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AIBS Public Policy Report for August 2, 2004

  • ACTION ALERT: NSF research budget slashed by $200 million - your letters needed
  • NEON gets thumbs up (and $6 million) from House Appropriations Committee
  • National Science and Technology Council issues new report, recognizes importance of systematics and collections
  • Stem cell research major focus at Democratic National Convention
  • Association of Southeastern Biologists issues statement in support of evolution education.
  • New in BioScience: NSF Facing Budget Cuts

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 RESEARCH BUDGET SLASHED BY $200 MILLION - YOUR LETTERS NEEDED

Despite strong support for NSF in the House, the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF proposed a $194 million cut for NSF's Research and Related Activities Account (RRA) on July 20 (the bill was approved by the full committee on July 22). If adopted, the proposed cut would mean the agency can fund ~2000 fewer grants next year. The proposed cut is just one more piece of bad news for researchers, as the Bush administration announced its intention to further cut the agency in FY2006 earlier this year (see story below and in the August issue of BioScience).

The cut to NSF is not due to a lack of appreciation in Congress for the agency, but rather a lack of funding for the VA-HUD subcommittee to work with. The VA-HUD subcommittee funds a variety of agencies and programs, including veteran's health care and housing programs. Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) says the budget allocation for his committee was "totally inadequate." Other agencies in the VA-HUD bill suffered similar fates: $1.1 billion was cut from NASA and $600 million from EPA.

Over the past several years, the House has been more generous with NSF than the Senate. The subcommittee's chair, Rep. James Walsh (R-NY) and ranking member, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) are staunch supporters of the NSF and have been honored by science groups for their dedication to NSF.

AIBS will continue to work with other scientific organizations, such as the Coalition for National Science Funding (www.cnsfweb.org) and the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (www.esa.org/besc), to promote increased funding for NSF. BESC will be hosting a congressional visits day on September 28-29 to highlight the importance of biological and ecological research funded by the federal government. If you would like to participate in this event, please contact Adrienne Sponberg (asponberg@aibs.org).

Contact your Representatives and Senators NOW.

Even though appropriations bills are supposed to be finished by October 1 (the beginning of FY 2005), most policy analysts agree that the Senate is unlikely to act on the bill until after the November elections. Thus, scientists have plenty of time to show their support for NSF.

This is the perfect time to make an appointment with your Representatives and Senators, as they will be in the home district while Congress recesses in August. You can make an appointment by calling the district office closest to you (contact information can be found at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov). AIBS encourages you to go in groups for this visit. Groups of scientists from your department, your university or universities within your district may want to make a single appointment. Groups of 3-5 are ideal. If you visit your Representative, you should check to see if they signed the "Dear Colleague" letter in support of NSF. If they did, thank them. If they did not, encourage them to do so next year. You can check to see if they signed at //www.aibs.org/announcements/040610_157_members_of_congress.html
If you need assistance arranging visits in your district, please contact AIBS.

If you are unable to make an appointment, you are strongly encouraged to send letters in support of NSF to your members of Congress. You may also want to organize a letter for other scientists in your department or college to sign.

Regardless of whether you visit, write, or call, your communication should includes the amount of NSF funding for your state and organization, and a brief and easy-to-understand description of the research NSF supports in your lab/organization.

Talking points, funding levels and other information (including sample letters) you will need for your communication will be posted at www.aibs.org by the end of this week.


NEON GETS THUMBS UP (AND $6 MILLION) FROM HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE

For the second year in a row, the House Appropriations Committee has expressed support for the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). NSF had requested funding for NEON in two places: $6 million in the Research and Related Activities Account for planning and design, and $12 million in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account to build the observatories. Last summer, the House had approved all funding for the project. However, following the NAS recommendation that NEON be organized differently than NSF had initially proposed, the final version of the appropriations bill funded only the funds for planning and design ($6 million) and instructed the agency to work towards achieving the NAS recommendations.

Since last year's final verdict on FY 2004 NEON funding came after the budget for FY 2005 had been finalized, this year's budget contained a request for $12 million to begin construction of NEON despite Congress's instructions to redesign the network. That funding request was denied, but Congress approved $6 million "for continued planning and design activities." Citing the NAS report, emphasized that "NSF is expected to consider and incorporate the Council's recommendations as it continues planning and design activities, particularly the NRC's recommendation to strengthen partnerships and collaborations with other federal agencies. The committee believes such collaborations are critical to maximize the use of existing observatory networks in order to avoid redundancy of federal research dollars and reduce the overall cost of the NEON project."

Earlier this year, NSF solicited proposals from the scientific community for the development of a NEON Coordinating Consortium and program office. Those entities will initially plan and coordinate activities for NEON, and will ultimately be responsible for the construction and daily management of NEON. The results of that competition should be announced shortly.


NATIONAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COUNCIL ISSUES NEW REPORT, RECOGNIZES IMPORTANCE OF SYSTEMATICS AND COLLECTIONS

A White House policy initiative is to improve federal agency management. Part of this effort includes evaluating federal programs to determine whether they constitute core federal functions. Activities that are not inherently federal would be outsourced to the private sector. In this light, some science policy analysts have sought to ensure that policy makers understand that intramural and extramural federal science programs are indeed core functions of the federal government. To make this case and set forth a federal science policy, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) has issued "Science for the 21st Century."
The report identifies "four broad federal science responsibilities: ensuring a diverse portfolio of fundamental research, science to support society's pressing challenges, the translation of science into concrete benefits, and the education of the next generation in math and science." Selected accomplishments and current federal policy from these four categories are the basis for the report's "shared vision" for the future, which makes a case that federal science programs are truly a national priority.
A theme throughout the report is the importance of interdisciplinary research to basic discovery as well as to addressing societies grand challenges in areas such as public health and safety, and environmental quality. The serendipity of scientific discovery is acknowledged and used to justify a commitment to funding all areas of science. For instance, the value of systematics and natural history collections is specifically recognized: "Systematics is a discipline that supports a wide range of scientific research through the development of taxonomies that organize the relationships between plants and animals as well as through the preservation of unique collections of species from around the world. In addition to providing the raw material for biological research, systematics contributes to the understanding of biodiversity and invasive species essential to solving problems in sustainable and conventional agriculture. Several Federal agencies collaborate in supporting systematics, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which recently developed a strategic plan for future investments to enhance access to its research collections, and NOAA, which contributes expertise in aquatic species as well as in information technologies. These investments will be used to build electronic databases and fund the preservation of existing collections."

The NSTC was established by Executive Order on November 23, 1993. As a cabinet-level organization, NSTC provides the President with the guidance needed to coordinate science and technology policies across the federal government. Science for the 21st Century may be viewed online at www.ostp.gov/nstc/21stCentury.


STEM CELL RESEARCH MAJOR FOCUS AT DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Several speakers took aim at President Bush's stem cell policy at the Democratic National Convention last week, calling for an end to the ban on embryonic stem cell research to "unleash the wonders of discovery." Consistent with the Kerry campaign's efforts to keep the convention positive, they refrained from criticizing Bush directly and instead emphasized the hope and possibilities of stem cells.

Currently, the Bush administration does not allow federal funding for research that uses embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001, though such research may be done using private funding.

Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke about stem cells in the context of health care reform, saying, "We also need to lift the ban on stem cell research and find cures that will help millions of Americans."

John Kerry framed stem cell research as the next breakthrough in a long tradition of American innovation by those who "reached for the impossible." After mentioning the Wright brothers, Apollo, and the computer revolution, he asked, "What if we find a breakthrough to Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's and AIDS? What if we have a president who believes in science so we can unleash the wonders of discovery like stem-cell research and treat illness for millions of lives?" (Though AIDS cannot be cured with stem cells, the reference may have been a subtle dig at President Bush for placing ideology over science in AIDS prevention.)

Ron Reagan, son of former president Ronald Reagan, gave an entire speech on embryonic stem cell research, saying it "may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or any lifetime." He described a girl with juvenile diabetes who decorates her insulin pump with rhinestones, and explicitly contrasted her with the blastocysts from which embryonic stem cells are derived. Stem cells, he said, "are not, in and of themselves, human beings...They have no thoughts, no fears," but the girl "has a mind. She has memories. She has hopes." Saying that stem cells may hold the key to her future, he asked, "What excuse will we offer this young woman should we fail her now?"

Reagan offered the audience a choice "between true compassion and mere ideology" and concluded the speech by saying, "I urge you, please, cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research."


ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEASTERN BIOLOGISTS ISSUES STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF EVOLUTION EDUCATION

AIBS member society, the Association of Southeastern Biologists (ASB), has joined the National Center for Science Education's (NCSE) Voices for Evolution. ASB has approved a statement supporting evolution education that partially reads: "Because creationism and intelligent design do not operate within the definional limits of science, they cannot and should not be treated as such. Neither movement can satisfy the aims of science, which are to make observations and develop questions to explain natural phenomena, to design tests of those hypotheses, and then to either accept or reject those hypotheses, based on a fair and objective evaluation of the evidence accumulated. Creationism and intelligent design offer a mixture of empirically untestable and empirically non-scientific hypotheses, which their proponents fail to retract or modify in the light of contrary evidence. Thus, they do not conform to accepted scientific protocols."

The complete ASB statement and others may be viewed on the NCSE website at ://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/3422_statements_from_scientific_and_12_19_2002.asp#asb.

ASB is a regional association devoted to the promulgation of biology in all its myriad forms to scientists, students, and the general public. The Association represents biological scientists from throughout the southeastern region of the United States on various issues of concern.


NEW IN BIOSCIENCE: NSF FACING BUDGET CUTS

At the end of 2002, scientists had cause to celebrate: Congress had approved a massive 15 percent increase in research funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and passed legislation that would authorize similar increases for the agency for five years, putting the nation's home of basic research on a doubling track. Both events were viewed as big victories, given the post-9/11 budget situation. Now, however, less than two years later, the Bush administration has announced that it plans to cut funding for NSF in fiscal year (FY) 2006.

Continue reading at:
//www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2004_08.html

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- Give your society or organization a voice in public policy decisions affecting your areas of science. Support the AIBS Public Policy Office's ability to work with you, on your behalf. See //www.aibs.org/public-policy/funding_contributors.html

- AIBS special symposium. Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation. Nov. 12th and 13th, 2004, Chicago IL at the National Association of Biology Teachers annual conference. Program and registration at //www.aibs.org/special-symposia/

- BioScience for $12/yr! The BioScience Bulk-Purchase Program for Member Societies and Organizations. See //www.aibs.org/announcements/031002_announcing_the_bioscience_bulkpurchase.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 and appreciation 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. Website: www.aibs.org.

 


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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