AIBS Urges Arizona State Board of Education to Reject Draft Science Standards

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) asked the Arizona State Board of Education on September 20 to reject recently proposed science standards. The draft standards had been revised in their final stage of development by a specially appointed committee, resulting in changes to the treatment of evolution and climate change science.

AIBS expressed its concern that the draft standards “fail to properly address important aspects of evolution science and remove climate change science from the high school curricula,” and requested that the standards be revised by “science and science education experts.” AIBS further warned that, “Arizona will jeopardize its prior investments and future economic opportunities if it waters down science standards by eliminating essential scientific concepts and fields of study to placate political interests.”

Read the letter: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20180920letterto_arizo.html

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EPA to Merge Science Adviser and Science Policy Offices

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to merge the Office of the Science Adviser with the Office of Science Policy as a part of the agency’s overhaul of the Office of Research and Development (ORD), according to multiple reports. The ORD staff were informed about the plan by ORD leadership on September 26, 2018.

The Hill newspaper reports that offices with “similar functions” will be moved into two new offices — the Office of Resource Management, focused on administrative functions, and the Office of Science Integration and Policy, focused on science.

The Office of the Science Advisor provides science advise across EPA on policy development and implementation issues. It houses two dozen employees and includes the agency’s Scientific Integrity Office and the Science and Technology Policy Council. The Office of Science Policy is responsible for incorporating ORD’s science and technology efforts into EPA’s regulations and policies.

Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science and the current EPA Science Adviser, said in a statement that the plan was developed “to combine offices with similar functions in order to reduce redundancies in ORD operations.” She added, “ORD has briefed the Administrator on those plans and held a town hall in September to announce the result of their work and proposed plan to staff.” She indicated that the Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator for ORD “has customarily served as the EPA Science Advisor which will continue to be the case.” The Administration has yet to nominate a Head for ORD.

The reorganization would also shutter the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), which focuses on testing the effects of chemical exposure on adults and children. NCER provides support through the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) program to the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers, which work on developing methods to reduce children’s health risks from environmental factors. The official said that “relevant functions” of NCER, including STAR grants management, will be merged with the new science office.

The scientific community views the reorganization as a move to diminish science advice within the agency. According to Michael Halpern, Deputy Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, “Any time you try to merge science and policy functions there tends to be confusion. That’s why a lot of the laws EPA implements like the Clean Air Act have separate sections for the science and the policy.” He added, “Muddying the waters makes it much easier for the science to be politicized or misrepresented.”

The agency has yet to announce when the merger will occur and who will lead the new offices. However, EPA told The Hill that there would be no reductions of full-time staff as a result of the reorganization.

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Congress Averts Government Shutdown

The House has approved and sent a $853 billion spending bill to President Trump in an attempt to avert a partial government shutdown. The spending package includes a stop-gap funding measure in the form of a continuing resolution (CR), which provides level funding for agencies that do not have new spending approved by October 1.

The House approved the “minibus” by a 361-61 vote on September 26. The Senate had approved the bill a week earlier. President Trump has agreed to sign the measure saying, “We’re going to keep the government open.”

The spending package includes fiscal year (FY) 2019 Defense, Labor-Health and Human Services, and Education spending bills along with the stop-gap CR. The CR provides funding for Interior-EPA, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Financial Services, Commerce-Justice-Science, State-Foreign Operations, and Homeland Security, until December 7. There will be a lame-duck session after the November elections to finish work on FY 2019 appropriations.

This is the second spending package that Congress has sent to the President. The first included the Energy-Water, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Legislative Branch spending bills for FY 2019 and was signed into law by President Trump on September 21.

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HHS Launches Review of Fetal Tissue Research

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement on September 24, 2018 announcing that it has launched a review of all research and acquisitions involving human fetal tissue. The agency, which funds through the National Institutes of Health a significant portion of U.S. biomedical research, indicated that it will look into adequate alternatives to the use of human fetal tissue in HHS funded research and will ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded.

According to the statement, “HHS has initiated a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved.”

HHS has also terminated a contract with the company Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) of Alameda, California, which supplied fetal tissue to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for drug-testing research. HHS cancelled the contract because it was “not sufficiently assured that the contract included the appropriate protections applicable to fetal tissue research or met all other procurement requirements.”

FDA had awarded a one-year contract to ABR in July 2018. Under the contract, the fetal tissue supplied by ABR would be implanted by FDA researchers into mice that lacked immune systems in order to develop human-like immune systems, which could then be used by the researchers to test the safety and efficacy of drugs.

The statement from HHS was released after 85 U.S. Representatives sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on September 17 expressing concerns that ABR may have violated laws by selling “the body parts of children” for a profit. “The practice of conducting research using the body parts of children whose lives have been violently ended by abortion is abhorrent. We urge you to cancel this contract immediately and to utilize alternative, modern scientific techniques that do not contribute to the trafficking in baby body parts,” wrote the lawmakers.

