Conservation

  • Hundreds of endangered blind salamanders were stolen from USFWS site in San Marcos (link).

  • Good news! A 520-acre area called Peaceful Springs has been added to the Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge, permanently protecting limestone canyons, major bird and butterfly migration routes, and springs that attract endangered bird species.

  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) is rumored to be selected to lead the Department of the Interior (link– though this source seems rather biased); her track record shows that she supports lessening environmental regulation (i.e., by restricting the EPA).

  • The National Ocean Council (NOC) presented its first two regional plans (Northeast Ocean Plan and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan) for promoting ocean stewardship through the integration of ocean data and effective interagency coordination (link)

Committee(s) on Science, Space, and Technology

  • Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), head of the House science committee, is conducting a poll regarding congressional priorities in the upcoming year. Action: Advocate for science/climate change here by selecting other and entering “Action and Research to Mitigate Climate Change” (link).

  • Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will continue to head the committee, though two democratic seats were lost on the panel as a result of primary elections. (AIBS link)

 Higher Education
  • Texas Freedom Network is lobbying the Texas Board of Education to remove anti-evolution rhetoric from texas textbooks (link). Action: sign the petition showing your support.

  • In this letter to the State Board of Education, Kathy Miller details who is streamlining the new science standards and calls out members of the SBOE for appointing non-scientists to the panel. Action: Apply to join a streamlining committee

    • Here are the proposed revisions of the science TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills; state standards set by the SBOE). High school TEKS include language questioning evolution and natural selection, such as the idea of “sudden appearance” (see 7B) of groups in the fossil record. One example change: 3A previously required students “examine all sides of scientific evidence” – this language is removed in the proposed standards, as evidence does not have “sides”. Also see revisions for 7G and 9D.

    • The board will approve/deny these proposed revisions in April of 2017, no specific agenda yet on their website for their April (or January) meetings.

  • Over the last four years, there has been a 13% decline in federal education funding, primarily due to NSF cutbacks, but also because of reduced DOE and HHS budgets. Some loss from defunding these agencies was made up for with increased funding from Agriculture and Defense. (AIBS link)

  • Scientific American reports “Science education advocates warn [that] the legitimization of nonscientific views at the highest levels of government could trickle down to local policies.” (“Trump’s First 100 Days: Science Education and Schools” link)

  • National Center for Science Education’s list of anti-science education bills proposed in 2016 (link)

Funding

  • ASBMB (Amer. Soc. for Biochem and Mol. Biol.) held a congressional briefing on Dec 5 (link) criticizing the effect a “continuing resolution” would have on science funding and elementary education, urging the passing of an omnibus bill. A CR would mean flat funding.

  • The FY2017 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill (funding for NSF, NOAA, NASA, DOJ, etc) was proposed, with NSF funding set to be $57 million less than FY2016 (link).

  • The 21st Century Cures Act was passed by congress Wednesday authorizing $4.8 billion to NIH over the next 10 years, Elizabeth Warren calls it “extortion” by the pharmaceutical industry who will benefit from reduced clinical trial restrictions, Obama is expected to sign the bill.

  • A bipartisan bill regarding how NSF should operate could pass in the Senate as early as this week; it largely proposes business as usual for proposal review (i.e., intellectual merit & broader impacts), and will not require an applied “national interest” category as proposed by the House (link).

  • According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office were born out over ten years, there would be a 29% decrease in non-defense spending. One proposed avenue to reduce spending is a hiring freeze for all federal government employees which includes federal science agencies. (AIBS link), (Trump’s 100 day plan)

Public Health

  • Texas will face pressure from the anti-vaccine movement, which is gathering force in Austin (link), during this legislative session.  Stay tuned for information on hearings for related bills.

  • The paper initially linking vaccines and autism is back under review at Frontiers in Public Health (link).

  • Action: NIH seeks your insight on public data sharing. Comments accepted until Dec. 29, 2016 (link)

City of Austin

  • City Council mostly accepted a new compromise to allow a controversial development, The Grove, to move forward (link). The compromise between the developers and a neighborhood group included more affordable housing, but not much reduction in the commercial development aspect.

Climate Change

  • Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma, to head the EPA. Pruitt is known to have made secret deals with energy corporations to reduce and dismantle environmental restrictions in exchange for lobbying and soliciting promotions for Mr. Pruitt.  Action: Tell your Senator Trump’s EPA Pick endangers eco-protections

  • Though he’d like to, Trump can’t withdraw from the global climate deal (a.k.a the Paris Agreement) outright – built into the deal is a mandatory four-year withdrawal period, which prevents the U.S. from leaving the deal before the end of Trump’s first term or be subject to international law. However, with support of congress, Trump can refuse to pay the $800 million/year pledged by the U.S. for mitigation of climate change in the least developed nations (AIBS link)

  • The US Forest Service has allowed a loophole that will permit Arch Coal access to 172 million tons of coal that would create 486 million tons of carbon emissions and do $3.4 billion in economic damages; it is now up to Obama to reject the loophole. Action: tell Obama to reject the Forest Service decision.

Outreach / Professional Development

  • Action: Sign up for the AIBS (American institute of Biological Science) Communication Boot Camp for Scientists in Washington, DC on 27-28 February 2017 (link)

  • Action: Apply for 2017 AIBS Emerging public policy award and meet with your congresspeople in DC. Apps due by 1/9/2017. (link)

Science Communication / Miscellaneous

  • Scientific American guest blog post, “…Stand up for Science,” is optimistic about public’s interest in science journalism.
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