ESA Policy News February 19: President’s FY 2016 budget request, NRC examines geoengineering, ESA scientists talk climate on the Hill
Feb19

ESA Policy News February 19: President’s FY 2016 budget request, NRC examines geoengineering, ESA scientists talk climate on the Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SCIENCE: RESEARCH INVESTMENTS GET BOOST IN PRESIDENT’S FY 2016 FUNDING PROPOSAL On Feb. 2, the president released the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget. It functions as a wish list of administration federal policy priorities in the government’s budget. However, Congress, holding the “power of the purse,” has the final say on how these priorities are rolled into the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government. While the Budget Control Act of 2011 limits FY 2016 discretionary spending to $1.016 trillion, the president’s proposed budget would provide $1.091 trillion. This spending increase is paid for through various proposals in the president’s budget to raise revenue by closing loopholes in the tax code and also increasing taxes for wealthier Americans and other entities. Legislation to increase tax revenue is not expected to move in the Republican-controlled Congress. Consequently, the president’s budget spending increases are unlikely to be included in the 12 appropriations bills Congress passes later this year. Overall, the president’s budget request would provide $146 billion for federal research and development (R&D), a 5.5 percent increase over the FY 2015 enacted level.  While the overall R&D figure is good, basic research that funds most US academics only increases by 2.6 percent, to $32 billion. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education programs would receive $3 billion in FY 2016, a 3.6 increase over FY 2015. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 NSF budget. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 NOAA budget. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 USDA budget request. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 DOE budget request. Click here for additional information on the FY 2016 USGS budget request. Click here for additional information on the White House’s R&D investments. EPA: PRESIDENT’S BUDGET REQUEST PRIORITIZES CLIMATE ACTION For the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the president’s FY 2016 request provides $8.6 billion, $452 million above the FY 2015 enacted level. This includes a $120 million increase towards agency-wide programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. Programs that would be eliminated in the president’s budget include the Beaches Protection categorical grants and the Water Quality Research and Support grants. Below are FY 2016 funding levels for specific EPA programs compared to FY 2015 enacted levels: Environmental Program and Management: $2.84 billion; a $228.03 million increase. Environmental Education: $11 million; a $2.3 million increase. Water Quality Protection: $254.3 million; a $43.88 million increase. Hazardous Substance Superfund: $1.088 billion; a $65.07 million increase. Environmental Justice: $14.6 million; a $7.3 million increase. EPA Science and Technology: $759.2 million;...

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ESA Policy News October 8: Obama designates world’s largest marine reserve, Science committee reviews NSF grants
Oct08

ESA Policy News October 8: Obama designates world’s largest marine reserve, Science committee reviews NSF grants

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA DESIGNATES WORLD’S LARGEST MARINE RESERVE On Sept. 25, President Obama signed a proclamation designating the largest marine reserve in the world off-limits to commercial resource extraction including fishing. The proclamation expands the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to an area 490,000 square miles, six times its current size and fully protects its deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems which are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The move is in line with the administration’s broader National Ocean Policy and its Climate Action Plan. Click here for additional information. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE CONTINUES EFFORTS TO REVIEW NSF GRANTS House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) continues to single out National Science Foundation (NSF) peer-reviewed research projects viewed as frivolous or wasteful. Through press releases and direct meetings with NSF officials, the chairman has sought to bring attention to dozens of grants he views as a misuse of taxpayer money. Chairman Smith has also used the legislative process to advance the issue. His bill, H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act, includes language requiring the agency to specify how grants funded by the agency serve national economic and security interests. The effort has stirred partisan tensions among members of the traditionally bipartisan committee.  On Sept. 30, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), issued a letter outlining the unprecedented nature of Chairman Smith’s efforts. The letter is only the most recent instance of written correspondence between the two senior members of the committee over NSF’s merit review process. Click here to read the Ranking Member Johnson letter. EPA: COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED FOR CLEAN WATER RULE The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending its public comment period until Nov. 14 for its proposed rule clarifying federal jurisdiction of US waterways. This is the second time EPA has extended the rule’s comment period. Recent US Supreme Court decisions, including Rapanos v. United States, have called into question the term “navigable waterway” as defined under the Clean Water Act. The proposed EPA rule would clarify that narrower water bodies such as streams, wetlands and smaller rivers, are under the law’s jurisdiction. Click this link for additional information on the proposed Clean Water rule. HOUSE: CAFETERIAS INSTITUTE BAN ON POLYSTYRENE FOOD CONTAINERS The House cafeteria elected to stop serving food in polystyrene food containers following a letter from House Democrats urging a ban on the containers. The National Research Council affirmed the listing of styrene, the monomer used to create polystyrene packaging, as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Polystyrene was...

