SENATE PASSES ALTERNATE VERSION OF THE FEDERAL RESEARCH INVESTMENT ACT - The U.S. Senate on September 21, 2000 passed S.2046(The Federal Research Investment Act) by unanimous consent. The bill has two major parts. The Federal Research Investment Act is similar to the "Doubling Bill" (S.296/H.R. 3161). It calls for sustained increases in funding of civilian R&D administered by 16 agencies (including NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA, and NIST). It authorizes civilian R&D spending to gradually increase as a percentage of federal discretionary spending over the next five years to put the nation on course to spend 10% of discretionary funds on civilian research by 2011. Unlike S.296/H.R. 3161, the bill is based on a percentage of discretionary spending and not simple doubling over ten years. Also unlike S.296/H.R.3161, the bill only authorizes specific levels for the first five years (through 2005). FY06-11 will be authorized based on budget projections for those years, as they become available. Similar to S.296/H.R. 3161, the bill does not cap the funding of any specific agency, so would not prevent NIH or NSF funding from doubling in a shorter time period. It also does not authorize specific agencies or programs - so does not preclude Congressional authorizers from exercising their important oversight and authorization roles after the bill is enacted.
The bill also includes the Information Technology Research and Development Act. This Title is similar to H.R.2086, passed earlier this year by the House. It funds the IT R&D activities of a number of federal agencies, including reauthorizing the Next Generation Internet Act. This Title also provides five years of authorization for a number of agencies, and also does not interfere in the traditional oversight role of the relevant Congressional committees. The title is different from H.R.2086 in that it funds the important IT R&D programs of the Department of Energy, at levels sufficient for them to perform their Congressionally-mandated missions.
The outlook for this bill, which is reportedly unopposed in the House of Representatives, is more promising than either of the two original bills. It addresses concerns of appropriators that their role in deciding funding levels should not be usurped. It better reflects the interconnected nature of science.
AIBS HOSTS STRATEGY SESSION ON EVOLUTION On September 25, AIBS hosted a meeting of the public policy representatives of the Ecological Society of America, National Association of Biology Teachers, the Tri-Societies (American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America), American Geophysical Union, American Geological Institute, and the American Physical Society. Led by Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, they explored the formation of an interdisciplinary coalition to develop a long-term, proactive approach to supporting the understanding and teaching of evolution. Discussion focused on the kinds of efforts that organizations with professional staff could undertake by virtue of the fact that they have the ability to develop and sustain activities. Agreeing that such a coalition could be beneficial, they agreed to meet again to plan the strategy. Kent Holsinger and Doug Futuyma, representing the Society for the Study of Evolution, participated by phone.
STATES' GRADES ON TEACHING EVOLUTION REPORTED AT AAAS MEETING ON TEACHING EVOLUTION - A Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report by Lawrence S. Lerner entitled Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States was released at a September 26 AAAS meeting on teaching evolution. Lerner found that 31 states do at least a satisfactory job of dealing with evolution. Of these, ten do a very good to excellent job. Six states were considered unsatisfactory and 13 failed the test entirely. Kansas actually received an "F-" for shunning biological evolution and deleting all references to the age of the earth or the universe, but Lerner noted that the original draft science standards that were to have been considered by the Kansas school board would have received the highest mark. It is likely that the newly-constituted Kansas board decide to adopt the standards drafted by its appointed committee of teachers and scientists when it meets in January 2001. Single copies of the report are free and can be ordered by calling (888) TBF-7474. The full report is also available on the Foundation's website at http://www.edexcellence.net.
The AAAS forum featured a discussion of the report and four additional panels. Called The Teaching of Evolution in U.S. Schools: Where Politics, Religion, and Science Converge, the meeting focused on the teaching of evolution in grades K-12. One discussion examined the views of major religious organizations towards the teaching of evolution. Speakers included representatives of the U.S. Catholic Conference's Committee on Science and Human Values and the Research, Ethics, and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission. Changes in anti-evolutionary thought and activism were examined, along with an assessment of the public's knowledge of and attitudes towards evolution and the teaching of the subject.
A full report on this forum will be prepared by AIBS Public Policy Representative Ellen Paul. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy of her report.
NAS PANEL EXAMINES FEDERAL RECRUITMENT FOR TOP SCIENCE SLOTS - A report released September 21, 2000 by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine concludes that the next administration may be unable to recruit the best scientists and engineers to fill essential government positions. Science and Technology in the National Interest: The Presidential Appointment Process, was produced by a panel of former senior federal executives, who identified work rules such as stock divestiture requirements and restrictions on post-government employment as disincentives to government service. They also noted that top scientists may not want to abandon their research, even temporarily, especially in rapidly-developing fields. The report makes three recommendations: that the new administration initiate the appointment process for key S&T leadership early, even selecting candidates for appointments prior to the election; that Congress and the executive branch increase the breadth and depth of the pool of candidates by reducing the financial and vocational obstacles to government service; and that the White House and the Senate accelerate the approval process. The full report can be found at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/9973.html or can be obtained at no cost (while supplies last) by contacting email@example.com.
NAS RECOMMENDS BIODIVERSITY RESEARCH FUNDING FOR EIGHT "GRAND CHALLENGES" IN ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES - A new report released September 25, 2000 by the National Academies' National Research Council identifies eight important areas of environmental research for the next generation. The report, which was requested by the National Science Foundation (NSF), further narrows this list to four areas of research that merit immediate investment. The committee that wrote the report solicited nominations for "grand" challenges in the environmental sciences in a letter circulated to thousands of scientists in the United States and abroad. After receiving more than 200 responses, the committee selected eight major areas of focus that offer the potential for a timely, major scientific breakthrough of practical importance to humankind based on recent developments in science and technology, and that are feasible if given major new funding. It also considered whether the research would take advantage of expertise in many scientific disciplines. The committee did not prioritize the challenges, described below, saying that they were of equal importance. The eight grand challenges identified are: biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, climate variability, hydrologic forecasting, infectious disease and the environment, institutions and resource use, land-use dynamics, and reinventing the use of materials.
