EPA Science Advisory Board Seeks to Comment on "Secret Science" Proposal

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) has expressed an interest in analyzing and commenting on the EPA proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” The proposed rule would bar the use of scientific studies for which the underlying data are not publicly available in formulating regulations.

In a letter posted on the Board’s website, the SAB urged the EPA Administrator to “request, receive, and review” its advice before revising or finalizing the proposed rule. According to the letter, the proposal focuses on “the EPA’s foundational policies related to the use of science in rulemaking and policy development” and has “the potential to influence policy development and guidance across the government.”

The letter dated June 28, 2018 and signed by SAB Chairman Michael Honeycutt notes that although the draft rule cites several important publications that support transparency in science, “the precise design of the proposed rule appears to have been developed without a public process for soliciting input specifically from the scientific community.” The letter lists specific issues that might benefit from examination by the SAB, including the precise definition of critical concepts like “replication” and “validation,” the handling of epidemiologic studies based on confidential and sensitive personal information of human subjects, as well as costs associated with implementing the rule.

The 44-member SAB, which includes more than a dozen members appointed by Administrator Pruitt, learned about the proposed rule only after the Administrator publicly introduced the proposal. The letter emphasizes that the SAB has a statutory duty to advise EPA on “the adequacy of the scientific and technical basis” of a proposed rule. However, it is not clear if the Administrator needs to wait for SAB’s review and recommendations before moving ahead with a decision.

The public comment period for the proposed rule was initially set at 30 days but was extended by two-and-a-half months after pressure from science groups, including AIBS. A public hearing on the proposed rule has also been scheduled for July 17, 2018.

A week after the letter was posted, Administrator Scott Pruitt announced his resignation citing “unrelenting attacks” on him and his family as a result of mounting ethics investigations. Andrew Wheeler, former energy lobbyist and currently the Deputy Administrator at EPA, is now the acting head of the Agency.

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Puerto Rico's Legislature Rejects Plan to Dismantle Statistical Agency

The Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS), which the Governor had proposed to restructure, was spared during final negotiations on legislation to reorganize portions of Puerto Rico’s government.

PRIS is an independent agency that analyzes statistical data collected by other government agencies. It is run by an independent board of directors. The agency has many protections established by law to ensure impartial collection, production, and communication of statistical data. These firewalls would have been eliminated under the reorganization plan.

The rejected plan would have moved PRIS under Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce, centralizing statistical data collection and then outsourcing statistical work to the private sector. Many scientific organizations were concerned that the reorganization would undermine the agency’s independence and transparency.

The provision restricting the agency was removed from the legislation after scientists, statisticians, and politicians across the United States opposed the plan. The American Institute of Biological Sciences was among 47 scientific organizations that sent a letter to the Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló in May urging him to keep PRIS “autonomous and independent.” Read the letter here: http://www.amstat.org/asa/files/pdfs/POL-PRIS_Sign-OnLetter.pdf

PRIS CEO Mario Marazzi-Santiago stated that he is committed to “sustaining an open dialogue about [PRIS’s] future … so that it allows us to continue working to ensure that data collection and statistical systems, upon which public policies are based, are complete, trustworthy, and able to be accessed quickly and universally.”

PRIS has of late been under pressure from the government of Puerto Rico to discredit its work. Prior to the plan to move PRIS under the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, the Governor had attempted to fire four members of the agency’s Board of Directors without due process, in order to interfere in the recruiting process of a new CEO, according to the Hill. Although the agency’s current structure has been preserved for now, the Legislature has promised to “address issues related to the Institute of Statistics in a subsequent legislation.”

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Nominations Sought for EPA Science Advisory Board

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is inviting nominations of scientific experts to serve on its Science Advisory Board (SAB). SAB is a chartered Federal Advisory Committee that provides independent scientific advice and recommendations to the EPA Administrator on a range of science and research programs.

