Plans to Relocate NIFA, ERS Delayed Following Community Outcry

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on September 7 that its plan to relocate the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) to an as yet determined location outside of the Washington, DC metropolitan area will be delayed. The department’s earlier announcement of intent to move the agencies has garnered expressions of concern from stakeholders.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a press release that he would extend by 30 days, to October 15, the deadline for universities and localities to submit an expression of interest (EOI) to house the headquarters of NIFA and ERS. “There has been considerable interest in housing the headquarters of NIFA and ERS, expressed by universities and localities from around the country,” stated Perdue. “Some stakeholders have relayed concerns about staff summer vacation schedules interfering with the preparation of proposals, and some have asked for more time to have their plans approved by boards of regents, city councils, or other governing bodies,” he added. “An extra 30 days will give everyone time to get organized and will not interfere with our timeline.”

The decision to delay the move came after several groups including farm groups, scientific societies, universities, and lawmakers sent letters to the Secretary expressing concerns about the decision.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture wrote to Secretary Perdue on September 7, raising several questions and requesting more information on the move. The letter, signed by Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), noted that stakeholders have expressed concern that relocating the agencies outside of Washington D.C. will lead many employees to leave USDA and cause “a sharp loss of knowledgeable staff.”

Democratic lawmakers on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee have also written to Secretary Perdue requesting more information on the plan and expressing concern about its impact on NIFA and ERS employees. The letter, led by Agriculture Subcommittee Ranking Member Sanford Bishop (D-GA), noted: “We hope that you will seek input from USDA employees as you consider future Department decisions.”

The American Institute of Biological Sciences was among 107 stakeholder organizations, including the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, scientific societies, and several universities that wrote to congressional appropriators and House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders on September 6, urging them to extend by 60 days the deadline to submit an EOI and withhold any appropriations for the relocation until the costs and benefits of the proposal had been fully analyzed.

“With only 30 days for interested parties to submit bids for the new location, this rapid timeframe has left the research stakeholder community little time to digest the implications of relocating NIFA,” said the letter.

The letter from the research community raised several questions and concerns about the impact of the relocation on NIFA’s relationship with its stakeholders and other federal agencies, its staff recruitments, and its budget, and stressed that these “must be addressed before any subsequent funding is appropriated for relocation.” The groups urged the USDA to invite public input before proceeding with the relocation. Read the multi-stakeholder letter: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20180906jointstakehold_1.html

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Congress Sends First Appropriations Package to President, Rushes to Avert Shutdown

Congress sent the first bipartisan spending package, including the Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2019, to the President on September 13.

The Senate passed the $147.5 billion “minibus” with a 92-5 vote on September 12, after which the House of Representatives approved the legislation by a vote of 377-20. The Conference Committee Report accompanying the spending package directs $44.6 billion (+3 percent) to the Energy and Water accounts, which include the Department of Energy Office of Science ($6.6 billion, +325 million). The bill provides the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), targeted for elimination by President Trump, with $366 million (+$13 million). Several contentious policy riders were dropped from the House version of the bill, including one that would have repealed the Obama-era Clean Water Rule. The White House has not indicated yet if the President will sign the bill into law.

Lawmakers are rushing to complete work on FY 2019 appropriations before the new fiscal year begins on October 1 in order to avoid a government shutdown, or a return to stop-gap spending plans to keep the lights on. A conference committee approved the Defense-Labor-Health spending package on September 13. It is currently unclear whether a deal on the Interior-Transportation-Agriculture-Financial Services spending package, will be reached soon or if the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior will have to operate under a continuing resolution to start with.

Lawmakers have proposed stop-gap funding in the form of a continuing resolution (CR) to provide level funding for agencies that do not have new spending approved by October 1. The stop-gap measure would likely include funding for the Commerce-Justice-Science, State-Foreign Operations, and Homeland Security spending bills. The CR would ensure funding until December 7, indicating that Congress will have a lame-duck session after the elections to wrap up FY 2019 appropriations.

