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Public Policy Report for 06/07/2002

  • House overwhelmingly passes NSF reauthorization bill calling for doubling over NSF budget over five years
  • News from the mother country - British parliament calls for increase for taxonomic and systematics research
  • Data quality guidelines issued by federal agencies; analytical errors found in air quality study and peer review system questioned in JAMA
  • Ohio State Board of Education still under pressure to include intelligent design in new state science standards

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].


NSF REAUTHORIZATION BILL CALLING FOR DOUBLING OF NSF BUDGET OVER FIVE YEARS CLEARS HOUSE, 397 -25 - The full House on 5 June 2002 passed a Science Committee bill that would put the National Science Foundation on a track to double its budget in five years. H.R. 4664, the "Investing in America's Future Act," authorizes a 15 percent increase for NSF's budget for each of the next three years, and at the same time, imposes strict, new management requirements to ensure that NSF continues to use taxpayer money wisely. The bill passed by a vote of 397 to 25.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Science Committee Chairman and one the bill's primary sponsors stated, "When we look at the new fields of science and engineering that will boost our economy in this new century, fields like nanotechnology, where do we turn to ensure that our nation's researchers stay at the cutting edge? NSF. When we look at the field of information technology, which facilitates every activity in today's economy, where do we turn to ensure that the U.S. remains at the cutting edge? NSF. When we consider our ever more urgent need for a highly skilled, technologically literate workforce, where do we turn to ensure that our education system from kindergarten through post-graduate work is preparing the people we need? NSF. We turn to NSF to solve some of our most pressing problems; we can't turn from NSF when we decide where to invest federal funds. It's time to give NSF the money it needs."

Despite its great accomplishments and recent recognition by the President of outstanding fiscal management, NSF's funding has remained flat over the past decade. H.R. 4664 would reestablish NSF as the premier research institution in the world and would begin to close the gap in funding between the life sciences and physical sciences.

"This bill will help immensely to restore balance to America's research effort," said Environment, Technology, and Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). "The National Science Foundation (NSF) funding has fallen behind that of other major federal research agencies, and we are now third among nations in our spending on basic research. Basic research funded by NSF grants provides the base for our economic expansion for the future, and we must increase our efforts so the results of this research will provide great benefits to our children and grandchildren."

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee is expected to consider the measure on June 19. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which shares jurisdiction for NSF with the Senate HELP Committee, will also need to consider the bill. There is Senate support for doubling the NSF budget, with Senate Appropriations subcommittee on VA-HUD chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and ranking member Kit Bond (R-MO) leading the charge. Ultimately, the appropriations committees determine the actual size of the increase, so there will be annual challenge to persuade the Congress to actually appropriate the authorized funds.


BRITISH PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR INCREASE FOR TAXONOMIC AND SYSTEMATICS RESEARCH - Jonathan Cowie, Head of Science Policy and Books at the Institute of Biology (which is the British analog to the American Institute of Biological Sciences) informs us that the British Parliament has called for better funding for research to support biodiversity conservation efforts. The report, issued by the Select Committee on Science and Technology begins, "In order to know which parts of the world have a high level of diversity of living things we need experts to identify such areas. In order to know which species to protect from becoming extinct, we need experts to identify those species. In order to know which species could be of great value or of great harm to humans, we need experts to identify those species. In order to save ecosystems, we need experts to improve understanding of how ecosystems function. Systematic biologists provide that expertise."

A 1992 House of Lords inquiry determined that UK systematics was starved of money and was about to die. According to Cowie, "The UK Government replied and said 'well we have just signed the Rio biodiversity convention so here are some funded projects you can be getting on with...' " However, these projects have largely gone and core-funding has continued to be eroded. Despite signing the CBD, grant-in-aid from successive UK governments to the major systematic biology institutions has declined in real terms. This has led to a decrease in research that supports biodiversity conservation. It has also placed the reference collections of specimens comprising a wide range of biodiversity, which are housed at these institutions, at considerable risk.
Meanwhile, the IoB in 2001 compiled a priorities document that identified funding for science to underpin sustainability issues as a priority. The IoB then lobbied Parliamentarians on its Science Policy Priorities and we have managed to get a couple of enquiries started. One of these was a quick 10-years-on review of systematics following the 1992 report.

The report, which can be found at http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld200102/ldselect/ldsctech/118/11801.htm, goes on to say, "The economic impacts of systematic biology are not limited to long term benefits of conservation: systematic biology has a vital role to play in agriculture and health. Ten years ago this Committee expressed concern about a decline in systematic biology research in the United Kingdom. Last year we heard that this decline continues. This inquiry found compelling evidence that the level of systematic biology expertise in the United Kingdom has, despite some areas of increased activity, continued to fall overall.

