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Monthly Review: December 2004


This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

109th Congress Convenes
More Cabinet Changes for Bush Administration Second Term
Department of Energy
NASA
Department of Interior
OMB Issues New Peer Review Guidelines
President Elevates Oceans to Cabinet-level Priority
OMB-OSTP Issue FY06 Budget Guidance on Science
Treasury Dept. Loosens Restrictions On Research Publication
UNESCO Division of Earth Sciences Terminated
DOI Estimates More Natural Gas Reserves
Stronger Role for Federal Science Advisors, Report Recommends
New U.S. Math and Science Scores Available
Evolution Roundup
Pennsylvania
Oklahoma
Missouri
Kansas
Wisconsin
South Carolina
May 10-11 are Congressional Visit Days
How To Find Key Federal Register Notices
New Updates to Website

 

109th Congress Convenes

The 109th Congress officially convened on Tuesday, January 4th as newly elected and reelected senators as well as the members of the House of Representatives were sworn into office. After finally wrapping up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 budget process in December and resting through the holidays, members of Congress are ready to get to work. Many issues have already been declared priorities for President Bush, who will be sworn in for his second term at noon on Thursday, January 20th, including revamping Social Security, rewriting the tax code, limiting class-action lawsuits, and having the Senate confirm his judicial nominees. Congress, though, has some details to work out before they can actually begin working.

At the start of each new Congress, the majority must set the rules for the next two years. This means that each committee's jurisdiction must be clearly defined, chairmen approved and committee assignments doled out. While the minority party does not decide committee jurisdiction or chairmanships, the Democratic Caucus will decide committee assignments for their members. Senate Democrats began this process last month. The defeat of Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashle (D-SD) in the November elections left a void in the Senate democratic leadership's top slot. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) has been chosen for the job and has given up his seat on the Environment and Public Works Committee but will retain the important Appropriations Committee perch from which he is able to fight the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Other changes include the departure of Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bob Graham (D-FL) from the Environment and Public Works Committee, making way for new Democrats joining the panel - Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and freshman Senator Barak Obama (D-IL). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will see two new Democrats on the panel, including Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and freshman Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO). They replace Graham, Schumer and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). There are no new Democrats joining the Budget or the Appropriations committees, as the party's loss of one seat on each due to Hollings' retirement gives the Democrats 10 Budget Committee members and 13 Appropriations Committee members. Senate Republicans will begin doling out Committee assignments as early as the first week in January.

As is the nature of the House, when each new Congress convenes there are lots of decisions to be made about chairmanships, committee assignments and jurisdiction. This year, the House chose Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) as the new Appropriations Committee Chairman because Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) is stepping down from that post. The Appropriations Subcommittees may also have some new Chairmen in the ranks. There's a rumor that former Appropriations Chairman Young may want to head up one of the subcommittees, which would set off a furious round of musical chairs among the current chairmen. Also in limbo is the role of Rep. Jim Walsh (R-NY), who is term limited in his current post as chairman of the VA-HUD Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the NASA, National Science Foundation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency annual budgets.

Further complicating this process is a rumor that surfaced following the Republican Leadership Retreat that the Republican Leadership is thinking about restructuring the appropriations bills. There's little rhyme or reason to the current way certain agencies are paired together in appropriations bills and the thinking would be to structure bills in a way that would better reflect Republican priorities. One of the bills being batted around within this idea is a Science bill that would encompass all federal science investment from NASA to the National Institutes of Health to Department of Energy and more. There are good arguments for and against this idea. An editorial appeared on the December 16th issue of Nature that concisely points out many of the concerns people have voiced about this idea. We'll know soon enough if this is a real change the Congress will make or another idea left for another time.