According to E&E News, lawmakers believe that President Trump will eventually agree to defer negotiations on border wall funding in order to prevent a shutdown if Congress approves bipartisan spending bills for most federal agencies by the end of September.

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Nominations Sought for National Academies Panel on Biological Collections

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Board on Life Sciences (BLS) is seeking experts to serve on a committee that will review the contributions of biological collections in research and education.

The expert panel will examine both living organisms and preserved biodiversity specimens that are supported by the National Science Foundation. The committee will study the major advances in the use of collections in the last ten years, determine the biggest challenges in maintaining collections, recommend innovative ways in which biological collections can be utilized in the future, and suggest strategies for their sustained support of research and education.

The study entitled, “Biological Collections: Their Past, Present, and Future Contributions and Options for Sustaining Them,” requires experts with backgrounds in biodiversity, marine science, ecology, environmental science, and evolutionary biology, and experience with collection curation and management.

The deadline for submitting nominations is September 21, 2018. Self-nominations are accepted.

Nominations can be submitted at https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/4558967/Nominate-an-Expert-NASEM-Study-on-Biological-Collections?utmsource=Division+on+Earth+and+Life+Studies&utmcampaign=ae8a59f74e-EMAILCAMPAIGN201809060755&utmmedium=email&utmterm=03c0b1ad5c8-ae8a59f74e-233941497&mccid=ae8a59f74e&mc_eid=a271cda812.

To receive updates about the study, subscribe at https://nationalacademies.us19.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=126022b3c9b5339309157088a&id=f2f3c4827d

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Fire at Brazil's National Museum Destroys Millions of Science Collections

A massive fire at Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro has resulted in the loss of about 20 million artefacts, including science and natural history collections. Details of the extent of the damage are still emerging, but a large insect collection of nearly 5 million specimens has reportedly been lost. The herbarium, which houses about 650,000 plant specimens, had moved to a separate building in 2007 and was spared from the fire.

“It’s an irreparable loss, not only for Brazilian science but for the world. The building can be reconstructed, restored, and everything else, but the collections can never be replaced. Two centuries of science and culture are lost forever,” said Sergio Alex Kugland de Azevedo, a paleozoologist and former Director of the museum.

The museum served as a major research institution and housed items such as the first fossil discovered in Brazil, the oldest female skull found in the Americas, and the Brazil’s largest meteorite.

Infrastructural limitations made it challenging to suppress the flames in the museum full of flammable materials such as wood and paper. There were no sprinkler systems in the museum and very limited water was available in the fire hydrants, forcing fire fighters to carry in water from a nearby lake.

The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) managed the museum with financial support from the federal government. Science reported that the scientific community in Brazil blames “chronic underfunding” for the disaster. “We all knew something like this was going to happen sooner or later; it was just a matter of time,” said anthropologist Walter Neves, a retired Professor at the University of São Paulo (USP). “The museum was completely abandoned, left to rot by the disdain and carelessness of public authorities. I am in complete grief,” he said. A recent Viewpoint article in BioScience, discussed the growing pressures on global biodiversity research as a result of science budget cuts in Brazil.

In an Op-Ed written for the LA Times, Dr. John McCormack, Associate Professor of Biology at NSC Alliance member Occidental College and the Director and Curator of the Moore Laboratory of Zoology, warned that such an incident can also happen in the U.S. He argued that, “The infrastructure of [American] public museums is crumbling too.” He added, “If this tragic event can teach us anything, it’s that we must reinvest in our public museums.”

In the Op-Ed, McCormack points to the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is a significant financer for museums, and the Biological Survey Unit, a group of scientists who curate and maintain a million biological specimens in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “This is a recipe for the kind of catastrophe that took place in Brazil. After years of paltry funding, one rare accident can easily become a disaster,” he warned.

