PLAN TO VOTE THIS FALL
Science promises to play a prominent role in this year's campaign, providing a reminder of the importance of political decisions to science. A visible issue is embryonic stem cell research. President Bush's policy allows federal funding only on embryonic stem cell lines created before August 9, 2001, a compromise between promoting research and his concerns that harvesting embryonic stem cells destroys human embryos, which he considers to be human life. Presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry argues that the interests of suffering adults and children should trump those of three-day-old blastocysts, and says the restriction on lines created after August 9, 2001 is slowing stem cell research and delaying cures. Senator Kerry would end the restriction and quadruple federal funding on embryonic stem cell research.
In addition, Kerry and groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists have accused the Bush administration of misusing science in policy decisions (see Washington Watch, June 2004; //www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2004_06.htm ). The Bush administration denies the accusations, calling them sweeping overgeneralizations and asserting its commitment to sound science, but Democrats are pledging to put "science ahead of ideology."
Federal funding for scientific research also promises to be an issue. President Bush has completed the doubling of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget started by President Clinton, and his budget request for research and development (R&D) in 2005 was 44% higher than the R&D request in 2001. However, he also proposes to cut National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for 2006, and a House subcommittee recently cut the NSF research budget by almost $200 million (see last week's Public Policy Report). Kerry has not proposed specific figures, but promises to "invest more" in innovative research.
Finally, it is important to remember that state and local elections are as important as national elections. State legislators play a critical role in allocating funding for state and local education activities ranging from pre-kindergarten programs to graduate education at state universities. They may also help determine how or whether science is used to inform local environmental public policy, or craft state-supported programs designed to foster scientific R&D. In addition, with new federal education policy such as the No Child Left Behind Act, state and local school boards have been granted greater authority to develop and implement new curricular standards. In some locations, opponents of the science of evolution have seized on this opportunity and have sought to elect officials sensitive to their anti-evolution policy agenda. For instance, two individuals that have advocated "de-emphasizing" evolution appear poised to help anti-evolution forces once again seize control of the Kansas State Board of Evolution this fall.
In light of the importance of politics to science, scientists who are U.S. citizens should remember to vote in primary elections and this November 2nd's general election. Many analysts expect this election to be close, so a few votes can really make a difference. Before voting, however, remember to spend a little time researching the candidates. Often times, local newspapers will outline candidates' positions on local issues, or local community groups (e.g. citizens for science education) will convene public forums with candidates. Obviously, it is also a great idea to simply contact a campaign and ask for the candidate's position on a given issue.
If you haven't registered to vote yet, or if you've moved since the last election, you may obtain the information you need to register using this website: http://www.lwv.org/voter/register.cfm. This website has an FAQ about voting, as well as forms that you can fill out online by providing your state and identifying information. The website generates a completed registration form (PDF), which you can print and mail to your state elections board. It only takes 5 minutes! The registration deadline may be as early as 30 days before the election, depending on your state.
If you'll be away from home on election day, you should request an absentee ballot. Find out how from your state election authority (check this list of state election websites here: //www.fvap.gov/links/statelinks.htm). Absentee ballots are usually mailed out a few weeks before the election.
If you live overseas, you'll need to send a Federal Post Card Application for an overseas absentee ballot, available with state-specific instructions here: //www.fvap.gov/pubs/vag/vagchapter3.htm (PDF files). Overseas voters should send in requests for absentee ballots early (i.e., mid-September) to make sure the elections office has enough time for processing.
EVOLUTION AT RISK IN KANSAS, AGAIN
Following widespread criticism of the Kansas State Board of Education's (SBOE) 1999 decision to adopt science standards that "de-emphasized" evolution, Kansans embarrassed by the negative attention their state received elected a new state school board. The SBOE reversed the 1999 decision by a 6-4 vote. However, since that action was taken the SBOE membership has changed and the Board has been deadlocked 5-5 on the issue of evolution in the state science standards. Thus, both sides acknowledged the importance of this year's election to the future of K-12 science education in Kansas.
Two SBOE seats on the board were strongly contested in the 3 August 2004 Republican primary. One held by evolution supporter, Bruce Wyatt (R), and the other by Steve Abrams (R). Abrams supported the 1999 move that restricted evolution education in science courses. Wyatt and Abrams both faced challenges from fellow Republicans. Wyatt was opposed by conservative Kathy Martin (R), a former school teacher, creationist, and champion of the 1999 policy. Martin received the support of the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly. The KRA also supported incumbent board member Steve Abrams, who defeated evolution supporter Tim Aiken (R). Results from the primary are significant as Wyatt and Abrams will face no challengers in the fall SBOE election. Thus, it appears that individuals wishing to "de-emphasize" evolution or otherwise weaken evolution content in Kansas science courses will soon enjoy a one vote majority on the Kansas SBOE.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.htm.
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 (//dellweb.bfa.nsf.gov/), and a brief and easy-to-understand description of the research NSF supports in your lab/organization.
- 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.htm
- 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.