Biologists Visit Lawmakers, Advocate Greater Investment in Research
Nearly 40 scientists and graduate students were in Washington, DC, 18–19 April, to participate in a congressional visits event cosponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and the Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM). AIBS and the Ecological Society of America formed BESC in 2002.
The two-day event began with a briefing by senior members of the science policy community to give participants an insider's view of the administration's research and development budget for fiscal year 2008. Providing the update were Kei Koizumi, program director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Jim Collins, assistant director for biological sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF); Anna Palmisano, deputy administrator for competitive programs at the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA); Jane Silverthorne, senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Jacqlyn Schneider, legislative assistant to Representative Jim Costa (D–CA).
After the briefing, participants traveled to Capitol Hill to attend a BESC/CoFARM-sponsored reception for Senators Tom Harkin (D–IA) and Kit Bond (R–MO). The senators were recognized for their work as proponents of biological and agricultural science research funding.
On the second day of the event, scientists fanned out across Capitol Hill in multidisciplinary teams to visit over 40 House and Senate offices, representing 23 different states. In their meetings, BESC/CoFARM scientists and staff discussed the importance of strong investment in basic biological and agricultural sciences research. Participants advocated an increase in research funding for all disciplines funded by the NSF, particularly the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), as well as the National Research Initiative, the extramural competitive grants program at the USDA.
In recounting their personal experiences, scientists explained how investments in basic biological and agricultural research provide not only opportunities to train graduate and undergraduate students but also answers to some of the nation's most pressing scientific challenges. Given that the NSF BIO funds 68 percent of fundamental (nonmedical) biological sciences research, scientists expressed grave concerns to lawmakers about the relatively flat budget for BIO over the last six years; they pointed out that grant funding rates for the directorate have dipped to an average of 14 percent.
Also participating in the event were scientists representing AIBS and its member societies, including two recipients of the 2007 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award (EPPLA), Amber Szoboszlai, of Moss Landing Labs, and Sarah Wright, of the University of Wisconsin. EPPLA honorable mention recipients Kyle Brown, of Harvard University, and Jenna Jadin, of the University of Maryland, were also in attendance.
AIBS Public Policy Office Gives Congressional Testimony in Support of Biological Research
In April, AIBS director of public policy Robert Gropp gave testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in support of increased funding in fiscal year (FY) 2008 for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The president's budget request would provide $6.43 billion for the NSF in FY 2008, including only a 4.1 percent increase for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), well below the average 7.7 percent increase proposed for other programs in the NSF's Research and Related Activities account.
BIO provides 68 percent of the federal grant support for fundamental biological research conducted at universities and nonprofit research centers. Yet, in 2006, the average funding rate across the directorate was only 14 percent. Thus, for BIO funding to keep pace with the need and demand for biological sciences research, AIBS encouraged Congress to provide at least $20 million more than the president's request for the NSF; this level of increased funding would enable the NSF to provide BIO with a 7 percent increase for FY 2008.
AIBS also provided testimony in support of increased funding for the US Geological Survey (USGS) and its biological research programs. Gropp asked Congress to boost funding for the Department of the Interior's science agency to $1.2 billion. Concern is growing that the USGS may be unable to meet its needs without greater funding. The agency has faced flat funding levels over the last decade, despite sponsoring research programs that provide vital, timely, and reliable information.
The full text of the testimony is available at www.aibs.org/position-statements.
A New Museum for Natural History in Virginia
A natural history museum recently opened its doors in Martinsville, Virginia. The Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH), a state agency under the secretary of natural resources and the official natural history museum of Virginia, is a member organization of AIBS and the Natural Science Collections Alliance.
Eight internationally known curators, 50 staff members, and 22 million collection items moved from a former school building into a $28 million, 8400-square-meter facility in late March 2007. The new facility includes a high-definition digital theater, conference rooms, offices, classrooms, a resource center, nine labs, storage facilities, a café, and a museum store.
The VMNH, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, is accredited by the American Association of Museums. Its mission is to foster understanding and appreciation of Virginia's natural resources through education, research, collections, publications, and exhibits. Nicholas Fraser, director of research and collections and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the VMNH, commented, “We're trying to get the visitor to understand how science works” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 27 March). In particular, the VMNH seeks to target specific audiences whose exposure to science and natural history is often limited. To that end, the museum sends traveling exhibits to youth correctional facilities, schools, and other sites in Virginia's depressed rural and urban areas.
On display now at the VMNH are “Feathered Dinosaurs of China” and “Chinasaurs: The Great Dinosaurs of China.” Among forthcoming exhibits are “How Nature Works: Life,” “How Nature Works: Rocks,” and “Uncovering Virginia.”
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