ESA Policy News October 11
Oct11

ESA Policy News October 11

Research on hold in government shutdown, farm bill (in)action, EPA cleared in email scandal, climate skeptics denied

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ESA Policy News: June 14
Jun14

ESA Policy News: June 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. EDUCATION: STEM REORGANIZATION EFFORT MEETS BIPARTISAN CRITICISM On June 4, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened for a hearing examining the Obama Administration’s proposed reorganization of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) programs outlined in its proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Under the plan, 110 of 226 federal agency STEM programs would be eliminated. The plan would house STEM programs primarily under three agencies: the Department of Education (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Smithsonian Institution (SI). DOE would oversee K-12 programs, NSF would oversee undergraduate and graduate programs while the Smithsonian would be responsible for informal science education. The proposal, an effort on the part of the administration to deal with the reality of current fiscal constraints, was met with inquiries and skepticism from both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and former chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) were all particularly concerned with the reorganization’s impact on STEM programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The reorganization would cut NASA programs by one-third. NASA’s STEM programs would lose $50 million under the reorganization effort.  There were also bipartisan concerns that the reorganization does not include enough focus on vocational training programs or programs that seek to increase STEM participation among underrepresented groups, including women and minorities. Members of Congress expressed concern that the reorganization effort was decided primarily through the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with little input from school districts, non-profits, universities or the federal agency program managers responsible for the programs slated for elimination. “In addition to being concerned about the process, I have serious concerns with the budget proposal itself.  To be blunt, it seems to me it was not very well thought out,” stated Ranking Member Johnson. Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren noted that no one wants to see their own programs reduced or eliminated. View the full hearing here. CLIMATE CHANGE: US, CHINA REACH DEAL ON HFC EMISSIONS On June 8, the White House announced that the United States had reached an agreement with China to reduce the use of use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are greenhouse gases used in refrigerator and air conditioner appliances. The most common types of HFCs are anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times as potent as carbon dioxide in warming the planet. According to the White House, HFC emissions could grow to nearly...

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Sequestration impacts national park summer destinations
Jun03

Sequestration impacts national park summer destinations

By Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Planning a summer visit to a US national park this summer? The parks will be open, but the overall quality of the trip may be somewhat lessened due to the ongoing budget sequestration which went into effect March 1. Since then, Congress has legislatively decreased the burden for some federal programs whose responsibilities hit close to home. After Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asserted that sequestration would lead to furloughs for meat inspectors, Congress wholly neutralized the sequester for federal meat inspections (at least the threat of tainted meat can still spur quick bipartisan action among federal lawmakers). Faced with increased travel delays on their own flights to and from Washington, Congress also took action to end furloughs for air traffic controllers. Outside of those actions, federal agencies have received little relief from Congress in minimizing negative impacts to vital programs. One misconception is the degree of leeway federal agencies have in the implementation of sequestration. The across-the-board cuts are mandated to occur equally across all federal programs unless Congress has legislatively either added or redirected funding. Among federal entities struggling to cope is the National Park Service. In the most recent edition of The Ecologist Goes to Washington, 2013 Ecological Society of America Graduate Student Policy Award winner Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie discusses the impacts of sequestration on her federally funded research at Acadia National Park and Congress’ apparent acceptance of sequestration as here to stay. Indeed, to the outside observer, Congress seems to have ceased work on a “grand bargain” to neutralize the sequester for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 and is returning to a “business as usual” mindset, despite the fact that, as MacKenzie elaborates, business is very much not usual for many researchers and conservationists across the country: By mid-April when we were in DC, it seemed like people in DC had kind of forgotten about the sequester–that it had lost this immediacy, but for me it was still a very immediate thing, so during the Congressional Visits Day, I talked about the sequester every chance I got. And I was really lucky that my lab had NSF [National Science Foundation] funding when my Park Service grant was sequestered and that kind of fit into our narrative of asking for sustained NSF support…..but I also wanted use this opportunity to remind my congress people that the sequester was already hurting science…I’m also surrounded by a bunch of people who work for the National Park Service and are facing similar challenges… This past Earth Day, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell elaborated on the impacts sequestration will have...

