Post-Election: BPS President’s Message

Dear Biophysical Society Members,

sfscarlataNo matter what side of the aisle we are on or what part of the world we live in, the recent US election and the campaigns leading up to it have left us with a feeling of divisiveness and unease. This is only the latest world event to bring to the forefront fissures that exist among people.  It has made many want to shut themselves off from the world around them.  As scientists and as citizens, we cannot do that.

The amazing strength of biophysics is its inherent diversity, and it is this diversity that has impacted fields far beyond biophysics.  Now more than ever, we as biophysicists need to work together to demonstrate through our actions, our work, and our outreach, the power of inclusivity, diversity, civil discourse, and collaboration.  The Biophysical Society has always been an international, global organization, representing incredible breadth and diversity of scientific areas, as well as diversity in every demographic aspect possible. I cannot stress enough that the Society has always been committed to inclusivity, respect of others and selves, and collaboration among disparate groups.  This will never, never, never change. We appreciate our members as scientists and human beings, and we appreciate what every member brings to the Society.

And now more than ever we as biophysicists need to engage in civil discourse to show how working together creates a better future for all.  We need to reach out to non-scientists and speak to them as fellow citizens in understandable terms so that they can appreciate the implications of the science policy decisions they make through their votes.  We need to work at the grassroots level within our own communities to make everyone understand that scientific research leads to better jobs, to a better environment, to healthier lives, to more prosperity.

This is not the time to isolate ourselves from one another, but quite the opposite.  It is a time to work together to use what we know best to help educate those around the world about the hope that science research brings to all. It is a time to come together and continue our tradition of respect and inclusivity.

Suzanne Scarlata
Biophysical Society President

Be a Voice for Science in Washington, Apply to be the Next BPS Congressional Fellow

 

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Randy Wadkins, BPS’s 2016-17 Congressional Fellow, in the Halls of Congress.

With the election two weeks away in the United States, it is almost impossible to miss talk of politics.  Even if it is missing from the public discussion at the moment, what these politicians are tasked with doing when they are in office is set policy.  While the public and the mainstream media aren’t focused on science policy, it is something that elected leaders have to consider.  So, where will these elected Senators and House members, most who don’t have a science background, get their information?

From their staff.

And the Biophysical Society want to make sure that scientists are among those staff members.

 The Society is currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 BPS Congressional fellowship.  The individual selected for the Fellowship will spend a year working in a Capitol Hill office advising the senator or congressman for whom they are working on science-related issues.

The BPS fellow will be one of 30+ AAAS Congressional Science and Technology Policy Fellows.  The AAAS Fellowship program has been bringing scientists to Washington DC to work both on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies for 43 years.  The purpose of the program is two-fold:  1) provide scientific expertise to policymakers and 2) have scientists understand the policy making process.

Worried you wouldn’t have a clue what to do in a congressional office? The AAAS has that covered. The program kicks off each September with two weeks of intense training on how the government operates, who the players are, and what your roll will be.  The program also guides you through the process of finding a placement for your fellowship.  The training continues throughout the year.  In addition, each cohort of fellows usually form a pretty tight bond.

This is a very unique opportunity, open to BPS members that hold a terminal degree (PhD, MD). Fellows could have just graduated, or have 20 years in the lab under their belt.  Individuals that have completed the AAAS fellowship have found the experience to be professionally rewarding—whether they have chosen to return to bench science or use their science knowledge in other fields.

Have we peaked your interest?  Learn more about the BPS fellowship and the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows.  Applications are due December 15!

 

Where do the Candidates Stand on Science?

White-House-SD-Qs-Banner.jpg2016. An Election year in the United States. It’s nearly impossible to turn on the television, pull up news on the computer, or scan your social media accounts without seeing some sort of political news. Often the coverage is about the horse race aspect of the election— polling numbers, for example—or the candidates’ whereabouts on the campaign trail.  Occasionally the coverage is policy based.  Rarely, though does this include a candidate’s views on scientific issues.

