REPORT RECOMMENDS STRENGTHENING ROLE OF FEDERAL SCIENCE ADVISORS
Scientists have long sought to ensure that public policy decision makers have access to the best available scientific and technical information, and that this information is used to inform public policy decisions. According to many scientists, however, the process by which the White House and Congress receive scientific advice is in need of reform. On the heels of the release of the latest National Academies report for improving executive branch science and technology advisory panels and the process for recruiting and retaining senior executive branch appointees responsible for scientific programs (see: AIBS Public Policy Report for 22 November 2004), the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has issued "Flying Blind: The Rise, Fall, and Possible Resurrection of Science Policy Advice in the United States."
Henry Kelley, an author of the report and president of FAS, has said that the report is not meant as a political commentary. Kelley told the Chronicle of Higher Education that "We [FAS] throw rocks at a lot of different people. There is a lot of blame to go around. Our interest here is not to attack the current administration." The report contends that while the need for effective science and technology advice continues to increase, "the infrastructure for providing such help is in a state of crisis." Acknowledging that technical analysis is almost never sufficient to make wise choices, "absent competent, timely, targeted scientific and technical analysis, these decisions will depend on unchallenged assertions by special interests and ideologues." A real and negative consequence will be poorly designed programs and costly mistakes.
Examples of how the scientific advisory process has been weakened at the highest levels of government include Congress' decision to disband the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1996, and in the current administration the position of science advisor seemingly lacks the same status and proximity to the President as previous advisors have enjoyed (i.e., title and an office in the West Wing of the White House).
The report proposes actions for Congress and the White House. Congress is called upon to recognize that while the National Academies provide a valuable and necessary function, their role is not sufficient. Congress should "start a significant effort with OTA's ability to assemble external expertise and conduct detailed analysis of complex technical subjects as a distinct organization within GAO [Government Accountability Office] reporting directly to the GAO director." As for the President, the report calls for a strengthened role for existing White House-level science organizations and the presidential science advisor. More specifically, the President should seek passage of legislation to "(a) establish a strong National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) managed by a civilian executive secretary appointed by the President, formalizing the role of the Presidential science and Technology advisory; and (b) reauthorize the Office of Science and Technology Policy as an office that would secure independent advice through independent advisory boards, conduct timely assessments of science and technology policy issues using both internal staff and sponsoring studies in the National Academies and possibly other organizations." Other recommendations are also presented. The report is currently available online at http://www.fas.org/main/home.jsp.
SECRETARY OF INTERIOR NORTON NOMINATES NEW ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR WATER AND SCIENCE
Among the growing list of science and technology related personnel changes being announced for President Bush's second term is Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. On 1 December 2004, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced that she had accepted the resignation of Bennett Raley who has held the post since 2001. The Assistant Secretary for Water and Science discharges the duties of the Secretary with the authority and direct responsibility to carry out the statutory mandate to manage and direct programs that support the development and implementation of water, mineral, and science policies and assist the development of economically and environmentally sound resource activities. The Assistant Secretary oversees the programs of the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey. In accepting Raley's resignation, Secretary Norton commended Raley for his work on western water issues.
Following Bennett Raley's resignation, Secretary Norton named Tom Weimer Acting Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. Weimer has served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for the past three and a half years. Weimer has eighteen years of federal service and previously served as Chief of Staff to former Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, Jr. Secretary Norton said of Weimer, "Tom has a wealth of experience and I am confident in his ability to take on this position. Tom has been with us since July 2001 and I have come to rely on his judgment and his scientific expertise on a broad range of issues." Weimer has served as professional staff for the House Committees on Interior and Science, as well as legislative director for National Laboratory Affairs at the University of California. Weimer received bachelors and masters degrees in systems engineering from Harvey Mudd College and the master of electrical engineering degree from the University of Washington.
DOVER (PA) LATEST ANTI-EVOLUTION EDUCATION HOT SPOT
In October the Dover (PA) Area School Board adopted a resolution reading "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design." Passage of the resolution coincided with an outside entity donating 50 copies of the pro-intelligent design book, "Of Pandas and People." Since the board's adoption of this curriculum requirement, tension in the small community has increased. A number of local citizens have contacted civil liberties organizations to evaluate potential lawsuits against the district. Meanwhile, the district's science teachers are struggling to understand the ramifications of the policy. Bill Miller, a union spokesman for the Dover Area Education Association told the York Daily Record that teachers were confused and frustrated by the lack of guidance as to how they are supposed to implement the resolution. The school district promised to eventually develop guidelines in cooperation with the teachers; however, Miller said that the union would not do so: "If we have any directional discussions with the administration on how to answer these questions, it implies that we are cooperating on the issue," he told the York Daily Record. Miller went on to note that, "If given a direction by the administration, we will not be insubordinate. But they must be the ones to say how we answer the students in this area." Miller also made it clear that reports that teachers helped craft resolution language are inaccurate.
Meanwhile, a recent front page article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted the Dover intelligent design/creationism situation. In the article, Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, noted that the Dover case is emblematic of a broader national trend: "There is a new energy as a result of the last election, and I anticipate an even busier couple of years coming on." Scott further noted that while proponents of intelligent design/creationism usually maintain a strategic silence on the identity of the intelligent designer, it is not the case in Dover. The article reported, "supporters of the new curriculum in this religiously conservative slice of rural Pennsylvania say they know exactly who the intelligent designer is." A contention supported by a local resident who was quoted in an Associated Press article stating that anyone that opposes intelligent design is "taking a stand against God."
To stay appraised of evolution-related education developments in your state or territory, join the AIBS/NCSE State Evolution List Serve Network (http://www.aibs.org/mailing-lists/the_aibs-ncse_evolution_list_server.html
Additionally, AIBS' online science education publication www.ActionBioScience.org
is pleased to announce the availability of an interview on "Science and Religion" with Kenneth R. Miller. The interview was conducted at the recent AIBS/NABT/BSCS evolution symposium held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the National Association of Biology Teachers. The interview is available at http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/miller.html
NEW IN BIOSCIENCE: "NEW ESA AMENDMENTS: SOUND SCIENCE OR POLITICAL SHELL GAME"
In the December 2004 issue of BioScience, Sasha Gennet explores recent attempts by members of Congress to amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"The number of species officially listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is 1261 and still rising. Nine species have gone extinct, and only 8 domestic species have been recovered and delisted. ON one point, both supporters and critics of the ESA agree: The act has thus far failed to achieve its goal of conserving and recovering species threatened with extinction. How best to achieve recovery is currently the subject of great contention among policymakers, managers, scholars, and scientists."
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