More Cabinet Changes for Bush Administration Second Term

Department of Energy
Following the announcement by Spencer Abraham that he would retire as Secretary of Energy, President George Bush nominated Deputy Treasury Secretary Samuel Bodman to be the new Energy Secretary. In remarks at the White House on December 10th, Bush said: "Sam Bodman is an experienced executive who has served in my administration as Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. During his varied and distinguished career in the private sector, Sam has been a professor at MIT, president of an investment firm, the chairman and CEO of an industrial company with operations worldwide. In academics, in business, and in government, Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals and he knows how to reach them. He will bring to the Department of Energy a great talent for management and the precise thinking of an engineer. I thank him for agreeing to serve once again." Bodman has a B.S. in chemical engineering from Cornell University and a ScD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering. His previous experience included service as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce, where he had oversight over NOAA, NIST, and the Patent and Trademark Office. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) both issued statements supporting the Bodman nomination. Bodman will appear before Domenici's committee for a confirmation hearing that will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

A brief biography for Bodman can be read at http://www.treas.gov/organization/bios/bodman-e.html
The full text of Bush's statement and Bodman's response is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041210-3.html.

NASA
In a five-page hand- written letter to President Bush, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced his resignation in December. In this letter, Administrator O'Keefe explained his decision to leave to be able to spend more time with his family. O'Keefe has served as NASA Administrator for almost three years, during which the Administration developed, in response to critics, a vision for the space agency. Additional information on O'Keefe's decision to resign, including a copy of his letter, can be viewed at http://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/aok_resigns.html. The White House has not yet named a replacement.

Department of the Interior
Interior Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, the former oil and coal industry lobbyist who spearheaded a push for increased energy development on public lands, resigned from the number two position at the DOI effective Jan. 31, 2005, unless a replacement is confirmed sooner.

In other DOI news, on December 1st, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced that she had accepted the resignation of Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Bennett Raley who has held the post since 2001. The Assistant Secretary for Water and Science discharges the duties of the Secretary with the authority and direct responsibility to carry out the statutory mandate to manage and direct programs that support the development and implementation of water, mineral, and science policies and assist the development of economically and environmentally sound resource activities. The Assistant Secretary oversees the programs of the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey. In accepting Raley's resignation, Secretary Norton commended Raley for his work on western water issues.

Following Bennett Raley's resignation, Secretary Norton named Tom Weimer Acting Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. Weimer has served as the principal deputy assistant secretary for the past three and a half years. Weimer has eighteen years of federal service and previously served as Chief of Staff to former Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, Jr. Weimer has served as professional staff for the House Committees on Interior and Science, as well as legislative director for National Laboratory Affairs at the University of California. Weimer received bachelors and masters degrees in systems engineering from Harvey Mudd College and the master of electrical engineering degree from the University of Washington.

OMB Issues New Peer Review Guidelines

On December 17th the White House Office of Management and Budget issued "peer review" guidelines aimed at formalizing the process of science performed by government agencies undergoing outside review. Science used by the U.S. EPA, the Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to support major rules and regulations will be subject to review by non-governmental experts for the first time under these new standards.
According to Greenwire, supporters of the guidelines -- in the Bush Administration and industry -- say that the guidelines will help ensure that federal policy is shaped by sound scientific practices. But critics claim the guidelines are an effort by the executive branch to seize control of the release of scientific information and slow the creation of new federal rules.

The guidelines separate scientific information meriting peer review into two types. The first requires federal agencies to appoint an independent peer review panel for science supporting rules or policies costing industry, states or local governments more than $500 million in any year. While this is a higher cost threshold than industry officials wanted, Sean Moulton, a information policy analyst at OMB Watch, said OMB can effectively order an agency review by designating this type of science "highly influential." The second type of science affected by the guidelines is "influential scientific information," such as risk assessments, environmental and natural resources computer modeling, data and other technical analyses. Agencies can subject these types of scientific information to the same rigorous peer review as highly influential science or they can get them peer reviewed by a small group of experts in one environmental or natural resources discipline.
Agencies can subject influential scientific information to the lower level of peer review, but the guidelines direct agencies to "choose a peer review mechanism that is adequate" based on a variety of factors including whether science is new, the extent of prior peer reviews, and the expected costs and benefits that will result from its use. "More rigorous peer review is necessary for information that is based on novel methods or presents complex challenges for interpretation," the rule states.

Greenwire reported that the White House substantially revised the guidelines since they were first proposed in September 2003 (see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/dataquality.html). Among the changes is a proposal that would grant federal agencies the right to release scientific documents about an "emerging public health or medical risk" without first getting OMB approval. Another change OMB made was to make clear that science already reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences is not subject to the peer review guidelines.

The new guidelines can be found online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/peer2004/peer_bulletin.pdf.

