NEW NAS REPORT CALLS NEON CRITICAL TO ADVANCEMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL BIOLOGY
Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to convene a panel to review its plans for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Specifically, NSF wanted the committee to evaluate which major ecological and environmental issues and national concerns could be addressed only on a regional or continental scale, whether the current concept of NEON was optimal to address them, and what effects NEON would have on science and society.
This is the third year that NEON has been requested in the President's budget; however, Congress has balked at funding in previous years. Several congressional sources have told AIBS in the past that a NAS report endorsing NEON would help tremendously in its bid for funding, as most other large research projects funded by NSF have been reviewed by the NAS. The NAS fast-tracked this report, with little more than 3 months between the committee's first meeting and the public release of the final draft, which is available online at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10807.html.
The report was overwhelmingly favorable towards NEON. In the preface, committee chairman G. David Tilman wrote, "Although we began with little knowledge of or personal participation in the earlier planning process for NEON, we grew to have a strong and unanimous support for the critical role that a NEON-like program could play both in the development of the discipline of ecology and in contributing to scientifically based environmental policy for the nation." The committee noted that NEON could "revolutionize the discipline of environmental biology by transforming ecology into a more mechanistic science that generates predictions and solutions that would help society to deal actively with major environmental issues."
In addressing the question of whether "NEON, as conceptualized in the series of six community workshops, would be able to provide infrastructure and logistical support to address ecological and environmental questions of national concern", the committee suggested a slight change in implementation. NSF had originally planned to fund a total of 16 observatories, two at a time, to address a suite of scientific questions. Because of the length of time it would take to bring all observatories online and thus have a national network, the NAS committee recommended that NSF implement NEON one scientific issue at a time across the entire nation simultaneously. The committee listed six challenges as appropriate for NEON: biodiversity, species composition and ecosystem functioning; ecological aspects of the biogeochemical cycle; ecological implications of climate change; ecology and evolution of infectious diseases; invasive species; and land use and habitat alteration. The report notes that while the committee "agrees with NSF that investigator-driven research must be a central feature of NEON," the current implementation plan of two regional observatories at a time focusing on issues as proposed by the PI's, would be difficult to ensure a coordinated approach to the challenges they listed, such as proper replication and coordination of experiments and measurements at NEON sites across the nation.
On the surface, such a change may seem to necessitate a major overhaul of existing plans for NEON. However, those familiar with NEON say the NAS recommendations are not totally incompatible with existing plans for NEON but are merely "a change in sequencing". Rather than bringing up fully-functioning regional observatories two at a time, under the NAS model, NSF would fund infrastructure for one particular theme for all regions at the same time.
The report will definitely strengthen NEON's chances for funding in the long-term, but it is unclear how it will affect NEON's chances at funding for FY 2004. The NAS report comes at a time when the House and Senate must iron out differences between the appropriations bill which funds the National Science Foundation. The House had included $12 million to begin construction of two "prototype" NEON observatories; the Senate did not fund NEON, citing a lack of funds and unwillingness to fund new major research projects (see AIBS Public Policy Report Issue 19). While Science reported that a congressional aide said the report would help NEON's case on the Hill, the community is concerned that the recommendation to reconfigure NEON may give policy-makers the impression that more time is needed for NSF to adjust their implementation plans to the report. AIBS will continue to report on NEON's progress in future issues of the AIBS Public Policy Report.
FEDERAL BUDGET UPDATE-CONGRESS PASSES LEGISLATION TO FUND GOVERNMENT THROUGH THE END OF OCTOBER
Each year Congress must pass thirteen separate spending bills prior to the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30th) to fund government operations for the ensuing fiscal year. As has become the pattern in recent years, progress on the appropriations front has been slow. Congress has completed work on only three measures (Defense, Homeland Security, and Legislative Branch). Thus, on September 25th the House and Senate approved H.J. Res. 69, a Continuing Resolution that will fund all other federal agencies at FY2003 levels through October 31, 2003. In addition to completing work on the remaining appropriations measures, Congress is under political pressure to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit, a comprehensive energy policy, and to address the President's request for $87 billion to fund activities associated with the war in Iraq.
