Federal budget update

With growing expenses related to the war in Iraq and Gulf Coast hurricane damage, Congress is moving forward with plans to cut an addition $35 billion out of the fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget. Budget resolutions are moving through both the House and Senate this week as authorizing committees identify program cuts and seek to identify new revenue sources.

In the Senate the Budget Committee is scheduled to mark up their reconciliation bill on 26 October. All Senate authorizing committees, except for Finance, have reported their budget reconciliation language to the Budget Committee. The most contentious language currently contained in the budget package is the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's plan to permit drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Many Senate Democrats are outraged that Republicans would use the filibuster-proof reconciliation process as a means to pass such controversial legislation. But proponents of ANWR drilling point out that the plan could bring in $2.5 billion in federal revenue and they see this as their only option for opening up ANWR under this Congress. The House Resources Committee is also expected to approve drilling in ANWR on Wednesday.

As the Senate is quickly moving forward with their reconciliation process, the House is weighing the possibility of increasing the mandatory budget cuts from $35 billion to $50 billion. House Republicans had hoped to pass the measure last week, but conservatives wanted to cut more out of the budget and moderates felt that $50 billion in cuts would gut important programs. To attract more support for the deeper cuts, GOP leaders have even included Defense and Homeland Security spending as targets for reductions. All draft budget reconciliation language must be reported by 28 October to the House Budget Committee which will compile the separate proposals into a single piece of legislation.

New evolution education products now available

Now available in the AIBS Webstore at http://webstore.aibs.org/:

"Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation"

2005. 202 pp.

Edited by Joel Cracraft and Rodger Bybee. Based on the symposium that AIBS and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study held at the 2004 annual convention of the National Association of Biology Teachers. This book presents the proceedings of the two-day symposium, which featured 17 lectures by research scientists in evolutionary biology and five panel sessions of educators who teach evolution at the secondary and post-secondary level in schools as well as to the general public in science centers. For a list of contributors, see a full description in the AIBS Webstore.

"Evolution—Why Bother?"

2005. 27 Minutes. Broadcast Quality. DVD and VHS format.

The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, AIBS, and Why Bother Films have produced a 27-minute video that is an excellent, non-technical exploration of evolution and natural selection in our daily lives. Endorsed for classroom use by the National Association of Biology Teachers, "Evolution-­Why Bother?" consists of eight self-contained chapters optimized for both individual viewing and classroom use. Intriguing photography, special effects, and upbeat pacing will captivate viewers. Prominent biologists and science educators--including Patty Harmon, David Mindell, Carl Bergstrom, Paul Gepts, Lynn Caporale, Kenneth Miller, Jerry Waldvogel, and Joel Cracraft—explain how an understanding of evolution is being used today to guide our search for new medicines, help solve crimes, develop vaccines, combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, deal with invasive species, grow our food, provide a rational basis for managing resources, protect endangered species, and identify emerging diseases. This program explores the practical reasons why evolution is important in our daily lives - why we should bother with evolution.

ID On Trial in Dover, PA: Defense Calls First Witnesses

The Dover Intelligent Design trial continues in Harrisburg, PA this week after the defense began calling its first witnesses on 17 October. Before the plaintiffs rested their case, the court heard testimony from expert witnesses Barbara Forrest, Professor of Philosophy, Southeastern Louisiana University; Brian Alters, Associate Professor of Education, McGill University; Kevin Padian, Professor of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley; and Kenneth Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University. In addition, science teachers and members of the school board also testified.

The defense called its first witness on 10 October. Michael Behe, Professor of Biochemistry, Lehigh University, and author of "Darwin's Black Box," was the first witness for the defense. According to reports, Behe attempted to argue that there is a scientific basis to ID and that it is simply misunderstood by many academics. During cross examination, Behe was asked if he was aware of the Lehigh University Department of Biology's statement that explained, "While we respect Professor Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective decision that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific." The defense continues its case this week.