President Elevates Oceans to Cabinet-level Priority

As part of the formal response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, President Bush signed an executive order creating a new Cabinet-level "Committee on Ocean Policy" to coordinate federal ocean policy on December 17th. The executive order would direct Cabinet secretaries and officials ranging from the Commerce secretary to the national intelligence director to coordinate ocean-related matters and provide advice on ocean policies. The advisory body would be tasked with facilitating coordination on ocean matters among federal, state, tribal and local government entities. The group, to be led by the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is similar in concept to the commission's proposal for an executive-branch national oceans council. The commission had also recommended the president appoint an assistant to the president for oceans policy.

The Ocean Commission found federal oversight is too fractured to protect ocean ecosystems that are being decimated by pollution, overfishing and other factors. Among 200 recommendations, the commission called for consolidating management responsibilities within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and boosting federal ocean research funding. The White House "U.S. Ocean Action Plan" did not include recommendations to consolidate authority within NOAA or move that agency toward independence, as the commission had called for. The House and Senate are expected to sift through a myriad of proposals toward that goal during the 109th Congress.

OMB-OSTP Issue FY06 Budget Guidance on Science

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) set the FY06 science budget by issuing a joint memorandum outlining the Administration's research priorities. Homeland Security R&D remains the Administration's top research focus. Also included in the list was Networking and Information Technology R&D and the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

A new emphasis area titled "Priorities of the Physical Sciences" suggests: "Priority will be given to research that aims to close significant gaps in the fundamental physical understanding of phenomena that promise significant new technologies with broad societal impact. . . . Priority will be given to those instrument- or facility- related investments with the greatest promise for the broadest scientific impact. Of particular interest are investments leading to the development of next-generation light sources." "Biology of Complex Systems" and, "Climate, Water and Hydrogen Research" round out the list.

The guiding memo is available at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/m04-23.pdf.

Treasury Dept. Loosens Restrictions On Research Publication

In September 2003, the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a ruling that scientific publishers would need a special license to edit papers submitted by researchers from embargoed countries (Cuba, Iran, and Sudan). While the ruling is relatively recent, the prohibition is not. It is illegal for U.S. entities to provide services to persons living in countries embargoed by the U.S. The issue surfaced in the summer of 2001 when a bank identified an attempted transaction between the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and an institution in Iran. IEEE and other scientific organizations began working with OFAC to clarify the definition of "services," and learned that OFAC considered peer review and editing of scholarly manuscripts to fall under the category of prohibited activities. Until this time, scholarly publishers largely thought these "services" were not prohibited by Treasury Department regulations. The Treasury Department, however, affirmed that its definition of services did include editing scholarly papers. "U.S. persons may not provide the Iranian author substantive or artistic alterations or enhancements of the manuscript, and IEEE may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements," wrote R. Richard Newcomb, director of OFAC. Trade policy prohibits "the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons," according to an OFAC guidance letter. U.S. entities, including scholarly publishers, would require a special license to provide these "services."

The ruling was OFAC's interpretation of an amendment to the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, known as the Berman amendment, after its sponsor Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). The amendment exempted from economic embargo "any information or informational materials including but not limited to, publications." Reagan Administration officials, however, interpreted that statement as banning publication of all but "fully created" materials that received no "substantive or artistic alteration or enhancement." The recent ruling recaptured the attention of Rep. Berman, who called the restrictions on editing "patently absurd." Rep. Berman requested that OFAC reconsider its decision to require a specific license for peer review and editing.

Throughout 2004, various representatives of the scientific publishing community have worked with OFAC to clarify Treasury Department requirements. On Friday, December 17, 2004, the Department of Treasury officially issued a new rule in the Federal Register (Vol. 69, No. 242), "revising the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, and the Iranian Transactions Regulations to add general the date of publication. Interested individuals wishing to provide OFAC with comments on the new rule or requesting further changes may submit comments at any time.

Briefly, the new rule still requires that U.S. entities obtain a general license from OFAC to provide certain services to Cuba, Iran and Sudan. However, the rule ensures that "certain activities relating to publishing" are permitted. "Each of the general licenses is similar in structure and scope, authorizing a variety of activities relating to publishing with appropriate exceptions, such as those for the governments of each of the sanctioned countries." The new rule specifically notes that the governments of Cuba, Sudan, or Iran "does not include any academic and research institutions and their personnel."

