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Public Policy Report for 04/28/2003

  • Action Alert: NSF 'Dear Colleague' letter circulating in the House of Representatives
  • AIBS/ESA chapter on Biological Research Funding in AAAS Report now online
  • Anti-Evolution Developments in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas
  • NASA requesting proposals for biological research
  • Opening for public policy project assistant at AIBS

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: NSF 'DEAR COLLEAGUE' LETTER CIRCULATING IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Each year during the appropriations cycle, members of Congress circulate what are known as "Dear Colleague" letters. In these letters, multiple members of Congress sign a letter to a committee chair regarding an item or bill under his/her jurisdiction. Currently, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) has initiated a "Dear Colleague" letter to the chairs of the House Appropriations subcommittee handling NSF. The letter requests a large increase in NSF that would move the doubling effort forward. Last year, 130 members of Congress signed the letter. Rep. Ehlers would like to have more signatures this year. A large number of signatures of members of Congress show the appropriators that there is broad support for increased funding for NSF.

Background:
The amount requested in the Ehlers letter is a large increase over the President's request for FY04. The President's request for this year is $1 billion less than what Congress authorized just six months ago for NSF in FY04. If the President's request is approved, NSF will receive only a slight increase (1-3%), with some research directorates, including the Biological Sciences Directorate, actually declining in funding.

What you can do:
Contact your Representative in the House to request that they sign on to the "Ehlers NSF Dear Colleague". (Note that there is no letter like this circulating in the Senate, so you do not need to contact them at this time).

The most effective way of doing this would be to place a phone call to your member's D.C. office and to request to speak to the "Science or Technology Legislative Assistant". Encourage the staff to have their boss (your Rep.) sign on to the letter. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO MENTION HOW MUCH NSF FUNDING MEANS TO THE DISTRICT AT THIS POINT. Go to http://dellweb.bfa.nsf.gov/starth.asp to find out how much NSF funding your institution and others in your district receive. You can get both a total funding amount and an amount from the BIO Directorate. Be prepared to FAX or email them a copy of the letters (posted at www.aibs.org or email afroelich@aibs.org). They should already have a copy, but with the volume of mail they receive, things get lost very quickly.

The letter is open for signatures for the month of April. Contact Adrienne Froelich, AIBS Director of Public Policy (afroelich@aibs.org), if you have questions or would like assistance. If you'd like to know if your Rep. signed last year, email your nine-digit zip code and the AIBS Policy Office will let you know. AIBS can also provide you with FAX and phone numbers for your Representative's office.

AIBS/ESA CHAPTER ON BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH FUNDING IN AAAS REPORT NOW ONLINE

Each year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) publishes a report examining the President's budget proposals for R&D for key departments and disciplines. The report is writing in collaboration with contributors from other scientific, engineering and higher education societies. As in previous years, AIBS teamed up with ESA to write this year's chapter on biological and ecological funding. The chapter provides information on the budget trends and figures for the major federal agencies supporting biological research: National Science Foundation*, U.S. Department of Agriculture*, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration*, Department of Energy*, U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency. The chapter is now online at http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/04pch19.htm.

The report also includes chapters on Ocean Science Funding and Climate Change Science Funding. Detailed analyses of agencies marked with an * above are also included in the report.


ANTI-EVOLUTION DEVELOPMENTS IN LOUISIANA, OKLAHOMA AND TEXAS

Louisiana- There is yet another threat to evolution education in Louisiana (see also AIBS Public Policy Report for 15 April 2003 http://www.aibs.org/publicpolicy/index.html). The Louisiana House of Representatives is considering a bill, HB 1782, that prohibits any branch, department, agency, official, employee, or other entity of state government or of any political subdivision from knowingly printing or distributing material that contains information that is false or fraudulent. According to Skip Evans of the National Center for Science Education, "the language is similar to that of a bill debated in Arkansas in 2001, HB 2548, that contained similar language, but went further by listing many standard creationist claims. Well-known creationist Kent Hovind testified as an 'expert' for that bill, and it was noted that the bill contained claims listed in a notorious anti-evolution comic book by Jack Chick."
According to Evans, "The Louisiana bill, HB 1782, makes none of the specific claims as the Arkansas legislation did." The concern is that this legislation would provide creationists with a legal tool to attack evolution education in the courts. For the complete text of the bill, see: http://www.legis.state.la.us/, and search for HB 1782.

Oklahoma- As the Oklahoma State Legislature nears the end of its term, creationist forces have again employed stealth tactics in an effort to amend education-related legislation moving through the State House. The proposed amendment would require "evolution disclaimers" on all textbooks that mention evolution. It is not yet clear if the creationists have the votes to pass their amendment. Earlier this year, the measure was introduced in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives but was killed in committee. A similar effort was beaten back two years ago by a broad coalition of Oklahoma science education advocates. Evolution education supporters in Oklahoma may wish to subscribe to the Oklahoma node of the AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Serve Network to keep appraised of the latest developments. For information about the Oklahoma list serve visit www.aibs.org/outreach/evlist.html.

Texas- On Tuesday, April 22nd, the United States Department of Justice announced that it was dropping its investigation of Texas Tech University Professor of Biology Michael Dini. Earlier this year, a Texas Tech student, Micah Spradling, filled a complaint with DOJ accusing Dini of religious discrimination. Spradling charged that Dini's policy of refusing to write letters of recommendation for creationists that did not espouse a belief in evolution violated his right to religious freedom. In an apparent agreement, DOJ dropped its investigation after Dini replaced the evolution belief requirement in his recommendation policy with a requirement that students be able to explain the theory of evolution.

