Scientific Organizations Call for $1 Billion to Support Biodiversity Research and Education

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), and Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) joined forces to remind federal science officials of the important role biodiversity-related and biodiversity-enabled research play in helping to understand current global health and environmental problems, as well as for identifying methods to monitor, model, forecast, and mitigate future problems.

The Extended Specimen Network, a community-informed research and education initiative developed by the Biodiversity Collections Network, was highlighted as the kind of large-scale, coordinated, data mobilization and integration initiative needed to advance research and education that furthers science and solves problems.

In letters to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, the groups called for a sustained investment: “A federal commitment of $1 billion toward these efforts over the next 10 years will make the United States the global leader in biological collections-enabled research, and spur new scientific discoveries that grow our economy, improve our public health and well-being, and increase our national security. This investment would support continued efforts to digitize biodiversity, particularly entomological collections which still require significant attention despite their importance to public health and food security. The investment would support the rapid development and implementation of new cyberinfrastructure and information management tools, a rapid global biodiversity survey to collect and properly document biodiversity, additional biodiversity-related and biodiversity-enabled research, efforts to educate and train a new generation of scientists, and increased global coordination and collaboration.”

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AIBS Recommendations for Next Coronavirus Economic Stimulus

AIBS has shared ideas and recommendations related to scientific research and education for future coronavirus related stimulus packages with the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The panel requested ideas for research, development, and innovation funding and policies, including research infrastructure for any future economic measures developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Future actions and needs proposed by AIBS include:

  • Additional R&D funding for a “large-scale and coordinated effort to conduct a global biodiversity survey to collect specimens and associated data from around the world to identify which species serve as reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 and closely related viruses, as well as other pathogens that pose a risk to humans, pets, and livestock.”
  • In terms of near-term response to COVID-19 impacts on research, AIBS recommended emergency relief grants to non-profit scientific societies that have suffered economic loss from the cancellation of scientific conferences; a National Science Foundation (NSF)-led effort to develop and evaluate online educational resources; increased funding to “expedite the capture and mobilization of digital biological data”; a partnership between the federal Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections and representatives from non-federal collections serving organizations to identify strategies for increasing data access, integration, and sharing; targeted economic assistance for natural history museums hit by COVID-19 related closures; economic assistance for living collections, including botanic gardens, arboreta, and animal and microbe collections; supplemental funding for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers who have had research interrupted; and resources for federal science funding agencies to enable them to make supplements to existing grants to help researchers accommodate for funds lost because of COVID-19.
  • Building the Extended Specimen Network as a “shovel-ready” research infrastructure and investing in an NSF-led $1 billion biodiversity research and education initiative.
  • As a long-term economic recovery measure, AIBS recommended a global survey to identify, document, and study Earth’s biological diversity in order to safeguard and grow our bioeconomy and enhance our biosecurity.
  • Another long-term measure proposed by AIBS was expanding NSF-supported efforts “to catalyze transformation of undergraduate education” with an eye on improving the quantitative skills and literacy of faculty members involved with undergraduate instruction.

Read AIBS’s full comments: https://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20200410aibscommentshousesciencepanelstimulus.html

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OSTP Head to Serve as NSF Acting Director

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has been named Acting Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). He will hold the post until President Trump’s nominee for the position, Dr. Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, is confirmed by the Senate.

Dr. Droegemeier has previously served two six-year terms on the National Science Board, NSF’s governing body. He also served as Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma. He has been serving as science adviser to the President since January 2019.

“I am honored to serve in this acting capacity for NSF, and it is a homecoming of sorts as a former member of the National Science Board and longtime recipient of grants from NSF,” said Dr. Droegemeier. “My role at NSF is a temporary one as we all excitedly await the swift Senate confirmation of Dr. Panchanathan. I had the privilege of serving on the National Science Board with both Dr. Córdova and Dr. Panchanathan and both are exceptional leaders. The future is bright, and the United States will continue to lead the world in science and technology as we transition from one NSF Director to the next.”

President Trump nominated Dr. Panchanathan in December 2019 to succeed Dr. France Cordova as the next NSF Director. Dr. Córdova’s six-year term ended on March 30, 2020.

“Director Kelvin Droegemeier has unmatched experience as the science advisor to the White House and leader [of] the Office of Science and Technology Policy,” said Dr. Córdova. “He has a distinguished career of advancing the progress of science. NSF will continue to thrive under his leadership.”

