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Public Policy Report for 7 July 2008

Louisiana Sets Aside Science

Politicians in Louisiana have once again set aside science and quality education to placate fringe political interests. As regular readers of the AIBS Public Policy Report are aware, for months politicians in Baton Rouge have been wrangling to secure passage of SB 733. The intent of this legislation, assert experts familiar with the organizations and individuals that have pushed the measure, is to establish a framework that would allow local teachers and school districts to include religious explanations for natural phenomena in science classrooms. The curricular targets, not surprisingly, include evolution and climate change.

According to a recent report by the National Center for Science Education: “Over the protests of leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 733 into law, twenty-seven years after the state passed its Balanced Treatment for Evolution-Science and Creation-Science Act, a law overturned by the Supreme Court in 1987. News of Jindal's approval of the bill was buried in a press release issued on June 25, 2008, in which Jindal listed seventy-five bills he recently signed. SB 733 will, according to Houma Today (June 27, 2008), "empower educators to pull religious beliefs into topics like evolution, cloning and global warming by introducing supplemental materials."

Various state and national organizations have already indicated that lawsuits will be filed if teachers and local school districts attempt to introduce religious content into science classes, a practice that has repeatedly been ruled unconstitutional be the courts.

For more information about previous AIBS and AIBS member statements on SB 733, please go to http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/.

For additional coverage, please visit the National Center for Science Education (www.ncseweb.org) or the Louisiana Coalition for Science at (http://lasciencecoalition.org/).

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AIBS Cosponsors Congressional Reception Showcasing Science

On 25 June 2008 the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) held its 14th Annual Capitol Hill science exhibition and reception, "The Path to Innovation: Scientific Discovery and Learning." The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the AIBS-member society—the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance)—are active members of CNSF. AIBS cosponsored the 2008 event.

CNSF is an alliance of over 100 organizations united by a concern for the future vitality of the national science, mathematics, and engineering enterprise. The Coalition supports the goal of increasing the national investment in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) research and education programs in response to the unprecedented scientific, technological, and economic opportunities facing the United States.

The 2008 reception drew a large crowd, which included members of Congress and their staffs. A number of top NSF officials, including Director Arden L. Bement Jr., Deputy Director Kathie L. Olsen, and Assistant Director for Biology James Collins.

In addition to cosponsoring the exhibition and reception, AIBS teamed with the NSC Alliance to sponsor an exhibit. This year, the AIBS—NSC Alliance exhibit showcased the vitally important role the NSF Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) plays in supporting natural science collections-based research and fundamental biodiversity research. The exhibit, presented by Dr. John Sullivan and Dr. Mark Henry Sabaj Pérez – from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, showcased the NSF-funded All Catfish Species Inventory (ACSI). The ACSI research effort also includes principal investigators at the University of Florida, Auburn University and Cornell University. The $4.68 million effort has involved 422 participants in 53 countries.

The research project is one of seven large-scale projects funded by NSF's Planetary Biodiversity Inventories Program (PBI). The PBI program's goal is to empower international teams of scientists and institutions to assemble a comprehensive framework for understanding Earth's biodiversity via worldwide, species-level inventories of major groups of organisms.

Prior to the evening exhibit and reception, the Drs. Sullivan and Perez met with staff members from the offices of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representative Robert Brady (D-PA). These meetings, arranged by the AIBS Public Policy Office provided an opportunity for congressional staff to learn about NSF-funded research being conducted in their state. The meetings were also an important opportunity to remind members of Congress that NSF is centrally important to our nation’s biological research enterprise—providing more than 65 percent of the federal funding for fundamental environmental biology research.

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Bad Economy Puts Pressure on State Budgets

Twice a year, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Offices (NASBO) publish the “Fiscal Survey of States.” The current report is based upon a survey conducted by NASBO from January through May 2008. According to the executive summary, “this edition of The Fiscal Survey of States reflects actual fiscal 2007, estimated fiscal 2008, and recommended fiscal 2009.” In short, a growing number of states are facing a tough budget environment.

According to NGA Executive Director Raymond C. Scheppach, “Fallout from the housing market decline, coupled with dramatic increases in the price of energy, is having a negative impact on state revenues, particularly corporate and sales tax revenues. Governors know that meeting increasing expenditure expectations with limited revenues will present challenges even after the national economy rebounds.”

The trickle down effect from the housing market and energy price increases have impacted nearly everything from health care and veteran programs to education funding, at the primary and secondary levels as well as higher education. Thirteen states were forced to make budget cuts after the fiscal 2008 budgets were passed, of those thirteen, three made cuts to education programs. In addition to budget cuts, the survey stated that governments experienced the lowest spending increase in 31 years, a stark contrast to the preceding several years.

According to a CNN Money report, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Marks notes, “growth in state spending would be slow during in fiscal 2009 versus 2008. This slower spending could negatively affect construction and engineering companies involved in areas such as civil engineering projects, health care and education.”

