On the heels of legislation to improve K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education (H.R. 362) and strengthen support for basic research (H.R. 363), the House of Representatives approved two bills authorizing appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST) through fiscal year (FY) 2010.
The National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2007 (H.R. 1867), which passed 399-17, would authorize NSF from $6.5 billion in FY 2008 to $7.5 billion in FY 2010. Twelve amendments were considered during debate on the House floor 2 May 2007. Of the few amendments adopted by the House was a measure from Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) to allow NSF to develop K-12 educational materials about global warming and climate science and another from Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) that would permit the NSF to augment IGERT grants to train graduate students in communicating the results of their research to non-scientific audiences. Congressional observers will note that the Matsui amendment is similar to H.R. 1453, a bill introduced by Rep. Matsui on 9 March 2007 to support communications training for science graduate students. Amendments by Reps. John Campbell (R-CA) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) to prohibit funding to nine already funded grants in the Social, Behavior, and Economics (SBE) directorate- including those related to research on the accuracy of cross-cultural understanding of other’s emotions, bison hunting on the late prehistoric Great Plains, and the social relationships and reproductive strategies of Phayre’s Leaf Monkeys - were defeated.
According to House Research and Science Education Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA), “With passage of this bill, the House of Representatives took an important step to ensure that we increase job opportunities here at home; promote new technologies; bolster research opportunities; and prevent our country falling further and further behind.”
On 3 May 2007, the Technology Innovation and Manufacturing Stimulation Act of 2007 (H.R. 1868) passed the House by a vote of 385-23. H.R. 1868 is the first full reauthorization bill for NIST since 1992. The bill would authorize NIST from $803 million in FY 2008 to $890 million in FY 2010. Specifically, H.R. 1868 would set funding for NIST labs on a 10-year doubling path and fund upgrades for laboratory facilities. Additionally, the bill would increase support for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program and replace the Advanced Technology Program with the Technology Innovation Program (TIP), a cost-sharing program intended to promote high-risk, high-reward research. In response to criticism expressed by the White House in a Statement of Administration Policy, a Manager’s amendment was offered by Rep. David Wu (D-OR), Chairman of the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee, and accepted by voice vote on the House floor to ensure that the TIP program would award grants for research that “addresses critical national needs.”
The challenge for Congress will be reconciling differences between the related science and innovation bills recently passed in the House (H.R. 362, H.R. 363, H.R. 1867, H.R. 1868) with the single bill, America COMPETES (S. 761), passed by the Senate on 25 April 2007; See http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20070430.html.
-REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES ON EVOLUTION
Voters received an early glimpse of Republican presidential candidates’ viewpoints on evolution during the Republican debate in California on 3 May 2007. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was asked directly if he believed in evolution. McCain responded, “Yes,” and then elaborated, “I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.” When the debate moderator asked participants for a show of hands from those who did not believe in evolution, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) raised their hands. Following the debate, Huckabee, a Baptist pastor, and Tancredo further expanded on their beliefs.
To the Associated Press, Huckabee said, “I believe that the Creation has a creator. I believe there is a God. And I believe God put this whole creative process in motion. How he did it and the time frame in which he did it, I honestly don’t know. Nor do I think it’s relevant to being president of the United States.” He continued, “I’m going to leave the scientists to debate the intricacies of how it happened and when it happened because I simply don’t know. But I believe that rather than all this being just some accident that happened, there was a design, and a designer in the design.”
The day after the debate, Tancredo was quoted, “Evolution explains changes in life. Creationism explains its origin.”
-CREATION MUSEUM TO OPEN IN MAY
The Answers in Genesis Creation Museum is scheduled to open 28 May 2007 in northern Kentucky, just minutes from Cincinnati, OH. The $27 million, 60,000 square-foot museum features scientific appearing dioramas and exhibits that present the story of Biblical creation as literal truth. The exhibits, which employ high-tech animatronics, videos, murals, and live animals that are so often used in natural history museums, depict dinosaurs coexisting with humans, the Garden of Eden, and a replica of Noah’s Ark. One exhibit, “Dinosaur Dig Site,” compares the work of an evolutionary paleontologist to a creationist paleontologist and directs visitors to the conclusion that science can and should involve the supernatural.
Given the recent media attention to the Creation Museum, scientists in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana have mobilized to get the message out that the exhibits displayed in the museum are scientifically inaccurate. With the assistance of the National Center for Science Education, the scientists are circulating the following Statement of Concern: “We, the undersigned scientists at universities and colleges in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, are concerned about scientifically inaccurate materials at the Answers in Genesis museum. Students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level. These students will need remedial instruction in the nature of science, as well as in the specific areas of science misrepresented by Answers in Genesis.”
Scientists from KY, IN, or OH interested in signing the statement should visit: http://sciohost.org/states/
-INTELLECTUAL DIVERSITY LEGISLATION IN MISSOURI
On 11 April 2007, the Missouri House of Representatives passed H.B. 213, the “Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act.” The bill, if passed by the state Senate and signed into law by the governor, would require public colleges and universities to annually report the steps that they are taking to ensure “intellectual diversity,” defined in the bill as “the foundation of a learning environment that exposes students to a variety of political, ideological, religious, and other perspectives.”
The bill follows from a controversial incident at Missouri State University last year where a social work student, Emily Brooker, complained that she had no academic recourse when she disagreed with a professor on an assignment that opposed her religious views.