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USFWS Recommends Suspending Bat Research

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has issued an advisory to bat researchers, recommending that scientists suspend some fieldwork involving capturing or handling bats in North America as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Washington Post.

The advisory was a result of concerns that researchers could transfer the novel coronavirus to bat populations in North America, thus creating a new reservoir for the disease. The COVID-19 causing virus, SARS-CoV-2, is thought to have originated in horseshoe bats in China. It may have then been passed to humans through an intermediate species. There have been recent reports of the virus transferring from humans to animals, such as cats.

Scientists warned that although the chance of the coronavirus jumping from humans to North American bats is low, it could further threaten bat species already struggling with the fungal disease white-nose syndrome. Furthermore, the virus could then potentially spread through bat populations across the country and potentially cause a “spill-back of SARS-CoV-2 from bats back into humans … which would make eradication of SARS-CoV-2 unlikely,” warned USFWS Wildlife Veterinarian Samantha Gibbs.

“We know that many mammals are susceptible to infection by a diversity of coronaviruses,” said a USFWS spokesperson. “What is not known is whether the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to infect, or cause illness in, North American wildlife, including bats.”

A group of biologists and other experts from government agencies, wildlife organizations, and research groups met last week to “quickly assess the risk SARS-CoV-2 may pose to bat populations,” added the spokesperson. The group is expected to issue updated recommendations on interactions with bats later in April, according to a notice published by the National Wildlife Health Center of the U.S. Geological Survey.

This advisory is a cause for concern for some bat researchers. According to Winifred Frick, chief scientist for Bat Conservation International, this is a problematic time to suspend bat research as late winter and early spring are important seasons for white-nose syndrome research. The directive could also stall coronavirus research in bats and cause significant research delays for graduate students. “I have a big bat project that involves a lot of handling of bats, but my projects aren’t super time-sensitive, and missing a year won’t destroy the project,” said Bryan Hamilton, a National Park Service biologist. “But graduate students need their three years of data, and that could set them back a year or more.”

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EPA Extends Comment Period for Supplemental to "Secret Science" Proposed Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has announced that the agency would extend by a month the public comment period for a supplemental addition to its proposed rule, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, that would bar the use of scientific studies in crafting regulations unless the underlying data “are publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.”

On March 3, 2020, EPA released a supplemental addition to its “secret science” proposal that would broaden restrictions on the type of scientific studies EPA can use when crafting regulations. The agency provided 30 days to submit feedback on the supplemental.

The deadline to submit comments has been extended from April 17 to May 18, 2020. More information is available at https://www.epa.gov/osa/strengthening-transparency-regulatory-science.

“EPA is committed to giving the public ample time to participate in the rulemaking process,” said Wheeler. “By extending the comment period, we are listening to stakeholders and giving them more time to provide valuable input on how EPA can improve the science underlying its rules.”

This follows an April 1, 2020 letter from the chairs of fourteen House committees to the White House calling for the extension of public comment periods for proposed rulemakings during the novel coronavirus pandemic. “In light of the evolving situation concerning the coronavirus (‘COVID-19’) pandemic, we write to urge you to direct federal agencies to immediately reschedule all public hearings and meetings and extend public comment periods,” read the letter, which mentioned EPA’s transparency proposal. “We are concerned that the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will deprive citizens, local communities, and other stakeholders the opportunity to engage with agencies on these major policy revisions and many other rulemakings.”

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BCoN Survey: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Biodiversity Collections

Projections indicate that the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home orders will have a deep and lasting impact on many aspects of our lives and work.

In order to document the effect of the crisis on biodiversity collections and those who use and care for them, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN), the Natural Science Collections Alliance, and the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) have created this survey: https://aibs.wufoo.com/forms/biodiversity-collections-network-survey/

Anyone associated with a U.S. biodiversity collection is requested to fill out this 23-question survey. We are interested in as many individual responses as possible, recognizing that we will receive multiple responses per collection or institution. No identifying information about the identity of the responder or the institution they represent will be recorded.

This survey will be open until April 30, 2020. A summary of the results will be posted on the BCoN website (https://bcon.aibs.org/) and other venues shortly thereafter. A second survey on this subject may be mounted at a future date to document the recovery of the collections community from this crisis. All results will be freely available for use by anyone interested. We are particularly interested in comparing results with other collections communities, e.g., with living stock collections, or with biodiversity collections outside the United States.

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USDA Soliciting Stakeholder Input on Agricultural Innovations

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is requesting written input on objectives and opportunities leading to research and product goals to facilitate “transformative breakthroughs to enable U.S. agriculture to meet the Department’s goal to increase agricultural production by 40 percent to meet the needs of the global population in 2050 while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half.”

