Science Policy News Roundup – September 2018

National
Principal Deputy Director of the NIH, Lawrence Tabak, visits UGA
NIH_Master_Logo_Vertical_2Color
By National Institutes of Health (http://www.nih.gov/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, September 21, UGA hosted the Principal Deputy Director of the NIH, Lawrence A. Tabak, for a seminar.  Among his enormous list of accomplishments, Dr. Tabak can also add a great sense of humor, which he used to delight his audience while addressing some of the most important topics in science. He discussed the $2 billion boost the NIH is receiving in the final 2019 spending bill, which you can read more about here. He also talked about the importance of rigor and reproducibility in science, the importance of the next generation of researchers, and the NIH’s stance on harassment (check out the next article for more on this).   

Science community cracks down on sexual harassment

This month was full of news on how science funding sources and the science community will crack down on sexual harassment. NSF has taken a decided stance against harassment. They have set up a secure online portal for submitting harassment claims in addition to requiring awardee organizations to notify the agency of any determinations that an NSF-funded principal investigator committed harassment.  Once a claim has been made to NSF they will work with the awardee institution to decide a course of action. For the brief article on the NSF stance you can look here and for a fact sheet relating to this topic you can check out this site. Although the NIH did not roll out any new policy on harassment at funded institutions, it has vowed to make its procedures within NIH labs better. NIH stated they cannot take the same stance as NSF because the funds garnered from an NIH grant are going to an institution, not an individual; however, NIH is investigating how they can change this to follow more closely with NSF. The NIH stance has been met with mixed reviews, which you can read about here.  Additionally, the AAAS will begin to strip the title of AAAS fellow from those scientists found to be sexual harassers. A glacier was even renamed this month because its namesake had a harassment charge against him.

President Trump’s biodefense plan will improve collaboration and coordination across different agencies

President Trump’s administration has announced a new strategy for a biodefense plan aimed at better coordination of the 15 departments and 16 branches of the intelligence community.  A senior administration official, who did not want to be named, commented that previously there seemed to be a lack of accountability within the different departments and no department was clearly in charge.  In the new biodefense plan, the National Security Council will oversee biodefense policy while the Department of Health and Human Services will carry out the policies set forth. Annual reviews will also aid in making sure new concepts are carried out, not just left as an idea.  More information on the plan can be found here.

Mysterious malady affects U.S. diplomats in Havana, Cuba

This month in “weird-but-not-science-policy-related topics”, scientists and medical doctors from the United States and Cuba have come together to try to understand a mysterious malady hitting Havana-based diplomats.  The U.S. Department of State has deemed the maladies hitting some 2 dozen personnel stationed at the U.S. embassy in Havana a “health attack.” The mysterious symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and insomnia after hearing strange noises or feeling a sensation of pressure. An explanation for the maladies has been hard to nail down with microwaves, acoustic devices, and even psychological contagion being blamed for the sickness.  Read all about this bizarre happening here.

State
Georgia Water Coalition recognizes the 2018 Clean 13 in annual report on water quality advocates

The Georgia Water Coalition (GWC), a group focused on protecting Georgia’s water resources, has released its annual Clean 13 report, a collection of individuals, businesses, and municipalities that are making active strides in preserving the state’s water quality. This year’s list includes two mentions of Athens’ area efforts: Dr. Jenna Jambek, UGA professor of Engineering, and the removal of the White Dam on the Middle Oconee river. Dr. Jenna Jambeck works to reduce plastic debris in the oceans through a variety of projects, ranging from quantitative study to the development of a marine debris logging smartphone app, and has even spoke on the issue to the United Nations. In Athens, a two-year effort to see the removal of the White Dam came to completion thanks to the joint efforts of various federal agencies with departments at UGA. This removal will allow for expanded recreational access along the river as well as habitat improvement for fish throughout the Middle Oconee River. See the full report on all 13 stories here and look for the sister publication, the Dirty Dozen, to be released shortly.

