Supplemental appropriations legislation (HR 2642) to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some domestic programs remains on hold until Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess in early June.
On 22 May 2008, the Senate passed the measure, containing both war funding and domestic spending amendments by veto proof majorities, 70-26 and 75-22, respectively. In addition to the $165 billion approved for emergency war spending, the Senate allocated billions for a number of domestic programs, including $1.2 billion for scientific research. If passed, the National Science Foundation would receive a total of $200 million, $150 million for the Research and Related Activities account and $50 million for Education and Human Resources Directorate. The Department of Energy Office of Science would receive $100 million.
The fate of the legislation in the House of Representatives remains uncertain. Some House Republicans and the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats oppose the legislation because of its cost, and some progressive Democrats oppose the legislation due to its war funding. Additionally, the White House has threatened to veto the measure, citing serious concerns about domestic spending levels above the President’s budget request.
As previously reported in the 9 May AIBS Public Policy Report (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20080509.html#004888), the Federal Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of three environmental groups that sued the Department of the Interior (DOI) to have the polar bear added to the endangered species list. 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.
In response to the Court, DOI listed the polar bear as threatened on 14 May. According to a DOI press release, “the listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat.” Secretary Kempthorne stated, “While the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective. That is why I am taking administrative and regulatory action to make certain the ESA isn’t abused to make global warming policies.”
Not satisfied with the agency’s decision to only list the polar bear as ‘threatened’ and to not take actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions, environmental groups are again filing a legal complaint against the Bush Administration and the Department for ruling that the Endangered Species Act should not be used to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Two attacks on the integrity of science via so-called "academic freedom" legislation have ended with the close of legislative sessions in Alabama and Missouri. Yet, this latest stealth attack by advocates for creationism/intelligent design has established some traction in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Michigan. Recently, legislation has also surfaced in South Carolina.
In Alabama, House Bill (HB) 923, the "Academic Freedom Act," died when the state legislature adjourned 7 May 2008. This legislation would have allowed non-scientific concepts, such as creationism and intelligent design, to be taught as though they represented accepted scientific principles and would have required teachers to accept non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena in class assignments.
Similarly, in Missouri, HB 2554, an act "relating to teacher academic freedom to teach scientific evidence regarding evolution," died on 16 May 2008 when the Missouri legislative session ended. Passed by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education, the legislation was full of similar and suspicious rhetoric used in the other "academic freedom" bills-including an emphasis on the critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. The bill was introduced by Representative Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155) who, in 2004, sponsored HB 911 and HB 1722, unsuccessful legislation that called for equal time for "intelligent design" in Missouri's schools.
In Oklahoma, the former "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act" (HB 2211) was resurrected by its supporters in the form of a Senate amendment to HB 2633, an act related to the schools. The amended measure passed the House 12 May 2008 by a 70 to 28 vote and has been sent to Governor Brad Henry for his signature. AIBS and one of its member organizations, the Animal Behavior Society, wrote to the Governor expressing serious concern about the amendment and urged him to veto the bill because contains the onerous provision (http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20080506aibswrites_let.html).
After unanimously passing the Louisiana Senate 28 April 2008, The "Louisiana Science Education Act" (SB 733), formerly known as the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act" (SB 561), was considered by and unanimously passed the House Education Committee on 21 May 2008. As previously reported (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20080428.html), the measure intends to create questions that do not exist around evolution and climate change. The bill's original language was rooted in the policy passed by the Ouachita Parish School Board in 2006 that protects teachers who want to "teach the controversy" about evolution.
In South Carolina, SB 1386, another so-called "academic freedom" bill aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution, was introduced 15 May 2008 in the state Senate. The bill singles out biological and chemical evolution as a controversial subject and encourages critical analyses of its strengths and weaknesses. Its lead sponsor, Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), previously spearheaded other anti-evolution legislative efforts and led an attack on evolution in the state science standards. With the legislative session due to end 5 June, it is unlikely the bill will receive a reading. However, the Greenville News reported last week that Fair "hopes it starts a debate that will carry over next year, when he plans to re-introduce the bill."
Despite a clerical error, which omitted 34 pages of legislation, the House and Senate have now voted to override President Bush’s veto of H.R. 2419, the "Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008" (i.e., the farm bill). Despite a bipartisan, veto-proof majority in Congress, President Bush rejected the farm bill stating, “For a year and a half, I have consistently asked that the Congress pass a good farm bill that I can sign. Regrettably, the Congress has failed to do so. At a time of high food prices and record farm income, this bill lacks program reform and fiscal discipline.”
On 22 May, the Senate joined the House in overriding the 21 May presidential veto. The House voted 316-108 while the Senate voted 82-13 to pass the farm bill. The vote was the second time Congress has been able to overcome Bush since he took office in 2000. The first veto override was for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) last year. Similar to the WRDA, which oversees funding for various water projects, the farm bill includes a number of programs with strong congressional support. The $286 billion five-year authorization increases funding for some conservation programs, including more than $400 million in new funding to help farmers install on-the-ground conservation practices that help prevent farm runoff.
Basic agricultural research could also see some increases in funding as well as some streamlining. The farm bill establishes the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which replaces the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service – the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) extramural funding branch. NIFA is to be headed by a distinguished scientist, appointed by the President, with recommendations made by the National Academies of Science. The Institute will house the premier research program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which will provide competitive grants to colleges and universities, agricultural experiment stations, and other organizations conducting research in priority areas. AFRI’s budget will be authorized at $700 million per fiscal year, $200 million above the authorized level for the National Research Initiative (NRI). Of note, the actual appropriation for NRI in recent years has been roughly $180 million.
The farm bill, according to statement released by the House Committee on Agriculture will, “reinvigorate national investment in agricultural research by creating NIFA, address the growing list of needs in agricultural research, extension and education for food and agricultural sciences, and increase research for renewable fuels, feed stocks and energy efficiency.”
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
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.