In an exciting turn of events, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has emerged from the Science-State-Commerce-Justice appropriations conference committee with an unexpected boost in fiscal year 2006 funding. With the budget reconciliation process siphoning funding from many federal programs to cover the escalating costs of the war in Iraq and disaster relief, many beltway insiders feared that science funding, and NSF in particular, were vulnerable to deep cuts. But last Friday, 4 November, members of the conference committee demonstrated their support for scientific research by increasing the FY 2006 NSF funding to $5.65 billion. This level is about $180 million more than the FY 2005 level, $120 million above the Senate mark, $50 million more than the budget request, and $10 million above the House mark. It should be noted, however, that the $5.65 billion is expected to shrink a bit after an expected across-the-board rescission of 0.3 percent is applied.
The Research and Related Activities line item should receive approximately $4.39 billion, roughly $165 million more than FY 2005, $54 million more than the budget request, $42 million more than the Senate mark and $10 million more than the House mark. The Education and Human Resources account was able to hold on to the House approved $807 million, a nine percent increase over the budget request. In addition, the Math and Science Partnership program should receive a $4 million increase to roughly $64 million.
Late Thursday night, following 20 hours of floor debate and a subsequent "vote-a-rama" on amendments, the Senate passed its omnibus budget reconciliation package, S. 1932. The deficit-reduction bill narrowly passed 52-47. Under the Senate's plan, the federal government would save approximately $39 billion by cutting programs and generating additional revenue over the next five years. Agricultural supports, student loans, prescription drugs, and Medicaid received the deepest cuts. The bill included language that authorizes the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling. The proposal would raise $2.5 billion, but opponents are mounting a last ditch effort to have it excluded in the final bill.
During the "vote-a-rama" on Thursday, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) successfully included in the reconciliation package an amendment to the Higher Education Act. The Enzi amendment recognizes the importance of new grants to help boost America's competitiveness. The amendment authorizes and appropriates $1.66 billion for elementary and secondary education through the Science and Math Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant program.
In the House, the Budget Committee wrapped up its work on its version of the omnibus reconciliation package. The Committee approved the spending bill 21-16, cutting nearly $54 billion through 2010. The House version of the budget reconciliation contains numerous controversial items including opening up ANWR for drilling and ending a moratorium on offshore drilling.
The full House must still pass the bill before the members from both chambers meet in conference to work out the differences. GOP leaders are aggressively looking for support of the conservative deficit reduction package in the House before it comes up for a vote during the week of 7 November. With the addition of ANWR drilling language in the Senate bill, House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO) believes the House has some "flexibility" to drop ANWR from the upcoming budget vote if the majority needs to pick up some moderates to ensure passage.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have denied the Kansas board of education use of copyrighted material in the state's new science education standards. In a joint statement released 27 October, the organizations criticized the standards, saying the most recent draft "inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory...the use of the word controversial is confusing to students and the public and is entirely misleading." Additionally, both groups criticized the decision to delete language that defined science as "a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena."
Media reports suggest that after removing the references to the organizations' materials, the 6-4 conservative majority on the school board will adopt the anti-evolution standards on 8 November. These developments are similar to a case in 1999 when NAS, NSTA, and AAAS denied copyrights for the science standards developed by the then pro-creationism Kansas Board of Education.
For more information on the Kansas science education standards, please read the 10 May AIBS public policy report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_05_10.html.
The intelligent design trial in Harrisburg, PA, moved a step closer to resolution on Friday, November 4, when both sides presented their closing arguments. The non-jury trial now goes before U.S. District Judge John Jones, III, who hopes to decide the case by year's end. Both sides are planning to appeal if they lose.
During plaintiff's closing arguments, attorney Eric Rothschild characterized intelligent design (ID) as a repackaging of creationism. Over the course of the trial, Rothschild has called several expert witnesses who described the clear development of creationism into ID. Later in his closing arguments, Rothschild returned to the most controversial testimony of the trial -- defense witness William Buckingham. Buckingham, a former board member who strongly supports the teaching of ID in Dover schools, testified that he was a "deer caught in headlights" when he "mistakenly" was captured on video saying "it's OK to teach Darwin, but you have to balance it with something else, such as creationism." Throughout his testimony Buckingham contradicted his deposition statements numerous times on issues ranging from his statements before the board to his raising money from his local church to purchase the ID textbook "Of Pandas and People." Rothschild strongly encouraged the court to disregard Buckingham's excuses because "that was no deer in the headlights...that deer was wearing shades and was totally at ease."
During defense's closing argument, attorney Patrick Gillen explained ID as "the next great paradigm shift in science" and "a legitimate educational objective." According to Gillen, the school board members' concern was to counteract "science taught as dogma." The defense has called witnesses such as sociology professor Steve Fuller, who called the scientific community a monolith that was unreceptive to emerging theories such as ID.
In other courtroom developments, on October 24 Judge Jones struck a brief filed by the Discovery Institute on behalf of the Dover Area School District. The plaintiffs argued that the brief included statements from William Dembski, an expert witness who decided not to testify in the Dover trial. Dembski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, withdrew from the trial at the last minute, along with another Discovery Institute fellow Stephen Meyer. Some have speculated that their withdrawal was a move on the part of the Discovery Institute to shield itself from blame if the defense loses the Dover case.
In an October awards ceremony at the headquarters office of the United States Geological Survey in Reston, VA, the USGS Coalition received the 2005 John Wesley Powell Award. The USGS Coalition received the honor for successfully increasing awareness of the USGS among congressional and administration officials. The John Wesley Powell Award is named for the second USGS director and awarded to organizations or individuals who have helped advance the USGS mission.
The USGS Coalition was established nearly three years ago by a broad cross-section of scientific, professional and educational organizations dedicated to increasing federal funding for the USGS. AIBS was a founding member of the USGS Coalition and AIBS director of public policy Robert Gropp has served as a co-chair of the USGS Coalition for the past two years. The Coalition is co-chaired by Craig Schiffries of the National Council for Science and the Environment. David Applegate and Emily Lehr Wallace, previously with the American Geological Institute, have previously chaired and co-chaired the USGS Coalition.
For more information about the USGS Coalition please visit www.usgscoalition.org or contact Robert Gropp with AIBS or Craig Schiffries with the National Council for Science and the Environment.
The November 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers the extent to which the White House science adviser has a voice in the current administration. An excerpt from the article follows.
"Much ink has been spilled about how the current Bush administration has used-or, in the opinion of some, abused-science. Critics point to a handful of well-trod examples: Bush's public embrace of the intelligent design movement's "teach the controversy" mantra (although there is no controversy among scientists about the validity and applicability of evolution). The administration's efforts to downplay research pointing to the human causes of climate change. And Bush's choice to disallow federal funding of research on new stem cell lines."
The entire article may be viewed at