A bipartisan group of senators is promoting the latest plan for protecting American innovation. Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) introduced the "Protect America's Competitive Edge (PACE) Act" on 25 January 2006. The package of bills is based on recommendations from the National Academies "Gathering Storm" report, authorizing a doubling for federal basic science research, new scholarships for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students, tax credits for research and development, and changes to visa restrictions to allow qualified foreigners to join the American STEM workforce.
The PACE Act is similar to recent legislation proposed by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John Ensign (R-NV) and Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), the ranking member on the House Science Committee. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) has said he will also introduce a package of bills in the next few months to respond to the same concerns.
The increasing number of congressional and corporate supporters of these innovation initiatives has many expecting President George W. Bush to publicly endorse this agenda. Many Washington, DC, insiders will be closely watching Tuesday's State of the Union speech to see if the President discusses innovation and competitiveness. The State of the Union Address is often a platform for the President to introduce major policy initiatives and Washington interest groups are jockeying to secure a place for their priorities. The White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, has already indicated that the National Academies report is getting a "very close look" and Bush recently hinted that "in my State of the Union, I'm going to address thisSumIn order for us to be competitive, we better make for darn sure our future has got the skills to fill the jobs of the 21st century."
George Gray, Ph.D., has been appointed to serve as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) science advisor. Gray is the former EPA assistant administrator of the Office of Research and Development. In his new role, Gray will be responsible for coordinating and integrating science and technology in policy decision making. He will now chair the EPA Science Policy Council, which addresses major science issues for the agency and works to implement initiatives recommended by Congress, external advisory bodies, industry, environmental groups and other stakeholders.
Dr. Gray is well known for his risk assessment work, and has published many peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and books. Prior to joining EPA, Gray served as executive director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and as a lecturer in Risk Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. In 16 years at the School of Public Health, his research focused on risk and risk tradeoffs in risk management. He also taught toxicology and risk assessment to graduate students and participants in the Harvard School of Public Health Continuing Professional Education program.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy have asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to develop new guidelines to enhance the quality and objectivity of risk assessments produced by the federal government. In 1983, NAS issued Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process. Now, more than 20-years later, OMB has decided to update and improve these recommendations. OMB has prepared a draft of Bulletin on Risk Assessment and is asking for public comments on these guidelines by 15 June 2006.
On 23 January, anti-evolution legislation, S.B. 96, was passed by the Utah State Senate by a 16-12 vote. The bill, sponsored by state Senator Chris Buttars (R), was approved on 17 January in the state Senate Education Committee. Language contained in the bill would require teachers to "stress that not all scientists agree on which theory is correct" if evolution is included in the science curriculum. The ACLU of Utah and Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote letters urging Utah senators to reject S.B. 96. The bill's companion in the House was introduced on 24 January and could be considered in the coming months.
In other evolution news, with the beginning of state legislative sessions throughout the country, numerous anti-evolution bills have been introduced. Oklahoma has already had three anti-evolution bills introduced: S.B. 1959, H.B. 2107, and H.B. 2526. Two of the bills are designed to allow teachers to introduce alternative theories to evolution. H.B. 2526 would authorize school districts to include "intelligent design" in "any public school instruction concerning the theories of the origin of man and the earth which includes the theory commonly known as evolution." Legislation similar to S.B. 1959 and H.B. 2107 was introduced in Alabama on 10 January 2006 (H.B. 106 and S.B. 45).
Mississippi science standards are also under threat with the introduction of S. 2427 and H.B. 953. S. 2427 would allow teachers to introduce alternatives to evolution, "including, but not limited to, the Intelligent Design explanation of the origin of life." H.B. 953 would "authorize the teaching of 'creationism' or 'intelligent design' in the public schools." Additionally, "[i]f the school's curriculum requires the teaching of evolution, then the teaching of 'creationism' or 'intelligent design' shall be required."
After strong criticism from the science community and civil liberties advocates, a settlement has been reached in Hurst et al. v. Newman et al. The lawsuit was filed by a group of parents to force Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California, to cancel its course "Philosophy of Design." In the settlement, the defendants agreed to end the class and to ensure that no school in the El Tejon School District "shall offer, presently or in the future, the course entitled 'Philosophy of Design' or 'Philosophy of Intelligent Design' or any other course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science, or intelligent design."
To read more about the case, please refer to the 17 January 2006 AIBS Public Policy Report available at: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2006_01_17.html.
