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Public Policy Report for 22 January 2008

Ecologists Issue Biofuels Statement

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) released on 10 January a biofuels position statement “that offers the ecological principles necessary for biofuels to help decrease dependence on fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global climate change.” ESA cautioned that should existing methods of biofuel production continue, American natural resources would become severely degraded. They posited three ecological principles necessary for ecological sustainability in biofuel production: 1) having a systems approach; 2) conservation of ecosystem services; and, 3) ensuring the consideration of local, state, and global concerns (scale alignment).

The statement goes on to say, “A biofuels infrastructure that incorporates systems thinking, conserves ecosystem services, and encompasses multiple scales can best serve U.S. citizens, the economy, and the environment.” The ESA will hold a conference (www.esa.org/biofuels) devoted to the ecological dimensions of biofuels on 10 March 2008 in Washington, DC,

The entire position statement can be read at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyStatements/#energy.

The December 2007 Washington Watch column in BioScience also reports on recent federal efforts to stimulate biofuels research. This article, “Feds Seek to Ignite Bioenergy Research,” may be read for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_12.html.

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NSB Releases 2008 Science and Engineering Indicators

On 15 January 2008, the National Science Board (NSB) released the Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 (Indicators), available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators. The NSB, whose primary role is oversight of the National Science Foundation, is required by law to report to the President and the Congress on the state of science and engineering research and education every two years. This edition, the eighteenth in the series, compiles data from a variety of national, international, and private sources and provides key analyses on the national science, engineering, and technology workforce and education, research and development trends, public support for science, and federal support for academic scientists and engineers. Additionally, it provides indicators and analyses for individual states and the District of Columbia.

According to NSB chairman, Dr. Steven Beering, “These indicators come at an important time. The confluence of a range of indicators raises key questions about future U.S. high-technology industry’s competitiveness in international markets and implications for highly skilled jobs at home.”

Some findings include:

U.S. student achievement:

  • In 2000, U.S. grade school students continued to lag behind other developed countries in science and math, although U.S. fourth and eighth graders showed steady gains in math since 1990 and fourth graders improved in science compared to 1996.

  • High school completion and college enrollment rates across ethnic groups increased steadily in recent years, but college enrollment and completion rates differ across socioeconomic groups.

Comparison to international workforce:

  • In 2000, the U.S. held about one-quarter of the world’s 194 million tertiary degrees (equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate); in 1980, the U.S. share was closer to one-third of the world’s 73 million tertiary degrees.

  • From 1994 to 2004, U.S. firms increased the number of people they employed in research and development outside the U.S. by 76 percent and employment within the U.S. by 31 percent, while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms increased their research and development employed by 18 percent.

Research and development within the US:

  • The U.S. is the largest, single research and development-performing nation, supplying a record high $340 billion for research and development in 2006.

  • Of this $340 billion, basic research accounted for 18 percent ($62 billion); applied research accounted for 22 percent ($75 billion); and development accounted for the other 60 percent ($203 billion).

  • In real terms, federal obligations for all academic research (both basic and applied) declined between 2004 and 2005 and are expected to drop further in 2006 and 2007. This represents the first multi-year decline for academic research since 1982.

U.S. position in global high technology:

  • The U.S. is a leading producer in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services, but several Asian countries, led by China, have rapidly increased their global market share.

  • The U.S. trade balance in advanced technology products shifted from surplus to deficit starting in 2002; information and communications products from China and Malaysia largely account for this deficit.

Public support for science:

  • In a 2006 survey, 87 percent of Americans supported government funding for basic research, up from 80 percent in surveys dating back to 1979.

  • In 2006, Americans expressed greater confidence in leaders of the scientific community than any other institution except the military.

Federal support for academic scientists and engineers:

  • Academic science and engineering doctorate holders who received federal support has remained steady during the last 20 years: 48 percent in 2006 and the late 1980s.

  • However, among life scientists, this percentage has dropped from 65 percent in 1989 to 58 percent in 2006.

