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Public Policy Report for 19 February 2008

Florida Science Standards Evolve

Today (19 February 2008), by a 4-to-3 vote the Florida State Board of Education approved new science standards that include — for the first time — the term “evolution.” These new standards replace the 1996 Sunshine State Standards for Science, widely criticized by science education experts for their deficiencies. The version accepted by the Board today, however, did include a last minute addition of the words “scientific theory of” to precede evolution and other major scientific concepts (e.g., cells, atoms, plate tectonics, and electromagnetism) in each Big Idea or Benchmark described in the standards. (http://www.fcrstem.org/Uploads/1/docs/FLDOE/K-12_Proposal2ScienceStandards.pdf)

The newly adopted standards were written by a committee of parents, scientists, and educators, and clearly state: “Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.”

The draft standards were open to written public comment through 19 December 2007, and the Florida Department of Education received thousands of comments both praising and denouncing the standards. Education officials organized several public hearings, the last of which occurred 11 February 2008 in Orlando. Despite high marks from Dr. Lawrence Lerner, an expert on statewide science education standards at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and the scientific community, the proposed science standards evoked vocal opposition. Eleven county school boards adopted resolutions calling for evolution to be taught as theory, not fact. Additionally, the proposed standards were opposed by the Florida Baptist Convention, the Christian Coalition of Florida, the Community Issues Council, and the Florida Family Policy Council.

AIBS commented on the draft standards on 8 February 2008 with a letter to each member of the State Board of Education. The letter is available at: http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20080208february2008_a.html

Immediately prior to the 19 February vote, the State Board permitted one hour of public comment, where 10 representatives from each side were allowed to comment for three minutes each. Following this public comment period, the Board engaged in a sometimes heated debate prior to approving the standards. The Board-approved standards do include the phrase “scientific theory of.” The added verbiage was a compromise proposed by Eric Smith, Commissioner of Education, who said it helped “clarify for our classroom teachers how to address these concepts.”

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Science in the Federal Budget, A Closer Look

As reported in the 5 February Public Policy Report (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20080205.html#004590) President Bush released his $3.1 trillion budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2009. As proposed, the budget would reduce several non-defense, discretionary programs by millions of dollars.

Comparable to other science-related agencies experiencing deep budget cuts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been afflicted with a decade of significant budget cutbacks, and FY 2009 will be no different. EPA has requested $7.1 billion, $100 million below last year’s requested amount and $400 million less than the FY 2008 enacted amount. EPA has proposed to eliminate nearly 90 full-time equivalents (full time positions [FTE]), after eliminating over 200 FTEs last year.

The EPA budget is organized around five goals – 1) Clean Air And Global Climate Change; 2) Clean and Safe Water; 3) Land Preservation and Restoration; 4) Healthy Communities and Ecosystems; and, 5) Compliance and Environmental Stewardship. The purpose of Goal 4 is to “protect, sustain, or restore the health of people, communities, and ecosystems using integrated and comprehensive approaches and partnerships.” It comprises 16.7 percent of EPA’s budget and accounts for a total of $1.2 billion. The FY 2009 request is $36 million less than the FY 2008 appropriated amount and is $17 million less than the requested amount for FY 2008.

Goal 4 encompasses vital programs such as wetlands, endocrine disruptor research, global change, ecosystems protection, fellowships, and the endangered species protection program. Of those programs, several are slated for significant cuts. For example, the endocrine disruptor research program would receive $815,000 less than enacted in FY 2008; fellowships would be trimmed by $1 million from the FY 2008 appropriated amount; and the national estuary program would receive $9.5 million less than the FY 2008 enacted amount.

The Department of the Interior, in its entirety, requested approximately $10.7 billion for FY 09; with $6 billion in permanent funding carried through current legislation, the total 2009 budget for Interior would be $16.7 billion. The request, according to the Interior Budget in Brief, is essentially flat when compared to FY 08. Priorities for Interior in the upcoming fiscal year in order of importance include: serving communities; resource protection; recreation and improved access to recreational opportunities; resource use and the ability to help provide energy security for the country; and management excellence.

Within Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $969 million; $38 million below the FY 2008 enacted budget and $6.4 million below the 2008 President’s budget request. Of significance in the USGS budget, biological research would receive $180.3 million, slightly above the level enacted in FY 08 appropriations, yet below the FY 08 budget request ($181.1 million). Biological research and monitoring would receive $145 million, of which $4.5 million would be allocated for the Healthy Lands and Birds initiatives. The National Biological Infrastructure Initiative (NBII) would be cut by $2.9 million, a significant cut for USGS biological information management and delivery. The total amount allocated to information management would total $19.6 million, compared to $22 million enacted in FY 08. Cooperative Research Units would be cut by $764,000, putting the FY 09 proposed budget at $15.4 million.