The bill recommends 13 specific measures that institutions could take and incorporate into their reports including: the encouragement of a balanced variety of campus-wide panels and speakers, the inclusion of intellectual diversity in course evaluations, and the development of policies protecting faculty and students against discrimination based on their viewpoints. The most controversial recommendation states, “Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant.”
Some academics are alarmed that the protection of “intellectual diversity” may affect the way biology professors teach evolution; professors who do not discuss intelligent design or creationism as competing theories to evolution may face formal complaints and even disciplinary action from students who take the Bible as literal truth.
H.B. 213 was considered by the Missouri Senate Education Committee on 25 April, and recommended for passage on 9 May 2007. It awaits placement on the Senate calendar.
The Budget Deficit Act, signed into law last year by President Bush, created the American Competitiveness Council (ACC). The Council was tasked to appraise all federal programs with a focus on math and science education and report its findings to Congress. The Council found there are 105 STEM education programs that totaled over $3 billion in funding in fiscal year 2006 including 18 percent to K-12 programs, 77 percent to undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs, and 4 percent to informal education and outreach programs. Among the STEM education programs, 45 were dedicated to recruiting and retaining teachers with majors and minors in STEM as well as increasing the knowledge of current STEM education teachers.
According to Education Secretary Spellings, “Currently there are more than 100 programs that focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education spread across 13 agencies, yet little is known about the impact of these programs on student performance.”
The report and its findings may be viewed at www.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/competitiveness/acc-mathscience/report.pdf.
As many regular policy report readers will recall, not long ago the Department of Energy proposed closing the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL). Indeed, only action by Congress restored a portion of the funding needed to keep SREL operational. However, it appears that SREL funding is again in doubt and may result in the facility closing by the end of the month.
The SREL was founded in 1951 with support from the Atomic Energy Commission, an agency that was ultimately absorbed by the Department of Energy (DOE). Since its inception, the Lab has been operated by the University of Georgia and funded in part by the Department of Energy. The SREL has provided independent evaluation of ecological effects of the Savannah River Site operations through ecological research, education, and outreach.
Presently, funds for the SREL to continue the rest of the fiscal year have not been released by the Savannah River Site. According to a document on the lab’s website, funding has “been budgeted for SREL tasks … however, the funds have not been released to SREL.” If funding is not immediately restored, the lab will be forced to close its doors, which will mean that approximately 100 people will lose their jobs, all outreach programs will cease, and any oversight surveys the SREL is conducting will be concluded.
In response to lack of funding for SREL, Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) wrote in a 28 March 2007 letter to Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, that he was concerned about the reduction in funding to the Savannah River Ecology Lab asking the Secretary to have “your staff halt current plans to reduce funding and then develop a comprehensive plan for SREL to be fully supported by the Department in its historical and future mission.” Rep. Barrow goes on to write, “SREL is the organization that has the expertise, institutional memory, and academic credibility to develop and implement a long-term monitoring plan that will be accepted and trusted by the general public, regulators, and other stakeholders.”
The SREL has also been home to the SREL Herpetology Lab, which has conducted herpetological research since 1967, providing opportunities for post-doctoral associates, graduate students and undergraduate research participants from an assortment of universities. Dr. Whitfield Gibbons, an amphibian biologist at SREL and a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia, writes a weekly column published on the SREL website as well as in several newspapers. He wrote in a recent weekly column, stating “research, training, education outreach, conservation, environmental oversight … those are some of the benefits offered by SREL, at the cost of a minute’s worth of the federal budget. SREL is a national bargain worth keeping.” Gibbons also noted that programs such as SREL’s Rainbow Bay study, funded by the DOE since 1978, “has provided monitoring of more than a half million frogs and salamanders every day since that time, in a habitat not affected by typical human modifications.” The fate of that study along with many others is now uncertain.
A report that was prepared by EPA Program and Regional Offices, the Office of Research and Development (ORD), the Office of Environmental Information (OEI), the Office of Policy Economics and Innovation (OPEI), and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO), with coordination by the National Center for Environmental Assessment within EPA’s ORD, was released for public comment 10 May 2007 in the Federal Register. EPA’s “2007 Report on the Environment: Science Report” assembled the most recent and consistent indicators to facilitate comprehension of significant trends in the environment.
The Federal Register notice can be found at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/E7-9022.htm. The EPA must receive comments on the document by 25 June 2007.
In the May 2007 issue of BioScience, Adrienne Froelich Sponberg explores how threats to wildlife may be adding additional momentum to the current congressional deliberations about climate change.
An excerpt from the column follows:
“The 110th Congress is taking a new approach to climate change. Rather than debating whether or not climate change is a “hoax,” the Democratic-majority Congress is moving full steam ahead. With the creation of a select House committee on climate change and a number of committees holding hearings and debating legislation, lawmakers are now discussing the possible consequences of climate change for, among other things, ecosystems and wildlife.”
“The impacts of climate change on wildlife are pulling more policymakers into the debate. Senator John Warner (R-VA) admits that his love of hunting and fishing sparked his interest in climate change. At a recent Environment and Public Works (EPW) subcommittee hearing on the link between climate change and wildlife, Warner noted, “The wildlife and the plant species are not represented by any lobbyists. And how they react to today’s climate is a pure, clear science and it could well provide the benchmarks, the early indicators, of what direction that our nation must move to solve this problem.”“
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