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Public Policy Report for 21 December 2007

Little Holiday Cheer for Federal Science Agencies: Congress Finishes FY 2008 Appropriations

Concluding a year-long budget fight laced with numerous veto threats from the Bush Administration, Congress compromised by cutting more than $20 billion in discretionary funds to meet the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 federal budget request. The House of Representatives passed a $473.5 billion omnibus appropriations bill (HR 2764) 17 December, which included $31 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The Senate subsequently added an additional $40 billion for the war in Iraq to bring the total to $555 billion to fund all remaining federal agencies and programs. Included in this final amount is an estimated $15.3 billion in congressional earmarks. Prior to the omnibus, the only spending measure to become law was the FY 2008 Appropriations for the Department of Defense (H.R. 3222) that was signed by the President on 13 November. President Bush has indicated that he will sign the omnibus bill, but has until 31 December to decide. Congress quickly passed another continuing resolution (HJ Res 72) on 19 December to keep the government operational through the end of the year.

Disappointing advocates for federal science programs, research and development funding for several government agencies will be below the amounts proposed by the President, and in some cases approved by houses of Congress earlier this year.
Quickly derailing the multi-year pledge to double funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the FY 2008 omnibus provides NSF with $6.065 billion, $364 million less than the President requested and $434 million and $488 million less than the House and Senate proposed, respectively. Additionally, the omnibus calls for a mandated rescission of $33 million from funds appropriated to NSF in FY 2007. Taken together, this means that the NSF budget will increase just 2 percent over its FY 2007 appropriation of $5.916 billion, below the expected 2.4 percent inflation rate.

The Research and Related Activities account will receive approximately $4.821 billion dollars in FY 2008, only $56.8 million above the FY 2007 appropriation. Of significant concern to biologists, is the estimated 2.9 percent decrease from FY 2007 for the Biological Sciences directorate.

Within the Department of Interior, the omnibus bill provided $1.022 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), lower than the $1.033 billion for USGS approved by the House and slightly more than the $1.010 billion that the Senate approved. Of note, the various biological science programs within the Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) will receive nearly $180 million, with the bulk of this funding allocated to biological research and monitoring ($141.2 million after a mandated rescission), a small increase from the FY 2007 level. Within BRD, contaminant biology will receive $2 million, the National Biological Information Infrastructure will receive $6.85 million, and cooperative research units will receive $16.1 million.

The USGS also received a general program increase of just over $7 million to support global climate change research. This funding was below the requested $10 million. Additionally, Congress has provided that the USGS may use up to $2.5 million of the newly appropriated funding to establish a climate change research center.

Additional analysis of the FY 2008 science agency appropriations will be included in January 2008 Public Policy Reports.

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More Trouble in Texas: Institute for Creation Research Seeks State Approval for Grad Program

On Friday, 15 December 2007, the Certification Advisory Council of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) recommended that the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research be allowed to offer on-line Master’s degrees in science education. According to the report prepared by THECB on-site evaluators, “The proposed degree would be generally comparable to an initial master’s degree in science education from one of the smaller, regional universities in the state.”

ICR, like Answers in Genesis, espouses Young Earth Creationism, a literal view of the Bible that contends the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. This world-view permeates the ICR graduate program in Science Teacher Education where its intent is to “assist the learner in developing creation apologetics in his/her science classroom” and “teach the learner how to develop curriculum, instructional strategies, and classroom activities related to creation science thus helping the science teacher equip his/her students with truth.”

ICR is seeking approval from the THECB to begin offering degrees immediately while waiting for accreditation from the state-recognized Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. The full THECB will consider the ICR request on 24 January 2008.

Science education advocates - already irritated by Texas Education Agency policies that require “neutrality” towards evolution and the threat that Intelligent Design proponents pose to the upcoming review of state science standards - are outraged by these latest developments.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, told the Dallas Morning News (15 December 2007), “They teach distorted science. Any student coming out from the ICR with a degree in science would not be competent to teach in Texas public schools.”

