Golden Goose Awards Promote Basic Science
AAAS helped launch an award program designed to celebrate the enormous human and economic benefits attributable to basic scientific research. The Golden Goose Awards—a collaboration with U.S. lawmakers from both parties and science, business and education leaders—honor federally funded researchers, especially those whose work may have initially sounded odd but resulted in extremely valuable discoveries to benefit society. The awards are a kind of retort to lawmakers such as the late Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin), who mocked certain research projects as wasteful spending. AAAS and the coalition supporting the awards announced the winners in September 2012, publicizing scientists’ accomplishments and struggles in a Washington Post op-ed that also appeared in other media outlets. The winners included Charles H. Townes, who was reportedly warned not to waste resources on the research he undertook to help develop laser technology; Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien, whose research on jellyfish nervous systems unexpectedly led to advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, progress with brain diseases, and improved detection of poisons in drinking water; and Eugene White, Rodney White, Della Roy and the late Jon Weber, who developed materials used in bone grafts and prosthetic eyes based on coral’s microstructure.
Speaking Up for U.S. R&D
Government Relations staff organized Capitol Hill briefi ngs—drawing on analyses of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program and compelling evidence from other AAAS units—to underscore the enormous economic and human benefits that federal investment in research can yield, such as the Google search engine and GPS technology. The briefings pointed out how cuts to the federal research budget, threatened to be the largest in about 40 years, could hobble future prosperity.
Expert panelists at one of the briefings said that many new technologies are rooted in disparate fields and are often being developed by universities and smaller start-up companies, rather than large corporations. Both trends, the panelists said, suggest an increasingly important role for federally funded research and development because federal programs already support significant cross-disciplinary work at public laboratories and universities.
AAAS also hosted its annual Hill briefing presenting its analysis of the presidential budget request for research and development. “Now more than ever,” said U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-Illinois), who spoke at the event, “the advocacy message for strong basic research investments must be heard loud and clear across the Capitol campus if we want to remain a global leader in innovation.”
AAAS also offered a Web site with a huge range of resources pertaining to the threatened sequestration and participated in an online campaign to get AAAS members and others in the scientific community to speak out about how sequestration cuts could harm their research.
“We want to ensure that the scientific community is heard on this critical issue,” said Joanne Carney, AAAS Office of Government Relations director.
Communicating About Climate, Energy, Food and Water
“Part of being a good scientist is helping policymakers do their job well by being an objective resource and providing scientifi c information that they then use in policy decisions,” said Carney, of the AAAS Office of Government Relations, which co-sponsors the effort along with a dozen other scientifi c professional societies and research organizations.
The scientists, who were coached in a training session, didn’t press for particular policies or funding with the lawmakers, but worked to build bridges. “We were not there to debate whether global warming was occurring,” said Steven Cavallo, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Oklahoma, who met with the all-Republican and strongly conservative Oklahoma congressional delegation. “We were just there to open up the discussion, establish a relationship with them.”
Climate was also a key theme during the Global Challenges fall lecture series, coorganized by AAAS. Featured topics in the series included the energy-water-food nexus and the effect of climate change on the Arctic. During the Arctic panel, speakers noted that accelerating climate change reduces the Arctic region’s summer ice and uncovers natural resources. At the same time, indigenous populations are threatened and carbon held in Arctic soils is released, compounding the effects of global greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide climate patterns may be slowed such that extreme conditions related to droughts and floods may last longer.
Science and the Presidential Election
AAAS developed a Web site to continuously track the 2012 presidential candidates’ positions on science and technology issues. The association also joined other leading U.S. science and engineering organizations in preparing a list of science questions that were answered by the candidates.
SCIENCE, POLICY AND SOCIETY
The AAAS Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs (CSPSP) engages with the world of science policy through a successful program for science and technology fellows in government and an annual high-level science policy forum known for its astute analysis and information. The center also provides scientific expertise to support human rights and to uphold the quality of scientific endeavors. CSPSP further addresses the implications of science and engineering in public policy, the law and religion.
S&T Policy Fellowships Approach the Big 4-0
As it neared its 40th anniversary, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program continued its dual mission of bringing scientific expertise to the world of government policy and political savvy to the science professions. Begun in 1973 with just seven science fellows, the program in 2012 welcomed 279 fellows (shown below), who will serve one or two years in congressional and executive branch positions.
As the newest fellows began their program, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) called on them to help protect America’s contribution to science and engineering research in an era in which he said bipartisan support for it is dwindling, and as some members of Congress believe that any new investment in research needs to be paid for by cutting research elsewhere in the budget.
“You’ll be well-positioned to facilitate bipartisan discussions that we need to be having on a daily basis about how we can continue to advance science and engineering innovation in the national interest,” Bingaman told the fellows.
Fellows work on such pressing issues as federal policy for adaptation to climate change. More than 50 percent of them continue in government after their fellowships end, and over the years, many have ended up in high-impact positions in the White House, Congress, the State Department, federal agencies, research universities and non-governmental organizations.
