FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier addressing a meeting of federal agency staff on Oct. 31.
(Image credit – OSTP)
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is hosting a summit on Tuesday to inform the work of the Joint Committee on the Research Environment (JCORE), an interagency panel it stood up in May to address high-priority issues. One of its four subcommittees is grappling with how to better protect federally funded research from exploitation by foreign governments while preserving the benefits of an open research environment. Although OSTP recently outlined its views on the matter in an open letter, uncertainty around the U.S. government’s stance, particularly as it relates to collaborations with China, has put many scientists on edge. JCORE’s other subcommittees are focused on mitigating the administrative burdens in research, increasing the rigor of the research process, and combating harassment and bias. According to OSTP, more than 100 people drawn from across industry, academia, and the federal government will attend the event, including top officials from the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and National Security Agency.
The congressionally chartered National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is holding a conference on Tuesday that will feature remarks from Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the heads of the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The conference comes as DOE is ramping up its support for AI, including applying it to data produced at the department’s national laboratories, and as NSF is planning to fund up to six new AI research institutes. The Department of Defense also recently created a Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to accelerate adoption of AI technologies across military service branches, and DARPA has embarked on a multi-billion dollar AI initiative. The commission is led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who also chairs DOD’s Defense Innovation Board. Last week that board published a set of principles it recommends the department adopt to promote ethical use of AI technologies.
The National Academies Space Studies Board is holding its fall meeting Wednesday through Friday. The event presents an opportunity for the board’s constituent committees to discuss a wide range of matters with NASA officials and the panels comprising the agency’s Science Advisory Committee, an external body of experts that operates in parallel with the board. Sessions on Thursday will also feature a panel discussion on the implications of Big Data for scientific research, with a keynote address by UCLA information studies professor Christine Borgman, the author of Big Data, Little Data, No Data. Other topics up for discussion include the push toward open science practices in scientific journals, the application of planetary protection protocols to crewed missions, and the health of astronauts on long-duration missions.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is holding a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday on NASA’s educational outreach activities. Although the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to terminate the agency’s Office of STEM Engagement (formerly called the Office of Education), Congress has instead increased its budget. Showcasing a variety of perspectives on these activities, the hearing's witness panel will include the lead investigator on the Psyche mission to a metallic asteroid, the vice chancellor of research at the University of Mississippi, and the CEO of Nanoracks, a company that facilitates the development of experiments, instruments, and small-scale satellites, including for newcomers to space-based science.
On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony on a number of energy research bills, including three renewable energy R&D bills introduced in the Senate last month: the Wind Energy R&D Act, the Solar Energy R&D Act, and the Advanced Geothermal Innovation Leadership Act. The committee will also consider the Senate version of the ARPA-E Reauthorization Act, which Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced last week. Like the compromise version advanced by the House Science Committee, the Senate bill recommends ramping up the budget for ARPA–E from its current level of $366 million to $750 million over five years. Other bills up for discussion include the Technology Transition Act, which would provide statutory backing for the Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions, and the Integrated Energy Systems Act, which would establish a program within the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy to carry out research that would facilitate the integration of a variety of emissions-reducing energy technologies into the nation’s electric grid and its energy system more broadly.
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The Senate passed a spending package last week that incorporates bills funding a number of science agencies, including NASA, the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others. Democrats blocked the advance of follow-on packages that include funding for the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health, citing disputes over the diversion of funds toward border wall construction as well as how Senate Republicans have allocated funds across different parts of the federal budget. The stopgap measure that is currently funding the government expires on Nov. 21, and the odds remain poor that the Senate and House will reconcile the differences among their proposals before then. Congress is reportedly considering another stopgap that would extend into mid-December. Concerns have been aired that disputes over the ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House could lead to a government shutdown, and over the weekend President Trump refused to rule one out.
In a letter to Congress on Oct. 23, the White House outlined its stance on various provisions in ten of the Senate’s pending appropriations bills for fiscal year 2020. Citing its Industries of the Future initiative, the administration endorses the Senate’s support for artificial intelligence and quantum research at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Energy, including the inclusion of $75 million for DOE to create “up to five” Quantum Information Science Research Centers. However, the letter characterizes the Senate’s proposed increases for DOE’s applied research programs as “excessive” and reiterates the administration's call for eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, stating the agency “makes little strategic sense given the existence of applied energy research programs elsewhere within DOE.” The White House also states it is “deeply concerned” by the mandate that NASA use the Space Launch System rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission, arguing it would “slow the lunar exploration program, which requires every SLS rocket available.” Additionally, it observes that the bill’s funding proposal for human exploration R&D would not be enough to advance a lunar landing system in time to meet the administration’s goal of conducting a crewed landing in 2024.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced on Oct. 30 that Sudip Parikh will become its new CEO in January 2020. Parikh comes to AAAS from the Drug Information Association, a D.C.-based healthcare nonprofit, where he served as senior vice president. After earning a doctoral degree in biochemistry from the Scripps Research Institute in 2000, he spent eight years on the staff of the Senate appropriations committee followed by seven years at Battelle, a major government contractor, where he oversaw agriculture and health research programs. In an interview with Science, Parikh discussed challenges such as a trend toward declining membership in organizations and his views on the open access movement in scientific publishing. AAAS publishes the Science family of journals, which has recently hired a new editor-in-chief.
The High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has resumed operations for the first time since entering an unscheduled shutdown in November 2018. HFIR is one of two nuclear reactors that the federal government supports as user facilities for neutron scattering research and its closure resulted in the postponement of hundreds of experiments. The reactor is also an important production center for radioactive isotopes that are employed in medical and industrial applications, among other uses. The extended shutdown was the result of a fault in a fuel element installed during one of HFIR’s frequent refueling operations, which caused an increase in radioactivity within the reactor. Although no radiation escaped the reactor and the facility was undamaged, it remained offline while the lab and the Department of Energy reviewed the incident to mitigate the chance of a recurrence.
The National Academies released a report last week that examines how effective mentorship can boost student retention in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM) fields. The study committee’s nine recommendations largely focus on actions universities could take to adopt an “evidence-based” approach to mentoring. It calls on them to recognize and reward mentorship activities, particularly through the tenure process, and recommends that funding agencies incentivize evidence-based mentorship practices. The report is accompanied by an online guide that aims to support implementation of the recommendations.
Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
AIP is accepting applications for a science policy reporter to join the FYI team based in College Park, Maryland. The reporter will write and edit content for multiple FYI email newsletters and web resources as part of an editorial team. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of science policy, science writing, or policy reporting experience are encouraged to apply. Applications are due Nov. 22.
The Council on Governmental Relations, an association representing over 180 research institutions, is hiring a director for research ethics and compliance. The position is responsible for monitoring policy and regulatory developments spanning research integrity, financial conflict of interest, human subjects and animal research, management of sensitive research resources, and environmental safety. Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience in university research administration.
The National Academies is hiring a program officer to manage its new Roundtable on Black Men and Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which will compile data and convene workshops to identify strategies for increasing the participation and advancement of these groups in STEM fields. Applicants must have at least a Master’s degree in a relevant field and three years of related experience.
For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities. Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
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