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Public Policy Report for 2/16/2001

  • Join AIBS for Congressional Visits Day
  • Update on the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (Teaming with Wildlife)
  • Another try for endangered species legislation in Canada
  • Reorganization of the House Science Committee
  • Evolution updates: Kansas re-joins the 21st century; Ohio safe for now; the jury is still out on Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Alabama

The AIBS Public Policy Report is distributed broadly by email every two weeks to AIBS membership leaders and contacts, including the President, President-Elect, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Director, AIBS Council Representative, Journal Editor, Newsletter Editor, Public Policy Committee Chair, Public Policy Representative, and Education Committee Chair of all AIBS member societies and organizations (see the Membership Directories for contact information).

All material from these reports may be reproduced or forwarded. Please mention AIBS as the source; office staff appreciate receiving copies of materials used. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact the AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Robert Gropp [publ...@aibs.org; 202-628-1500 x250].


JOIN AIBS FOR CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY - Each year, AIBS participates in the Congressional Visits Day organized by the Science-Engineering-Technology Workgroup, a coalition of approximately 60 scientific societies. This year, the two-day event will begin with a May 1 briefing from Administration officials on prospects for federal funding of scientific research for the next fiscal year. The following day, scientists will visit members of their Congressional delegations and other key members of Congress to underscore the need for the continuing federal investment in scientific research, and to discuss specific issues of concern.

Last year, AIBS fielded a small but effective team of three biologists. We hope that this year, we will have a larger and equally effective group. Please contact Ellen Paul at epaul@aibs.org [tel. 202, 628-1500 x250] if you are interested in participating. More detail is available on the CVD homepage at http://www.agiweb.org/cvd/.

UPDATE ON THE CONSERVATION AND REINVESTMENT ACT - The Teaming with Wildlife Coalition reports that in the House, Congressman Young (R-AK) and Congressman Dingell (D-MI) have announced their plans to re-introduce the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, HR 701 early in the new Congress (likely late February - mid March). Since CARA passed the House in the 106th Congress with a sweeping 315-102 vote, it is expected that the bill could move quickly this year. The initial efforts will focus on a cosponsor drive which may pre-date actual bill introduction. The Senate CARA champions are reviewing their options but expect to introduce some kind of CARA related legislation. As of yet, the Coalition does not have any news of the Bush Administration's plans or views.

Note: AIBS has not taken a position on this legislation and does not advocate that member societies or their members take action with regard to this legislation. Those wishing to learn about how they may participate in the Coalition activities should visit the Coalition website at http://www.teaming.com.

ANOTHER TRY FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES LEGISLATION IN CANADA - On 2 February 2001, Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson introduced Species at Risk legislation. This is the third time this legislation has been introduced in seven years. The Act would empower the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to list animals according to their category of risk. Harming species that are endangered, threatened, or extirpated (no longer existing in Canada, but occurring elsewhere) would be prohibited by the Act. The Act would require the creation of recovery management plans to save existing species at risk.

Environment Canada - the Canadian governmental body responsible for preserving and enhancing the quality of the natural environment, including water, air and soil quality; conserving Canada's renewable resources, including migratory birds and other non-domestic flora and fauna; conserve and protect Canada's water resources, and coordinating environmental policies and programs for the federal government - reports that the new bill incorporates improvements suggested by many individuals and organizations. Key changes include:

- A change in the Preamble to include a statement recognizing that the habitat of species at risk is key to their conservation.

- A statement was also included to recognize that there will be circumstances under which the cost of conserving species at risk should be shared.

- Some definitions were amended to be consistent with those used by COSEWIC. These include the definition for "individual" and "species of special concern." Similarly, wording was changed to be consistent with COSEWIC's process for establishing priorities to determine when wildlife species are to be assessed. The new bill clarifies that the COSEWIC list will be published unchanged in the public registry, establishing it publicly as the scientific list.

- To provide greater openness, transparency and accountability, a new section, which would require that the Minister convene, at least once every two years, a round table of persons interested in matters related to the protection of species at risk, was added. The round table would advise the Minister on these matters and its recommendations would be placed in the public registry. The Minister would be required to respond within 180 days and his or her response would also be placed in the public registry.

- The recovery strategy provisions were re-worded to allow for a 60-day comment period on the proposed strategy and 30 days for its finalization. This will differentiate between the time frame for public comment and that to make any required changes before finalization. In addition, that they too will allow for a 60-day comment period and 30 days for their finalization. The section on action plan monitoring was changed to ensure that socio-economic impacts are assessed and reported on five years after the action plans come into effect. That report will be placed in the public registry.

- Regarding the time line for COSEWIC to complete a status report in the case of emergency listing, two years was changed to one.

REORGANIZATION OF THE HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE - House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) Monday announced a subcommittee realignment.

- The Basic Research subcommittee becomes the Subcommittee on Research, but its jurisdiction is virtually unchanged. Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) returns as the chair, with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX continuing as the ranking Democrat. The staff director will be Sharon Hays, who joined the committee staff in 1999.

- The Space and Aeronautics subcommittee, which will be chaired by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), will continue to oversee NASA issues but will also assume oversight of Federal Aviation Administration research, which was formerly under the jurisdiction of the Technology subcommittee). Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) will be the
ranking Democrat and Eric Sterner will continue as staff director.

- Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) will chair the newly formed Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards, which will oversee the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The ranking Democrat will be Rep. James A. Barcia (D-MI). The staff director will be John Mimikakis, who has handled environmental issues for Boehlert since 1997.

- A new Subcommittee on Energy, chaired by Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) will have jurisdiction over the Department of Energy (DOE). The ranking Democrat will be Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The staff director will be Harlan Watson, who was staff director of the former Energy and Environment subcommittee.

