FOOTNOTES
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Public Affairs Update

  • U.S. Treasury Department eases restrictions on publishers . . . In a victory for American publishers, the U.S. Treasury Department ruled that trade embargoes do not restrict scholarly publishing. This ruling from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which monitors and enforces federal regulations regarding trade embargoes with nations the U.S. government holds in disfavor, is considered a major victory to academic and professional publishers. It allows such activities as substantive editing, payment of royalties, adding photographs, and collaborating with authors in embargoed countries. While OFAC continues to prohibit transactions with the governments of Cuba, Iran, and Sudan, the recent ruling specifies that the restrictions do not apply to the countries’ “academic and research institutions and their personnel.” The ruling follows the filing of lawsuits against Treasury by publishing groups such as the Association of American Publishers and an Iranian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The publishers argued that the OFAC regulations violated the First Amendment. Prior to this ruling, violators of the trade embargo faced fines of up to $1 million and jail terms of as much as 10 years, leading some scientific publishers to back away from authors in embargoed countries. Since July 2004, the American Sociological Association has been engaged with publishers to help bring a reversal of this ill-founded policy. ASA Executive Officer Sally Hillsman was among representatives of science publishers in July who met with the head of the OFAC to express concerns about and try to reverse the “publishing with disfavored nations” policy (see April 2004 Footnotes, p. 2). A copy of the rule is available at www.treasury.gov/press/releases/reports/office%20foreign.pdf.

  • NIMH research priority shifts with repercussions at NIH . . . . Chaired by sociologist Linda Waite, University of Chicago, the Working Group for the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on Research Opportunities in the Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences presented a draft of its report to the ACD in December. The report was in response to recent shift in the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) research priorities toward more translational/applied research (see March 2004 Footnotes, p. 3) and took into account four decades of repeated congressional requests to include social and behavioral research in the portfolio of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). The Working Group reviewed the portfolio of basic behavioral social sciences research across the agency; identified areas of opportunity in basic behavioral and social sciences that NIH would benefit from supporting; and examined barriers to submission and peer review of grant applications in these basic sciences. Among the group’s two primary recommendations were that the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, which does not directly fund research, coordinate trans-institute basic research initiatives. Second, NIH should designate a “stable home” for basic research that is not specifically associated with a disease by establishing a branch in a non-disease-focused institute, such as NIGMS, the National Institute on Aging, or the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. The draft report can be found at obssr.od.nih.gov/Activities/Basic%20Beh%20Report_complete.pdf. For related information on NIMH’s report on its basic science portfolio, see www.nimh.nih.gov/council/bbbsresearch.pdf.

  • New Director chosen for OBSSR . . . . . National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias A. Zerhouni has announced that psychologist David B. Abrams, Brown University, has been selected as the next Associate Director for the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR). His duties begin this month. The position is an important post to the behavioral and social science communities, as it involves promoting collaborations involving these sciences across all 27 of NIH’s institutes and centers. Abrams is Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Professor of Community Health and co-director of Transdisciplinary Research at Butler Hospital at the Brown Medical School. He has been at Brown University since 1978. He is also the founding Director of Brown’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital. He received his MS and PhD degrees in clinical psychology from Rutgers University and completed his internship and postdoctoral training at Brown University. For more information, see www.nih.gov/news/pr/dec2004/od-09.htm.

  • Scientists recommend changes to presidential appointment process . . . . The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) called for an overhaul of the U.S. science policy advisory committees. The FAS report, Flying Blind: The Rise, Fall and Possible Resurrection of Science Advice, says that America’s institutions for providing science and technology advice to policymakers are in “crisis.” It also finds that “lacking competent advice, the nation may fail to act on problems until they are costly and difficult to solve or fail to seize important opportunities to achieve public objectives in security, education, health care, the environment, or other critical areas.” The FAS was particularly concerned with “the apparent decline in the influence of the office of the President’s Advisor for Science and Technology” and “the absence of a clear replacement for the long-dead congressional Office of Technology Assessment,” a casualty of the mid-1990s anti-science efforts by Congress. The report develops options for improving the fundamental structures of science and technology advice based on cases where science and technology advice did not serve the nation well, interviews with many key figures in science and technology advice for Congress and the administration, and a literature review. For more on this issue, see the December 2004 Footnotes (p. 1) and to purchase the report, see www.fas.org/main/content.jsp?formAction=297&contentId=346.