At a hearing on Thursday, the House Science Committee will consider options for improving Congress’ access to advice on matters related to science and technology. Michael McCord, director of civil-military programs at the Stennis Center for Public Service, will represent a study panel that has just completed a congressionally mandated report on the subject. In lieu of reviving the long-defunct Office of Technology Assessment, the report recommends establishing a relatively small advisory office and further building up the S&T capabilities of the Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office. GAO Chief Scientist Tim Persons will be on hand to discuss the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics Team the office recently established to consolidate and augment its efforts to provide S&T guidance. Rounding out the witness panel are Peter Blair, who was a high-level official at OTA and currently leads the National Academies Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and Laura Manley, the director of Harvard University’s Technology and Public Purpose Project, which recently released its own blueprint for improving S&T advice mechanisms for Congress.
Government representatives and scientists from around the world are converging in Madrid this week for the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference, referred to as COP25. The two-week meeting aims to finalize the governing rules of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement that seeks to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. A group of 15 congressional Democrats will be in attendance, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said on Monday their presence is intended to “send a message that Congress’s commitment to take action on the climate crisis is iron clad.” The delegation includes House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ). In a statement on the conference, Pallone criticized President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement and noted that he hopes to introduce legislation this year aimed at “achieving a 100% clean economy by 2050.” An annual U.N. assessment released last week concludes that nations must substantially increase the ambition of their greenhouse gas emission reductions to meet the Paris Agreement goal.
On Wednesday, the House Science Committee is holding a hearing to inform a new legislative effort to update policy for the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. The program aims to advance understanding of windstorms and help mitigate their impacts by facilitating improvements in building codes, risk assessment, and information dissemination. The program was originally authorized in 2004 and the statutes governing it were last updated in 2015, when Congress transferred principal responsibility for it to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The committee will hear from the program’s current director, meteorologist and climate scientist Scott Weaver, as well as three other witnesses.
On Tuesday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is co-hosting a symposium at Stanford University on creating better opportunities for engagement between universities and companies. The event will begin with an address by OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier, who has often expressed interest in strengthening partnerships across the public and private sectors of the U.S. research enterprise. Following that, a session on new mechanisms for academic–government–industry engagement will feature the directors of the Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Other sessions will focus on talent sharing between academia and industry, state initiatives to broaden public-private partnerships, and efforts to develop pre-competitive intellectual property through consortia.
A National Academies panel studying challenges the U.S. faces in maintaining global leadership in R&D has invited four academic experts in innovation policy to speak at its second meeting on Wednesday. Simon Johnson is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a recent book that advocates using public R&D investment to spur new industries capable of fostering broadly shared economic growth. MIT political economy professor Michael Piore is currently researching how innovation policies modeled on Silicon Valley can undermine legacy industries. Britta Glennon, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, researches the changing structure of R&D activities conducted by multinational firms. National University of Singapore professor Yanbo Wang’s research encompasses how the Chinese government finances innovation at private firms.
The intersection of technological innovation and national security will be a major focus of the annual Reagan National Defense Forum, taking place this Saturday in California. Panelists will discuss the role of the National Security Innovation Base and venture capital investment in developing defense technologies, plans to establish a Space Force as a separate military branch, and efforts underway to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons triad. Other topics include the future of U.S.–China relations and a session titled, “The Technological Cold War? How Open and Closed Societies Compete in the 21st Century.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien are scheduled to deliver keynote addresses. Videos and transcripts of last year’s sessions are posted here.
On Tuesday, MIT is hosting a conference titled #SpreadingFacts on the role of science communication in fostering public understanding of science and elevating trust in it. Among the speakers is National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt, who will deliver a keynote address titled, “Building a Trusted ‘Brand Name’ for Science: Some Do’s and Don’ts.” The talk will focus on better communicating “norms of science that promote trustworthiness in research outcomes” and on identifying when such norms have been breached. Other sessions include discussions of the respective roles of researchers and journalists in science communication and of recent data on public trust in science produced by the Wellcome Trust and the Public Face of Science project.
Editors of six major scientific journals, including Science and Nature, published a joint statement on Nov. 26 raising concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to restrict the use of studies with nonpublic data in its regulatory decision making. Citing a Nov. 13 hearing held by the House Science Committee that scrutinized EPA’s plans to finalize the proposal, the editors say they have become more concerned about its potential scope since the journals issued a May 2018 statement on EPA’s initial proposal. Picking up on a central point of discussion at the hearing on whether the transparency requirements could be applied retroactively, they urge EPA not to disqualify research that underpins regulations that come up for renewal and instead to “adopt an approach that ensures the data used in decision-making are the best available,” including nonpublic data that is peer reviewed. They also encourage “anyone with concerns or opinions about this issue to express their views through relevant legislative channels.”
The Department of Defense recently posted four new study charges issued to the Defense Science Board on Oct. 30 by Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. One board task force will look broadly at the threats the U.S. defense industrial base must confront in the 21st century, as well as at its science and technology needs. Its charge explains that, whereas technologies during the Cold War “trickled down” from the defense sector to civilian applications, the U.S. now confronts a situation wherein DOD must acquire technologies from a global commercial industrial base. A second task force will examine the U.S. military’s access to a trustworthy supply of state-of-the-art microelectronics. A third will undertake a wide-ranging examination of DOD’s vulnerabilities to disruptions of critical infrastructure. A fourth will look at the future of air defense for the continental U.S., including the potential advantages offered by technologies such as railguns, directed energy weapons, cruise missiles, hypersonics, and swarms of autonomous vehicles.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced on Nov. 22 that Catherine Marsh is the new director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). Marsh has worked as a scientist within the U.S. intelligence community since 2001, including as IARPA’s deputy director from 2013 to 2015 and most recently as the chief scientist for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology. An expert in power sources, she holds a doctorate in inorganic and analytical chemistry from Brown University and, while working in industry, led the team that developed lithium-ion batteries for the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. IARPA’s mission is to invest in high-risk, high-payoff projects that have the potential to address challenges faced by the intelligence community. As director, Marsh succeeds Stacey Dixon, who became deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in June.
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The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is currently seeking applicants for its summer internship program. Students who are enrolled at least half-time in a post-secondary degree program are encouraged to apply. Applications are due Feb. 3, 2020.
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is accepting applications for the director of its Earth Science Division. The director leads a staff of approximately 75 at NASA’s headquarters and oversees a nearly $2 billion portfolio of investments in satellites, research, applied sciences, and technology development. Applications are due Feb. 14, 2020.
The American Geosciences Institute is accepting applications for its summer geoscience policy internship program. Students or recent graduates with a background in geoscience are encouraged to apply. Applications are due March 1, 2020.