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ASBMB public affairs 2021: The year in review

Sarina Neote
Dec. 8, 2021

From advocating for sustainable science funding to supporting junior scientists, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology public affairs team put together this roundup of our policy accomplishments in 2021. Here are the highlights.

Eleven Photographs/Unsplash

Supporting early-career scientists and the research enterprise

The ASBMB took the lead on a bipartisan “dear colleague” letter (a document used by members of Congress to encourage their colleagues to support specific issues) in the House of Representatives advocating for targeted relief for junior scientists affected by the pandemic. Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.; Bill Foster, D-Ill.; and David McKinley, R-W.Va., sent the letter to the House leadership in late May.

In addition to this effort, the ASBMB public affairs staff worked with the society’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee to advocate for the passage of the Research Investment to Spark the Economy Act, which, if passed, would provide support for research disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supporting international collaboration

The ASBMB public affairs staff wrote and submitted comments to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services outlining significant barriers, such as visa processing delays, that international students and scholars face when trying to study or work in the U.S.

The society also submitted formal testimony for a congressional roundtable, “Researching While Chinese American: Ethnic Profiling, Chinese American Scientists and a New American Brain Drain.” In its testimony, the ASBMB emphasized that recent efforts by the Department of Justice targeting Chinese and Chinese American scientists and those who collaborate with Chinese institutions have had a chilling effect on international scientific collaboration, undercutting the U.S.’s role as the global leader in science and technology.

Improving scientific integrity policies

President Joe Biden’s administration has focused on restoring trust in science in the federal government and strengthening integrity policies at the science agencies as outlined in his January presidential memo. Per his request, in June, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a notice of request of information to improve the effectiveness of federal scientific integrity policies to enhance public trust in science. The ASBMB submitted formal comments recommending the OSTP strengthen whistleblower protections, refine conflict-of-interest policies, encourage preprints and media engagement, and study and remedy funding inequities.

Shortly after it published this RFI, the OSTP also began creating implementation guidance for federal agencies on clear rules for research security and researcher responsibility. The ASBMB strongly encouraged the OSTP to recommend that federal agencies harmonize conflict-of-interest and conflict-of-commitment disclosure requirements, be transparent about investigative processes on violations of research integrity, and ensure that the Department of Justice’s China Initiative does not fuel racial profiling of Chinese, Chinese American, Asian and Asian American scientists.

Commenting on the proposal for ARPA-H

President Biden called for the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, dedicated to researching human diseases and focusing on innovative research to address the nation’s greatest health challenges. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., released the discussion draft of the bill establishing this new agency and requested feedback from the scientific community. The ASBMB advocated for keeping ARPA-H autonomous and separate from other federal funding agencies and advocated for ARPA-H to create an inclusive research ecosystem that attracts a diverse talent pool.

The end of an era at the NIH

National Institutes of Health
Francis S. Collins has served as the director of the National Institutes of Health since August 2009.
The longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, announced in the fall that he plans to step down as director and return to running his lab, which focuses on cystic fibrosis. Collins, a physician–scientist, has run the agency for 12 years, serving under three presidents. Before that, he was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute for 15 years, presiding over the completion of the Human Genome Project.

Collins’ signature projects as NIH director have included efforts to address structural racism and sexual harassment, rolling out data-sharing policies, and leadership through the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement, the ASBMB wrote, “Francis Collins has served admirably through some of the most challenging times in the NIH’s history. ... a steadfast leader showing grace, tenacity and — on a lighter note — a skill with a guitar unmatched by any other agency leader.”

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Sarina Neote

Sarina Neote is ASBMB's director of public affairs.

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