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Public Policy Report for 11/08/2002

  • NAS and NAPA recommend continued, direct government funding for Smithsonian science
  • AAAS Board passes resolution on Intelligent Design Theory
  • NOAA requesting scientist participation in climate change workshop scheduled for December 3-5 in DC
  • AIBS hiring additional public policy staff

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].


NAS and NAPA recommend continued, direct government funding for Smithsonian science -

Panels from both the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) have recommended continuation of direct appropriations for Smithsonian science centers. The issue of funding Smithsonian research arose during development of the fiscal year 2003 budget (see 5 Dec 2001 issue of the AIBS Policy Reports at www.aibs.org). The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had planned on transferring part of the Smithsonian's budget to the National Science Foundation, where it could be used to fund research for which the Smithsonian and other organizations could compete. The rationale behind the proposed move was to increase competitiveness and to improve the quality of research. AIBS led an effort to persuade OMB to reverse these decisions and to engage in a more careful, deliberative process. Rather than transferring the funds in the proposed FY03 budget, OMB requested the NAS and NAPA reviews of Smithsonian research. In particular, OMB wanted to know how much of the money directly appropriated for Smithsonian research should be made available to all scientists via competitive grants that would be administered by the National Science Foundation.

The NAPA concluded that Smithsonian Institution currently receives most of its funds for research projects through competitive processes. However, the Panel has recommended that appropriations be continued to provide the core support needed for maintaining Smithsonian researchers' capacity to successfully compete for grants and contracts. All research institutions have this type of support to maintain their competitive capacity. The recommendation is consistent with the recommendations of a National Research Council (NRC) committee of the National Academy of Sciences. NAPA and NRC were jointly commissioned to study this issue.

"Although the two academies addressed this issue from different perspectives-NRC from a scientific perspective and NAPA from a management one-our conclusions were essentially the same," said James Colvard, who chaired the NAPA Panel that produced the report, Scientific Research at the Smithsonian Institution. (http://www.napawash.org/Pubs/Smithsonian_October%202002.pdf?OpenDocument)

Numerous factors may tilt a competitive process toward different organizations competing for grants and contracts. But the NAPA Panel found no persuasive evidence that Smithsonian researchers have a consistent competitive advantage over others. Although the Smithsonian has a lower overhead rate than many others, scientific merit-not the rate-is the major factor in grant award decisions. The NAPA Panel also identified factors that could detract from future research success at the Smithsonian. Budget numbers may not accurately reflect scientific research funding levels due to such factors as imprecise time recording and inconsistent application of facility costs. The Panel recommended that funding decisions and related analyses rely on the actual cost of running the science centers, not research estimates that currently are presented in the budget.

"It is true that competition for federal research funding helps ensure high-quality science, but much of the research at the Smithsonian is already supported by competitive grants, and its quality is not in doubt," said the Research Council committee's chair Cornelius J. Pings, president emeritus, Association of American Universities. "There would be little or no scientific benefit to transferring funds away from Smithsonian research to a competitive mechanism. In fact, withdrawing federal support would likely lead to the demise of much of the institution's research and compromise its mission to 'increase and diffuse knowledge.'"

The NRC committee found the research performed at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoological Park, and the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education indeed to be unique. And although the committee did not characterize research at the Smithsonian's Astrophysical Observatory, Environmental Research Center, and Tropical Research Institute as unique, it did call the research "world-class," and said any attempt to transfer directly appropriated funds away from these three centers would have a moderate-to-serious effect on the quality of their research, or perhaps even end it. Even though much of the research funding at these centers is already obtained through competition, the directly appropriated money supports key scientific staff and infrastructure costs.

The NAS committee did say, however, that the Smithsonian's internal evaluation of its own research and individual scientists is variable and inconsistent. Regular, in-depth reviews by external advisory committees are needed for all six science centers, especially for areas that do not routinely compete for grants and contracts. In addition, communication between the research centers and the central management of the institution appears to be weak, the committee said. The secretary of the Smithsonian and its board of regents should improve communication with the centers and become strong public advocates for them.

The full text of the NAS National Research Council report can be viewed at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10540.html?onpi_newsdoc103102.


