American Academy Offers Guidance for Use of Science During a Crisis

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Academy) has released a new report co-authored by Drs. Rita Colwell and Gary Machlis that offers best practices and identifies research and policy priorities for improving the use of science during a significant crisis.

“From earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and landslides to oil spills, wildfires, and floods, major disasters place profound stresses on the ability of our society to respond quickly and effectively to safeguard lives, health, and property,” wrote Academy President Jonathan Fanton in the report’s preface.

The number of significant, and expensive, crises is increasing, as noted by a disaster response professional from the American Red Cross during the rollout of the report.

Fanton further notes: “Scientists from a broad range of disciplines are critical for mounting an effective response to such crises… Yet while there has been considerable research on the role of science in predicting and preparing for disaster, less attention has been given to the application of science during disasters, including data collection, community engagement, and the integration of scientists into crisis response teams.”

The report, Science During Crisis: Best Practices, Research Needs, and Policy Priorities, is the result of a 2017 workshop convened by the Academy. Among the best practices offered is a call for agencies of government to have available funds for science during crisis. Additionally, emergency-response and scientific communities must increase and expand joint training to ensure they are prepared when a crisis occurs. At the onset of a crisis, “a central curated clearinghouse developed in advance should be activated to collect, disseminate, and coordinate relevant scientific information.”

A research agenda was suggested. There is a need to understand the best approaches for gathering, archiving and sharing baseline data that will be necessary for short- and long-term understanding of the environmental, human health, economic, and social dimensions of a crisis. Three is also a significant need for research that contributes to understanding cascading consequences to document and predict the complexity of environmental and social disasters, and to improve response and remediation strategies. Not surprisingly, given the dynamics of a crisis and the likely involvement of a diversity of scientific and engineering disciplines and expertise, research is required to better understand how to resolve conflicts and divergent opinions. Research is also needed to develop best practices for communications during crisis, assessing how science-based decisions are made, and how big data can be used to support science during a crisis.

Rounding out the report are calls for policy changes. Importantly, most states lack a chief science advisor - a senior government official with the authority and responsibility to facilitate science across government and between levels of government. Publishers of scientific journals must develop and implement policies that improve accessibility of scientific information during a crisis. Additionally, the report calls on the scientific community to develop a code of conduct that addresses ethical and professional practices to which scientists engaged in science during crisis would adhere. Federal agencies and academic institutions must ease administrative restrictions on collaboration, information sharing, and data collection to enable more effective science.

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Trump Proposes $1B Cut to NSF

The President has proposed a $7.1 billion budget fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which represents a 12.5 percent cut from its current funding level.

The President’s budget asserts that NSF would accelerate its progress on its “10 Big Ideas for Future Investments,” allocating support to high-priority areas that integrate science and engineering fields and create partnership opportunities with industry, private foundations, other federal agencies, and the education sector. The agency would provide $30 million to each of the six research-focused Big Ideas, that include Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL) - Predicting Phenotype; Navigating the New Arctic (NNA); The Future of Work at the Human Technology Frontier (FW-HTF); and Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR), among others, for a total of $180 million.

Research overall at NSF would be cut 13 percent. All research directorates across the agency would lose funding relative to the FY 2018 funding levels: Biological Sciences (BIO) would receive $683.4 million (-9.7 percent); Geosciences would get $787 million (-13.3 percent); Computer and Information Science and Engineering would get $883 million (-8.1 percent); Mathematical and Physical Sciences would receive $1.25 billion (-16.5 percent); Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences would get $230 million (-8.2 percent); and Office of Polar Programs would receive $403.4 million (-20 percent), while Integrative Activities would get $491 million (+4.2 percent).

Overall, BIO which provides 69 percent of federal funding for fundamental non-medical biological research at academic institutions, would allocate funding to its five divisions accordingly (numbers relative to FY 2018 funding):

  • Molecular and Cellular Biosciences: $125.8 million (-12.1 percent)
  • Integrative Organismal Systems: $169 million (-12.1 percent)
  • Environmental Biology: $141.7 million (-8.6 percent)
  • Biological Infrastructure: $163.2 million (-10 percent)
  • Emerging Frontiers: $83.8 million (-1.5 percent)

Major BIO investments include stewardship for Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL), Advanced Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Information Sciences (QIS), and Understanding the Brain (UtB), which includes the BRAIN initiative. URoL would emphasize research on how complex traits of organisms emerge from the interaction of its genetic makeup with the environment. In collaboration with the Engineering Directorate would support Advanced Manufacturing through investments in synthetic biology. Investments in Artificial Intelligence through the Division of Biological Infrastructure would focus on applying machine learning and genetic algorithms in biological research to solve problems such as genome sequence alignment and prediction of protein structure. The directorate would also increase funding for QIS through investments in fundamental research in biophysics to understand quantum phenomena within living systems.