On 24 January, a hearing was held in the Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC) to assess four sentences addressing evolution in the state's science standards. Anti-evolutionists, lead by state Senator Mike Fair (R), had pushed to have the sentences rewritten to allow for students to question evolution in public schools. After hearing testimony from two scientists opposed to the new language and two others who supported critical analysis of evolution, the panel ultimately decided to postpone its decision indefinitely. The subcommittee instead decided to work on a resolution with the state Department of Education. If the anti-evolution language had been approved, it would have faced the full EOC on 13 February 2006.
The official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has published an article by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, praising Judge John E. Jones III's decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover and calling intelligent design unscientific. According to the New York Times, "The article was not presented as an official church position. But in the subtle and purposely ambiguous world of the Vatican, the comments seemed notable, given their strength on a delicate question much debated under the new pope, Benedict XVI."
Controversy over evolution has swirled in the Vatican after the publication of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn's July 2005 editorial that called Pope John Paul II's 1996 letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences "rather vague and unimportant." He has since tried to clarify his remarks by saying he sees "no difficulty in joining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained."
To read more about the Vatican's views on evolution, please refer to the 5 December 2005 AIBS Public Policy Report available at: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_12_06.html.
After his endorsement of intelligent design in the 9 January 2006 State of the Commonwealth speech, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) has replaced a democratic member of the Kentucky Board for Proprietary Education. The new member is a commercial truck driver for Dayton Freight. An Associated Press article on 24 January reported that the seven members of the board who are up for reappointment, one Republican and six Democrats, expect to be replaced in the next week.
Gov. Fletcher's spokesman, Brett Hall, has said the governor "hasn't been totally
enthusiastic about the responses he's gotten from some of the proposals he's made. ... He feels like some of the members could be more open-minded, and he looks forward to working with a board that is."
To read more about the Gov. Fletcher's State of the Commonwealth speech, please read the 17 January 2006 AIBS Public Policy Report available at: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2006_01_17.html.
What would St. Louis-area teachers identify as the top four challenges associated with teaching evolution in their classrooms?
Register now for Evolution on the Front Line -- a free event for St. Louis- area science teachers -- to learn the answer to this and other questions about evolution and U.S. science education.
The event, scheduled for Sunday, February 19, from 1:45 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. in the Ferrara Theater of the America's Center, St. Louis, was organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in collaboration with the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).
Advance online registration ends at 5:00 p.m. ET Friday, January 27. But, you can still reserve your seat! Please e-mail Ginger Pinholster at , or call (202) 326-6421 before February 10. Please note that on-site registration will require appropriate credentials and identification at the door.
Moderated by AAAS President Dr. Gilbert Omenn, the event will feature presentations by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO); Mr. Jeff Corwin, Host of Animal Planet's "Corwin's Quest;" Rev. George Coyne, Director of The Vatican Observatory; Ms. Linda Froschauer, President-elect of the National Science Teachers Association; Dr. Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; and an all-star scientific panel, to be moderated by Cornelia Dean of The New York Times.
This event is free. It is open to all educators, scientists, policy-makers, students, members of collaborating organizations, and also to AAAS Annual Meeting registrants. It is not open to the general public, however. Credentials and appropriate identification will be required at the door.
During the event, participating teachers will be asked to identify their top four concerns related to teaching evolution, from an initial list of 10 challenges, using "clicker-survey" devices. The starting list of evolution-related challenges will be based in part upon advance focus groups with St. Louis-area teachers and students, conducted for AAAS by the nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, Public Agenda. The clicker-survey devices will allow teachers to instantly narrow the list of 10 challenges down to four key issues, in real-time.
"The purposes of the Evolution on the Front Line event are to give teachers a voice on the evolution issue and to advise the scientific community how best to support them," explained AAAS President Gil Omenn, Professor of Medicine, Genetics and Public Health at the University of Michigan.
As attempts to insert non-scientific views into science classrooms persist across the country, and pending bills such as Missouri's HB 1266 and Utah's SB 96 threaten to undermine the integrity of science education, AAAS has teamed up with more than 30 leading scientific and educational organizations to host Evolution on the Front Line.
"Religious beliefs and scientific pursuits can readily co-exist -- just not in science classrooms, lest we confuse our children about what is and isn't science," Omenn noted. "AAAS applauds the strength and courage of teachers who are resisting pressures to introduce religion into science classrooms. We want teachers to know that they are not alone in these struggles. The scientific community stands beside teachers as they work to provide students with an appropriate grounding in science and mathematics and a fundamental understanding of the nature of science."
Applications for the 2006 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award are due Friday, February 3, 2006. For details, please visit http://www.aibs.org/announcements/060106_date_change_for_aibs.html.