AAAS BOARD PASSES RESOLUTION ON INTELLIGENT DESIGN THEORY -

On November 6, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Board passed a resolution (http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2002/1106id2.shtml) urging policymakers to oppose teaching "Intelligent Design Theory" within science classrooms, but rather, to keep it separate, in the same way that creationism and other religious teachings are currently handled. "The United States has promised that no child will be left behind in the classroom," said Alan I. Leshner, CEO and executive publisher for AAAS. "If intelligent design theory is presented within science courses as factually based, it is likely to confuse American schoolchildren and to undermine the integrity of U.S. science education."

In contrast, the theory of biological evolution is well supported, and not a "disputed view" within the scientific community, as some ID proponents have suggested, for example, through "disclaimer" stickers affixed to textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia. "The contemporary theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry," the AAAS Board of Directors wrote in a resolution released on November 6. "AAAS urges citizens across the nation to oppose the establishment of policies that would permit the teaching of `intelligent design theory' as a part of the science curriculum of the public schools."

The AAAS Board resolved to oppose claims that intelligent design theory is scientifically based, in response to a number of recent ID-related challenges to public science education. While asking policymakers to oppose the teaching of ID theory within science classes, the AAAS also called on its 272 affiliated societies, its members, and the public to promote fact-based, standards-based science education for American schoolchildren. This year, the intelligent design movement has mounted challenges to biological evolution in the states of Ohio and Georgia. AIBS has contacted school board members in both states, urging them not to include intelligent design theory in their science classrooms. For more on AIBS activities in this area, see RESOURCES FOR RESEARCH AND TEACHING IN EVOLUTION, at www.aibs.org/evolution, including the AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Server Network.


NOAA REQUESTING SCIENTIST PARTICIPATION IN CLIMATE CHANGE WORKSHOP SCHEDULED FOR DECEMBER 3-5 IN DC -

The United States Climate Change Science Program will hold a comprehensive Workshop on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, from December 3 to 5, 2002 in Washington, DC to receive comments on a discussion draft version of its Strategic Plan for climate change and global change studies. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program incorporating the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and the Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) is jointly sponsored by 13 U.S. government agencies. The Workshop will review the USGCRP/CCRI plans with emphasis on the development of short-term (2 5 years) products to support climate change policy and resource management decision-making. More information is available online at: http://www.climatescience.gov/events/workshop2002/agenda.htm.

The U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 initiated the USGCRP that continues today as a major sponsor of global change research. In June 2001 President George W. Bush directed the USGCRP agencies to develop a focused Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) with the goal of accelerating the USGCRP research activities in the next 2 to 5 years, to assist in the development of public policy and natural resource management tools related to climate change issues. When finalized, the draft Strategic Plan reviewed during and after the Workshop will provide the principal guidance for the U.S. global change and climate change research programs during the next several years, subject to revisions as appropriate to respond to newly developed information and decision support tools.

The Workshop responds to the President's direction that the U.S. global change and climate change science programs must be objective, sensitive to uncertainties, and well documented for public debate. The U.S. global change and climate change research programs must consistently meet the highest standards of credibility, transparency, and responsiveness to the scientific community, as well as to all interested user groups, and our international partners. To assure the continued scientific credibility of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the Workshop will provide a comprehensive review of the discussion draft of the Strategic Plan. The Workshop discussions, supplemented by written comments submitted during a 30-day post-Workshop period, will be reflected in the final Strategic Plan.


AIBS HIRING ADDITIONAL PUBLIC POLICY STAFF -

As part of the continuing growth of the AIBS Public Policy Office, the AIBS Board has approved the hiring of additional full-time public policy staff at AIBS Headquarters. The successful candidate will be a broadly trained scientist, with an advanced degree in the biological sciences, and demonstrated effectiveness in public policy circles. The individual will join the AIBS Public Policy Office as a public policy representative to track, analyze, report, and act upon legislative, regulatory, and other public policy issues in the U.S. Subject areas cover most areas of non-medical biology, including funding for research, and science education policy. For details, go to CLASSIFIEDS & EMPLOYMENT / POSITIONS AVAILABLE at the opening page of www.aibs.org.


-Link your website to AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/link/index.html

 


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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