to reduce new drug resistance.

Other speakers addressed how partnerships between scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitals, and universities have advanced innovative research in infection control and prevention. New investments include enhancing detection, preventing transmission of ARB, understanding environmental factors of ARB, antibiotic stewardship, and microbiome protection.

The meeting also addressed how combating ARB is difficult given that the workforce of infectious disease physicians is relatively small compared to other types of physicians. Infectious disease physicians are among the lowest paid relative to other physicians. Increasing pay may be one of the methods to promote more doctors into this career pathway.

The next PACCARB public meeting will focus on animal health and will be held on 3-4 May 2017.

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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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Short Takes

  • President Trump is requiring federal agencies to revoke two rules for each new regulation they issue. Moreover, for the remainder of the current fiscal year, agencies must limit the total cost of all new regulations to zero dollars. This means that existing regulations must be repealed to pay for new rulemakings.
  • House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) plans to revive two bills that take aim at science in the regulatory process at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The “Science Advisory Board Reform Act” and the “Secret Science Reform Act” both passed the House of Representatives in 2015. The first bill would correct a perceived bias in EPA’s science advisory board. The latter bill would prevent the agency from using research results in rulemaking that are not “transparent or reproducible.” Members of the scientific community previously expressed concern about both pieces of legislation.
  • A new group has formed to elect more scientists to public offices. 314 Action is a political action committee that will support scientists running for elected office. In the first two weeks, more than 400 people expressed an interest in running for local, state, or federal office. Read more in The Atlantic.
  • On 1 March, a webinar entitled “Beyond Doom and Gloom: Include Solutions to Climate Change” will be held. The webinar will focus on expert curricular materials to engage students in solutions to climate change. Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2860146782187308801.
  • AIBS welcomes a new member, the Association of State Wetland Managers. Learn more about ASWM at http://www.aswm.org/aswm/about-aswm. Learn how your organization, society, or department can join AIBS to help promote informed decision-making at www.aibs.org.

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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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