Action Alert: Ask Your Senators to Support Investment in NSF

Congress is working to determine funding levels for federal programs for fiscal year (FY) 2020. On May 22, 2019, the House Appropriations Committee approved $8.6 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an increase of 6.9 percent. Please show your support for the NSF by asking your Senators to provide the NSF with at least $9 billion in FY 2020.

NSF is the primary federal funding source for discovery-driven biological research at U.S. universities and colleges. The agency provides approximately 69% of extramural federal support for non-medical biological and environmental research at academic institutions.

The President’s budget request for FY 2020 proposes a 12.5 percent cut to NSF, including a 13 percent reduction to its research activities. This budget hurts research and undermines the nation’s ability to address national challenges.

If funded at $9 billion, NSF could accelerate progress on its10 Big Ideas, expand support for early career researchers, and create new interdisciplinary research programs. Moreover, this investment will sustain core research and education programs that are vital to U.S. competitiveness.

Please take a moment to ask your Senators to support $9 billion in funding for NSF. Interested individuals can send a letter to their Senators from the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

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AIBS Honored for Science Policy Advocacy

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) has recognized the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) with a Special Service Award for AIBS’ advocacy on behalf of natural history museums and other scientific collections. The Award was presented on May 31, 2019, in conjunction with the SPNHC annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Sharing the recognition with AIBS is the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance).

“On behalf of everyone affiliated with AIBS, I thank SPNHC for this recognition. Many current and former staff members and members of the Board of Directors have worked hard to advance strong public policy that promotes new investments in science and ensures the scientific process remains as free from political interference as possible. This award is a wonderful and appreciated recognition of their dedication and diligence,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Robert Gropp.

Biological diversity is critical to human health and well-being. The plants, animals, and microbes with which we share the Earth offer aesthetic benefits, such as the enjoyment that comes from listening to a bird’s song or smelling a flower, and contain information, such as genes, that cannot be replaced when a species is lost to extinction.

“Natural science collections, such as natural history museums and botanic gardens, enable innovative research that helps us understand the rules that govern life on Earth as well as provide the insights necessary to protect biological diversity, improve agricultural production and food security, and protect us from diseases and pests,” said Gropp. These institutions, located in communities across the country, also provide kids with exciting and unique educational opportunities.

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Trump Administration Restricts Funding for Fetal Tissue Research

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on June 5, 2019 that it will restrict federal funding for medical research that uses human fetal tissue from elective abortions.

According to the department’s statement, “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration.”

The decision is the result of a review launched by HHS in September 2018 to examine all human fetal tissue research after the department terminated a contract with Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc., which supplied fetal tissue to the Food and Drug Administration 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.”

Under the new policy, all intramural research, or research conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortion, will be discontinued. There are currently three such active research projects at NIH. An annual $2 million contract with the University of California, San Francisco for research involving aborted fetal tissue to study HIV/AIDS will also be cancelled.

Extramural research projects, including research funded by NIH grants at universities, involving aborted fetal tissue will be required to go through an additional review process convened by an ethics advisory board after it has cleared the regular scientific review process. According to a 2006 law, for the review of each grant proposal, HHS will need to announce plans to assemble an ethics advisory board in the Federal Register and invite public nominations. The board, comprised of 14-20 members, will be appointed by the HHS Secretary at least 30 days after the notice is published and will then have up to 150 days to recommend whether the proposed research should be funded. Even after a proposal is recommended for approval, the Secretary can decide to withhold funds if he or she finds that the “recommendation is arbitrary and capricious.”

HHS will make changes to its regulations and grants policy “to adopt or strengthen safeguards and program integrity requirements applicable to extramural research involving human fetal tissue” and explore “adequate alternatives” to the use of fetal tissue in federally funded research.

The new policy has received strong pushback from the scientific community. “With these new arbitrary restrictions on research, the United States is ceding its role as the global leader in the development of cellular therapies and regenerative medicine,” said Doug Melton, Co-Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, according to the Washington Post. “The regulatory and legal framework in the U.S. for overseeing fetal tissue research was carefully developed with input from the public, ethicists, policymakers and scientists and ensures rigorous oversight, including that the tissue is obtained legally and with donor consent.”

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USGS to Only Use Climate Projections Through 2040

Director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Dr. James Reilly, has instructed scientists at the agency to only use computer-generated climate models that project climate change impacts through 2040 in their assessments, according to a report by the New York Times. The standard practice in climate science has been to project impacts through the end of the century.

The effort to focus on short-term climate projections follows a February 2019 White House memo revealing the Administration’s plan to create an ad hoc panel to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and examine whether climate change impacts national security. The committee will be examining two recent government reports: The National Climate Assessment, which is a congressionally mandated interagency report that is produced every 4 years, and a report by the Pentagon, which assessed the impact of sea-level rise on low-lying military installations.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has criticized the move saying that it would provide a misleading picture of the consequences of climate change because most of the impacts of the current emissions will be felt after 2040.

Administration officials have indicated that “worst-case scenario” projections, in which no efforts are made to curb emissions, will not automatically be included in the next National Climate Assessment report, which is expected to be released in 2021 or 2022. “The previous use of inaccurate modeling that focuses on worst-case emissions scenarios, that does not reflect real-world conditions, needs to be thoroughly re-examined and tested if such information is going to serve as the scientific foundation of nationwide decision-making now and in the future,” said James Hewitt, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Excluding worst-case scenarios from assessments provides a falsely optimistic picture, according to some scientists. “It would be like designing cars without seatbelts or airbags,” stated Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

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European Open-Access Initiative Delayed Until 2021

European research agencies have announced that Plan S, an effort to make research funded by them openly accessible on publication, will not be implemented until 2021 to allow researchers and publishers more time to adapt to the new publishing model.

