On 20 December the biological science community received its own holiday gift: Judge John E. Jones III ruled in favor of the parents in Dover, PA, who sought to prevent the incorporation of intelligent design into science lessons on evolution.
Last year, the Dover Area School District added intelligent design to its science curriculum and mandated that teachers read a statement referring students to a creationist/ID textbook. Eleven parents then filed suit in federal district court against the school district on the grounds that the Dover policy violated the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. In November, Dover citizens voted to oust all eight school board members up for reelection.
Jones' strongly worded opinion was a boon to scientists. Excerpts are below.
On intelligent design: "ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community."
On the school board: "We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom. ... The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."
The decision in a nutshell: "The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board's ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
A link to the full opinion is at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/051220_biologists_appla.html.
In December, AIBS cosponsored a teleconference with The Interfaith Alliance that brought together scientific and religious leaders to respond to the pro-evolution decision in the high-profile Kitzmiller vs. Dover case. The event was a success; reporters from a variety of media outlets attended, including the Associated Press, Reuters, Science Magazine, NPR, New Scientist Magazine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the York Daily Record. The speakers seemed to agree that the Dover verdict was a huge victory for science, but that it would not completely stave off threats to science education. Representing AIBS was 2004 President Joel Cracraft, who served as an advisor to the American Civil Liberties Union at the Arkansas creationism trial in 1981.
To read the AIBS statement on the Dover decision and to access the Judge's decision, please go to www.aibs.org/position-statements/051220_biologists_appla.html.
On 30 December, the President signed into law a $36.6 billion bill (H.R. 3070/S. 1281) to reauthorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for two years. The bill affirms the president's plan for a moon mission, calls for the continuation of the shuttle program until a transition to a new space exploration vehicle is made, and supports the completion of the International Space Station. It also mandates that NASA allocate 15 percent of its space station research to subjects unrelated to human space exploration.
Although the bill provides funding guidelines, actual appropriations for NASA will continue to be doled out in annual spending bills.
"This bill will provide the 'rules and tools' to help America succeed in the Second Space Age," said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), chairman of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science Committee. Calvert was the lead sponsor of the House version of the bill.
For more information about the NASA reauthorization process, please see the 1 August 2005 AIBS Public Policy Report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_08_01.html.
The first session of the 109th Congress officially adjourned sine die on 22 December with the completion of the final mandatory spending bill. H.R. 2863, the $460 billion Department of Defense appropriations bill, passed the Senate on 21 December after language authorizing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was removed. Although conservatives were unable to muster enough support to open ANWR for drilling, they succeeded in including a 1 percent across-the-board cut in discretionary fiscal spending for FY 2006, not including Veteran's programs.
When Congress returns to Washington, D.C. in January, it will face a number of unfinished bills from 2005, most importantly the $40 billion budget reconciliation bill that was put on hold in the Senate.
As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award, an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS will pay travel costs and expenses for 1-2 recipients of the award to participate in a Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on March 22-23, 2006. This is event brings scientists and educators to Washington, D.C. to raise visibility and support for the biological sciences. During the event, participants will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and receptions honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of biology; they will also participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staff.
AIBS is accepting applications for the 2006 Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org NO LATER than 5 p.m. EST on Friday, 3 February 2006.
Applications should include the following materials:
To learn about prior EPPLA recipients, please visit the Policy Training Initiatives section of the AIBS website at www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressional_fellows.html.
The January 2006 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers the ramifications of the National Academies recent report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." An excerpt from the article follows:
"Innovation is the order of the day in Washington, DC. While scientists have been pleased by the attention and by the budget increase that Congress voted to give the National Science Foundation (NSF) for fiscal year 2006, some biologists fear they are at risk of being left behind.
The good news for scientists is that certain members of Congress, after a brutal hurricane season and amid the continuing conflict in Iraq, fought hard to support increased science funding; consequently, the NSF budget rose to $5.65 billion in a conference committee.
Around the same time Congress was considering the budget came the release of "Rising above the Gathering Storm," a report from the National Academies. Though it was not the first to discuss the risks of government failure to encourage scientific innovation, this report gained traction on Capitol Hill. Promptly after its release, two congressional hearings considered the subject."
To continue reading this article or any previous Washington Watch columns, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2006_01.html.