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Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process
Jul17

Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process

  A recent report from the National Science Board seeks to ease the burden of private investigators and lower costs associated with the overall merit review process for federal research grants. The National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) has released a report outlining recommendations to reduce administrative workload for principal investigators of federally funded research. The report is in response to several previous federal surveys and reports from the Federal Demonstration Partnership and the National Research Council that found these results: 1)      Federally supported scientists spend an average of 42 percent of their research time on administrative tasks. 2)      “The problem of excessive regulatory burdens…puts a drag on the efficiency of all university research,” potentially costing “billions of dollars over the next decade.” Among its recommendations, the NSB report recommends focusing grant proposal oversight on merit and achievement; harmonizing and streamlining grant management requirements among federal agencies and bureaus; eliminating or modifying unnecessary or ineffective regulations; and, identifying and disseminating model programs and practices that increase the efficiency of university research review processes. On July 14, the House passed bipartisan H.R. 5056, the Research Development and Efficiency Act, that seeks to implement the report recommendations. It was introduced by Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology with bipartisan agreement. The bill would create an interagency working group under the authority of the National Science and Technology Council with these mandates: (1) Harmonize, streamline, and eliminate duplicative Federal regulations and reporting requirements; and (2) minimize the regulatory burden on United States institutions of higher education performing federally funded research while maintaining accountability for Federal tax dollars. The NSB, various research entities and institutions, including the American Association of Universities, support the legislation. Additional information on the NSB report is available...

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Researchers Find Flaws in Popular Theory on Women’s Math Performance

This post contributed by Celia Smith, ESA Education Programs Coordinator Credit: xkcd.com In science, neat and tidy explanations rarely tell the whole story, and that is exactly what researchers at the University of Missouri have found about stereotype threat theory in their paper on the subject, currently in press at the Review of General Psychology. Though it may sound like psychological jargon, stereotype threat is a popular theory with policymakers and the media and is also expressed more idiomatically as the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ Since the theory was first described in a 1999 a Journal of Experimental Social Psychology paper, one of its most popular applications has been to explain why women have lower rates of achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than men. Supposedly, girls grow up believing that boys are better at math, and belief in this stereotype hampers their performance in math and related fields of science. Stereotype threat has been widely accepted as a simple and intuitive explanation for the relative lack of high-achieving women in STEM that places blame on social biases rather than flaws in the education system or academia. However, University of Missouri psychology professor David Geary and Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Leeds found that many replications of the original stereotype threat study contained serious flaws in statistical analyses and scientific methodology. Some studies even lacked a control group, meaning they did not compare the experimental effects of stereotyping on women with those on men. In addition to exposing serious holes in a popular theory, Geary and Stoet’s research highlights a common challenge in problem solving: asking the right questions. U.S. Department of Labor Statistics data show that in 2009, women comprised 29 percent of all environmental scientists and geoscientists, 25 percent of all computer scientists and mathematicians, and just 7 percent of mechanical engineers, indicating a ‘gender gap’ in STEM fields. However, data from the National Center for Education Statistics also show that girls and boys generally leave high school equally well-prepared to study STEM at higher levels. In fact, from 1990-2005, girls earned consistently higher grade point averages than boys in all math and science subjects combined. These statistics suggest that it is important to distinguish between grades and career success when measuring ‘achievement’ in math and science. The authors of the original stereotype threat study tried to explain the gender gap by suggesting that women performed more poorly on difficult math tests when introduced to a negative stereotype; Geary and Stoet’s research disputes this theory, yet the fact remains that there are still proportionately fewer women with established careers in many STEM fields today. In other...

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National Academies report: A “New Biology”

This post was contributed by ESA’s Director of Public Affairs, Nadine Lymn. Tony Janetos, a panelist at today’s National Academies briefing. Today the National Research Council, a division of the National Academies, released a report that calls for a new biology initiative to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing challenges, including food and energy production, environmental degradation, and human health.  The report, “A New Biology for the 21st Century“, calls for the collaboration of biological, physical, and social scientists, mathematicians and engineers, using recent advances in biology to address some of society’s most pressing problems.  This ambitious national initiative, according to the report, should be on par with America’s quest to put a man on the moon in the 20th Century. Committee participants Phillip Sharp of MIT, Anthony Janetos  of the Joint Global Change Research Institute and Keith Yamamoto of UC-San Francisco gave an overview of the report this morning at the National Academies.  Among their messages:  we need an increased investment in the life sciences to address some of society’s most pressing problems, and we have a unique opportunity for cross-discipline integration with the physical, computational, and other sciences to address some of our most urgent problems. The thread of ecology weaves through each of the four major challenges identified by the report.  The food challenge is to achieve sustainable, local food production and understand crops as ecosystems.  The environmental challenge is to halt and reverse ecosystem damage from pollution, over-harvesting, habitat fragmentation, and climate change.  The energy challenge is to develop a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, and the health challenge is individualized health surveillance and care, including an individual’s environment, history, micro-biome, genotype and physiology. The report makes four recommendations: (1)  Launch a National New Biology Initiative to achieve solutions to societal challenges in food, energy, environment, and health. (2)  Make the Initiative an interagency effort with a 10-year timeline and funding in addition to current agency budgets. (3)  Develop information sciences and technologies that are critical to the New Biology. (4)  Develop interdisciplinary curricula, graduate and educator training needed to create and support New Biologists. The report’s release is exciting to many who for years have been advocating for greater support for collaborative research and tools needed to address major society challenges.  The panelists noted that they have already had conversations with White House officials about the report. Biologists have a great opportunity to get engaged and help move the ideas of this report forward with their fellow scientists, Congress, and the Obama Administration. The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy supported the report. Read the full report...

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