EPA approved temporary Clean Air Act Fuel Waiver for Virginia and Georgia in preparation for Hurricane Florence
1600px-Flag_of_the_United_States_Environmental_Protection_Agency
By United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To avoid potential fuel shortages during Hurricane Florence, Virginia and Georgia requested waivers on the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) limits set for gasoline during the summer months. These limits were established to lower the volatility of gasoline to reduce air pollution caused by the formation of ozone. In times of emergency, states can submit a request to the EPA to waive these limits so that all gasoline can be sold and used, regardless of its volatility. The waivers granted to Virginia and Georgia were effective from September 12-30th. You can learn more about the Clean Air Act RVP and find the specific regulations for Georgia here. The actual waiver itself and an article covering it can be found here and here.

 

Local

An overview of ongoing projects in Athens-Clarke County can be found here, but for some highlights keep reading!

UGA faculty member Susan Sanchez elected to NIH council

UGA College of Veterinary Medicine faculty member Dr. Susan Sanchez was elected to the National Institute of Health Council of Councils. The NIH Council of Councils is a select, 27-member group responsible for advisement of the NIH director with regards to  policies and activities of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives. Click here to learn more about the role of this elite group of representatives. Dr. Sanchez is the assistant director at UGA Biomedical Health Science Institute and chair of One Health, a division that focuses on the interplay between animal, environmental, and human health. To read more about Dr. Sanchez and her work at UGA and beyond, click here.

ACC LED Lighting Program reduces CO2 emissions and saves energy
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Photo by: U.S. Air Force

As a part of the  Energy Sustainability Program, the sustainability division of the ACC government aims to replace existing lighting fixtures throughout government buildings with LED bulbs. You can read more about the project here. To date, 1,000 lighting fixtures have been replaced, $20,000 saved on energy costs, and 80 tons eliminated in CO2 emissions. The specific data can be found in this month’s manager’s snapshot, which highlights ongoing projects.

 

ACCUG Invasive Plant Species application development

Invasive plant species are responsible for decreasing water quality, impairing ecosystem functions, deterring native habitat, harming native conditions, and increasing sedimentation. In an attempt to better track, control, and eliminate invasive plant species, the ACC Geographic Office, in coordination with the Office of Sustainability, developed a mobile application available to staff, volunteers, and contractors. By better addressing the invasive plant species, the staff is able to better coordinate the removal of said species, thus restoring native conditions. More on non-native species and the threat they pose can be found here.

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Science Policy News Roundup – August 2018

National
President Trump announces nominee for Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
US-OfficeOfScienceAndTechnologyPolicy-2003Seal
By U.S. Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On July 31, President Trump announced Kelvin Droegemeier as his nominee for Director of the White House OSTP . President Trump’s search took over double the time of any other modern president; however, it looks like it was worth the wait, as the nominee has been met with high praise. UGA’s own Dr. Marshall Shepherd (Director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program and host of the Weather Channel’s “Weather Geeks”) said, “Kelvin is one of the most respected colleagues in the field of meteorology but also has the experience and savvy to interact at the highest policy levels.” You can read more about this here. To read more on the President’s nominee and how he is handling the tough topics like climate change at the Senate confirmation hearing look here.

NIH deals with ethical stumbles this month

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had quite a month. In two separate cases, the NIH has had to maneuver around some difficult realities.  At the beginning of the month, NIH had to evaluate their partnership with private funding sources (such as alcohol and drug companies) to ensure science supported by these sources was sound and not being swayed by big industry.  This comes after the NIH rejected a study funded by their partnership with an alcohol manufacturing company due to concerns that the science could not be trusted. The NIH is committed to funding trustworthy science, and they want the public to know they are doing everything they can to ensure this same type of problem doesn’t happen again. You can read more about this here. In late August, NIH was forced to investigate whether US scientists were sharing information with foreign governments.  NIH is urging scientists not to share their NIH-funded proposals with sources from foreign governments, and NIH has even created a new advisory group to help with this problem. To read more about this in detail click here. For those of us who regularly attend international conferences with scientists from around the world, this might be of particular interest.