Earlier this month ScienceDebate.org released 20 science questions to which it would like the Presidential candidates to respond.  The Biophysical Society assisted in the creation and vetting of the questions and endorsed the final list.  Along with other leading science organizations, the Society would very much like to hear where Clinton, Trump, and the third party candidates stand on these important questions that touch on vaccines, climate change, jobs, and research.  The questions received attention from the press, but the candidates have yet to respond.  We hope that they will in the coming weeks.  We also hope to see some of these questions posed in the national debates.

Here are the questions.

ScienceDebate.org was originally started in late 2007 to garner support for science issues to be included in Presidential debates prior to the 2008 election. Candidates Obama and McCain did go on record with responses to the questions then; here’s hoping Clinton and Trump let us know where they stand!

First Golden Goose Award of 2016 Goes to NIH-funded Social Science Researchers

Ce0-qDSWQAIRhtTRESEARCHERS BEHIND LANDMARK ADOLESCENT HEALTH STUDY – A STUDY
THAT ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN – WILL RECEIVE GOLDEN GOOSE AWARD,

Five researchers whose determined pursuit of knowledge about the factors that influence
adolescent health led to one of the most influential longitudinal studies of human health—with far-reaching and often unanticipated impacts on society—will receive the first 2016 Golden Goose Award.

The researchers are Dr. Peter Bearman, Barbara Entwisle, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ronald
Rindfuss, and Richard Udry, who worked at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
(UNC) in the late 1980s and early 1990s to design and execute the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, or Add Health for short.

The social scientists’ landmark, federally funded study has not only illuminated the impact of social and environmental factors on adolescent health—often in unanticipated ways—but also continues to help shape the national conversation around human health. Their work has provided unanticipated insights into how adolescent health affects well being long into adulthood and has laid essential groundwork for research into the nation’s obesity epidemic over the past two decades.

“Four bold researchers wanted to learn more about adolescent health. Who knew that one federal study would change the way doctors approach everything from AIDS to obesity?” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), who first proposed the Golden Goose Award. “Decades later, this work is still paying off, helping Americans lead longer, healthier lives. America always comes out ahead when we invest in scientific research.”

The pathbreaking nationally representative Add Health study has answered many questions about adolescent behavior, with particular attention to sexual and other risky behaviors, but it was almost stopped in its tracks by political concerns.The study’s design grew out of the American Teenage Study, a project developed by Drs.Bearman, Entwisle, Rindfuss, and Udry. This initial adolescent sexual health study was designed to look at adolescents’ risky behaviors in a social context, rather than focusing only on individuals, in hopes of helping the nation address the growing AIDS epidemic and other public
health concerns. After two years of planning work funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Teenage Study passed peer review and was funded by the NIH in 1991. But the grant was subsequently rescinded due to objections regarding the study’s focus on sexual behaviors.

In 1993, Congress passed legislation forbidding the NIH from funding the American Teenage Study in the future, but at the same time mandating a longitudinal study on adolescent health that would consider all behaviors related to their health – implicitly including sexual behavior.

“I congratulate Dr. Rindfuss and his colleagues on this award, which underscores the vital
importance of federal funding for research,” said Rep. David Price (D-NC), who was a key
advocate in the House of Representatives in the 1990’s for continuing to pursue this research. “Federally supported research projects not only produce new life-saving treatments and expand our understanding of the world around us, they also spur economic growth and innovation in ways we cannot always anticipate.”

In 1994, Drs. Udry and Bearman, now joined at UNC by Dr. Harris, proposed Add Health to
meet Congress’s new mandate. The new study maintained the American Teenage Study design’s strong focus on social context, but significantly expanded the scope of inquiry to include all factors influencing adolescent health. The study has followed its original cohort for over 20 years, and it is now providing valuable information about the unanticipated impacts of adolescent health on overall well-being in adulthood. For this reason, the researchers recently changed the study’s name to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, and it is a landmark example of how longitudinal research can yield extraordinary and unexpected insights.

“Science often advances our understanding of the world in ways we could never have foreseen,” Rep. Bob Dold (R-IL) said. “Regardless of how this research began, it has served as a breakthrough for understanding the way society molds our personal health. That’s why congressional funding and support for breakthrough research is so important to push us forward as a country.”

