Trump Administration Announces Science Priorities

In a recent memo from the White House, federal agencies were directed to prioritize military superiority, national security, economic growth, energy, and health in their fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget submissions for science. Moreover, agencies are encouraged to focus on research investments that “best serve the American people and are budget neutral.”

The memo is a significant departure from the FY 2017 research and development (R&D) budget memo issued by the Obama Administration, which prioritized climate change, clean energy, Earth observation, advanced manufacturing, and innovations in the life sciences.

Although public health was included as a priority by both administrations, the emphases are very different. For 2017, basic research in areas such as neuroscience, the microbiome, and infectious disease were emphasized. Conversely, the 2019 memo stresses disease prevention, treatment, and cure, especially “solution for an aging population.”

The memo directs that “when considering new research programs, agencies should ensure that the proposed programs are based on sound science, do not duplicate existing R&D efforts, and have the potential to contribute to the public good. Agencies should also identify existing R&D programs that could progress more efficiently through private sector R&D, and consider their modification or elimination where Federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate.”

In regards to science education, agencies should work to expand the scientific workforce “to include all Americans, both urban and rural, and including women and other underrepresented groups.”

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Political Appointee at EPA to Review Grant Solicitations

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has assigned a non-scientist to review grant solicitations for scientific funding and other programs. In a memo issued this month, Pruitt directed all competitively awarded grant announcements to be approved by the Office of Public Affairs prior to posting on Grants.gov.

John Konkus, Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Affairs, will review and approve the requests for proposals.

According to the directive, if Mr. Konkus “has any concerns, comments, or questions on the solicitation, he will contact the POC [point of contact] listed in the email… The program office will work directly with John Konkus to resolve any issues on the solicitation.”

An EPA spokesperson said that the grant solicitations are being reviewed “to ensure they adhere to the Trump administration’s goals and policies and the EPA’s back-to-basics agenda.”

According to former EPA staff, the change in procedure is a major break from past practice. The Office of Public Affairs has generally had no role in decision-making about grant programs.

AIBS sent a letter to Administrator Pruitt on 21 August to express concerns about the new review process and called for the agency to rescind the requirements for research grant solicitations.

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Allegations of Climate Censorship at USDA

A series of internal emails from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) document that staff were instructed to use the term “weather extremes” instead of “climate change.”

An email sent in February 2017 lists terms to avoid and suggests replacements, such as “build soil organic matter” instead of “sequester carbon.”

The email states, “we won’t change the modeling, just how we talk about it.”

The director of pubic affairs for the NRCS told reporters that the organization “has not received direction from USDA or the [Trump] administration to modify its communications on climate change or any other topic.” The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

As of 17 August 2017, the NRCS website still contained content on climate change.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI), the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture to probe the extent of the language changes. Specifically, the Senator inquired about other directives to remove climate change from the lexicon of the USDA and if these changes will impact research projects related to climate change.

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National Labs to Cut 500 Staff Positions

The Oak Ridge and Brookhaven National Laboratories will collectively cut more than 500 jobs. The reductions will initially come from voluntary staff departures, but could include layoffs.

Spokespeople for both labs said that the job losses are not related to the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2018.

Oak Ridge Director Thomas Zacharia wrote to staff, “By reducing these positions, [the lab] will be able to maintain competitive chargeout rates while freeing resources for discretionary investments that will modernize Lab infrastructure and maintain core research capabilities.”

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Nominations Sought for National Academies Studies

Two expert panels are being convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

A new Climate Communications Initiative aims to facilitate rapid and effective communication of evidence-based insights to the public and decision-makers. Individuals with expertise in climate science, climate impacts and economics, potential response options, science communication, social media engagement, or science education are needed to serve on the advisory committee. Nominations are due by 15 September 2017. Learn more at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3749724/cci-cte-noms.

The National Academies are also creating a panel to study reproducibility and replicability in science. The study is congressionally mandated. Expertise is needed in physical and life sciences, statistics, science communication, academic administration, scientific journals, and other areas. The deadline for nominations is 25 August 2017. Learn more at http://sgiz.mobi/s3/ef5d07e2dc10.

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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

  • AIBS past president Dr. Rita Colwell is being honored with the 33rd International Prize for Biology. The award commemorates Japanese Emperors Showa and Akihito, both who of whom were devoted to biological research. Dr. Colwell is being recognized for her contributions to marine biology. During her distinguished career, she introduced new approaches for identifying and classifying marine bacteria and established the taxonomy of vibrio bacteria, which includes cholera. Dr. Colwell will be presented the award in December at a ceremony attended by the emperor and empress of Japan.
  • The most recent episode of the BioScience Talks podcast is now available. Steven Mattocks of the University of Massachusetts discusses the effects of dams on rivers on fish that migrate between freshwater and the sea. Listen at http://bioscienceaibs.libsyn.com/damming-and-its-effects-on-fish.
  • The National Academies will be hosting a public seminar on grand challenges in environmental engineering posed in the realms of water, energy, and food. The event is free and will be webcast. Learn more at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-future-of-water-food-and-energy-registration-36495918274.
  • The National Academies is soliciting feedback on the vulnerabilities posed by synthetic biology to biodefense. An interim report proposes a framework to identify and prioritize potential areas of concern. Public comments can be submitted through 5 September at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3758337/A-Proposed-Framework-For-Identifying-Potential-Biodefense-Vulnerabilities-Posed-By-Synthetic-Biology.

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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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