New & Noteworthy

Archive for July, 2014

31 Jul 2014

New Species Discovered in Amber Collection

A piece of amber collected 50 years ago has yielded a species that was previously unknown to science. A new species of cricket from 20 million years ago was preserved in the amber.

As reported by the Washington Post, the amber was collected in the 1950’s and sat in a lab at the Illinois Natural History Survey until recently. Researchers have been examining the amber and expect to find other new discoveries.

“You don’t have to go out into the jungle to make discoveries,” said paleontologist Sam Heads. “You can make them in a museum, and that’s what we’re doing here every day.”

29 Jul 2014

Scientific Organizations Express Concerns with Conference Restrictions

A group of 70 scientific organizations have expressed concerns with a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would further restrict the ability of federal employees to attend conferences. NSC Alliance was one of the signatories.

In a letter sent to members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the organizations stated, “The Coburn-Heitkamp substitute to S. 1347, Conference Accountability Act of 2013 would raise existing barriers and perpetuate unintended negative consequences the Administration’s regulations have already imposed on our scientific enterprise and national competitiveness.”

Existing regulations on conferences have resulted in decreased attendance by federal employees and contractors at scientific and technical conferences. Several scientific meetings were canceled in 2013 as a result. The pending bill would likely further diminish turnout.

Read the letter.

28 Jul 2014

New Data Management Interest Group

A new Data Management Interest Group is being formed by iDigBio. The initial meeting of the new group will be held online on 7 August 2014 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm EDT. The group will discuss issues surrounding shared data and is seeking ideas from the community on this important initiative. Registration is not required. Learn more at

25 Jul 2014

Hackathon to Address Biocollections Digitization

A hackathon will be held later this year to improve digitization of biological collections. The event is organized by iDigBio and Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature Project. The goal of the hackathon is to build interoperability among projects thus further enabling public participation in biocollections digitization in useful and exciting ways.

The event will occur from 3-5 December 2014 in Gainesville, Florida. Up to $1,500 for support of travel, lodging, and meals is available for each participant.

Two or more development tracks will be identified by hackathon participants during one or more remote meetings prior to the hackathon. These tracks could involve (1) innovative cross-platform ways to deploy and manage public participation projects, (2) services for data analysis and visualization to engage the public or inform project management, (3) novel ways to advertise and grow public participation projects, or (4) ingestion of crowdsourced data into biodiversity collection data management systems.

Applications are currently being accepted for five to seven open participants. Please send (1) your CV/resume, (2) a short description (less than 250 words) of your relevant expertise (citing example products where appropriate), (3) a short description of the functionality that you’d like to develop in this domain, and (4) the days that you can attend to Austin Mast ( by 1 September. Qualified graduate students and postdoctoral scholars are encouraged to apply.

23 Jul 2014

Collections, Biology, Earth Observation Highlights of White House Budget Memo

The White House released a memorandum on July 18, 2014 detailing budget priorities for science and technology in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 federal budget, which agencies are now developing. The annual memo from the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directs departments and agencies to prioritize certain areas of research in their budget submissions.

“In the FY 2016 Budget, agencies should balance priorities to ensure resources are adequately allocated for agency-specific, mission-driven research, including fundamental research, while focusing resources, where appropriate, on the following multi-agency research activities that cannot be addressed effectively by a single agency.”

Among the multi-agency priorities are climate change, earth observation, high-performance computing, and research and development for informed policy-making and management.

Notably, innovation in life sciences, biology, and neuroscience continues to be a priority.

“Agencies should give priority to programs that support fundamental biological discovery research that could generate unexpected, high-impact scientific and technological advances in health, energy, and food security,” stated the memo.

The Administration’s BRAIN Initiative and “National Bioeconomy Blueprint” are listed as sources for ideas for research initiatives in biology. Additionally, the White House would like to see greater emphasis on addressing antibiotic resistance.

Consistent with the White House budget memos released in recent years, the preservation of and access to scientific collections continues to be prioritized. OSTP released a memo in March 2014 on the management of federal scientific collections.

The complete memo is available at

17 Jul 2014

Safety a Concern After High Visibility Mistakes at Government Labs

Several recent incidents involving collections of dangerous pathogens have put safety protocols at government labs at the center of the public’s attention.

Recently, 300 vials containing materials infected with infectious diseases were discovered in a storage room at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The vials, which had been there for decades, included six vials containing smallpox. The other vials contained dengue, influenza, and other viruses.

In June, anthrax samples thought to be inactive were moved from highly secure labs to less secure ones at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

The Food and Drug Administration has called for a complete inventory of its cold storage facilities. The cold storage facility at NIH where the smallpox vials were found has been operated by FDA since 1972.

Tests by the CDC found some of the smallpox virus to still be alive, despite dating from 1946 to 1964.

17 Jul 2014

House Interior Appropriations Bill is a Mixed Bag for Collections

The House Appropriations Committee has approved legislation to fund the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, and Smithsonian Institution in fiscal year 2015. The new fiscal year begins on 1 October 2014.

A major collections care initiative proposed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) does not appear to be included in the bill. For the third year, DOI proposed a plan to address major deficiencies in the care of cultural and scientific specimens. The President’s budget request included an additional $2 million to reduce the collections’ accessioning and cataloging backlog; identify and assess collections housed at non-federal locations; correct identified deficiencies in accountability, preservation, and protection of Interior cultural and scientific collections; and pursue opportunities for consolidation of bureau and non-bureau facilities housing collections.

Due to budget constraints, the Department has been unable to implement a multi-year action plan to address recommendations made by the DOI Inspector General regarding Interior’s accountability for its collections. In a December 2009 report, the Inspector General found that DOI has failed to properly accession, catalogue, or inventory museum collections, leaving artifacts “unavailable for research, education, or display and … subject to theft, deterioration, and damage.”

The Smithsonian Institution, which is mostly supported by the federal government, would receive an $8 million increase. This is far lower than the $46 million increase it had sought from Congress, with most of the difference coming from the facilities budget. Increased funding is included for improving the stewardship of national collections. An additional $10 million for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education was not funded.

03 Jul 2014

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth iBooks Textbook and iTunes U Course

A new iBooks Textbook and ITune U course based on Encyclopedia of Life content are available for high school biology students. E. O. Wilson’s “Life on Earth” was created by the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The electronic book is available for free on the iBooks Store and is accompanied by an iTunes U course called “Biology: Life on Earth.” The iTunes U course brings together content from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Geographic, the Encyclopedia of Life, and other institutions with content emphasizing important themes like citizen science, evolution, climate change, and the protection of biodiversity.

Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) content and resource are available in the first section of the course: Unity and Diversity of Life on Earth. Activities include creating virtual collections of species and accessing the biodiversity resources available through EOL’s iTunes U collections.

The iBook and course are available at

02 Jul 2014

BBC Coverage of Collections Conference

The importance of natural history collections was the focus of a recent BBC Radio Wales story. The radio story reported on the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections conference held in Cardiff, Wales. The theme of the conference was “Historic Collections: A Resource for the Future.” To listen to the story, visit