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Public Policy Report for 04/12/2002

  • ACTION ALERT! Letters to Congress needed to help save EPA's Star Fellowship Program
  • Science falls victim in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge debate
  • U.S. Global Climate Change panel may lose top scientist to political pressure
  • Marine Fisheries Advisory Panel open for nominations
  • House Appropriations subcommittee on VA-HUD considers NSF budget request for FY2003
  • Good Morning America report criticizes basic research; scientific societies respond

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].


ACTION ALERT! LETTERS TO CONGRESS NEEDED TO HELP SAVE EPA'S STAR FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM - The National Council for Science and the Environment has initiated a campaign to persuade Congress to continue funding the EPA STAR Fellowships program. The Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program is the only federal program of environmental graduate fellowships. The President's proposed budget for FY 2003 eliminates funding for the STAR program. Unless Congress continues funding for this program, one of the best ways to support top students in the environmental sciences will disappear. Please write to the Congressional appropriations committees and to your Senators and representatives.

From 1995 through 2001 the EPA funded over 800 STAR Fellows at 168 colleges and universities. The average fellowship award was $30,000 and lasted nearly three years. STAR Fellowships are highly desired and extremely competitive, with only 10% of applicants receiving funding. The annual appropriation for the STAR Fellowships program was about $9 million.

Upon the establishment of STAR, the EPA stated: "The purpose of the fellowship program is to encourage promising students to obtain advanced degrees and pursue careers in environmentally related fields. This goal is consistent with the mission of EPA, which is to provide leadership in the nation's environmental science, research, education, assessment, restoration, and preservation efforts. This program will benefit both the public and private sectors which will need a steady stream of well-trained environmental specialists if our society is to meet the environmental challenges of the future."

Investing in future environmental scientists through the STAR Fellowship program is essential to the EPA's mission and the nation's capacity to meet environmental challenges. At a time when there is widespread agreement on the need for environmental decisions to be based on science, graduate fellowships are essential to keep the best future scientists and engineers in the environmental field. No justification has been provided by the Administration for the proposed termination of the program.

A sample letter can be found at http://www.cnie.org/NCSE/SciencePolicy/?FID=1682. Letters to all members of the House of Representatives can be addressed to:

The Honorable (Member's name)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

As the mail to the Congress is being slowed by security measures, please consider faxing your letter. Fax numbers can be found on each member's website. Go to http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.html to find your representative's fax number. PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTER BEFORE THE END OF APRIL. Please send copies to NCSE (dbraden@NCSEonline.org or fax to 202-628-4311) of all letters that you send and any responses you receive. Please also send copies to EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

For more information on the STAR Fellowship program, follow the links to "Will Congress Catch EPA's Falling STAR?", which quotes NCSE Senior Scientist David Blockstein, Science, March 29 2002: 2345-2347 and an NCSE-prepared fact sheet at http://www.cnie.org/NCSE/SciencePolicy/?FID=1679.


SCIENCE FALLS VICTIM IN THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE DEBATE - The Washington Post on 7 April 2002 reported that "one week after a U.S. Geological Survey study warned that caribou "may be particularly sensitive to oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the agency has completed a quick follow-up report suggesting that the most likely drilling scenarios under consideration should have no impact on caribou." The new, two-page report was written by Brad Griffith, the same scientist who wrote the original caribou study. The Department of the Interior asked Griffith, who developed a model to assess the likely impact of drilling on the caribou calving in the region, to change the assumptions used in his initial report. The original report documented the importance of the coastal plain to caribou and other wildlife but also demonstrated that the effects of drilling could be minimal if conducted in a sensitive manner over a limited area. Two of its five scenarios for caribou showed negligible effects. Even the worst-case scenario of a fully developed coastal plain produced a mere 8 percent drop in calf survival rates for the 123,000-member Porcupine herd. Interior officials asked Griffith to model two additional scenarios, based on the fact that the congressional plan would limit infrastructure that touches the tundra to 2,000 acres. The two additional scenarios were: one limited to the northwest of the coastal plain, where geologists believe most of the oil is; the other adding Native-owned lands to the east. Griffith found that those scenarios would reduce calf survival rates by no more than 1.2 percent. Essentially, he wrote, the changes "overlapped zero." Drilling opponents, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn) derided the latest review as a desperate act of political intervention by Norton and her aides. Lieberman said he found it "hard to believe" that a seven-day review could provide better information than a report surveying the scientific literature about Arctic wildlife from the past 12 years. And drilling opponents are now questioning Griffith's model, particularly its exclusive focus on caribou calving grounds.

