Concerns Surface Over Censorship at CDC
Recent news reports that the Trump Administration intended to prohibit public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using seven words in its fiscal year 2019 budget request have concerned scientists. ‘Science-based’ and ‘evidence-based’ were among the seven words.
In response to these reports, the American Institute of Biological Sciences issued a statement on December 17, 2017. “This action politicizes public health in unacceptable and dangerous ways,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Co-Executive Director of AIBS.
The statement noted, “This directive demonstrates a lack of basic understanding of science and public health. This censorship threatens the health and wellbeing of people everywhere. Citizens in every state are jeopardized by this action, which politically redefines our approach to protecting human health. It opens the door for decisions to be based on political expediency and myth, rather than empirically derived and vetted facts. This directive will prevent the CDC from performing its core mission ‘…to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S…’”
On December 18, 2017 the Presidents of the National Academies issued a statement, which read in part: “As leaders of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, we are especially stunned that ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’ are reportedly among the barred terms. Evidence-based advice to inform policymakers and public discourse has been the foundation of National Academies’ counsel since the creation of the NAS more than 150 years ago by Abraham Lincoln. Evidence-based advice drove American prosperity, health, and national security throughout the 20th century, and continues to do so today.”
Congressional lawmakers have also objected.
“In order for Congress to successfully fulfill its responsibility to review budget requests, we need to have accurate information that does not obscure the nature of programs and projects,” said Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), one of only a handful of scientists in Congress. “The CDC, other HHS [Health and Human Services] agencies, and other agencies need to be able to provide Congress with scientifically accurate descriptions of their work. Arbitrary changes to language have no place in that process and only work to obfuscate these agencies’ work.”
Foster led a letter signed by 73 other Representatives calling for the White House Office of Management and Budget to retract any directives on censorship and to refrain from issuing similar ones in the future.
The Director of the CDC Brenda Fitzgerald responded on Twitter that “CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people—and we will continue to do so.”
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Funds Illegally Withheld at ARPA-E
The Department of Energy held back $91 million in energy programs funding appropriated by Congress for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The Government Accountability Office found that this was a violation of the Impoundment Control Act, which requires federal agencies to pay out funds from Congress unless the president authorizes the monies to be withheld.
President Trump’s budget request had requested a similar amount to be redirected or canceled, but Congress did not agree and provided the funds for fiscal year 2017. ARPA-E officials said that they withheld the money because they anticipated that Congress would enact the president’s plan to eliminate ARPA-E, even though that proposal was not law.
The department’s general counsel identified the problem.
A similar situation occurred earlier this year, when ARPA-E research funds were not released. After lawmakers raised concerns, the grant funding was distributed.
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Senate Confirms Block of Nominees
Before adjourning for a winter break, the Senate approved en bloc some of President Trump’s nominations for key environmental positions in his administration.
The chamber confirmed by voice vote David Ross to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Office. Ross is the former director of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Environmental Protection Unit. In his career as a lawyer, he has represented some clients who sued the EPA.
Also confirmed was Dr. Timothy Petty to be Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior, a position that oversees the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation. Dr. Petty has a background in water policy and geosciences.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced the nomination of Barry Myers to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The vote was along party lines.
Among the nominees that were not confirmed before the Senate recessed for the remainder of the year was Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Under Senate rules, she will have to resubmit her nomination paperwork.
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USDA Searching for Scientist to Oversee Research Programs
After the withdrawal of the nomination of Sam Clovis to be the chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the department is reportedly looking for someone with scientific credentials to serve in the position.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at a recent event that “We’re really looking strongly across the United States for the best person with a scientific background that blows away the [Senate Agriculture] [C]ommittee.”
Clovis’ nomination was notable since he was not a scientist, which drew sharp criticism from the scientific community and some lawmakers. Clovis withdrew his name from consideration over controversy about his involvement with activities being investigated by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
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Two Hundred Researchers Take Part in Science Advocacy Event
Science took center stage in recent interactions between researchers and policymakers. Across the nation, biological scientists and educators met with their lawmakers as part of the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event, an initiative organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).
More than 200 scientists registered to participate in the event.
This nationwide event provides a platform for meetings between scientists and their elected officials in their local area rather than in Washington, DC or a state capital, and allows lawmakers to learn first-hand about the science and research facilities in their district.
“This annual event is an excellent opportunity for biologists to help inform public policy related to our science,” said Dr. Robert Gropp, Co-Executive Director of AIBS. “Meeting personally with an elected official or their staff continues to be the most effective way to help policymakers understand science, including the resources, facilities and people required to conduct research.”
Scientists participating in the event discussed the importance of life sciences research with the individuals responsible for casting the votes that shape federal and state science policy. Participants ranged from graduate students to senior researchers.
“I met with staff from Senator Whitehouse’s office. We talked for about 45 minutes about funding for science and science education, with emphasis on working with undergraduates as research partners in classroom and field settings,” said Mary Baker, Director of Environmental Studies at Rhode Island College. “I wanted to highlight the unexpected: not labs and white coats, but class projects that are meaningful science. I discussed examples from my campus and shared stories of two students I have worked with. I really enjoyed the meeting.”
