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Public Policy Report for 09/07/2001

  • AIBS protest helps to defeat Hawaii proposal to allow teaching of creationism
  • AIBS and its member societies sign joint letter requesting removal of the "intelligent design" amendment from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Effort to persuade administration to fund National Ecological Observatory Network underway
  • AIBS registers concerns about proposed data quality guidelines
  • Museum staff and visitors alert: check your bookstores for anti-evolution materials!

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 PROTEST HELPS TO DEFEAT HAWAII PROPOSAL TO ALLOW TEACHING OF CREATIONISM - In late July, AIBS learned that a member of the Hawai'i State Board of Education had proposed to allow the teaching of "alternate theories of the origin of mankind" - which she specifically identified as creationism. The proposal was scheduled for a vote only a week later. AIBS promptly moved to help squelch the proposal, by writing to the members of the State Board of Education to encourage them to reject this proposed standard. Although there is no state AIBS/NCSE evolution listserv in Hawai'i (volunteers are asked to contact epaul@aibs.org), AIBS succeeded in calling for action among scientists in Hawai'i via individual e-mails and by contacting members of the Society for Conservation Biology, which was meeting in Hawai'i at the time. A week later, we were gratified to learn that the proposal was defeated unanimously (even the sponsor voted against it!), in large part because of the testimony of the many scientists who spoke out at the Board of Education meeting.

AIBS AND ITS MEMBER SOCIETIES SIGN JOINT LETTER REQUESTING REMOVAL OF THE "INTELLIGENT DESIGN" AMENDMENT FROM THE ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT - In August, the American Geological Institute and the American Geophysical Union prepared a joint letter asking the chairs of a House-Senate conference committee to remove a Senate resolution singling out evolution as a controversial theory. The American Institute of Biological Sciences and 24 AIBS member societies co-signed the letter with more than 90 other scientific societies, including the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of American Universities. The House-Senate conference committee must reconcile the Senate-passed and House-passed version of H.R.1, a massive overhaul of federal elementary and secondary education programs. Negotiations took place at the staff level throughout August with the conference set to resume early in September. Efforts are ongoing to have the resolution dropped from the final bill. The letter with a current list of signatories can be found at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolutionletter.html. The special update is at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolutionletter_update0801.html. Additional signatures are being accepted. Please contact Ellen Paul at epaul@aibs.org if your society wishes to add its name.


EFFORT TO PERSUADE ADMINISTRATION TO FUND NATIONAL ECOLOGICAL OBSERVATORY NETWORK UNDERWAY - AIBS has contacted the Office of Management and Budget, urging that the administration give consideration to funding an important and comprehensive program originally conceived of in 1999 by the National Science Foundation. Known as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the program envisioned the establishment of 10 observatories located around the country. Each observatory would comprise a regional consortium consisting of universities, research museums, field stations, Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, other field research facilities, community and tribal colleges, nonprofit organizations, and state and federal agencies. The network of observatories was intended to serve as a national research platform for integrated studies in field biology. Each observatory would provide state-of-the-art infrastructure to support interdisciplinary, integrated research, including all fields of biology and companion natural, social and information sciences engaged in environmental research. Collectively, the network of 10 observatories would allow scientists to conduct comprehensive, continental-scale experiments on ecological systems. Each NEON observatory was to include site-based experimental infrastructure; natural history archive facilities; and facilities for biological, physical and data analyses. In addition, the 10 NEON observatories were to be linked via a cutting-edge computational network. This plan was developed over several years from a series of workshops and meetings held across the country. The plan generated widespread national support from the science community.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences enthusiastically supports NEON. For the first time, biologists and ecologists would have access to the kind of equipment platform enjoyed by astronomers and physicists. In our view, NEON will make possible the kinds of discoveries made by our colleagues in those disciplines and will also foster the development of a comprehensive, purposeful investigation of natural systems. In fact, the NEON infrastructure would allow researchers to ask questions that previously were impossible to investigate. The NEON program has been well-planned, through three separate workshops involving some of the most highly-regarded scientists in their fields. This program has all the elements needed to produce significant returns in areas that are not, by-and-large, addressed by the private sector.


AIBS REGISTERS CONCERNS ABOUT PROPOSED DATA QUALITY GUIDELINES - In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, AIBS raised a number of concerns about the guidelines that office has proposed to implement the mandates of the FY01 Treasury Appropriations bill. The statutory language requires federal agencies to develop mechanisms to allow "interested parties" to challenge information maintained or disseminated by the agency. AIBS posited that the guidelines, which will be made final on October 30, will erect a barrier to the dissemination of information and have a chilling effect on the release of information by federal agencies. We suggested a number of safeguards to prevent this unfortunate and unintended result, including a requirement that the "challenger" be required to show that an equally qualified scientist (s), i.e., a peer, has found fault with the integrity or objectivity. We urged that there should be a burden of proof on the challenger to show that there is serious scientific merit to the challenge before the agency and the scientist(s) are required to go through this procedure. The experts supporting the challenge, and the challengers themselves should be required to disclose any financial or political interest (other than payment for time and expenses as is routine in the industry) they have in the subject matter to which the data pertain.

The AIBS comments also expressed concern about the vaguely-defined key terms, such as "quality," "integrity," "accuracy" and "utility." The guidelines also failed to state whether the data quality guidelines would apply to recipients of federal grants. We suggest that OMB make this clear in the guidelines. Also, OMB should make clear if, and under what circumstances, the guidelines will apply to contractors.


MUSEUM STAFF AND VISITORS ALERT: CHECK YOUR BOOKSTORES FOR ANTI-EVOLUTION MATERIALS! - Have you strolled through your local museum's giftshop or bookstore lately? There may be a surprise in store for you: one prominent natural history museum researcher was dismayed to find copies of a recent "intelligent design" book on sale in the museum's gift shop. Buyers for the museum shops rarely, if ever, consult with museum staff on appropriate titles, it seems. Moreover, many of these titles carry innocuous, even appealing names: Of Pandas and People is an intelligent design textbook; Icons of Evolution is a screed attacking selected investigations in evolutionary biology; Darwin's Black Box, by biochemist Michael Behe argues that organs such as the mammalian eye are irreducibly complex and therefore could not have developed as the result of small, incremental changes. AIBS has compiled a list of titles to watch for. Please contact Ellen Paul at epaul@aibs.org for more information and for assistance in addressing this situation, should it occur in your institution.


 


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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