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House Adopts Budget Agreement

In June, the House of Representatives adopted the fiscal 2009 budget resolution conference report by a 214-210 vote. Because it is just a resolution, it is not sent to the president. Budget resolutions serve as a spending guide for the appropriations process by allocating the amount of money each appropriations subcommittee will have to spend. The budget resolution calls for nearly $25 billion in additional discretionary spending. House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) said of the resolution: “Our conference agreement charts a new course. It returns the budget to balance, reaching a surplus of $22 billion in 2012 and staying in surplus thorough 2013. This budget adheres to pay-as-you-go, and also embraces middle-income tax cuts. And our budget supports investment not just in education, but in research, development, science, and innovation, through NIH and NSF and other entities, by providing substantially more than the President requested.”

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House and Senate Consider Science Funding

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) has “marked-up” a fiscal year (FY) 2009 appropriations bill. The legislation includes funding for the National Science Foundation. “In brief summary, the bill totals $56.8 billion, an increase of about $5 billion from the fiscal year 2008 enacted level and over $3.1 billion over the budget request. While these figures may suggest that this Subcommittee was swimming in cash, I can assure you that it wasn’t. Difficult decisions had to be made; trade-offs weighed. Holes had to be filled: the President’s request was woefully inadequate in a number of critical areas. For example, the President proposed reductions of over $1.6 billion in state and local law enforcement grants. The mismanagement of the decennial Census -- the costs of which rise seemingly by the day and now require over $3.1 billion this fiscal year alone -- placed further stresses on our Subcommittee,” according to Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV). Within the bill, the subcommittee recommended that the National Science Foundation receive $6.9 billion, an amount slightly above the President’s request of $6.854 billion for FY2009.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its own measure a week after the House action. The National Science Foundation received $6.854 billion, an increase of $789 million, or 13 percent over the fiscal year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations, and equal to the President’s request.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies has also released its plan for FY 2009. The FY2009 Chairman’s mark for all agencies and programs funded through this appropriation is 4.9 percent above the FY2008 enacted amount. The FY2009 request is $25.76 billion while the Chairman’s mark is $27.86 billion. The U.S. Geological Survey would receive $1.054 billion, $85 million more than the FY 2009 request, and a 4.8 percent change from the FY 2008 enacted amount. The Environmental Protection Agency would receive a boost of 5 percent, increasing the overall funding from $7.143 billion to $7.832 billion. Other programs funded through the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies include the Smithsonian Institution, which would receive a 15.8 percent increase over the FY 2008 enacted amount

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New in BioScience: "A New Farm Bill, Research Structure at USDA"

In the Washington Watch article in the July/August 2008 issue of the journal BioScience, AIBS senior public policy associate Megan Debranski Kelhart explores the new research framework at the United States Department of Agriculture.

An excerpt from the article follows:

The significant challenges facing national food, fiber, and bioenergy systems call for a robust agricultural research system, whether for addressing food safety, security, and availability; thwarting disruptions to food supplies; or managing agricultural and natural resource systems. The federal framework supporting the agricultural research infrastructure was recently changed in an effort to meet those challenges.

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (also known simply as the Farm Bill, or PL 110-234) is a more than $300 billion response to the range of issues concerning agricultural systems, including research. The new law aims to streamline and boost funding to “ensure the technological superiority of American agriculture,” according to the USDA Research, Education, and Economics Task Force appointed by the secretary of agriculture in 2003 at the request of Congress.

To continue reading this article for free, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/.

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BioScience Article Makes a Splash

In recent years, climate change induced threats to polar bear survival have captured public and political attention. Now, threats to charismatic fauna from the other side of the planet have also captured public attention.

An article in the July/August issue of BioScience has made a splash in the news media. The report, “Penguins as Marine Sentinels,” authored by University of Washington biologist, P. Dee Boersma, caught the attention of national and international print and electronic media, including coverage on ABC World News with Charles Gibson, the New York Times, and the Associated Press, among many other outlets

According to a BioScience press release accompanying the article, “The ecology of penguins makes these iconic swimming and diving seabirds of the Southern Hemisphere unusually susceptible to environmental changes. Pronounced warming in the Antarctic, as well as commercial fishing, mining, and oil and gas development at lower latitudes, has led to declines in many species, according to P. Dee Boersma.” The article provides a first-person account based on 30 years of studying the birds. Counts of the penguin populations at the 43 remaining breeding “hotspots,” even once every five years, could provide valuable insights into the variability of the ocean ecosystem and the populations’ viability, Boersma writes. Yet counts are carried out only rarely, if at all.

To read the BioScience article, please visit http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/080630humaninfluenceschallengepenguin_populations.html

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Now In the AIBS Webstore: "Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media"

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 in the AIBS Webstore.

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