Questions, requests for guidance, or information concerning the application for a license should be directed to the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

UNESCO Division of Earth Sciences Terminated

UNESCO has decided to dissolve the Division of Earth Sciences as part of a restructuring plan within the organization. Following the retirement of Dr. Wolfgang Eder (Division Director) at the end of November 2004, a decision not to replace the Director was made by UNESCO. Further, UNESCO intends to dissolve the existing Division, reduce funding to the geosciences and to reallocate existing activities amongst other divisions.

Although an "official press release" will not occur until this spring, it is thought that the following activities: International Geoscience Programme (IGCP), Geoparks, International Cooperation, Earth Observation and Capacity Building could be subsumed within the Division of Ecological Sciences. The Disaster Reduction program may be transferred to the Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences.

After decades of high profile success in science research within IGCP, this program will undergo a 50% reduction in funding from UNESCO for 2006. There are no assurances regarding the viability of the program beyond 2006. Many geoscientists around the world have participated in and benefited directly from IGCP projects and this funding cut will have serious long-term repercussions to the geosciences.

DOI Estimates More Natural Gas Reserves

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) announced an interim update of offshore energy resources that estimates undiscovered technically recoverable offshore gas resources at 406.1 trillion cubic feet. This mean estimate for 2003 is 12 percent higher than MMS's 2000 national assessment of 362.2 tcf.

MMS releases the broad national assessments every five years, while offering the interim updates "in response to significant information obtained from new exploration and development activity, and on occasion to incorporate major improvements in methodology and modeling."

Gas resources in the Gulf of Mexico account for much of the increase, with the new interim update showing total Gulf reserves at 232.5 tcf, compared to roughly 192 tcf in the 2000 national assessment. Increased estimates of so-called deep shelf recoverable resources, which are gas reserves more than 15,000 feet below the sea floor, contributed to the new estimates, according to MMS.

In other news, the interim update and information provided by MMS shows a 1 percent increase in offshore oil resources, to 76 billion barrels. That includes a jump of 1.2 billion barrels of estimated resources in the Atlantic Ocean based on the information gained from recent Canadian drilling, bringing the Atlantic total to 3.5 Bbbl.

Other areas were nearly unchanged, with the gulf and Pacific Ocean mean oil estimate slightly lower, while the Alaska estimate was a tad higher. The assessment cautions that some resources were not included in the new estimate because the figures take into account 2 billion barrels of oil and 8 tcf of gas that "were discovered and moved to the reserves category during this time period." The interim update does not address what portion of the reserves are currently commercially viable to extract.

The update is available online at http://www.mms.gov/revaldiv/PDFs/2003NationalAssessmentUpdate.pdf.

Stronger Role for Federal Science Advisors, Report Recommends

Scientists have long sought to ensure that public policy decision makers have access to the best available scientific and technical information, and that this information is used to inform public policy decisions. According to many scientists, however, the process by which the White House and Congress receive scientific advice is in need of reform. On the heels of the release of the latest National Academies report for improving executive branch science and technology advisory panels and the process for recruiting and retaining senior executive branch appointees responsible for scientific programs, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has issued "Flying Blind: The Rise, Fall, and Possible Resurrection of Science Policy Advice in the United States."

Henry Kelley, an author of the report and president of FAS, has said that the report is not meant as a political commentary. Kelley told the Chronicle of Higher Education that "We [FAS] throw rocks at a lot of different people. There is a lot of blame to go around. Our interest here is not to attack the current administration." The report contends that while the need for effective science and technology advice continues to increase, "the infrastructure for providing such help is in a state of crisis." Acknowledging that technical analysis is almost never sufficient to make wise choices, "absent competent, timely, targeted scientific and technical analysis, these decisions will depend on unchallenged assertions by special interests and ideologues." A real and negative consequence will be poorly designed programs and costly mistakes.

Examples of how the scientific advisory process has been weakened at the highest levels of government include Congress' decision to disband the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1996, and in the current administration the position of science advisor seemingly lacks the same status and proximity to the President as previous advisors have enjoyed (i.e., title and an office in the West Wing of the White House).