In other news, the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, recently convened a forum entitled "Science Wars: Should Schools Teach Intelligent Design?" The event featured expert witnesses Kenneth Miller and Barbara Forrest as well as lead defense counsel, Richard Thompson of the Thomas Moore Law Center, and Mark Ryland, Director of the Discovery Institute's Washington, DC office. Thompson and Ryland are advocates for intelligent design. While the event unfolded rather smoothly with proponents and opponents of ID stating their positions, a disagreement between Thompson and Ryland surfaced. When asked to explain why three Discovery Institute representatives withdrew themselves as expert witnesses in the Dover case, Ryland responded, "The Discovery Institute never set out to have schools get into this issue...we have unfortunately gotten sucked into it because of our expertise in this issue...as far as I know, there was no institutional decision made one way or the other."

Thompson quickly quoted a Discovery Institute book, "Intelligent Design and Public School Science Curriculum" which states that "school boards have the ability to permit and even encourage the teaching of design theory...this includes the use of textbooks such as 'Of Pandas and People.'" When it came time to have the Discovery Institute representatives testify, Thompson explained, "they wanted their own attorneys to consult with for objections...that caused us some concern about where was the heart of the Discovery Institute. Was it really something of a tactical decision? Was it the strategy they'd been using? In Ohio and other places they push the school board to go in with Intelligent Design and as soon as there was a controversy they back out for a compromise."

University presidents join chorus of academics opposed to intelligent design/creationism

As Intelligent Design has become a national issue, the presidents of Cornell University and the University of Idaho have condemned the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools. On 21 October, Hunter R. Rawlings III, Cornell University's interim president, said teaching ID in science classrooms is "very dangerous." Rawlings was speaking before hundreds of faculty and trustees during the state of the university address. During his speech, Rawlings pointed out that, "right now, this issue is playing out in school districts, cities, counties, and state across the country." He encouraged colleges to become more engaged in the ID debate and he asked Cornell's staff to speak out on any blurring of the lines between religion and science.

In a recent letter to faculty, staff, and students, University of Idaho president, Timothy P. White, clearly stated the University's position on evolution. Dated October 4, the statement explains, "As an academic scientific community and a research extensive land-grant institution, we affirm scientific principles that are testable and anchored in evidence...[Evolution] is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences." White continued, "At the University of Idaho, teaching of views that differ from evolution may occur in faculty-approved curricula in religion, sociology, philosophy, political science or similar courses. However, teaching of such views is inappropriate in our life, earth, and physical science courses or curricula."

The debate over ID has intensified recently at the University of Idaho after it was announced that Scott Minnich, Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry will testify in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Minnich, a fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture - the leading national proponent of intelligent design, will testified in defense of the school board's ID curriculum.

NSF position announcement: Director of Environmental Biology

The National Science Foundation Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is seeking qualified candidates for the position of Director, Division of Environmental Biology (DEB). DEB supports fundamental research on populations, species, communities, and ecosystems. The Division is structured in four clusters ­ Ecological Biology that supports research on natural and managed ecological systems, primarily in terrestrial, wetland, and freshwater habitats; Ecosystems Science that supports research on natural, managed, and disturbed ecosystems, including those in terrestrial, freshwater, and wetland (including salt marsh) environments; Population & Evolutionary Processes that focuses on population properties that lead to variation within and among populations; Systematic Biology and Biodiversity Inventories that support the general science of systematics, whose three main missions are: to discover, describe, and inventory global species diversity; and analyze and organize the information.

The application period closes on 14 November 2005. The announcement number is S20060002. For more information, please go to http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=s20060002.

New in BioScience: "Streamlining the Federal Water Research Portfolio"

The October 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers recent federal actions that could improve funding for freshwater research. An excerpt from the article follows.

In the United States, vicious battles over water were once viewed as the sole domain of the American Southwest. But today, conflicts over water are brewing all over the country. In 2002, the New York Times reported on water conflicts in 29 different states. Even as more states are faced with water problems, those with a history of water problems are facing new challenges: according to the Public Policy Institute of California, California's demand for water could increase by as much as 40 percent by 2030.

As the geography of water conflicts expands, the complexity of the issues grows. Robert Hirsch, associate director for water at the US Geological Survey, notes that water allocation has traditionally been viewed in terms of how much was needed for agricultural, urban, and industrial uses, with little consideration for the needs of aquatic habitats. "Now, due to changes in public values and laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the allocation has to be reconsidered; the biota now have a seat at the negotiating table." As a result, the question water managers are faced with has shifted from "How much can we take?" to "How much do we need to leave?"

The complete article may be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_10.html.


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