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The Week of October 8
Start your week fully informed with a preview of what's ahead in science policy and funding along with a recap of last week's news.
The Week of October 8
(Image credit – NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
National Academies Releasing Astrobiology Science Strategy
The National Academies is releasing a new Astrobiology Science Strategy on Wednesday, fulfilling a provision in the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act. To mark the release, the chair of the committee that produced the strategy, geobiologist Barbara Sherwood Lollar, will participate in a webcast along with astronomer and committee member Alan Boss. The strategy will outline scientific questions, challenges, and opportunities in the search for signs of extraterrestrial life both within and outside the Solar System, updating a previous strategy released in 2015. Combined with the Exoplanet Science Strategy the National Academies released last month, the astrobiology strategy will inform the upcoming astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey and, ultimately, the planning of future NASA science missions.
Clean Energy R&D Strategies the Focus of Two Forums
The latest National Academy of Sciences Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium is taking place this week in Irvine, California, and will examine progress and challenges in decarbonizing the energy landscape. Sessions focus primarily on solar technology and energy storage R&D. Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is delivering a public lecture Wednesday evening titled, “Accelerating the Clean Energy Transformation.” Videos from the event will be made available via the Sackler Colloquia YouTube channel. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago is hosting an event on R&D strategies in the clean energy sector. Former Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science Steve Koonin and former Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy Director Ellen Williams are among the participants.
National Academies Polar Research Board Turns 60
The National Academies Polar Research Board’s fall meeting this Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, D.C., features a special session commemorating its 60th anniversary. The session will include a panel discussion on “Engaging the Public Through the Windows of the Poles” led by Julie Brigham-Grette, a paleoclimatologist who chairs the board. The event also features a federal agency roundtable on polar science needs and opportunities, discussion of how new and proposed Arctic research sites relate to the U.S. Arctic Observing Network, and a review of steps the community is taking to prevent sexual harassment. The director of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, Kelly Falkner, will discuss the office’s new code of conduct, which it adopted this summer. An October 2017 report of harassment by a NSF-funded researcher in Antarctica raised awareness of how the problem can manifest in remote research environments. The meeting will be webcast.
ASU Open House to Explore the ‘Future of Science Policy’
On Tuesday, Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) is holding an open house event in Washington, D.C., billed as an exploration of the “future of science policy.” Sessions will focus on democratic governance of solar geoengineering research, “new tools” for science policy, and ASU’s recently launched School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Among the speakers are CSPO Co-Director Dan Sarewitz, University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr., California State University Maritime Academy professor Elizabeth McNie, UC Davis Center for Community and Citizen Science Executive Director Ryan Meyer, and ASU professor Katina Michael.
(Image credit – IPCC, Global Warming of 1.5 °C)
IPCC Charts Steep Path for Limiting Warming to 1.5 C
On Oct. 8, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report that outlines potential pathways for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and outlines the dire consequences of exceeding that limit. It finds that global carbon dioxide emissions would have to decline by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” by 2050 to achieve the goal. The U.S. delegation signed onto the report’s Summary for Policymakers, although the State Department stated that “acceptance of this report by the panel does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report” and reiterated the U.S. intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement “at the earliest opportunity absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people.” The report was produced as part of the work on the IPCC’s latest comprehensive climate change assessment, and will be followed by additional special reports on oceans and the cryosphere and on the relationship between the land and climate change.
Senators Split on EPA Science Transparency Proposal
At a hearing on Oct. 3, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members were split along party lines in their opinions on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to limit its ability to base regulations on scientific studies whose underlying data is not publicly available. Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee Chair Mike Rounds (R-SD), sponsor of a bill that would enact a similar policy, spoke favorably of the move. He asserted that EPA’s regulatory procedures lack transparency, leading the agency to “seek out the science that supports a predetermined policy outcome rather than relying on the best available science.” Democratic members questioned the sincerity of the proposal’s rationale and argued it could preclude the use of many relevant scientific studies, such as those that rely on confidential personal health data. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) have asserted the proposal’s lineage is similar to past efforts by the tobacco industry to influence the use of science in public health regulation.
Interior Department ‘Open Science’ Policy Echoes EPA Effort
While EPA continues to evaluate its proposed overhaul of procedures for using science in regulatory decisionmaking, the Department of Interior is now advancing a similar policy. In a Sept. 28 directive titled “Promoting Open Science,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt instructed all the department’s offices to make data and analyses relied on in regulatory decisions “publicly available with sufficient specificity to allow meaningful third party evaluation.” This requirement can be waived by the deputy secretary to protect privacy, confidential business information, or national security. The department will solicit public comment on the directive in compliance with its rulemaking process.
