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AIBS Public Policy Report for 4/12/04

  • AIBS sends letter to House Science Committee leaders concerning NSF funding for natural history collection research
  • AIBS congressional testimony requests $1 billion in FY 05 funding for USGS
  • White House issues response to accusations regarding Bush Administration use of science
  • Evolution Education Roundup: GA, MT, OH

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].


AIBS SENDS LETTER TO HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE LEADERS CONCERNING NSF FUNDING FOR NATURAL HISTORY COLLECTION RESEARCH

A growing concern within the biology community is the continued vitality of the natural history collections infrastructure required for many areas of basic and applied biological research. At least partially in response to recent government budget conditions and funding patterns, some universities have begun to reconsider their commitment to sustaining natural history collections and the curators and related research personnel that utilize these facilities (e.g., see the June 2003 Washington Watch in BioScience at "http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2003_06.html). Scientists are not waiting to see how widespread this trend might become. For example, participants at a recent National Science Foundation supported workshop to develop a long-term vision for taxonomy and natural history collections have noted that NSF Biological Research Collection program funding has remained flat at roughly $6 million per year for the past decade. Because these and similar funds that have historically helped support collections-based research have not kept pace with funding for other areas of biological research, these facilities are beginning to feel real pressure as some departments consider focusing their attention on more lucrative research areas. Because much science remains to be done and these facilities contain irreplaceable resources vital to a robust basic and applied research and education enterprise, AIBS has sent a letter to leaders of the House Science Committee alerting them to this growing concern. The letter also provides these advocates for increased NSF funding with an additional argument for why increased funding for NSF supported biological research is needed. The text of the letter is available online at"http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/040330_aibs_letter_to_h.html.

AIBS CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY REQUESTS $1 BILLION IN FY 05 FUNDING FOR USGS

The American Institute of Biological Sciences has submitted testimony
to the House of Representatives and Senate Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee requesting that Congress increase base funding for the United States Geological Survey to at least $1 billion in fiscal year 2005. This requested funding level would provide the USGS with roughly $60 million more than Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2004, would restore cuts proposed in the President's FY05 Budget Request, would provide adequate funding to cover uncontrollable cost increases, and would provide new money to enable USGS to fund existing and proposed science projects. The USGS has enjoyed strong bipartisan support among leading members of Congress, but advocates for the USGS concede that securing any budget increase will be a challenge this year without grassroots support from the science community.

AIBS' testimony may be viewed online at:
"http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/040331_aibs_testimony_i.html.

WHITE HOUSE ISSUES RESPONSE TO ACCUSATIONS REGARDING BUSH
ADMINISTRATION USE OF SCIENCE

The White House recently issued a response to the latest round of accusations of misuse of science from the scientific community. On April 2, the Bush Administration's top science official, Dr. John Marburger, released a point-by-point rebuttal of the claims against the Bush Administration by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The UCS report and letter, signed by many Nobel Laureates, brought media attention to an issue that has brewing in Washington for several years. The UCS report, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking" ("http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/rsi/index.html) documents the results of UCS' independent investigation into "allegations that the Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy." The White House response offers a point-by-point rebuttal of the UCS accusations, which he calls "wrong", "misleading" and "inaccurate". Marburger harshly criticized the UCS's "highly unfortunate and totally unjustified personal attack" on OSTP official Richard Russell. The UCS report asserted that Russell was not qualified to serve as Deputy Director of the Office of Science Technology and Policy. Marburger called the attack "inexcusable", "given the ease with which this ignorance could have been rectified". The full White House response can be viewed at www.ostp.gov.

EVOLUTION EDUCATION ROUNDUP: GA, MT, OH

In recent weeks a number of significant science education developments have taken place in Georgia, Montana and Ohio. Depending upon the ultimate resolution of these issues, science education in other states could eventually be impacted.

GEORGIA-
Caution: Before the recent statewide fight about whether "evolution" should be included in state science standards, there was Cobb County. Many may recall that Cobb County has approved a policy that requires a sticker with a disclaimer be placed in the front of textbooks that include information about evolution. The sticker reads, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." In August 2002 six parents in Cobb County filed suit against the school system to get the stickers removed. The parents contend that the disclaimer restricts the teaching of evolution, promotes and requires the teaching of creationism and discriminates against particular religions. In response to a motion by the school district to have the case dismissed, a U.S. District Judge recently ruled the suit has merit and can proceed to trial. The judge noted that the disclaimer could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. According to a CNN.com report, the judge "weighed the constitutionality of the issue by applying a three-pronged test handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. In order to get the lawsuit dismissed, the school board had to show that the disclaimer was adopted with a secular purpose; that its primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion; and that it does not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion." The school board reportedly only met the first test. The judge further noted that while the disclaimer does not include any specific biblical references, it was clear that most of the school board wanted students to consider non-scientific alternatives.


MONTANA-
In the small community of Darby, the five member school board recently voted 3-2 to grant preliminary approval to a proposal to change school policy to include "objective origins" in the curriculum. The proposal emerged shortly after a local minister held a community meeting critical of evolution. As in other states, objective origins appears to be little more than code for intelligent design and/or creationism. This action coupled with other recent board practices has reportedly outraged a number of local citizens and caused real divisions in the community. A newly formed citizens group, Darby Taxpayers Against Court Costs, spearheaded a protest rally prior to the last school board meeting. A concern of the group is that the board's actions will ultimately lead to a lawsuit that will divert money away from education or other community services. The group's concerns may be realized if the board does not reverse its actions. On April 6, 2004, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, DC," sent a letter to Jack Eggensperger, superintendent of Darby School District 9, requesting copies of "all documents referring to or relating to any potential decision of the Darby School Board to teach theories of the origins of human life, including evolution, creationism, intelligent design or other 'objective origins' theories."


OHIO-
As previously reported in the March 15, 2004 AIBS Public Policy Report (
"http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2004_03_15.html), the Ohio State Board of Education has approved a model science curriculum that includes a controversial lesson plan (L1OH23, "Critical Analysis of Evolution"). Science education advocates have noted that this lesson plan is little more than a method of introducing intelligent design into the public school science curriculum. On April 6, 2004, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, DC," filed freedom-of-information requests with education officials in Ohio to obtain detailed information about the decision to include the critical analysis provision in the state curriculum. According to an Americans United statement, the group is "investigating the Department of Education's approval of [the] lesson plan." The group has asked Ohio Superintendent of Instruction Susan Tave Zelman to provide copies of "all documents referring to or relating to" the development of the lesson plan. According to Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, "If officials are changing the public school curriculum to conform to religious dogma, that's clearly unconstitutional. Sound science education must not be sacrificed."


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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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