This is the second time science has been the shuttlecock in the debate about ANWR. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton was embarrassed after she ignored the caveats of federal biologists in her response to congressional questions about caribou in the Arctic, and provided erroneous information suggesting that oil development has no effect on caribou. Now her aides acknowledge that more extensive development can have at least some impact, but they are clearly frustrated about the scientifically unfounded perception that even modest projects would devastate caribou.

Both the Ecological Society of America and the American Society of Mammalogists have issued statements opposing drilling in the ANWR.


U.S. GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE PANEL MAY LOSE TOP SCIENTIST TO POLITICAL PRESSURE - A New York Times article on 2 April 2002 reported that the Bush administration is attempting to force Robert T. Watson, chief scientist of the World Bank, from his unpaid position as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Watson, who has held the position since 1996, holds the view that anthropogenic causes of climate change - such as the burning of fossil fuels - must be controlled in order to protect the environment. Watson's term is expiring, and, according to the NYT article, the State Department has decided against re-nominating him, apparently at the behest of energy industry lobbyists who criticized Dr. Watson as biased and focused on building a scientific argument to justify cutting the use of coal and oil. In a letter to the White House a year ago, for example, Dr. Arthur G. Randol III, senior environmental adviser for ExxonMobil, said Dr. Watson used leaks of drafts of his panel's climate reports to further his "personal agenda." The energy companies are apparently backing the nomination of Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, an Indian engineer and economist who is now one of five vice chairmen.


MARINE FISHERIES ADVISORY PANEL OPEN FOR NOMINATIONS [DEADLINE 16 MAY 2002] - The National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is seeking nominees for the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, the only Federal Advisory Committee with the responsibility to advise the Secretary of Commerce (the "Secretary'') on all matters concerning living marine resources that are the responsibility of the Department of Commerce. The Committee makes recommendations to the Secretary to assist in the development and implementation of Departmental regulations, policies and programs critical to the mission and goals of the National Marine Fisheries Service (the "Agency''). The Committee is composed of leaders in the commercial, recreational, environmental, academic, state, tribal, and consumer interests from the nation's coastal regions. The Department of Commerce is seeking up to ten highly qualified individuals knowledgeable about fisheries and living marine resources to serve on the Committee. Nominations should be sent to MAFAC, Office of Constituent Services, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, 14743, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurel Bryant, Designated Federal Official; telephone (301)713-9501 x171. E-mail: Laurel.Bryant@noaa.gov.

The establishment of MAFAC was approved by the Secretary on December 28, 1970, and initially chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5, U.S.C. App.2, on February 17, 1971. The Committee meets twice a year with supplementary subcommittee meetings as determined necessary by the Secretary. Individuals serve for a term of 3 years for no more than two consecutive terms if reappointed. No less than 15 and no more than 21 individuals may serve on the Committee. Membership is comprised of highly qualified individuals representing commercial and recreational fisheries interests, environmental organizations, academic institutions, governmental, tribal and consumer groups from a balance of geographical regions, including the Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nominations are encouraged from all interested parties involved with or representing interests affected by the Agency's actions in managing living marine resources. Nominees should possess demonstrable expertise in a field related to the management of living marine resources and be able to fulfill the time commitments required for two meetings annually. A MAFAC member cannot be a Federal agency employee or a member of a Regional Fishery Management Council. Selected candidates must have security checks and complete financial disclosure forms. Membership is voluntary, and except for reimbursable travel and related expenses, service is without pay. Each submission should include the submitting person's or organization's name and affiliation, a cover letter describing the nominee's qualifications and interest in serving on the Committee, a curriculum vitae or resume of nominee, and no more than three supporting letters describing the qualifications of the nominee. Self nominations are acceptable. The following contact information should accompany each nominee's submission: name, address, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address if available. The full text of the Committee Charter and its current membership can be viewed at the Agency's web page at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mafac.htm.


HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON VA-HUD CONSIDERS NSF BUDGET REQUEST FOR FY2003 - At its April 11 hearing on NSF's budget request for FY2003, the House Appropriations subcommittee for VA-HUD expressed dissatisfaction with the Administration's request. Subcommitte Chairman James Walsh (R-NY) noted that discounting the transfers, the increase is just about 3% and most of that goes to the biocomplexity initiative and the 21st century workforce programs. He noted cuts in supercomputing, astronomy, earth sciences, oceanography, and many others. NSF director Rita Colwell replied that the administration had to set priorities; this budget reflects NSF's priorities, especially with regard to increases in graduate student stipends and increases in grant size and duration. She also pointed out that the most critical threat to national security in the 21st century, after terrorist attacks, is the lack of a science/math educated workforce (citing the Hart-Rudman report produced for the National Commission on National Security for the 21st Century;
http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01013102.htm). Other committee members pointed out the disparity between the NIH and NSF budget requests, saying that medical advances at NIH rested on a foundation of basic research funded by NSF.

