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Science Policy Report

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12 July 2017

In This Issue:

Policy News

~ Trump’s White House science office still small and waiting for leadership
~ Centrist Republicans mobilize against draft GOP budget
~ EPA head launching initiative to 'critique' climate science
~ Plan on tight budgets, personnel cuts, OMB tells agencies
~ Agro-terrorism bill signed by President
~ Trump nominates finance executive for DOE science undersecretary

Science News

~ Lasting oil spill impacts in coastal wetland
~ How innovation dies
~ As climate changes, southern states will suffer more than others
~ The science police
~ Maize breeding enhances efficient use of nitrogen
~ Study finds mercury levels in Arctic soils 5 times higher than temperate regions
~ FFAR launches multi-million-dollar international effort to accelerate crops of the future
~ Autonomous monitoring approach gives farmers detailed 4D look at crops
~ Soil Carbon and Nitrogen under a long-term fertilizer gradient

International Corner

~ Canada’s basic science at risk of fading away, report argues
~ Report recommends doubling budget of EU's next science funding program
~ Europeans line up behind Paris Accord, free trade before G20

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities

~ Nominations open for 20187 National Science Board Honorary Awards
~ Sustainable American Aquaculture
~ Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience
~ 2018 Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in Conservation Research
~ 2018 Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in Conservation Research
~ SARE Regional Host Institution

Policy News


(TOP) ~ Trump’s White House science office still small and waiting for leadership

The 1976 law that created the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) lets presidents tailor the office to fit their priorities. Under former President Barack Obama, OSTP grew to a record size and played a role in all the administration’s numerous science and technology initiatives. In contrast, President Donald Trump has all but ignored OSTP during his first 6 months in office, keeping it small and excluding it from even a cursory role in formulating science-related policies and spending plans. Trump has yet to nominate an OSTP director, who traditionally also serves as the president’s science adviser. Nor has he announced his choices for as many as four other senior OSTP officials who would need to be confirmed by the Senate. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Centrist Republicans mobilize against draft GOP budget

Centrist House Republicans are lining up to oppose a draft GOP budget aimed at curbing entitlement spending — and threatening to vote against the plan if they don't get a bipartisan deal to increase spending caps. Tuesday Group co-chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) is gathering signatures on a letter asking Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to intervene in House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black’s plan to cut $200 billion in mandatory spending in the GOP budget. The letter also encourages GOP leaders to work with Democrats to reach a budget agreement setting higher spending levels for fiscal 2018 — something the letter suggests could be paired with a vote to raise the debt ceiling. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ EPA head launching initiative to 'critique' climate science

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is leading a formal Trump administration program to “critique” mainstream climate change science. Pruitt is skeptical of the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity, via greenhouse gases, is far and away the primary cause of climate change. But he’s stated he believes the climate is changing and humans have some role. The initiative will be a “back-and-forth critique” of climate studies, using scientists recruited by the government to take different positions on the matters. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Plan on tight budgets, personnel cuts, OMB tells agencies

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has told agencies to plan for fiscal year 2019 spending levels reflecting the administration’s proposals for fiscal 2018, while reorganizing and reducing their workforces. In many cases, agencies will need to seek significant reductions from current levels and at least the levels proposed in most of the FY2018 House appropriations bills. The directive came in the annual memo in which OMB sets guidance for agencies to make proposals that will be included in the budget proposal issued early the following year. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Agro-terrorism bill signed by President

President Donald Trump signed H.R. 1238, “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act,” which calls for coordinating federal efforts to defend the U.S. agriculture and veterinary systems from terrorism, including the intentional introduction of a foreign animal disease such as foot and mouth disease. The bill was originally proposed by Rep. David Young (R., Iowa), after the 2015 outbreak of avian influenza that decimated Iowa’s poultry population. This disaster raised concerns among farmers, producers and ag experts about whether our nation would be able to capably share information and respond to agro-terrorism threats and attacks, ultimately an attack against our nation’s citizens. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Trump nominates finance executive for DOE science undersecretary

President Donald Trump has nominated Paul Dabbar, an investment banker with J.P. Morgan Chase in New York City, to be the Department of Energy’s (DOE's) undersecretary for science. If confirmed by the Senate, Dabbar would succeed Franklin "Lynn" Orr in the post. Orr left the post this past January. According to a White House statement released today, “Dabbar is Managing Director for Mergers & Acquisitions for J.P. Morgan, and has over $400 billion in investment experience across all energy sectors including solar, wind, geothermal, distributed-generation, utility, LNG, pipeline, oil & gas, trading, energy technology, and has also led the majority of all nuclear transactions.” Read the full article.