Research and development priorities for FY 2020

On July 31, a memorandum, which highlighted the administration’s research and development priorities for the 2020 fiscal year, was sent from the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to heads of executive departments and agencies. The memorandum was meant to provide guidance to these agencies as they make their FY 2020 budgets, which must be approved by the OMB. The memo had eight R&D areas of particular priority, most notably areas of American security, energy dominance, and health.  Additionally, the memo urged agencies to improve collaboration with industry and academia and to focus on STEM education. To read more about the memo click here.

State
House Bill 332 Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act

HB 332 is a conservation bill that will allow up to 80% of taxes collected on outdoor equipment to go towards the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Fund (GOSF). The GOSF will use the funds to ensure the protection of natural resources, acquire land for conservation, and fund grants and projects approved by the Department of Natural Resources. Specifically, the projects funded will focus on water quality and water recreation, land acquisition for parks and conservation, and maintenance of protected properties. This bill was signed by Governor Deal in May and will go into effect in June 2019. You can find the legislation text here, and find more information on the GOS website.

HB 205 Mining and drilling; regulate exploration and extraction of gas and oil; provisions: passed in May 2018

HB 205 is an expansion of the “Oil and Gas Deep Drilling Act of 1975”, which sought to clarify and define sections of the previous bill.  These clarifications came at an opportune time because fracking is on the table for discussion in areas of northwest Georgia. The detailed bill creates an Oil and Gas Board, who will review all fracking permit requests. The board requires a notice to inform residents that a fracking permit was requested in that area. This permit must state that groundwater within half a mile of the site might be affected. This bill was both signed into law and became effective in May of this year. You can access the bill itself here, and find more details on what this means for property owners in the area here.

Georgia-Florida-Alabama water war
East_Palisades
By Keizers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Control over the flow rate and usage of the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries has been in litigation since 1990, and the fight is still ongoing. In addition to being a three-state issue, this case is complicated by the involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers in the regulation of water flow from Lake Lanier. This case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2013, and this summer, the expert appointed to research and evaluate the case has been instructed to continue his work after the dismissal of Florida’s case claiming damages from Georgia’s usage. It is unclear when this issue will be resolved. Learn more about the background of this case here and here. You can also watch a series of short talks on the most recent developments from Laurie Fowler (UGA Law) and Gordon Rogers, the Flint Riverkeeper.

Local

An overview of ongoing projects in Athens-Clarke County can be found here, but for some highlights keep reading!

Cedar Creek Solar Array Project: Passed March 2018
Clarke_County_Courthouse,_Athens,_GA
By Upstateherd [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

In March 2018, Athens-Clarke County commissioners voted in support of the Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) Solar Project. This nearly $1 million project to install a 480 kW AC single axis tracker solar panel at the Cedar Creek WRF, will begin construction in September 2018.  The energy generated by this plant is projected to increase the total amount of ACC solar energy tenfold. More information can be found here.

Legacy Forest Project: In Progress

The goal of the Legacy Forest Project is to better document the location and status of the oldest (>80 years old) forests in Athens-Clarke County. The project staff will determine the location and conservation of mature forests using aerial photos from the 1960s and overlaying them with aerial photos from the 1930s and 1980s. This could lead to future preservation and conservation programs aimed at preserving these lands. More information on this project can be found here in the “Manager’s Snapshot.”

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Project

The AMI project installed a metering system that allows for remote detection and monitoring of water usage. The new AMI readers not only improve efficiency, but also ensure accurate water consumption measurements. The project was approved in 2013, and as of August 2018 has reached the customer portal pilot phase. The project completion is tentatively set for October 2018. More information can be found here.

