Action Alert: Ask Senators to Support NSF

Congress is now considering funding levels for federal programs for fiscal year (FY) 2019. Scientists interested in the National Science Foundation (NSF) should consider contacting their Senators to ask that they sign a Dear Colleague letter lead by Senator Markey (D-MA). The letter requests Congress provide NSF with $8.45 billion in FY 2019.

NSF is the primary federal funding source for fundamental biological research at our nation’s universities and colleges. The agency provides approximately 68% of extramural federal support for non-medical, fundamental biological research at academic institutions.

The proposed funding level of $8.45 billion would allow NSF to expand support for early career researchers and to create new interdisciplinary research programs. Moreover, this investment would sustain existing research and education programs that are vital to U.S. competitiveness.

Interested individuals can send a letter to their Senators from the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

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EPA Memo Directs Employees to Understate Climate Change

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sent a memorandum to its employees listing talking points on climate change to serve as guidelines to promote a message of uncertainty about climate science, according to a report by the Huffington Post. The memo, which was leaked on 28 March, was sent from EPA’s Office of Public Affairs with the subject line “Consistent Messages on Climate Adaptation”.

One of the points in the memo reads, “Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

Another point mentions “clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it”. “As a key regulatory voice, it is important for the Agency to strive for a better understanding of these gaps given their potential significant influence on our country’s domestic economic viability,” reads a third point.

The memo comes days after Administrator Pruitt announced the agency’s plans to restrict the use of science in informing regulations, by barring the use of research for which raw data has not been made public.

Other agencies have also taken similar approaches. According to the Washington Post, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued guidance to staff that the grant solicitations sent by the agency “must not include any broad, generic phrases or terms that are known to be related to divisive political issues or otherwise have a political association, meaning, or inference.” Although, no specifics were provided regarding what qualifies as politically divisive, the agency included an example where a climate change reference was substituted with “This program will fund research activities that broaden our understanding of the impacts of changing environmental conditions, such as data collection on the frequency of severe weather events.”

There were also reports of censorship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late last year, when news outlets reported that budget officials within the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that specific words and concepts, including “science-based” and “evidence-based”, should not be used in the agency’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal. The public outcry to these reports prompted the then director to make a public announcement that the agency would not avoid these terms.

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New CDC Director Named

Dr. Robert Redfield has been named the new director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. The position does not require Senate confirmation. The announcement came on March 21, 2018, a couple of months after former CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned from the position because of her myriad conflicts of interest arising from her failure to divest from investments in tobacco and healthcare companies.

Redfield, a virologist and professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has an extensive background in HIV/AIDS research. He manages clinical programs at the Institute for Human Virology that offer HIV care in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore region, as well as on an international scale under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). He graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Medicine and did his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after which he served as a researcher in the military.

Although Redfield has an extensive research background, some lawmakers are concerned with his lack of experience in policy and public health. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wrote a letter to the White House asking the President to reconsider his choice. She also pointed to some past scientific practices and ethics in Redfield’s research that were controversial, including his advocacy for widespread AIDS testing and allegations of data misrepresentation, although he was not found guilty of scientific misconduct.

Redfield and the CDC face several significant challenges, including the opioid epidemic, the current spike in influenza, and the significant 43 percent cut to CDC’s Public Health Preparedness and Response program proposed by the Trump Administration for FY 2019.

In an address to the agency on 29 March, Redfield assured his commitment to science by emphasizing that the agency is “science-based and data-driven, and that’s why CDC has the credibility around the world that it has.”

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House Committee Considers NSF Budget Request

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on the Budget Proposal for the National Science Foundation (NSF) for Fiscal Year 2019 on 15 March. NSF Director Frances Cordova and National Science Board Chairwoman Maria T. Zuber testified.

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has been critical of the peer-review process at the agency since 2013 when he assumed the chairmanship of the committee. He used the hearing as another platform to criticize some of the grants included in NSF’s research portfolio. Smith argued, “I have been critical of the NSF for funding too many projects that seem marginal or frivolous. When the NSF spent $700,000 on a Climate Change Musical or $1.5 million to study pasture management in Mongolia, it reduced investments in projects that could yield groundbreaking new knowledge and discoveries.”