The report proposes actions for Congress and the White House. Congress is called upon to recognize that while the National Academies provide a valuable and necessary function, their role is not sufficient. Congress should "start a significant effort with OTA's ability to assemble external expertise and conduct detailed analysis of complex technical subjects as a distinct organization within GAO [Government Accountability Office] reporting directly to the GAO director."

As for the President, the report calls for a strengthened role for existing White House-level science organizations and the presidential science advisor. More specifically, the President should seek passage of legislation to "(a) establish a strong National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) managed by a civilian executive secretary appointed by the President, formalizing the role of the Presidential science and Technology advisory; and (b) reauthorize the Office of Science and Technology Policy as an office that would secure independent advice through independent advisory boards, conduct timely assessments of science and technology policy issues using both internal staff and sponsoring studies in the National Academies and possibly other organizations." Other recommendations are also presented. The report is currently available online at http://www.fas.org/main/home.jsp.

New U.S. Math and Science Scores Available

The National Center for Education Statistics has released results on the performance of U.S. students from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS, conducted every four years, is an assessment of fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics and science. TIMSS first collected data in 1995, and then again from eighth-graders in 1999. With the 2003 data collection, TIMSS offers the first international trend comparisons in mathematics and science at grades four and eight. TIMSS measures how well students acquired the mathematics and science knowledge that they have encountered in school. That is, the content of the TIMSS assessment is based on the curricula of participating countries. Because countries vary in the ways in which mathematics and science are taught as well as the content covered in their school-based courses, this means that the TIMSS assessment should be considered a general indicator of the knowledge of a nation's students. For example, in some countries, large proportions of eighth-graders have been exposed to early and advanced topics in algebra and geometry, whereas in the United States, a significant proportion of eighth-graders have not yet been exposed to these topics, or have only encountered the earliest notions. The following is a sample of the TIMSS results:

Mathematics:
- In 2003, U.S. fourth-grade students scored 518 in mathematics, on average, exceeding the international average of 495 for the 25 participating countries.
- In 1995, U.S. fourth-graders also scored 518 in mathematics, on average, indicating that there has been no change in the average mathematics performance of U.S. fourth-graders over these 8 years.
- In 2003, U.S. eighth-grade students scored 504 in mathematics, on average, exceeding the international average of 466 for the 45 participating countries.
- In contrast to their fourth-grade counterparts, U.S. eighth-graders improved in mathematics between 1995 and 2003, from an average score of 492 in 1995 to an average of 504 in 2003.

Science:
- In 2003, U.S. fourth-grade students scored 536 in science, on average, exceeding the international average of 489 for the 25 participating countries.
- In comparison to the fourth-grade science results in 1995, U.S. fourth-graders score in 2003 appeared to be lower than the 1995 score, but the difference was not statistically significant.
- In 2003, U.S. eighth-grade students scored 527 in science, on average, exceeding the international average of 473 for the 45 participating countries.
- In comparison to the earlier TIMSS data collections, U.S. eighth-graders improved in science, from an average score of 513 in 1995 to an average of 527 in 2003. U.S. eighth-graders showed improvement in science between 1999 and 2003 as well.

For more details and to download the full TIMSS report, visit http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/timss03.

Evolution Roundup

Pennsylvania
On December 14, eleven parents from Dover, Pennsylvania -- represented by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP --filed suit in federal court to overturn the "intelligent design" policy of the Dover Area School Board. The plaintiffs in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District argue that teaching intelligent design -- which consists of discredited creationist criticisms of evolution, which are supposed to lead to the conclusion that supernatural intervention by an "intelligent designer" must have been responsible for the history of life -- is government establishment of religion when taught as science in a public school science class. Vic Walczak, attorney for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, said that "Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," at the press conference announcing the suit. He added, "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."

