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Public Policy Report for 06/21/2001

  • Science Committee Chairman and other members of House Science Committee visit AIBS exhibit at CNSF Annual Exhibition and Reception
  • "Intelligent design" steals into Senate amendment to Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Update on AIBS Public Policy Initiative
  • Update on reorganization of research programs at the Smithsonian
  • Who's on first in the Senate - use the AIBS Legislative Information Center to track changes in Senate committee chairmanships
  • AIBS on AAAS Panel on Scientific Exchange with Cuba
  • AAAS Annual Report on the federal R&D budget available; AIBS and Ecological Society of America contribute reports

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].


SCIENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN AND OTHER MEMBERS OF HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE VISIT AIBS EXHIBIT AT CNSF EXHIBITION AND RECEPTION - On June 13, AIBS joined with 31 scientific societies and universities - including the Ecological Society of America and the American Society of Plant Physiologists - to present exhibits on Capitol Hill to demonstrate to Congress the importance of the National Science Foundation. AIBS co-sponsored the 7th Annual Congressional Exhibition and Reception organized by the Coalition for National Science Funding. AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul co-organized the event with Liz Baldwin, Director of Federal Relations for UC Riverside. Other AIBS personnel involved included Exec. Director Richard O'Grady, Communications Representative Casey Krol, Education Representative Cathy Lundmark, and Education Committee Chair Trish Morse. Notable visitors to the AIBS exhibit included House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Committee Chief of Staff David Goldston, and Environment, Technology, and Standards subcommittee chair Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). They had an opportunity to scrutinize an AIBS poster that demonstrated that grant size and duration should be better coordinated with the properties of the biological phenomena being studied. The poster featured an NSF- funded research project conducted by Dr. Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) to understand the population dynamics of two species of neotropical migratory birds. Another AIBS poster - on SERC's Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant - was of particular interest to Connie Morella (R-MD), who sponsored the legislation that funded the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology. The poster made prominent mention of the fact that SERC's university partners include students from Howard University, Bowie State University, and other institutions with significant minority enrollment. In all, 14 members of the House of Representatives, 74 House staffers - including 12 committee staffers- and 16 Senate staffers attended the event.


"INTELLIGENT DESIGN" STEALS INTO SENATE AMENDMENT TO ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT - A last minute amendment offered by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) to a floor vote on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, resulted in an unfortunate "Sense of the Senate" statement that incorporates language used by "intelligent design" proponents to undermine the teaching of evolution. The amendment passed 91-8 amidst a flurry of other amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As a "Sense of the Senate", it is non-binding but is nonetheless of great concern. Santorum characterized the amendment as noncontroversial. No time was allotted for consultation and education on the issue by committee staffers. Senator Santorum neglected to state that the language had been drafted by Philip Johnson, a law professor and recognized leader of the intelligent design movement (see http://www.discovery.org/crsc/ & http://www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org ). Nor did he mention any connection between his amendment and intelligent design issues in his home state of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Michael Behe of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania is a leading proponent of intelligent design. The floor statement made by Santorum immediately prior to the vote cited law professor David De Wolf as an authority on teaching evolution but failed to mention De Wolf's association with the intelligent design movement. It is hoped that the amendment's provisions will be removed by the Conference Committee which will resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. AIBS is working with other scientific organizations, including the National Association of Biology Teachers and the American Geological Institute, on further steps.

The language of the Santorum amendment (see http://thomas.loc.gov ; Bill S1, Amendment 799) reads: "It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject." These are the standard arguments of intelligent design proponents, who are trying to make an end-run around legal prohibitions on the teaching of creationism by espousing a version of creationism that avoids mention of a creator and that undermines the teaching of evolution.

For an excellent summary and explanation of the Santorum amendment and implications for evolution education, see the following, written by David Applegate at the American Geological Institute: SPECIAL UPDATE - Evolution Opponents on the Offensive in Senate, House


UPDATE ON AIBS PUBLIC POLICY INITIATIVE - To reach the goal set by the participants at the November 1999 AIBS Presidents' Summit to establish and fund a full-time public policy office, AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady and Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul have met with the boards of many AIBS member societies and will be meeting with several others over the next two months. Great progress is being made toward acquiring sufficient funding from the membership to increase our public policy capacity by one full-time position in addition to Ellen Paul's current half-time position. The most significant funding commitment to date has been made by the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography. Commitments have also been made by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the Society of Wetland Scientists, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, the Society for Economic Botany, and the Estuarine Research Federation. AIBS thanks these groups for their support. We have also had encouraging discussions with the Society for the Study of Evolution, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, the Organization of Biological Field Stations, and the North American Lake Management Society. Societies with questions about the public policy initiative - which is described at http://www.aibs.org (click on "read the proposal to expand the AIBS Public Policy Office and establish a Public Issues Council) - should contact Richard O'Grady at rogr...@aibs.org.


