As reported in the 14 March 2005 AIBS Public Policy Report, Arkansas State Representative Martin (R-Prairie Grove, District 87) recently introduced HB 2607. The legislation would have allowed the teaching of "intelligent design" as "a parallel to evolutionary theory" in the public schools of Arkansas. Education advocates throughout the state mobilized to oppose the legislation, which was referred to the Committee on Rules of the Arkansas House of Representatives. After the committee reviewed the legislation, no member of the committee moved to send the measure to the full chamber.
On 24 March 2005 the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) released results of an informal survey to gauge how much pressure, if any, science educators feel regarding teaching about evolution in the science classroom. The Arlington, VA-based NSTA is a professional organization promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning. NSTA's membership includes more than 55,000 science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in science education.
More than 1,050 teachers participated in the survey. The majority of survey respondents, 51 percent, are high school teachers, while 26 percent are from middle level; 12 percent, college/graduate level; and 6 percent, elementary. When asked if they feel pressured to include creationism, intelligent design, or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classroom, 31 percent of teachers responding said they did. When asked from whom, teachers indicated most of the pressure is coming from students (22 percent) and parents (20 percent). When asked if they feel pushed to de-emphasize or omit evolution or evolution-related topics from their curriculum, 30 percent agreed, indicating the most pressure is coming from students and parents (18 percent each). Few respondents indicated that they feel pressure from administrators or principals (5 and 3 percent, respectively).
NSTA also gauged educators' ability to discuss the issue with parents and other community members. When asked if they feel well prepared to explain the reasons why it is important for students to understand evolution, a strong 85 percent said they did, with 11 percent indicating they did not. When asked how successful they have been at helping parents and others understand the reasons why it is important for students to understand evolution, more than 62 percent said they were successful, with 5 percent indicating they were not.
"It's encouraging that teachers report success in helping parents and others understand the importance of evolution," said Anne Tweed, NSTA President. "Science educators are well qualified to explain why evolution is the foundation of science, but they don't necessarily feel comfortable in the role of community advocate. We are encouraging science teachers to consider playing a more vocal and visible role in this dialogue. Science teachers must be prepared to respond clearly to community questions about evolution to stem the progress being made by anti-evolution groups," said Tweed.
The President's fiscal year 2006 budget request for the Department of Energy could effectively eliminate most biological and environmental research conducted at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), if Congress approves the budget as proposed. In short, approximately 80 percent ($7.7 million) of SREL's FY 05 science budget came from the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The FY 06 request would eliminate this funding, and would direct SREL to compete for funding within the Environmental Remediation subprogram rather than be included as a separately funded research activity. According to a report in an Aiken, South Carolina newspaper, SREL director Dr. Paul Bertsch supports the idea of competing for funding, but notes that the sources for which the lab could compete fall far short of the cuts proposed in the budget. According to information circulated by SREL supporters, there are only two ways for SREL to compete for funding within the Environmental Remediation subprogram. One is through the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research Program, which anticipates awarding up to $1 million in grants to all universities in late FY 05 or early FY 06. The second means is through the Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP), which anticipates awarding up to $4 million in grants to all universities in FY 06. As laboratory officials have noted in interviews, SREL has faced similar budget challenges in recent years but the laboratory has ultimately been saved with the assistance of members of Congress.
The 54 year old SREL was established by the late Dr. Eugene P. Odum. The laboratory, operated by the University of Georgia, is located on the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina. SREL works to provide independent evaluation of the ecological effects of Savannah River Site operations through a program of ecological research, education and outreach.
The "High Performance Computing Revitalization Act of 2005" (H.R. 28) was approved byf the House Science Committee by a voice vote on 17 March 2005. Introduced by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and cosponsored by Representatives Boehlert (R-NY) and Davis (D-TN), the HPC Revitalization Act of 2005 clarifies the federal government's role in supporting supercomputing research and development in the United States and amends the original HPC Act of 1991. The 1991 Act established an interagency program--the National Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program--to coordinate and facilitate federal high-performance super computing technology. Since its induction, the United States has been a global leader in the development of complex scientific research and modeling high-performance computers. According to a 2004 world supercomputer census, the U.S. currently owns three out of five of the world's fastest computers.
The committee approved HPC Revitalization Act of 2005 would require the federal government to broaden supercomputer accessibility to the U.S. research community. The legislation would require the government provide for efforts to increase software availability, productivity, capability, and an increase in educating and training undergraduate and graduate students in computing sciences. The Act also decrees specific high-performance computer research missions for some federal scientific agencies. A total of six agencies are included, but the National Science Foundation would be responsible for the advancement of high-performance computing and networking systems, providing supercomputing support to the research community, and supporting basic research and education in all aspects of high-performance computing. NASA would focus on using the supercomputers for computational fluid and thermal dynamics. NOAA would be asked to develop more accurate models of the ocean-atmosphere system to help improve weather forecasting with the aid of high-performance computers. The remaining three agencies, Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the EPA, are all given topical research priorities with a general goal of improving environmental modeling quality and accuracy.
This is the second time the House Science Committee has passed a High Performance Computing Revitalization Act. The House passed a HPC Revitalization Act in 2004, but the measure died when the 108th Congress adjourned prior to the Senate considering the matter.
"International assessments of student achievement in science regularly detail how high school graduates in the United States lag behind their peers in other industrialized nations. Despite some progress over the past few decades, the recently published National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that nearly one-half of students graduate high school with a less than basic understanding of science concepts. Parents, educators, and politicians have for years argued that stronger standards and increased assessment could improve student achievement. Thus, much of the national debate over education focuses on new content standards and student assessments. However, innovative teaching tools and resources to assist educators, such as the National Science Foundation's Math and Science Partnership program, have also made their way onto the education policy agenda."
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The application deadline for the 2005 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award is fast approaching. The EPPLA recognizes a graduate student in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in science policy. The individual selected will receive a paid trip to Washington, DC to participate in the 2005 Congressional Visits Day on 10-11 May. To learn more about the application procedure and previous EPPLA recipients, please visit http://www.aibs.org/announcements/050306_aibs_emerging_public_policy.html.
- 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 http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/funding_contributors.html. Not an AIBS member yet? Go to http://www.aibs.org/organization-membership or http://www.aibs.org/individual-membership.
- AIBS Council of member societies and organizations annual meeting 7 and 8 May, Washington DC. See http://www.aibs.org/council-news/2005-council-meeting.html
- Check for opportunities to comment on federal agency actions affecting the biological sciences at the AIBS Federal Register Resource, http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/index.html