Science News


(TOP) ~ Lasting oil spill impacts in coastal wetland

Although evidence of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill may not be visually obvious today, crude oil can still be found in Louisiana coastal marshes. Oil not initially degraded has become buried under the yearly pile of dead plant material, which is deposited after each growing season. The oil has potential to cause stress to plants, as it is buried and in close proximity with the roots. A paper recently published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal investigates how the presence of surface and buried crude oil under flooded and drained conditions affects the redox of wetland soils, an important control of wetland soil functions. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ How innovation dies

Trying to do cutting edge research in a shambling concrete packing house is symptomatic of another problem, one that cuts across the landscape of federally funded research: Maintaining its infrastructure. Most people think of innovation as requiring shiny new equipment, which it often does, but it also comes with the far more mundane requirement of clean, functional buildings to house it. Years of federal belt-tightening have starved laboratories of funding for routine maintenance, and the deterioration has reached the point that some researchers say the nation's ability to conduct cutting-edge science is being damaged. The Agriculture Department estimated its research infrastructure needs across 24 priority sites at about $1 billion in a 2012 report. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ As climate changes, southern states will suffer more than others

As the United States confronts global warming in the decades ahead, not all states will suffer equally. Maine may benefit from milder winters. Florida, by contrast, could face major losses, as deadly heat waves flare up in the summer and rising sea levels eat away at valuable coastal properties. In a new study in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the economic harm that climate change could inflict on the United States in the coming century. They found that the impacts could prove highly unequal: states in the Northeast and West would fare relatively well, while parts of the Midwest and Southeast would be especially hard hit. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ The science police

In 2013, Canadian ecologist Mark Vellend submitted a paper to the journal Nature that made the first peer reviewer uneasy because of the “large policy implications” of the paper and how it might be interpreted in the media raised the bar for acceptance. Nature ultimately rejected the paper. Vellend discusses all this in an essay that is part of a collection titled Effective Conservation Science: Data Not Dogma, to be published by Oxford University Press in late 2017. His experiences have left him wondering if other ecology studies are being similarly judged on “how the results align with conventional wisdom or political priorities.” The short answer appears to be yes. On highly charged issues, such as climate change and endangered species, peer review literature and public discourse are aggressively patrolled by self-appointed sheriffs in the scientific community. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Maize breeding enhances efficient use of nitrogen

Nitrogen is applied yearly to the more than 90 million acres of maize production in the USA. Breeding maize for increased grain yield has been the focus of Pioneer for more than 90 years. A question of interest is to measure the rate of yield gain in relationship to N application and how nitrogen use efficiency has changed over time. In a recent Crop Science paper, researchers from DuPont Pioneer report on a multi-year, multi-location study using the ERA hybrids grown under two planting densities and in both sufficient and insufficient N applications. The researchers document that modern hybrids produced greater yield with the same amount of N compared to older hybrids documenting increased nitrogen use efficiency due to breeding. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Study finds mercury levels in Arctic soils 5 times higher than temperate regions

Plants and soil in the Arctic tundra absorb and store mercury released into the atmosphere by industry and mining in the Earth's temperate regions, leading to soil mercury levels five times higher than in lower latitudes, according to a new study published this week in the journal Nature. The international team of researchers from the U.S. and France used a combination of methods to monitor the accumulation of mercury from the atmosphere, performing continuous sampling over a two-year period, including through the Arctic winter. They concluded that the Arctic tundra is a major "sink" for mercury, a toxin that affects the neurological and immune systems of Arctic wildlife and is passed along to indigenous peoples who rely on subsistence hunting for their food. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ FFAR launches multi-million-dollar international effort to accelerate crops of the future

