NIH to Pursue "Bold, More Focused Approach" to Grant Funding

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is dropping a plan to cap the amount of funding that individual investigators can receive, due to community opposition. The plan was announced a month ago.

Instead, the agency intends to eventually allocate $1.1 billion a year to funding early- and mid-career researchers. The total NIH budget in fiscal year 2017 is $33 billion. Starting this year, $210 million will be set aside to fund such researchers whose proposals score well in peer review but do not make the funding cutoff. The additional funds will allow the agency to fund the top 25 percent of proposals, as opposed to the current funding cutoff of the 20th percentile. In five years, an additional 2,400 grants for younger researchers will be funded each year.

The scientific community raised significant concerns about the original proposal. For example, it was argued that the proposal would hurt exceptionally productive labs and inhibit collaboration. In response, NIH announced changes to how the system would work; the result would have been 50 percent fewer impacted investigators.

“We heard overwhelming agreement that some type of action was needed to stabilize the biomedical research workforce by bolstering NIH funding support for the next generation of researchers,” wrote NIH Director Dr. Frances Collins in a blog post. “However, we also heard significant concerns about the GSI [Grant Support Index] methodology for assessing research impact, and the potential for application of a GSI-based cap on total support to discourage team science, complex trials, research networks, and the support of infrastructure and training.”

The new plan, called the Next Generation Researchers Initiative, will be paid for through reprioritization of existing funding. NIH will begin implementation immediately, which means that proposals that are currently being reviewed will be eligible for the dedicated funding.

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AIBS Asks NSF to Reconsider Plan to Terminate Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant Program

In response to the National Science Foundation’s announcement that it is terminating Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), AIBS wrote to Dr. James Olds, associate director for BIO, to request that BIO reconsider its decision.

The 6 June announcement affects the Divisions of Integrative Organismal Systems and Environmental Biology. Other divisions within BIO ended their comparable programs a decade ago.

NSF argued that the administrative burden of the program is part of the reason for the program termination. AIBS noted that the growing popularity of the program was an indication of the importance of the program for cultivating the next generation of independent researchers. AIBS suggested ways in which the administrative burden on NSF officials could be ameliorated, and offered to work with NSF and the community to identify possible modifications or alternative programs.

Read the letter from AIBS at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170608deardroldsi.html.

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Interior Budget Cuts Face Tough Questions on the Hill

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies questioned President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 during a hearing on 8 June 2017. Subcommittee chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) stated at the start of the hearing, “This is going to be a very challenging year.” A $550 million decrease is proposed for the department.

“The budget is unacceptable, and I expect my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject it,” said Ranking Member Betty McCollum (D-MN). “I won’t support a bill that funds Interior less than our 2017 omnibus bill.”

In his response to questions about proposed cuts, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke repeatedly referred to the president’s decision to pursue a balanced budget. “This is what a balanced budget looks like,” said Zinke. Crafting such a budget means making “difficult decisions.”

Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) disagreed with that assertion. Cole said that one cannot balance the budget when only looking at a fraction of total spending; the Trump budget makes cuts only to non-defense discretionary spending. Cole urged for mandatory spending, such as Social Security and Medicare, to be included in the discussion since it represents the majority of federal spending.

Climate change was a topic of discussion. When asked about President Trump’s plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the Secretary said “it’s a bad deal.”  Zinke, however, did provide a clear response about the science underlying climate change: “I don’t believe it’s a hoax.  I think man has had an influence.  I think climate is changing.”

McCollum decried the 80 percent proposed cut to Interior’s climate change research and mitigation programs. She said the proposed budget cuts are “reckless and they endanger our natural and cultural resources.  This budget guts funding for programs critical to appropriately manage our public lands, it dishonors our commitment to Native Americans, and it rejects science.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle rejected the elimination of funding for an earthquake early warning system being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Several lawmakers asked about the Great Lakes, as a restoration program run by the Environmental Protection Agency is proposed for elimination, in addition to cuts to water quality programs within the USGS. Ohio Representatives Marcy Kaptur and David Joyce expressed concerns given the importance of the Great Lakes to the region’s economy and in providing drinking water. Zinke told them “this budget is a baseline,” and Congress gets the last words on funding.