The nationally representative sample and multifaceted longitudinal data paired with a
revolutionary open-access model have enabled more than 10,000 researchers to publish almost 3,000 research articles on human health. These scientific studies have strengthened an understanding of the importance of family connectedness to adolescent health, allowed researchers to track and scrutinize the rising tide of the obesity epidemic, and demonstrated the social, behavioral, and biological importance of adolescence to lifelong health and wellbeing.

What began as a study driven both by social science curiosity and public-health concerns has been central to shaping the national conversation around adolescent health for more than two decades.

The Golden Goose Award honors scientists whose federally funded work may have seemed odd or obscure when it was first conducted but has resulted in significant benefits to society. Drs. Bearman, Entwisle, Harris, Rindfuss and Udry are being cited for their extraordinary multidisciplinary, longitudinal study of the social and biological factors that influence adolescent health, and their work’s wide-ranging and often unexpected impacts on society. The five researchers will be honored with two other teams of researchers – yet to be named – at the fifth annual Golden Goose Award Ceremony at the Library of Congress on September 22.

About the Golden Goose Award
The Golden Goose Award is the brainchild of Rep. Jim Cooper, who first had the idea for the award when the late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) was issuing the Golden Fleece Award to target wasteful federal spending and often targeted peer-reviewed science because it sounded odd. Rep. Cooper believed such an award was needed to counter the false impression that odd sounding research was not useful. In 2012, a coalition of business, university, and scientific organizations created the Golden Goose Award. Like the bipartisan group of Members of Congress who support the Golden Goose Award, the founding organizations believe that federally funded basic scientific research is the cornerstone of American innovation and essential to our economic growth, health, global competitiveness, and national security. Award recipients are selected by a panel of respected scientists and university research leaders.

The Biophysical Society has been a sponsor of the award for the past three years.

Science Fares Well in FY 2016

On December 18, Congress passed a $1.5 billion omnibus spending bill that funds the government through September 1, 2016. The bill increases funding for science at several federal agencies, which was made possible by the budget deal in late October that provided relief to sequestration for the discretionary parts of the federal budget (this includes all research programs).

With the budget settled, agencies can now move forward conducting business and making grant awards with the knowledge of how much money they have for the year. The chart below shows information for several programs and agencies of interest to the biophysics community.

Federal Funding for Science Agencies (in millions)

Agency

FY 2015 Enacted Level

FY 2016 Enacted Level

Difference between FY 15 and FY 16 Percent change between FY 15 and FY 16

National Institutes of Health

$30,073 $32,100  

$2,000

 

6.6%

National Science Foundation

$7,344 $7,460 $120 1.6%

Department of Energy Office of Science

$5,067 $5,350 $279

5.6%

NASA Science

$5,245

$5,589 $344

6.6%

NIST Science and Tech Laboratories

$676

$690 $755

2.1%

Department of Defense Basic Research $2,278 $2,309 $31.5

1.4%

Veteran’s Affairs Medical and Prosthetic Research $588.9 $631 $42.1

7.1%

And, here are a few notes:

  • The $2 billion increase for NIH is the largest increase for the agency since 2003. This is a huge win for the biomedical community! Within that amount $200 million is designated for the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI); $936 million for Alzheimer’s disease research (which is a $350 million increase); $150 million for the BRAIN Initiative (an increase of $85 million); and $100 million to National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for antimicrobial resistance research.
  • Within the NSF budget, “Research and Related Activities”receives a $100 million increase over FY 2015; this is the account that from which funding for research grants comes.  The “Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction” line decreased $45 million from FY 2015.
  • The language that appeared in a House appropriations bill for NSF earlier in the year and that would have decimated the Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBE) and the Geosciences Directorates was removed.  Instead, included language states that SBE should be funded at no more than the FY 2015 level. The House Science Commitee and NSF have been in an elongated battle over how NSF selects grants.  NSF must continue to certify that all awards are in “the national interest.”

