Interior to Propose New Rule on Open Science

The Department of the Interior is moving ahead with a proposed rule that would prohibit the agency from considering scientific studies in its decisions unless all of their underlying data are made public, according to a report by The Hill.

In October 2018, the Interior Secretary signed an order requiring that scientific data used in policy decisions be reproducible and made publicly accessible. “Any decision that is based on scientific conclusions that are not supported by publicly available raw data, analysis, or methodology, have not been peer reviewed, or are not readily reproducible should include an explanation of why such science is the best available information,” the order stated. Interior officials said that the policy would boost public confidence in the agency’s decision-making and increase accountability. Following that order, department officials are now in the process of formulating a formal rule governing the use of science in decision-making.

The Interior proposed rule, entitled “Promoting Open Science,” is similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule “Increasing Transparency in Regulatory Science,” that would bar EPA from using scientific studies in drafting new regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”

“The proposed rule will ensure the Department bases its decisions on the best available science and provides the American people with enough information to thoughtfully and substantively evaluate the data, methodology and analysis used by the Department to inform its decisions,” said Interior spokesperson Conner Swanson.

Interior has yet to release the text of the proposed rule. Critics of the proposal say that if finalized it will restrict the use of scientific findings, such as research that is based on confidential health information, in decision-making at Interior. “This rule is part of a pattern by agencies in this administration to sideline science,” said Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, according to E&E News.

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NASEM Report Offers Recommendations for Increasing Women in STEMM

A new report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine offers recommendations for actions to increase the representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) fields. The report notes that culture change driven by systemic actions by higher education institutions, funding agencies, and lawmakers are required. The committee authoring the report included two past presidents of the American Institute of Biological Sciences: Dr. Rita Colwell who chaired the panel and Dr. May Berenbaum who served on the committee.

The report, Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, will be shared with the public during a public briefing on March 19, 2020.

“Colleges and universities should implement promising strategies and practices that can support improved recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in STEMM, as evidenced by research and real-world success stories, using an iterative approach that accounts for institutional context,” according to a National Academies press release.

“Leaders at federal agencies, policymakers in Congress, scientific and professional societies, and the White House can all play a powerful role in promoting transparency and accountability and in supporting and rewarding evidence-based actions to promote greater equity and diversity in the STEMM enterprise,” said Dr. Rita Colwell.

According to the news release for the report: “The report offers institutions practical strategies to support recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in STEMM—such as ways to expand networks of job candidates, guidance on how to write job advertisements and conduct interviews inclusively, strategies to mitigate bias in hiring and promotion decisions, resources that support the work-life needs of STEMM professionals and students, and approaches to more effectively and inclusively approach STEMM educational practices.”

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USDA Research, Forest Service Facing Cuts Under President's Budget

Under the President’s Budget Request, which was released on February 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would operate at $23.4 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2021, $3.8 billion below the level enacted by Congress for FY 2020.

The proposed budget for research, education, and economics at USDA is $3.2 billion, 4.4 percent below the FY 2020 level.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) conducts intramural research in the areas of natural and biological science. It would receive $1.4 billion in FY 2021, $189 million below FY 2020. Funding for seven out of eight research areas within ARS would decrease, resulting in an overall budget of $1.2 billion (-$46 million). Research on livestock protection would increase by 3.4 percent. Research in support of environmental stewardship would receive $229 million (-$3 million). The request includes an increase of $35 million for new precision agriculture initiatives related to automation and data management; artificial intelligence innovations for agricultural production; long-term agroecosystems research; and management of excess water and erosion. The budget would provide a $15 million increase to an overall funding of $81 million for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), which replaces the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. This includes $23 million for operations and maintenance of the NBAF, which is 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.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which partners with academic institutions to conduct research, education, and extension activities, would receive a small boost of 4 percent, bringing its budget to $1.6 billion in FY 2021. Within NIFA, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive $600 million (+41 percent) for competitive extramural research grants. Lower priority research programs such as Animal Health and Disease Research (-$4 million), Aquaculture Research (-$2 million), and Sun Grants (-$3 million) would be eliminated. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, and Extension is slated to receive flat funding of $37 million in FY 2021. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program would be reduced by $1 million to $69 million and other higher education programs would also be slashed by 21 percent. The Budget provides $9.5 million to relocate NIFA outside the National Capital Region.

USDA Forest Service would receive $5.3 billion (-2.8 percent) in FY 2021. Funding for Forest Service (USFS) research would decrease by 18 percent to $250 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 $300 million in FY 2019 and $305 million in FY 2020.

