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Public Policy Report for 03/15/2004

  • Congressman challenges Department of Treasury restrictions on publishing papers from embargoed countries
  • ACTION ALERT: Ask your Representative to cosponsor legislation recognizing the value of the USGS
  • Politicization of science by Bush Administration hot topic at forum on public understanding of science
  • Ohio: Intelligent design infiltrates biology lesson plans
  • AIBS member organizations join forces for 2004 Congressional Visits Day

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].


CONGRESSMAN CHALLENGES DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY RESTRICTIONS ON PUBLISHING PAPERS FROM EMBARGOED COUNTRIES

In September 2003, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a ruling that scientific publishers would need a special license to edit papers submitted by researchers in embargoed countries (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan). While the ruling is relatively recent, the prohibition is not. It is illegal for U.S. entities (individuals, groups or organizations) to provide services to persons living in countries embargoed by the U.S. The issue surfaced in summer 2001 when a bank flagged an attempted financial transaction between the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and an institution in Iran. With 2,000 members living in the embargoed countries, IEEE has been negotiating with OFAC on the definition of "services." Until the IEEE investigated, scientific publishers did not pay attention to the interpretation because they did not think it applied to peer review and editing.

The Treasury Department's response affirmed its position that editing scholarly papers provides a service to authors. "U.S. persons may not provide the Iranian author substantive or artistic alterations or enhancement of the manuscript, and IEEE may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements," wrote R. Richard Newcomb, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Trade policy prohibits "the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons," according to the letter. To provide these services, the institute would have to apply for a license to edit papers.

The ruling was OFAC's interpretation of an amendment to the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, known as the Berman amendment, after its sponsor Rep. Howard Berman. The amendment exempted from economic embargo "any information or informational materials, including but not limited to, publications." However, Reagan administration officials interpreted that statement as banning publication of all but "fully created" materials that received no "substantive or artistic alteration or enhancement." The recent ruling has recaptured the attention of Rep. Berman, who still serves in the U.S. House. Calling the restriction on editing "patently absurd", Berman wrote to the director of OFAC asking the agency to reconsider its decision to require a specific license for peer review and editing. Berman noted that the activities referred to in the OFAC ruling, "correction of syntax, grammar and replacement of inappropriate words," should be considered "incidental to the publication of the manuscript, and thus covered by the information and informational materials exemption."

The full text of Rep. Berman's letter to OFAC can be viewed online at: www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/ca28_berman/newcomb_letter.html


ACTION ALERT: ASK YOUR REPRESENTATIVE TO COSPONSOR LEGISLATION RECOGNIZING THE VALUE OF THE USGS

This year is the 125th anniversary of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which now includes biology, geography, geology, and hydrology programs. At the request and with the support of the USGS Coalition, United States Representative James P. Moran (D, VA-8th) and eleven cosponsors (listed below) have introduced bipartisan legislation, H.Res. 556, intended to demonstrate Congress' support for the USGS. The House Resolution (available at frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_cong_bills&docid=f:hr556ih.txt.pdf) provides scientists, educators, and others that utilize and benefit from USGS programs, such as the National Biological Information Infrastructure, Cooperative Research Units, real-time stream gauge data, and many others, to educate their U.S. Representative about the importance of the USGS to our national biological sciences research infrastructure, public health and safety, and economic growth.

What you can do -
To help advance this legislation, contact your United States Representative and ask them to cosponsor H.Res. 556, bipartisan legislation recognizing the importance of the United States Geological Survey. To make your request more powerful, briefly explain how USGS research and data products benefit you or your local community. For example, you might relate how USGS stream gauges help local emergency planners concerned about flooding or biologists working to understand fish ecology, or how the National Biological Information Infrastructure contributes to your research. More information about USGS biology, geography, geology, and hydrology programs in your state is available at www.usgs.gov.

Because of security-related delays with mail delivery to Congressional offices, you should fax or e-mail your request to your Representative's Washington, DC office. You may send an e-mail to your Representative using the Write Your Representative function on the U.S. House of Representatives website at www.house.gov.

If your Representative is already a cosponsor of this legislation, send them a brief e-mail thanking them for their support of the USGS. Original sponsors of H.Res. 556: Reps. James Moran (D, VA-8th); Barbara Cubin (R, WY); Norman Dicks (D, WA-6th); Ron Kind (D, WI-3rd); Zoe Lofgren (D, CA-16th); Nick Smith (R, MI-7th); Sherwood Boehlert (R, NY-24th); Tom Davis (R, VA-11th); Anna Eshoo (D, CA-14th); Eddie Bernice Johnson (D, TX-30th); Ralph Regula (R, OH-16th); and C.W. Bill Young (R, FL-10th).

Sample Letter to U.S. Representative:

The Honorable (full name)
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. (last name):

Note: when sending an e-mail it is wise to include the purpose of the e-mail in the subject line, but keep it clear (e.g., please cosponsor H.Res. 556 or please support USGS). Also, clearly indicate your name, address, city, state and 9-digit zip code at the top of your message.

Tips for an effective letter -

1. Clearly state the purpose of your letter in the first paragraph. For example, I am writing to ask that you cosponsor H.Res. 556, bipartisan legislation congratulating the United States Geological Survey on its 125th anniversary.
2. Be courteous and to the point. Include key and accurate information, such as the bill number or correct name of the program to which you refer. As appropriate include examples of how the issue/legislation you are writing about impacts you or the community in which you live.
3. Address only one issue in each letter and try to keep the letter to one page.