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ESA Policy News May 17
May17

ESA Policy News May 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. NSF: FORMER DIRECTORS EXPRESS CONCERN WITH DRAFT PEER REVIEW BILL On May 8, six former officials who headed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science Board during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations sent a letter to the leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee expressing concern with the High Quality Research Act. The draft bill would require the NSF Director to provide Congress with information certifying research projects meet certain national interest requirements before they can be funded, which has been interpreted as negating NSF’s existing scientific peer-review process for funding research. “We believe that this draft legislation would replace the current merit-based system used to evaluate research and education proposals with a cumbersome and unrealistic certification process that rather than improving the quality of research would do just the opposite,” the letter states. “The history of science and technology has shown that truly basic research often yields breakthroughs – including new technologies, markets and jobs – but that it is impossible to predict which projects (and which fields) will do that.” The High Quality Research Act, proposed by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), has yet to be introduced and there is no indication yet whether or when the committee will move on the bill. The draft legislation has already met strong opposition from scientific societies and universities as well as House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who asserted that the bill would “undermine NSF’s core mission as a basic research agency.” View the directors’ letter here. NOAA: CARBON DIOXIDE LEVELS REACH NEW MILESTONE The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have peaked above 400 parts per million (ppm), the first time since measurements began in 1958. According to NOAA, the global carbon dioxide average was 280 ppm in the 19th century preceding the industrial revolution and has fluctuated between 180-280 ppm over the past 800,000 years. The agency asserts that a concentration this great has not been seen in at least three million years. The news got very little reaction from key leaders on Capitol Hill, on either side of the aisle in both the House and Senate. The exceptions were Democratic leaders on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “We know that the Earth is warming, sea ice is disappearing, the glaciers are receding, the oceans are acidifying, and sea levels are rising. We know all of this from climate...

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ESA Policy News: May 3

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. NSF: SCIENCE COMMITTEE LEADERS WEIGH IN ON BEHAVIORAL RESEARCH INVESTMENT A letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Acting-Director Cora Marrett from House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) received a sharp rebuttal from Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). In his letter, Chairman Smith expressed concern with how NSF prioritizes scientific research. “Based on my review of NSF-funded studies, I have concerns regarding some grants approved by the foundation and how closely they adhere to NSF’s ‘intellectual merit’ guideline,” he wrote.  “To better understand how NSF makes decisions to approve and fund grants, it would be helpful to obtain detailed information on specific research projects awarded NSF grants.” He then cited several social science studies, including research projects entitled “Picturing Animals in National Geographic,” “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions,” and “Regulating Accountability and Transparency in China’s Dairy Industry” as “studies of interest” to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Johnson’s response letter addressed to Chairman Smith came the following day. “Like you I recognize that NSF grants have a responsibility back to the taxpayers,” she noted. “But I also believe that: 1) the progress of science itself – across all fields, including the social and behavioral sciences – is in the interest of the taxpayer; and 2) that NSF’s Broader Impact criterion is the right way to hold the individual grantee accountable.” Her letter included a sharp criticism of the chairman’s move as entirely unprecedented in modern history. “In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF. In the more than two decades of committee leadership that I have worked with – Chairmen Brown, Walker, Sensenbrenner, Boehlert, Gordon, and Hall – I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.” To view Chairman Smith’s letter, click here. To view Ranking Member Johnson’s rebuttal letter, click here. To view President Obama’s recent remarks before the National Academy of Sciences, click here. SENATE: APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA FY 2014 BUDGET REQUEST On April 24, the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee convened for a hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget request for FY 2014. “I’m disappointment with the overall budget level. This is the fourth year in a row that the agency’s budget request has contracted,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI). Chairman Reed cited clean...

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Briefing highlights importance of social science research

By Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst In recent months, there have been multiple congressional attempts to interfere with  the  National Science Foundation’s support of the nation’s fundamental research particularly  related to social and behavioral science research.  Such attacks have happened periodically over the years, but recent actions have been particularly aggressive. Congressional Republicans have pushed legislative efforts to restrict federal funding for social science research. The Continuing Resolution enacted to fund the government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 included language authored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) prohibiting NSF from funding political science research unless such research was certified to promote the national security or economic interests of the United States. House Space, Science and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has repeatedly emphasized his intention to increase oversight of NSF’s grant approval process. Chairman Smith has also put forward draft legislation, the High Quality Research Act, which would cripple NSF’s existing scientific merit  peer-review process . These actions have drawn criticism from Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and concern from science advocates. On April 25, the Coalition for National Science Funding joined with the House Research and Development Caucus, Co-Chaired by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), in sponsoring a briefing entitled “Social Science Research on Disasters: Communication, Resilience, and Consequences.” The briefing highlighted examples of federally-funded social and behavioral science research contributions to the nation. Rep. Holt, a practicing Ph.D. physicist before he was elected to Congress, highlighted the need for the US to continue to sustain investment of basic research across all fields of science.  NSF Acting Director Cora Marrett also underscored that message. For example, NSF-funded social science research at Washington University in St. Louis helped the Army Research Institute incorporate nonverbal communication into soldier training, helping defense efforts towards improving cross-cultural non-verbal communication. A Western Washington University behavioral study on US veterans identified certain patterns of disadvantages in educational and career trajectories that could help the 200,000 military servicemen and women  who must readjust to civilian life each year post-service. Behavior research on human response to natural disasters shows that local culture plays a role in how individuals respond to evacuation orders issued for hurricanes. Researchers Susan Weller (University of Texas) and Roberta Baer (University of South Florida) identified various factors, including exhaustion, traffic concerns and a belief in the ability to “ride out the storm” as affecting the manner in which people respond to mandated evacuations. Each of the briefing’s speakers gave their perspective on how behavior research informs federal response to human-made and natural disasters. H. Dan O’Hair(University of Kentucky) discussed the sociology of collaborative efforts between broadcast...