The FY 2021 request for USFS prioritizes investments in risk-based wildland fire management and in improving forest conditions. The plan prioritizes research that identifies practical strategies and tactics to improve forest and rangeland condition, supports community economic development, and helps save lives and protect property from wildfires.

The plan describes four priority research areas that align with and inform agency land management priorities: applied science to support shared stewardship and improve forest conditions; forest inventory and trend analysis; wood product and market innovations; and enhanced prediction, planning, decision support, impact assessment, and recovery guidance for the wildland fire system.

The request would shutter the Pacific Southwest Research Station (-$18.5 million) and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (-$2.5 million) to streamline the agency’s research portfolio and reduce administrative overhead. Remaining priority research from these stations would be transferred to the Pacific Northwest and Southern Research Stations. Lower priority research areas such as recreation research (-$8.5 million) and wildlife and fish research (-$22.5 million) would be eliminated. An overall $8 million reduction is proposed for other Forest Service R&D programs, including forest and grassland health, forest soils, air quality, hydrology, silviculture, forest ecology, and applied science to improve forest conditions, forest inventory and trend analysis, and wood product and market innovations.

The budget provides $78.4 million (+$1.4 million) for Forest Inventory and Analysis to maintain the continuous forest census covering all 50 States, which provides critical information for forest management planning.

The plan proposes $2.4 billion (+$58.8 million) for Wildland Fire Management; $2 billion (+$47.6 million) for the management of National Forest System lands; $453.2 million (-$1.9 million) for Capital Improvement and Maintenance; and $217.4 million (-$129.5 million) for State and Private Forestry. The Wildfire Suppression Cap Adjustment for FY 2021 would be $2.04 billion, an increase of $90 million from FY 2020.

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President Proposes 27 Percent Cut to EPA

The budget for the Environmental Protection Agency would be slashed by $2.4 billion or 27 percent in FY 2021 if the President has his way. Overall the regulatory agency would receive $6.6 billion. The Administration proposed drastic cuts to EPA’s budget in FY 2018, FY 2019, and FY 2020 as well. These were rejected by Congress.

The budget prioritizes support for core programs and infrastructure for a “cleaner healthier environment,” collaborations with state, tribal and federal partners, and creating “consistency and certainty for the regulated community” by removing redundant regulations, modernizing the permitting process. Under the budget request, the number of full-time-equivalent staff positions would decrease from 14,172 in FY 2020 to 12,610 in FY 2021.

Scientific research within EPA is slated for a 32 percent cut. EPA Science and Technology, which supports research used to identify and mitigate environmental problems, would receive $485 million. Funding for research and development programs would be slashed by 43 percent.

Within the Office of Research and Development, funding for research on sustainable and healthy communities would decline to $70.9 million (-53 percent). Support would be targeted to research on efforts to achieve the Administrator’s priorities of revitalizing land and preventing contamination, providing clean and safe water, improving air quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace. The plan provides additional funding in FY 2021 for research to advance implementation of the PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) Action Plan, research associated with food waste reduction, and research related to lead issues. Funds would also support technical assistance for states, tribes, and local communities on ecological and human health risk assessment.

The Safe and Sustainable Water Resources account would receive $78.9 million (-29 percent) and prioritize research in areas PFAS, lead exposure, nutrients, harmful algal blooms, watersheds and water infrastructure. Research on chemical safety and sustainability would be cut by 30 percent, with funding directed towards developing tools that accelerate data-driven chemical evaluations, support sustainable innovation of chemicals, and enable EPA and states to make environmentally sound decisions. The air and energy research budget would be reduced by 65 percent.

The budget for the Atmospheric Protection Program would be slashed by 86 percent. The Greenhouse Gas Reporting program would be retained, but other climate-related programs would be eliminated.

Water Quality Research and Support Grants, a congressionally directed competitive grant program to support water quality research, would be eliminated. Congress provided $23.7 million in funding for this program in FY 2020, an increase of $3.7 million from FY 2019.

Other eliminated programs include; Global Change Research (-$19.3 million), which develops scientific information that allows policy makers, stakeholders, and society to respond to climate change; Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants (-$28.6 million), which fund research grants and graduate fellowships in environmental science and engineering; WaterSense (-$4.5 million), which aims to reduce water-use; the National Estuary program (-$29.8 million), which is focused on restoring estuaries and coastal ecosystems; and Environmental Education (-$8.6 million), which supports environmental education to promote public engagement.

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OSTP Requests Comments on Open Access Publishing

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Subcommittee on Open Science (SOS) are requesting recommendations on approaches for ensuring broad public access to the peer-reviewed scholarly publications, data, and code that result from federally funded scientific research. This is part of ongoing efforts to explore opportunities to increase access to unclassified published research, digital scientific data, and code supported by the U.S. Government.

