In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy have begun to evaluate how the agencies can support researchers and institutions impacted by the storm.
On September 8, NSF released a statement guaranteeing institutions and grantees that the agency will extend deadlines and relax rules for those adversely affected by Katrina. NSF will post updates on their website, www.nsf.gov, to ensure continuity of research and education projects. In the short term, NSF will extend awards to institutions in the disaster area that are scheduled to expire before October 1, 2005. All investigators whose research has been affected by Hurricane Katrina are encouraged to contact their program officer as soon as possible to discuss how each NSF-supported project has been impacted. NSF has also established a hotline dedicated to Hurricane Katrina at (800) 381-1532. Questions can also be addressed by email to .
More information is available at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=104425.
The Department of Energy has also released information to aid researchers and institutions affected by Katrina. On September 9, the Office of Science announced that they will help match faculty and students displaced by the disaster with other institutions so they can continue their research and studies. Students and faculty researchers from affected universities will be able to indicate their interest in being hosted by an Office of Science grant recipient and complete their request for assistance forms on-line at www.orau.gov/doeedrelief. Additional information is available at www.er.doe.gov/index.htm.
In response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, several scientific societies are actively working to support researchers, institutions, and collections in the affected area. On 7 September 7 AIBS launched Katrina Support Network for Biologists, an online forum for biologists affected by hurricane Katrina to exchange messages, share professional resources, learn of other scientific organizations' efforts, and summarize damage sustained to specific collections and institutions.
This resource is available at www.aibs.org/about-aibs/050907_aibs_katrina_support_network.html.
House Democratic leaders have joined the growing debate over the politicization of science by sending a letter asking President Bush to develop a "clear directive that politics must never get in the way of sound scientific decision-making." In the letter, dated 31 August, Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), George Miller (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Rush Holt (D-NJ) highlighted two controversial cases where the line between politics and scientific integrity blurred; the resignations of Susan Wood, the Assistant Commissioner for Women's Health at the Food and Drug Administration, over the availability of non-prescription emergency contraception, and Eric Schaeffer, the former head of the Office of Regulatory Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency, who left his post because of the Administration's proposal to reduce clean air regulations on power plants.
The Representatives argue that there have been "numerous other documented cases of political considerations trumping scientific determinations during your Administration. While you and your spokespeople have offered public assurances that the Administration does not place politics over science, the record indicates that the opposite is often true. In many cases, political decisions have prompted the resignations - whether in protest or frustration - of agency scientists and senior policymakers, robbing the American people of these public servants' important contributions. It is time, once and for all, to make clear to every political appointee in your Administration that there will be consequences for overruling scientific determinations for political reasons."
The complete letter is available at www.house.gov/pelosi/press/releases/Aug05/science.html.
The latest creationism battle may be fought in federal court once again. This time, the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and students at the school have filed a complaint because of a UC policy that rejects high school biology courses that use textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books. The books have been described as "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community."
Nearly two-thirds of respondents in a recent Pew Research Center poll say that they are "open" to teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools.
"Support for teaching creationism along with evolution is quite broad-based, with majority support even among seculars, liberal Democrats and those who accept natural selection theory," according to the survey. The poll involved a survey of 2,000 adults nationwide in July 2005.
According to the poll, nearly half of Americans think humans evolved over time, either through natural selection or guidance by a supreme being, while 42 percent feel that life has existed in its present form only. Evolution finds more supporters among those who are young, those who are college-educated, those who vote as Democrats, and those who hail from the northeastern or western states. Further, the poll reports that "70% of white evangelical Protestants say that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time; fewer than half as many white mainline Protestants (32%) and white Catholics (31%) agree."
Despite this, 64 percent of respondents support teaching creationism along with evolution, while just 26 percent oppose it. Thirty-eight percent believe that creationism should supplant evolution in the curriculum.
Furthermore, creationists tend to be much more "certain" about their views, and not surprisingly, the majority of those peg their religious beliefs as the most important influence on their opinions about the development of life. By contrast, respondents who accept evolution more frequently tend to view it as the scientific consensus and cite education as the greatest influence on their opinions.
The complete survey can be found at
As regular readers of the Public Policy Report will recall, in 2004 the state of Minnesota struggled through an aggressive and combative debate over the state's science standards. According to many, a central figure that led to the controversy was MN Education Commissioner Cherie Pierson Yecke. Yecke endorsed the idea that local teachers should be free to teach creationism and seemingly re-wrote draft science standards. Following the controversy, Yecke's standards were rejected and the state Senate refused to confirm her for the post of Education Commissioner. For more on the Minnesota situation, please visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/evolution_state_news.html#824.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) has announced that Yecke will fill the number two post in the Florida Department of Education where she will work on middle school reform. According to one report, Yecke has noted that she does not intend to advocate for intelligent design/creationism when Florida's science standards are reconsidered next year.
The September 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers recent federal actions that have mingled politics with the scientific peer review process. An excerpt from the article follows. The article is available at www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_09.html
"Scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and even politicians have warned for years that federal policymakers are politicizing science to achieve political goals. Surveys show that many scientists in some federal agencies feel that scientific findings have been discounted in management decisions in response to political pressure. Until recently, these allegations were leveled primarily against the political leadership of environmental, natural resource management, and public health agencies. Recent events, however, suggest that the politicization of science in the United States has spread beyond regulatory agencies.
In June 2005, as the Senate deliberated climate change legislation, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) prepared to send letters to the National Science Foundation, the International Panel on Climate Change, and three prominent climatologists..."