Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (R) has been pushing an "academic freedom" bill that aims to protect students with conservative views from what Baxley perceives as a strong liberal bias on college campuses. The bill seeks to, among other things, allow students to have access to a "broad range of serious scholarly opinion pertaining to the subjects they study." If enacted, the legislation would pave the way for student lawsuits against professors. While promoting the bill, Baxley used the teaching of evolution as an example of a case in which he believed such a lawsuit might be justified. Although the bill has passed the House Choice and Innovation Committee, part of the Education Council (which Baxley chairs), its chance of landing on state law books appears slim. Senate President Tom Lee told the St. Petersburg Times that he was not sure the legislation was needed, and Governor Jeb Bush expressed the same view, saying, "I don't know if the bill itself is the correct solution."
On 16 March 2005, Pennsylvania joined the list of states with intelligent design/creationism legislation pending in the state legislature. House Bill (HB) 1007 was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by State Rep. Creighton (R-District 37, Lancaster County) and cosponsored by 11 other Republican State Representatives generally representing districts spanning the southern half of the state. Science education advocates throughout Pennsylvania have quickly organized to oppose the measure, which was referred to the House education committee. If enacted, HB 1007 would add a section on "Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth" to the Public School Code of 1949. According to an analysis by the National Center for Science Education's Nick Matzke, this section would enable school boards to "add 'intelligent design' to any curriculum containing evolution and allow teachers to use, subject to the approval of the board, 'supporting evidence' deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design." For more information on efforts to combat this and other threats to science education in Pennsylvania, consider joining the Pennsylvania node of the AIBS/NCSE State Evolution List Serve Network [http://www.aibs.org/mailing-lists/the_aibs-ncse_evolution_list_server.html].
For the past four years, Dr. Adrienne Sponberg served as public policy representative and then director of public policy for the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Society for Limnology and Oceanography. The joint appointment was the result of a strategic partnership established between AIBS and ASLO approximately five years ago. The arrangement provided both organizations with a means to develop their public policy presence in Washington, DC. As a result of this successful alliance, ASLO recently elected to hire a full time director of public affairs. Sponberg accepted the position and began full time service with ASLO on April 1, 2005.
On April 2 Dr. Robert Gropp assumed the post of director of public policy for AIBS. Gropp earned a B.A. in biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and Ph.D. in botany from the University of Oklahoma. After graduate school, Gropp entered public service as a Presidential Management Intern (program now known as Presidential Management Fellows). In addition to federal agency experience, he has worked on an array of policy issues on the House and Senate sides of Capitol Hill. Gropp was also an AIBS Congressional Science Fellow. Since 2002, he has served as AIBS' senior public policy representative.
To further increase AIBS' influence in the policy arena and effectiveness at bridging the communication gap between decision makers and the biological sciences community, Ms. Erin Heath has been hired to fill a new public affairs representative post in the public policy office. Heath recently returned to Washington, DC from London, where she earned a Master of Science with Merit in Public Policy and Administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science. While at LSE, she worked as a research assistant for an Environment Minister in the House of Commons. Prior to that, Heath was a reporter for National Journal, a nonpartisan public policy and politics magazine, where she edited a weekly column and wrote articles about science and public health policy. Among the issues she covered were National Science Foundation funding, stem cell research, genetic discrimination, and space policy. Heath has a journalism degree from the University of Maryland at College Park.
To learn more about AIBS public policy activities, please visit http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/ or contact Robert Gropp ().
In recent years, a growing segment of the U.S. science community has voiced a concern that too few students are pursuing science degrees. Some have warned that the U.S. is at risk of losing its global leadership in science and technology. According to U.S. Representative Frank Wolf's (R-VA) office, North American universities account for about 500,000 of the world's science and engineering degrees, compared to 850,000 in Europe and Russia and 1.2 million in Asia.
Seeking to spur increased domestic production of science majors, Representatives Wolf and Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) have announced they plan to introduce legislation that would forgive interest on undergraduate loans for math, science, and technology majors who commit to working for five years in their fields after graduation. The congressmen hope such a measure would increase student interest in the sciences. Wolf chairs the science panel of the Appropriations Committee. Ehlers is the chairperson of the Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, and a former research physicist. Additional details will be available once the legislation has been introduced.
On April 6, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a confirmation hearing for Environmental Protection Agency acting administrator Stephen L. Johnson. If confirmed, Johnson will be the first professional scientist to head the agency in its history and would inherit an organization with more than 18,000 employees and an annual budget of $8.6 billion.
Prior to joining the EPA, Johnson received a B.A. in Biology from Taylor University and an M.S. in Pathology from George Washington University. He began his career at the EPA in 1979 as a health scientist in the Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPTS). For the next 20 years, Johnson held multiple positions in OPTS, eventually becoming assistant administrator in 2001.
Some Washington insiders were surprised when the President nominated Johnson to head the agency. Many had expected James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, to get the nod. But Johnson's nomination has been well received by both parties and by environmental groups as diverse as CropLife America and the League of Conservation Voters. Sen. James M. Jeffords (I- VT) commended Johnson during his confirmation hearing, saying, "As a longtime EPA employee, you bring tremendous experience and expertise to this job. You have a great opportunity to bring a fresh approach to the EPA, one I must say is badly needed." Johnson presented four principles he would follow as EPA chief: to ensure that the agency's decisions are based on the best available scientific information; to pursue a transparent decision-making process; to recognize that new problems may require new approaches; and to build an agency for the future.
Recently, Congress and the EPA Inspector General criticized the agency after rumors surfaced that some scientific data had been skewed to ease environmental regulations. During the confirmation hearing, many Senators expressed their belief that the once prominent environmental agency has lost credibility. Some Senators also voiced disapproval of a controversial EPA program that had sought to investigate children's exposure to pesticides in the home. Johnson won points by announcing he had cancelled the program after examining questions that had been raised with the study's design.
The April 2005 Washington Watch article considers how the federal government's increased investment in biodefense-related research may impact other areas of biological research.
"Massive expansion of the US biodefense program since 2001 has yielded fresh career opportunities for thousands of American scientists handling infectious disease work. With the Bush administration determined to develop better countermeasures against bioterrorism, this trend is likely to continue for the next several years.
However, the rapid buildup of new laboratories, personnel, and funding for biodefense could have a significant downside for other important areas of research-and, some scientists contend, may actually contribute to the erosion of this country's public health infrastructure."
To continue reading this article for free, go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_04.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