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ESA Policy News: April 19

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENCE RECEIVES HIGH PRIORTY IN WHITE HOUSE FY 2014 PROPOSAL On April 10, the White House released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget proposal, which includes significant increases for scientific research. The proposal sets different priorities than the proposed budgets put forward by Congressional leaders, particularly those of the House majority. The budget takes into account spending caps instituted through the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). However, it does not take into account implementation of sequestration and compares program funding levels to those of FY 2012, before sequestration was implemented. Obama’s budget proposes to nullify budget sequestration with $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction. This would include $580 billion in revenue through closing tax loopholes, $400 billion in healthcare savings, $200 billion in mandatory spending programs that would include agriculture and retirement contributions and $200 billion in discretionary savings. The remaining $430 billion would come from cost-of-living adjustments and reduced interest payments on the debt. Congress needs to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings to eliminate the existing sequester cuts. In total, the White House FY 2014 budget request includes $142.8 billion for federal research and development (R&D), a 1.3 percent increase over FY 2012. In his official message on the budget, President Obama sought to tie science investment to economic development. “If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas,” he asserted. “That is why the budget maintains a world-class commitment to science and research, targeting resources to those areas most likely to contribute directly to the creation of transformational technologies that can create the businesses and jobs of the future. The president’s budget would provide OSTP with $5.65 million for FY 2014, an increase from $4.5 million in FY 2012. In the president’s proposal, many federal agencies that invest in scientific research would garner large boosts, compared to what was enacted in FY 2012: National Science Foundation: $7.6 billion (an 8.4 percent increase) US Geological Survey: $1.2 billion (a 9 percent increase) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.4 billion (an 8 percent increase) Department of Energy R&D: $12.7 billion (an 18 percent increase) National Aeronautics and Space Administration R&D: $11.6 billion (a 2.6 percent increase) US Global Change Research Program: $2.7 billion (a 6 percent increase) Additional information on the White House FY 2014 budget request is available here. Information specific to the White House’s scientific research budget proposals is available here. Information specific to the White House’s proposal for STEM programs is available here. BUDGET: PRESIDENT’S PROPOSAL INCLUDES...

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How to encourage us to conserve energy

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs Many of us recognize that a large part of the solution to environmental problems lies in getting people to change their behavior.  Unfortunately, altering the habits of the human animal can be especially challenging—we are intelligent but we can also be irrational and our age-old tendency to focus on immediate needs frequently overrides our ability to think, plan and act longer-term. That topic was addressed during a briefing co-sponsored last week by Discover Magazine and the National Science Foundation.  The ninth part of a briefing series on the science and engineering needed to meet the energy goals of the United States, the May 23 briefing focused on the psychology of the energy choices we make. Since human behavior causes environmental and economic problems, it stands to reason that changes in human behavior are needed to address them, said Elke Weber, one of the speakers at the briefing.  Weber is director of Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, one of NSF’s Decision Research Centers that focus on better understanding how we make decisions, particularly about long-term environmental risks.  Weber’s work includes looking at obstacles that prevent people from doing things that would lead to energy conservation.  In spite of the demonstrated personal cost savings of adopting energy-efficient technology, we don’t fully take advantage of them.  Why?  According to Weber, we may be fearful of new technology or perceive that our energy savings will be too small.  And, we tend to heavily discount future savings, especially when they require an initial large, upfront cost. Weber explained that while our short-term goals are automatically activated, getting our long-term goals activated is challenging and requires paying attention to social, cultural and other contexts.  For example, she said, labels matter.  Calling something a carbon “tax” has a negative connotation for many people.  Calling that same thing a carbon “offset” is a more positive label to which most people respond to more favorably.  The setting in which people make their choices are also influential.  Whether people are making energy-provider choices alone at home or in a community meeting can make a big difference. A member of the audience picked up on Weber’s cultural reference, noting that social norms among different groups may be wasting energy, yet be difficult to change.  For example, law offices may intentionally leave the lights burning at night to give the appearance that someone is there working—even if no one is.  Weber’s response:  devise substitutions that will work for a particular group that are less wasteful but still achieve the community’s goal. Weber offered an interesting possibility for the future.  She...

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