The HHS statement does not provide any details about the review process, raising questions about its motivations. Ross McKinney, Chief Scientific Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges said, “Fetal tissue research is already subject to a robust ethical and legal framework and research that continues to meet those standards should be continued,” according to Science.

According to Nature, Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, said, “I think the question is whether there’s an attempt to politicize this or whether we can keep to straight scientific and medical merit.” He added, “Scientists are simply asking, if you’re going to throw the tissue away anyway, can you at least donate it to important medical research?” Goldstein is concerned that such restrictions on fetal tissue research could harm research on human development and organ regeneration since it cannot be replaced with animal research.

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NSF Announces New Sexual Harassment Policy

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a policy on September 19, 2018 that requires its 2,000 awardee institutions to report any sexual harassment findings starting October 21, 2018. Under the new policy, universities would be required to notify the agency if any NSF-funded principal investigators or co-principal investigators have committed harassment, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, or have been placed on administrative leave due to such actions.

NSF will work with the awardee institution to determine the agency’s action, which could include “substituting or removing principal investigators or co-principal investigators, reducing award funding, and — where neither of those options is available or adequate — suspending or terminating awards.”

NSF proposed the policy earlier this year in February and invited public comments in an attempt to address rising concerns over sexual harassment in science. Dr. France A. Córdova, Director of NSF, said: “The NSF is committed to ensuring the safety and security of the people our awards support. We are committed to a nurturing research environment. One that is encouraging and supportive of all researchers. We have heard the voices of the wider community and have responded. We will continue to listen and to take action as a federal granting agency. NSF has no tolerance for harassment.”

More information on the new policy can be found here: https://www.nsf.gov/od/odi/harassment.jsp

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Scientific Societies Express Support for President's OSTP Director Nominee

Forty scientific societies, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, have sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), expressing support for the President’s nominee for the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The letter reads in part: “The President faces a wide range of domestic and international challenges, from protecting national and energy security, to ensuring U.S. economic competitiveness, curing diseases, bolstering agriculture and responding to natural disasters. These challenges share one thing in common: the need for scientific knowledge and technological expertise to address them successfully.”

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the nomination of Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier as the OSTP Director on September 5, along with James Morhard as Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The societies urged Senate leaders to quickly vote on the nomination. “A swift confirmation process would allow the OSTP Director to quickly begin the vital work, with executive branch colleagues, of coordinating and determining effective ways to use science and technology to address major national challenges.”

Read the multi-society letter: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20180919multi-societyl_2.html

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Researchers Use Gene Editing to Eliminate Mosquitoes in Lab

Researchers at the Imperial College London have demonstrated the use of gene drives to completely eliminate populations of mosquitoes known to transmit malaria. Gene drives are a form of genetic engineering that involves spreading a gene or cluster of genes through a population.

The research, published in Nature Biotechnology, reported the eradication of confined populations of Anopheles gambiae by blocking female reproduction using the gene editing technique known as CRISPR.

Dr. Crisanti, the corresponding author on the study, said, “2016 marked the first time in over two decades that malaria cases did not fall year-on-year despite huge efforts and resources, suggesting we need more tools in the fight.”

The research group will now test the technique on larger populations of mosquitoes under more real-world conditions by bringing into play competition for food and other ecological factors.

“It will still be at least 5-10 years before we consider testing any mosquitoes with gene drive in the wild, but now we have some encouraging proof that we’re on the right path,” said Crisanti. “Gene drive solutions have the potential one day to expedite malaria eradication by overcoming the barriers of logistics in resource-poor countries.”

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NSF, Boeing Announce Partnership on Workforce Development and Diversity in STEM

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Boeing have announced a $21 million partnership to increase diversity and provide training in critical skills to the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Boeing will invest a total of $11 million, out of which $10 million will support NSF’s development and implementation of online curricula at the community college, undergraduate, graduate and professional levels. The remaining $1 million will be a gift to the NSF INCLUDES “Big Idea” initiative, which is focused on increasing the number of women in STEM fields.

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Develop the Skills Required to Secure Employment

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’s 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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AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists: Only a Few Spots Remaining

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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Last Chance to 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

  • Representative Francis Rooney (R-FL) has introduced a resolution that states the need to proactively plan and prepare for sea-level rise, hurricanes, and other climate change related risks. Representative Rooney said that those risks are especially prevalent in his home state and that he introduced the resolution to "fire up necessary conversations about this pressing situation."
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved President Trump's nominee, Alex Beehler, to be the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. Beehler previously worked at the Pentagon as Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health. He has also worked for the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency and has served as the Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for Koch Industries Inc. Beehler said at his confirmation hearing that he "absolutely" agrees with Defense Secretary James Mattis that climate affects the military and national security.

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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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