UPDATE ON REORGANIZATION OF RESEARCH PROGRAMS AT THE SMITHSONIAN - According to a June 10 Washington Post article, eight independent panels in the past four years have found serious shortcomings in Smithsonian research programs. These reports apparently underlie Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small's institution-wide effort to reorganize the research programs. The article states that a group of outside scientists looked at biological research underway at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and concluded that the museum had lost its course. The report - which AIBS plans to examine closely - stated that although many NMNH biologists are acknowledged taxonomic experts who are consistently productive of collections-based research, they are isolated from their colleagues and not engaged in large issues and developments in biodiversity research.

The Smithsonian Board of Regents is recruiting people for a blue-ribbon panel to advise Small on the reorganization. University of Pennsylvania archeologist Jeremy Sabloff has been appointed to chair the committee, although other members have not yet been named. Sabloff has already met with researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the NMNH Congress of Scholars.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior and Related Agencies has taken note of the goings-on at the Smithsonian. The report accompanying the FY2002 Interior appropriations bill states:

The Committee has been concerned about the recent actions taken by the Smithsonian to set a new direction for science in the Institution, particularly the attempt to close the Conservation and Research center in front Royal, Virginia. The Committee commends the Board of Regents for directing the Smithsonian to form a Science Commission to advise the Smithsonian Regents on future new research strategies. The Committee supports the principle of reviewing existing research programs and improving the focus of those programs, including greater collaboration within and outside the Smithsonian. However, the process for making significant research changes must be thoroughly vetted within the research community and through the budget process. The Committee expects that no action regarding the science programs and related facilities of the Institution will be taken until the new Science Commission has made recommendations to the Regents and the Regents have approved those recommendations. The Committee has included bill language mandating that the Smithsonian follow the Committee's reprogramming guidelines.

Specific language in the bill reads:

None of the funds in this or any other Act may be used to make any changes to the existing Smithsonian science programs including closure of facilities, relocation of staff or redirection of functions and programs without approval by the Board of Regents of recommendations received from the Science Commission. None of the funds in this or any other Act may be used to initiate the design for any proposed expansion of current space or new facility without consultation with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. None of the funds available to the Smithsonian may be reprogrammed without the advance written approval of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations in accordance with the procedures contained in House Report No. 105-163.


WHO'S ON FIRST IN THE SENATE - USE THE AIBS LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION CENTER - With the Senate shift to a Democratic majority, the committees have been through a round of musical chairs. To keep track of the changes, visit the AIBS Legislative Information Center in the Public Policy section at HTTP://WWW.AIBS.ORG. Click on the Legislative Information Center banner at the top of the page; click on ELECTED OFFICIALS. The CONGRESSIONAL DIRECTORY found there is an up-to-date listing, including committee appointments and chairmanships. You can always use this feature to find your own representatives. Updated hardcopies of the AIBS Congressional Directory will become available for next year's Congress, with complimentary copies once again provided to the presidents and other key personnel of AIBS member societies and organizations.


AIBS ON AAAS PANEL ON SCIENTIFIC EXCHANGE WITH CUBA - The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on June 18 organized a meeting to discuss U.S.-Cuba Scientific and Academic Travel Policy. Ellen Paul, AIBS Public Policy Representative, has had a crash course in this subject over the past few months, as she has, in the context of her role as Executive Director of the Ornithological Council, organized the 2001 meeting of the Society of Caribbean Ornithology. She was invited to join the panel of speakers, which included Michael Smith, Director for Cuban-U.S. Scientific Exchange at Conservation International and several representatives of the American Chemical Society. The discussion focused on how the implementation of current policy actually helps or hinders scientific collaboration between the two countries. Several Congressional staffers were on hand to suggest ways that members of Congress might help remove impediments to collaboration.


AAAS ANNUAL REPORT ON THE FEDERAL R&D BUDGET AVAILABLE; AIBS AND ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA CONTRIBUTED REPORTS - The AAAS Intersociety Working Group annual report on the federal research and development budget is now available. The report, which examines the Administration's budget request in close detail, is available at http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/xxvi/rd02main.htm. AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul authored the chapter on life sciences, which focuses on the biological study of the natural world, while Nadine Lymn, Public Affairs Director for the Ecological Society of America, and Alison Gillespie, ESA Public Affairs Officer, contributed the chapter on ecological sciences. AIBS is sending a complimentary hardcopy of the report to the presidents of its member societies and organizations.


 


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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