The United States Congress' General Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report showing that the federal government has reduced the time required to process Visa Mantis applications for students, scientists and other professionals. In a 2004 report, the GAO found that the average processing time was 67 days. According to the latest evaluation, the federal agencies charged with processing these visa documents have initiated actions that have reduced the average processing time to 15 days. These results should be good news for those in the scientific and higher education communities that have warned that the government's process was becoming so uncertain and timely that it was becoming a disincentive for foreign scholars interested in traveling to the United States. The findings were applauded by House Science Committee Chairman, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who requested the report and has previously held Science Committee hearings to determine how the review process could be improved.
In response to a chorus of concerns about the politicization of science in the executive branch, fueled recently by claims from Food and Drug Administration scientists, Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee, has introduced the "Restore Scientific Integrity to Federal Research and Policymaking Act" (H.R. 839). The legislation is cosponsored by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the ranking member of the House Science Committee.
In recent years a number of scientists have argued that a tacit promise from the federal government to support their research in return for working toward the public good has been compromised by the Bush administration. In a recent speech to the National Association of Science Writers, Rep. Waxman argued that "it is time for Congress to intercede to protect the scientific integrity of the federal agencies." According to supporters, H.R. 839 would ensure that federal scientists can carry out their responsibilities free from political interference. The bill would prohibit (1) tampering with the conduct of federal research, (2) censoring federal scientists, (3) disseminating false scientific information, and (4) a litmus test based on political affiliation for scientific advisory committees.
H.R. 839 was introduced almost a year to date after the Union of Concerned Scientists published a letter signed by 48 Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other senior scientists voicing their concern over what they contend has been the misuse of science by the Bush administration. The UCS report, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," claims the Bush administration and high ranking officials have distorted federal research and has "often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions" when there is a conflict with the political agenda.
In April 2004, Presidential Science Advisor, Dr. John Marburger released a 20-page response to the Union of Concerned Scientists report. A lifelong Democrat, Dr. Marburger believes the accusations in the report were wrong and misleading, and argued that the Bush administration is "implementing the President's policy of strongly supporting science and applying the highest scientific standards in decision-making."
Despite Dr. Marburger's assurances, complaints about politicization of science continue to surface. In February 2005, the EPA's Inspector General, Nikki Tinsley, asserted that Environmental Protection Agency personnel were instructed to ignore scientific evidence and agency protocols in order to set limits on mercury pollution that would line up with the Bush administration's predetermined goals. The EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, Jeffrey Holmstead, disagreed with Tinsley's claim and described the report as inaccurate and well beyond Tinsley's expertise.
Recently, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility conducted a survey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service professionals working in Ecological Services field offices across the country to obtain their perceptions of scientific integrity within the USFWS. Thirty percent of the 1,400 distributed surveys were returned. Nearly half of all respondents whose work is related to endangered species scientific findings reported that they "have been directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making jeopardy or other findings that are protective of species." From the survey responses, UCS concluded that political intervention to alter scientific results has become pervasive within the USFWS and called the political motivation a betrayal of the public trust in federal sound science.
Dr. John Marburger, President Bush's chief science advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has once again clearly and publicly denounced the concept of intelligent design. Intelligent design is the neo-creationist critic of evolution. As reported in a recent issue of The American Prospect, Dr. Marburger made the statement in response to audience questions following an address at the National Association of Science Writers meeting. Dr. Marburger has previously defended the scientific merits of evolution. In 2004 during an online discussion with readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Marburger noted that evolution is a cornerstone of modern biology.
As part of its focus on engaging scientists in the public policy process, the American Institute of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leader Award, an opportunity for graduate students in the biological sciences to receive first-hand experience in the policy arena. AIBS will pay travel costs and expenses for 1 recipient of the award to participate in the Science, Engineering and Technology Working Group's annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) in Washington, D.C. on 10-11 May 2005. The CVD is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for basic scientific research funding. CVD is hosted by more than 30 organizations spanning all scientific disciplines. During the CVD, participants will attend briefings by key officials from the White House and Congress and a reception honoring members of Congress for their work on behalf of science and biology; they will also participate in meetings with members of Congress and their staff.
AIBS is accepting applications for the Emerging Public Policy Leader Award from graduate students (master's or doctoral) in the biological sciences with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to biological science and/or science education policy. Submit applications electronically to Kirsten Feifel () NO LATER than 5 p.m. EST on Friday, 1 April 2005. The award will be announced by 15 April.
Applications should include the following materials:
1. Cover letter. Applicants should describe their interest in science policy issues and how participation in the CVD would further their career goals. Applicants should also confirm their availability to attend the May 10-11 event.
2. Statement on the importance of biological research (max. 500 words). The objective of CVD is "to underscore the long-term importance of science, engineering, and technology to the Nation through meetings with congressional decision makers." How would you convince your congressional delegation of the importance of biological research? Prepare a statement that emphasizes the benefits of biological research, drawing on your own experience and/or research area, and referencing local issues that may be of interest to your congressional delegation as appropriate. You may want to address why Congress should increase funding for research when overall funding for federal programs is declining.
3. Resume (1 page). Your resume should emphasize leadership and communication experience - this may include graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. Please include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, and memberships. Please do not list conference presentations, abstracts or scientific manuscripts.
4. Letter of reference. Ask an individual who can attest to your leadership and interpersonal and communication skills to send a letter on your behalf to by the stated deadline. This individual should also be familiar with your interest in or experience with science or education policy issues.
Questions about the award should be addressed to AIBS Director of Public Policy, Dr. Adrienne Sponberg at or by phone at (202)-628-1500 x232.
To learn about previous EPPLA recipients and other AIBS public policy training initiatives, please visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressional_fellows.html.
- Give your society or organization a voice in public policy decisions affecting your areas of science. Support the AIBS Public Policy Office's ability to work with you, on your behalf. See http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/funding_contributors.html
- NEON updates, http://www.neoninc.org
- Check for opportunities to comment on federal agency actions affecting the biological sciences at the AIBS Federal Register Resource, http://www.aibs.org/federal-register-resource/index.html
The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific association headquartered in Washington DC, with a staff of approximately 30. It was founded in 1947 as a part of the National Academy of Sciences and has been an independent organization since the mid-1950s, governed by a Board of Directors elected by its membership. The AIBS membership consists of approximately 6,000 biologists and 80 professional societies and other organizations; the combined individual membership of the latter exceeds 240,000 biologists. AIBS is an umbrella organization for the biological sciences dedicated to promoting an understanding of the natural living world, including the human species and its welfare, by engaging in coalition activities with its members in research, education, and public policy; publishing the peer-reviewed journal, BioScience, and the education website, www.actionbioscience.org; managing the project office for the National Ecological Observatory Network, www.neoninc.org, providing scientific peer review and advisory services to government agencies and other clients; convening scientific meetings; and performing administrative services for its member organizations. Website: www.aibs.org.