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Public Policy Report for 9 May 2008

European Report Outlines Future of Taxonomy

The European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy (EDIT) has released, “Taxonomy in Europe in the 21st Century,” a scientific vision for the future of taxonomyy in the next 10 to 20 years. EDIT was established in March 2006 by 27 leading European, North American and Russian institutions to answer the call of the European Commission for a network in “Taxonomy for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research.”

The report addresses the science of taxonomy, technological developments, and the socio-political environment for taxonomy in the coming decade.

According to the report: - That taxonomy faces exciting challenges and opportunities in the future to meet the demand for an ever more profound understanding of the diversity of life on this planet, how it developed and the impact of increasingly destructive human activity including climate change, factors that are predicted to have an enormous negative influence on the diversity and distribution of biodiversity (the biodiversity crisis). - Pivotal to the development of taxonomy are the rapidly expanding fields of high throughput DNA sequencing, automated digital data-gathering and biodiversity informatics. Incorporating these technologies will be critical to the science of taxonomy. - Scientific collaborators and users of taxonomy will require new ways of working and interacting with taxonomists. It is essential that taxonomists and their users respond to this need. Taxonomists integrated into interdisciplinary teams will be an essential way of working. - Although an ever expanding repertoire of theoretical and practical tools is available to taxonomists, unheralded in the history of the subject, there will have to be substantial, even radical, changes in how taxonomy is done and its supporting infrastructure operated, to exploit these opportunities to the full. “Business as usual”, even if scaled up, is simply not an option.

To read the report, please go to http://ww2.bgbm.org/EditDocumentRepository/Taxonomy21report.pdf

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Range Expansion: Threats to Science Education Spread

State-level attacks on the integrity of science education persist as advocates for creationism/intelligent design and socially conservative political agendas pursue “academic freedom” legislation in various state capitols. The campaigns have now spread from the southern United States and into some northern states. Two pieces of “academic freedom” legislation were recently introduced in Alabama and Michigan, which now join Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Missouri among the states facing stealthy assaults on science.

House Bill (HB) 923, the “Academic Freedom Act” was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives by David Grimes (R-District 73) on 24 April 2008, and referred to the Education Policy Committee. This legislation would allow non-scientific concepts, such as creationism and intelligent design, to be taught as though they represent accepted scientific principles and would require teachers to accept non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena in class assignments. HB 923 specifically singles out evolution by stating, “The rights and privileges contained in this act apply when topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins.” The proposal has not yet received a hearing in committee, and the last legislative day for the 2008 session is 19 May 2008.

HB 6027, another “academic freedom” bill, was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives on 30 April 2008 and was referred to the House Committee on Education. Science education advocates argue that HB 6027, like similar legislation under consideration in Louisiana and Missouri, intends to create questions that do not scientifically exist around the issues of evolution and climate change. Its language emphasizes controversy and the critical analyses of strengths and weaknesses of these well-accepted scientific concepts. Such rhetoric has a long history in the creationism movement and is intended to provide a foothold for the introduction of non-scientific information into the science curriculum. HB 6027 is co-sponsored by John Moolenaar (R-District 98, Midland) who previously co-sponsored legislation that would have encouraged the teaching of "the design hypothesis as an explanation for the origin and diversity of life" in public school science classes.

In Oklahoma, the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” (HB 2211) has been resurrected by its supporters in the form of a Senate amendment to HB 2633, an act related to the schools. The legislation in its original form died in the Senate Rules Committee on 2 April 2008 (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20080414.html). Science education advocates in Oklahoma report that HB 2633 should pass the House before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment 23 May since HB 2211 originally passed the House by a 71- 25 vote. In anticipation of the legislation arriving on Governor Brad Henry’s desk, AIBS wrote to the Governor expressing serious concern about the amendment and urging him to veto the bill if it contains the onerous provision (http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20080506aibswrites_let.html).

The “Louisiana Science Education Act” (SB 733), formerly the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act” (SB 561), unanimously passed the Louisiana Senate 28 April 2008. The measure, originally sponsored by state Senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12), is considered by education experts to be “stealth” creationism legislation, intended to create questions that do not exist around evolution and climate change. Prior to passing the Senate Education Committee, the original bill was renamed, renumbered, and “sanitized” by removing “strengths and weaknesses” language and the list of specific scientific topics. Nevers, however, later restored the list of topics, “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning,” to SB 733, and the measure unanimously passed the Senate.