POLITICIZATION OF SCIENCE BY BUSH ADMINISTRATION HOT TOPIC AT FORUM ON PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE

On March 2, 2004 The Atlantic Monthly hosted a forum entitled "The Future of Science Journalism." Erica Goode, Science Reporter, New York Times, Bernadine Healy, Senior Writer and Columnist, U.S. News and World Report, John H. Marburger, White House Science Advisor, and Kyle McSlarrow, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy participated in a panel discussion of the role of journalism in reporting science and the public understanding of science issues.

A major topic of conversation during the moderated panel was the growing rift between advances in science and public understanding. Marburger repeatedly said that one solution to the problem of a scientifically illiterate public would be better coverage of the process, not just the products, of science. Marburger noted that the scientific process and reporting about scientific findings have confused some sectors of the public. The words "hypothesis" and "theory," the vocabulary of science, evoke doubt when heard by those that do not understand the scientific process. Since many public policy debates (e.g. stem cell research) revolve around scientific issues, panelists felt that increasing literacy among the public is more critical than ever.

The panelists had different views on what science topics had been most mishandled by the press, but seemed to agree that the public must be more suspicious and question scientific reporting. Goode pointed to the treatment of various health issues, such as the health benefits of eating salmon, as examples of this. One week, health experts recommend that we consume more salmon because of its benefits and the next week scientists cite the dangers of eating salmon due to possible toxin contamination. Goode said that inconsistent stories such as these lead to a confused public and that the press should do a better job of integrating multiple findings rather than reporting an endless stream of stories that confuse the public.

Another topic that came up repeatedly was the increasing criticism of the Bush Administration regarding the politicization of science, particularly the "stacking" of federal scientific advisory committees based on political beliefs. The Union of Concerned Scientists had recently released their letter (www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/signon.html) criticizing the Bush administration's politicization of science. The letter was signed by 60 senior US scientists, including 20 Nobel prize winners. McSlarrow had the strongest opinions on the accusations. Regarding the UCS letter in particular, McSlarrow said it would be "easy to shred their arguments in about ten seconds." Marburger was less confrontational about the issue, but said that he was troubled by the issue, as the public perception of advisory committees as independent was key to their credibility. Marburger spoke at length about the issue in an online chat hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education a few days later. The transcripts of that forum are available online at: chronicle.com/colloquylive/2004/03/science/

OHIO: INTELLIGENT DESIGN INFILTRATES BIOLOGY LESSON PLANS

On 9 March 2004 the Ohio Board of Education approved a proposed model science curriculum, including a controversial model lesson plan L1OH23, "Critical Analysis of Evolution." This provision has been actively opposed by Ohio scientists and educators. According to an analysis by the National Center for Science Education, the lesson plan "corresponds to a similarly controversial provision included in Ohio's science standards adopted in 2002, Benchmark H, indicator 23." Expressing its concern with the proposed lesson plan, the Ohio Academy of Sciences sent a letter to Ohio Governor Bob Taft on 23 February. In part, the OAS criticized the lesson plan and the "opaque" process by which it was developed. OAS argued that the Critical Analysis of Evolution provision is defective in that it is not based on science and therefore has no place in the science curriculum. Furthermore, OAS expressed its concern with the writing and review process for the lesson plan, noting that it took OAS five weeks and legal action to obtain the text of the lesson. Moreover, the 55 member advisory group and writing committee responsible for drafting the model lesson plan included only three scientists, of whom two are creationists.

In what has become an adversarial process, on 27 February Richard Baker, vice-president of the Ohio Board of Education, responded to the concerns raised by the scientific and educational communities. As reported in The Observer, the student newspaper of Case Western Reserve University, Baker said of the scientific community, "We spend all this malarkey and baloney when 99 percent of all the people who are taught this have nothing to do with the rest of their lives. These scientists, they don't care about wasting their own time or anybody else's time. In business we don't waste time. To me, [the lesson] is not a big deal." Baker explains scientific opposition to the lesson plan as "[They] think [they] know everything. [They're] just a bunch of paranoid, egotistical scientists afraid of people finding out [they] don't know anything." Given Baker's perspective and position as vice-president of the Board of Education, some Ohio scientists have begun to express concern for the future of the state's Third Frontier program which is designed to attract and retain high-level researchers.

An unsuccessful effort was made during the March Board of Education meeting to remove the L1OH23 provision. The Board adopted the 547 page model curriculum by a 13-5 vote. While teachers are not required to use the model lesson plans, the plans are based on the science standards that will form the basis for assessment tests. Some science education advocates in Ohio are continuing to explore avenues for improving the standards, including a potential lawsuit.

Additional information about developments in Ohio may be obtained from Ohio Citizens for Science at www.ecology.cwru.edu/ohioscience/.


AIBS MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS JOIN FORCES FOR 2004 CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY

On March 3-4, 2004 ten representatives of AIBS and its member societies and organizations visited Capitol Hill to stress the importance of continued support for federal funding of the sciences. Congressional Visit Day (CVD) is an annual event, organized by the Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group (SETWG), held to bring scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives together to increase visibility and raise support for funding of the non-medical sciences. Representatives from over 30 groups visited congressional offices to stress the message that basic research and development will secure the nation's future and benefit all of society through improved security, prosperity, jobs, health, and sustainability.

The constituents communicated how federal funding dollars had benefited specific state agencies and institutions, and how continuing federal support ensures that these groups can continue operating at present levels. They reminded congressmen that while defense and health-related research and development funding have increased significantly over past years, proposed increases for groups like the National Science Foundation have not been appropriated.

In attendance were the winners of the AIBS 2004 Emerging Public Policy Leader Awards, Allison Vogt, master's student at the University of Georgia, and Heidi Weiskel, doctoral student at the University of California-Davis. This award recognizes graduate students with a demonstrated commitment to and interest in biological science or science education policy.

(Look for more information on CVD in the April issue of BioScience)

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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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