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The Week of November 1, 2021

What’s Ahead

Space Telescope concepts

Four concepts for space telescopes that were considered by the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey committee. Clockwise from top left: Habitable Exoplanet Observatory, Large UV Optical Infrared Surveyor, Origins Space Telescope, Lynx X-ray Observatory

(Image credits – NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA / Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Astro2020 Decadal Survey Arrives

The National Academies is releasing its latest decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics on Thursday, almost three years after the process began and about a year after it was originally expected to conclude. Called Astro2020 for short, the survey is an expansive effort to take stock of current research and pressing scientific questions in the field and to develop consensus priorities for future work. An important part of the process involves evaluating and ranking proposals for major facilities and projects to establish a strategy for future spending by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. Some of the survey’s recommendations will shape agency portfolios well beyond its 10-year timeframe. For example, LUVOIR, the most versatile of four flagship space telescope concepts under consideration, would not be expected to launch before 2039 . The survey will also guide NSF decision-making on the next-generation of ground-based observatories at a time when the operating costs of large telescopes are straining budgets and European-backed facilities are challenging U.S. leadership.

Among decadal planning exercises across the sciences, the astronomy and astrophysics survey takes an especially rigorous approach to cost evaluation and prioritizing expenditures. Agencies have asked the survey committee to deliver an ambitious vision but also to set “decision rules” for how agencies should address possible budget constraints that would prevent them from undertaking recommended projects. Given the considerable authority the survey carries with agencies and Congress, the research community will be watching carefully to see how the committee has balanced scientific aspirations against more pragmatic considerations.

UN Climate Conference Underway in Glasgow

This year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, kicked off on Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, and is shifting into gear this week as world leaders negotiate follow-up steps to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The conference is already facing challenges with calculations showing that climate action pledges countries have submitted under the Paris Agreement may lead to a temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, well above the agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius target. As the conference began, the White House released a long-term strategy for the U.S. to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as well as an outline of U.S. plans to support international climate adaptation and resilience efforts. President Biden also released a “framework” for legislation that would spend $555 billion on climate change mitigation initiatives, though congressional Democrats have yet to reach a final agreement to push the package through. Biden addressed the conference on Monday, where he outlined his domestic and international climate agenda. “Glasgow must be the kickoff of a decade of ambition and innovation to preserve our shared future,” he said.

High Energy Physics Panel to Discuss Key Strategic Issues

On the first day of its fall meeting on Monday and Tuesday, the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel will discuss the Department of Energy’s response to an independent assessment conducted last year of its High Energy Physics program. The assessment’s strongest recommendation involved increasing budgets for core research and technology R&D programs that it noted had been squeezed by large projects, and DOE indicated it would present a strategy to do so. In addition, the panel will discuss a recent study that evaluated DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences program relative to international programs and consider how HEP efforts could be similarly benchmarked. On the second day, the panel will hear an update on the HEP program’s largest construction project, the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, which is revising its cost estimate upward in view of a series of challenges the effort has faced. In addition, there will be an update on plans for next summer’s “Snowmass” meeting, a key part of the U.S. particle physics community’s strategic planning process that was postponed by a year due to the pandemic, while NSF and DOE staff will review agency activities to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the scientific programs they support.

NSF Physics, Biology, and Education Advisory Panels Convening

The advisory committees for the National Science Foundation’s physical sciences , biological sciences , and education directorates are each meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Each committee will receive briefings on NSF’s proposed directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, which has gained traction in Congress. The physical and biological sciences committees will also meet jointly on Wednesday to discuss a report on opportunities for collaboration between their respective directorates. The physical sciences committee will also discuss the Astro2020 decadal survey and a new study charge for its recently created facilities subcommittee, which has been tasked with recommending “decision rules that will lead to a robust 10-year program of strategic investment in the development, construction, and operation of large and mid-scale infrastructure for the physical sciences.”

