Much has happened on the evolution front over the past month, including President Bush's headline-making comments on intelligent design, a high-profile vote by the Kansas State Board of Education, and a new development in the ongoing court case in Dover, PA.
On 1 August 2005 the President suggested in an interview that it would be appropriate to teach the concept of intelligent design/creationism alongside evolution. The following day the presidential science advisor, Dr. John Marburger III--while careful not to criticize his boss--explained that evolution is the "cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a scientific concept."
A week later the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt science standards that question evolution and redefine science such that intelligent design and other non-scientific concepts could be taught in science classes. The standards will now go through an external review panel before a final vote this fall, but observers expect the board to approve them in their current form. Readers will recall that it was this board that held the widely criticized "kangaroo court" hearings on intelligent design in May 2005. (For more history, please see the 5 July 2005 AIBS Public Policy Report.)
AIBS was quick to respond to these events. In a press release AIBS president Marvalee Wake said, "If we want our students to be able to compete in the global economy, if we want to attract the next generation into the sciences, we must make sure that we are teaching them science. We simply cannot begin to introduce non-scientific concepts into the science curriculum."
In other news, a judge in the Dover, PA case brought by parents seeking to reverse the school board's pro-intelligent design policy denied standing to the Foundation for Thought and Ethics--publisher of the intelligent-design textbook "Of Pandas and People". FTE failed to convince Judge John E. Jones III that it had a financial stake that necessitated its participation in the case. According to some sources, FTE sought to gain standing by arguing that it is not a religious organization in nature and that educators would not purchase its publication if the book were determined to be religious rather than scientific.
In addition, the clash within the Catholic Church over its stance on evolution continues. After Cardinal Christoph Schonborn penned an op-ed in The New York Times in July 2005 that cast the church's support of evolution into doubt, other religious officials have come out to rebut Schonborn's statements. One of those is George Coyne, the Vatican's chief astronomer, who recalled that the International Theological Commission last year indicated that there was no conflict between Catholic doctrine and the theory of evolution. The man in charge of the ITC was none other than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI (who has not spoken on the issue since his succession of Pope John Paul II).
It is not surprising that the national news outlets have picked up on this surge of activity. Time Magazine recently ran a cover story on the issue called "The Evolution Wars," and ABC's Nightline ran a thirty-minute program, "Doubting Darwin," on 10 August 2005. Nightline set the stage with a report illustrating the political and religious undertones driving the intelligent design movement. The program concluded with a debate between conservative columnists Cal Thomas and George Will. While Thomas seemingly conceded that intelligent design was a political movement playing to "red state" voters, Will strongly defended science as the means to understand the natural world.
James Collins has been named to replace Mary E. Clutter as head of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences starting in October 2005. Collins is currently the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and Environment, and Faculty Leader of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Sciences at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences. NSF Director Arden L Bement Jr. said, "We are extremely pleased to welcome Jim Collins. Not only is he a scientist of extraordinary distinction, his longstanding interest in the broad cultural, institutional, and educational aspects of biology will serve our mission to integrate research and education." Collins has worked with NSF in the past as a program director, a grantee, and as chairman of the external Advisory Committee for the Directorate of Biological Sciences.
As reported in the 1 August AIBS Public Policy Report (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/public-policy-reports-2005_08_01.html), Congress has approved H.R. 2361, legislation making fiscal year 2006 appropriations for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and related programs. The measure also includes funding for United States Forest Service research and development programs. For forest and rangeland research, Congress has provided $283 million. This figure represents a compromise between the House and Senate recommended funding levels, which were $285 million and $280.8 million. At $283 million, the FY 06 appropriation is roughly $7 million higher than the FY 05 level and roughly $2 million below the administration's FY 06 budget request. Of the $283 million appropriated, Congress has directed that $60.2 million be spent for the forest inventory and analysis program.
Climate change has again returned to the spotlight on Capitol Hill as the subject of recent Senate hearings. Prior to the August recess, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held the first in a series of hearings to address the state of climate science and the economic implications of various mitigation proposals. After hearing testimony from four climate scientists, several Republican Senators acknowledged the realities of climate change, but stressed that uncertainties remain and called upon the United States to increase its use of nuclear energy to curb the release of carbon dioxide.
The renewed attention to climate change policy comes a month after the Senate defeated the bipartisan McCain-Lieberman amendment to H.R. 6, the Energy Policy Act, which President Bush has signed into law. The McCain-Lieberman amendment would have established mandatory federal caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) calling for "a national program of mandatory market-based limits and incentives on greenhouse gases." The Bingaman amendment was ultimately removed from the final energy bill conference report.
At the packed Energy and Natural Resources hearing, the scientists testifying defended the conclusion that anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels has caused climate change and offered evidence. The witnesses were: Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, Jim Hurrell, a climate scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Nobel Prize Winner Mario Moline, and John Houghton, co-chairman of the scientific assessment working group from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
During the hearing, several skeptical Republicans agreed that the scientific community has reached a consensus on climate change. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) said, "I have come to believe, along with many of my colleagues, that there is a substantial human effect on the environment." Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stated, "I have seen the effects of climate change first hand...and there's an emerging consensus that we have to deal" with it.
Although committee members generally agreed about the existence of climate change, several Senators expressed their frustration with the panel's policy recommendations. "You're all over the lot...what I hear is: a little of this, a little of that," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Alexander and other Republican committee members voiced their support for developing a larger nuclear energy sector to cut greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining the current standard of living. "I don't see any way to do this without nuclear energy," Alexander continued.
Future Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearings are expected to take place after the August recess. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken climate change skeptic, has also planned a separate hearing on the international efforts to reduce heat-trapping gases under the Kyoto Protocol.
"President Bush is in a tight spot. He faces a burgeoning national deficit and a crop of aging baby boomers who will soon require trillions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Disinclined to curtail his tax cuts, the president has turned to snipping nondefense discretionary spending to demonstrate fiscal restraint, which does not bode well for scientists who rely on federal funding."
"At the same time, a growing number of lawmakers are viewing basic research as an investment rather than an expenditure. Among those battling for science funding are Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF); Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI), the appropriations committee's senior Democrat; Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), who heads the Science Committee's research panel; Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV); and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX)."
Continue reading the August 2005 Washington Watch article at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_08.html.