HOUSE INTERIOR APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE SEEKS 1.5% INCREASE FOR U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY On 9 July, the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee completed work on its appropriation bill for FY2003. The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on July 16. Although the House bill would give the Department of the Interior $900 million more than requested by the President a 3% increase over FY2002 the bill gives the USGS an increase of only 1.5%. It could have been much worse the President proposed to cut the USGS budget by nearly $60 million. The $14 million increase would bring the USGS budget to $928 million.
For the Biological Resources division, the subcommittee provided $170,414,000, which is $9.9 million above the budget request and $4 million (2.4%) above the 2002 enacted level including $1,000,000 for the cooperative research units to maintain the current staffing levels. The subcommittee also realigned the Gap Analysis Program by shifting $3,900,000 from the biological research and monitoring subactivity into biological information management and delivery subactivity saying that, "This realignment should result in management efficiencies for this high-priority program." Within the funds provided for biological research and monitoring, $2,700,000 is earmarked for chronic wasting disease research. Other specific funds were identified for amphibian research ($1 million) and for the establishment of two additional nodes for the National Biological Information Infrastructure ($500,000 each for nodes in New York and Tennessee).
The Committee addressed the Administration's proposals to terminate or reduce certain programs, such as the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and the National Water Quality Assessment program, saying, "For the third year in a row the Committee has restored a number of high-priority research programs that were proposed for reduction or elimination by the Office of Management and Budget during the budget process. Officials at the Office of Management and Budget seemingly believe that the Department of the Interior no longer needs science on which to base natural resource policy decisions. This is not the position of the Congress as articulated in previous Interior bills, nor is it the position of the National Academy of Sciences which has provided recommendations on a program by program basis detailing the need to expand not eliminate the very programs that the Office of Management and Budget has targeted as unnecessary. The Committee strongly urges the Department and OMB to continue to fund these critical science programs in the base budget in future years."
Language has been included to allow the Survey to use cooperative agreements for research and data collection, and to allow the Survey to obtain space in cooperator facilities.
For the Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research program, the subcommittee recommended $252 million an increase of $10.7 million over FY 2002 (4%) and $9.2 million more than was requested by the Administration. Like the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, the House subcommittee rejected the Administration's proposed initiatives that would have re-directed some $35 million of funding from the Forest Service research stations and existing research programs.
(Note: At press time, the House was considering amendments to the Interior appropriations bill. Watch for a full report in the next issue.)
House Resources Committee passes "Sound Science for Endangered Species Planning Act" while 300 scientists speak out in opposition to bill - The House Resources Committee on 10 July 2002 passed H.R.4840 the Sound Science for Endangered Species Planning Act by a vote of 22 to 18, while rejecting an amendment by Nick Rahall (D-WV) that attempted to eliminate some provisions of the bill that were likely to impede Endangered Species Act implementation. Sponsored by outgoing Resources Committee chair James Hansen (R-NM), H.R. 4840 purports to improve the scientific basis of endangered species decision-making. It mandates that empirical, field-tested and peer-reviewed data be given greater weight than other information; establishes a new and non-scientific standard for the assessment of listing petitions, requiring "clear and convincing evidence" which is defined as a preponderance of the evidence and sufficient to support a "firm belief by the Secretary that the listing may be warranted;" and mandates independent scientific review of listings, de-listings, recovery plans, and jeopardy opinions. It also requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accept and acknowledge receipt of data regarding the status of a species that is collected by a landowner and include that data in the rule-making record. Opponents, including George Miller (D-CA) long a defender against attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act Nick Rahall, and David Blockstein, representing some 300 scientists who signed a letter opposing H.R. 4840, held a press conference prior to the mark-up of the bill. They argued that scientists, not politicians should make determinations about what science is appropriate.They also pointed out that the bill would likely result in a great deal of protracted litigation challenging applications of the law and seeking definitions of the terms. They also expressed concern about the likely delay and expense of the independent review process. In an amendment, Mr. Hansen acknowledged this concern by stipulating that "if funds are available" then members of independent review boards could be compensated. However, funding for Endangered Species Act implementation is already inadequate by a very wide margin, so it is unlikely that funding would ever be available either for compensation for reviewers or for staff to convene and manage the process.