Chinese Student Ban Reportedly Pushed by Trump Adviser
According to an Oct. 2 article in the Financial Times, Stephen Miller, a top White House aide known for his hardline views on immigration, pressed President Trump to prevent Chinese students from studying in the U.S. to curb espionage activities. Miller reportedly also argued such a move would harm elite universities that are opposed to the president’s agenda. The proposal was opposed by Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China, who said smaller universities would suffer the most under such a ban. It is unclear when the discussions took place, but the article reports the issue came to a head after the National Security Strategy was released in December 2017. That document indicates the administration will “consider restrictions on foreign STEM students from designated countries to ensure that intellectual property is not transferred to competitors, while acknowledging the importance of recruiting the most advanced technical workforce to the U.S.” The administration has since implemented new visa screening measures for Chinese nationals seeking to study certain “sensitive” subjects.
Rita Baranwal Picked to Lead DOE Office of Nuclear Energy
On Oct. 3, President Trump announced his intention to nominate Rita Baranwal to lead the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Baranwal holds a doctorate in materials engineering from the University of Michigan and currently directs the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at Idaho National Laboratory, which provides developers of nuclear technologies with technical, regulatory, and financial assistance. Before joining INL, Baranwal worked in nuclear engineering at Westinghouse Electric Company for nine years, including two years as director of technology development. At DOE, Baranwal will oversee a growing R&D portfolio for advanced nuclear reactors and planning for a major new INL-based user facility, the Versatile Test Reactor. The Office of Nuclear Energy head was the last Senate-confirmed position at DOE still lacking a nominee.
NASA, NOAA Form Geostationary Satellite Investigation Board
On Oct. 2, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced they are convening a panel to investigate the cause of an instrument anomaly on the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) 17 satellite launched in March. The board will be led by David McGowan, chief engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center. NOAA first reported in May that the weather satellite’s primary imaging instrument, the Advanced Baseline Imager, was not cooling properly, diminishing its infrared and near-infrared imaging capabilities. In July, NOAA announced that some of the instrument’s performance have been restored, while noting the primary cause of the anomaly had not yet been determined. GOES-17 is the latest satellite in the next-generation GOES-R series program, a collaboration between NOAA, NASA, and private industry.
Bill to Combat Sexual Harassment in STEM Introduced by House Democrats
On Oct. 5, House Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and 32 other Democrats introduced the “Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act,” which would expand research on sexual harassment in the STEM workforce and examine policies that would reduce the impact of such harassment. The bill has been endorsed by over a dozen scientific societies, including three AIP Member Societies. The bill would direct the White House Office of Science and Technology to issue policy guidelines to federal agencies for preventing and responding to reports of sexual harassment and establish an interagency working group to coordinate these efforts. The bill also recommends $17.4 million for the National Science Foundation to establish a program that awards grants for research on sexual harassment in the STEM workforce, including students and trainees, among other activities.
Scientific Societies Forming Consortium to Address Sexual Harassment
Leaders from dozens of scientific societies, including AIP, met in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1 to discuss sexual harassment in STEM fields, the first time so many societies have gathered to discuss action on the issue. The group intends to form a consortium over the coming months that will develop model policy frameworks and practices to combat sexual harassment as well as a shared resource toolkit that societies and other institutions can use to help craft their own responses. The meeting comes as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health are advancing new initiatives to combat sexual harassment in science.
Leon Lederman, Transformational Lab Director, Has Died
(Image credit – Fermilab)
Former Fermilab director and Nobel laureate Leon Lederman has died at the age of 96. After receiving his doctorate in physics from Columbia University in 1951, Lederman rose quickly to become a leading figure in the rapidly changing field of particle physics. In 1963, he envisioned a new particle accelerator facility that would be a “truly national laboratory,” open to all researchers with meritorious proposals instead of privileging those based at the lab or affiliated universities. Fulfilling that aspiration, Fermilab established a model that has now become common practice for the national lab system. As the lab’s director from 1978 to 1989, Lederman shepherded the Tevatron proton collider from approval to completion, transforming Fermilab from a traditional user facility into a place where experiments of unprecedented scale could be conducted. Championing the Superconducting Super Collider concept, he pushed his vision for Fermilab still further but fell short when a site in Texas was selected for the ill-fated project. Nevertheless, Lederman’s successes as director ensured the lab remained the global pace setter for high energy particle physics into the 21st century.