The 9th annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits were made possible by AIBS, 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.
Participants in the event were prepared for their meetings during an interactive training webinar. The program provided information about how best to communicate science to non-technical audiences and tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official.
Highlights of the event include:
- Representative Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) toured labs at Western Connecticut State University and learned about research on prevention of tick-borne diseases.
- The Arthur and Kriebel Herbaria at Purdue University hosted Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN).
- Senator Steven Daines (R-MT) visited a kombucha production facility, where the staff microbiologist provided a tour.
- Missouri state Senator Denny Hoskins (R) toured a newly renovated science building at the University of Central Missouri.
- A graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley organized a lab tour for staff for Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA).
- New York state Assemblymember David Buchwald (D) visited an environmental research center at Fordham University.
- Office meetings took place with Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL) and state Representative Joyce McDonald (R-WA) and state Delegate Nick Rush (R-VA).
- Staff for U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) toured a primatology research lab at Trinity University. Smith chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
- Tours for congressional staff took place in Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, and Utah.
- Additional meetings took place in Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
More information about the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event is available at www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.
Organizations interested in sponsoring the 2018 event should contact Dr. Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250.
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Universities Aim for More Transparency on Career Outcomes
It is widely recognized that most graduate students pursuing degrees in the life sciences will not end up in tenure-track faculty positions. Unfortunately, there is little transparency in the numbers about graduate outcomes. A coalition of nine universities and one research center aims to change that by providing life sciences Ph.D. students with data on admissions, median time to complete a degree, and career outcomes.
“Open data will allow students and postdoctoral fellows to understand fully the range of likely outcomes of their eventual training and career choices,” wrote the chancellors and presidents of the ten coalition member organizations.
Only 10 percent of life sciences Ph.D.s earn a tenure-track position within five years of completing their degree.
“We see this as a tipping point for change,” said project co-leader Peter Espenshade. “It’s not going to be a defensible position” to withhold data going forward.
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NSF Dear Colleague Letter on Rules of Life
The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a letter to the scientific community about a new funding opportunity. An excerpt follows:
NSF seeks to highlight the importance of research that forecasts the direction and dynamics of change in living systems. The robustness and reproducibility of processes associated with the emergence of complex properties in biological systems suggests the existence of underlying general principles (“rules”) across the spectrum of biological phenomena. Identification and application of these fundamental rules would be of high value to both the scientific community and the Nation. This Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) describes an initial opportunity to identify areas where such rules may exist, to catalyze approaches toward their discovery, and to focus efforts on using these rules for prediction and design of useful biological systems. Activities supported via this DCL include Conferences, EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGERs), and Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE) grants to create opportunities for enabling predictive capability.
Read the full letter at https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18031/nsf18031.jsp.
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Participate in the 2018 AIBS Congressional Visits Day
Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.
This event is an opportunity for scientists to meet with their members of Congress about the importance of federal support for biological research and education. Event participants advocate for federal funding for biological, life, and environmental sciences research. This event builds support federal research funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation.
This year’s event will be held on April 17-18, 2018 in Washington, DC. During the afternoon of April 17, individuals will participate in an advocacy-training program that provides the information required to effectively advocate for their science. On April 18, scientists participate in AIBS organized meetings with their Representative and Senators.
Supplemental training program: In addition to the core event, AIBS is offering a one-day short course version of the popular AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This eight-hour professional development program will train scientists to translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to engage with the news media. The course includes formal instruction as well as hands-on and interactive exercises. This professional development training will begin on the afternoon of April 16 and be completed during the morning of April 17. We are pleased to announce that participants in the Congressional Visits Day event may register for this training program at the reduced rate of $150.
Scientists and graduate students interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.
Registration will close on March 4, 2018. Register at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html.
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Apply for the 2018 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award
Are you a graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 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.
- A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the AIBS 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 16-18, 2018. Domestic travel and hotel expenses will be paid for the winners.
- Policy and communications training, including information on how to communicate science to policymakers, the legislative process, and trends in federal science funding.
- Meetings with congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investment 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 2018 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.
Applications are due by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on January 17, 2018. The application guidelines can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.
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- The White House has opted to put on hold an exercise to debate climate science. The "red team, blue team" exercise was promoted by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt. Even through President Trump privately gave his support to the idea, his senior officials are not on board. During a recent internal meeting, White House officials did not give the EPA authorization to proceed, according to inside sources.
- Three scientists are suing the EPA over a directive that bars scientists who currently receive agency research funding from serving on EPA advisory boards. The lawsuit argues that the policy violates federal law. The plaintiffs also seek the reinstatement of scientists who stepped down from any of the agency's 22 advisory committees as a result of the policy.
- Congress has passed another continuing resolution to keep the government open through 19 January 2018.
- The National Science Foundation has created a new position to oversee research facilities. James S. Ulvestad will serve as the first chief officer for the program. Congress mandated the position in 2016 legislation, which recognized the problems facing some NSF-sponsored large research facilities.
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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 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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