SCIENTISTS BRIEF CAPITOL HILL ON PREPARING FOR THE NEXT HUMAN-WILDLIFE DISEASE
On Friday, September 26, 2003, scientists representing the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, and the Office of Global Health Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were on Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress and their staff on the threat of future animal-borne diseases to public and wildlife health. Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO and a veterinarian), Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), Rep. James Moran (D-VA), and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies sponsored the briefing. Building on the awareness created by West Nile Virus, Monkeypox, Plague and the general concern about bioterrorism, the briefing discussed the need for an improved federal mechanism to prevent and respond to future zoonotic diseases. Panelists identified several public policy issues they believe the federal government must address. Among these is the lack of a coordinated and comprehensive federal monitoring and surveillance system for wildlife health. While some of these activities are conducted by USGS-supported research centers, a coordinated federal wildlife health surveillance system is not in place.
While not discussed by briefing participants, it is important to note that the CDC has established a collaborative reporting network with zoos across the United States in an effort to better track and understand the ecology of West Nile Virus (BioScience, August 2003, 53(8):792). This collaborative appears to be providing valuable information and may serve as an important component of any wildlife/public health surveillance system. However, it also illustrates the need for a coordinated federal system.
BRITISH BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL HOLDING FREE MEDIA TRAINING WORKSHOP FOR BBSRC SUPPORTED RESEARCHERS
The British Biological Sciences Research Council will is hosting a free media training course on Tuesday, 9 December in London. The course is designed for BBSRC grantholders and calls upon the skills of radio and print journalists to introduce scientists to the workings of the media. The course provides an ideal opportunity for scientists wishing to learn how to use the media machine in promoting their sciences. The training will enable participants to hone their writing skills and experience the thrills of a radio interview without the worries of a real broadcast. Tutors include experienced BBC science reporters and local radio journalists.
The course is free of charge to all principal investigators and research project leaders funded by BBSRC at universities and at institutes that receive a competitive strategic grant from BBSRC. If travel is required for participants, BBSRC will arrange and pay for hotel accommodation and rail travel. For more information, a course outline and an application form, go to:
CREATIONISM INFILTRATES WYOMING SCHOOLS
According to reports from the Associated Press, the Cody, Wyoming school district has adopted a new Religion Policy. In addition to permitting prayer in school, as long as it is not required by a school employee, the policy reportedly prohibits the distribution of school-sponsored religious materials. However, as reported by the AP, "The policy also spells out religious curriculum. Religions can be taught in school, but one religion cannot be endorsed. Creationism can be taught in science classes but only among a variety of theories."
Elsewhere in Wyoming, the Worland school board has granted initial approval to a measure that would permit science teachers to teach alternatives to the theory of evolution. According to an Associated Press article in the Casper Star Tribune, "more than 120 people attended the board meeting," which in addition to addressing evolution-education issues dealt with sexual education curriculum. The board must approve the evolution-education measure two more times before it is officially approved, so there is still a short period of time for concerned residents in the Worland school board's jurisdiction to become engaged in the process.
Wyoming residents interested in evolution-education related activities in their state may wish to contact the National Center for Science Education at (510) 601-7203 or www.nceseweb.org, or subscribe to the Wyoming node of the AIBS/NCSE State Evolution List Serve Network. Information about the Wyoming list serve or other state list serves is available at www.aibs.org/mailing-lists/the_aibs-ncse_evolution_list_server.html.
MINNESOTA SCIENCE STANDARDS
As reported in the September 15, 2003 AIBS Public Policy Report (www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/), Minnesota is in the process of adopting new state science standards. Education advocates throughout the state remain concerned about the efforts of proponents for alternative theories of evolution to weaken the current draft standards. Throughout October the Minnesota Department of Education will hold hearings across the state to receive public input on the draft standards. Scientists, educators and other supporters of strong science standards are encouraged to review the standards and provide comments. For more information about the Minnesota standards, visit: Minnesota Department of Education at www.education.state.mn.us; Minnesota Draft Science Standards at www.education.state.mn.us/stellent/groups/public/documents/translatedcontent/pub_038386.pdf; Minnesota node of the AIBS/NCSE List Serve Network by sending an email to email@example.com and including in the body of the message "subscribe firstname.lastname@example.org email address"; or the National Center for Science Education at www.ncseweb.org.
ACTION ALERT: YOUR SUPPORT COULD MEAN AN ADDITIONAL $37 MILLION (250 GRANTS AND TWO NEON PROTOTYPES) FOR THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES!
As is customary in Congress, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees traditionally "mark up" their own version of spending bills. Once both houses pass those bills, the houses will "conference" a bill, working out differences in funding allocations between the two versions.