AIBS wishes its British colleagues all the best in persuading the Parliament to follow-through with a cheque!


DATA QUALITY GUIDELINES ISSUED BY FEDERAL AGENCIES; ANALYTICAL ERRORS FOUND IN AIR QUALITY STUDY AND PEER REVIEW SYSTEM QUESTIONED IN JAMA - At a 30 May workshop at the National Academy of Sciences, AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul joined Joanne Carney, Director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Congress and Howard Garrison, Director of the Office of Public Affairs of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology, in a panel discussion about the guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Department of the Interior. As required by a provision of the Treasury Appropriations Act of 2000, and following the finalization of guidance from the Office of Management and Budget in February, federal departments have been releasing their own data or information quality guidelines over the past month. The guidelines vary widely from agency to agency, with some largely reiterating the OMB guidelines and others carefully distinguishing among different kinds of information and outlining quality assurance procedures appropriate to each. Most have been careful to state that the guidelines do not apply to information published by grantees or awardees. And, for most of the federal science agencies, the guidelines re-state their existing procedures, which, in most cases are fairly rigorous. However, there are still many concerns about the procedures that will be followed when agency-disseminated data are challenged. Most agencies described the mechanics of these procedures, but failed to address substantive issues, such as burden of proof. In some cases, such as the Department of the Interior, agencies are being instructed to issue their own, agency-specific guidelines. These are expected to be published by mid-July. The guidelines take effect on 1 October 2002.

Meanwhile, it has been reported by the New York Times that the "Six Cities Study" of the health effects of air quality has been found to have overestimated death rates linked to bad-air days. It seems that the problem arose from the software package used for the re-analysis of the data, which were the basis of the hotly-contested EPA decision to promulgate stricter particulate matter standards. That decision led to both the "Shelby" law that mandates that any data produced with federal funding must be released in response to Freedom of Information Act Requests, and to the "daughter of Shelby" data quality law.

The work has been published for several years in a variety of leading journals like The New England Journal of Medicine and The American Journal of Epidemiology. The project, the National Morbidity, Mortality and Air Pollution Study, was given extra weight by policy makers because of the reputation of the Health Effects Institute and the Johns Hopkins group, led by Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, chairman of epidemiology at the public health school there.

Those scientists recently used a new method to look at their figures and obtained different results. After an investigation, the determined that the problem arose from the use of default settings in the S-Plus software used for the analysis. That move apparently introduced a bias in the results. The chairman of the Johns Hopkins biostatistics department, Dr. Scott L. Zeger, said other researchers who used the software, S-Plus, should check for similar problems. It is widely used for research in fields like pharmacology, genetics, molecular biology and stock-market forecasting, as well as serving as a mainstay of other environmental studies.

The researchers, at the Johns Hopkins University, have been distributing their new analysis to scientists and government officials by fax and e-mail. Yesterday, they set up a Web site, http://biosun01.biostat.jhsph.edu/~fdominic/research.html, that details their new findings.

Quality assurance in science relies heavily on the peer review system. The June 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is devoted to an analysis of the peer review system, including: the quality and value of peer review; a reassessment of the practice of anonymity; publication bias in editorial decision-making; U.S. legal principles and confidentiality of the peer review process; and the efficacy of various methods to prod tardy reviewers (bribes were not among the methods tested!). All abstracts can be found at http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/current/abs/jbr10257.html, individual articles can be purchased for $9 or 24-hour access to full text can be purchased for $30.


OHIO STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION STILL UNDER PRESSURE TO INCLUDE INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN NEW STATE SCIENCE STANDARDS - On June 10, the Ohio State Board of Education will again consider the inclusion of "intelligent design" in the state's science standards, which are currently undergoing revision. This third hearing is likely to be the last before the Board begins its formal assessment of the draft standards, which were drafted by a writing team of scientists in the Ohio Department of Education. At this point, the draft standards make no mention of intelligent design or "alternative" ideas about the origin of the earth and of species. A preliminary AIBS review of the draft standards found that they conform closely to the standards established by the National Academies of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Cathy Lundmark, AIBS Education Representative, has suggested reviewers to the Ohio Department of Education for a more formal review, which AIBS has offered to coordinate. The Board could require the Department of Education to include "intelligent design" in the new standards, but have refrained from doing so up to this point, despite persistent pressure from ID supporters and despite a recent letter from U.S. congressmen John Boehner and Steve Chabot, claiming that the notorious Santorum language in the "No Child Left Behind Act" supports the notion of teaching science by debate or "teach the controversy."


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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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