New & Noteworthy

Archive for May, 2013

22 May 2013

NSC Alliance Endorses Guiding Principles for the America COMPETES Act Reauthorization

The NSC Alliance has joined a broad coalition of scientific organizations and universities in endorsing a set of guiding principles for the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.  The law outlines policies and goals for ensuring America’s continued international leadership in science and engineering.

Congress is currently considering changes to the America COMPETES Act.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee could vote on legislation in the near future.

The principles focus on:

  • Ensuring funding growth for basic science and engineering research across all disciplines and major research agencies,
  • Maintaining and promoting scientific literacy and strengthening the pipeline of scientists and engineers, and
  • Preserving research excellence and opportunity by sustaining the research funding system of peer review and reducing or eliminating unnecessary regulations.

Read the complete principles at

22 May 2013

NSC Alliance, Coalition of Scientific Organizations Defend NSF Peer Review

A coalition of 110 scientific organizations signed a letter in defense of peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The NSC Alliance was one of the organizations that signed the letter.  The letter was prompted by recent congressional actions that called into question the merit review process used by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award research grants.

“It is imperative that NSF’s system of support for basic research be based upon excellence, competitive scientific merit, and peer-review,” states the letter.  “While Congress does play an important role in oversight of federally funded research, it should avoid legislative attempts that could undermine a decades-long system of success and ultimately impede discovery and innovation.”

Among the congressional actions that prompted concern within the scientific community is the High Quality Research Act, a draft bill that would require the director of NSF to certify that any grant is in the best interests of the United States, not duplicative of other research efforts, and of the highest quality.

Three former directors of NSF and three former chairmen of the National Science Board spoke out against the draft bill in a recent letter to the leaders of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  The former NSF leaders said that the draft bill would have “a chilling and detrimental impact on the merit-based review process.”

Read the letter here.

22 May 2013

Enter the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest

Biological research is transforming our society and the world. Help the public and policymakers to better understand these broader impacts in biological research by entering the Faces of Biology: Broader Impacts Photo Contest. The contest is sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

The theme of the contest is broader impacts of biology. Photographs entered into the contest should demonstrate how biological research is transforming our society and the world. Examples of broader impacts include, but are not limited to, informing natural resources management, improving human health, addressing climate change, enhancing food or energy security, advancing foundational knowledge, and improving science education.

The First Place Winner will have his/her winning photo featured on the cover of BioScience, and will receive $250 and a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience. The Second and Third Place Winners will have his/her winning photo printed inside BioScience, and will receive a one year membership in AIBS, including a subscription to BioScience.

The contest ends on September 30, 2013 at 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time.

For more information and to enter the contest, visit

16 May 2013

SPNHC Meeting Deadlines Extended

The registration deadline for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) meeting has been extended.  Early bird rates are now available through 31 May 2013.  The meeting will take place in Rapid City, South Dakota on 17-22 June 2013.

Poster and paper abstracts will also be accepted through 31 May 2013.

The NSC Alliance board meeting will be held in conjunction with the SPNHC meeting on 19 June 2013 from 10 a.m. to noon (central time).

More information is available at

16 May 2013

Museum Specimens Used to Discover Source of Deadly Fungus

Scientists have identified a likely source of the deadly amphibian disease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.  A species of frog that was used decades ago in human pregnancy tests is a carrier of the fungus, which now threatens the survival of many species of amphibians.

The African clawed frog was used in the 1930’s to 1950’s around the world.  Once another pregnancy test was developed, some of the frogs were released into the wild.

Researchers have discovered the deadly fungus on museum specimens of African clawed frogs collected between 1871 and 2010.  Their study shows that the disease was present in the species prior to their export worldwide.

The study is available on PLoS One at

10 May 2013

President Obama Orders Federal Agencies to Make Data More Accessible

On 9 May 2013, the White House released a policy on public accessibility to government data.  The new policy directs federal agencies to change their practices so that new data is digital and therefore more accessible.  Agencies are encouraged, but not required, to make existing data “machine-readable.”

The policy does not necessarily call for making all data public, but data sets that can be released to the public should be listed on  Agencies will be required to create an in-house inventory and public list of data sets.

In addition to outlining detailed instructions for how to make data available and the format of the data, the policy requires agencies to apply metadata about where and when the information was collected.

09 May 2013

Final Rule Makes Some Changes to NAGPRA

The Department of the Interior has made changes to the regulations that implement the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  The new rule makes revisions “for accuracy and consistency,” according to the notice published in the Federal Register.  The new rule takes effect on 10 June 2013.

Many of the revisions are minor.  Among the more substantive changes are:

  • Clarification of notification requirements to linear descendants.  Notification is required to known lineal descendents of a deceased Native American individual whose human remains and associated funerary objects were inadvertently discovered.
  • Text was added to clarify that, with respect to recoveries from federal lands, the priority of right of control of human remains and associated funerary objects defaults to a culturally affiliated Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization only where the lineal descendants of the deceased Native American cannot be ascertained.  With respect to other cultural items recovered from federal lands, the priority of ownership is in the culturally affiliated Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization.

Read the new rule at

08 May 2013

Costa Rican Collections Turned Over to Government

INBio, Costa Rica’s National Biodiversity Institute, has surrendered 3.5 million biological specimens to the nation’s government as a result of financial difficulties.  According to some news accounts, INBio’s current annual budget is nearly a million dollars short of what is needed to maintain the collections and facilities.

INBio gained international prominence in the 1990s as a model for bioprospecting. An agreement with the pharmaceutical company Merck, however, failed to generate enough income to support operations.  Large declines in foreign aid over the past decade also contributed to the institute’s financial problems.

08 May 2013

Calling All Armchair Taxonomists

The Encyclopedia of Life is hosting a challenge to describe the world’s diversity of life. Contestants are asked to research and write short descriptions of some of nature’s most fascinating species. Those descriptions will be reviewed by curators for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Life. The best descriptions will earn their writers a private behind-the-scenes tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

The contest details are available at

06 May 2013

NSC Alliance Asks Congress to Support Proposed Funding for Interior Collections

The NSC Alliance has submitted testimony to the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The testimony supported $2.0 million in new funding for the Department of the Interior’s Cultural and Scientific Collections program.

The FY 2014 budget request would implement a multi-year action plan to address recommendations made by the Department’s Inspector General regarding Interior’s accountability for its cultural and scientific specimens. Interior is an important caretaker of museum collections; the Department has an estimated 146 million items, which is second in size to the Smithsonian Institution.

Click here for the Senate testimony.

Click here for the House testimony.

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