Three DOE Research Nominees up for Committee Vote

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is meeting to vote on three nominations for top research roles in the Department of Energy. Geri Richmond and Asmeret Asefaw Berhe have been waiting since April for the Senate to confirm them as under secretary for science and energy and director of the Office of Science, respectively. The third nominee, Brad Crabtree, was picked to lead the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management in September. No senators on the committee raised objections to Richmond or Crabtree at their nomination hearings, but Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) questioned Berhe’s qualifications for the Office of Science job. All three nominations received support from Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-WV) and are expected to advance to a final vote by the full Senate.

Chicago Hosts Quantum Summit

The fourth annual Chicago Quantum Summit will take place at the University of Chicago on Thursday. The event will kick off with a keynote by Charles Tahan, director of the White House’s National Quantum Coordination Office, which hosted its own summit last month. Other keynote speakers include Vanessa Chan, chief commercialization officer at the Department of Energy; former DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar, who now is CEO of Bohr Quantum Technologies; and Cathy Foley, chief scientist of Australia. The head of the National Science Foundation’s materials research division, Linda Sapochak, will moderate a panel discussion on quantum workforce development, and the founders of six quantum startup companies will participate in a panel on quantum technology commercialization.

In Case You Missed It

Pelosi at climate mitigation conference

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke about climate mitigation initiatives in Democrats’ reconciliation bill at the California Academy of Sciences on Oct. 14.

(Image credit – Office of Rep. Pelosi)

Some Science Spending Survives Reconciliation Bill Pruning

Last week, House Democrats introduced a new version of their partisan reconciliation bill just after the White House released its framework for slimming down the House’s initial $3.5 trillion, multiyear legislation to around $1.75 trillion. Some lawmakers are pushing for a vote on the measure this week, in conjunction with the bipartisan infrastructure bill , which includes about $500 billion in new spending, but others are pushing for additional changes. The new reconciliation bill retains many science priority areas laid out in the original House bill at reduced spending levels:

  • The Department of Energy would receive $2 billion in total for R&D programs, down from over $15 billion in the original version. The bill now includes $985 million for the Office of Science, entirely dedicated to domestic fusion energy R&D efforts and low-dose radiation research .
  • The National Science Foundation would receive $3.5 billion, of which $1.5 billion is for standing up the agency’s proposed Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships directorate. Of the remainder, $500 million is dedicated to climate research and another $500 million is for infrastructure. The original bill included $11 billion for NSF and did not allocate a specific amount for the new directorate.
  • NASA would receive $1.1 billion, with $750 million dedicated to infrastructure and facilities modernization, down from the $4 billion originally proposed. The new bill also includes $365 million for climate-related R&D, slightly less than originally proposed.
  • The National Institutes of Standards and Technology would receive $1.25 billion, down from $4 billion. Of the new total, $650 million is dedicated to facilities maintenance and upgrades, $260 million is for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and $220 million would support advanced manufacturing research, development, and testbeds.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $759 million, down from $4.3 billion. The funds are split between research grants, data and computing infrastructure, and climate services and education activities.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey would receive $150 million, split evenly between a 3D elevation mapping program, water resources research institutes, and climate science centers.

House Democrats Ratchet Up Pressure on Oil Industry Over Climate

At a contentious hearing last week, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee accused a witness panel of oil industry leaders of misleading the public about climate change and hampering action to mitigate carbon emissions. The executives, in turn, sought to cast past industry statements sowing doubt about climate science as consistent with the state of the science at the time. They also defended their current clean energy initiatives against accusations they are far too weak and amount to an attempt to “greenwash” the industry’s reputation. The hearing was part of an investigation committee Democrats are undertaking on “climate disinformation” that is modeled on 1990s-era efforts to hold the tobacco industry accountable for the harms of smoking. Expressing dissatisfaction with internal documents oil companies had turned over to the committee, Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) announced just after the hearing that the committee will issue subpoenas for additional documentation. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who chairs the panel’s Environment Subcommittee, told Reuters the investigation is expected to last about a year and that it will eventually tie into lawmakers’ scrutiny of social media platforms as channels for disinformation.

