AIBS Shares Recommendations with House Select Committee on Climate Crisis

The American Institute of Biological Sciences has offered a series of recommendations to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The Committee was soliciting input from a broad range of stakeholders on the policies that Congress needs to develop to maintain and expand efforts to address climate change.

The panel was established in the U.S. House of Representatives to “investigate, study, make findings, and develop recommendations on policies, strategies, and innovations to achieve substantial and permanent reductions in pollution and other activities that contribute to the climate crisis, which will honor our responsibility to be good stewards of the planet for future generations.”

AIBS urged the panel to make increased federal investments in the biological sciences “to improve our understanding of how living systems are being influenced by climate change, identify novel biotechnology and management practices that promote biological resilience to and mitigation of climate change, and develop innovative strategies for improving agricultural productivity while reducing the energy required to produce food and fiber.”

In addition, ten other scientific societies, including AIBS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Geological Society of America, and American Society of Agronomy, also provided a joint statement, noting, in part: “National Climate Assessments have been a vital tool to enable effective planning across local, state, and federal governments. We encourage more interdisciplinary integration of research in these assessments, particularly with the social, behavioral, economic, and biological sciences. Exploring connections between climate change and the loss of biodiversity and genetic diversity aids understanding implications for species conservation, human health, and agriculture.”

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Second Stopgap Funding Bill Keeps Lights On

Congress has passed and the President has signed a second stopgap funding bill in the form of a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until December 20, 2019 at fiscal year (FY) 2019 levels.

The first continuing resolution passed by Congress before the current fiscal year began on October 1, 2019 funded the government until November 21, 2019. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 231-192 on November 19 to pass another short-term measure that extends funding until the end of the year. The Senate followed on November 21, approving the measure with a 74-20 vote. Lawmakers now have another month to complete their work on FY 2020 appropriations. “Failing to secure funding for the federal government before the end of the year is not an option,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Negotiations between the chambers have been stalled due to partisan disagreements over funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and top-line allocations for the 12 Appropriations Subcommittees. So far, the House has passed ten and the Senate has passed four of the twelve appropriations bills. Both chambers have approved funding increases for the National Science Foundation but by different amounts.

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White House Research Summit Tackles Research Security

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) held a closed-door summit of the recently established Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE) on November 5, 2019 to hold discussions on topics of transparency, foreign influence in research, conflicts of interest, and sexual harassment.

JCORE was established by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) in May 2019. In a September 16, 2019 letter to the U.S. research community, OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier announced that JCORE would focus on four major areas, namely research security, safe and inclusive research environments, research rigor and integrity, and coordinating administrative requirements for research - with each topic handled by a separate subcommittee. The research security subcommittee was tasked with establishing government-wide guidelines for appropriate information disclosure that researchers need to follow in order to receive federal research grants.

The panel’s first summit was attended by more than 100 people from industry, academia, and the Federal Government, during which attendees discussed JCORE’s “integrative approach” to developing “policy recommendations and best practices aimed at improving the collective safety, integrity, productivity, and security of our nation’s multi-sector research environment.” A summary report published by the White House outlined several takeaways from the discussions, such as those related to increasing transparency with respect to the processes for investigating claims related to security, harassment, and misconduct; improving research integrity and reproducibility; and harmonizing policies and processes across agencies to decrease administrative workload.

The summit was the first of many discussions on research security that Dr. Droegemeier plans to hold across the country in the coming months. He has urged the research community to engage in these discussions. “Working together, we will ensure that our research environments are safe and inclusive; operate with maximum integrity; protect our research assets in a manner balanced with the openness and international collaboration that have been so critical to our success; and do not encumber researchers, agencies, or institutions with unnecessary administrative work.”

In related news, a new report by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has concluded that U.S. federal research agencies have been slow to respond to China’s efforts to recruit U.S.-based researchers, scientists, and experts through its talent recruitment programs and that “American taxpayer funded research has contributed to China’s global rise over the last 20 years.” The report warns, “These failures continue to undermine the integrity of the American research enterprise and endanger our national security.” On November 19, 2019, the panel held a hearing on research security issues and discussed the findings of the report. Lawmakers expressed support for a standardized grantmaking process across government agencies as a means to address foreign security threats and praised JCORE’s undertaking in trying to achieve that. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who chairs the panel stated, “The first step is standardization…Doing that is simple, and it can be done administratively.”

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EPA Plans to Propose Supplemental to "Secret Science" Rule Next Year

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to propose a supplemental addition to the proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” also referred to as the “secret science” rule, according to a report in the New York Times.

The regulation, first proposed by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in April 2018, would bar the use of scientific studies in crafting regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.” The proposal received more than 600,000 comments during a public comment period last year, most of them critical of the proposal or opposing it, including from AIBS and other scientific and public health groups. In response to the comments, the agency has drafted a “supplemental proposal” intending to clarify “certain aspects” of the proposed rule.