Coalition S, a coalition of European research funding organizations, had released guidance on implementing Plan S in November 2018. Earlier this year, high profile journals, such as Nature and Science, had indicated that it was not possible for them to comply with the open access model in the timeframe allowed for the transition. Prestige journals also argued that their internal costs of publishing were very high and complying with the fully open-access model would compromise the quality of their publications.

In response to these concerns, the coalition decided to delay the implementation of Plan S by a year and has announced key revisions to the initial policy to allow for more flexibility. Plan S initially proposed to commission an independent study to determine a “fair” processing fee that publishers can charge and establish a potential cap on the costs involved in quality assurance, editing, and publishing. Under the revised policy, funding organizations will not immediate cap the cost of publishing a paper in an open-access journal. However, journals would need to be transparent about publishing costs.

Funders have also altered the rules for hybrid journals, which publish some papers behind a paywall but charge a fee to make others openly accessible. Under the initial plan, researchers could publish in hybrid journals only if they were covered by a “transformative agreement” that clearly defines a timeframe to transition to open-access. Now, funders will still cover the cost of publishing open-access papers in such journals until 2024 but the coalition will also consider individual hybrid journals that are not covered by a transformative agreement as long as they have a defined plan to publish more open-access articles over a set time.

A new amendment to the policy will also allow researchers, in certain cases, to publish their work under more restrictive open licenses that would prevent the reuse of text from these publications. This would require the approval of the funder.

Additionally, funders have indicated that they will not consider the prestige of journals in which researchers publish when making funding decisions. This addresses the concern that it would be difficult for researchers to change publishing attitudes if publishing in prestige journals was still rewarded.

According to Nature News, publishers, such as Wiley and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have welcomed these revisions but warn that implementation remains challenging. Other groups have cautioned against any unintended consequences, such as cost implications for unfunded researchers.

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Register Now: 2019 AIBS Writing for Impact and Influence Course

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program to help scientists and students hone their written communication skills to increase the power of their message.

Writing for Impact and Influence combines practical instruction and hands-on exercises to improve participants’ general writing proficiency and their ability to reach large audiences. The program will provide participants with the skills and tools needed to compose scientific press releases, blog posts, emails, and memoranda.

Learn to write for stakeholders, decision-makers, and the general public, with a focus on perfecting the reader experience.

The course consists of six 90-minute online modules conducted live and will begin on Thursday, July 11, 2019, with subsequent course sessions held weekly on Thursdays. Individuals who actively participate in and complete the full course will receive a certificate recognizing that they have completed a nine-hour professional development course on business writing for scientists.

Register now: http://io.aibs.org/writing

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Meet Your Lawmakers This Summer and Help Inform Science Policy

Registration is now open for the 2019 Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.

This national initiative, organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is an opportunity for scientists from across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research and education.

Now in its eleventh year, the event enables scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their federal or state elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office. AIBS works with participants to schedule the meetings with lawmakers and prepare participants through online training and one-on-one support.

“When I found out about the AIBS Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits, I thought that this would be a perfect way to share not only my passion about my work but also my concerns and interests with a local government representative that might be able to influence policy and share advice about how to become even more involved,” said 2018 participant Khailee Marischuk. “I had not had any previous experience with this type of meeting, but AIBS did a fantastic job connecting me with my State Representative and preparing me for the lab tour and conversation. My meeting with Representative Terese Berceau was incredibly rewarding as she shared our enthusiasm for scientific research and our passion for promoting science policy for elected officials and the general public alike, along with giving our group insight in how best to make our voices and opinions known and heard. It was a thought-provoking discussion for me and hopefully everyone else involved.”

The event is made possible by AIBS, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Botanical Society of America, Helminthological Society of Washington, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Paleontological Society, Society for Freshwater Science, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, and Society for the Study of Evolution and event supporter Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Participation is free, but registration is required. Registration will close on July 10, 2019. For more information and to register, visit https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html

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Short Takes

  • A bipartisan bill to establish a roundtable at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and an interagency working group within the White House, to serve as platforms for discussions among stakeholders on how to address issues of foreign influence on science and academic espionage has been introduced in the House of Representatives. Supporters of the bill hope that the forums will help to identify practical steps that universities and research funders can take to protect intellectual property without suppressing scientific collaboration. The legislation is sponsored by Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Chairwoman of the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) is soliciting public input for its NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition. After receiving more than 800 idea submissions, 33 ideas have been shortlisted for the grand prize. NSF is inviting the public to help determine which entries advance by commenting on the importance and potential impact of their Big Ideas and providing suggestions on how their ideas can be improved. Watch the entrants' video pitches and submit comments by June 26, 2019 at http://nsf2026imgallery.skild.com/

  • Members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have adopted a policy that allows its leadership to expel members for "the most egregious" violations of its code of conduct, including sexual harassment. The new framework establishes a disciplinary process in which allegations of misconduct will first be evaluated by an ad hoc committee, then a standing committee, and finally the NAS leadership council and could result in various disciplinary actions, including rescinding membership.

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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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