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) would receive $62.6 million in FY 2020, a decrease of almost 8 percent from FY 2018. Workforce development programs within BIO would receive less funding, with a 9.8 percent cut to CAREER grants that support young investigators who excel as educators.

The Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate would receive a 9.5 percent budget cut. Within EHR, the Division of Graduate Education and the Division of Undergraduate Education would see their budgets cut. NSF’s investments in the STEM workforce investments would take a 15 percent hit, falling to $393 million.

Support for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) would decrease by 24.5 percent as a result of the completion of construction of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, and three Regional Class Research Vessels, which provide scientific infrastructure to enable better understanding of the impacts of storms, natural resource identification and extraction, and fisheries and aquaculture.

Support for Agency Operations and Award Management would receive a 2.2 percent boost, while the National Science Board would lose 6 percent.

Funding for NSF-wide cross-disciplinary initiatives would remain flat or decline in FY 2020. Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS), which supports research on the natural, social, and human-built factors involved in these interconnected systems, would receive $15 million, a 55 percent decrease from FY 2018. The NSF Innovation Corps, which improves researchers’ access to resources that help transfer knowledge to downstream technological applications, would receive $33 million (+0.5 percent). Understanding the Brain (UtB), which improves scientific understanding of the complexity and function of the brain, would receive $123.4 million in FY 2020, 22 percent below FY 2018.

Cross-cutting programs would receive funding cuts all across the board. The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network would receive $28.4 million, 3.5 percent below FY 2018. The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program would be slashed by 12.7 percent compared to FY 2018. Graduate Research Fellowships would be cut by 10 percent compared to FY 2018 to $257 million and support for NSF’s Research Traineeship program would decrease to $49.5 million. Support for Faculty early career development programs would also be cut by 13.2 percent compared to FY 2018.

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President Proposes Shrinking DOE Science Budget by 16 Percent

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would receive $31.7 billion in FY 2020, $3.8 billion below FY 2019 enacted appropriation. Within this, $5.5 billion (-16 percent) would be directed toward the Office of Science.

The request allocates 40 percent of Office of Science’s FY 2020 budget to research. Approximately 22,000 researchers are supported by grants from the Office of Science.

Funding for Biological and Environmental Research (BER) would be slashed by nearly 30 percent from the FY 2019 level to $494 million, with funds directed to research in foundational genomic sciences. The proposed level of funding for BER would be the lowest the program has received since FY 2007.

The FY 2020 request for Biological Systems Science prioritizes core research areas of genomic sciences, including new efforts in secure biosystems design, particularly genome-scale engineering tools, ongoing activities in systems biology and environmental genomics, and the four Bioenergy Research Centers. Overall, Biological Systems Science would receive $327 million, a decrease of 11 percent. The budget for foundational genomics research would increase by 11 percent to $100 million, which includes $20 million (+$16 million) for biosecurity research, an Administration priority for FY 2020. Support would decrease for environmental genomics (-48 percent) and computational biosciences (-50 percent), and the Bioenergy Research Centers would receive a flat budget of $100 million, resulting in an overall decrease for Genomic Science (-7.9 percent). The Biomolecular Characterization and Imaging Science account would receive a 29 percent cut and Biological Systems Facilities and Infrastructure would receive a 14 percent cut.

The budget would shrink for all three BER scientific user facilities, namely the Joint Genome Institute (-14 percent), the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Research Facility (-50 percent), and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (-11 percent).

Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences, formerly Climate and Environmental Sciences, would receive $167.6 million (-50 percent) in FY 2020, with funding reduced substantially for all accounts including atmospheric systems research (-$16 million), environmental system science (-$43.1 million), earth and environmental systems modeling (-$59.3 million), and facilities and infrastructure (-$45.5 million). Environmental system science supports the study of terrestrial ecosystems, including the Arctic.

Advanced scientific computing research would receive $921 million, a decrease of 1.5 percent, with $464 million targeted to the development of exascale computing. The budget for basic energy sciences would be slashed by $308 million (14 percent) to $1.86 billion, with funding directed towards fundamental energy research, development of clean energy technologies, the Energy Frontier Research Centers, two Energy Innovation Hubs, and five research centers for nanoscale science, among others.