This effort is part of USDA’s Agricultural Innovation Agenda, the Department’s commitment to the “continued success of American farmers, ranchers, producers, and foresters in the face of future challenges.”

Based on a 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report, Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030, USDA identified four innovation clusters with potential for transformative innovation: genome design, automation, prescriptive intervention, and systems based farm management. Stakeholder input will inform USDA as it works to develop a comprehensive strategy to guide public-sector research objectives and inform private-sector product development in order to maximize the U.S. Agriculture sector’s continued ability to meet future demands.

Written comments must be submitted by August 1, 2020. More information at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-04-01/html/2020-06825.htm

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Increase Your Career Opportunities: 2020 Writing for Impact and Influence Online Course

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is once again offering its popular 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, 9 July 2020, 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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Now Online: 2020 Communications Boot Camp for Scientists

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is offering a professional development program designed to enhance the communication skills of scientists, particularly those interested in communicating with decision-makers and the news media. The program is an excellent way to develop new communication skills and identify effective methods for broadening the impact of research and education programs.

The AIBS Communications Training Boot Camp for Scientists expands on AIBS’s highly successful media and science policy training workshops. The Boot Camp meets the needs of everyone from graduate students to senior researchers and program administrators to newly elected professional society leaders.

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the Boot Camp will be offered as an intensive, two-day, hands-on online training program on April 20-21, 2020.

Participants will learn:

  • How to translate scientific findings for non-technical audiences
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • How to prepare for and engage in a meeting with a decision-maker
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • What decision-makers want to hear from a scientist
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to leverage social media
  • How the nation’s science policy is developed and implemented

Learn more about the program and register now at https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/communicationsbootcamp.html.

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Now Online: 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.

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the April 27-28, 2020 workshop will now be offered as an online program. Register at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Short Takes

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting nominations for scientific experts for appointment to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and four SAB standing committees, namely the Agricultural Science Committee (ASC), the Chemical Assessment Advisory Committee, the Drinking Water Committee, and the Radiation Advisory Committee. Appointments are announced by the EPA Administrator. Nominations must be submitted by May 1, 2020. For instructions on submitting nominations, visit: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-04-01/html/2020-06660.htm

  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has extended the comment period for its request for information on open access publishing. The deadline to submit comments is now May 6, 2020. With this solicitation, the OSTP is 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. Details about the submission process can be found at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-03-31/html/2020-06622.htm.

  • The National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), has released NSF's fiscal year (FY) 2018 Merit Review Digest. "Responding to NSB feedback, NSF has modernized its approach to reporting on merit review, making it easier to navigate and incorporating links to allow for easy downloading and exploration of the underlying data," reads the announcement. The Digest provides information about the numbers of NSF proposals and awards, and funding rates for FY 2018. It explains how the NSF merit review process works, the kinds of proposal review used, and the role of the Program Officers. The Digest also provides detailed information about proposal submission and funding rates of female researchers and of researchers from underrepresented communities, geographical and institutional award distribution, average grant size and duration, and the numbers of researchers supported.

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced a plan to protect the monarch butterfly without adding it to the Endangered Species Act list. Under the agreement reached between USFWS and the University of Illinois, Chicago, more than 45 companies in the transportation and energy sector will participate in monarch conservation efforts by providing and maintaining habitat on rights of way and associated land. "Completing this agreement is a huge boost for the conservation of monarch butterflies and other pollinators on a landscape scale," said FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith. She added that the agreement will "provide regulatory certainty for industry while addressing the conservation needs of our most at-risk species."

  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) is undertaking a study to highlight the importance of biophysics research, identify future research directions, and assess workforce and education needs and is requesting community input. As a part of this effort, NASEM is hosting a virtual town hall for the Decadal Assessment on the Physics of Living Systems, where participants can share input on the future of biological physics. Learn more about the study, upcoming events, including the town hall, and how you can share your input with the committee at nas.edu/biophysics.

  • NSF's Division of Integrative Organismal Systems is hosting a virtual information session on April 16, 2020 from 1:00pm-2:00pm EST. The Virtual Office Hour will include discussion of CAREER proposals, solicitations, and Dear Colleague Letters recently released by NSF. This will be followed by time to ask questions about CAREER proposals, COVID-19, or any other NSF topics of interest. Register at https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_nlJQOHieRXWOd0Vju0nnRA.

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