“One of the exciting things about the program,” said Fellowships Director Cynthia Robinson,” is that [the fellows] have taken the experience they’ve had in Washington, D.C. … to engage in the work that they’ve done throughout the rest of their careers.”
Research Competitiveness Program
Among RCP’s many 2012 projects was an independent review of Phase I of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) Marine Microbiology Initiative, a ten-year, $145 million effort to answer fundamental questions about the diversity of marine microorganisms and their role in ocean health. The review involved approximately 20 external consultants, multiple stakeholder meetings, data collection and quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Findings and recommendations were delivered to the GBMF Board in October 2012.
Forum on S&T Policy
Speaker John P. Holdren, the White House science and technology advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, reiterated President Barack Obama’s commitment to scientific innovation as a driver of economic productivity, asserting that especially in a time of economic struggle, it is crucial to invest in areas such as advanced manufacturing, “big data” computing and science education. In another presentation, U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) promised Congressional support for R&D but warned that the scientific community must “be prepared to negotiate and compromise.”
More than 400 government and business leaders, researchers, educators and journalists attended the 2012 Forum.
Science In Support of Human Rights
Satellite images taken of Western Ethiopia confirmed that farmers there had been removed from their land and relocated, possibly to make way for large-scale industrial farms. “Using satellite imagery, we came up with the same result as people on the ground,” said Wolfinbarger, referring to a report prepared by Human Rights Watch.
Also in 2012, the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition held a meeting focused on indigenous rights, with one panel on climate change as it relates to indigenous peoples. Rebecca Tsosie, director of the Indian Legal Program at Arizona State University, spoke of the “scientific and ethical component to indigenous knowledge—it tells native people what is the right thing to do. It tells us what effective management is and what the consequences are of destructive or harmful management. That aspect of sacred knowledge cannot be left out of the discussion.”
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND SECURITY POLICY
A key role of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) is bringing science and technology expertise to the analysis of global security issues. The center’s activities include public reports and policy recommendations as well as active programs affecting a variety of communities, both domestic and international. Recent activities have been in the areas of international bioengagement, science and security dialogues with domestic and international institutions, and studies and public events on nuclear nonproliferation and space security issues.
Biosecurity In The BMENA Region
The State Department grants catalyzed new scientifi c collaborations between scientists from BMENA countries and the United States on such projects as nanobiotechnology, wildlife conservation and infectious disease surveillance and genomic technology. Several of these collaborative projects have secured further support to expand. The meetings, which were intended to encourage broader cooperation between American scientists and researchers working in the BMENA region, brought out ongoing challenges being experienced by young researchers there, including a lack of mentorship, scant opportunities to work with regional colleagues, and in some cases, funding and equipment shortages.
AAAS, FBI Collaborate on Biosecurity
The first meeting established a dialogue between universities and the FBI, providing opportunities for academic scientists and research administrators to work with the security community to develop recommendations to handle such risks as misuse of biological research, theft of biological agents and accidental exposure.
The second meeting, which used the H5N1 avian infl uenza research published by Science as a case study (see page 24), allowed the scientific and security communities to explore the best ways to oversee and communicate “dual-use” research, which has beneficial scientific value but may pose a public threat. The information shared at the meeting is being used to inform national-level policy discussions and proposed regulations regarding institutional oversight of dual-use life sciences research.
Supporting Nuclear Arms Control
Scientists and engineers play a principal role in lessening the threat of nuclear arms and helping to detect nuclear weapons tests by developing and employing highly sensitive advanced technologies. In addition, as during the height of the Cold War during the 1980s, international collaboration among scientists can build trust that supports arms control efforts.
“In terms of U.S. diplomacy, some of the greatest assets we have are not only in our government agencies, but in our foundations, science associations and other areas,” E. William Colglazier, science and technology advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, told the meeting at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We’re going to have to use all of our assets if we’re going to create a more peaceful world.”
Public, Press and Policy Events
One expert panel took place before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and focused on the technical, environmental, safety, security, economic and proliferation issues surrounding the use of small, modular nuclear reactors. Another panel discussion for U.S. House of Representatives staff tackled the current state of Laser Isotope Separation technology, particularly exploring the proliferation risks associated with a technology that makes it easier to enrich uranium while avoiding safeguards.
In September 2012, CSTSP organized a Capitol Hill briefi ng at which nuclear test monitoring experts said that the last decade has seen big improvements in the ability to detect clandestine nuclear explosions. “Technical capabilities have improved signifi cantly in the past decade,” said physicist Richard Garwin, an IBM Fellow Emeritus and member of a National Research Council study panel that produced a March 2012 report reviewing technical issues related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test- Ban Treaty (CTBT). That report concluded there is now 90 percent confi dence that the current International Monitoring System could detect an underground nuclear explosion well below 1 kiloton in most regions. The nuclear weapons that were used against Japan in World War II had yields of between 10 and 20 kilotons.
The briefing and a workshop that followed helped to inform the ongoing discussion in the Senate and the Administration of President Barack Obama surrounding nuclear test monitoring and verification and the CTBT.
AAAS also co-hosted a workshop on nuclear weapon safety, security and “use control” issues in 2012.