New DOJ National Security Head Inherits China Initiative

On a 53 to 45 vote last week, the Senate confirmed Matthew Olsen as the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, whose portfolio includes the China Initiative launched in 2018 to prioritize prosecutions related to economic espionage and research misappropriation. The department has faced growing calls from the scientific community and some Democratic lawmakers to reform the initiative to address concerns it has unfairly targeted academic scientists and disproportionately affects those of Chinese descent. In response to questioning from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) at an Oct. 21 hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Olsen would review the initiative after taking office and determine which pending cases to pursue and not pursue. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also raised the subject with Garland in a hearing last week and in a written question to Olsen during his confirmation process. In his reply , Olsen outlined steps he would take to prevent the department from engaging in or stoking racial bias. A survey of 1,949 U.S.-based scientists conducted this year by University of Arizona professor Jenny Lee found that 42% of respondents of Chinese descent reported feeling racially profiled by the U.S. government. The survey was released last week at an event held by the Committee of 100, an advocacy association organized by a group of eminent Chinese Americans.

OSTP Adds Life Sciences Lead, Environment Staff

Carrie Wolinetz announced last week she is now serving as deputy director for health and life science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Wolinetz has been on detail to OSTP since this spring from the National Institutes of Health, where she was associate director for science policy and acting chief of staff for NIH Director Francis Collins. She is OSTP’s fourth deputy director , with the other three focused respectively on national security, climate and the environment, and the social dimensions of science. Last week, OSTP also announced the appointment of five new members to the climate and environment team, including Assistant Director for Climate and Biodiversity Patrick Gonzalez, Assistant Director for Disaster Preparedness and Response Kate Dargan Marquis, and Assistant Director for Biodiversity and Conservation Science Heather Tallis.

State Department to Appoint Technology Envoy

In a speech on Wednesday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced that he intends to appoint a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology and establish a bureau for cyberspace and digital policy in the State Department as part of a broader plan to “modernize the purpose and institution of American diplomacy.” Blinken said one of the plan’s five pillars is to build capacity in areas critical to national security, citing climate, global health, and emerging technologies. Echoing remarks he made at an AI conference earlier this year, Blinken said the department would focus on promoting science and technology cooperation and developing international standards to govern new technologies. The plan’s other pillars involve increasing engagement with the public and across the department, promoting diversity and inclusion, modernizing the department’s technology capabilities, and reinvigorating in-person diplomacy.

Biden Names Telecommunications and Patent Office Nominees

Last week, the White House announced that President Biden will nominate Jessica Rosenworcel and Alan Davidson to respectively lead the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Rosenworcel has served as an FCC commissioner since 2012, and Davidson is an internet policy expert who served in the Obama administration as the Commerce Department’s first director of digital economy. Pending their confirmation, Rosenworcel and Davidson will play central roles in addressing ongoing disputes between FCC and federal spectrum users, who are represented by NTIA, over how opening up certain spectrum bands for 5G and other commercial applications could severely disrupt existing users , such as weather satellites and the Global Positioning System. The White House also announced last week that patent attorney Kathi Vidal will be nominated to direct the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Events This Week

Monday, November 1

United Nations: UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) 26
(continues through Nov. 12)

OSA: Frontiers in Optics and Laser Science
(continues through Thursday)

NAI: National Academy of Inventors annual meeting
(continues through Wednesday)

DOE: High Energy Physics Advisory Panel meeting
(continues Tuesday)

Department of State: “A Symposium on the Intersection of Earth Observation from Space and Climate Change: U.S. and European Opportunities and Challenges”
9:00 am

National Academies: “Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research Program 10th Anniversary Celebration”
10:00 - 11:30 am

National Academies: Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space fall meeting, part two
11:00 am - 2:45 pm

Tuesday, November 2

Aspen Institute: Aspen Security Forum
(continues through Thursday)

Senate: Meeting to advance DOE research nominees
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building)

National Academies: “Natural and Prescribed Wildland Fire Impacts on Soil Health”
12:00 - 5:00 pm

ISS National Laboratory: User Advisory Committee meeting
2:00 - 4:00 pm

Commerce Department: Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee meeting
2:30 - 3:30 pm