Secretary Zinke also previewed plans to reorganize the Department of the Interior based on watersheds. The 13 new joint management areas would be focused on getting more personnel out of Washington, DC and into the field. Instead of reporting to a central entity, the new Interior planning areas would have a joint command structure across Interior bureaus.

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Meet with Your Lawmakers This Summer and Help Inform Science Policy

Registration is now open for the 2017 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event. This national initiative, organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research. Now in its ninth year, the event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their federal or state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office. AIBS will schedule the meetings with lawmakers and prepare participants through online training and one-on-one support. “Participating in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event was an invaluable experience to have as a graduate student,” said 2016 participate Erin Larson. “The training provided by AIBS made me feel confident and ready to go have a conversation with Representative Reed’s District Director about federal funding, especially how it’s benefitted me during my Ph.D. I was struck during our meeting by how meaningful it is to ‘show up’ and participate in the political process, especially as it relates to federal funding for the biological sciences. We scientists take the importance of federal funding to do our research to be a given, but it’s important for us to be able to communicate that effectively, especially with policymakers, to ensure that federal funding is maintained in the future.”

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Plant Taxonomists, American Society of Primatologists, Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and event supporter Society of Nematologists. Participation is free, but registration will close on July 18, 2017. For more information and to register, visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Writing for Impact and Influence Course

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has heard a common refrain from faculty, scientists, government and private sector executives, and everyone in between: Scientists are losing the ability to communicate effectively in writing. The concern is less about how well a scientific manuscript is drafted and more about how routine business and public engagement information are communicated.

AIBS is responding by offering a professional development program designed to help biologists, including graduate students, hone their written communication skills to increase the impact and influence of their message.

This course complements AIBS’s highly successful Communications Boot Camp for Scientists, which focuses on oral communication.

Writing for Impact and Influence provides practical instruction and hands-on exercises that will improve the participant’s general writing proficiency. The program will provide participants with the skills and tools needed to compose scientific press releases, blog posts, emails, and memoranda. Each product-focused session will have an assignment to be completed independently, with feedback from the instructor. The course is interactive, and participants are encouraged to ask questions and converse freely with the instructor and other participants.

Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/programs/writing-for-impact-and-influence.html.

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Enter the 2017 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Enter the Faces of Biology Photo Contest for your chance to win $250 and to have your photo appear on the cover of the journal BioScience.

The competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), recognizes scientists who use imagery to communicate aspects of biological research to the public and policymakers.

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 2016 contest was featured on the cover of the April 2017 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 1 October 2017.

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

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Short Takes

  • The White House has indicated that Dr. Frances Collins will continue to serve as director of the National Institutes of Health. Typically, agency heads are replaced at the beginning of a new presidential administration.
  • The National Academies is seeking ideas for innovative research that could elevate the science of food and agriculture. The public is asked to comment on how the science or engineering approach would address a major challenge in food and agriculture, create a novel opportunity for scientific advances, help overcome a technological barrier, and/or fill a fundamental knowledge gap that currently holds back progress in the fields of food and agriculture. Submit your ideas at https://ideabuzz.com/a/buzz/nasem/science-breakthroughs-2030?utm_source=Division+on+Earth+and+Life+Studies.
  • A new entity in the House of Representatives has been formed regarding agriculture research. The caucus is led by Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and seeks to advance agricultural research.
  • AIBS has signed joined a coalition of states, cities, businesses, and universities in signing the “We Are Still In” statement, which declares an intent to continue to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions, in spite of President Trump’s plans to withdraw from the international climate agreement. The signatories represent 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy.

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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