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Public Policy Report for 05/25/2001

    Priority setting is in the air:
  • National Science Board holds symposium on its draft report The Scientific Allocation of Scientific Resources
  • Science for Society Committee of 100+ issues report on the November 2000 Conference on Basic Research in the Service of Public Objectives
  • Institute of Biology releases report on science policy priorities for 2001
  • Other news:
  • AIBS expresses concern about the potential for Pennsylvania's proposed science education standards to undermine the teaching of evolution
  • Push for deputy administrator for science at EPA clears first hurdle
  • AIBS takes part in effort to prevent budget cuts at U.S. Geological Survey

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].


NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD HOLDS SYMPOSIUM ON ITS DRAFT REPORT THE SCIENTIFIC ALLOCATION OF SCIENTIFIC RESOURCES - In March, the National Science Board (NSB) Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering Policy Issues released its draft report containing preliminary recommendations from the committee's study on how priorities might best be set across fields and disciplines in the Federal budget for research. The report, which is available at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/documents/2001/nsb0139/, was the subject of a May 21 - 22 symposium at NSF. Keynote speaker Newt Gingrich urged scientists to "act like citizens" and fulfill their moral obligation to explain to members of Congress why science matters. Gingrich recently served on the Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security, which identified the failure to invest adequately in scientific research as the second greatest threat to U.S. national security.

Four panels of eminent scientists from academia and industry, along with representatives of the Office of Management and Budget, the House Committee on Science and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies evaluated the report and its five principle recommendations that:

1) The Federal government, including the White House, Federal departments and agencies, and the Congress should cooperate in developing and supporting a more productive process for allocating and coordinating Federal research funding; with a priority on investments in areas that advance important national goals, that are ready to benefit from greater investment, that address long-term needs and opportunities for Federal missions and responsibilities, and ensure world class fundamental science and engineering capabilities across the frontiers of knowledge

2) A process should be implemented that identifies priority needs and opportunities for research encompassing all major areas of science and engineering to inform Federal budget decisions. The process should include an evaluation of the current Federal portfolio for research in light of national goals and draw and systematic, independent expert advice, studies of the costs and benefits of research investments, and analyses of available data. The priorities identified would inform[the entire Federal budget process].

3) A strategy for addressing data needs should be developed, supported by OMB and Congress, to assure commitment by departments, agencies, and programs to provide timely, accessible data for the evaluation of Federal investments in research.

4) The allocation of Federal research dollars should be informed by a benchmarking of U.S. research resources and performance against those of other countries

5) The Federal government should invest in the research necessary to build the intellectual infrastructure in the higher education sector to analyze substantive effects on the economy and quality of life of Federal support for science and technology.

Most panelists stressed the need for input from the scientific community into these processes.

The NSB invites comments on the draft report, which may be submitted by e-mail to NSBOffice@nsf.gov, by mail to Jean Pomeroy, Room 1220, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230, or by fax to (703) 292-9008.


SCIENCE FOR SOCIETY COMMITTEE OF 100+ ISSUES REPORT ON THE NOVEMBER 2000 CONFERENCE ON BASIC RESEARCH IN THE SERVICE OF PUBLIC OBJECTIVES - A two-year effort, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, that started out as the Jeffersonian Science Initiative at Harvard University's Basic Research in the Service of Public Objectives project (since transferred to Columbia University's Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes) has resulted in the issuance of a report titled Science for Society. Cutting-edge Basic Research in the Service of Public Objectives: A Blueprint for an Intellectually Bold and Socially Beneficial Science Policy. The premise of the report is that there are many unmet societal needs that are not adequately addressed by the federal science portfolio. The report calls for the merging of curiosity-driven (or "basic" or "Newtonian") research with the problem-solving science referred to as "applied" or "Baconian" science to develop a "use-inspired basic research" or "Jeffersonian" science agenda. In the discussion of the role of the scientific community in implementing this agenda, the report is careful to note that the individual scientist is not required to describe in detail the public value that justifies the work. That responsibility is left to the research agency. The scientific community, however, is advised to improve communication with the public and policy-makers to make the case for increased investment in basic scientific research that addresses societal needs. The Jeffersonian Science Initiative will soon have a website at http://www.scienceforsociety.org.


INSTITUTE OF BIOLOGY RELEASES REPORT ON SCIENCE PRIORITY POLICIES FOR 2001 - Great Britain's Institute of Biology (IOB)- an umbrella group similar to the American Institute of Biological Sciences has devoted the past year to determining the top science priorities for the biological community as a whole. Beginning with a survey, the IOB-affiliated societies identified a range of concerns, including: the short-term nature of much of current research funding, the need for a greater public understanding of science, and the need for scientifically-based environmental policies. Education was also a high priority for ensuring the future of UK science. British biologists are concerned about the 20 percent decline (in real dollars) in research funding since the early 1980s despite the growth of the UK economy. Like their American counterparts, they were also concerned about the balance between basic and applied research and a decrease in government funding for research. The report also called for a better balance between molecular and whole-organism research and for more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research. Another point of similarity between the UK and the US is the growing concern about the pressures to end live-animal research which, the report notes, may force such research to move to places where ethical standards are much lower or nonexistent. The report can be found on the IOB website at http://www.iob.org. Follow the links to News? Institute News? Policy Priorities.