Several subcommittee members asked about the proposed transfers of the Sea Grant and USGS Toxics Hydrology programs. Although Colwell insisted that these programs match what NSF is doing, she acknowledged that NSF did not request these transfers and they are not NSF's highest priorities.

Carrie Meek (D-FL) asked about NSF's commitment to women and minorities. She was concerned about decreases in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities program and the Louis Stokes Alliance programs. Colwell said that there is a great deal of attention to these areas, despite the $4 million cut. Instead, all NSF programs are working to enhance minority participation. Meek said that minorities make up 25% of the population, but NSF programs give only 7% to minorities and that they need to improve. She said that the record and the budget don't reflect a commitment to improve the situation and specifically asked about the $6.8 million for the Centers for Learning and Teaching - who will they serve and where will they go? Judith Ramaley, the NSF Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources, listed them. Meek said that not one is at an HBCU. Ramalay said that was true, but that there are HBCU in the networks

Walsh asked about National Science Board priorities, noting that the NSB said it is important to quickly complete priorities. He pointed out that NSF is asking for funds for new starts (ALMA, Earthscope, and NEON) when there are other NSB-priority projects that aren't complete yet. He pointed out that the NSB guidelines say, "Once project construction commences, highest priority is given to moving a project forward through multiple years of construction in a cost-effective way, as determined by sound engineering and as long as progress is appropriate. It is most cost-effective to complete initiated projects in a timely way, rather than to commence new projects at the cost of stretching out in-progress construction." Walsh said that there are two projects that aren't completed yet, and asked why is NSF moving forward with new projects. Eamon Kelly, chairman of the NSB, said that the problem is a lack of resources. Things are backed-up in the pipeline and they haven't been able to get things started.

GOOD MORNING AMERICA REPORT TAKES CRITICIZES BASIC RESEARCH; SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES RESPOND - In a three-part series that aired on April 3, 4, and 5, ABC's Good Morning America television program spotlighted basic research that, GMA posited, should not be supported by taxpayer dollars. In the process, the report, narrated by Bob Woodruff, ridiculed the projects that were the focus of the series. The first of these was a study by Jane Waterman of the University of Central Florida on the behavior of ground squirrels in Africa. Waterman, an evolutionary biologist, explained that the males exhibit unusual behavior in that they form noncompetitive bands that live separate from the females. She explained that understanding the evolution of this behavior helps us understand our own behavior and the role of the environment in shaping that behavior. The report went on to question the use of federal funding for a study to determine if shyness can lead to depression. The second episode focused on a study of the aggressiveness of the media in presidential press conferences; the third segment looked at a study of smiling, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Critics included Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, who said, "Squirrel mating seems to be on the low end of the priority scale ... with all the other priorities in this country. People are dying of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's and AIDS and we're looking at how squirrels mate." "Haven't these guys heard of private universities, private endowments, private foundations," asked Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union. "There are lots of people interested in these issues but there are 120 million taxpayers who want to know why are we funding this?" And E. Fuller Torrey, a well-known critic of the National Institute of Mental Health, said, "The average citizen would be shocked at what their money is being spent on. They've turned down projects on the mentally ill homeless. They've turned down projects on developing new medications that would be useful for people with schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness." Torrey issued a report in 1999 that showed a little more than a third of your tax dollars go to researching serious mental illness. Federal tax dollars have also funded 92 studies on pigeons since the early 1970s. The studies, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, have focused on how pigeons learn, and what they are thinking. Critics say while pigeon studies are funded, other studies involving mental illness that affect millions of Americans have been rejected. "I think anyone would say the priorities are really out of whack here," Torrey said. Torrey issued a report in 1999 that showed a little more than a third of your tax dollars go to researching serious mental illness. In a statement, the National Institute of Mental Health said that it funds more than $103 million in major studies to find treatments for schizophrenia, depression and other diseases. The institute also says that the research on animals has paid off. By studying birds, scientists have figured out how the human brain generates new nerve cells.

Scientific societies, including AIBS, are considering responses to GMA and other actions to educate the public about the value of basic research. We are consulting with the Animal Behavior Society, the National Science Foundation, and our colleagues in the Coalition for National Science Funding to determine the best course of action.


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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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