Dr. Maria Zuber, Chairwoman of the National Science Board, acknowledged Smith’s concerns. She said, “I would be remiss, Chairman Smith, if I didn’t thank you for holding us to the highest standards for transparency and accountability.”

Smith once again attacked the social sciences, and said, “I am concerned that there are still too many projects being funded in the social, behavioral and economic sciences that are not worthy of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Cordova responded by noting that the online description for each NSF award would now include a sentence that the research “reflects NSF’s statutory mission”, which “is meant to be a pause for every division director to ask whether the research fulfills national needs.” However, Smith did not accept her answer. He argued that given the proposed flat FY 2019 budget for NSF, funds should be spent on computing and physical sciences in order to maintain global leadership rather than social and behavioral sciences.

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Congress Approves FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations, Rejects President's Cuts to Science

Congress has passed and the President has signed a bipartisan appropriations bill with $1.3 trillion in federal spending for fiscal year (FY) 2018. The House voted 256-167 and the Senate voted 65-32 to approve the bill that distributes funding for the remainder of FY 2018. The omnibus appropriations legislation provides either increased or level spending for science agencies, ignoring the deep cuts proposed by the President.

Congressional leaders announced an agreement late on 21 March after several weeks of negotiations and six months into FY 2018. A majority of environmental riders were dropped from the final bill.

The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.8 billion, $295 million above the FY 2017 enacted level, with the Research and Related Activities (RRA) accounts funded at $6.3 billion (+$301 million). The RRA line includes funding for the various research directorates, including the biological sciences directorate. Details are not yet available for how these funds would be allocated. The bill states “this strong investment in basic research reflects the Congress’ growing concern that China and other competitors are outpacing the United States in terms of research spending.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive $37 billion, a boost of $3 billion, rejecting the President’s proposed 22 percent cut to the agency. The bill includes $1.8 billion (+$414 million) for Alzheimer’s research.

The omnibus provides funding increases for many agencies and programs at the Department of the Interior (DOI). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is funded at $1.6 billion (+$75 million) with the legislation prioritizing funding for addressing the endangered species delisting backlog, combating invasive species, preventing illegal wildlife trafficking, and preventing closure of fish hatcheries.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), slated for a 15 percent cut under the President’s request, will be funded at $1.1 billion, an increase of $63 million over FY 2017 levels. Funding will be targeted to critical infrastructure investments in natural hazards programs, stream gages, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. The legislation provides $23 million for early earthquake early warning systems and $26 million for funding the development of “Landsat 9” - a satellite program that provides land use measurements important for agriculture, forestry, energy and water resource decisions. The agency’s eight climate science centers will remain functional. The White House had proposed eliminating half of them.

The President’s FY 2018 request called for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget to be cut by 30 percent. The appropriations bill, however, provides level funding to the agency at $8.1 billion. EPA’s regulatory programs will be cut by $23.5 million. Funding for cleanup of Superfund sites will get a $66 million boost. The bill also includes $2.9 billion for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan funds and $63 million for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to support for water infrastructure projects. The bill emphasizes the Administration’s goal to “rein in outdated, unnecessary and potentially harmful regulations at the EPA” and includes riders prohibiting the agency from regulating lead content of ammunition. EPA’s science and technology programs will be supported at a flat budget of $116 million, rejecting the administration’s proposed $30.8 million cut to the program.

A report that accompanies the bill indicates that the legislation “does not include any requested funds for workforce reshaping” at the EPA. President Trump’s proposal would have allowed EPA to extract about $68 million from various programs for the reshaping effort, to be implemented through buyouts. The bill also limits the agency’s reorganization and restructuring efforts to $1 million.

The Energy and Water portion of the spending bill, which funds the Department of Energy (DOE) and Army Corps of Engineers, received $43.2 billion, an increase of $4.7 billion. DOE will receive across the board funding increases, including for research efforts and energy efficiency programs. DOE’s Office of Science will see a 16 percent or $800 million funding boost to a record $6.26 billion. An increase of $163 million is targeted for advanced scientific computing research, a priority of the President. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, slated for elimination in the President’s budget, will receive a record level funding of $353 million (+$47 million).

Agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will receive $3.03 billion, an increase of $138 million over FY 2017. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is funded at $400 million. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is funded at $6 billion, with $2.8 billion targeted at wildfire prevention and suppression. The USFS received $6.07 billion in FY 2017.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be funded at $1.2 billion, $247 million above FY 2017. Core research activities at NIST will receive $725 million, although support for other “lower priority” activities will be reduced.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive $5.9 billion, a slight increase of $234 million above FY 2017 level, with the funding prioritized for National Weather Service ($1 billion), fisheries operations ($883 million), weather research, and ocean exploration.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $20.7 billion, $1.1 billion above the FY 2017 level. This includes $6.2 billion (+$457 million) for NASA Science programs and $4.8 billion (+$466 million) for exploration programs. Funding for the earth science programs will remain flat at 2017 levels.

The Smithsonian Institution will receive $1 billion in funding, an increase of $178 million, allowing all on-going operations to continue.

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Newly Launched: Online Ocean Database Library, Fisheries Statistics

Two new data initiatives supporting marine resource management have been launched.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) has launched an online library of ocean-related data, called Ocean+Data, to aid in informed decision-making. The library contains 183 data sources, including global marine and coastal datasets, regional datasets, and databases from scientific sources, which can be accessed through customizable searches. The library will support marine spatial planning, environmental impact assessments, ecosystem assessments, and other ocean conservation activities, along with providing educational opportunities for students.

The Asia-Pacific Commission on Agricultural Statistics has launched the Pacific Strategic Plan for Agricultural and Fisheries Statistics (P-SPAFS) to ensure the use of high quality data and statistics in policy decisions relevant to agriculture, fisheries, food security, natural resources, and rural development.

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Call for Ideas: Curb the Spread of Misinformation

The Rita Allen Foundation and RTI International are organizing a call for ideas to curb the spread of misinformation that is able to spread rapidly in the current climate as a result of social media and the internet. The call solicits interventions focused on “reducing behaviors that lead to the spread of misinformation or encouraging behaviors that can lead to the minimization of its influence.” Proposals for interventions with technological, educational, and/or community-based components as well as projects that involve science communication, public health, and diverse populations are encouraged.

Up to five ideas will be selected and featured in the Misinformation Solutions Forum, which will be held at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. on October 4, 2018. At the forum, two teams will be selected to receive Misinformation Solution Prizes of $50,000 and $25,000.

Submissions are due by 11:59 p.m. PDT on May 31, 2018. Inquiries about the submission and selection process should be directed to MisinformationSolutions@ritaallen.org.

Read more details about the call for ideas here.

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AIBS and NSC Alliance Host USGS Budget Briefing Webinar

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance) have arranged for Anne Kinsinger, Associate Director for Ecosystems at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), to provide information about the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the division. The Ecosystems program at the USGS is responsible for research and monitoring on freshwater, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems, and the human, fish, and wildlife communities they support.

The webinar program will be held from 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, April 13, 2018.

This webinar program is free, but pre-registration is required. Click here to register.

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Registration Open for 2018 AIBS Writing for Impact and Influence Course

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program to help scientists and students hone their written communication skills to increase the power of their message.

Writing for Impact and Influence combines practical instruction and hands-on exercises to improve participants’ general writing proficiency and their ability to reach large audiences. The program will provide participants with the skills and tools needed to compose scientific press releases, blog posts, emails, and memoranda.

Learn to write for stakeholders, decision-makers, and the general public, with a focus on perfecting the reader experience.

The course consists of six 90-minute online modules conducted live and will begin on Thursday, 7 June 2018, with subsequent course sessions held weekly on Thursdays (except July 5). Individuals who actively participate in and complete the full course will receive a certificate recognizing that they have completed a nine-hour professional development course on business writing for scientists.

Register now: http://io.aibs.org/writing

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Enter the 2018 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, researcher, technician, collections curator, or student, engaging in biological research. The research may occur outside, in a lab, with 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 along with 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 2017 contest was featured on the cover of the April 2018 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on 1 October 2018.

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

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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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