More Chaos as President Threatens Government Shutdown and Defense Secretary Resigns

A year that began amid a swirl of chaos is set to conclude in an intensifying swirl of disorder and uncertainty. As the number of active investigations into the President and his administration grew, the President continued to run to the security of his political base. Following the recent announcement that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly would leave his post with no successor being announced at the time, Trump invited news cameras to chronicle a theatrical exchange with congressional Democrats where the President happily proclaimed that he would shut down the federal government if Congress did not appropriate $5 billion dollars to build a border Mexico - a pledge that captured the ire of many Senate Republicans - particularly given that there are not enough votes in Congress to support the funding or the construction. The Senate thus passed a bipartisan appropriations bill to keep all government agencies open through February 8, 2019. The measure was set to be passed by the House and was expected to be signed by the President. Then, following the now predictable backlash from talking heads on Fox channel programs, the President reversed course vowing once again to shutter the government unless he received funding for a wall. The actions forced the House to then pass a perfunctory measure to provide the President’s desired $5 billion for a wall, but the plan has little to no chance of passing the Senate. Thus, when current legislation expires on February 21, it is increasingly likely that many government agencies will be shuttered beginning on February 22.

As if this level of chaos was insufficient, the President also announced plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan despite the counsel of defense and security officials and allies. These actions, among others, led Secretary of Defense Mattis to resign on December 20, 2018, offering a long letter highlighting substantial policy differences with the President. The Secretary’s resignation generated further concern among congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY), who offered a rare statement about administration actions by stating that he is “distressed” by the resignation of Mattis and the underlying policy concerns. As a review of the letter reveals, the concerns are not specific to the most recent actions related to Syria or Afghanistan, but about the President’s hostility toward allies and disrespect for long-standing security relationships and coalitions. Mattis further warned of the need for the U.S. to remain clear-eyed in its relationships with hostile nations. Florida’s Senator Rubio (R-FL) noted that the United States is poised to make a “series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries.”

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Trump Administration Proposes Revisions to WOTUS

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a revised definition for “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that would limit the number of wetlands and waterways that would receive federal protections under the Clean Water Act.

Under the new proposal, six types of water resources will qualify for federal protections, including traditionally navigable waters, tributaries, impoundments, wetlands adjacent to traditionally navigable waters, some ditches, and some lakes and ponds. The new definition also covers streams and creeks that flow year-round or intermittently into larger downstream waters, including navigable waters and other tributaries to them. EPA Office of Water chief David Ross indicated that the new definition would specifically apply to intermittent or perennial streams that contribute flow to navigable waters in a “typical year,” referring to a rolling 30-year average.

The proposed definition would remove federal protections for ephemeral streams that flow only after heavy rainfall or snowmelt, and wetlands without surface water connections to larger waterways or wetlands, such as those separated from tributaries by land, dikes or other features. E&E News reported that a 2017 presentation prepared by the EPA and Army Corps shows that the proposed rule would remove federal protections for more than 18 percent of streams and 51 percent of wetlands.

“Our new, more precise definition means that hardworking Americans will spend less time determining whether they need a federal permit and more time upgrading aging infrastructure, building homes, creating jobs and growing crops to feed our families,” said Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Property owners should be able to stand on their property and be able to tell if a water is federal or not without hiring outside professionals.”

Some of the waterways that were protected under the Obama and George W. Bush Administrations would lose protections under the new proposed rule. The Obama Administration policy protected ephemeral streams if they had an identifiable bed, bank, and high-water mark. Under the Bush Administration, ephemeral streams were protected if they had a significant hydrologic or ecological connection to navigable waters.

After the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day public comment period. EPA and Army Corps will issue the final rule after reviewing all the comments received.

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Interior Secretary Zinke to Resign

President Trump has announced on Twitter that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is resigning at the end of December.

Secretary Zinke is the subject of multiple investigations by the Office of Inspector General, including investigations into his management and spending at the Department of the Interior as well his business dealings in his hometown. One investigation is also looking into alleged political interference. Zinke has criticized the investigations as being politically motivated.

“It is a great honor to serve the American people as their Interior Secretary. I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations. It is better for the President and Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations,” said Zinke.

Several candidates are being considered to replace Zinke as the Interior Secretary, including Deputy Secretary and former energy lobbyist David Bernhardt, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), Governor Matt Mead (R-WY), outgoing Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), and Representative Raúl Labrador (R-ID). Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) is also being considered for the position, but E&E News reported that she is not interested in leading the Department.

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Winners Selected in 2018 Faces of Biology Photo Contest

Three winners have been selected in the 2018 Faces of Biology Photo Contest, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

“We often hear from people that they do not really know what scientists do, or how it is done,” said Robert Gropp, Executive Director of AIBS. “This is why AIBS launched this competition 8 years ago. We want to inspire biologists to explore how to communicate their work to others through the medium of photography.”

The contest is an opportunity to showcase biological research in its many forms and settings. The photos are used to help the public and policymakers better understand the value of biological research and education.

Christopher Brown of the University of Miami Shark Research and Conservation program won first place; Joan Meiners, a graduate student at the University of Florida, won second place; and Zach Randall of the Florida Museum of Natural History won third place. View the winning entries here:

An upcoming issue of the journal BioScience will feature the first-place photograph on the cover and the second- and third-place photos in an article. All of the winners receive a one-year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. Christopher Brown will also receive $250.

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Participate in the 2019 Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences on March 25-27 for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

Meet with your members of Congress to help them understand the important role the federal government plays in supporting the biological sciences. Advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research supported by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.

Participants will complete a communications and advocacy training program provided by AIBS that prepares them to be effective advocates for their science. AIBS also provides participants with background information and materials, as well as arranges meetings with lawmakers.

Supplemental training program: In conjunction with the 2019 AIBS Congressional Visits Day, AIBS is offering its highly acclaimed Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This professional development training course will be offered on March 25-26. All participants who complete the course will receive priority access to the Congressional Visits Day program and a certificate of completion indicating that they have successfully completed 12 hours of communications training. This professional development training program provides practical instruction and interactive exercises designed to help scientists (e.g. researchers, graduate students, professionals, educators) translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to effectively engage with decision-makers and the news media.

Scientists and graduate students who are interested in communicating the importance of federal investments in scientific research and education to lawmakers are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Express your interest in participating in the event by registering. Registration will close on February 8, 2019. Space is limited and it may not be possible to accommodate the participation of all interested individuals. Individuals who register for the training program will be given preference when selecting participants for Congressional Visits Day.

Register at:

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Attention Graduate Students: Apply for the 2019 AIBS 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

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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

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Short Takes

  • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has announced that she will be holding hearings on climate change next year. "Where we have a role, I want the energy committee to be playing a role," she said referring to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Murkowski also expressed her support for scientists at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in Washington, DC, saying "Know that you've got an advocate in me for the geosciences in Congress."

  • According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), an annual survey of research degree recipients, U.S. institutions awarded 54,664 research doctorate degrees in 2017, a slight decline from 2016. The largest share of doctorates awarded in 2017 was in the life sciences (23 percent), followed by engineering (18 percent), and psychology and social sciences (17 percent). The report is published annually by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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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 to get started.

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