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) joined with Bayer, Biogemma, KWS, FAPESP, Precision PlantSciences, Rijk Zwaan and CIMMYT to launch the Crops of the Future Collaborative, a new consortium that will accelerate crop breeding to meet global food demand 20-50 years in the future. FFAR's initial $10 million commitment is expected to leverage significant additional investment from partners. The Crops of the Future Collaborative will accelerate crop breeding through an innovative public-private model that pools proprietary knowledge, financial resources, and technology to carry out crop-specific research initially focusing on maize, leafy greens and wheat and small grains. The consortium will hone in on how a crop’s genetic information can yield traits needed to meet global nutritional demands in a changing environment. Participants will see their investments multiplied by a “one-to-many” matching model. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Autonomous monitoring approach gives farmers detailed 4D look at crops

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech Research Institute have developed a new computer vision-based method of autonomously monitoring agricultural crops that may lower costs, improve harvest yields, and ultimately provide more food to starving people around the world. Going beyond current crop monitoring techniques used in precision agriculture applications, the Georgia Tech team has created a four-dimensional (4D = 3D + time) reconstruction approach that can provide farmers with detailed crop information including plant heights and growth rates. At the heart of the team’s approach is a highly robust data association algorithm that solves the problem of connecting related images over time that have highly duplicated structures, significant lighting and appearance differences. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Soil Carbon and Nitrogen under a long-term fertilizer gradient

The connection between commercial N fertilizer and soil organic carbon is widely debated. In a recent article in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, researchers examined how long-term nitrogen use affected soil C and N in continuous corn production. The low rate of N application caused significant decreases in soil C and N content down to 100 cm, while no differences were determined between the recommended and high rates of N. In addition, plots receiving the low application of N were lower in elevation and had less depth of the A horizon. Read the full article.

International Corner


(TOP) ~ Canada’s basic science at risk of fading away, report argues

Canada’s scientific enterprise is at risk of sinking to junk bond status as a result of a funding crunch and misguided government and granting council policies, argues a recently released report. In particular, the authors decry a steady shift away from basic science that has left a smaller portion of the nation’s growing scientific community focused on fundamental research. Kirsty Duncan, science minister in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, says the report helps highlight the need for a “national conversation on science and science funding.” But she stopped short of endorsing any of the report’s specific recommendations, arguing that there is no quick fix. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Report recommends doubling budget of EU's next science funding program

A major report published last week by the European Commission recommends, among other things, doubling the overall budget of the post-Horizon 2020 EU research and innovation program. This would lead to a seven-year budget of at least €120 billion ($136.8 billion) in current prices, the report notes. This report was authored by a group of academic and industry experts at the request of the Commission. Read the full article.


(TOP) ~ Europeans line up behind Paris Accord, free trade before G20

European leaders said they are ready to defend the Paris climate accord and free trade when they face President Donald Trump at the Group of 20 summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was "more determined than ever" to see the climate deal succeed. The Trump administration's "America First" approach to trade has caused widespread concern internationally, as has its decision to pull out of the Paris accord. Trump announced the withdrawal shortly after returning from last month's Group of 7 summit in Italy. Merkel told the German parliament that "we cannot expect easy talks in Hamburg" on climate issues when leaders of the G-20 global economic powers meet in the city July 7-8. Read the full article.

Research, Education, Extension Funding Opportunities


(TOP) ~ Nominations open for 20187 National Science Board Honorary Awards

Each year, the National Science Board (NSB) pays tribute to remarkable contributions and public service in science and engineering through its Vannevar Bush and Public Service awards. Named after the gifted visionary and dynamic public servant who was behind the creation of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NSB's Vannevar Bush Award honors life-long leaders who have made exceptional contributions toward the welfare of humankind and the nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy. NSB's Public Service Award honors individuals and groups for substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering in the United States. These contributions may be in a wide variety of areas, including mass media, social media, education, training programs and entertainment. Deadline, October 1. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Sustainable American Aquaculture

The objective of the Sustainable American Aquaculture Program RFA is to stimulate innovative research in farmed production of fish and shellfish, providing economic opportunities to US farmers and increasing the supply of domestically-produced, nutritious foods to meet growing consumer demand. There is a major need to understand the biological and technological barriers, and economic/market potential a diverse range of aquatic species. In addition, research focused on understanding and minimizing potential environmental impacts of aquaculture production will be key to public acceptance of farmed fish and shellfish products, an important consideration for long-term industry success. Pre-proposal deadline, August 9. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience

The Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) contributes to the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) initiative through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience (IUSE: GEOPATHS) funding opportunity. IUSE: GEOPATHS invites proposals that specifically address the current needs and opportunities related to undergraduate education within the geosciences community. The primary goal of the IUSE: GEOPATHS funding opportunity is to increase the number of undergraduate students interested in pursuing undergraduate degrees and/or post-graduate degrees in geoscience through the design and testing of novel approaches for engaging students in authentic, career-relevant experiences in geoscience. In order to broaden participation in the geosciences, engaging undergraduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups or from non-geoscience degree programs is a priority. The IUSE: GEOPATHS solicitation features two funding tracks: (1) Engaging students in the geosciences through extra-curricular experiences and training activities (GEOPATHS-EXTRA), and (2) Improving pathways into the geosciences through institutional collaborations and transfer (GEOPATHS-IMPACT). Letter of intent deadline, August 18. Read the full announcement. 


(TOP) ~ 2018 Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in Conservation Research

The Society for Conservation Biology is accepting applications for its David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program. The program seeks to develop future world leaders and entrepreneurs who are successful at linking conservation science to real-world applications. To that end, Smith Fellowships provide two years of postdoctoral support to outstanding early-career scientists. The purpose of the program is to create opportunities for leading conservation scientists to strengthen their skills through two years of applied postdoctoral research, supplemented by training programs, peer networking, and field-learning experiences that help them build productive partnerships with conservation practitioners and contribute to and communicate scientific knowledge of critical importance in conservation. The focus of fellows’ research and activities should be characterized by cutting-edge research in conservation biology; defining frontiers and leading the future of conservation biology; building coalitions of organizations and partnerships to support conservation biology; and supporting and encouraging high-potential individuals to accept risk as a component of change and leadership and thus make significant change in the world. Deadline, September 8. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ 2018 Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in Conservation Research

The Society for Conservation Biology is accepting applications for its David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program. The program seeks to develop future world leaders and entrepreneurs who are successful at linking conservation science to real-world applications. To that end, Smith Fellowships provide two years of postdoctoral support to outstanding early-career scientists. The purpose of the program is to create opportunities for leading conservation scientists to strengthen their skills through two years of applied postdoctoral research, supplemented by training programs, peer networking, and field-learning experiences that help them build productive partnerships with conservation practitioners and contribute to and communicate scientific knowledge of critical importance in conservation. The focus of fellows’ research and activities should be characterized by cutting-edge research in conservation biology; defining frontiers and leading the future of conservation biology; building coalitions of organizations and partnerships to support conservation biology; and supporting and encouraging high-potential individuals to accept risk as a component of change and leadership and thus make significant change in the world. Deadline, September 8. Read the full announcement.


(TOP) ~ SARE Regional Host Institution

The purpose of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program is to encourage research and outreach designed to increase knowledge concerning agricultural production systems that: 1) maintain and enhance the quality and productivity of the soil; 2) conserve soil, water, energy, natural resources, and fish and wildlife habitat; 3) maintain and enhance the quality of surface and ground water; 4) protect the health and safety of persons involved in the food and farm system; 5)promote the well-being of animals; and 6) increase employment opportunities in agriculture. Deadline, September 28. Read the full announcement.

Sources: USDA; NSF; FFAR; AAAS; ScienceInsider; Politico; The Hill; FedWeek; The White House; Feedstuffs; New York Times; Issues in Science and Technology; GA Tech News;

Vision: The Societies Washington, DC Science Policy Office (SPO) will advocate the importance and value of the agronomic, crop and soil sciences in developing national science policy and ensuring the necessary public-sector investment in the continued health of the environment for the well being of humanity. The SPO will assimilate, interpret, and disseminate in a timely manner to Society members information about relevant agricultural, natural resources and environmental legislation, rules and regulations under consideration by Congress and the Administration.

This page of the ASA-CSSA-SSSA web site will highlight current news items relevant to Science Policy. It is not an endorsement of any position.