Miller predicted that the bill would not get to a vote by the full House of Representatives, but said that even if it should, there wouldn't be enough votes for passage. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Gordon Smith (R-OR) but it has not yet been considered by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
THE WILDLIFE SOCIETY CLEARS BIOLOGISTS OF CHARGES OF ETHICAL VIOLATIONS IN CANADA LYNX CONTROVERSY - A special Board of Inquiry appointed by the President of The Wildlife Society (TWS), the international organization for wildlife professionals, has cleared two biologists of charges of ethical wrongdoing resulting from their submission of unauthorized control samples in a study of Canada lynx.
The National Interagency Canada Lynx Survey (NICLS) was initiated in 1999 to determine the geographic range of the lynx and thereby enhance the furtive cat's future management and protection. Its principal tools are the use of hair collection and DNA testing. Investigations by the U.S. General Accounting Office and U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that the biologists had submitted for DNA testing "unauthorized" hair samples but found that no illegal actions had been taken. Some reports alleged that the biologists' motive was to promote an environmentalist agenda on public lands. The biologists maintain they submitted the "control" samples to probe the accuracy of the DNA testing laboratory, although they knew the survey protocol did not have a provision for such action. Hearings on the affair were held in the U.S. Congress and the Washington State legislature. Some members of Congress continue to insist that there was fraud and have repeatedly cited this case in support of the "Sound Science for Endangered Species Planning Act."
Despite findings by the General Accounting Office and the Inspectors General for the Department of the Interior and the USDA Forest Service that there was no fraud, the case called into question the rigorous ethical standards that the two biologists both members of The Wildlife Society - are expected to uphold. As a result, TWS President Diana L. Hallett, an official of the Missouri Department of Conservation, in late May established a Board of Inquiry and charged it with determining whether the two TWS members, Tom McCall and Raymond Scharpf, violated the Code of Ethics of TWS.
In a letter dated 10 July, Hallett informed Society members that the Board of Inquiry had reached its decisions: Both McCall and Scharpf exhibited poor judgment in submitting "control" samples to the DNA lab when they knew that the survey's protocol did not provide for such an action. However, the Board added that the two biologists' reasoning--to ensure that data resulting from the National Interagency Canada Lynx Survey were accurate and reliable--was consistent with the TWS Code.
The Board also found that neither McCall nor Scharpf acted in a manner suggesting they were trying to conceal the control-sample submission or influence the survey's outcome. Further, the control samples were labeled so as to prevent the lab from concluding that the samples represented actual field data. Poor timing and inadequate communications, the Board concluded, were contributing factors. Given these conclusions, both biologists have been exonerated of charges of violating The Wildlife Society's Code of Ethics.
Re-examining the need to publish studies with negative findings some policy implications for science When a study goes unpublished, other scientists who have no way to know that the study was even done may spend money and precious research time going down the same blind alley. So, suggests New York Times science writer Gina Kolata in a July 7 article, there should be an opportunity for researchers to share their negative results that would ordinarily not be accepted for publication. Kolata reports that "a few new journals have begun soliciting and publishing negative studies - ostensibly to prevent repetition and waste, and to acknowledge that even negative results add value to our collective knowledge bank."
The article goes on to describe two web-based journals where scientists can post negative findings. And when the National Institutes of Health PubMed Central went online a couple of years ago, its preprint policy allowed researchers to share unpublished data such as negative findings and failed clinical trials. Noted AIDS researcher and director of the NIH Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease Anthony Fauci pointed out at the time: "When you're dealing with clinically relevant problems, very often the negative results or failures are even more important than the successes."
Wide-spread publication of negative findings could change grant application and review processes. Should funding agencies require the reporting of negative results? Should scarce research dollars be allocated to experiments that repeat similar studies with negative findings? But if negative findings are not published in a peer-reviewed and fully accessible manner, funders may not be able to evaluate the merit of an application for funds for similar studies.
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