February 3, 2003

Dr. Charlotte Kuh
Deputy Executive Director, Division of Policy and Global Affairs, and
Study Director, Research Doctorate Programs: Study on Methodology and Assessments
National Academy of Sciences

Re: American Institute of Biological Sciences' Comments on Draft Taxonomy of Life Sciences

Dear Dr. Kuh:

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is an umbrella society for 87 professional biological science societies whose 240,000 members study every subdiscipline of the biological sciences, including botany, ecology, taxonomy, evolution and agricultural sciences. AIBS recently reviewed the National Research Council's Board on Higher Education and Workforce, Committee for Examining the Methodology for Assessment of Research-Doctorate Program's Draft Taxonomy of the Life Sciences. AIBS would like to raise several issues regarding the current Draft Taxonomy of the Life Sciences.

As scientists we certainly understand the Committee's need to establish and utilize specific criteria and data sources. However, it is troubling that the Committee has selected a somewhat cryptic National Science Foundation (NSF) data source without consulting with biologists to understand the restrictions associated with this data source. As we suspect you may have now heard from many leading evolutionary biologists, the common thinking is that NSF has chosen not to clearly identify evolutionary biology as such because of the politically charged nature of the term evolution. Nonetheless, evolutionary biology is certainly not a new or emerging field in the biological sciences, and a substantial amount of evolutionary research is supported by NSF's programs in systematic and population biology. In fact, evolution is the primary principle that unifies all of the life sciences. It is safe to say that evolutionary biology research is vigorously being pursued by a significant number of biologists and graduate students across the country. We understand that many leaders in the field of evolutionary biology have contacted you concerning this matter and have suggested the Committee at least adopt a category similar to that used in the 1995 study, such as Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, or Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, or Ecology, Evolution and Integrative Biology. These categories at least reflect an organizational trend at many research universities across the nation. However, we are frustrated that one catch-all category does not afford the ecological, evolutionary, integrative or organismal life sciences the same degree of respect and independence granted to other life science subdisciplines.

Another issue we request the Committee reconsider is the association of Ecology and Environmental Science. There is a common public misconception that all ecological research is also environmental research. While there is certainly a strong link between the two disciplines, they are unique. Environmental science has historically been a discipline that includes non-biological sciences and is focused on solving environmental problems. In short, environmental science is largely an interdisciplinary applied science. While ecology has also grown and benefited from increased interdisciplinary collaboration, it is largely a basic science. While what is learned from ecological research can and should inform environmental science and policy, ecology is not by definition an environmental science as environmental science is generally defined. We request the Committee reconsider its linkage of Ecology with Environmental Science. Each discipline is robust enough to warrant consideration as an independent discipline with subfields.

As noted above with respect to Ecology and Environmental Science, the broad identification of Plant Sciences and Animal Sciences similarly may lump basic and applied sciences into common categories. For example, Plant Sciences might include botany and crop science. The former is generally a basic science while the latter is an applied science. If botany and crop science were to simply be identified as subfields, the ability to evaluate historic subfields such as plant anatomy, plant physiology or plant taxonomy may be lost.

Finally, the Committee is encouraged to actively consult representatives of various biological and agricultural professional societies, as well as university biology and agriculture faculty to ensure that the categories the Committee selects accurately represent the trends and environment in which academic life sciences research is conducted.

We hope these comments are helpful to the Committee. Please do not hesitate to contact Robert Gropp, Ph.D., Senior Public Policy Representative for the American Institute of Biological Sciences at (202) 628-1500 x 252 or .

Thank you for your careful consideration of these comments.


Richard O'Grady, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Adrienne J. Froelich, Ph.D.
Director of Public Policy

Robert E. Gropp, Ph.D.
Senior Public Policy Representative

Read more AIBS Position Statements

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