Reaction to the complaint was swift. A trenchant editorial in the York Dispatch began by observing, "The intelligent design/creationist clique on the Dover Area School Board now have the national media attention they've been angling for -- and so much for their mandated responsibilities to the students and district residents," and went on pointedly to describe the procedure for running for school board. Angie Yingling, a member of the Dover Area School Board who initially voted for the policy but later reversed her position and threatened to resign over the policy, told the Associated Press, "Anyone with half a brain should have known we were going to be sued." The Discovery Institute issued a press release calling on the board to withdraw and rewrite its policy. But Richard Thompson, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself as a "not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life," indicated that his firm would represent the Dover Area School District to defend the "intelligent design" policy. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Thompson acknowledged that "religious implications" of "intelligent design," but expressed confidence in the prospects for a legal victory. NCSE's Nicholas Matzke took a different view, saying, "Evolution is great science and this intelligent design stuff is religiously motivated pseudo-science," adding, "it seems like a pretty clear-cut case to us."

Oklahoma
On December 7th, Oklahoman's for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) launched an organizational website providing information about evolution
education in the state of Oklahoma. The site is located at http://www.biosurvey.ou.edu/oese and contains a lot of information about teaching evolution, Oklahoma's evolution debate and instructions on how to sign up for the Oklahoma list serve.

Missouri
On December 1st, House Bill 35 was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives. (Although the legislature is not in session until January 5, 2005, in Missouri it is possible to "prefile" bills and resolutions in order to expedite legislation.) HB 35 would require that:

"All biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins. The chapters shall convey the distinction between data and testable theories of science and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

The second and third sentences, of course, are modeled after the so-called Santorum-language, present only in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Conference Committee for the No Child Left Behind Act and not in the act itself. The sponsor of the bill, Cynthia Davis, was a cosponsor of both of last year's "intelligent design" bills in the Missouri House of Representatives, HB 911 and HB 1722. HB 911 would have required "the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools, and moreover would have provided that "Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract" and "Each public school classroom in this state from grades eight through twelve in which science is taught exclusively shall post a copy of this section in a conspicuous manner." These draconian provisions were absent from its successor, HB 1722, but no action was taken on either bill before the end of the legislative session on May 14, 2004.

For the text of HB 35 as introduced, visit: http://www.house.state.mo.us/bills051/biltxt/intro/HB0035I.htm.

Kansas
As predicted, the balance of power on the Kansas Board of Education tilted in favor of anti-evolutionists after the November 2, 2004, election. When Kathy Martin replaces Bruce Wyatt on the District 6 seat on the board in January 2005, the anti-evolution faction will have a 6-4 majority. Kansans are thus braced for a reprise of 1999's battle over the place of evolution in the state's science standards, and they got a taste of it on December 14, 2004, when the first draft of a revised set of science standards was received by the board. Board member John Bacon complained that the opinions of supporters of teaching creationism and "intelligent design" alongside evolution were ignored, and eight members of the twenty-six member committee submitted a "minority report," authored with the assistance of the Intelligent Design Network, which criticized the draft for promoting a "naturalistic" definition of science and for not sufficiently encouraging students "to critically analyze the theory of biological evolution."

Nevertheless, the first draft of the standards, as submitted, was accepted by the board and is now scheduled to be discussed in public meetings around the state in January 2005; it will undergo further rounds of revisions and evaluation, with a final draft to be voted on by the board in June. A recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle advised the board not to monkey with the standards: "Evolution, like it or not, is a bedrock of modern science, in fields as diverse as paleontology and human genome research. It has revolutionized science and our understanding of the world. Every student should know and understand it -- regardless of whether they personally believe it. ... But the most 'scientific' of the creationist theories, intelligent design, has little support in the mainstream scientific community. So why would we teach it in our science classrooms?" As in 1999, the National Center for Science Education is working with concerned Kansans -- especially those at Kansas Citizens for Science -- to help to ensure that evolution education in the Sunflower State remains uncompromised.

Wisconsin
On December 6, 2004, the Grantsburg, Wisconsin, school board passed a third version of a resolution on its science curriculum by a vote of 6 to 1. Two previous versions of the policy were widely criticized as obvious attempts to require or allow the teaching of various forms of creationism, including "intelligent design," in the district's science classes. The policy states:

"Students are expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information. Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design."

Despite the welcome clarification in the last sentence, the singling out of evolution for special attention is still problematic. NCSE's Susan Spath told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "We'll have to wait and see what materials are produced" to implement the new policy. Signs are not good, though: at a meeting in late November, the school board allowed a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism to make a lengthy presentation and to screen a videotape, while denying requests to allow a biologist to speak at a later meeting.

