AIBS Helps AERC Brief Lawmakers

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) helped the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers (AERC) brief lawmakers about the role of ecosystem science in securing freshwater resources, including information about saltwater intrusion and the availability of small sources of freshwater across landscapes. The speakers discussed the ramifications of recent and potential changes to the Clean Water Rule, and the current efforts underway in using ecosystems science to restore and protect ecosystems in the California Delta and the Greater Everglades.

AIBS also provided AERC members with communications and policy training and helped organize meetings for AERC members with lawmakers. The briefing was attended by congressional aides, Federal agency staff, Congressional Research Service staff, and representatives of scientific and non-governmental organizations.

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Interior Announces "Open Science" Policy

The Department of the Interior (DOI) has adopted a new policy it contends will improve transparency and public access to scientific research. The “open science” order was signed by Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on September 28, 2018. Similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule “Increasing Transparency in Regulatory Science,” DOI’s order requires that scientific data used in policy decisions be reproducible and made publicly accessible.

“Any decision that is based on scientific conclusions that are not supported by publicly available raw data, analysis, or methodology, have not been peer reviewed, or are not readily reproducible should include an explanation of why such science is the best available information,” states the order. Interior officials said that the policy would boost public confidence in the agency’s decision-making and increase accountability.

“This order came about in response to perennial concerns that the department has not been providing sufficient information to the public to explain how and why it reaches certain conclusions, or that it is cherry picking science to support pre-determined outcomes,” said Interior spokesperson Faith Vander Voort. “The goal is for the department to play with its cards face-up, so that the American people can see how the department is analyzing important public policy issues and be confident that it is using the best information available to inform its decisions.”

The order could restrict how DOI agencies use certain research findings and will set new data disclosure requirements for Interior grant recipients.

The new order allows for exceptions and states that the data requirements may be “waived, in whole or in part, by the Deputy Secretary upon a written determination that a waiver is necessary and the least restrictive means of protecting privacy, confidentiality, including confidential business information and trade secrets; national security, and homeland security.”

The order has been criticized as a move to restrict the use of scientific findings in decision-making at Interior. “The ‘Promoting Open Science’ order signed on Friday should be named the ‘Removing Science from DOI’ order, as it simply slashes agencies’ ability to rely on, conduct and analyze science under a pretense of increased transparency,” said Tina Swanson, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Science Center.

“They want everything publicly accessible, including the raw data, and that just doesn’t happen with peer-reviewed science, because that just doesn’t tell you anything,” said Charise Johnson, a researcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It also makes it look like they don’t trust their own scientists’ work.”

Unlike the EPA’s proposed “secret science” rule, which involved a public comment period, DOI’s order became effective immediately.

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UN Report Issues Warning on Climate Change

The United Nation’s (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have issued a new climate change report that warns about unprecedented temperature increase between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues.

IPCC is an international consortium of leading scientists from 40 countries that assesses the science related to climate change. These assessments are intended to provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate-related policies.

The IPCC report was mandated after a 2015 U.N. summit, where the Paris climate accord was signed. The agreement set a goal of keeping global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to further limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The new report sets a more ambitious 1.5 degrees as the safe limit.

For this report, the IPCC reviewed 6,000 scientific studies to assess the difference between a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures and a two degree increase. According to the findings, a two degrees Celsius increase could have significantly larger impacts on ecosystems, human health, and well-being, with small islands and developing countries being the most vulnerable. The report predicts that there could be global food shortages, significant flooding of coastal areas, and an unprecedented refugee crisis by 2040.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to 2 degrees would reduce the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred millions by 2050,” said Hans-Otto Portner, a co-author of the report and co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group II.

The report suggests that it is still possible to avoid the disastrous consequences of warming if immediate and aggressive action is taken. Earth is currently one degree Celsius above the baseline and maintaining safe levels would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions” to the world economy. The global greenhouse gas emissions would need to be cut by 45 percent by 2030 and the world would need to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

The report’s warnings have been dismissed by Republican lawmakers. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) suggested that the findings are misinterpreted and exaggerated. “I think that they continue to use scare tactics — those efforts are what we see in this report,” said Barrasso. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a known climate-science denier, called the IPCC “prejudiced.” He added that the U.N. was “formed to sell this in the first place.”

The White House also brushed aside the report’s findings with the assertion that the country’s emissions have dropped since 2005. “From 2005 to 2017, U.S. CO2-related emissions declined by 14 percent while global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 21 percent during the same time…This has been possible through the development and large-scale deployment of new, affordable, and cleaner technologies to capitalize on our energy abundance,” said White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters.

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NASEM Report: NASA Should Expand Astrobiology Research

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recommends that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) should expand its astrobiology research missions to advance the search for life in the universe. The call was issued in a new report, “An Astrobiology Strategy for the Search of Life in the Universe”.

According to the report, “NASA should support research on a broader range of biosignatures and environments, and incorporate the field of astrobiology into all stages of future exploratory missions.” Biosignatures are the lines of evidence used by researchers to search for current and past life on Earth and beyond.

“An updated, more sophisticated catalog and framework will be important to enhance our ability to detect both life that might be similar to terrestrial life, and potential life that differs from life as we know it. The latter will be enabled by investigating novel “agnostic” biosignatures - signs of life that are not tied to a particular metabolism or molecular “blueprint,” or other characteristics of life as we currently know it,” reads the press release.

The report also indicated that an interdisciplinary approach to astrobiology would produce a better understanding of life on Earth and other planets and urged NASA to work towards reducing any barriers to collaborative research. Collaborations with private, philanthropic, and international organizations, including international space agencies, would also be crucial for such research.

The congressionally mandated reported was supported by funding from NASA. Read the report: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25252/an-astrobiology-strategy-for-the-search-for-life-in-the-universe

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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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Enhance your Interdisciplinary and Team Science Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an inter-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was designed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team, with scientific case studies and examples.

This course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

The program will be held on January 14-15, 2019 in Washington DC. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html

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Short Takes

  • President Trump has signed a bipartisan bill to address the problem of trash in oceans. The "Save Our Seas Act" reauthorizes and amends the Marine Debris Act and extends the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Marine Debris Program through fiscal year 2022. The bill promotes international action to reduce trash in oceans and gives the NOAA Administrator the authority to declare severe marine debris events. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).
  • David Dunlop, a former Koch Industries chemical engineer, has been appointed to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Research and Development as Deputy Chief. The position does not require Senate confirmation. Dunlop, who worked for Koch Industries for more than eight years, will replace Richard Yamada, a former staff member on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
  • According to a report by The Hill newspaper, the Department of the Interior (DOI) fired, suspended, or reprimanded more than 1,500 employees on grounds of harassment or misconduct between 2017 and 2018. Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt stated that this was part of the department's effort to enforce accountability. In October 2017, DOI had announced a plan to address sexual harassment within the National Park Service, where almost 40 percent of the employees had reported instances of harassment in the previous year. A December 2017 survey suggested that 35 percent of DOI employees were either harassed or discriminated against in the year before.
  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has advanced legislation that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill was introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC). Similar legislation was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources in September 2018. Authorization for LWCF expired on September 30 but Congress has approved $487.6 million for the program in fiscal year 2018. LWCF was established in 1964 to use revenues from offshore oil and gas to support the conservation of land and water resources.

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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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