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Public Policy Report for 07/27/2001

  • AIBS and other scientific societies plan effort to persuade Congress to scuttle the Santorum amendment on evolution
  • AIBS Public Policy Office to expand
  • AIBS Board member and SICB President Marvalee Wake Named to Smithsonian Science Commission
  • AIBS Board endorses FASEB statement supporting stem cell research
  • John Turner likely to be next assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs
  • Appropriations updates: NSF, Agriculture
  • National Research Council releases report on trends in federal support of research and graduate education

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].


AIBS AND OTHER SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES PLAN EFFORT TO PERSUADE CONGRESS TO SCUTTLE THE SANTORUM AMENDMENT ON EVOLUTION - AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady and Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul, along with Wayne Carley, Executive Director of the National Association of Biology Teachers, participated in a strategy session on 24 July at AAAS Headquarters to determine the most effective way to persuade the conference committee members to scuttle the Santorum amendment when the conference meets to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The conference committee has already started to align the two versions of this massive bill, but is not expected to complete its work until after the August recess. It was quickly and unanimously agreed by the participants--including Jay Labov of the National Academy of Sciences, David Cooper, Joanne Padron Carney, and Jim Miller of AAAS, David Applegate of the American Geological Institute, Pete Folger of the American Geophysical Union, Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education and Jodi Peterson of the National Science Teachers Association--that it would be best to have the amendment, which is a nonbinding "sense of the Senate," scrapped entirely. Failing that, the group agreed on amendatory language that would render the amendment less offensive. Key among the changes was the deletion of the phrase, "whenever biological evolution is taught," to be replaced by "whenever controversial issues involving science are taught." The National Academy of Sciences has drafted a statement for consideration; AIBS has agreed to join in this statement should it be issued. Meanwhile, AIBS sent a strong letter to the conferees, urging them to exclude the amendment from the final bill (the text of this letter is included in the online version of this AIBS public policy report--see the public policy section of www.aibs.org). AIBS is also organizing visits by biologists to key members of the conference committee and will be meeting with congressional staffers over the next few weeks to discuss this issue. The scientific societies who attended the meeting agreed to meet again to plan a long-term strategy to prevent this kind of thing from recurring.


AIBS PUBLIC POLICY OFFICE TO EXPAND - The AIBS Board of Directors has approved proceeding with hiring a second AIBS public policy staff member to work alongside Ellen Paul. The full job announcement is now online in the classifieds section of www.aibs.org and will be widely distributed starting next week. Generous contributions from the following member societies, with AIBS's own additional funding, have made this expansion possible:

American Fisheries Society
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
American Society of Mammalogists
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study
Estuarine Research Federation
Organization of Biological Field Stations
North American Lake Management Society
Society for Economic Botany
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Society for the Study of Evolution
Society of Systematic Biologists
Society of Wetland Scientists

The above societies will receive additional information from AIBS next week regarding next steps (contact: rogr...@aibs.org). Other societies have indicated that they are still considering the AIBS proposal to help co-fund public policy activities for the common interests of all members of the AIBS federation. As the largest portion of the funding received so far has been pledged by ASLO and other aquatic science societies, the new position's areas of responsibility will include a focus on aquatic sciences (marine, estuarine, fresh water, and wetlands) as well as broader work for the general membership on organismal and integrative biology. Qualifications for the new position are an advanced scientific degree in an area appropriate for the position's subject areas, plus three to five years public policy experience.


AIBS BOARD MEMBER AND SICB PRESIDENT MARVALEE WAKE NAMED TO SMITHSONIAN SCIENCE COMMISSION - The Smithsonian has established - at the request of its governing body, the Board of Regents - a science commission to advise the Secretary and the Regents. The commission members, whose areas of academic interest span the disciplines from anthropology to zoology, come from universities, research institutions, museums and government agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as from the Smithsonian. Among the members is AIBS Board Member (and President of AIBS member Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology) Marvalee Wake, who joins 17 others under the chairmanship of Jeremy Sabloff, the Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The first meeting of the commission is scheduled for Sept. 6 and 7, at the Smithsonian. All commission reports will be available on the commission's forthcoming Web site. Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small recommended the establishment of a commission to advise the Institution as kit refines and focuses its scientific research activities. [Ed: Small's hand was forced by the growing concern in the scientific community and the considerable adverse press generated by the abrupt announcement that the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center and other research programs would be closed. Small's plans to reorganize the scientific research programs of the Smithsonian have also been cast under a cloud of suspicion, as much for the secrecy and apparent exclusion of the Smithsonian research staff and the scientific community as for the merits of the specifics - which have not yet been made public. Small's decision to appoint the commission is seen as an effort to address those concerns]. On May 7, the Smithsonian Regents, approved the adoption of a "new strategic direction for Smithsonian science ... reflecting, among other things, enhanced focus, greater collaboration within and outside the Institution, and increased opportunities for gathering and marshaling greater resources to advance the Institution's scientific research activities." The resolution included the provision for a science commission "to advise the Secretary and the Board of Regents on the design of the full range of elements to be addressed." Nominations for the commission were solicited from Smithsonian scientists, as well as members of the Board of Regents who are scientists and other, external scientists. From the combined lists of all the scientists proposed, the Office of the Under Secretary for Science selected a group of external and internal scientists, taking into account an appropriate balance of discipline and background. The final list was discussed with nationally recognized leaders in science and the academic community outside the Institution before being submitted to the Secretary and Board of Regents. "We are honored that this distinguished group has agreed to work with us to achieve our goal of making Smithsonian science the best that it can be," said Small. "The Smithsonian is a wellspring of scientific talent that has evolved in many diffuse and disparate directions over the years in response to advances in knowledge and technology," Small added. "The beginning of a new century is an optimum time to subject our own organization to critical evaluation, with an eye toward sharpening the focus on the Smithsonian's unique strengths." The commission is charged to advise the Smithsonian on the following questions:

