In response to a Congressional request, the National Academies Committee on Setting Priorities for NSF-sponsored Large Research Facility Projects (hosted by the Board on Physics and Astronomy) is examining how the National Science Foundation sets priorities among multiple competing proposals for construction and operation of large-scale research facility projects for a diverse array of disciplines and will make recommendations regarding how to make the priority-setting process as effective as possible, taking into account NSF's significant role in funding academic research in science and engineering in the United States.

The committee's first meeting was held on May 19 and 20 at the Academies' Keck Center in Washington, D.C. The first day of the meeting was divided into three panels. The first panel consisted of representatives from the House Science Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD and Independent Agencies (which requested the study). During the congressional panel, representatives noted that NSF is among the most "transparent" of all agencies in regards to how it sets its annual budget. Panelists expressed concern, however, that there was little transparency or apparent coordination in the priority-setting process when it comes to large infrastructure projects, especially those funded through the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account (MREFC). Panelists noted that choosing between the scientific disciplines is extremely difficult, but they are hoping to leave that choice up to the NSF and the National Science Board, rather than leaving the account open to lobbyists. NSF Director Rita Colwell and Deputy Director Joseph Bordogna followed the congressional panel and outlined the process NSF currently uses to prioritize projects. A panel of scientists from various disciplines closed the day, presenting an overview of their fields' MRE projects.

At one point, a congressional representative noted that one of the factors driving the request for the study was a sense that the biological sciences had received undue favor in the account. During the public comment period on the second day, AIBS sought to correct this perception by noting that the biological sciences have yet to receive any funding through the MRE account in its eight years of existence. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is the first such project for biology. Congress declined funding the project the first two years it was in the budget; it is unclear at this stage in the budget process whether it will receive funding this year.

Further information, including electronic and videotaped copies of presentations made to the committee, is available at The committee's next scheduled meetings are: July 21-22, 2003 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Menlo Park, CA; September 17-18, 2003 and November 5-6, 2003.


On Monday, May 12, the National Academy of Science (NAS) released a report in which they evaluate the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grant and fellowship program. According to the report entitled "A Measure of STAR," the program is outstanding when compared to other similar programs. NAS says that the STAR program fills a unique niche by supporting "important research that is not conducted or funded by other agencies" and is "directly relevant" to
the mission of EPA. In addition, NAS states that STAR research results have already improved the scientific foundation for decision making even though the program is young and many of the projects have not yet been completed. The NAS report indicates, "STAR is funding many scientists with outstanding credentials" who "have impressive research track records and are leaders in their fields." NAS also believes that the recently reinstated STAR fellowship program is helping to build a stronger scientific foundation for the Nation's environmental research and management efforts. If you would like to learn more about "The Measure of STAR: Review of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Research Grants Program" report, copies are available from the National Academies Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at


At the request of the National Science Foundation, the Board on Life Sciences of the National Research Council has initiated a study on the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The study committee will first evaluate which important issues in ecology need to be addressed on an expanded range of scales (e.g., regional or continental) and whether these issues represent national concerns. The committee will then examine the NEON concept and assess whether NEON's national network of field and laboratory research infrastructure is an appropriate and necessary means to address these large-scale questions. The committee will also consider the impact that NEON may have on the scientific community and on the next generation of scientists.

The study will be structured around the following four questions.
1. What are the important issues in ecology and environmental biology that can only be addressed
on a regional or continental scale? Are any of these issues of national concern?
2. Is a national network of field and laboratory research infrastructure (e.g. environmental sensor
arrays, remotely operated gas and ion analyzers, biodiversity monitoring instrumentation) needed to
address these questions?
3. Will NEON, as conceptualized in the series of six community workshops, be able to provide
infrastructure and logistical support to address ecological and environmental questions of national
4. What impact will NEON have on the scientific community and the next generation of scientists?

