Societies Urge Lawmakers to Complete FY 2020 Appropriations

On December 4, 2019, 162 organizations, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences, sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to complete work on fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations. Government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, have been operating under FY 2019 funding levels since FY 2020 began on October 1, 2019.

The letter reads, in part: “Federal investments provide the lifeblood for research, discovery and innovation in the United States, driving one of the most powerful engines for American prosperity and global leadership. At least two dozen federal agencies fund defense and nondefense R&D. Failing to complete work on the appropriations bills that fuel this engine in a timely manner impedes our ability to address fundamental challenges such as chronic and infectious diseases, food and energy security, cybersecurity and natural disasters—all of which require advancements in science and technology fostered through federal investments.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) have reached an agreement on topline spending numbers for each of the twelve appropriations bills. Appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate are still negotiating details of the individual bills with the objective of completing all 12 bills before December 20, 2019 in order to avoid a government shutdown. However, continuing disagreements over border wall funding are likely to prevent some or all bills from being passed before the current stopgap funding expires, in which case Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has suggested packaging bills into two or three “minibuses” since the President has said that he would not sign an “omnibus” or a package containing all 12 spending bills.

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Elsevier Signs Open Access Deal with U.S. Institution

Elsevier, which now describes itself as an “information analytics business,” has inked an open-access agreement with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the first U.S. institution to enter such an agreement with Elsevier. The “transformative agreement” was announced on November 22, 2019.

The agreement allows researchers at CMU to both publish open-access articles in any Elsevier journal and access paywalled Elsevier articles by paying one flat fee. Previously, publishing and accessing open-access articles involved two separate payment mechanisms. CMU was engaged in negotiations for an open-access deal with Elsevier for the past year, since its license with the publisher expired on December 31, 2018.

Elsevier has engaged in open-access negotiations with other research institutions but agreement costs have been a major source of contention. Earlier this year, open-access negotiations between Elsevier and the University of California system (UC) failed after disagreements over costs, with UC eventually deciding to end its subscription to Elsevier journals.

In April 2019, a consortium of Norwegian universities and research institutions successfully reached a “read and publish” deal with Elsevier after agreeing to a 3 percent increase in its subscription costs. The previous agreement only covered access to Elsevier journals and did not include open-access publishing. The new deal covers the open-access publishing costs of 90 percent of articles published in Elsevier journals by consortium members but excludes around 400 journals owned by academic associations as well as some third-party journals, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed. The CMU agreement, the cost of which is currently unknown, covers open-access publishing costs of 100 percent of articles published in Elsevier journals by CMU researchers.

Such “read and publish” transformative agreements could lead to more open-access publications and eventually eliminate paywalls altogether, according to advocates of the open-access model. Many publishers, however, warn that such agreements may negatively impact the sustainability of scientific journals. Nevertheless, many publishers, including Wiley and Springer Nature, have struck such agreements over the last few years.

Weeks after the CMU-Elsevier deal was made, Oxford University Press (OUP) also announced an open-access agreement with Iowa State University. The “read and publish” deal, which is OUP’s first outside of Europe, provides Iowa State researchers access to over 300 OUP journals with an open-access publishing option and more than 60 fully open-access journals. Articles published by Iowa State researchers in an OUP journal will immediately become open-access.

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Journal Editors Criticize EPA Transparency Rule

In a joint statement, the editors of six major scientific journals have expressed concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” which would bar the use of scientific studies in crafting regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”

In the statement released on November 26, 2019, the editors of Science, Nature, PLOS, Cell Press, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and The Lancet wrote: “We urge the EPA to continue to adopt an approach that ensures the data used in decision-making are the best available, which will at times require consideration of peer-reviewed scientific data, not all of which may be open to all members of the public. The most relevant science, vetted through peer review, should inform public policy. Anything less will harm decision-making that claims to protect our health.” The editors had previously issued a similar statement in April 2018 when the rule was first proposed. They warned that the proposed rule could become “a mechanism for suppressing the use of relevant scientific evidence in policy-making, including public health regulations.”

The statement is a response to recent reports that the EPA is preparing to propose a supplemental addition to the proposed rule that 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. It was also reported by the New York Times that EPA was considering applying the transparency requirement retroactively to regulations already in place. The editors urged EPA to reject the notion of retroactively applying the proposed requirements to studies used by the agency in the past and warned that “foundational science from years past — research on air quality and asthma, for example, or water quality and human health — could be deemed by the EPA to be insufficient for informing our most significant public-health issues.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has indicated that the agency intends to issue the final rule in 2020.

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OSTP Requests Input on American Research Environment

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has requested information from the public on the American Research Environment. In a notice published in the Federal Register on November 26, 2019, OSTP has requested input on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC’s) Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE) on “actions that Federal agencies can take, working in partnership with private industry, academic institutions, and non-profit/philanthropic organizations, to maximize the quality and effectiveness of the American research environment.”

Comments should be submitted on or before 11:59 PM Easter time on December 23, 2019.

Details of the Request for Information and instructions for submitting comments are available at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-11-26/html/2019-25604.htm

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Graduate Students: Apply for the 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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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 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 Senate voted 70-15 on December 2, 2019 to confirm Mr. Dan Brouillette to be the next Secretary of Energy. President Trump nominated Brouillette to lead the Department of Energy in October after Secretary Rick Perry announced his resignation. Brouillette has served as Deputy Secretary of Energy since August 2017. Previously, he served as the Senior Vice President and head of public policy for USAA, a provider of financial services to the military community, and as Vice President of the Ford Motor Company. Mr. Brouillette has also served as Chief of Staff to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Assistant Secretary of Energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.

  • The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) -- the federal agency that enforces U.S. labor laws -- has extended by 30 days the deadline to submit comments on their proposed rule stating that graduate students are not "employees" with a right to unionize. If implemented, the proposed rule would weaken unionization efforts by graduate students at private universities. NLRB is now accepting comments until January 15, 2020. Instructions for submitting comments are available at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-12-04/html/2019-26177.htm.

  • Senator James Lankford (R-OK) has released a report, entitled "Federal Fumbles," highlighting examples of what he considers wasteful government funding. Among the cited examples is a $1.7 million research grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study Steller sea lions in Russia. The report argues that it is "nonsensical" that NOAA awarded the money to a consulting firm in Alaska that works directly with the Russian government. According to North Pacific Wildlife Consulting's website, they "provide assistance to the Russian and U.S. governments and their affiliates in addressing important questions pertaining to marine mammals, sea birds, and commercial fisheries under their jurisdiction." This is Lankford's fifth report targeting government "overspending." Similar reports have been published by various members of Congress in the past, for example, former Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) published the "Wastebook" and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) regularly publishes the "Waste Report."

  • The Oxford English Dictionary has chosen "climate emergency" as 2019's Word of the Year as a result of "heightened public awareness of climate science" and "demonstrable escalation in the language people are using to articulate information and ideas concerning the climate." Oxford defines "climate emergency" as "a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it." Oxford cited in its announcement the recent BioScience Viewpoint article published by a worldwide coalition of more than 11,000 scientists representing 153 countries warning that the planet "clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency."

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