* For 155 years, the Smithsonian Institution has had as its mission "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Given the important questions facing the scientific world today, the existing level of institutional financial and physical resources, the strengths of the Institution's people and its collections, how should the Smithsonian set priorities for scientific research in the years ahead and, in general, carry out its historic mission more effectively?
* How should scientific research be organized to optimize the use of the Institution's human, physical and financial resources?
* How should the performance of scientific research by individuals and research departments be evaluated?
* How can the relationship between research and public programming be enhanced?
* What suggestions, of any type might the science commission have to strengthen research at the Smithsonian?
* What should be the qualifications of those chosen to lead key scientific research units of the Smithsonian?
* What should be done to enhance public recognition of Smithsonian science?

The commission's findings will be submitted to the Regents for their consideration.

Other biologists serving on the Commission are: Dr. Alice Alldredge, Professor of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara; Dr. Francisco Ayala, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Philosophy Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California at Irvine; Professor Peter R. Crane, Director, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England; Dr. Ilka Feller, Animal Ecologist, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Stephen P. Hubbell, Ph.D., Professor of Botany, University of Georgia; Dr. Simon Levin, George M. Moffett Professor of Biology, Princeton University; Dr. Peter H. Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden, and Professor, Washington University at St. Louis; Dr. Beryl B. Simpson, C. L. Lundell Professor & Director, Plant Resources Center, The University of Texas at Austin; and Dr. Warren Wagner, Curator of Pacific Botany, National Museum of Natural History.


AIBS ENDORSES FASEB STATEMENT SUPPORTING STEM CELL RESEARCH - The AIBS Board of Directors has endorsed the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's (www.faseb.org) statement on stem cell research. That statement reads:

"The leadership of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) affirms its continued support for research on human embryonic stem cells. We continue to endorse the National Institutes of Health (NIH) draft guidelines for this research and applaud the agency for its forward-looking stance in regards to the issues. The careful efforts of the Working Group of the NIH Advisory Committee resulted in guidelines that will facilitate the research necessary to realize the future medical benefits of human embryonic stem cells while preserving the dignity of human donors and respecting the unique ethical sensitivity of these cells.

"FASEB is composed of 21 societies with more than 60,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. The Federation exists to serve the interests of biomedical and life scientists, particularly those related to public policy issues. Our membership includes many researchers interested in and qualified to conduct research on embryonic stem cells.

"The momentous possibilities of medical research at this frontier of experimental biology make it imperative that embryonic stem cell research continues to move forward. Because embryonic stem cells are able to form all of the cell types of the body, understanding how to control their differentiation could lead to novel therapies for presently untreatable diseases. Thus, embryonic stem cell research promises to have an enormous impact on the health and longevity of people everywhere."


JOHN TURNER LIKELY TO BE NEXT ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR OCEANS AND INTERNATIONAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL AND SCIENTIFIC AFFAIRS - President Bush last week confirmed that he plans to nominate Conservation Fund chief John F. Turner, head of the Bush I Fish and Wildlife Service, to be assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. Turner's name was previously mentioned in conjunction with top slots at Interior, but published reports stated that private property groups considered Turner too liberal and blocked his nomination. Turner, a third generation Wyoming rancher, has headed The Conservation Fund since 1993. Turner has been a strong proponent of private land conservation initiatives that foster the sustainable use and continued production of working landscapes including western ranches, midwestern farms and northeastern managed forests. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and received a Master's Degree in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Michigan.


APPROPRIATIONS UPDATES: NSF, AGRICULTURE -

National Science Foundation

On July 17, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up the VA/HUD and Treasury/Postal appropriations bills. The panel made no changes to the subcommittee recommendations for the National Science Foundation, which set NSF's funding at $4.8 billion ($367 million or 9% more than the Administration's request and $414 million or 8.5% above the current fiscal year), with $3.6 billion allotted to Research and Related Activities (an increase of $292 million above last year's funding level and an increase of $315 million above the budget request).The Committee recommended that the Biology Directorate receive $529 million under the House bill, which represents $46 million (9.5%) above the Administration's request, and $44.7 million above FY2001.