Impact of STEM Immigrants on the job market

Author: Manashree Sanjay Malpe

Google
image source:  photosfing via Flickr

In May 1979, towards the end of the cold war, a Jewish family immigrated to the United States with their 6-year-old son. They got lucky, they were amongst the last batch of people ‘allowed’1 to exit the USSR for another decade. In September 1998 the son, Sergey Brin, co-founded Google, the popular search engine and is now one of the richest people in the world. Alphabet, the parent company of Google now employs close to 100,000 people.The most recent presidential election of the United States saw an increase in anti-immigration policies like travel ban, refusal to accept refugees, opposition to H-1B visa program, and phasing out DACA. In response to these policies, Sergey Brin noted the stark contrasts between the two periods in a speech in 2017, “It was a dire period, the cold war, as some people remember it. It was under the threat of nuclear annihilation. And even then, the US had the courage to take me and my family in as refugees.”

Sergey Brin might be an outlier, but he is not the only one. According to a 2011 report by the Partnership for New American Economy, 18 percent of the companies in the Forbes 500 list were founded by immigrants. As per a 2017 study by the Center for American Entrepreneurship, 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies are co-founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. These companies have headquarters in 33 states and employ 12.8 million people worldwide as of 2016. They also accounted for $5.3 trillion in global revenues and included companies like AT&T, Verizon, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, eBay etc. Most, if not all, of these companies are high-tech giants which create jobs in the ‘STEM’ category (science, technology, engineering and math).

Scientist
image source: JillK61 via Flickr

So, what exactly are STEM occupations? Although there is no universal definition, experts generally agree that STEM workers use their knowledge of science, math and technology to solve problems. A narrow definition of STEM professions comprises occupations in six fields including but not limited to, Computer and Mathematics; Engineering; and Life, Physical, and Social Sciences. Occupations in Health care are included in the broad definition of STEM. As of 2015, the total number of STEM workers in the US is about 20.4 million. They form 12.6 percent of the total workforce. Out of these, about 3.9 million are foreign-born.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in a 2012 report, predicted the growth in STEM occupations to reach approximately 13 percent; which means more than nine million jobs between 2012 and 2022. However, it is unlikely that all these positions will be filled by native-born STEM workers. US secondary-school students tend to underperform compared to their peers from other developed nations. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey that evaluates education systems all over the world by testing the skills and knowledge of middle school students. In the 2012 PISA exam, students from the US ranked 26th in math and 28th in sciences out of 65 participating countries. A report in 2012 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates that the United States will need approximately one million more STEM professionals over the next decade. To meet this demand, the country will need to increase the number of annual undergraduate STEM degrees by 34 percent over the current rate. To make up for this lack of supply, the US imports STEM talent from abroad.

Talented immigrants are attracted to the United States due to a variety of factors. These include top-ranking and well-funded universities, world-class research facilities, a highly respected global business environment and very attractive compensation packages. Most immigrants come to the country with an F-1 visa. This is a non-immigrant visa which allows internationals to study in institutes of higher education and to obtain post-graduate degrees. These degrees then allow them to obtain gainful employment and thus become eligible to apply for the H1-B visa. H1-B is a work permit for internationals to work in their field of study for up to six years following which they can file for a ‘green card’2 or a residence permit.

As you may have guessed, this is not as easy as it sounds. Getting an admit into a coveted university is only the first of many hurdles. The application for F-1 visa requires a plethora of documentation; starting from the letter of acceptance from the University and extending as far back as the birth certificate. The application also includes visa fees up to $2003 followed by long queues at the embassy for the actual visa interview. Successful applicants are vetted by the Department of Homeland Security before they are permitted to enter the country. The H1-B visa application is even more inflexible as there are only a limited number of visas offered every year on a lottery based system, and applicants are required to have an employer sponsor their visa. Getting chosen in the lottery means, an additional round of gathering documentation, visa-fees and interviews in their home country before they are granted re-entry into the United States. Once immigrants find an employer who is willing to file for their green card, they undergo another round of extensive background checks, interviews and long waits before being granted a green card.