In addition to the Indicators report, the Board issued a companion piece, “Research and Development: Essential Foundation for U.S. Competitiveness in a Global Economy,” with three policy recommendations:

  1. The Federal Government should take action to enhance the level of funding for, and the transformation nature of, basic research.

  2. Industry, government, the academic sector, and professional organizations should take action to encourage greater intellectual interchange between industry and academia, with industry researchers encouraged to also participate as authors and reviewers for articles in open, peer-reviewed publications.

  3. New data are critically needed, and this need should be addressed expeditiously by relevant Federal agencies, to track the implications for the U.S. economy of the globalization of manufacturing and services in high technology industry.

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New Academies Book on Evolution

The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine have released “Science, Evolution, and Creationism,” a book designed to give the public a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the current scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom. The publication is intended to provide coherent explanations and concrete, modern examples of the science of evolution. Additionally, the book addresses creationism in its various forms, including “intelligent design,” and discusses how the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. A free version of the book is available as a PDF at: www.nap.edu/sec.

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Collections Community Workshop on Curating Small Collections

The CollectionsWeb Steering Committee has announced that they are accepting applications for “Workshop I: Opportunities and Challenges of Small Collections.” The workshop will be held in East Lansing, MI on 19-20 April 2008 and will address issues relating to small collections. More information about the workshop can be found at http://www.collectionsweb.org/activities_schedules/workshops.html. The NSF-funded Research Coordination Network will cover most costs for attendees.

This workshop will address issues related to small natural history collections (including paleontology) located at universities, free-standing museums, field stations, or any other kind of institution. The meeting activities and recommendations will be reported on CollectionsWeb (www.collectionsweb.org), so that all collections personnel may benefit from the discussions.

To frame and address these issues, the workshop organizers are seeking participants who have had positive experiences or successes in teaching, research, and/or outreach in a “small collections” environment. In this case, “small collections” are defined as institutions where there is only one full-time professional associated with the collection. Obviously this is an imprecise definition and applicants from along the continuum (undeniably small to not-so-small) will be represented at the workshop.

To apply, send a recent CV and a short cover letter explaining your experiences and successes in teaching, research, and/or outreach in such a “small collections” environment by email to Alan Prather (alan@msu.edu). Selection will be made by the Steering Committee (http://www.collectionsweb.org/about/steering_committee.html).

Applications are open immediately and close on 15 February 2008, with final selection anticipated by 29 February 2008. Please address questions to Alan Prather (alan@msu.edu) or anyone on the CollectionsWeb Steering Committee (http://www.collectionsweb.org/about/steering_committee.html).

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New in BioScience

In the Washington Watch article in the January issue of BioScience, Robert Gropp reports on recent evolution education developments in Texas.

An excerpt from the article follows:

Just over two years ago, intelligent design and creationism (IDC) proponents suffered a stunning legal defeat when a federal judge ruled that intelligent design is no different from religious belief in creationism and has no place in the science classroom. Long-time science education advocates applauded the significant victory in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case (400 F. Supp. 2d 707 [M.D. Pa. 2005]).

Since the Kitzmiller decision, politicians from state capitols to the halls of Congress have seized on reports warning that the nation’s schoolchildren continue to lag behind international peers in science and mathematics, and that the nation’s global leadership in research and innovation are in jeopardy. Nationally, Congress and the executive branch have moved with alacrity to enact legislation intended to stimulate innovation and enhance science education through teacher training and improved instruction. Governors, working through the National Governors Association, have launched “Innovation America,” a plan that recognizes the important role states play in training skilled and scientific workforces. Also since Kitzmiller, many elected officials who advocated-sometimes surreptitiously-teaching IDC have lost elections. In this context, some in the science community hoped for a respite from the evolution issue. But political interests seeking to serve the IDC community remain, particularly at the state and local levels, and in some circumstances, they retain power.

To continue reading the complete article for free, visit: http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2008_01.html.

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