NASA REQUESTING PROPOSALS FOR BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH

NASA is requesting proposals for biological research supported through its Fundamental Space Biology program. The full research announcement can be downloaded at http://research.hq.nasa.gov/code_u/nra/current/NRA-03-OBPR-03/index.html. Below is an excerpt from the announcement listing the types of proposals NASA will consider.

Molecular Structures and Physical Interactions
This element emphasizes physical effects of the space flight environment on cells and organisms. These physical effects may include static boundary layer effects on gas exchange, changes in heat transfer, lack of convective fluid movements, and alterations in diffusion-limited metabolic processes. This element seeks to determine how these factors affect the growth, development, and function of single-celled and multicellular organisms.

Cellular and Molecular Biology
The principal aim of this element is to support research at the genetic, molecular, and cellular levels to elucidate specific cellular phenomena that are affected by conditions of microgravity, and to develop an understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which these effects are induced. Research in this area should address how basic cellular functions and properties (e.g., mechanoreception, signal transduction, gene regulation and expression, integrin structure and function, cytoskeletal structure and function, etc.) may be directly or indirectly impacted by altered gravitational force and other space-related effects. Of particular interest is how the space environment affects cellular processes such as regulation of the cell cycle, apoptosis, cell senescence, and cell growth. Cellular and molecular studies that begin to suggest countermeasures to organism-level physiological changes in response to the space environment are also highly encouraged.

Organismal and Comparative Biology
The organismal element seeks to use the comparative approach to understand how whole organisms transduce, perceive, integrate, and respond to a gravitational force; the effect of hypergravity and hypogravity on developmental, regenerative, and reproductive processes and the regulation of physiological systems (e.g., nervous, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular); and how gravity and other environmental factors interact. The comparative element elucidates the physiological, cellular, and molecular mechanisms of the effects of gravity and space flight on the growth, development, composition, and physiological and behavioral functions of animals and higher plants across the phylogenetic scale.

Developmental Biology
NASA's goal in developmental biology is to determine the role of gravity in normal development and function, the effects of gravity and other aspects of the space environment on the capacity of organisms to reproduce, and the mechanisms by which subsequent generations are affected. Research in this area should focus on elucidating the influence of gravity during critical periods of development and over multiple life cycles. Also, the effect of the space environment on behavior, reproduction, life span, senescence, and subsequent generations is of interest. Examples of important issues concerning developmental biology in space are whether 1) normal development depends on gravity exposure during critical periods of development, especially for the vestibular and motor systems and the multiple sensory systems that interact with them, 2) exposure to microgravity during development results in irreversible changes in morphology and function in adulthood, and 3) the microgravity environment affects an organism's normal life cycle or its ability to complete several life cycles.

Gravitational Ecology
This element invites proposals directed at understanding how gravity might affect the structure, function, and possibly stability of ecosystems, particularly as they might relate to spacecraft or planetary habitats. Of particular interest are studies of microbial populations or communities. By conducting ecological research at different gravity and space radiation levels, it will be possible to determine the influence of those factors on the function of ecosystems and their interaction with life support system environments for human crews. Examples of such research might include studies of chemical or pathogen species released by one organism that may impact other organisms.


OPENING FOR PUBLIC POLICY PROJECT ASSISTANT AT AIBS

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is seeking a project assistant for its Public Policy Office in Washington D.C. The position is funded through a partnership with the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers. The primary responsibility of this position will be to assist AIBS Director of Public Policy Adrienne Froelich with tracking and analyzing federal funding for ecosystem research over the past decade. The assistant will also have the opportunity to attend federal agency briefings, congressional hearings and D.C. science coalition meetings. This is an excellent opportunity for graduate students interested in a career in public policy.

Training in analyzing federal appropriations and modest supervision will be provided, but it is essential that the project assistant be able to pick up these skills quickly. The timing of the position is flexible, but will ideally take place for a total period of three months during the summer or early fall of 2003. This is an hourly position, with monthly salary averaging $1500 (depending on the number of hours worked). There is some flexibility for students who may need to spend 1-4 weeks away from D.C. during the summer to attend conferences or collect data.

A bachelor's degree in biology is required for this position. The ideal candidate will be a self-starter and will have: completed coursework (undergraduate or graduate level) in basic political science, a general understanding of the research granting process, advanced Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access (preferred) skills, experience in ecological research (either as a technician or graduate student) and an interest in the nexus between science and policy.

Interested individuals should email a resume and cover letter to AIBS Director of Public Policy Adrienne Froelich (afroelich@aibs.org). In your cover letter, please include contact information for two references and your availability for the summer (ideal start and end dates, number of weeks away needed for research or conferences.) Information about the AIBS Public Policy Office is available at www.aibs.org.



- IBRCS updates online at http://ibrcs.aibs.org : (1) from the May 2003 BioScience, "NEON: Planning for a New Frontier in Biology" and (2) the March 2003 IBRCS white paper, "Rationale, Blueprint, and Expectations for the National Ecological Observatory Network." Coming later in 2003: the NEON Coordination and Implementation Conference.

- 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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