The committee recommended that NSF, preferably in cooperation with other federal agencies, immediately focus on four areas of research: biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; hydrologic forecasting; infectious disease and the environment; and land-use dynamics. As with the eight grand challenges, these four were not ranked. NSF should hold workshops to plan specific research agendas for each of the grand challenges, beginning with the four areas recommended for action now, the committee said. Without this information, it is not possible to accurately estimate the research funding needed. However, the committee roughly estimated that each of the four areas recommended for immediate investment would require several hundred million dollars -- at a minimum -- over a 10-year period, for a total of perhaps $1 billion to $2 billion. Investing several hundred million dollars annually is well within the $1 billion per year budget increase that NSF's National Science Board recommended for environmental sciences over the next five years, the committee noted. Copies of Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences will be available later this fall from the National Academy Press.
GLENN COMMISSION REPORT ON SCIENCE TEACHING RELEASED The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, better known as the "Glenn Commission" was established in 1999 by Secretary of Education Richard Riley for the purpose of reviewing the current state of American K-12 mathematics and science education with a focus on the challenges of teacher recruitment, preparation, retention, and professional growth; and articulating the steps needed to strengthen the classroom practice of math and science teachers. Chaired by former Senator John Glenn, the 32-member Commission on September 27, 2000 issued its report. Before It's Too Late: A Report to the Nation from The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century stresses two primary messages: first, that America's students must improve their performance in mathematics and science if they are to succeed in today's world and if the United States is to stay competitive in an integrated global economy, and second, that the most direct route to improving mathematics and science achievement for all students is better mathematics and science teaching. The report sets three wide-ranging, intertwined goals that call for action at local, state, and federal levels. As an aid to implementation, each goal is accompanied by a coordinated set of well-funded action strategies that identify key stakeholders who should take the lead in implementing each strategy. The estimated annual cost to achieve these action strategies is over $5 billion a cost that should be shared by all levels of government, higher education, business and industry, professional education associations and teachers' unions, community groups, and the citizenry. The three goals are to: establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12, increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation, and improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers.
Copies of the report will be available by calling 1-877-4ED-PUBS (1-877-433-7827) and will be available online at http://www.ed.gov/americacounts/glenn.
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE CONSIDERS EHLERS EDUCATION BILL On September 21, 2000, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on H.R. 4272, The National Science Education Enhancement Act sponsored by Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI). This bill, one of a package of three crafted by Mr. Ehlers to help improve science, math, engineering, and technical (SMET) education in grades K-12, would strengthen support for teachers and increase opportunities for all students. Included in H.R. 4272 are provisions for teacher mentoring programs through which experienced teachers would provide guidance and assistance to new teachers, summer institutes offering comprehensive, long-term, professional development sessions that are focused on subject matter and tied to school curricula, and a program to provide teachers with technology training and instructional materials. This bill would also expand the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse to include program evaluations and a website linking curricula with classroom and lecture demonstrations, other teachers who are using those programs, and other resources. Witnesses included Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, who stressed the need for a workforce with strong SMET abilities and expressed concern about the difficulty American students seem to be having in these subjects. William Haseltine, Chairman and CEO of Human Genome Sciences, Inc., testified in support of H.R. 4272, saying that better K-12 SMET education is unable to meet its needs for scientific and technical expertise without recruiting foreign workers. Craig Barrett, President and CEO of Intel Corporation, spoke of Intel's Innovation in Education initiative to equip students and teachers with the tools they need to excel in math and science, which hopes to reach 50,000 students through its after school program. Recognizing that classroom training must also be improved, Intel and other companies such as Microsoft are investing nearly a half billion dollars in a Teach to the Future program to give teachers the additional training they need to teach SMET.
CONGRESSMAN NICK SMITH WARNS OF FALSE CLAIMS MADE BY "FEAR PROFITEERS" IN OPPOSITION TO BIOTECHNOLOGY - Speaking at a press briefing on Capitol Hill on September 21, U.S. Representative Nick Smith (R-MI) stressed that decisions with regard to biotechnology must be based on facts and good science rather than selective facts to justify aspirations. Smith extolled the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology and addressed what he sees as false concerns promulgated by the environmental community. Smith, who chairs the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research, issued a Chairman's report, Seeds of Opportunity, in February 2000, based on a series of hearings held last year with leading scientists and researchers that took a comprehensive look at all the issues associated with agricultural biotechnology. At the recent press briefing, Smith deplored the "scare-tactics" promoted in the media recently by groups such as Friends of the Earth, stating, "in making their arguments, they seem to pick and choose scientific data, when they use science at all. As we are confronted by the amazing possibilities of technology, we are right to consider the best paths to pursue -- what's best for our country, for our people, and for our environment. But as a policy maker, the only way I can make those judgments is to put aside the often heated passions surrounding an issue and look at the science. I hope when considering the claims made by some of these groups, my colleagues, the media, and the general public do the same." Unfortunately, Smith bolstered his argument by showcasing representatives from conservative Washington think tanks whose analyses of the scientific bases of scientific and health concerns are motivated and tainted by their strong political views and are no less biased than those they attack.