AIBS Urges EPA Administrator to Extend Comment Period for Proposed "Secret Science" Rule

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt requesting an extension on the deadline to submit comments on the proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” by at least 60 days. The proposed rule, which was published in the Federal Register on April 30, 2018, would limit the use of scientific studies that have underlying data that are not publicly available when crafting regulations.

AIBS expressed concerns that the 30-day comment period would not allow sufficient time for the scientific community to fully analyze the proposed rule. “It is thus not possible to submit detailed and substantive comments on a complex proposal that has such far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on public and environmental health.”

The letter stressed that all scientific data cannot be made public due to issues of patient privacy and industry confidentiality. “The data transparency requirement is also likely to impose a significant new cost on the taxpayer as new systems will be required to manage, store, present, and track down data, as well as redact sensitive personal information.”

Read the letter here.

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Several Appropriations Bills Advance in Congress

Multiple spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2019, including the Commerce, Justice, and Science bill, the Energy and Water bill, and the Agriculture bill, have been approved by their respective House Appropriations panels.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) has approved a $62.5 billion spending bill on May 10, 2018, which provides funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The bill would increase funding by $2.9 billion in FY 2019.

The CJS appropriations would provide NSF with $8.2 billion in FY 2019, $408 million above FY 2018. Research and related activities, which includes the biological sciences directorate, would be funded at $6.7 billion, $317 million above the current level. The bill also supports infrastructural investments such as modernization of Antarctica facilities, telescopes, and research vessels.

The bill would fund NOAA at $5.2 billion, $751 million below FY 2018 and make deep cuts to climate change programs at the agency. The funding would be targeted to priorities such as the National Weather Service, the reduction of harmful algal blooms, fisheries management, weather research, and ocean exploration. The bill would eliminate NOAA’s coastal resiliency grants, a program that helps communities address the effects of rising sea levels, erosion and flooding caused by storms.

During the bill markup, Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) expressed his concerns over the budget for NOAA and said he was “disappointed and troubled” by the large cuts for climate change research. “This mark proposes to cut climate work at NOAA by nearly 40 percent,” he said and urged the panel to “find additional funding for these critical climate programs that will save lives and money.”

NIST would receive $985 million in FY 2019, $214 million below FY 2018, with $720 million (-$4.5 million) targeted to core research activities.

NASA would be funded at $21.5 billion, $810 million above FY 2018, and would receive increased support for deep space exploration (+$294 million), science programs (+$459 million), and exploration of the moon.

The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a spending bill on May 7 that funds the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science at a record level of $6.6 billion, $341 million above FY 2018. The bill ignored the President’s request to eliminate the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program, funding it at $28 million below FY 2018. Budget for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would decline from $2.3 billion in FY 2018 to $2.1 billion.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved a spending bill on May 9 that would reject the 16 percent cut across agricultural programs proposed by President Trump. The bill provides $23.3 billion in discretionary spending, a $14 million increase over FY 2018. Overall the bill would provide $145 billion in combined discretionary and mandatory funding, $922 million less than FY 2018.

The bill would provide $3.1 billion to agricultural research, $72 million above FY 2018. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would be funded at $1.4 billion in FY 2019, $51 million above FY 2018. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive $1.46 billion in FY 2019, an increase of $38 million relative to FY 2018.

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White House Sends Budget Rescissions Proposal to Congress

The White House sent a $15.4 billion budget rescissions proposal to Congress on May 8, 2018, targeting spending cuts from ‘unobligated funds’ within several federal agencies and programs. The proposal does not propose any reductions from the fiscal year (FY) 2018 spending.

The plan proposes to rescind $4.8 billion in unused funding from Department of Energy (DOE) loan programs that have not made any loans since 2011. These include the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program, an Obama-era initiative to help domestic automakers, and another DOE innovative technology loan program for large renewable energy projects.

Other proposed cuts include $252 million from funds to address the Ebola outbreak; $148 million from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to fight outbreaks of diseases; $16 million from Forest Service land acquisition program; $10 million from Environmental protection Agency (EPA) water quality research and support grants; $107 million from the Superstorm Sandy aid for developing emergency watershed management plans; and $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The proposal claims that these funds are “no longer needed for the purpose for which it was appropriated by Congress.”