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In Memoriam: Terry L. Yates

Sitting AIBS Board of Directors member Terry L. Yates has died after a brief illness at age 57. We at AIBS note his passing with great sadness and a profound sense of loss to both science and human fellowship. Terry was Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University of New Mexico (UNM), and included among his many other official duties at the time of his death the immediate past presidency of the Natural Science Collections Alliance. The NSC Alliance recognizes, as does AIBS, that Terry worked tirelessly on the national stage to increase awareness of the vitally important research in biological diversity, evolution, and ecology that is conducted at our nation’s natural science collections and museums.

“It was his exuberance you remember most about Terry,” says UNM President David Schmidly in a statement.

The UNM statement goes on to say:

“He was one of the first graduate students I taught at Texas Tech in the mid-1970’s,” continues Schmidly, “and he was always ready to examine a new idea or take a trip to the field to explore a theory. I think he was happier out in the field than he was behind a desk.”

Yates was best known for his groundbreaking research on the source of Hanta Virus, a serious respiratory disease that is frequently fatal. When people in the Southwest began dying from an unknown viral disease in 1993, Yates worked with researchers from the National Centers for Disease Control to track down the cause.

Using specimens Yates had collected over the years and placed in the Museum of Southwestern Biology, they were able to pinpoint a species of deer mice as the carrier of the Sin Nombre Virus. The National Science Foundation named research done by Yates and his collaborator Robert Parmeter on the Hanta Virus as one of its “Nifty 50” discoveries ­ projects funded that have had the biggest impact on the lives of Americans.

His most recently published paper explored the relationship between weather and deer mice populations. Yates and his co-authors were able to predict increased risk to humans in specific parts of the Four Corners area after studying satellite photos of vegetation growth. In 2006 his work gave the New Mexico Department of Public Health the scientific evidence it needed to give advance warning to New Mexicans living in certain areas of the state that they faced an increased risk for exposure to Hanta Virus.

Yates was appointed Vice Provost for Research at UNM in 2001, and served as Vice President for Research and Economic Development from 2004 to the present. He was also the Curator of Genomic Resources for the Museum of Southwestern Biology at UNM, and a professor of biology and pathology, and he helped create the Long Term Ecological Research site near Socorro, used by UNM students involved in a wide variety of research projects.

Yates came to UNM in 1978 as an assistant professor of biology. During his tenure as vice-provost and vice-president for research, the total amount of research awards rose from $247 million to nearly $300 million.

He was a member of the Board of Life Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member of the Society of Mammalogists, the highest honor that professional society bestows. He published 126 research papers in refereed outlets, and chaired 17 Ph.D. students. In August the UNM regents gave Yates a Regents Meritorious Service Award.

A memorial service to celebrate Terry’s life and work was held on Friday, December 14 in Popejoy Hall in the Center for the Arts on the UNM campus.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Terry Yates Endowment for Field Mammalogy at the University of New Mexico. Please send contributions to the Yates Endowment in care of the UNM Foundation, Inc., MSC07 4260, University of New Mexico, 87131-0001.

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New in BioScience: "Feds Seek to Ignite Bioenergy Research"

In the Washington Watch article in the December issue of BioScience, Megan Kelhart reports on recent federal initiatives intended to promote bioenergy research and development.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Whether from a desire to reduce dependency on foreign oil, to develop new rural economies, or to reap potential environmental benefits, bioenergy-related research has captured enormous national attention in the last couple of years. In June 2007, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it would spend $375 million over the next five years on three bioenergy research centers in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and California. The centers’ mission is to investigate various aspects of bioenergy development, including the conversion of cellulosic biomass to sugars, the biological and chemical processes associated with conversion, and the economic and environmental sustainability of converting biomass to energy.

“The collaborations of academic, corporate, and national laboratory researchers represented by these centers are truly impressive, and I am very encouraged by the potential they hold for advancing America’s energy security,” said DOE Secretary Samuel W. Bodman.

To continue reading the complete article for free, visit: .

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