CSIS: “The Quad’s Strategic Approach to China, Taiwan, and the Indo-Pacific”
3:00 - 4:00 pm

Wednesday, November 3

Brookhaven National Lab: “Opening New Windows to the Universe”
(continues through Friday)

NSF: Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Thursday)

NSF: Education and Human Resources Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Thursday)

NSF: Biological Sciences Directorate Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Thursday)

NOAA: Commercial Remote Sensing Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Thursday)

AIP: “The Rochester-Chandigarh Cyclotron: Trimble Public Lecture”
11:00 am

Industry Studies Association: “Chip Lockdown — The Future of Semiconductor Supply Chains”
12:00 - 2:00 pm

Duke University: “How Sustainable Is the Chinese Innovation Juggernaut?”
12:30 pm

Wilson Center: “The Use of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge in Climate Change Strategies”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

National Academies: “A Mid-Term Assessment of NSF Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research,” report release briefing
2:00 - 3:00 pm

APS: “Student to Student: Advocacy and Peer Initiatives to Strengthen Graduate Student Mental Health”
3:00 - 4:30 pm

Harvard University: “A New Roadmap for Science and Society: Lecture by OSTP Deputy Director Alondra Nelson”
5:00 - 7:00 pm

Thursday, November 4

University of Chicago: Chicago Quantum Summit
9:30 am - 6:00 pm CDT

Senate: “Potential Non-Electric Applications Of Civilian Nuclear Energy”
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building)

Senate: “Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response”
10:00 am, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (G50 Dirksen Office Building)

National Academies: “Creating New Manufacturing Capacity with the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Base”
11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Commerce Department: Civil Nuclear Trade Advisory Committee meeting
11:00 am - 12:30 pm

NASA: Earth Science Advisory Committee meeting
1:00 - 2:00 pm

National Academies: “Earth Resources Virtual Career Forum for Undergraduates from Underrepresented Groups”
1:00 - 4:30 pm

National Academies: “Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s,” report release briefing
2:00 - 3:30 pm

Politics and Prose: “Blown to Hell: The Dark History of America’s Deadliest Nuclear Test”
7:00 pm

National Academies: “Review of FCC Order 20-48 Authorizing Operation of a Terrestrial Radio Network Near the GPS Frequency Bands”
5:00 - 7:00 pm

Friday, November 5

WeShareData.org: “The Research Data You Document are the Data We Love”
10:00 am

University of California/LBNL: “Building Climate and Energy Solutions One Atom at a Time”
10:00 - 11:00 am PDT

AGU: “Geoscience Policy Update Webinar”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Monday, November 8

National Academies: Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics fall meeting
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “Impact of and Early Innovative Response to the Pandemic,” kickoff meeting
12:00 - 3:00 pm EST

Opportunities

NSF Hiring Chief Evaluation Officer

The National Science Foundation is seeking a lead for its Evaluation and Assessment Capability unit, who will also serve as the agency’s Chief Evaluation Officer. The position has responsibilities for NSF implementation of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, such as coordination of statistical evidence activities. Applications due Nov. 18.

Science Policy Academy Accepting Applications

Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy is accepting applications for its Atlanta Academy on Science and Innovation Policy, which seeks to strengthen the ability of early career researchers from diverse backgrounds to contribute to the policymaking process. The in-person portion of the Academy will be held on the Georgia Tech campus from March 21, 2022 to March 25, 2022. Advanced doctoral students and scholars within three years of the award of their doctorate are eligible to apply. Applications are due Nov. 15.

National Academies Seeking Innovation Policy Analyst

The National Academies is hiring a senior program officer for U.S. science and innovation policy studies. Potential study topics include “the relationship of higher education to national and economic security, the financing of research and of higher education, contributions to innovation, research integrity and the responsible conduct of science, international partnerships, the role of minority serving institutions, higher education’s mission in both teaching and research, and structural changes in response to COVID-19.” Applicants should have an advanced degree in a related field and six or more years of experience.

For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities . Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

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