The FY 2009 budget request for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of $2.2 billion includes $1.3 billion in discretionary funds and $946.9 million in permanent appropriations—the majority of which would be allocated to the States for fish and wildlife conservation and restoration. The FY 2009 request is $64.6 million less than the FY 2008 enacted amount, including the loss of 60 full-time equivalents (full time positions [FTE]). Of note, the Cooperative Conservation Partnerships would receive $2.9 million less than the FY 2008 enacted amount.

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Science Gets an Energy Boost

The Department of Energy (DOE) requested a total of $25 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2009 to further the Administration’s initiatives aimed at expanding and diversifying clean, affordable, reliable energy supplies, fostering scientific breakthroughs, and preserving our national security. The FY 2009 request is $1 billion over the FY 2008 appropriated amount. Secretary of Energy, Samuel W. Bodman stated, “This budget furthers President Bush’s comprehensive strategy to increase energy, economic, and national security by focusing on accelerating technological breakthroughs, expanding traditional and renewable sources of energy, and increasing investment in scientific discovery and development.”

In keeping with the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative, the Department’s Office of Science would receive nearly a 20 percent increase over the 2008 estimate to $4.7 million. Within the DOE’s Office of Science, the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program would receive $413.6 million for biological research and $154.9 million for climate change research, both of which are above FY 2008 appropriations.

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New AIBS Book Primes Scientists for Successful Media Interviews

Evolution, climate change, stem cell research - Scientists are frequently called upon to provide expert information on hot button issues that pervade the daily news headlines, yet most find themselves woefully unprepared for the bright lights of the television studio or leading questions from a newspaper journalist. A new publication from AIBS, “Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” by Holly Menninger and Robert Gropp in the Public Policy Office, will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Recognizing that many scientists are reluctant to engage in media outreach, “Communicating Science” outlines compelling reasons for scientists to interact with the media and describes key differences between journalism and science that may not be apparent to practicing scientists. Step-by-step, Menninger and Gropp walk scientists through the entire interview process - from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one’s best on-air or on-camera.

The information and advice in “Communicating Science” is presented in eight easy-to-read chapters that provide vital information for scientists new to media outreach, as well as a quick refresher for seasoned experts - an ideal text for a graduate course on science communication or a professional development course for students and faculty. The primer’s authors speak from their own experiences as PhD scientists in the biological sciences with years of experience in media outreach.

The concise, user-friendly volume has several unique features that set it apart from other media guides for scientists. “Communicating Science” includes first-person interviews with nearly a dozen scientists who have successfully navigated print, radio, and television interviews. The scientists–including the “Island Snake Lady,” Kristin Stanford, recently featured on the Discovery Channel show, “Dirty Jobs” - share advice and experiences on a number of topics, including safely speaking on behalf of an organization, avoiding trouble when discussing socially or politically controversial topics, and reflections on first interviews.

“Communicating Science” also provides worksheets to assist readers with interview preparation: building a message framework with talking points and transition phrases, developing analogies, and using illustrative props or images. It includes pages for readers to organize contact information of journalists with whom they have worked directly and those who have reported on stories related to their own research to keep as potential contacts for future story pitches.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available now at www.aibs.org/bookstore/

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New in BioScience: "Fertilizing the Seas for Climate Mitigation--Promising Strategy or Sheer Folly?"

In the Washington Watch article in the February issue of BioScience, Noreen Parks reports on the effects of global warming on oceans.

An excerpt from the article follows:

As the effects of global warming appear more ominous, and the world community makes minimal progress in curbing fossil-fuel emissions, geoengineering schemes for climate mitigation are taking on new allure. One proposal, “fertilizing” ocean waters with micronutrients such as iron or nitrogen to stimulate the growth of carbon dioxide–guzzling plankton, is spurring commercial projects targeted on the global carbon-credits market. Fearing that ill-conceived commercialization could drive development of this strategy before its impacts and feasibility are adequately evaluated, scientists, policymakers, and environmental groups are calling for clear policy guidelines to regulate ocean fertilization.

The dozen experimental releases of iron in relatively small areas of open ocean between 1993 and 2005 produced mixed results—measuring the effects of iron seeding in moving water proved especially difficult. Kenneth Coale, director of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and chief scientist on all US-led iron expeditions, explained that these efforts were designed to address questions about past climate. “None assessed the ecological consequences of much larger-scale or frequent fertilization efforts for climate mitigation,” he said.

To continue reading the complete article for free, visit: http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_02.html

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