WEST VIRGINIA ENDORSES EVOLUTION EDUCATION, REJECTS INTELLIGENT DESIGN
On February 20, 2003, the West Virginia Board of Education voted to adopt new science education content standards. The new standards include evolution education. Despite an effort by "intelligent design theory" and other anti-evolution education advocates, the Board unanimously approved the standards drafted by education professionals. The standards are based on frameworks developed by professional scientific organizations.
Note: If you are interested in staying informed about evolution education issues in your state, territory or province, visit the AIBS/NCSE Evolution List Serve Network at www.aibs.org/outreach/evlist.html.
HOUSE VOTES TO CRIMINALIZE CLONING RESEARCH
On February 27, 2003, the U.S. House of Representative passed H.R. 534, The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003, by a vote of 241-155. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL) would ban nuclear transplantation or therapeutic cloning research. President Bush strongly supports the legislation and would likely sign it into law if the Senate also passes the measure.
While there is general consensus among members of Congress that cloning for reproductive purposes should be illegal, there is disagreement about what Congress should do, if anything, about limiting research and technology that could lead to reproductive cloning. Opponents of H.R. 534 argue that the measure would not simply ban human cloning, but also significantly hinder basic research and slow the development of disease treatments and therapies.
H.R. 534 passed despite strong opposition from scientists and medical/disease research advocates. Opponents argued that the legislation would exclude the legitimate use of nuclear transplantation technology for research and therapeutic purposes. This would impede progress in the development and use of nuclear transplantation technology for patient-specific embryonic stem cells that could overcome the rejection normally associated with tissue and organ transplantation. Additionally, nuclear transplantation technology might help scientists understand how genetic predisposition leads to a variety of cancers and neurological diseases. Equally troubling to many is a provision that would prevent importation of medical treatments developed outside the United States when nuclear transplantation technology is used in the development of the treatment.
Some believe the Weldon legislation is part of a strategy to ban all stem cell research. A letter from 40 Nobel scientists opposing restrictions on nuclear transplantation technology also raised the important message the legislation sends to future researchers, "Such legal restrictions on scientific investigation would also send a strong signal to the next generation of researchers that unfettered and responsible scientific investigation is not welcome in the United States."
Supporters of H.R. 534 posed religious, ethical, and scientific arguments for banning cloning. Rep. Weldon asserted that without the ban, scientists could create, exploit and destroy human embryos. Some supporters of the legislation raised the problems experienced by Dolly and recent cult attempts to clone a human to support the argument that cloning is dangerous and irresponsible. Further, proponents argued that the most fruitful line of therapeutic research involves adult stem cells and that there is no medical evidence that embryonic stem cells will result in the development of treatments for human diseases.
An amendment that would have permitted nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells for research was offered by Representative Jim Greenwood (R-PA), but was rejected by a vote of 174-231.
H.R. 534 now moves to the Senate where its outcome is uncertain. The Senate has been closely divided on the issue of "human cloning". In the past, Senators Hatch (R-UT), Kennedy (D-MA), and others have opposed efforts to limit research. Others, such as Senator Brownback (R-KS) have made a ban on stem cell research and cloning a top legislative priority.
SCIENCE EDUCATION IN THE FY04 BUDGET
National Science Foundation - NSF's Education and Human Resources (EHR) Activity was appropriated $909,080,000 for FY03. The FY04 request for EHR is $938.04 million, roughly $29 million or about a 3.2 percent increase over the amount appropriated for FY03. In NSF's FY03 budget request, high priorities in the EHR Activity are the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) and increased support for graduate students.
MSP addresses concerns of the Administration and Congress that math and science learning and teaching must be improved for all preK-12 students in the United States. As part of the effort to address the need for technically-skilled workers, NSF, in its role for the No Child Left Behind initiative, is proposing $200 million in spending for the MSP program to strengthen K-12 education and student performance in mathematics and science. A major priority for NSF Director Rita Colwell has been to raise graduate student stipends to a competitive level. Graduate stipends are no longer considered attractive by students because they are inadequate to compensate for the cost of education and mounting student debt, and to offset opportunities for higher salaries offered by employers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics baccalaureate degree holders. NSF is proposing $245 million for graduate fellowships and traineeships, $39 million more than the FY03 request, a 22 percent increase. This investment would support a stipend increase to $30,000 yearly, starting in FY04, and would increase the number of students supported to about 5,000, roughly 350 more than the number under the FY03 budget request.
NSF has also requested an investment of $8.5 million in new funding under NSF's Workforce for the 21st Century priority area. This priority builds on NSF's programs in science and engineering education. The effort would foster collaborations to design a suite of complementary and integrated programs for preK-12 to the postdoctorate level to provide a route for students to advance in a seamless progression.
Department of Education - In addition to reauthorizing the programs of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the No Child Left Behind Act also established the federal Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program. MSP is a cross-cutting initiative that involves the U.S. Department of Education (ED), NSF, NIH, NASA, as well as other federal departments and mission agencies involved in education and workforce development. MSP provides grants to partnerships for activities to improve the academic achievement of students in the areas of science and math.
For FY02 ED received $12.5 million for MSP. The request for MSP in the FY03 would have provided level funding. However, a coalition of more than a dozen science societies, including AIBS, asked key members of Congress to provide the MSP program with $100 million. As a result of the coordinated effort by science societies, Congress provided just over $100 million in the 2003 spending bill. As a result, ED will now distribute funds to each state education agency based upon a formula. The funds will be used to support the establishment of state and local MSPs. The President's FY04 budget request again calls for $12.5 million for the Department's MSP program. While nothing is certain, it is unlikely ED's MSP program would fall back to this requested level.
- Register for the 2003 AIBS annual meeting, Bioethics in a Changing World, at www.aibs.org/meeting2003
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