EVOLUTION UPDATES: KANSAS RE-JOINS THE 21ST CENTURY; THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON PENNSYLVANIA, GEORGIA, AND ALABAMA - On 14 February 2001, the Kansas Board of Education voted 7-3 to restore evolution to the Kansas science education standards. Also revived by the new standards are the theories of plate tectonics and the Big Bang. After considerable adverse public reaction, Kansas voters removed those school board members who had bowdlerized the state's science standards. The new board wasted no time in reversing the decision to reject evolution. The vote was lauded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council, who issued a joint statement praising the SBE for their action. AIBS also sent a letter of support to the Kansas Board of Education.

Things are still shaky in Pennsylvania, where a draft of new standards for teaching science and technology in Pennsylvania schools seem to open the door to teaching creation theory alongside the theory of evolution. The new standards for teaching science in Pennsylvania propose treating evolution as a theory and presenting alternative theories as part of schools' science curriculum. The draft language has raised alarms among some scientists and education groups who worry that the new standards would give legitimacy to teaching creationist views. An earlier draft of the science standards received good reviews from scientists and educators. But in July, the state Board of Education inserted several changes. The Philadelphia Inquirer on 3 December 2000 quoted education officials who denied that the changes made in July were inserted to placate creationists. However, after hearing from scientists in Pennsylvania and across the nation, the State Board of Education is taking a closer look at the proposed draft; the School Board is busy working on special education regulations and is unlikely to consider the science standards for the next several months. Letters from scientists within and without the state could make the difference in how evolution is taught in Pennsylvania. Address letters to Governor Tom Ridge, 225 Main Capitol, Harrisburg, PA 17120, with a copy to Dr. Peter Garland, Executive Director, Pennsylvania State Board of Education, Harrisburg, PA 17126.

The Alabama Board of Education voted unanimously on 8 February 2001 to adopt the state's new K-12 science standards. The new Course of Study is an improvement over the 1995 curriculum with regard to the teaching of evolution, which didn't even mention the word "evolution." Indeed, the biology core curriculum for grades 9-12 requires that students learn to "evaluate the theory of evolution by natural selection" by:

- Identifying theoretical bases - Examples: comparative anatomy, DNA sequence, embryology

- Identifying types of adaptations to environmental conditions - Examples: behavioral, physiological, structural

- Identifying theoretical mechanisms - Examples: genetic drift, isolation, acquired characteristics

Notably absent from the standards are the mechanisms typically used to undermine the teaching of evolution, such as a requirement that students examine the validity of the theory of evolution.

However, scientists are still troubled by a preface to the Course of Study that labels evolution as a controversial theory. The preface goes on to explain why: "It is controversial because it states that natural selection provides the basis for the modern scientific explanation for the diversity of living things. Since natural selection has been observed to play a role in influencing small changes in the population, it is assumed, based on the study of artifacts, that it produces large changes, even though this has not been directly observed. Because of its importance and implications, students should understand the nature of evolutionary theories. They should learn to make distinctions between the multiple meanings of evolution, to distinguish between observations and assumptions used to draw conclusions, and to wrestle with the unanswered questions and unresolved problems still faced by evolutionary theory "Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." Unlike the state's controversial labels that were pasted in science textbooks to disclaim the theory of evolution, the preface will not be distributed to students.

A version of the proposed Course of Study is available on the Geological Society of Alabama web site http://www.westga.edu/~geology/algs_web/ala_gs.html.

In Georgia, a bill has been introduced that would open the door to allow the teaching and promotion of a creationism theory based on a religious belief at the same level of evolution, a scientific theory. This bill H.B.391 - could also allow the teaching and promotion of one religious belief over other religious beliefs. The stated purpose of the bill is to "amend Part 2 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to competencies and core curriculum in elementary and secondary education, so as to provide for the presentation and critique of scientific theories about the origins of life and living things; to provide for related matters"

It begins by stating that:

The General Assembly finds:

(1) One of the major purposes of science education is to teach the skills of objective scientific inquiry;

(2) Precise and clear definitions are essential for communication and learning to take place;

(3) Current science textbooks fail to use precise definitions pertaining to evolutionary theory and omit any mention of problems not solved by current evolutionary theory; and

(4) The potential for indoctrination exists when information is withheld from students.

It would solve these problems by specifying that:

(a) As part of any elementary or secondary school science curriculum concerning the origins of life and living things, including the origins of humankind, teachers shall have the right to present and critique any and all scientific theories about such origins and all facts thereof.

(b) Teachers shall be encouraged to make distinctions between philosophical materialism and authentic science and to include unanswered questions and unsolved problems in their presentations of the origins of life and living things.

(c) Nothing in this Code section shall be construed to require supplementing, restructuring, restricting, or modifying any science curriculum in use as of July 1, 2000, to include or endorse the teaching or critique of any particular scientific theory, or to exclude or supplant the teaching or critique of any scientific theory, nor shall it be construed to deprive any student of access to any scientific knowledge."


 


The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association headquartered in Washington DC, with a staff of approximately 30. It was founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences and has been an independent organization since the mid-1950s, governed by a Board of Directors elected by its membership. The AIBS membership consists of approximately 6,000 biologists and 80 professional societies and other organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 240,000 biologists. AIBS is an umbrella organization for the biological sciences dedicated to promoting an understanding of the natural living world, including the human species and its welfare, by engaging in coalition activities with its members in research, education, public policy, and public outreach; publishing the peer-reviewed journal, BioScience; providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening scientific meetings; and performing administrative and other support services for its member organizations.


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