In the House of Representatives, HB 1168, the counterpart to SB 561 and also named the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act,” was assigned to the House Education Committee.

Fortunately, there is good news to report from Florida. The “Evolution Academic Freedom Act” (HB 1483, SB 2692) died when the Florida legislative session ended 2 May 2008. Despite passing each chamber, a compromise was not reached before the end of the session. These legislative initiatives were introduced in response to the new state science standards approved by the Florida State Board of Education in February that include the term “evolution.” In their original form, the bills sought to “protect the right of teachers to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.”

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Employment Opportunity: AIBS Public Affairs Associate

AIBS is now accepting applications for a public affairs associate position in the Washington, DC office. Detailed information about this position and the application process and requirements is available at http://www.aibs.org/classifieds/aibspositionsavailable.html#4872

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Mikulski Includes $200 Million for NSF in Supplemental Appropriations

Both chambers of Congress continue to work toward a supplemental appropriations bill that would, if passed, provide war funding, set policy limitations on the war, and provide increased funding to some domestic programs that did not receive adequate funding for the current fiscal year. The House version of the appropriations legislation faces opposition from Republicans who oppose the price tag and the domestic spending, blue dog Democrats who oppose the spending because it violates budget rules, and progressive Democrats who want war funding tied to troop withdrawals.

Chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), announced on 8 May that the Senate version of the emergency supplemental appropriations package would include an additional $200 million for the National Science Foundation. In a press statement, Mikulski said she understands the importance of “investments in basic research and science education. She has provided $150 million for NSF to support approximately 500 additional research grants in the basic sciences. Investments in basic research are critically important to the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. economy by creating new technologies, new industries and higher paying jobs.” An extra $50 million has also been included to increase NSF scholarship funding.

If passed, the emergency supplemental could total nearly $250 billion.

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Court Rules for Polar Bears

Over a year ago, Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the Department of the Interior would determine whether the polar bear should be added listed as a threatened and endangered species. At that time, Secretary Kempthorne pledged to make a determination within a year -- a deadline that passed in January 2008. Three environmental advocacy groups filed suit against the Department in Federal Court for the Northern District of California. United States District Judge Claudia Wilken issued a decision on 28 April ordering the Bush Administration to decide by 15 May whether the polar bear deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Opponents of the decision and of listing the polar bear have indicated that advocacy groups are more concerned with advancing a political agenda and pushing for federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said: “The Administration clearly missed the deadline for action to protect the polar bear - a deadline they agreed to. These magnificent creatures are in peril, and this Administration has no right to walk away from protecting them.”

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EPA Board Seeks Candidates for Committee

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office is requesting nominations of experts in the area of aquatic toxicology of endocrine disrupting chemicals to augment expertise on the SAB’s Ecological Processes and Effects Committee. Nominees will be considered for service on the augmented EPEC to provide advice on a methodology for deriving water quality criteria for the protection of aquatic life based on chemical mode of action. 16 May is the deadline for nominations. For instructions, please click http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/20080502.html#004869.

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New in BioScience: "Big Bucks for Biosecurity Research - But Who's Doing What?

In the May 2008 Washington Watch article in the journal BioScience, Holly Menninger explores the nation’s significant investments in biosecurity research facilities since 2001.

An excerpt from the article follows:

After 11 September 2001 and the anthrax attacks that followed, President Bush made it a government priority to protect human health and food systems from biological attack. Federal agencies have allocated billions of dollars to biological security programs and new research infrastructure across the governmental, academic, and private sectors. However, some government observers have questioned the leadership, coordination, and oversight of these activities, asking, “Are we more vulnerable to a biological attack today than we were in 2001?”

The responsibility to protect the welfare of people, plants, and animals is shared by various federal agencies. These include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Department of Defense (DOD).

According to recent estimates from the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the federal government has spent $40 billion for civilian biodefense since 2001. In 2007, more than $5 billion was allocated to bio­defense. A significant portion of these resources has been used to build

Continue reading this article for free at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2008_05.html

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