Librarian Of Congress To End An Era Sooner

Librarian of James Billington, the current Librarian of Congress, had announced his retirement effective the end of this year.  However, this week he announced that he would be leaving at the end of this month.

Billington is the 13th Librarian of Congress, and has served since 1987.  While he has transformed the institution over the nearly 30 years of his tenure, the Library has been criticized of late for lagging behind in updating and securing ito technological infrastructure.  Recent computer problems may have accelerated Billington’s departure.

The position is a Presidential appointment requiring Senate confirmation.  Following Billington’s departure, Deputy Librarian David Mao will lead until a replacement is confirmed.

National Science Board Seeking Nominees

Every two years eight members of the 24-member National Science Board (NSB) step down, and the President appoints their replacements.

The nomination process is starting now for the cohort that would serve from 2016-2022.  The NSB is the advisory board for the National Science Foundation, though its most public presence is probably in the release of the Science and Engineering Indicators publication in even-numbered years.

The NSB released a call for nominations earlier this week. Basically nominees should have the depth and breadth of experience in science and/or engineering research and research administration you would expect for the board of directors of a top private company.  The Board has listed a number of field-specific and cross-cutting issues it expects to address, so candidates with a background in one or more of those should give thought to a nomination. The nomination package (letter of recommendation, biography and CV without publications) must be submitted by October 30.

New Australian PM Leads To New Australian Science Minister

The recent Liberal Party reshuffle in Australia produced a new Prime Minister, and PM Malcolm Turnbull has since announced his cabinet ministers.

Among them is MP Christopher Pyne, who leaves his education portfolio to become Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.  Pyne takes over for Ian Macfarlane, who no longer has a ministerial position.  Pyne has been involved with Australian science policy through his participation in the Commonwealth Science Council.  He remains Leader of the House in the Australian Parliament.  This is the government minister that runs how the government (the executive branch) manages its business in the legislature.  (For those in parliamentary systems, pardon the pedantism.)

Pyne’s training is not in science or engineering – not a particular surprise for a position like this.  He’s been in Parliament for 22 years, and between that tenure and his current legislative position, he stands in a good place to insert science policy into the legislative agenda.

Whether he will is unclear to me.  As the recently departed Yogi Berra has said, you can observe a lot by watching.

The European Academies Advisory Council Forms An Advisory Group

In what might prompt some readers to think of nesting dolls, the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) recently announced the formation of a Senior Advisory Group.  While this might understandably be seen as redundant, the intention if to provide an outside perspective on what EASAC is doing and how that work is being received and used, particularly by the European Commission.  EASAC is focused on coordinating the activities of the member academies in order to provide science advice to European policy makers.

There are four members of the SAG: Anne Glover, former Chief Science Adviser to the Commission (and for Scotland before that); Jules Hoffman, a Nobel laureate and biologist; Joaquin Almunia, former European commissioner for competition; and Wilhelm Krull, director general of the Volkswagen Foundation (he has previously worked in senior positions at the German Science Council and the Max Planck Society).

Comings And Goings In The Executive Branch – FDA And NIH

There’s appointments news to pass along.

First a departure of note, as much for where the person is going as where he’s been. Tom Insel is leaving the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) after 13 years as its director.  He is leaving to join Life Sciences, a company recently created by Google (and now part of its Alphabet holding company) to consolidate its various life science projects.  Insel will lead the company’s mental health efforts.  Bruce Cuthbert will take over as acting director of the NIMH until a replacement is name..

The Administration has finally announced a nominee to replace departed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.  Rob Califf, currently Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco at the FDA, has been nominated, and might actually get confirmed in time for the next President to take office.  Prior to joining the FDA Califf has worked for over 30 years at the Duke Medical School and Duke University Medical Center.  He also founded the Duke University Clinical Research Institute and served as its Director.

In this completely arbitrary guess at when Califf might get confirmed, I’ll note it has been over six months since Commissioner Hamburg left, and it will probably take at least that much time for the Senate to hold a confirmation hearing and eventually vote on the nomination.

More On That Canadian Science Debate – Please Send Topics and Questions

Commenter Aerin Jacob reached out with some information on an upcoming Canadian election debate in Victoria, British Columbia.  It will take place on September 23, and be moderated by Bob McDonald, who hosts Quirks & Quarks on the CBC.  This is the debate I linked to in my September 1 post.

While it does not involve the candidates for Prime Minister, there are confirmed representatives from the Liberal, New Democratic and Green Parties participating in this debate.  Each of them are standing for election in ridings in the Greater Victoria area.  Aerin is asking for suggestions on both topics to cover and questions to ask.  If you have any to offer, please respond via the link provided in the comment.

An invitation to participate in the debate was extended to four major parties in Canada, and the Conservatives may yet send a representative on September 23.  The organizers intend to have a live-stream available, and if I find out that link in time, I will post and/or Tweet about it.

Next PCAST Meeting Needs You To Lend An Ear

The next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) will hold its public session next Friday, September 18, in Washington.  The meeting will run from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time.  As is customary, there will be a live webcast that you will be able to watch if you can’t catch it live.

Per the current agenda, the public session will focus on at least one study in progress and hear from the new(ish) Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Willie May.

Before hearing from the NIST Director, there are two panels scheduled where PCAST members will discuss ongoing work.  One panel is on technology and the future of cities and the other focuses on hearing technologies.  The second panel is not explicitly connected to a report on the agenda, but appears to be part of a larger discussion or project on technology to help people as they age.