Apart from visa issues, immigrants also face a number of challenges including extremely limited financial resources, cultural and language barriers and the fact that they essentially have to rebuild their life from scratch without the support of their family or friends. All of these notwithstanding, immigrants make a significant contribution the American economy. They are knowledge creators, innovators and founders of companies. Almost one quarter of all international patent applications from United States are filed by noncitizens. In fact, college educated immigrants are twice as likely to file for patents as native-born. The contribution of immigrants to innovation and new business is well documented in the Silicon valley. Yahoo was founded by Jerry Yang, who moved from Taiwan to the US at the age of 12. Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBAY was born in Paris to Iranian parents. Alexis Ohnian, the founder of Reddit is a second generation immigrant. 52 percent of the new Silicon Valley companies started between 1995 and 2005 were founded by immigrants.

STEM
image source: Matt Mackey/Presseye.com via Flickr

Immigrant STEM workers tend to have different occupations than native born workers. For example, educated native-born workers tend to work as managers, teachers, lawyers, and nurses, while immigrants tend to work as engineers, scientists, and doctors. A 2001 study reports that “foreign-born scientists and engineers in the United States are disproportionately represented among the individuals elected to the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering, among authors of scientific papers, and among founders and chairs of biotechnology companies”. Immigrants are more likely to obtain a patent. They also account for a growing number of US patents in electronics, computing, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. This innovation increases revenue for companies, which in turn helps to increase wages for all employees and enables companies to hire more people. In fact, it has been reported that every 100 foreign-born workers in STEM occupations were associated with 262 jobs for native-born workers.

There is overwhelming data to suggest that, time and again, immigrants in STEM have an extremely positive impact on the US economy. They lead innovation, research, and help create more jobs. Henry Ford did so. As did Estee Lauder, Elon Musk, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. A report from the US Chamber of Commerce and American Council on International Personnel rightly concludes “Closing the door to highly educated individuals… who aid the competitiveness of US companies of will weaken, not strengthen, our country and will diminish the competitiveness of American employees. In the global economy, investment follows the talent and attempts to restrict the hiring of talented foreign- born professionals in the United States encourages such hiring to take place overseas, where the investment dollars will follow”


1Emigration was strictly controlled in the USSR with the objective of protecting state secrets and maintaining the morale of its citizens. Exit visas were denied, especially to Soviet Jews on the pretext of association with state secrets. The application for exit visa was noted by intelligence officials and those citizens would either be fired or denied employment in their area of specialty. They would then be forced to take up menial jobs, as happened in the case of Sergei Brin’s parents.

2United States lawful permanent residency is informally known as green card. This card authorizes a person to lawfully reside and work in the US permanently. A lawful permanent resident can eventually apply for naturalization or US citizenship.

3200 USD is usually paid in the native currency. For example, 1 USD is equivalent to 65 Indian Rupees(INR), so the application fees is approximately 13,000 INR; 1 USD is approximately 6 Chinese Yuan so fees would be 1200 Chinese Yuan.

 

March for Science 2017.04.22

This past Saturday, members of SPEAR gathered at the Athens Courthouse to attend the local March for Science rally. After listening to the great program of speakers that ranged from a local high school student to a chaplain, we decided to ask a few more people for their science stories and why they felt compelled to participate in the march.
We spoke with an ER Doctor who is also an Engineer. He told us that he has not been particularly politically active in the past but felt that it was necessary to participate due to the recent political climate. His main concerns were women’s rights issues and the funding controversy over basic science. In his words,  “women’s healthcare rights aren’t an option”.
His “Now I am a Mad Scientist” sign is featured in the picture below.

2017-04-22 11.35.20
We then spoke with a couple–one is an academic advisor and a poet, while the other is a history professor.
They have been politically active in the past and feel strongly about participating in protests and other political events. They were most concerned about the denial of climate change and the rollback of regulations on the EPA.
“We feel a sense of history, and don’t want to have the mistakes of the past repeated,” they told us.
They held some unique signs, featured below:
2017-04-22 12.10.06

The March for Science was a crucial first step in bringing awareness to the importance of science and the need for policies that support scientific research.  But it doesn’t stop there. SPEAR plans to continue to educate the public about and advocate for scientific policies and research. Check our website every Monday for a Call to Action to urge your local and federal congress people to support science. Write a letter explaining why you marched at our interest meeting on April 24th. We hope you will join us in our efforts to #standupforscience.

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