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Public Policy Report for 03/17/2003

  • AAAS resolution calls for "fair balance" on federal advisory committees
  • EPA requests nominations for Science Advisory Board Panel on valuing ecological services and systems
  • EPA STAR fellowships reinstated, but proposed FY04 budget cuts funding in half
  • Department of Education releases national report card on science
  • ACTION ALERT: Texas proposal would allow state board to reject textbooks based on religious beliefs
  • EPA extends deadline for comments on isolated wetlands rule

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].


AAAS RESOLUTION CALLS FOR "FAIR BALANCE" ON FEDERAL ADVISORY COMMITTEES

On March 5, the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS) issued a resolution on federal advisory committee membership
and urged the U.S. federal government to ensure a "fair balance" of
viewpoints when assembling committees to address key scientific,
technical and medical matters.

"The selection, removal or replacement of advisory committee members,
or the disbanding of advisory committees, based on criteria
extraneous either to the scientific, technical or medical issues compromises the integrity of the process of receiving advice and is
inappropriate," the American Association for the Advancement of
Science (AAAS) said in a resolution approved by its Board of
Directors and its Council.

The 1972 Federal Advisory Act requires "the membership of the
advisory committee to be fairly balanced in terms of the points of
view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory
committee." In their resolution, AAAS "calls on the federal
government to ensure that the process of obtaining scientific,
technical and medical advice follows the letter and spirit of the
Federal Advisory Committee Act and accords with democratic principles
of governance."

According to Science, the AAAS resolution was prepared in response to
anecdotal reports of individual committee members being "litmus
tested," or committees suddenly being restructured without clear
explanations. AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner explained "it is not the
intent or role of AAAS to point fingers. But, we felt that it would
be useful at this time to reiterate the importance of getting the
full range and highest quality scientific advice possible."

The Resolution can be viewed at
http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2003/0305fair2.shtml.


EPA REQUESTS NOMINATIONS FOR SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD PANEL ON VALUING
ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS AND SERVICES

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking nominations for
individuals interested in a new project at EPA's Science Advisory
Board called, "Valuing of Ecological Systems and Services" and also
any members potentially interested in being directly involved with
this
project. The SAB Staff Office is in the process of forming a panel
for this activity. A Federal Register Notice announcing the project
and calling for experts to be considered for the panel was published
on March 7, 2003 (Volume 68, Page 11082-11084), and can be found on
the SAB website at
http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-SAB/2003/March/Day-07/sab5474.htm.

The Staff Office will need to include among the panel membership
experts in one or more of the following disciplines: Decision
Science, Ecology, Economics, Engineering, Policy, Psychology, Social
Sciences with emphasis in ecosystem protection. Experts interested in
being considered for this panel and foresee some availability for
this multiyear panel (2-3 years), may fill out the nomination form.
The Form for Nominating Individuals to Panels of the EPA Science
Advisory Board can be accessed through a link on the blue
navigational bar on the SAB website, www.epa.gov/sab. The EPA
requests that nominees include all of the information requested on
the form so that the application will be given due attention.


EPA STAR FELLOWSHIPS REINSTATED, BUT PROPOSED FY04 BUDGET CUTS FUNDING IN HALF

After a year and a half's disruption of funding, EPA is once again
awarding its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) fellowships. The
fellowships were put on hold last year after the Presidents FY 2003
budget request proposed their elimination. Congress did not approve
the elimination, instead approving $9.7 million for the program in
the FY 2003 omnibus appropriations bill.

The EPA is currently determining which of the applicants rated
"excellent" in the suspended 2002 competition will be offered funding
for the 2003/2004 school year (awards will be made in August 2003).
Due to the disruption of funding to the program, the EPA does not
expect to be able to fund all "excellent" candidates, and has
retroactively restricted this round of awards to doctoral students
only. According to the EPA, the list of "excellent" candidates will
be narrowed further based upon geographic distribution across states,
distribution among universities, projected environmental workforce
needs, relevance of the research proposal to EPA's mission, and
availability of funds. The next STAR graduate fellowship competition
is expected to be announced in mid-summer 2003, and will provide
funds beginning in August 2004.

The battle for STAR fellowships is not over, however, as the FY 2004
request contains only half the amount ($4.875 million) approved by
Congress this winter. Unless funding for the program is once again
increased by Congress in its annual appropriations, the EPA will only
be able to fund only 50 fellowships in its next competition. If the
program receives its average number of applications (approximately
1300) less than 4 percent would receive funding.

For more on the EPA's policies regarding distribution of restored FY
2003 STAR fellowship funding, visit http://es.epa.gov/ncer/fellow/.


DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION RELEASES NATIONAL REPORT CARD ON SCIENCE

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education
Statistics has released "The Nation's Report Card: Science 2000."
The report, authorized by Congress, is the only nationally
representative assessment of student progress in reading,
mathematics, science, and other fields. Student performance on the
assessment is presented in terms of average scores on a 0-300 scale
for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, and in terms of the percentage of
students attaining three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and
Advanced. The report includes data collected in 2000, and makes
comparisons to the assessment conducted in 1996. Between 1996 and
2000, there was no statistically significant difference in the
national average scores for 4th or 8th grade students. However,
scores for 12th grade students declined by three points. Some other
findings:

In 2000, 31% of 4th grade students were taught by teachers that spent
a lot of time on life and Earth science. Fourth grade students whose
teachers spent a lot or some time on life and Earth science had
higher average scores than students whose teachers spent only a
little time on these topics. The percentage of 4th grade teachers
that incorporated computers into the curriculum increased from 47 to
57% from 1996 to 2000. Average 4th grade student scores were higher
in classes that incorporated the use of computers.

Twelfth graders reported taking the following science courses since
8th grade: 92% biology, 74% Earth science, 70% chemistry, and 36%
physics. Average scores were higher for students that had taken or
were taking an advanced placement science course.

With respect to gender differences, 4th and 8th grade males had
higher average scores than females, however, the gender difference
was not statistically significant for 12th graders. Between 1996 and
2000, the average score for 8th grade males increased, the average
score for 12th grade males decreased and, the average score gap
favoring males over females widened by three points and five points
for 4th and 8th graders, respectively.

"The Nation's Report Card: Science 2000" also includes regional and
state data (for participating states and other jurisdictions),
information about public and private schools, and school locations
(e.g., urban, rural). The complete report is available online at
http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch


ACTION ALERT: TEXAS PROPOSAL WOULD ALLOW STATE BOARD TO REJECT
TEXTBOOKS BASED ON RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

For those who live in the Lone Star State or who have friends and
colleagues in Texas, the following alert from the National Center for
Science Education (NCSE) and the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) may be
of interest to you. The Texas House of Representatives Public
Education Committee has scheduled a hearing on H.B. 1447 on Tuesday,
March 18, 2003. As reported by TFN, this legislation, which was
introduced by State Representative Charlie Howard (R-Sugar Land),
would allow the State Board of Education to edit textbook content and
reject textbooks based on Board members' personal political and
religious beliefs rather than on factual accuracy. Some education
watchdog groups are concerned with this initiative because of recent
successful efforts to modify the social studies books adopted in
2002. These modifications included removing references to the age of
the earth and changing references referring to environmental issues
to avoid criticism of human activity that contributes to phenomena
such as global warming, pollution, and habitat destruction.

Texas is in the process of adopting new biology textbooks.
Additionally, because of its size and purchasing power, textbook
decisions made in Texas can influence textbook content and
availability in other states.

Scientists, educators and science education advocates that live in
Texas may want to follow this issue closely. For more information on
this legislation, Texans may wish to contact TFN at www.tfn.org. For
more information on evolution education, visit the National Center
for Science Education at www.ncseweb.org. To track evolution-related
issues in your state, join the AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Serve Network
by visiting www.aibs.org/outreach/evlist.html. If your state does
not have an active list serve and you are interested in establishing
one, please contact Robert Gropp at rgr...@aibs.org.


EPA EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS ON ISOLATED WETLANDS RULE

Due to several requests from the environmental and academic
community, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of
Engineers have extended the deadline for comments on their proposed
rulemaking on isolated wetlands. The Army and EPA sought responses by
March 3, 2003, but have extended the comment period to April 16, 2003.

On January 15, 2003, the Department of the Army (Army) and the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly published an Advance
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on the Clean Water Act (CWA)
regulatory definition of ``Waters of the United States'' (68 FR 1991).
That ANPRM requests public input on issues associated with the
definition of ``waters of the United States'' in light of the U.S.
Supreme Court decision in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County
v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001) (SWANCC). It
also solicits information or data from the general public, the
scientific community, and Federal and State resource agencies on the
implications of the SWANCC decision for jurisdictional decisions
under the CWA. The input received from the public in response to the
ANPRM will be used by the agencies to determine the issues to be
addressed and the substantive approach for a future proposed
rulemaking addressing the scope of CWA jurisdiction.

Information regarding the ANPRM, including background legal material
and studies on the impacts of SWANCC, are available on the EPA
website at http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/swanccnav.html#extension.



- Register for the 2003 AIBS annual meeting, Bioethics in a Changing
World, at www.aibs.org/meeting2003

- IBRCS/NEON updates at www.aibs.org/ibrcs

- 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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