SAB is seeking experts in the following scientific disciplines: Analytical chemistry; benefit-cost analysis; causal inference; complex systems; ecological sciences and ecological assessment; economics; engineering; geochemistry; health sciences; hydrology; hydrogeology; medicine; microbiology; modeling; pediatrics; public health; risk assessment; social, behavioral and decision sciences; statistics; toxicology; and uncertainty analysis.

SAB is also seeking nominations for vacancies on four SAB committees, including the Agricultural Science Committee, the Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee, the Drinking Water Committee, and the Radiation Advisory Committee.

Qualified individuals may be nominated by any interested person or organization. Self-nominations are also accepted. Nominations should be submitted online, no later than August 8, 2018, at https://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabpeople.nsf/WebCommittees/BOARD

SAB members are appointed for a three-year term and include scientists, engineers, economists, and behavioral and social scientists. In 2017, Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator at the time, had signed a directive prohibiting researchers who receive government funding to serve on the Board.

For more information on the selection criteria and how to submit nominations, go to: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/07/09/2018-14680/request-for-nominations-of-candidates-to-the-epas-science-advisory-board-sab-and-sab-standing

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Help Inform AIBS Programming

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is gathering information on how we can best contribute to the broad biological/life sciences community. We are particularly interested in information about areas where a federation such as AIBS can best contribute to efforts of importance to the broad biological/life sciences community.

We ask that you take a few moments to share your thoughts with us by answering a few questions to help inform AIBS’ strategic planning. Click here for the survey: https://aibs.wufoo.com/forms/survey-to-help-inform-aibs-programming/?utmsource=Unknown+List&utmcampaign=437bf39d5a-EMAILCAMPAIGN201806140547&utmmedium=email&utmterm=0_-437bf39d5a-

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Prepare Your Resume, Hone Your Interview Skills

Registration is now open for the Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists, a new professional development program by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs in the United States do an excellent job of preparing students for careers in academia. As students and a growing number of reports note, however, many STEM graduate students are interested in employment in a variety of sectors by the time they complete their degree. Students continue to report that they feel ill-prepared and ill-equipped to pursue employment in these settings.

In response to this frustration heard from many graduate students, AIBS has developed a program to help scientists hone and practice the skills needed to secure employment. AIBS’ Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists is an intensive, two-day program that is a blend of lecture and hands-on exercises. Designed by scientists and a career coach, this program provides graduate students to senior scientists with the information, tools, and resources required to successfully identify and secure employment in a diversity of career pathways, including science policy, communications, program management, government, non-governmental organizations, international development, and others.

Course participants will:

  • Identify career interests and opportunities;
  • Learn to communicate their knowledge and skills to employers;
  • Develop strategies for finding employment;
  • Develop application materials;
  • Prepare for and practice different interview styles and scenarios;
  • Talk to scientists working in diverse employment settings and individuals responsible for making hiring decisions.

Current graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and scientists interested in transitioning to a new employment sector should consider signing up.

The program will be held in Washington, DC on December 17-18, 2018. For more information and to register, visit https://www.aibs.org/events/employmentbootcamp.html.

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Meet with Your Lawmakers to 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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Short Takes

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), along with the National Science Foundation (NSF), have announced that more than 140 individuals and organizations will receive presidential awards for their excellence in teaching or mentoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) will be awarded to kindergarten through sixth grade teachers and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) will be awarded to mentors. The award recipients represent schools from all 50 U.S. states as well as the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To learn more, visit: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=295842&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click
  • Three bills have been introduced in the House that aim to boost coastal resiliency and ocean acidification research. H.R. 6288, sponsored by Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Garret Graves (R-LA), would establish a competitive grants program on coastal resiliency and an advisory panel to coordinate research efforts. H.R. 6267, introduced by Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK), would establish an Ocean Acidification Advisory Board to stimulate ocean acidification research. H.R. 6300, authored by Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), would codify President Obama's oceans policy directive that was recently revoked by President Trump.

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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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