AIBS, Community Ask EPA to Rescind Proposed "Secret Science" Rule

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) has officially requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rescind its proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.” The proposed rule, which would bar the use of scientific studies in drafting new regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”

“We support the objective of increased transparency in the rulemaking process, but the proposed rule is inadequately defined and thus itself lacks transparency and appropriate public protections,” according to AIBS.

AIBS urged EPA to “initiate a new, transparent, and interactive process with the scientific, public health, and environmental management communities, as well as other appropriate stakeholders to identify responsible and viable approaches for promoting greater understanding of the science and data used to inform EPA decision-making.” Read AIBS’ comments here: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20180713aibscommentso9.html

AIBS was also among 69 academic, scientific, and health organizations - including several AIBS Member Societies - to release a public statement calling for EPA to withdraw its proposal. Read the press release here: https://www.michaeljfox.org/files/EPATransparencyRule.pdf

On July 17, 2018, EPA held a public hearing, where over a hundred speakers, including AIBS, provided oral testimony on the draft rule. A majority of the speakers, lawmakers included, criticized the proposal. Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) warned that the draft rule would “impede, if not eradicate, the EPA’s ability to protect Americans from significant risks to human health and to the environment” and Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) said that the proposal was “ill-conceived.”

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White House Nominates Entomologist to Lead USDA Research

President Trump has nominated Dr. Scott Hutchins, the Global Head of Integrated Field Sciences for Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont, for the top science role at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Hutchins is an entomologist with a background in insect management and crop protection. If confirmed by the Senate, he will oversee the Agricultural Research Service as the Undersecretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics.

Hutchins has a Ph.D. in entomology from Iowa State University, where he studied the effect of insect-induced injury on alfalfa. Presently, he works on pest management chemicals at Corteva and is an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska. He has served as President of the Entomological Society of America, an AIBS Member Society.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue commented, “His extensive background in research and commitment to sound science and data make him exceptionally qualified for this post, and I am eager to have Dr. Hutchins join the team.”

Michael Parrella, President of the Entomological Society of America, said in a statement, “Dr. Scott Hutchins is an ideal candidate for the role of USDA undersecretary… His credentials in both science and leadership are hard to match, and he knows first-hand the value of research, government, and industry working together to support agriculture and serve society.”

President Trump’s previous nominee for this position, Sam Clovis, withdrew his nomination after drawing widespread criticism for his lack of qualifications and controversial comments on race.

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Revisions Proposed to Revamp Endangered Species Regulations

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released a joint proposal to make significant revisions to regulations that implement the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

ESA was enacted in 1973 with the goal of preventing plants and animals from becoming extinct. The Administration has proposed changes to the enforcement of ESA that would make it harder to provide protections for certain species.

The inter-agency proposal tightens the definition of “foreseeable future” for making crucial ESA decisions. This is in reference to the ESA requirement that USFWS or the National Marine Fisheries Service must determine whether a species is “in danger of extinction, or likely to become so within the foreseeable future” when making a listing decision. Under the new proposal, foreseeable future only extends so far as officials “can reasonably determine that the conditions posing the potential danger of extinction are probable.”

The proposal would also eliminate the “blanket 4(d)” rule, which allows the same broad protections for threatened species that are received by endangered species. This move, which would only cover future listings, would result in narrower protections, made on a case-by-case basis, for threatened species.

The Administration has also proposed removing language that guides officials to ignore economic burdens when determining how species should be protected. “We propose to remove the phrase, ‘without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination,’… to more closely align with the statutory language,” the proposed rule reads. “The act requires the secretary to make determinations based ‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data.’”

The proposal makes a key change to the designation of “critical habitats”, which are areas essential for recovery of a species. These areas are sometimes still considered “critical” when it is not occupied by the species in question. The new rules would allow USFWS and NOAA Fisheries to designate unoccupied areas “critical habitat” only when the occupied areas are inadequate for the conservation of the species or if inclusion of unoccupied areas would yield other specified advantages. This could potentially shrink critical habitat.

The proposal has raised concerns in the conservation community. Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of the Defenders of Wildlife and former Director of USFWS said, “These regulations are the heart of how the Endangered Species Act is implemented. Imperiled species depend on them for their very lives.” Clark expressed concerns that the changes “would undercut the effectiveness of the ESA and put species at risk of extinction.”