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Representatives Lamborn and Gonzalez Receive USGS Coalition Award

Representatives Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) were honored with the 2018 USGS Coalition Leadership Award at a Capitol Hill ceremony and public reception on September 12, 2018. The award recipients were recognized for their support of the mission of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which includes biological research programs.

Representative Lamborn was recognized for his work in seeking to reauthorize the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program and his work on the House Committee on Natural Resources. He is serving his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Colorado’s fifth district.

Representative Gonzalez cosponsored the IMAGES (Improvement of Mapping Addresses, Geography, Elevations and Structures) Act, which aims to strengthen the USGS National Streamflow Information Program and benefit flood risk mapping and assessment. He is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives and represents Texas’ fifteenth district.

AIBS is a founding member of the USGS Coalition, an alliance of more than 80 scientific, professional, and educational organizations united by a commitment to the continued vitality of the USGS, which conducts vital biological, geological, geographic, and hydrologic research.

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New International Project to Map Genomes of Thousands of Species

A new international project, with members from more than 50 institutions and 12 countries, will attempt to map genomes of all 66,000 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish on Earth. Scientists working with the Genome 10K effort announced the launch of the “Vertebrate Genomes Project” on September 13.

The group has released the first 15 genome maps, including the Canada lynx, the kakapo, a flightless parrot native to New Zealand, the duck-billed platypus, two bat species, and the zebra finch. The scientists assert that the project could help inform future conservation efforts of endangered species and save animals from extinction.

Sadye Paez, Program Director for the project, said that sequencing the genome of tens of thousands of animals could easily take 10 years but the project was an effort to “essentially communicate a library of life.”

The Vertebrate Genome Project will contribute to the larger, but similar, Earth BioGenome Project, which seeks to catalog the genomes for 1.5 million species.

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200 Scientists Participate in 2018 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits

Across the country, biologists have been meeting with their lawmakers this summer and fall as part of AIBS’s 2018 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits. In its tenth year, this national science advocacy event enables scientists to meet with their federal or state elected officials in their local community. Over 200 individuals from 34 states are participating this year.

“I had a great experience with the AIBS Congressional District Visit Day. As a graduate student this training is so vital to the development of civically engaged scientists,” said Alexandra Chirakos, a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame. “We had our meeting with Rep. Walorski’s office here in Indiana’s Second District. It is often very difficult for wet lab Biologists to be away from the lab for the few days it would take to go to Washington. Being in our home district for the meeting was so ideal. The district director seemed pleasantly surprised to hear how much NSF funding the state of Indiana receives.”

The event is made possible by AIBS, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Naturalists, 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.

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AIBS Research Examines Validity of Peer Review

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) recently published a literature review summarizing the results of empirical tests on the validity of peer review decisions using impact measures of investigator output. These results were published as part of a research topic for the journal Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics.

Peer review is used commonly across science as a tool to evaluate the merit of research projects and to make funding recommendations. However, there is relatively little evaluation of whether peer reviewers are choosing the best, most impactful research projects.

AIBS found that fewer than 50 studies have investigated this; less than half of these looked at U.S. funders. Although the majority of these studies suggested reviewers could accurately discern good and bad proposals, most suggested that reviewers are much less effective at separating good from great research projects. Of note, most of these studies focused largely on how much a project or applicant is cited in the literature. It is suggested that this should be supplemented with other metrics of success to obtain a more accurate picture of the impact a research project has had.

The article can be accessed here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frma.2018.00022/full

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Collections and Education - Upcoming BCoN Webinar

The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) will convene a series of webinar programs in 2018 to share information about BCoN activities with the community and to receive community input on prior and pending BCoN programs. These webinars will include a formal presentation followed by an opportunity for participants to ask questions and share information. All programs will be recorded and posted to the BCoN website.

The next program will be on September 19 and will focus on new opportunities for education and outreach as a result of natural history collections and the mobilization of specimen and occurrence-based data.

Click here for more information regarding the webinar series and to register.

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Learn to Communicate and Influence like a Pro: 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’s 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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Deadline Approaching: 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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