AIBS Writes to EPA Administrator Pruitt about Red Team/Blue Team Climate Exercise

AIBS and several of its member societies recently joined with other scientific organizations to send a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt expressing concerns about the agency’s approach on climate science.

The EPA is moving forward with a plan to create a “red team/blue team” exercise to review what is known about climate change. The concept comes from military analysis, where a red team criticizes the current consensus view and a blue team rebuts that critique.

These exercises have their origin in creating a robust and resilient military. By attacking the system, the red team identifies weaknesses. The blue team’s role is to improve the system before the exercise is run again. As the author of a recent article noted, “It’s a great way to help figure what do to [to improve a system]… It’s not necessarily suited to determining what’s true, scientifically speaking.”

The authors of the letter pushed back on the notion that climate science is not regularly reviewed.

“We write to remind you of the ongoing research, testing, evaluations, and debates that happen on a regular basis in every scientific discipline,” society leaders wrote. “The peer review process itself is a constant means of scientists putting forth research results, getting challenged, and revising them based on evidence. Indeed, science is a multi-dimensional, competitive ‘red team/blue team’ process whereby scientists and scientific teams are constantly challenging one another’s findings for robustness.”

The letter was signed by 18 societies, including American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, American Society of Plant Biologists, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, Ecological Society of America, Entomological Society of America, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Society for Mathematical Biology, and Society of Systematic Biologists.

Read the letter at https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20170731lettertoepaa.html.

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Energy Science Nominee Advances in Senate

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the nomination of Paul Dabbar to be science undersecretary within the Department of Energy. The nomination advanced by voice vote.

Dabbar recently expanded on his views on climate change, writing “I believe the climate is changing, and I concur with others who have stated that we must have some impact.” He also mentioned the need to address climate change “in a thoughtful way that further supports economic growth, improves affordability of energy, and American jobs.”

During his confirmation hearing, Dabbar said “the climate is absolutely changing” and that he “absolutely” agreed that human are contributing when asked by Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

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Appropriations Update

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would fund the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.3 billion, a cut of $161 million below the current funding level. This is a deeper cut than was approved by the House Appropriations Committee. Unlike the lower chamber’s bill, the Senate opted to cut funding for research and science education to pay for the acquisition of three new oceanic research vessels. Conversely, the House did not fund the new ships and held research and education funding flat.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is facing a cut of $85 million in 2018 in the Senate legislation. The Sea Grant program, however, would receive a $2 million increase.

The bill advanced from committee with a 30 to 1 vote. Prior to adoption, Senator Shaheen (D-NH) offered an amendment to increase the total allocation for the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill by $6.5 billion if there is a bipartisan budget amendment. The amendment would have provided a $538 million increase for NSF. Shaheen’s amendment failed by a vote of 15-16.

“The cut for NSF included in the bill does not reflect a lack of support for science, I want to make that clear,” Senator Shaheen said. “But it’s a reality of our constrained budget caps and is another signal that we need a new budget deal to address the destructive cuts due to sequestration.”

Meanwhile, the House of Representative approved a legislative package of four bills, which includes funding for the Department of Energy in fiscal year 2018. Several science-related amendments were debated. Among the amendments that were agreed to were two small increases in funding for research on controlling aquatic invasive species.

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Bicameral Bill Would Create a U.S. Science Laureate

Legislation has been reintroduced to create a Science Laureate of the United States. The bills are sponsored by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI). The new position would promote greater appreciation for science among the public and was inspired by the Poet Laureate position.

“Scientists like Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall, or Sally Ride can capture the public’s attention and inspire Americans,” said Representative Lofgren. “Establishing a Science Laureate will provide a platform for more scientists to inspire us. Science and technology is ever more important to the United States’ competitive edge in the modern world. A Science Laureate can elevate, articulate, and promote science to the broader public, as well as be a role model for students by encouraging and inspiring them to be the innovators of tomorrow.”

The legislation would direct the National Science Foundation to appoint a science laureate for a one-year term. The appointment would be made from a list of finalists recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is supporting the legislation.

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Climate Solutions Caucus Grows in Congress

A bipartisan congressional caucus to address climate change has reached 52 members. The group aims to educate members of Congress on “economically viable” ways to address climate risk.

It has been dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” caucus because it admits members in bipartisan pairs of Democrats and Republicans.

The House of Representatives recently voted down an amendment to strip a requirement for the Department of Defense to assess its vulnerabilities to climate change. More than 20 Republicans who voted to retain that language have not yet joined the caucus.

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Ideas Sought for Food and Agriculture Research

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is launching a new study on “Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agriculture Research.” The study aims to identify the next big research directions for food and agricultural sciences.

The committee is actively seeking the input of life, physical, and social scientists, including disciplines that may not be traditionally applied to food and agriculture research. Research ideas can be submitted online or during upcoming meetings on 7 and 8 August.

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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 9-10 October 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
  • 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 decision-makers want to hear from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to leverage social media
  • 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 $55 discount on registration.

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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Now in BioScience: Evolution and State Politics

In the August 2017 issue of BioScience Julie Palakovich Carr writes about the most recent attacks on evolution education in statehouses across the country. An excerpt follows.

A new school year is starting, and if some state legislators have their way, evolution education will be marginalized in the curriculum. In spite of multiple court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism in public schools, some lawmakers continue to pursue legislative measures that would challenge the teaching of evolution and other “controversial” scientific subjects.

In statehouses around the country, the 2017 legislative session saw a flurry of attacks on science education. Eleven measures that would undermine evolution education were introduced in legislatures in eight states. This was “on the busy side of normal,” according to Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, in Oakland, California.

Read the full article for free.

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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

  • An internal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency has found that Administrator Scott Pruitt did not violate the agency’s scientific integrity policy when he questioned the role of carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. “The scientific integrity policy-in the spirit of promoting vigorous debate and inquiry-specifically encourages employees to express their opinion should the employee disagree with scientific data, scientific interpretations or scientific conclusions,” stated the Scientific Integrity Program.
  • Nominations are sought for the National Science Board, which advises the National Science Foundation, the President, and Congress on science policy. Nominations will be accepted through 8 September 2017. Learn more at https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2017/board-nominations-colleague-letter.pdf.
  • The National Science Foundation is hiring two division directors within the Directorate for Biological Sciences. The positions would lead the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems. Learn more here and here.
  • President Trump donated his salary for the second quarter to the U.S. Department of Education to help fund a science-focused camp for students. No details have been announced on how the $100,000 donation will be spent.
  • Hear from presenters at the 2017 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting. At the meeting, researchers shared hundreds of findings that highlight the value of interdisciplinary, cooperative science integrated across scales, as well as new models and methodologies to enhance research and education. Listen at http://bioscienceaibs.libsyn.com/the-society-for-integrative-and-comparative-biology-2017-annual-meeting.

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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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