AIBS: No Room for Racism and Injustice in Science or Society

On June 4, 2020, the Board of Directors and staff of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) issued the following statement:

There is no room for racism and injustice in science or society.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences stands with all people and organizations working to end racism and injustice through peaceful protest, legal action, policy change, and systemic reform.

It was only days ago that most of us learned George Floyd’s name and saw the lethal brutality he experienced at the hands of police officers. He was at that time the most recent needless death. Since then, we have run the emotional gamut - anger, frustration, confusion, and sadness - as we watch events unfold in our communities across our nation in response to too many lives lost.

Racism and injustice take many forms, including those less obvious than that highlighted by recent news reports. Racism threatens our neighbors when society fails to protect the environment and provide clean and safe drinking water. We see the effects in the incidence, morbidity and mortality of COVID-19. These are but a few examples of systemic human rights violations that all of society must engage in solving.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is committed to contributing solutions to the problems arising from intolerance and violations of basic human rights. A core human attribute is seeking a better understanding of our world. This understanding and its applications must be available to everyone. AIBS continues to conduct research in partnership with academic organizations on reliability, risk aversion, and bias in grant peer-review. An outcome of this work will be a more equitable research environment and research that serves all members of our society. Additionally, we are convening a series of conversations with representatives of our member organizations to identify additional actions that scientific societies can take to defeat racism and injustice.

Thank you for your attention and please stay safe.

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Bias and Forensic Science

As lawmakers across the United States grapple with how to reform law enforcement agencies, they should consider where forensic science laboratories are administratively housed and from where their funding is derived according to many experts. In most jurisdictions, these crime laboratories are housed within law enforcement agencies and derive their funding from police budgets. This structure can create bias toward law enforcement agencies. In an important Feature article, Is Forensic Science Scientific, in the May issue of BioScience, many have argued that crime labs should be independent organizations that are not dependent upon funding from police agencies. Read this important article for free at https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biaa022

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BCoN Survey: Operational Status, Economic Impacts, and Plans for Re-Opening Natural History Collections

The Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN) is working to help the scientific and natural history collections/museum community understand how COVID-19 related economic disruptions are affecting research, education, specimen and data management and care, institutional administration, and other factors. Results of a community survey of collections professionals were shared recently. BCoN continues to track impacts to natural history collection institutions and the people who care for and use these scientific resources.

Individuals are invited to share information about their institutions operating status - plans to re-open, operational status and limitations, closures, staff furloughs and Reductions in Force, program closures or terminations, and other disruptions to institutional operations in the forms available here: https://bcon.aibs.org/2020/06/02/collections-and-covid-19-operating-status/

BCoN invites information from all types of natural history collection holding institutions, which includes natural history museums, natural science collections, arboreta and herbaria, or other facilities with natural science collections.

This information will be regularly compiled and consolidated and made available publicly on the BCoN website. The name of the individual sharing this information is not requested and will not be published.

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Lawmakers Propose $100 Billion Investment in Technology at NSF

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation that would establish a new Directorate for Technology within the National Science Foundation (NSF) and provide the agency an additional $100 billion over 5 years.

The Endless Frontier Act (S. 3832), sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D NY) and co-sponsored by Senator Todd Young (R-IN), aims to ensure American leadership in innovation. “For over 70 years, the United States has been the unequivocal global leader in scientific and technological innovation, and as a result the people of the United States have benefitted through good-paying jobs, economic prosperity, and a higher quality of life,” the Senators wrote in the preface to the bill. “Today, however, this leadership position is being eroded and challenged by foreign competitors, some of whom are stealing intellectual property and trade secrets of the United States and aggressively investing in fundamental research and commercialization to dominate the key technology fields of the future.”

An identical version of the legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI).

The bill would rename NSF to National Science and Technology Foundation (NSTF). The Science and Technology Directorates within NSTF would each be led by a Deputy Director reporting to the NSF Director. The additional investment of $100 billion over 5 years would support research in ten key focus areas, which would be reviewed periodically and revised if “the competitive threats to the United States have shifted.” However, the bill limits the total number of key technology areas to ten.

Key technology focus areas currently listed in the legislation include:

  • artificial intelligence and machine learning;
  • high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware;
  • quantum computing and information systems;
  • robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing;
  • natural or anthropogenic disaster prevention;
  • advanced communications technology;
  • biotechnology, genomics, and synthetic biology;
  • cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies;
  • advanced energy; and
  • materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other key areas.

To advance its objectives, the Technology Directorate could partner with and provide funding to other federal research entities as well as other NSF Directorates pursuing basic research that could enable advances in the key technology areas. However, the Technology Directorate would be prohibited from taking funding from other programs at NSF.

A large portion of the new funds would be directed to university-based technology centers to conduct research to advance innovation in the ten key technology areas. The bill would authorize an additional $10 billion over five years for the Commerce Department to designate 10 to 15 regional technology hubs across the country to foster innovation and create innovation sector jobs in locations “that have clear potential and relevant assets for developing a key technology focus area but have not yet become leading technology centers.”

The legislation would also allocate funds for education and training activities, including new undergraduate scholarships, industry training programs, graduate fellowships and traineeships and post-doctoral support to create a workforce capable of advancing the key focus areas.

Many members of the scientific community have welcomed the proposal to infuse more research dollars into NSF. “These investments will help NSF catalyze innovation, support scientific leadership, and keep America globally competitive,” stated Mary Sue Coleman, President of the Association of American Universities, according to Science Insider. Others have expressed concerns, including former NSF Director Dr. Arden Bement: “I believe it would be a mistake for a technology directorate at NSF to serve as an offset to private funding for commercial innovation and entrepreneurship…Federal funding for applied technology research and development should be need-based and channeled through mission agencies.”