The committee would like to solicit suggestions and comments from the ecological community and
the wider scientific community regarding the issues listed above. Hence, it will host a web forum for
open discussion from June 2 to June 16. This is your opportunity to provide your perspectives and
insights to the committee. Please navigate to (NOTE: this link will not be live until May 30) for more information on NEON and to join in the discussion. Please e-mail Bridget Avila at if you have any difficulties with the forum or any other general questions and comments.

In addition to the web forum, the committee will be holding its first meeting on June 10, 2003
(Tuesday) at the National Academy of Sciences Building (2101 Constitution Ave., Washington DC),
which will be open to public between 1:30 - 4:30 p.m. EDT. This will be an opportunity to learn about
NSF's plans for NEON and about the views of relevant professional societies and other government
agencies. Please RSVP with Bridget Avila by phone at (202) 334-2186 or via e-mail at if you plan on attending this meeting.

If you cannot attend, you may participate in the meeting by listening to a live audio webcast and
submitting questions using an e-mail form at Listening to the webcast
requires either RealPlayer or Windows Media Player. RealPlayer software is available free at Windows Media Player is available free at For more information on using these players, see the
respective Web sites. Free technical support will be available during the webcast via a toll-free number.


As regular readers of the AIBS Public Policy Report are aware, the National Research Council is examining the methodology for assessment of research-doctorate programs. As part of this effort, the NRC is developing a taxonomy of academic disciplines and fields. The four disciplines in the taxonomy are Life Sciences; Humanities; Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering; and Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Based on comments the NRC received from biologists earlier this year, the taxonomy of the life sciences has been modified and organized to include sixteen categories representing fields of study in the life sciences (note, bio- and biomedical-engineering, and oceanography are included under the physical science category). The NRC is now requesting suggestions for the inclusion of "sub-fields." Sub-fields will be used during the full study to "assist faculty in associating with a field in the taxonomy," and to "assure that program raters are spread fairly evenly across subfields when programs are assessed."

The current draft taxonomy is available at:

Comments should be submitted to:


On May 22 representatives of a broad cross section of groups, including professional societies, environmental advocacy organizations, agricultural trade associations, government and foundations met in Washington, DC for a briefing and the release of the Sustainable Rangeland Roundtable's (SRR) first report, "First Approximation Report on Rangeland Sustainability." The SRR is a collaborative partnership of over 50 organizations, including rangeland scientists, sociologists, policy and legal experts, environmental advocates, and industry representatives, jointly funded by Colorado State University, the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Geological Survey and Agricultural Research Service. The First Approximation Report outlines a framework for consistent, standardized, periodic rangeland inventory and monitoring at multiple spatial scales. The report details five criteria and 64 indicators for assessing ecological, economic, and social/cultural sustainability of rangelands and dependent human communities in the United States. The report will be available on SRR's website at


The AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Server Network in the United States and Canada allows scientists, teachers, and other parties interested in evolution-education to be in touch with each other locally, nationally, and internationally. State/territory list serves facilitate support groups for educators trying to teach evolution in a difficult atmosphere, permit rapid communication and grass-roots activity when school boards or legislatures are considering policies that will promote the teaching of anti-evolutionary ideas in science classes, and provide information about evolution-related activities in a state/territory or local community (for example, seminars, public or church meetings).

Individuals willing and able to manage list serves are needed for the following states: Alaska, Connecticut-manager needs a server host, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and North Dakota. In Canada, list serve managers are needed for all provinces except Alberta and Ontario.

If you are interested in managing a list serve for your state/province, know someone that would be interested, or you are able to manage a list serve for a neighboring state, please contact Dr. Robert Gropp, AIBS' Senior Policy Representative, at
Information about the AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Serve Network may be found at

Compensation: The feeling of fulfillment one receives from volunteering for a good cause.

- IBRCS updates online at : (1) the IBRCS white paper, "Rationale, Blueprint, and Expectations for the National Ecological Observatory Network"; (2) the NEON video (streaming video); and (3) the AIBS roundtable, "Sensing the Environment: The Future of Environmental Observatory Networks," (streaming video, transcripts, and slides).

- Link your website to AIBS at


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