The “supplemental proposal” would widen the scope of the original proposal by requiring scientists to disclose all raw data before the agency could consider the study’s findings in formulating regulations. According to EPA officials, the disclosure of raw data would allow research findings to be verified independently. In the previous version of the rule, the transparency requirement was applicable only to dose-response studies in which the reactions of animal or human subjects to increasing levels of pollutants or other chemicals are measured. The revised version, however, would require raw data disclosure for other types of studies as well. “Transparency of EPA’s science should not be limited to dose-response data and dose-response models, because other types of data and models will also drive the requirements and/or quantitative analysis of EPA final significant regulatory decisions,” the proposed rule states. In addition, an internal email obtained by the Times suggests that the proposed rule could be applied retroactively to regulations already in place.

The supplemental proposal received swift criticisms from scientific and public health groups. “The proposal is even worse than I expected…It doesn’t just restrict the science that EPA can use to institute new rules — it works retroactively, allowing political appointees at the agency to topple standards that have worked for decades to deliver clean air and clean water,” said Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy. “This means the EPA can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths,” said Paul Billings, Senior Vice President for advocacy at the American Lung Association, according to the Times.

In a press release responding to the Times’ report, EPA denied that the rule could be applied to existing regulations and stated that the leaked version of the proposal was only a draft and not the latest version of the proposal that was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The agency also refuted the report in the Times that scientists would be required “to disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records” insisting that “EPA maintains protecting confidential personal information just as other federal health agencies regularly do.”

The revised proposal is expected to be published in the Federal Register sometime early next year, after which there will be a 30-day comment period accepting comments only on the supplemental portion of the proposal. EPA intends to issue the final rule in 2020.

Meanwhile, 62 public health, medical, academic, and scientific groups, including AIBS, have sent a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology expressing concerns about the proposed rule and urging lawmakers to ensure that EPA research is protected and that the proposed rule does not move forward. An excerpt from the letter reads: “If EPA excludes studies because the data cannot be made public, people may be exposed to real harm. The result would be decisions affecting millions based on inadequate information that fails to include well-supported studies by expert scientists. These efforts will not improve the quality of science used by EPA nor allow the agency to fulfill its mandate of protecting human health and the environment.”

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Call for Applications: 2020 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 2020 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 in the spring of 2020 (likely in March or April). 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 2020 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 15, 2020. The application guidelines can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.

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Registration Open: Enabling Interdisciplinary and Team Science

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an interdisciplinary, 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.

The Enabling Interdisciplinary and Team Science 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 next program will be held on April 27-28, 2020 in Washington DC. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Short Takes

  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) is seeking nominations for 5-7 new members of its Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) Council with appointments beginning in early 2020. ILAR conducts activities related to advancing science to benefit human and animal health, with a focus on the responsible use, care, and welfare of animals in research and education. Nominations should be submitted by December 11, 2019. More information at https://nas.us8.list-manage.com/track/click?u=18fe6f8f25ec0bc7509e65e97&id=1ed6f0a5d6&e=cfc3938e72. NASEM is also accepting nominations for experts to serve on the organizing committee for a "Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions" workshop, Predicting Human Health Effects from Environmental Exposures: Applying Translatable and Accessible Biomarkers of Effect. This 2-day workshop, to be held on June 9-10, 2020 in Washington, DC, will explore how experience with developing biomarkers of effect can be applied to understanding the consequences of environmental exposures and improve environmental health decisions. Submit your nominations by December 5, 2019 at: https://nas.us8.list-manage.com/track/click?u=18fe6f8f25ec0bc7509e65e97&id=d41c7aa461&e=a271cda812.

  • Mr. Barry Myers, President Trump's nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has withdrawn his nomination citing health reasons. Although the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation advanced his nomination to the full chamber three times in the two years since he was nominated, the Senate has not confirmed his nomination. Myers, the former CEO of AccuWeather, Inc., was considered a controversial candidate due to his lack of a science degree and potential conflicts of interest.

  • Legislation addressing wildlife conservation in the U.S., entitled "Recovering America's Wildlife Act," (H.R. 3742) has gained 151 co-sponsors, including 113 Democrats and 38 Republicans. The bill, introduced by Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) in July 2019, would provide $1.4 billion annually to fund conservation and restoration efforts for more than 12,000 wildlife and plant species "of greatest conservation need," including species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and their habitats. The bill would also fund a competitive grant program to catalyze innovation in recovery efforts.

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking public comment on a proposed NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing and supplemental guidance. According to NIH, the purpose of this draft policy and guidance is "to promote effective and efficient data management and sharing to further NIH's commitment to making the results and accomplishments of the research it funds and conducts available to the public." Deadline to submit comments is January 10, 2020. For more information, go to: https://osp.od.nih.gov/scientific-sharing/nih-data-management-and-sharing-activities-related-to-public-access-and-open-science/

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