The Draft Brexit Deal and Science

A draft Brexit deal detailing the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has been agreed upon by Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet and now requires Parliament’s approval. The impact of the draft agreement on science is not fully known, but “science and innovation” are referenced as a “basis for cooperation” on which a future agreement will be developed, according to a report in Nature.

Under the current plan, visa-free travel may be possible for short visits to and from European Union (EU) member states. This would be beneficial to researchers travelling for conferences and collaboration. The draft agreement would also allow EU citizens currently living in the United Kingdom (UK), including researchers and their families, to claim permanent residence. However, it is unclear if EU scientists would be able to work in the UK in the future. Many other details of interest to the scientific community, including details about the UK’s future immigration policies and participation in major EU research-funding programs, have yet to be resolved.

Reports indicate that members of Parliament are divided over the draft deal, with Prime Minister May expecting a fight to get the agreement approved. Support for the plan even within her Cabinet has weakened with two members resigning. If the agreement is rejected by Parliament, the EU and UK will be forced to renegotiate new terms before the March 29, 2019 deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU.

If no agreement is reached before Britain’s departure from the EU, UK scientists will lose access to three major funding streams under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research funding program that make up 45 percent of research funding received by UK organizations since 2014. A no-deal Brexit might also mean uncertainty in the import and export of scientific supplies and equipment. “It is time for an end to the uncertainty that has been damaging science and every other part of life in the UK,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society in London. “The threat of a chaotic no-deal Brexit cannot be considered an option.”

After the March 29 departure, Britain will enter a transition period that ends December 21, 2020. If the agreement is approved, UK scientists will remain eligible for research grants under Horizon 2020 during the transition period until the program ends. However, UK’s participation in the next EU funding program, Horizon 2021, will be determined in a later trade agreement after March 2019.

Once the draft Brexit deal is approved by the Parliament, it will be reviewed by the European Parliament and will require the approval of a majority of member states. According to Beth Thompson, Head of UK and EU policy at the Wellcome Trust, if the deal is agreed to, the research community will need to push for an agreement on science as soon as possible. “This could be an important early win for the UK and EU, whose ambitions for science are closely aligned.”

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NSF Lifts Proposal Cap for BIO

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has rescinded its decision to limit researchers to only one proposal submission per year to NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate’s (BIO) three core programs as a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI.

In October 2017, BIO had announced a no-deadline system for proposal submissions with the goal to reduce the number of rejected proposals that were later resubmitted without major changes and to encourage collaborations between scientists. The policy of limiting the number of proposals that a PI or Co-PI could submit to a given division annually was implemented in August 2018 with the objective of “ensuring that BIO’s merit review process would not be overwhelmed with the move to no deadlines.” Under the policy, researchers were restricted to submitting only one proposal each to the three core programs, namely the Divisions of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Integrative Organismal Systems, and Environmental Biology, and two proposals to Division of Biological Infrastructure. In addition, researchers could submit one proposal to the Rules of Life track each year.

The biological research community was critical of the policy and expressed concerns that the limits would hamper collaboration and discourage early-career scientists.

On November 15, Dr. Joanne Tornow, Acting Assistant Director of BIO issued a statement announcing that BIO will reverse the policy because of concerns expressed by the community. “BIO places a high value on collaboration and on fostering careers of new investigators; thus, we held internal discussions to consider ways to address these concerns. In addition, relatively few proposals have been submitted to BIO since the release of the solicitations,” said Tornow. “Having listened to community concern and tracked the current low rate of submission, and following extensive internal consultation, BIO is lifting all PI or co-PI restrictions on proposal submission for FY 2019, effective immediately.”

Science Insider reported that the decision was welcomed by the research community. “It’s a big credit to Joanne [Tornow] and Alan Tessier [Deputy Assistant Director of BIO] that they were willing to have so many phone calls and conversations with us,” said Kenneth Halanych, a zoologist at Auburn University in Alabama and one of the 70 researchers who wrote to the agency.

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Report Calls on Congress to Protect Science

A report endorsed by 16 organizations, including Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, Government Accountability Project, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls on Congress to protect science at Federal agencies.