This request for information follows a December 2019 news report that OSTP was considering an Executive Order that would require journal articles resulting from federally funded research be made freely available immediately upon publishing. In response, a coalition of 60 scientific societies, including AIBS, expressed their concerns in a letter to OSTP that this policy could jeopardize the sustainability of professional societies and the scientific and technical journals they publish. In the following weeks, OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier held several meetings with publishers, academics, and other stakeholders. And now the White House has issued a notice soliciting public input on its effort to improve public access to federally funded research.

Comments can be submitted on or before 11:59 PM Eastern Time on March 16, 2020. More information, including submission instructions, can be found at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-02-19/html/2020-03189.htm.

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State Department Requests Input on Use of Digital Sequence Information of Genetic Resources

The Department of State is accepting comments from the public, academia, industry, and other stakeholders for an ongoing process under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) concerning the use of “digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources,” also known as genetic sequence data (GSD).

Comments are due on or before April 30, 2020. The department will also hold a public meeting and information session to discuss these issues on March 12, 2020. More information is available at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-02-20/html/2020-03423.htm.

AIBS recently hosted a webinar on the CBD’s Nagoya Protocol, a multilateral treaty that sets up a legal framework for using genetic resources. Patrick Reilly, from the U.S. Department of State, offered a short history of how the Protocol was developed, what it actually says, the difference between monetary and non-monetary benefit sharing, and the role of the U.S. government. A recording of the webinar is available at: https://www.aibs.org/events/webinar/nagoya-protocol.html.

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AIBS's 2019 Policy Accomplishments Documented in Annual Report

The AIBS Public Policy Office has released its annual report for 2019. Read about our achievements in science policy.

Highlights include:

  • Called on the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate a government-wide initiative to build the Extended Specimen Network.
  • Expressed support for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.
  • Helped 167 scientists become advocates for science.
  • Facilitated 127 meetings between scientists and policymakers.
  • Urged lawmakers to pass appropriations and end a partial government shutdown.
  • Helped increase spending caps on discretionary spending and secure suspension of budget sequestration.
  • Recognized for advocacy on behalf of scientific collections with an award.
  • Worked with the community to oppose a rule narrowing the definition of the “Waters of the United States.”
  • Endorsed legislation to improve scientific educational infrastructure in rural schools.
  • Supported legislation safeguarding federally funded research from growing threats from foreign interference, cyberattacks, theft, and espionage.
  • Urged the Administration to consider a wide range of stakeholder perspectives as well as impacts on collaborative science when developing policies and procedures that address foreign influence on research.
  • Opposed devastating budget cuts to the University of Alaska system.

Read the 2019 Public Policy Office Annual Report: https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/PPO2019Annual_Report.pdf

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Participate in the 2020 AIBS Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences on April 20-22, 2020 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.

Training program: In conjunction with the 2020 AIBS Congressional Visits Day, AIBS is offering its highly acclaimed Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This professional development course will be on April 20-21. All participants who complete the course receive priority access to the Congressional Visits Day program and a certificate of completion indicating that they have successfully completed 16 hours of communications training. This professional development program provides practical instruction and interactive exercises designed to help scientists (e.g. researchers, graduate students, administrators, educators) translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to effectively engage with decision-makers and the news media. For more information about the training program, including pricing, click here.

Scientists, graduate students, educators, or other science community members who are interested in advocating for scientific research and education are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Express your interest in participating in the event by registering. Registration will close on March 16, 2020. Space is limited and it may not be possible to accommodate the participation of all interested individuals.

Register at: https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.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 National Science Foundation, on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), is requesting input on opportunities and constraints to building and sustaining partnerships in ocean science and technology. Public input will inform OSTP as it works with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), federal agencies, and other stakeholders to identify opportunities to build and sustain partnerships in ocean science and technology. Comments should be submitted via email to oceansummit@ostp.eop.gov on or before March 19, 2020. For more information, go to: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-02-18/html/2020-03071.htm.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the establishment of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board for fiscal year 2020 and is seeking nominations of individuals to serve on it. The Ethics Board will advise the HHS secretary on the ethics of research involving human fetal tissue proposed in NIH grant and cooperative agreement applications and R&D contract proposals. Their recommendations will address whether the Secretary should withhold funds or not withhold funds from a proposed project because of ethical considerations. Nominations are currently being accepted until 5:00 PM EST on March 20, 2020. Submission instructions can be found at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-02-20/html/2020-03302.htm.

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