The Senate VA/HUD appropriations subcommittee marked up its FY2002 on July 19 and the full Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the measure that afternoon. The bill would provide a total of $4.672 billion for the National Science Foundation. This figure is $200 million more than the request and $246 million above the current level but $167 million below the House's proposed appropriation of $4.840 billion. In percentage terms, the Senate's NSF figure represents a 5.567-percent increase, while the House bill represents an increase of 9.354 percent.

The Senate bill proposes a total of $4.67 billion for NSF - an increase of only 5.6% over the current fiscal year. Of this amount, $3.5 billion is allocated to Research and Related Activities (R&RA), which is $128 million below the House's $3.642-billion figure. The Senate's R&RA figure translates into an increase of 4.91 percent, while the House's increase is 8.725 percent. The Senate did not specify a distribution among the disciplinary directorates within R&RA.

Our colleague at the American Institute of Physics, Dick Jones, reports that the Senate appropriation levels are unexpectedly low because subcommittee chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Minority Member Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) are the strongest advocates in the Senate for a doubling of the NSF budget over five years. Doubling would have required roughly a 15% increase to keep the foundation's budget on a steady projection. The reason given for these low figures was the low allocation to the Committee by the Budget Committee.

The Senate Committee applauded the NSF's proposal for increasing the stipend levels for graduate students in its education programs, and expressed the Committee's support for this issue in the education and human resources account. However, the Committee noted that NSF supports four times as many graduate students through its R&RA appropriation than it does through its graduate programs in the education and human resources appropriation. The Committee urged the Foundation to also emphasize, through its research grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements, enhanced stipend levels for graduate students and post-doctoral students and told NSF that it should provide information detailing how the Foundation will achieve this objective in its FY2002 operating plan.

Agriculture

Also on June 17, the full Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday marked up its Agriculture appropriations. In contrast to the House-passed bill, the bill does not extend the current statutory language that prohibits the Department of Agriculture from preparing regulations to extend the definition of "animal" in the Animal Welfare Act to include rats, mice, and birds. It remains to be seen whether this provision will be accepted or rejected when the Senate and House Appropriations Conference Committee conferees meet later this year.

Meanwhile, The Coalition on Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM) is urging appropriators to find ways to increase funding for the National Research Initiative (NRI). Both the House Appropriations Committee (passed July 11) and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture would give NRI $105.8 million, which represents no increase over Fiscal Year 2001.


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL RELEASES REPORT ON TRENDS IN FEDERAL SUPPORT OF RESEARCH AND GRADUATE EDUCATION - In a report released July 11, the National Research Council reports significant shifts in the allocation of public research spending and graduate student support in the 1990s and relates these shifts to state, foundation, and industry funding patterns. The report describes how some fields' funding bases and some agencies' research portfolios have changed as well as how basic and university research funding have fared by field.

The report urges policy-makers to regularly evaluate the federal research portfolio to determine when spending adjustments may be needed to close funding gaps for various research fields. Budget cuts can have a substantial impact in a given field when nonfederal sources do not make up for shortfalls, the report says. Federal dollars support 27 percent of America's total research expenditures and nearly half of spending on basic research.

Recent shifts in the research portfolio have been significant - particularly the buildup in funding for biomedical sciences compared with real reductions in support for many physical science and engineering fields. After a five-year plateau, total federal spending on research and development turned a corner in fiscal year 1998, when it increased by 4.5 percent in real dollars compared with 1993. And total expenditures continued to grow through the current year. However, budget hikes for life-sciences research at NIH have accounted for most of the gains, the report says. [Ed: life sciences generally refers to biomedical research, not the biology of the natural world].

On the whole, 46 percent of federal funding for research went to the life sciences in 1999, up from 40 percent in 1993. In the same period, funding for the physical sciences and engineering dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent. Budget reductions for several key fields of research were steeper, noted the committee that wrote the report. Funding levels for physics; geological sciences; and electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering dropped by 20 percent or more. Over the past decade, similar trends have been evident in spending by states and philanthropic organizations. Industry funding of science and technology has increased overall, but such spending typically fluctuates from year to year and seldom supports basic research.

Shifts in research spending are among the factors that affect the numbers of students seeking advanced degrees in particular areas. In fields now receiving less federal support compared with 1993, both graduate-school enrollment and the numbers of students who obtained doctorates generally have declined, the committee found. Such drops will continue to shrink the pool of new talent for jobs in the public sector, private industry, and academia

The Executive Summary and the complete report may be accessed at http://www4.nationalacademies.org/pd/step.nsf.


 


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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