The report entitled, Protecting Science at Federal Agencies: How Congress Can Help, outlines several priorities for Congressional oversight. It details “new and ongoing threats to the communication of science and its use in public health and environmental decisions” and suggests steps that Congress can take to address these.

Issues highlighted in the report include politicization of science within agencies; threats to scientific advisory committees and science advice; unqualified and conflicted government leaders; constraints on the communication of science; whistleblowing and scientific integrity; and low-information approaches to enforcement of existing public health and environmental laws.

The report recommends steps that Congress can take to protect scientific integrity, such as holding hearings to expose political interference in science and to ensure accountability; using the appropriations process to protect the scientific enterprise and prevent politicization of science; passing legislation that codifies protections for science; and expanding protections for Federal whistleblowers.

The report is available at https://www.whistleblower.org/sites/default/files/Protecting%20Science%20at%20Federal%20Agencies.pdf

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Bulletin of Mathematical Biology Addresses Reproducibility in Life Sciences

The December issue of the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology explores the topic of reproducibility in the life sciences. The issue features five invited articles that address various facets of the reproducibility problem in life sciences research and propose some solutions.

In recent years, the life sciences community has grappled with issues associated with reproducibility in biological research. “Reasons for the lack of reproducibility range from a simple lack of sufficient metadata about the experiments all the way to selective reporting of experimental results by the investigators. The issues unfortunately are not limited to the experimental sciences, but also apply to computational research,” according to Reinhard Laubenbacher and Alan Hastings - who penned an editorial introducing the special section.

Some proposed solutions offered in the issue include implementing significant changes in peer review culture and modernizing the current publication approach. The editorial calls on scientific journals to play a crucial role in addressing the problem by ensuring that sufficient information is provided to reproduce reported results.

The Bulletin of Mathematical Biology is published by the Society for Mathematical Biology, an AIBS Member Organization. The articles may be referenced from: https://link.springer.com/journal/11538/80/12/page/1

Aspects of reproducibility were also explored during the 2016 meeting of the AIBS Council of Member Societies and Organizations. Read an article summarizing this meeting in May 2017 issue of BioScience (https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix034).

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Call for Applications: 2019 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Are you a science graduate student looking to make a difference in science policy and funding? The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is now accepting applications for the 2019 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who are demonstrating an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and policy.

Recipients of the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award receive:

  • A trip to Washington, DC, to participate in the AIBS Congressional Visits Day, an annual event where scientists meet with lawmakers to advocate for federal investment in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The event will be held on March 18-20, 2019. Domestic travel and hotel expenses are paid for the winners.
  • Policy and communications training, including information on the legislative process and trends in federal science funding, and how to engage with policymakers and the news media.
  • Meetings with lawmakers to discuss the importance of federal investment in the biological sciences.
  • A one-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.”

The 2019 award is open to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior recipients, including Honorable Mentions, are not eligible for the award.

Applications are due by 05:00 PM Eastern Time on January 14, 2019. The application guidelines can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Deadline Extended: Employment Acquisition Skills Boot Camp for Scientists

The deadline for registration has been extended 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

  • The 2018 meeting of the AIBS Council of Member Societies and Organizations, Next Gen International Biology, will be held in Washington, DC, on December 5-6, 2018. AIBS Council Representatives may now register for the meeting.

  • President Trump has announced he will nominate Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler to be the next EPA Administrator. Wheeler is a former energy lobbyist and has previously served as a Republican aide to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Wheeler was confirmed as the Deputy Administrator in April 2018 and took over as Acting Administrator when former Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July.

  • Three Democratic committee leaders on House committees that have jurisdiction over climate issues have announced plans to hold a series of hearings over a two-day period early in 2019 to "assess the effects of climate change and the need for action." The announcement was made by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Natural Resources Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), and Science, Space and Technology Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). "Our committees plan to work closely together to aggressively assess the public health, economic and environmental impacts of climate change and to explore the best solutions to combat this challenge," they said.

  • Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) is likely to lead the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. The panel has jurisdiction over fisheries management and research, oceanography, and marine sanctuaries, among other issues. Representative Huffman has indicated that he will oppose any efforts to undermine federal fishing laws and will try to block the Trump Administration from allowing more offshore oil drilling and seismic testing.

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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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