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NSF BIO Shares Impact of No-Deadline Proposal Submission Policy

In October 2017, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) had announced a no-deadline system for proposal submissions with the goal to reduce the number of rejected proposals that were later resubmitted without major changes and to encourage collaborations between scientists. On June 2, 2020, BIO shared impacts of that policy change.

Proposal data from fiscal years (FY) 2018 and 2019 were analyzed by BIO with the help of a subcommittee of the BIO Advisory Committee. The analysis provides a review of the impact of the no-deadline policy on the number of proposal submissions, funding rates, and other metrics.

According to the analysis, there was an increase in the funding rate across BIO from 21 percent in FY 2018 to 28.1 percent in FY 2019, although the number of proposals submitted decreased from 3,226 in FY 2018 to 1,965 in FY 2019.

The analysis showed no substantial impacts on the gender, race, or ethnicity of PIs or co-PIs on proposal submissions. However, there was an increase in the number of individuals who did not provide these data. A significant number of co-PIs also did not report the year of their highest degree. According to BIO, they are “actively monitoring this trend and encourage submitters to provide this information as it helps us better understand the biological sciences community and those seeking funding from BIO.”

Additionally, there was “a slight shift to shorter periods between submission and funding decision in FY 2019 as compared to FY 2018.” BIO acknowledges that there were possibly external circumstances that could have caused this, including the “lapse in appropriations” during that period.

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AIBS Webinar Series: Building Resilient Scientific Societies and Organizations

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has caused significant economic and operational disruptions for scientific societies and science-serving organizations. Some of the effects of the pandemic will be relatively short-lived, but other impacts will influence the sustainability and operations of scientific societies for years to come.

While some organizations may withstand economic losses from meeting cancellations, they may not weather the effects of reduced revenue from journal subscriptions or member dues. Other organizations are struggling to retain engagement from volunteer leadership and to ensure that future leaders are prepared to guide organizations through increasingly tumultuous times. Some professional communities are trying to understand how to retain global engagement during a period of restricted travel. These are but a few of the significant issues facing scientific society leaders.

A common challenge for all organizations is a lack of good information and best practices for how to navigate catastrophic disruptions.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) invites representatives of its member societies and organizations to join colleagues in a series of virtual Council Meetings with presentations and facilitated discussions that will empower the leadership of biology serving organizations to guide their societies through this chaotic period.

Date: June 24, 2020
Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM Eastern (this program will be recorded)

Moderator:
Robert Gropp, Executive Director, AIBS

Panelists:
Andrea Case, Executive Vice President, Society for the Study of Evolution
Austin Mast, Treasurer, American Society of Plant Taxonomists
Barbara Thiers, President, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC)

Who can attend: AIBS Council Representatives, Elected Leadership, or Staff of AIBS and NSCA member organizations

Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying factors that lead to resiliency
  • Meeting planning in an era of uncertainty
  • Financial planning and reserve management
  • Membership engagement
  • Leadership development and recruitment
  • Operating virtually
  • Cultivating and supporting organizational leadership
  • Risk mitigation through collaboration
  • Finding the silver linings

These discussions are an opportunity for leaders of scientific societies and organizations to share concerns, identify best practices, and exchange resources. These programs will also help AIBS better serve and advocate for our members.

The program will be recorded and made available to AIBS Council Representatives who are unable to participate in the live program.

Register now at https://aibs.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIod-mtqT8iGdzbSghA7nvldZI6qyel_VVx

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Now Online: AIBS 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 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.

The Boot Camp will be offered as an intensive, two-day, hands-on online training program on July 13-14, 2020.

Participants will learn:

  • How to communicate science to non-technical audiences
  • How to identify and define the audience you need to reach
  • How to tell a resonant story that informs decision-makers
  • How to prepare for and participate in a news interview
  • What reporters are looking for in an interview
  • How to protect your scientific reputation
  • How to advocate for your work within your home institution
  • How to hone your written communication skills to increase your impact and influence
  • How to write and pitch press releases
  • How to write Op-Eds
  • 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, online 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.

Dates: June 15-16, 2020

Location: Online

Learn more and register at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Increase Your Career Opportunities: 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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Short Takes

  • On June 3, 2020, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved President Trump's nominee to lead the National Science Foundation. The White House nominated Dr. Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, a computer scientist and Chief Research and Innovation officer at Arizona State University, to serve as the next NSF Director back in December 2019. Dr. Panchanathan will now need to be confirmed by the full Senate. Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is currently serving as Acting Director for the science agency.

  • The Ecosystems Mission Area at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has announced a new quarterly newsletter, EcoNews, highlighting science and activities coming out of USGS Ecosystems Science Centers and Cooperative Research Units across the country. Interested individuals can subscribe here. Additionally, a public webinar series, Friday's Findings, hosted by the USGS Ecosystems Mission Area will be held the first Friday of each month at 2:00 PM Eastern time. These half hour webinars will provide an overview of a science topic within the Mission Area and an opportunity to ask questions. The next webinar, entitled "How Social Science Informs the Management of North American Waterfowl Hunting and Birdwatching," will be held on July 10, 2020.

  • Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Special Committee on the Climate Crisis are soliciting public input "on the types and scale of approaches needed to address our climate crisis." In a May 20, 2020 letter, the lawmakers wrote: "Please tell us how climate change is already affecting you, your family, your business, and your community, and how the Congress can best facilitate the transition to a clean economy and a healthier environment for the benefit of all Americans." Electronic comments can be sent to climate_input@schatz.senate.gov until June 19, 2020.

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