Science Laboratories Infrastructure is slated to receive $164 million, a decrease of 30 percent, with the funds directed towards five new construction projects at the Brookhaven National Labs, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Large-Scale Collaboration Center, and six ongoing construction projects.

Workforce development for teachers and scientists would be cut by $2.5 million to $20 million, with funds targeted towards programs that place qualified students in STEM learning opportunities at Department of Energy laboratories as well as the National Science Bowl competition.

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USDA Research and Forest Service Slated for Cuts in FY 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is slated to receive $20.8 billion in FY 2020, $3.6 billion below FY 2019. The proposed budget for research, education, and economics at USDA is 8.2 percent below the FY 2019 level.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which partners with extramural academic institutions to conduct research, education, and extension activities, would receive $1.4 billion (-5 percent) in FY 2020. Within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive funding at $500 million (+20 percent) for competitive extramural research grants. Lower priority programs such as Renewable Resources Extension Act (-$4 million), Animal Health and Disease Research (-$4 million), Crop Protection and Pest Management Activities (-$20 million) and the Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative (-$8 million) would be eliminated. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, and Extension is slated to receive $19 million (-$18 million) in FY 2020. The Budget provides $9.5 million to relocate NIFA outside the National Capital Region.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.25 billion in FY 2020, $431 million below FY 2019. ARS conducts intramural research in the areas of natural and biological science. Funding for seven out of eight research areas within ARS would decrease, resulting in an overall budget of $1.08 billion (-$73 million). Research on livestock protection would increase by 6 percent. Research in support of environmental stewardship would receive $214 million (-$5 million). The budget includes $92.8 million to replace the Plum Island Disease Center with the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, a biocontainment facility for the study of foreign, emerging, and zoonotic animal diseases that pose a threat to United States animal agriculture and public health. This includes an increase of $33 million for operations and maintenance and other transition costs. The budget also includes an increase of $5 million to expand research on foreign animal diseases.

USDA Forest Service would receive $5.1 billion (-15.6 percent) in FY 2020. Funding for Forest Service research would decrease by 15 percent to $255 million. Research funding has generally been limited since FY 2010, when program funding hit a high of $312 million. The trend has reversed in recent years with Congress allocating $297 million in FY 2018 and $300 million in FY 2019.

The plan prioritizes research that identifies practical strategies and tactics to improve forest and rangeland condition, support community economic development, and help save lives and protect property from wildfires.

The budget proposes a new Forest Service National Research Plan (NRP), which re-directs the Forest Service’s research mission and identifies five emphasis areas: Inventory and Monitoring; Water and Biological Resources; Forest and Rangeland Management; Forest Products Innovations; and People and the Environment. Wildland fire would be the primary focus of the Forest and Rangeland Management emphasis area. Forest Service research would focus on the immediate needs of forest land managers and their partners, which include forest restoration, insect and disease management, wildland fire, and water quality and quantity.

A flat budget of $77 million is proposed for Forest Inventory and Analysis for the collection, coordination, and assessment of field inventory data across the country. The National Fire Plan (-$14.8 million) and Joint Fire Sciences Program (-$3 million) are slated for elimination in FY 2020, with the agency focusing on reducing wildland fire risk, contributing to the improvement of forest and grassland conditions, and contributing to rural economic prosperity.

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NASEM Study: Red Wolves Are a Distinct Species

A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) panel has found that the red wolf is a taxonomically distinct species from the Mexican gray wolf. The committee released its congressionally mandated report, Evaluating the Taxonomic Status of the Mexican Gray Wolf and the Red Wolf, on March 28, 2019.

In 2018, at the direction of Congress, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) asked NASEM to conduct an independent assessment of the taxonomic status of the red wolf and Mexican gray wolf. The study was mandated as a part of an appropriations bill passed in March 2018, in order to inform conservation actions under the Endangered Species Act.

“Over time … [lawmakers] heard lots of different stories about the red wolf and the Mexican gray wolf, and I think they wanted to put an end to all of the back-and-forth,” Elsa Haubold with the USFWS said during the committee’s first meeting. In 2017, USFWS had acknowledged “a lack of consensus” among scientists on whether the red wolf was a subspecies of the gray wolf or a separate species.

The report concludes that, “the historic red wolves constituted a taxonomically valid species” and that, “extant red wolves are distinct from the extant gray wolves and coyotes,” but also cautions that, “additional genomic evidence from historic specimens could change this assessment.” The study findings support USFWS’s current view that the red wolf is “a valid taxonomic species” and the Mexican gray wolf is “a valid taxonomic subspecies” of the gray wolf. Both wolves are listed as endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The findings … validate everything we’ve been doing to try to goad USFWS into taking better care of the remaining wild red wolves in North Carolina,” said Ron Sutherland, Chief Scientist at Wildlands Network, according to E&E News.