“These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, Government Affairs Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today.”

It is anticipated that the proposal will be published in the Federal Register on July 25, 2018 and will invite public comment for 60 days.

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NSF To Launch "2026 Idea Machine" Contest

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will launch a contest in August 2018 that will provide the public a chance to suggest “pressing research questions” that need to be addressed in the next decade. The NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition aims to identify the next set of “Big Ideas” for future NSF investments and will “help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering.”

The competition will give researchers, the public, and other interested stakeholders the opportunity to submit online entries, starting August 31, proposing transformational research ideas that fit within the mission of the agency.

“We don’t want [the idea] to be something NSF is already doing,” says Suzi Iacono, Head of NSF’s Office of Integrative Activities. “We want it to be exciting, and original, and important in terms of the potential benefits to science and to society.”

NSF staff will first review the submitted ideas and then the authors of the 30 most promising ideas will be asked to submit videos for public comment. An advisory panel will review this feedback, interview the top candidates, and propose finalists. NSF will make the final decision and announce the winners in the summer of 2019. Winners will receive “public recognition, cash prizes, and other awards.”

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Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Regulating Invasive Species

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) have introduced bicameral legislation, the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act of 2018, that would give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) greater authority to “regulate nonnative species and prohibit them from being imported or sold in the United States.”

Presently, more than 200 species have been listed as “injurious wildlife,” a designation given by the USFWS to species considered harmful to wildlife and natural resources in the United States. These species cannot be imported into the country or sold without a USFWS permit. However, under the current system, the designation is given only after a species has already been introduced.

The bipartisan legislation would address the invasive species threat before they are imported by establishing a new injurious species listing process based on scientific risk analysis. The bill would also give USFWS the power to make emergency designations for species that pose an “imminent threat.” The bill does not impose restrictions on the import of dead natural history museum specimens or scientific collections as long as the specimen is adequately preserved to minimize the risk of exposure from any harmful pathogens or parasites.

“Whether it’s Asian Carp in our lakes or the Emerald Ash Borer in our forests, invasive species threaten our environment and our economy, and we have to do everything we can to block them from coming into our state,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act would help better protect our precious natural resources, strengthen our economy, draw tourism to our state, and provide clean drinking water to New Yorkers.”

Asian Carp is a prominent threat to the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to over 30 million people and support a $7 billion fishing industry and a $15.5 billion boating industry. Ash trees across 31 states have been infested by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle resulting in negative ecological impacts.

Representative Stefanik said, “This important bill will give the Fish and Wildlife Service needed flexibility to regulate and combat invasive pests that threaten our region, and I urge my colleagues in the House to support it.”

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NSF Announces STEM Education Advisory Panel

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has appointed eighteen members to a new advisory panel to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. NSF consulted with the Department of Education, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in making the appointments.

The new STEM Education Advisory Panel, composed of individuals from nonprofit, business, academic, and informal education organizations, will be chaired by Gabriela Gonzalez, Deputy Director of the Intel Foundation, Intel Corporation. David Evans, Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association, will serve as Vice Chair.

The advisory panel was authorized by Congress to advise the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education (CoSTEM) on STEM education related issues. The panel will advise CoSTEM on updating the 2013-2018 Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan to improve the efficiency and impact of federal STEM education investments. The panel will also be responsible for assessing CoSTEM’s activities mandated by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act.

“This new panel has an opportunity to bring fresh eyes and novel approaches to CoSTEM’s next five-year strategic plan, which will help enhance the nation’s entire STEM ecosystem,” said NSF Director and CoSTEM Co-Chair France Córdova. “NSF continues to generate benefits for society through STEM research. To fulfill that mission, we and our federal partners need to make strategic investments to create new generations of discoverers.”

See the complete list of STEM Education Advisory Panel members here: https://nsf.gov/ehr/panel_members.jsp

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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 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) have released a new report on the research agenda for indoor microbiology, human health, and buildings. The report Microbiomes of the Built Environment examines the current knowledge in the research on indoor environments, examples of knowledge gaps, and new tools that may facilitate the understanding of ecosystems in built environments, in order to better predict and manage indoor interactions of humans with microorganisms and design healthy and sustainable buildings. Read the report here: http://nas-sites.org/builtmicrobiome/

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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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