As noted above, there is a significant difference in funding for biological sciences research at NSF between the House and Senate marks. The House version of the bill would provide $9.6 million more to the Biological Sciences Directorate than the Senate. Because the Senate designates an additional $15 million to plant genome, the discrepancy in funding for core BIO programs is approximately $25 million. The House also provides $12 million in the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MRE) account for the National Ecological Observatory Network. NEON has been requested in three budget cycles; this is the first time it has received funding in any congressional mark. (For more information about NEON, visit www.aibs.org/ibrcs).
WHAT TO WRITE:
Biologists interested in making their voice heard should FAX a letter to their members of Congress. In all letters, be sure to thank them for their support of the National Science Foundation. Below is a suggested outline for your letter:
1. Thank them for their support of NSF in the past. Mention last year's passage of the NSF Reauthorization Act, which authorized a five-year doubling path for the agency. (You may want to acknowledge that while current budget situations have put this year's goal out of reach, you hope they will continue their strong support for scientific research at NSF.)
2. Mention the benefits of NSF funding to your state/district. You can get statistics on actual award amounts for your university and state from http://dellweb.bfa.nsf.gov/.
3. Encourage the conferees to accept the House numbers for the BIO Directorate and NEON. The median annual award for BIO is $94,000; hence the House would provide for approximately 250 additional grants.
4. Offer to provide them with additional information as they find necessary. A nice touch is to extend them (and/or their staff) to visit your lab/department at their convenience.
WHO TO CONTACT:
ALL biologists are encouraged to contact their members of Congress to express support for biological science funding. Unless you bring the issue to their attention, they are unlikely to support increases. Educating members of Congress on the value of biological science research is essential to future growth.
If you live in any of the following states, calls or letters to the Senators below (members of the Appropriations subcommittee handling NSF) are especially valuable. Biologists in the states of Missouri and Maryland are particularly encouraged to contact Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF funding.
Sen. Conrad Burns (R MT)
Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R AL)
Sen. Larry E. Craig (R ID)
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R NM)
Sen. Mike DeWine (R OH)
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R TX)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D VT)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D IA)
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D WV)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D SD)
Sen. Harry M. Reid (D NV)
Biologists living in the following districts are also strongly encouraged to contact their representatives, who sit on the House Appropriations subcommittee. Biologists from the 25th district of New York and the 1st district of West Virginia are particularly encouraged to contact Rep. James T. Walsh (R NY-25) and Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D WV-1), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over NSF funding.
Rep. David L. Hobson (R OH-7)
Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R MI-9)
Rep. Anne Meagher Northup (R KY-3)
Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R VA-5)
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R AL-4)
Rep. Ray LaHood (R IL-18)
Rep. Dave Weldon (R FL-15)
Rep. Mike Simpson (R ID-2)
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D OH-9)
Rep. David E. Price (D NC-4)
Rep. Robert E. Bud Cramer Jr. (D AL-5)
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D PA-2)
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D GA-2)
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS: Do not hesitate to contact Robert Gropp (rgr...@aibs.org) if you would like assistance drafting a letter or finding contact information for your representative and senators.
PLAN TO PARTICIPATE: 2004 CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY
The Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group (SETWG), a cross-disciplinary coalition of professional societies and organizations (including AIBS) has announced that its annually sponsored Congressional Visits Day (CVD) will be held on 3-4 March 2004 in Washington, DC. During Congressional Visits Day, scientists and engineers meet with their members of Congress and key staffers to educate them about the vital importance of federal support for scientific research and development. CVD has grown over the years and is increasingly recognized as a significant event by members of Congress. Given the growing number of competing budget priorities, record breaking budget deficits, and the 2004 elections, March 2004 will be a particularly important time for a large number of biologists and biology educators to make their presence known in Washington, DC. If you would like additional information about participating in CVD 2004, please contact Robert Gropp in the AIBS Public Policy Office at rgr...@aibs.org or (202) 628-1500 x 250.
- Support the AIBS Public Policy Office and gain important benefits for your society or organization. Find out how at http://www.aibs.org/publicpolicy/funding.html
- IBRCS / NEON updates online at http://ibrcs.aibs.org
- The plenary lectures from the 2003 AIBS Annual Meeting (theme: Bioethics in a Changing World) are now online for free viewing at http://www.aibs.org/pubaibs/virtuallibrary.html
- Link your website to AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/link/index.html