White House Tries to Revive Rescissions Proposal

The Trump Administration has withdrawn its request to cut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water quality grants and unspent Superstorm Sandy relief funds from the rescissions proposal that was submitted to Congress on May 8, 2018.

On June 5, the Administration sent a revised proposal for $14.7 billion in rescissions to Congress. No explanation has been provided by the White House for reversing its decision to cut the $10 million EPA grants program and $107.5 million in Superstorm Sandy aid. The revised proposal also restores $252 million in unspent funds to fight the Ebola virus, a crucial move, considering the Ebola outbreak currently underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The new proposal still calls for other rescissions, such as cuts to Department of Energy loan programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The revisions are viewed as an attempt by the White House to revive the $15.4 billion, now $14.7 billion, proposal sent to Congress last month. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said with skepticism, “We’ll see what happens. I have never been big on rescissions to begin with.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that the revisions expose the flaws in the request. “The administration today directly undercut its case that money it proposed for rescission would never be spent anyway. Removing or correcting 10 of the package’s proposed rescissions shows how wrongheaded their approach was from the start,” he said.

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NSB Recommends Flexible Research Infrastructure Account for NSF

The National Science Board (NSB), the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) governing body, has released a new report titled “Study of Operations and Maintenance Costs for NSF Facilities,” which examines the balance between funding researchers and building, operating, and maintaining research facilities. The report was requested by the Senate Committee on Appropriations in light of growing budget constraints.

The NSB found that several factors influence grant success rates, and “the tendency to reduce it to a simple choice between Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs and grants is misleading.” Peter Lepage, Chair of the NSB Committee on Awards and Facilities, said, “One of the surprises in our work was seeing that O&M outlays are not a huge driver of lower grant success rates.”

According to the report, the reason for the decline in success rates across NSF from 29 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2002 to 23 percent in FY 2017, was the fact that the NSF budget only increased by an average of 1.1 percent per year while the number of proposals submitted to the agency grew by over 40 percent. During this period, O&M outlays only increased by 3 percent. The report suggests that although O&M growth is not the primary cause of declining success rates across the agency, it is a crucial factor in “facility-heavy NSF divisions” like the Astronomical Sciences.

The report recommends that the NSB and the NSF Director “enhance agency-level ownership of the facility portfolio to elevate strategic and budgetary decisions and the agency’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account (MREFC) should allow for greater flexibility.”

The NSF devoted 23.5 percent of its annual budget towards research infrastructure over the past 15-20 years, which is on the low end of the 22-27 percent range recommended by NSB in a 2003 report. Lepage stressed, “NSF can’t abandon its large facility pedigree if it wishes to remain a world leader in fundamental research.”

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Report Suggests Improvements to Graduate STEM Education

As highlighted in a February 2018 Feature article in BioScience, “Biology Graduate Programs Educating Students for Life Beyond Academia: Broadening Horizons for Young Scientists (https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix152), students and institutions are taking fresh looks at graduate education programs. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has just offered additional perspectives to this on-going discussion with a new report, “Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century.” The report offers recommendations for improving U.S. graduate education in STEM.

“Bringing the report’s vision of graduate STEM education to fruition will require shifting the current system, which focuses primarily on the needs of institutions of higher learning and those of the research enterprise itself, to one that is more student-centered,” the report says. According to the report, the current graduate education system rewards faculty primarily for research output.

The report calls for higher education institutions to prioritize teaching and mentoring by rewarding faculty members for demonstrating “high-quality teaching and inclusive mentoring for graduate students.” This requires a cultural shift, with federal and state funding agencies realigning their grant award criteria to increase rewards for effective teaching, mentoring, and advising rather than relying on a reward system based on number of publications or future scientists produced.

The report lists several characteristics of an ideal graduate education. It recommends a system that would allow graduate students to select their graduate program based on transparent data about the viability of different career paths and experiences of previous students, enable students to create their own project-based learning opportunities, and provide students with opportunities to communicate the results of their work and consider ethical and societal issues relevant to their research.

A set of competencies that need to be acquired by all students for a successful graduate education were identified. Among these, Ph.D. programs should help students develop specialized expertise in at least one core STEM discipline, but also learn transdisciplinary knowledge that enables them to solve complex problems. The report calls for more support for graduate student mental health services, with resources to help students manage stress.

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Burroughs Welcome Fund, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the Spencer Foundation. Read the report here: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/bhew/graded/index.htm

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UK Proposes Framework for Science Partnership with EU

The United Kingdom (UK) has published a new “Framework for the EU-UK Partnership on science, research, and innovation,” a document that is intended to inform the development of a scientific collaboration between the UK and European Union (EU) following the UK’s exit from the EU.

The framework touts the importance of international collaboration for research and innovation and recommends that the EU-UK partnership be defined by a combination of political and legal agreements. “The UK wants Europe to maintain its world-leading role in science and innovation and is committed to a far-reaching Science and Innovation Pact with the EU,” asserts the UK.

The document emphasizes that the Science and Innovation Pact should be a core part of the UK-EU future partnership. According to the document, the pact should provide for close cooperation reflecting the trust and transparency between the UK and EU; reflect shared aims and values; include access to future EU science, research, and innovation programs; agree on a high level of mutual ambition; and be dynamic, adaptable, and mutually beneficial.

Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), an independent advocate for science and engineering in the UK, has welcomed the development of this framework as a “positive and pragmatic” step for the scientific community.

Read the document here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachmentdata/file/710268/SCIENCE-_FINAL.pdf

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Inform Science Policy this Summer

Registration is now open for the 2018 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.

This national initiative, organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is an opportunity for scientists from across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research and education.

Now in its tenth year, the event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their federal or state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office. AIBS works with participants to schedule the meetings with lawmakers and prepare participants through online training and one-on-one support.

“Participating in the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event was an invaluable experience to have as a graduate student,” said 2016 participate Erin Larson. “The training provided by AIBS made me feel confident and ready to go have a conversation with Representative Reed’s District Director about federal funding, especially how it’s benefitted me during my Ph.D. I was struck during our meeting by how meaningful it is to ‘show up’ and participate in the political process, especially as it relates to federal funding for the biological sciences. We scientists take the importance of federal funding to do our research to be a given, but it’s important for us to be able to communicate that effectively, especially with policymakers, to ensure that federal funding is maintained in the future.”

The event is made possible by AIBS, with the support of event sponsors Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Paleontological Society, Society for the Study of Evolution, and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.

Participation is free, but registration is required. Registration will close on July 19, 2018. For more information and to register, visit https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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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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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

  • A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the federal government spent $13.2 billion on climate change programs across 19 agencies in fiscal year (FY) 2017, an increase of $1.5 billion since FY 2016 and $4.4 billion since FY 2010. On examining the budget justifications for six agencies representing 89 percent of all climate spending, GAO found that only 18 out of 533 programs primarily focused on climate change and concluded that those programs "serve different purposes, target different audiences, or operate at different time periods and scales, which minimizes potential overlap or duplication." The report, requested by Chairman of the House Science Committee Senator Lamar Smith (R-TX), is available here: https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/691572.pdf

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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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