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Public Policy Report for 4 September 2007

Feds Request Comments on Climate Change Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Commerce have filed a federal register request for comments on U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product Draft Report 4.4: “Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources”. The document can be downloaded in full, or in parts, from http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-4/public-review-draft/default.htm. The document, in its entirety, is 784 pages with 9 sections covering national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, national estuaries, and marine protected areas. The 45-day public comment period began 21 August 2007, and is scheduled to end 5 October 2007.

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AIBS Comments on NSB Stem ED Plan

AIBS COMMENTS ON NSB STEM ED PLAN

On 24 August 2007, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) submitted comments to the National Science Board in response to their draft action plan for improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The 20 plus page document was somewhat quietly released for comment by the NSB in August.

The complete comments as well as other statements may be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/. Excerpts from the AIBS comments follow.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the National Science Board’s (NSB) draft report, “A National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System.”

Overall, the National Action Plan provides a response to many of the common science education concerns raised by AIBS individual and organizational members. Priority Recommendations A and B also appear to be reasonable and timely steps to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) instruction and educational outcomes.

As articulated in the draft report, a plethora of government programs exist with a purpose of improving STEM education and instruction. The creation of a National Council on STEM Education to coordinate these efforts and promote wise investments of limited resources is a logical recommendation. However, AIBS encourages the NSB to carefully consider the authority and staffing levels for the National Council. Undoubtedly, the various current federal STEM programs serve unique stakeholders and may have been established to advance agency missions. Without clear authority, it is conceivable that the work of a non-federal council would be stymied by jurisdictional interests and a reluctance to participate in an effort lead by an external organization. The NSB is encouraged to consider seeking a Presidential Executive Order establishing the National Council, rather than legislation, as it would be more expeditious. Additionally, an Executive Order could more immediately and nimbly direct all federal programs to support and contribute to the efforts of the National Council on STEM Education. An Executive Order could also ensure appropriate jurisdiction, authority and agency participation in the proposed National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on STEM Education.

As outlined in the National Action Plan, the National Council on STEM Education will have an extensive workload. Given the scope of work, it appears that a more robust budget and more than two professional staff members will be required. Additionally, the model for long-term sustainability of the Council should be reconsidered. If the work of the National Council is effective and does indeed serve the national interest, it would seem that federal funding should be provided. Moreover, this would prevent the Council’s work from being swayed by organizations with the capacity to fund the Council.

As biologists, earth scientists and social scientists are keenly aware, science standards are no guarantee that core scientific principles will be appropriately taught in science courses. Indeed, scientists have long sought to ensure that unifying scientific principles, such as evolution, are included in all state science standards and that scientists have appropriate classroom materials to provide students with an appropriate education. For instance, over the past several years, AIBS has worked with the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study to provide teachers from across the nation with resources to improve their classroom instruction on evolution. Thus, the recommendation for horizontal integration of science standards is compelling.

AIBS is pleased that Priority Recommendation A recognizes the importance of informal science education institutions, such as natural history museums. In addition to these institutions, the National Council should also be aware of the myriad of informal and formal science education that takes place at other research centers, such as botanical gardens, field stations, and marine laboratories. Too often, tight budget conditions force these organizations to spread limited financial resources among research, education, and facilities. Thus, AIBS encourages the NSB, NSTC, and the proposed National Council to work with these institutions and funding organizations to ensure that vital elements of our national research and education infrastructure are able to access adequate and sustainable funding to support science education efforts.

AIBS is also pleased to see that informal education designed to improve the public understanding and appreciation of science is included in the draft report. Cultivating societal appreciation for science is essential to inspiring students to engage in science and to supporting the recruitment of STEM educators. These are among the reasons that AIBS has helped lead an effort to establish the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS). The Coalition is a grassroots effort linking universities, scientific societies, science centers and museums, advocacy groups, media, educators, businesses, and industry in a peer network with a goal of greater public understanding of the nature of science and its value to society. This is an essential step in maintaining the nation’s role in the global scientific enterprise.

Finally, Priority Recommendation B addresses the importance of recruiting and training highly qualified STEM educators. Absent from this recommendation, however, is recognition of the importance of professional, disciplinary societies. STEM societies have within their membership leaders in research and education, as well as current and future STEM educators, including graduate and undergraduate students. Many large disciplinary societies have professional staff members that work with practicing scientists and educators to develop timely and appropriate science education materials. For instance, AIBS staff and Board members have been working to bring together college biology faculty to identify ways to improve science instruction at the undergraduate level. The NSB should consider methods for including professional societies in the initiatives articulated in Priority Recommendation B. The NSB should also consider how National Science Foundation might provide new sources of funding to assist STEM professional organizations committed to contributing to the goals articulated in the National Action Plan.

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Intelligent Design/Creationism Goes Hollywood

Ben Stein – the character actor who played the memorable monotone teacher on “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the television series “The Wonder Years” – has taken up the torch of the intelligent design and creationism movement in his forthcoming new movie, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

The documentary features Stein interviewing scientists who, according to the movie’s press release, “are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired in some cases for the fact that they believe there is evidence of ‘design’ in nature, challenging the idea that life is a result of random change.”

“Big Science in this area of biology has lost its way,” said Stein. “Scientists are supposed to be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead, no matter what the implications are. Freedom of inquiry has been greatly compromised, and this is not only anti-American, it’s anti-science. It’s anti-the whole concept of learning.”

In addition to his roles as an actor, Stein is a lawyer, economist, author, and former speechwriter for President’s Nixon and Ford.

