You are here
The Week of April 22, 2019
Issued each Monday, FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.
The Week of April 22, 2019
(Image credit – FYI / William Thomas)
Sexual Harassment and ‘Trustworthiness of Science’ Take Center Stage at NAS Meeting
The 156th annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) begins Saturday in Washington, D.C. Among the featured topics this year is the 2018 National Academies report on sexual harassment in the sciences. Mills College President Elizabeth Hillman, a co-author of the report, will summarize its findings and review the academic community’s response during a session on Sunday. NAS is currently reforming its own policies related to harassment and other forms of misconduct, and will hold a vote at the meeting to allow the organization to reprimand or expel elected members for code of conduct violations. On Monday, NAS President Marcia McNutt will deliver her annual address to members and moderate a panel discussion titled “Establishing the Trustworthiness of Science.” The panel will “explore the foundations of establishing trust and how the scientific community can more systematically establish — and signal — which results have earned trust.” Both sessions will be webcast.
NOAA Advisory Panel to Weigh In on R&D Plan Outline
At a meeting of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Science Advisory Board on Tuesday, the board will discuss a draft outline of an “R&D plan” the agency is developing. Currently, the plan is organized around three “vision areas”: reducing societal impacts from severe weather and other environmental phenomena, promoting sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources, and supporting a robust research, development, and transition enterprise. The board has already reviewed the outline and offered comments, which have been aggregated into a separate document. When complete, the plan will update a previous version that covered the period from 2013 to 2017.
STEM Inclusion Summit Convening in DC
The Association for Women in Science is holding its annual summit on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The event will bring together experts from industry, academia, and government to exchange ideas on increasing retention of underrepresented groups in STEM fields, removing barriers to acquiring research funding, and improving the transparency of inclusion data, among other topics. Among this year’s awardees is Mareena Robinson Snowden, the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT, who is being recognized as an early career leader and a “visible and vocal advocate for diversity and inclusive scientific practices.”
Outer Planets Assessment Group to Meet
The Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG), which advises NASA’s Planetary Science Division, is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday. This is the group’s first meeting since NASA elected to replace the magnetometer on its Europa Clipper mission with a simpler one to be developed by a different team. The decision came as a surprise to OPAG, which penned a letter complaining the process NASA used to make its decision is new and not well understood by the scientific community. The meeting will also include presentations on several prospective missions, including a mission to Uranus or Neptune, a “Saturn Ring Skimmer,” a mission to study the active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, and a mission called “Trident” that would conduct a low-cost flyby of Neptune’s moon Triton.
Congressional Panel Reviewing US–China Space Competition
The U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission is holding a daylong hearing on Thursday dedicated to the U.S.’ strategic competition with China in space. The commission is an independent body mandated by Congress to report on the national security implications of the U.S.–China trade relationship. China’s activities in space have prompted the U.S. government to renew its focus on the capabilities and vulnerabilities of its space-based assets as well as to accelerate its plans for crewed space exploration. Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, will deliver remarks on the Trump administration’s perspective.
Air Force S&T Strategy Outlines Structural Reforms
Last week, the U.S. Air Force released a strategy that sets three objectives to guide its investments in science and technology programs over the next decade. The first objective calls for at least 20 percent of the Air Force’s S&T budget to go toward advancing a set of “transformational strategic capabilities.” These capabilities encompass research in photonics, quantum science, directed energy, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics, among other areas. The second objective, reforming the management of S&T programs, includes plans to create a Chief Technology Officer position to oversee activities from early-stage research through technology acquisition. The third objective entails better leveraging S&T talent from outside the Air Force. Proposals include expanding support for university students and researchers, adopting a pilot “open campus” program, and creating a “virtual front door” to facilitate external partnerships.
Grassley Expands Probe of Foreign ‘Threats’ Facing Science Agencies
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to the National Science Foundation on April 15 seeking details on the agency’s process for "protecting taxpayer-funded research from foreign threats.” The inquiry builds on similar letters he has sent to the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and FBI in recent months. The letters request information on how agencies vet grant applicants and investigate potential misconduct, such as “theft of research data and findings” as well as “violations concerning foreign affiliations and financial contributions.” Grassley is expressing particular concerns about actions by China, citing a hearing he held on “non-traditional espionage” late last year. Over the past year, research agencies have stepped up their scrutiny of researchers’ ties to foreign organizations in response to concerns from Congress and within the administration, with a particular focus on government-financed talent recruitment programs. Last week, Science magazine and the Houston Chronicle reported that MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas ousted three researchers for violating NIH policies around disclosing foreign financial contributions.
Report Endorses DOD Support for Advanced Manufacturing Institutes
The National Academies released a report on April 15 assessing the Department of Defense’s support for advanced manufacturing institutes in the Manufacturing USA network. Since 2013, DOD has contributed about $600 million to eight institutes, and the department commissioned the study to inform its review of future participation in the network. The report notes DOD invested in the institutes with the understanding that they receive five to seven years of “one-time, start-up” funding and a share of their “core” funding from the government. The report recommends DOD continue to provide core funding while also expanding the number of customer-supported projects the institutes conduct. The report’s co-chairs will discuss their conclusions in a webinar on Tuesday.
Illinois Democrats Renew Call for Sustained R&D Spending Increases
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL) reintroduced two bills last week that would each “create a mandatory fund to provide steady, predictable funding for breakthrough research at America’s top research agencies.” The bill text is not yet posted, but the press release states the American Innovation Act would provide a 5 percent annual increase to the budget of the National Science Foundation and science programs at NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy. Similarly, the American Cures Act would provide a 5 percent annual increase plus inflation to the budget of the National Institutes of Health and three other biomedical research agencies. Prior versions of the bills sought to achieve such increases by amending budget law to guarantee that agencies receive additional discretionary spending authority over a five-year period. No version of either bill has ever advanced out of committee.