With 2016 wrapped up, its time to start the process for funding the government for 2017. The Administration  have been working on their proposals since the summer. The process should be made a bit easier by the budget deal that was struck in October; it created a top line number for both 2016 and 2017.  The President will  lay out his vision for his last year in office during the State of the Union on January 12.  He typically sends his budget request to Congress the first week of February.

What’s Going on With the Federal Budget?

budget3It’s Thanksgiving Week and Congress is in recess.  Perhaps the last you heard about the federal budget for FY 2016 was that there was a bipartisan deal at the end of October.  Sounded like a good outcome.  That is true, but that deal didn’t actually provide funding for the coming year; it just increased the amount of money that could be spent.  Congress has until December 11 to figure out how it is going to divide up those additional dollars and pass a bill to fund the government for the coming year.  So why haven’t you heard much?

After the October budget deal, Congress began working behind closed doors on how to appropriate the additional dollars. The appropriations chairmen let their subcommittees know how much money they had to divide up among the programs for which they were responsible. These numbers were not made public. The subcommittees were supposed to send their proposals back to the Congressional leadership by November 20.  It is rumored that the conversations have not only focused on dollar amounts for each programs, but also on what policy riders will be included in the final bill.  Policy riders are directives that require certain actions or disallow certain actions by federal agencies.  The Democrats prefer a spending bill without riders; Republicans are pushing to include riders that reflect their priorities.  An example of a potential policy rider that affects scientists would be one that would require the National Science Foundation to certify that all funded grants represent research that is the national interest by making the U.S. more secure or improving the economy.   (This rider was in a spending bill approved by the House earlier this year, and could end up part of the ominbus bill currently being worked on.)

The rumors are that Congress will release an omnibus bill funding all federal agencies and programs on December 1, at which time we will be able to see how the agencies we care about have fared.  It is expected that the next ten days will be spent working out the riders and final numbers.

What has BPS been up to?

While the Hill has not been forthcoming with information during the past month, the Society has remained active in advocating for science funding in the final bill.  When the budget deal was reached, the Society sent a thank you letter to the White House and Congressional Leaders.  The Society has also sent communications to the Hill as a member of several coalitions in which it participates.  Many of these groups are also working on FY 2017 funding; a letter as sent by a coalition of coalitions, in support of raising science funding 5.2% across the board in 2017.

What can you do?

BPS has also been encouraging members to get involved.  A call for members to write to their Senators and Representative to thank them for the budget deal and advocate for science in FY 2016 went out to all U.S. members in early November. Thus far, 54 advocates have sent 166 letters.  If you haven’t written yet you can do so here.

Enjoy the quiet of Thanksgiving Week and stay tuned for more budget news in early December!

 

My Experience at the Rally for Medical Research Capitol Hill Day

rally photo VA1

BPS public affairs committee member Seth Weinberg, far left, with other biomedical research advocates and U.S. Representative Robert Hurt (R-VA), far right.

On September 17, I joined members of over 300 national organizations to participate in the Rally for Medical Research Capitol Hill Day. Many rally participants were fellow scientists from all across the country, attending to urge Congress to provide robust, sustainable, and predictable funding for NIH in 2016 and beyond. However, most rally participants were patients and loved ones, attending to advocate and show support for biomedical research, as those directly affected by disease and those anticipating with hope new biomedical breakthroughs.

Rally participants were organized into groups based on their home state. My group from Virginia met with four House offices and the two Virginia Senate offices.  At these office meetings, I described my experience as an early career scientist, having seen my peers leave biomedical research or the country for more reliable career opportunities, a direct result of decade-low NIH funding levels. I conveyed that basic science research is critical for advances in patient treatment, but that the clinical implementation of basic science research may take decades, making the need for sustainable and predictability funding that much more crucial. In my group, my fellow rally participants expressed their own personal, and often heartbreaking, stories of how disease had directly touched their lives, and each voiced how imperative supporting NIH and biomedical research is to themselves and those similarly affected.

The House and Senate offices that we met with all agreed that NIH funding is important and optimistically stated that NIH support seems to be one issue that Congress members on both sides of the aisle can agree upon.

Seth H. Weinberg,Research Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University