House Republicans introduced a spending cuts package to codify the President’s plan on May 9. “Returning this money to the treasury is the type of budgetary spring-cleaning that ensures our government practices prudence with hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a statement.

The proposal is gaining support among Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate, who were relieved that the White House did not call for cuts to the FY 2018 spending bill that raised both military and domestic accounts. “To be sure, cutting wasteful spending should not be a partisan exercise,” said McCarthy. He added that rescissions have eliminated $25 billion in wasteful spending under both Republican and Democratic presidents since the 1970s.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had previously expressed that he was uninterested in revisiting the budget deal. After the plan was unveiled, he said that the Senate would “take a look at the package” if the House passes it, emphasizing that it would not violate the recent budget agreement.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that she was not against rescinding the ATVM loan program but questioned the effort to rescind $7 billion from the children’s health programs.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, did not completely dismiss the package, saying that there would be a “period of negotiations” regarding what cuts might be possible.

According to budget rules, the package could advance by a simple majority in both the House and the Senate. Congress now has 45 days, or until June 23, to approve the package. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have 25 days to act on the request.

Although this initial request does not draw on funds from the $1.3 trillion FY 2018 omnibus spending bill, recent reports suggest that there might be another proposal from the White House later in the year that targets current spending.

Rescissions are not uncommon in the federal budget process, but the funds rescinded are usually reallocated to other urgent priorities. With this proposal, the White House aims to save money, a move that has not been approved by Congress since the Clinton Administration.

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White House Weighs Imposing Restrictions on Researchers from China

The Trump administration is considering measures to restrict Chinese citizens from engaging in sensitive research at American universities. According to a report by the New York Times, the Administration cites concerns that Chinese researchers may be acquiring American intellectual secrets and sharing them with the Chinese.

American officials suspected espionage when China reportedly tested an “invisibility cloak” that would allow fighter planes to become undetectable under radar screens - an advancement that is believed to be aided by American intellectual knowledge. A Chinese researcher, after working on a similar technology at Duke University in 2008, returned to China and started a research institute that worked on related projects. While studying in the U. S., the researcher was investigated by the FBI but never charged with a crime, after his supervisor became suspicious that he was trying to share the technology he was studying with his colleagues in China.

The White House, concerned about China’s growing technological capacity, is considering measures such as limiting access of Chinese citizens to the U. S. by restricting certain types of visas and expanding rules related to Chinese researchers working on military or intelligence related projects at American companies and universities. This proposal could be part of a larger package of measures that target China economically and, according to the Administration, are necessary to address a growing national security threat from China.

Details about the measures are still emerging and it is currently unclear what types of projects would be subject to restrictions. It is likely that the measures would target research on advanced materials, software, and other technologies such as artificial intelligence and electric cars, which are prioritized under China’s “Made in China 2025” plan.

The restrictions may have large consequences for American industry and could potentially disrupt American innovation, which relies considerably on researchers from around the world. The restrictions are likely to significantly impact graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and employees of technology companies from China who are on temporary visas. Of the one million international students who study in the U.S., roughly one-third come from China.

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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 October 15-16, 2018.

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.

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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Increase Your Career Opportunities and Your Impact: 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, June 7, 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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Short Takes

  • Six more American researchers from U.S. institutions, including Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University, have enlisted in French President Emmanuel Macron's initiative "Make Our Planet Great Again". The researchers will be part of a 14-person team that will conduct research on topics ranging from Arctic climate change to air quality, with each scientist receiving at least $600,000. The initiative was announced soon after President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, a part of the President's "Make America Great Again" strategy. The funding competition recruited 13 American researchers last year.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Air Force have announced a new partnership for collaboration on science and engineering research to bolster national security. The collaboration would focus on four research areas: space operations and geosciences, advanced material sciences, information and data sciences, and workforce and processes. The goal of the partnership is "to create a pathway between the basic research supported by NSF and the technologies needed to support the Air Force of tomorrow." Read more here: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=245420&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click

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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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