The Week of October 12, 2020 – FYI: Science Policy News

Research Groups Seek Rollback of Diversity TrainingRestrictions

A Sept. 22 executive order restricting certain kinds of diversity and inclusion training has created confusion for universities and federal contractors, spurring some institutions to suspendtraining programs and postpone planned events. Federal agencies have also been instructed to suspend all diversity training programs pending a review of compliance with the order. Dozens of higher education associations sent a letter to President Trump last week requesting he withdraw the order, saying it has a chilling effect on campus efforts to ensure non-discriminatory workplaces and requires an unprecedented expansive review of internal training materials at both public and private entities. Separately, 50 scientific societies, including AIP, sent a letter to the White House last week denouncing the order, arguing it wrongfully insinuates that certain trainings are inherently anti-American and "sends a message of division, intolerance, and subjectivity that is damaging to our R&D community.

On Oct. 8, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial blasting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, while not mentioning President Trump specifically, appealed to voters to cast out current federal government leaders. Calling them dangerously incompetent, the editorial argues those leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. The top-tier medical journal has not previously made such an exhortation to voters in its 208 year history. On Oct. 5, the United Kingdom-based journal Nature published a news feature surveying ways the Trump administration has damaged science, touching on issues such as the pandemic response, climate change, environmental regulation, and immigration policy. Citing policy experts, the article also reports that the administration has, across agencies, undermined scientific integrity by suppressing or distorting evidence to support political decisions. The journal has not taken an editorial position on the election, but its editors also announced last week that they plan to increase coverage of global politics and publish more political science research, partly due tosigns that politicians around the world are pushing back against the principle of protecting scholarly autonomy, or academic freedom. The two journals are the latest prestigious science publications to cast Trump as corrosive to science and science-informed policy. In recent weeks, the editor-in-chief of Science has excoriated Trump for lying about the pandemic, while Scientific American made its first-ever presidential endorsement, backing Democratic candidate Joe Biden. (Update: Nature has since endorsed Biden.)

On Oct. 2, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration heads Conrad Lautenbacher and Jane Lubchenco wrote to the agency on behalf of an ocean policy advocacy group, expressing alarm over the recent appointments of climatologist David Legates and meteorologist Ryan Maue to high-level positions there. The appointments have attracted criticism because Legates and Maue have often dismissed mainstream views about the severity of anthropogenic climate change, and E&E News has reported the Trump administration expects its new appointees to influence the agencys work on climate and the next interagency National Climate Assessment. Lautenbacher and Lubchenco led NOAA during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, and while Lubchenco has often protested Trump administration actions, Lautenbacher has been more reserved. Justifying their intervention, the two wrote, We cannot be silent on this we are concerned that the freedom of NOAA scientists to communicate honestly and openly about the impacts of climate change, the future of honest and accurate weather forecasting, objective fisheries management, disaster response, and much more will be further curtailed if these appointments go forward.

The Departments of Labor and Homeland Security issued rules last week that together increase the wages employers must offer workers seeking H-1B visas and require the applicants degree to more closely match their job category, among other changes. Both departments cite the increased unemployment caused by COVID-19 as justification for the rules taking effect immediately without a public notice and comment period. The H-1B visa program is used by many technology companies and universities to hire workers in STEM fields, but it has come under criticism in recent years that is largely focused on alleged abuses of the program by certain information technology companies. President Trump has already suspended issuance of H-1B visas through the end of the year, though a federal judge partially blocked the policy on Oct. 1.

The House Intelligence Subcommittee on Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research released a report last week recommending ways the U.S. can maintain a leading role in developing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and biotechnology. Among its proposals, the report calls for the federal government to expand spending on basic research and couple those investments with changes to how the intelligence community organizes, establishes relationships, and sets priorities for R&D. The report also argues that the emphasis often placed on competition with China represents an overly narrow view, and stresses that the subcommittees recommendations are generally not calls for the hierarchy, direction, and centralized control that characterize Chinese innovation efforts [and instead] reflect the ideas of openness, flexibility and agility that gave rise to American innovative success from Los Alamos to Silicon Valley. The reportrecommends a number of moves to bolster the intelligence community workforce, including by creating a STEM fellowship program and reforming U.S. immigration policies. Subcommittee Chair Jim Himes (D-CT) is discussing the report at an event on Thursday.

Last week, the National Quantum Coordination Office rolled out its official logo and website quantum.gov, which collects strategy documents and updates about the National Quantum Initiative. The office also released a report summarizing frontier research areas in quantum information science and announced the inaugural meeting of the National Q12 Education Partnership, an effort to introduce students to QIS concepts at earlier grade levels. The White House established the coordination office last year, as required by the National Quantum Initiative Act, to keep tabs on the governments growing portfolio of QIS research centers and workforce development efforts. The office is led by physicist Charles Tahan, who is on detail from the National Security Agencys Laboratory for Physical Sciences, where he is chief scientist. Tahan also serves as co-chair of the newly established National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, which is holding its first meeting on Oct. 27.

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The Week of October 12, 2020 - FYI: Science Policy News

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