The movie also includes interviews with key evolution proponents including Eugenie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education, Richard Dawkins, and science blogger PZ Myers. However, according to Myers, his interview was conducted under false pretenses; at the time, the film was entitled “Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion” and appeared to be a legitimate inquiry into evolution-intelligent design conflicts, rather than its current state as anti-evolution propaganda.

“Expelled” is slated for release on Darwin Day, February 12, 2008, and an extensive grassroots promotional campaign has recently been launched. Buzz about the movie abounds on creationism/intelligent design websites, and advertisements for the movie are prominently featured on the Seattle-based Discovery Institute’s blog.

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William McComas Wins NABT Evolution Education Award

The National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) recently announced that William F. McComas, Parks Family Professor of Science Education in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas, is this year’s winner of the 2007 NABT Evolution Education Award. In November, McComas will deliver the inaugural Kendall/Hunt Lecture in Biology Education at the NABT national conference in Atlanta, Georgia. His lecture is entitled “Using the History and Philosophy of Science to Solve the Challenges in Evolution Education.”

The award, sponsored by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), acknowledges McComas’s dedication to high-quality evolution education. Through outstanding classroom teaching, valuable scholarly publications, and insightful public presentations, McComas has promoted accurate understanding of biological evolution.

The Evolution Education Award, which is presented annually, recognizes the innovative and effective classroom teaching and community education efforts of an individual who promotes the understanding of evolution. All K–16 science educators who include life science lessons or units in their classroom teaching are eligible for the award. Applicants must demonstrate that their teaching of evolution incorporates investigative, student-centered, and original materials and resources; they must participate in community and professional education and outreach on the subject of evolution; and they must help students and the local community understand biological evolution and the impact of evolutionary insights on society. The award recipient receives a recognition plaque, a combined $1000 cash prize from AIBS and BSCS, and a complimentary one-year membership in NABT.

For more information on the Evolution Education Award, and other awards presented by NABT, visit www.nabt.org/sites/S1/index.php?p=290.

Additional information about William F. McComas can be found at http://dailyheadlines.uark.edu/11237.htm

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House Passes Energy Legislation

Prior to leaving for August recess, the House of Representatives passed their version of the energy bill, “A New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act” (H.R. 3221). The overarching themes of the legislation include energy efficiency, increased use of renewable energy resources, and the ultimate goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The House-passed bill would require more energy efficiency in appliances, buildings, and power grids, and addresses energy efficiency in the U.S. Capitol buildings. An amendment offered by Representative Tom Udall (D-NM), which passed on a 220-190 vote, would require private electric suppliers to provide 15 percent of their electricity using renewable energy resources by the year 2020. The measure would allow 4 percent of the requirement to be satisfied through electricity efficiency measures.

A companion tax package, entitled the “Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007” (H.R. 2776) was also passed on a similarly partisan 221-189 vote. The bill calls for $16 billion in taxes from oil companies, at the same time, giving tax incentives to companies for renewable energy efforts. Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming said of the bill, “People will look back at this as the turning point where Congress began to embrace renewable energy.”

In addition to efficiency and renewable measures in the House energy bill, the legislation includes provisions also found in the recently enacted America COMPETES Act. Specifically, the legislation would establish at the Department of Energy an Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) modeled after the Department of Defense’s DARPA.

Included within the Science and Technology section (Title IV) of the House’s energy legislation, are directions for the Secretary of Energy to support research in the following areas: marine renewable energy technologies, geothermal energy, solar energy, biofuels, global change, and climate change. The measure would also amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to establish not less than 5 bioresearch centers for systems biology of biofuels.

The Senate passed their energy bill, “Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 20” (H.R. 6) in late June. The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 65-27 and focused on energy security and efficiency. The Senate measure would establish an increase of 40 percent in auto mileage standards, an increase in ethanol production, fuel efficiency research, and would establish new efficiency standards for government buildings. Senator Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, commended “the House for passing legislation that will help our nation better secure its energy future” and stated that he was delighted the House passed the aforementioned Udall amendment to increase renewable electricity.

The House and Senate will likely go to conference sometime in late September or early October to work through differences between the two bills. Congress returns from August recess 4 September to resume work on this bill and others including the remaining appropriations bills.

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New in BioScience: "Congress Advances Multiyear Science and Education Plan"

In the September 2007 issue of the journal BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on the latest national effort to invigorate U.S. competitiveness through science, technology, engineering and mathematics research and education. An excerpt from this Washington Watch article follows:

“Before leaving Washington, DC, for the August district work period, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed legislation authorizing $43.3 billion for science and science education programs at various federal agencies, and President George W. Bush signed the act into law on 9 August. The passage of HR 2272, the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (America COMPETES), marks the culmination of one and a half years of legislative wrangling in both chambers of Congress.”

“The stated purpose of the act is…”

To continue reading this article, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_09.html.

To read any previous Washington Watch article dating back to September 2002, please visit http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

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Bush Announces Executive Order Promoting Hunting

In an effort to expand hunting on public lands, President Bush signed Executive Order 13443 on 16 August 2007. The directive requires Federal agencies with public land management, wildlife management, and outdoor recreation programs “facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat.” The order includes military bases, national forests, wildlife refuges, rangelands, and other federally managed lands.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch stated in a press release, “This is political meddling posing as a conservation policy. The President seems to be saying you can never have too many deer and that public lands should be run as a salad bar for trophy animals, it would have made more sense to have Dick Cheney sign this executive order instead.” Ruch suggested that the federal government should look elsewhere for the reason behind declining hunting licenses.

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