The nine-member NASEM research committee that conducted the assessment was chaired by Dr. Joseph Travis, Distinguished Professor of Biology at Florida State University and a Past President of AIBS.

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BCoN Report to Offer National Agenda for Biodiversity Collections Research and Education

The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) will release its new report, Extending U.S. Biodiversity Collections to Promote Research and Education, at 9:00 AM eastern time on April 4, 2019, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

You are invited to this event to learn more about this important report and what it means for science and society. The report is the outcome of a series of workshops and stakeholder conversations that BCoN has held over the past four years. Scientists familiar with the report have expressed enthusiasm for its recommendations.

This event is free and open to the public. Space is limited. Individuals confirmed to attend this briefing will be notified by e-mail by April 3, 2019.

Location: National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20045

Time: 9:00 - 10:00 AM

Date: April 4, 2019

Briefing participants include:

  • Dr. John Bates, The Field Museum of Natural History
  • Mr. Andrew Bentley, Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas
  • Dr. Linda Ford, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology
  • Dr. Robert Gropp, American Institute of Biological Sciences
  • Mr. David Jennings, iDigBio
  • Dr. Anna Monfils, Central Michigan University
  • Dr. Barbara Thiers, New York Botanical Garden
  • Dr. Jennifer Zaspel, Milwaukee Public Museum

Registration is required. Sign up here to attend or to receive a copy of the report: https://www.aibs.org/events/registrationforbiodiversitycollectionsnetworkreportrelease.html

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Radioactivity Largely Cleared from Fish Near Fukushima Plant

An independent study published in PLOS ONE has found that fish in the waters around Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are largely clear of dangerous radiation resulting from a March 2011 tsunami that destroyed the plant.

According to a report by E&E News, the researchers said that they sampled popular seafood species taken from near the Fukushima plant and measured the concentrations of radioactive cesium in fish. Their analysis showed that cesium concentrations had either decreased to levels before the 2011 tsunami or to levels safe for consumption. The research also confirmed that fish species higher up the food chain are safe for consumption under Japanese health standards, but because contaminants tend to accumulate in larger carnivorous species, more time will be required for complete recovery. The research team warned that “these species still require another 6 to 14 years… to reach the pre-accident levels.”

These findings confirmed the claims of Japanese scientists, specifically the work done by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority and the Japan Fisheries Agency.

The study was conducted by the Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN) and a laboratory at the University of Toulouse in France in collaboration with a Japanese scientist.

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NSF Announces First Convergence Accelerator Pilot

The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) on March 15, 2019 for a pilot Convergence Accelerator (C-Accel) activity. The program intends to fund 50 Phase 1 projects (up to 9 months) at up to $1 million each. In 2020, Phase 1 projects will be eligible to apply for Phase 2 C-Accel funding, for up to $5 million.

The NSF C-Accel pilot seeks to transform how NSF supports innovative science and engineering to accelerate convergence research in areas of national importance by facilitating convergent team-building capacity around high-risk proposals. The initiative reflects NSF’s commitment to invest in fundamental research while encouraging rapid advances through partnerships between academic and non-academic stakeholders. It will begin with three convergence tracks that align with two of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas: Harnessing the Data Revolution for 21st-Century Science and Engineering and the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier. The three tracks are:

  • An Open Knowledge Network (as part of Harnessing the Data Revolution)
  • AI and Future Jobs (as part of Future of Work)
  • A National Talent Ecosystem (as part of Future of Work)

The DCL provides more detailed information about participating in the pilot Convergence Accelerator initiative. The first step in participation, submission of a Research Concept Outline, is due April 15, with full proposals due by June 3.

A webinar to answer questions about the submission process will be held on April 3 at 2:00 pm Eastern Time. Details to join the webinar are below.

Event URL: https://nsf2.webex.com/nsf2/onstage/g.php?MTID=e04d3fd93478e4f349d47b0dc6db31fb0 Meeting ID/Event number: 902 798 511 Event Password: Ca2019!

Audio Conference: To receive a call back, provide your phone number when you join the event, or call the number below and enter the access code. USA Toll: +1-510-210-8882 Access code: 902 798 511

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AIBS Opens 2019 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 2018 contest will be featured on the cover of the May 2019 issue of BioScience.

Submissions must be received by 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern Time on September 30, 2019.

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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