AIBS EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT THE POTENTIAL FOR PENNSYLVANIA'S PROPOSED SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS TO UNDERMINE THE TEACHING OF EVOLUTION - Last fall, AIBS learned about a draft of new standards for teaching science and technology in Pennsylvania schools that proposed to treat evolution as a theory (in the common sense of the word) and present alternative theories as part of schools' science curriculum. The draft language, which was published for comment in April, raised alarms among scientists and education groups who worried 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. "For the first time, we've mandated the teaching of evolution in Pennsylvania classrooms," State Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok said. "The standards were refined based on input from people at [a series or public hearings and workshops]," said Karl Girton, chair of the Board of Education Council of Basic Education. "The language in the latest draft of the academic standards does not promote the teaching of creationism," said James Gallagher, chairman of the state Board of Education. "The standards do, however, give clear guidance to teachers to initiate intellectually stimulating dialogue about the scientific theory of evolution."

The AIBS Public Policy Committee and AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul carefully analyzed the proposed standards and prepared comments submitted by AIBS President Judith Weis and AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady. In urging the Pennsylvania State Board of Education to withdraw the proposed standards, the letter noted that, "The proposed standards introduce some very subtle but potentially significant changes in wording that would not only undermine the teaching of evolution but that could also open the door to the teaching of creationism or its modern- day descendant intelligent design." In each of several standards for Grades 10 and 12, the wording was such that students and teachers could come to view evolution as one of several possible explanations for the origin of life and species.

AIBS applauded the state's interest in encouraging the assessment of scientific evidence and the development of critical thought processes. However, we wrote, "one cannot ignore the fact that the opponents of the teaching of evolution continually seek ways to introduce discussion of creationism and intelligent design into science classrooms. By inviting students to challenge this particular subject - and no other in the curriculum - the State is inadvertently suggesting to students that this particular theory is somehow less robust than others. For instance, we see no suggestion that students examine the studies that do or not support the Kinetic Molecular Theory."

The letter concluded by asserting that the State of Pennsylvania should understand that by undermining the teaching of evolution, it is undermining the teaching of biology. We wrote, "We stand firmly behind the principle that Anothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. We recognize, as did Theodosius Dobzhansky in making this statement in a 1973 issue of the American Biology Teacher (a publication of the National Association of Biology Teachers) that 'biologic research shows no sign of approaching completion...disagreements and clashes of opinion are rife among biologists, as they should be in a living and growing science." Therefore, we encourage the continual re-evaluation of our knowledge. However, encouraging high school students - budding scientists - to re-evaluate before they have a firm grasp on that knowledge is not the best way to develop a solid understanding of science."


PUSH FOR DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE AT THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY CLEARS FIRST HURDLE H.R. 64, introduced by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) in January, was passed through the House Science Committee's Environment, Technology and Standards subcommittee unanimously on May 17. The legislation would implement the two primary recommendations of a 2000 NRC report on strengthening science at EPA. First, the bill creates the position of Deputy Administrator for Science and Technology at EPA, equal in rank to the current Deputy Administrator and reporting directly to the Administrator. The new Deputy would be responsible for coordinating scientific research and application between the scientific and regulatory arms of the Agency, ensuring that sound science is the basis for regulatory decisions. Second, the bill sets a term of five years for the head of the Office of Research and Development (ORD) at EPA, providing more continuity in the scientific work of the Agency across administrations, and enabling the head of ORD to focus on the science conducted at the Agency.


AIBS TAKES PART IN EFFORT TO PREVENT BUDGET CUTS AT U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY - AIBS is a member of the broad-based Coalition for Science-based Land Management (CSLAM), which encompasses scientific societies (including the Ecological Society of America) conservation organizations, wildlife management groups, and resource use groups all dedicated to the proposition that sound natural resource management rests on a scientific foundation. Since the coalition's inception in 1994, when the National Biological Service was transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey to become the USGS Biological Resources Division the coalition has worked to persuade the Administration and Congress to provide adequate funding for USGS. This year, the Administration has proposed a cut of nearly 10% for USGS. The CSLAM members hope to persuade the Congress to reject this proposed cut and, instead, provide USGS with an increase at least as large as the overall budget increase (about 4 percent). The House Appropriations Committee on Interior and Related Agencies may prepare its appropriations bill as early as June 6, so CSLM efforts led in large part by AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul, AIBS Public Policy Review Committee member David Blockstein, and ESA Public Affairs Director Nadine Lymn are in high gear.


 


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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