In other news, on December 16, the Grantsburg school board received a letter signed by almost 200 members of the Wisconsin clergy urging the board "to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge." In all, about 3000 science professors, religion professors, science educators, and members of the clergy from across the state have signed letters of protest to the board about its antievolution policies, thanks in large part to the efforts of NCSE member Michael Zimmerman, the dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Grantsburg Superintendent Joni Burgin is reportedly unimpressed, however, writing in an e-mail to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that "The amount of letters and the number of signatures does not matter. The school board feels that they must do what is right for Grantsburg students and the Grantsburg community." Concerned residents of Grantsburg are planning to hold a public forum on January 8, 2005, on evolution, creationism, and public education -- and on what is really right for science education in Grantsburg.

South Carolina
On December 15, 2004, S 114 was introduced (by prefiling) in the South Carolina Senate and referred to the Committee on Education. In addition to revising two aspects of the system whereby the state selects textbooks, S 114 would, if enacted, establish a nineteen-member South Carolina Standards Committee, charged to "study standards regarding the teaching of the origin of species; determine whether there is a consensus on the definition of science; [and] determine whether alternatives to evolution as the origin of species should be offered in schools." The idea of such a committee was broached in the last legislative session, in a context that amply revealed its antievolutionist motivations.

May 10-11 are Congressional Visit Days

The 10th annual Congressional Visit Day is scheduled for May 10-11, 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 science, engineering, and technology. CVD is an important opportunity to make science issues and science funding a priority for the 109th congress. More information about CVD is available at www.aas.org/cvd/. The site contains a downloadable packet of briefing materials updated to demonstrate the need for sustained federal investment in scientific research.

Name That Ship

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with Coastal America and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, invites students nationwide in grades 6-12 to participate in a contest to choose a name for a new NOAA ship. Ship names and supporting projects that capture the spirit of ocean exploration are encouraged. Generally, NOAA ships are named for mission-type, environmental phenomena, myths or traditions, geographical features, or former decommissioned ships crewed by NOAA personnel or predecessors. NOAA's new ocean exploration ship will be unique because it will be the only NOAA ship dedicated exclusively to exploration and research of our oceans. The new vessel will join NOAA's fleet, under the direction of NOAA's Marine and Aviation Operations. For more information about the contest, visit www.education.noaa.gov/shipname.

'Challenge' for Students

Johnson Controls and the National Energy Foundation (NEF) have announced the launch of the fourth Igniting Creative Energy Challenge. The Challenge is an educational competition designed to encourage students to learn more about energy and the environment. Students are asked to submit entries that reflect the competition theme, Igniting Creative Energy, and demonstrate an understanding of what an individual, family, or group can do to make a difference in their home, school, or community. Students may express their ideas on energy conservation and the environment in the form of science projects, essays, stories, artwork, photographs, music, video, or website projects. They may also submit recent service projects or results from the National Energy Foundation's own Energy Patrol activities.

"Students play an important role in energy usage which naturally extends to our business of providing energy solutions," said Jeff Crenshaw, Director, Public Sector Sales for Johnson Controls. "As we introduce our fourth Challenge, we are continually impressed by the excitement and creativity students and teachers exhibit in showing ways to preserve the environment and conserve energy." The Challenge is open to all students in grades K-12 in the U.S. and Canada, excluding Quebec. All entries are due by February 19, 2005, and winners will be announced on or about March 21, 2005. The Challenge is sponsored and funded through an educational grant by Johnson Controls, Inc. with additional support from the United States Energy Association, and is administered by the National Energy Foundation. Official rules about the contest and a downloadable entry form can be found at www.ignitingcreativeenergy.org.

How to Find Key Federal Register Notices

Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont04.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

New Material on Web Site

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:

  • OMB Data Quality Standards (12-23-04)
  • Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (12-23-04)
  • Natural Gas Policy (12-16-04)
  • Climate Change Policy Overview (12-16-04)
  • High-Level Nuclear Waste Legislation (12-10-04)

Monthly review prepared by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Sources: ABC News, American Institute for Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, Chronicle of Higher Education, Department of Interior, Discovery Institute, Environment and Energy Daily, International Union of Geological Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Roll Call, Triangle Coalition, Washington Post, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, York Dispatch.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted January 12, 2004

 

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