October 29th, 2012, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Sticking Out Sandy

I joked last week about how quiet it has been in DC thanks to the election, but this Monday morning I can hear a pin drop. This isn’t because of the election, but rather thanks to Hurricane Sandy which is cruising offshore and about to take a left turn in our direction. In preparation for the “Frankenstorm,” the federal government, DC schools, and the public transit system have all shut down. I hope to get this published before the power goes out, and I hope that all my East Coast readers find a safe place to hunker down during the storm.

Beyond this much more immediate threat, sequestration continues to loom large for those organizations that depend on federal support. With just seven weeks between the Presidential election and the first of the year, there is no clear path in place to avoid the 8-10% cuts in federal spending scheduled to begin in January. While the topic of sequestration has remained largely absent in the Presidential election, it did play a starring role in the final Presidential debate last Monday when President Obama stated emphatically that sequestration would not happen. This set off some alarm bells in DC, where much time has been spent strategizing on how to avoid sequestration, but not much has been done by either party to avoid it. Politico captured some of the reaction to the President’s statement here.

One scientific group is actively trying to engage STEM students in the debate around sequestration. The American Physical Society (APS) has drafted a letter outlining the impact that sequestration could have on research and education, and they are aiming to get 10,000 student signatures before releasing the letter after the election.  This effort reminds me of the petition started by a group of MIT students last year called Stand With Science. This group successfully received over 10,000 signatures on a similarly-themed letter which they took to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to prioritize research funding in any efforts to reduce the deficit.

Also of Note

Appointments. Dr. Chi-Chang Kao has been named the next director of the DOE-funded SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford. Dr. Kao, who will succeed Dr. Persis S. Drell, was previously an Associate Director at the lab.

Defense. Science reports on a new National Academies of Science (NAS) study on the state of the STEM workforce as it relates to national defense. The report, Assuring the U.S. Department of Defense a Strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce, argues that “The agency must become — and be perceived as — an appealing career destination for the most capable scientists, engineers, and technicians, all of whom are in great demand in the global marketplace. ”

Health. The Association of American Universities (AAU),  the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a report on the oversight of “dual use” life sciences research. The term dual use research refers to life science research that, if misused, could harm national security or public health. The report, Bridging Science and Security for Biological Research: A Discussion about Dual Use Research Review and Oversight at Research Institutions, summarized the second of what will be three meetings of these four groups to discuss topics related to biosecurity. You can read about the groups’ first meeting here.

In Print

A Scientific American piece entitled Future Jobs Depend on a Science-Based Economy argues that the next President of the U.S. should understand the positive impact science can play in boosting the economy.

Laura Datarro writes in a New York Times piece, Federal Budget Limits Affect Scientific Conferences, about growing concern over limits imposed on the federal government’s participation in conferences and the effect they could have on the scientific enterprise.

Jeff Tollefson and Heidi Ledford write in Nature about the High stakes for U.S. Science at play as the 2012 Presidential election nears.

David Maris calls out “questionable” spending at the NIH in a Forbes piece entitled Massaging Rabbits And 17 Other Questionable Taxpayer Funded Scientific Studies.

Declan Butler reports on the effect that new U.S. “select agent” regulations could have on virus research in the Nature piece Viral Research Faces Clampdown.

Neal Lane, a former director of the NSF and Science Advisor to President Clinton, writes in a New York Times op-ed, Science Is the Key to Growth, about the treatment of science by both candidates for President.

What’s on Deck

It’s still calm before the storm (the lame duck session, that is) on Capitol Hill.

Comments are closed.