By focusing on educating American students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields and funding science research and development, the U.S. will insure a future workforce that can maintain scientific and technological innovation.
Maintaining U.S. competitiveness and innovation in the global economy through support of the STEM fields became a significant concern in the 110th Congress. This concern led to the successful passage of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), which President Bush signed into law (Public Law 110-69) on August 9, 2007. The act authorized increasing federal investment in basic research, grants for researchers, funding for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields, and supporting math and science teacher training and education.
Education policy for federal K-12 programs has focused on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was signed into law (Public Law 107-110) by President Bush in 2002. The current Congress aims to improve this act to ensure students are adequately educated, especially in the areas of math and sciences though additional STEM education programs. Higher education policy has been dominated in recent years by reform and subsequent reauthorization in 2008 of the Higher Education Act to include incentives to “strengthen our workforce and our competitiveness” by creating programs to bolster students’ interest in science and improve teacher training in the sciences.
The 111th Congress is anticipated to work toward funding the agencies and programs authorized in the America COMPETES Act, modifying the No Child Left Behind Act during re-authorization discussions, and seeking investments in STEM fields in higher education through the Higher Education Act. Issues related to evolution are covered on a separate page.
Administration Releases Scientific Integrity Guidelines
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released scientific integrity guidelines for federal agencies on December 17, 2010. The memorandum issued by OSTP is suppose to provide implementation guidelines for a March 9, 2009 Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity and there has been a long delay in completing the guidance. The four-page document provides brief and general instructions and leaves the details on how to implement the guidelines to the agencies.
The memorandum is divided into five parts. The first part states the foundations of scientific integrity in government work, including honesty, credibility, open access and principles for science communication. OSTP calls for government data to be accessible to the public following the Open Government Initiative. The second part primarily discusses communication of government science with the media. Science communications should be objective and non-partisan and scientific findings may not be altered by any agency officials. Disputes about proceeding with media interviews should be resolved by “mechanisms”, but the memo does not define the mechanisms. The third part discusses the role and establishment of federal advisory committees. The fourth part discusses professional development of government scientists, including how they can publish in peer-review literature and how they can work with science societies. The fifth part discusses the role of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in reviewing science-based congressional testimony. The memo concludes by asking each agency to prepare a report within 120 days on how they will implement the policies set forth in the document.
The geosciences community is encouraged to read and review the entire memorandum as the guidelines affect individuals and institutions.
Any questions regarding the memorandum can be directed to email@example.com
America COMPETES Reauthorization Passes Congress
On December 21, Congress approved of the re-authorization of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116), which authorizes increases for research at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department’s Office of Science. Authorizations for nuclear energy and hydrocarbon systems workforce initiatives were retained in the final version. The Senate revised the House-initiated measure and reduced funding levels as well as cutting the authorization time frame from five years to three years. The changes reduced the overall cost of the measure.
The act requires the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate and organize public access to government-funded research, including the development of online databases of scientific information within agencies. Congress included a statement recognizing the role of scientific publishers in the peer-review process, however, non-profit science societies will need to consider the impacts of this legislation on the quality and value of their long-standing journals.
The reauthorization details many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education initiatives at NSF, NIST and DOE. COMPETES provides support and prescribes direction for the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and for Energy Innovation Hubs. The measure also includes a nanotechnology initiative and reforms the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 – both should be of interest to the geosciences community, which develops and uses some of these technologies.
Research and Development Tax Credits Extended by Congress
Congress approved the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4853). President Obama signed the measure into law on December 17, 2010. The law provides tax credits for all workers and a long list of tax credits for many other individuals and entities. In particular the law extends the research and development tax credit for one year.
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White House Announces Awards for Early-Career Scientists (11/10)
In a press release on November 5, the White House announced the 85 winners of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. The awards, initiated by President Clinton, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Awardees in the geosciences include Matthew J. Menne, an atmospheric and climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Charles A. Stock, a marine geophysicist at NOAA; Jeanne L. Hardebeck, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS); Nicolas Luco, a seismologist at the USGS; Pamela L. Nagler, a physical geographer at the USGS; Matthew J. Oliver, an oceanographer at the University of Delaware; Rahul Ramachandran, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville; and Steven K. Lower, a mineralogist and biochemist at The Ohio State University.
The week of October 18, 2010, was a momentous one for White House support of science. On October 18, the White House Science Fair saw dozens of middle and high school students presenting award-winning science fair projects in the State Dining Room. President Obama personally surveyed the projects, which included a solar-powered car and a water-conserving smart toilet, before giving the keynote address. The fair was part of the White House’s efforts to boost American students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Patent Office Extends Fast Track for Green Technology Patents (11/10)
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is extending a trial program to expedite patent applications for green technologies until December 31, 2011. The Green Technology Pilot Program will allow an application to advance out of turn in areas of environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy resources or greenhouse gas emission reduction.
2011: The Year of Science in Afterschool (11/10)
The Afterschool Alliance, the National AfterSchool Association, and the National Summer Learning Association have teamed up to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in afterschool and summer programs, in a press release on November 3. They also released a position paper. Supported by a grant from the Noyce Foundation, they have named 2011 the Year of Science in Afterschool. Nearly 80 percent of future jobs will require STEM literacy, and studies have shown that primary and secondary school STEM curricula are not sufficient for students to learn necessary critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Governors Association Creates Education Committee (11/10)
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices announced the creation of a Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) Education Advisory Committee in a November 11 press release. The purpose of the committee, according to the Center Director, John Thomasian, is “… to provide the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders to governors and states as they work to establish and grow STEM education programs that can contribute to economic competitiveness.” For more information please visit the new STEM Education Committee’s web site.
White House Sponsors Science Activities (10/10)
The following weekend, on October 23 and 24, the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival convened on the National Mall. An estimated half a million visitors had fun learning about science and engineering. Activities appealed to a broad range of interests and educational levels and were meant to provide take-away lessons and encourage critical thinking. The American Geological Institute shared a booth with the Geological Society of America, which featured hands-on activities related to earthquakes. Other member societies with booths included the American Geophysical Union (Earth in Space), the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (The Greatest Labs on Earth: Lakes, Streams, and Oceans), the National Earth Science Teachers Association (Learning About Earth and Space Can Be Fun!), the Paleontological Research Institution/Museum of the Earth (Exploring Ancient Seas), the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (Rocks Can Do What?) and the Soil Science Society of America (What’s a Four-Letter Word for Dirt?).
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren and other OSTP staffers spent Saturday morning sampling the festival offerings, which were sponsored by an array of public and private partners, including Lockheed Martin, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Academy of Sciences, as well as many universities and a group of Nobel Laureates. The event also billed figures in popular science, including Bill Nye the Science Guy and the cast of Mythbusters.
President Obama also announced the winners of the National Medal of Science, two of which work in the geosciences. Warren M. Washington is a renowned atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has pioneered computer modeling of climate change predictions. Marye Anne Fox, now Chancellor at the University of California, San Diego, is a physical organic chemist whose work focuses on environmental remediation. The prize is the most prestigious award in American science.
White House Launches Agency Challenge Web Site (10/10)
The White House has released a new web site, Challenge.gov, which allows government agencies to post problems and challenge members of the public to solve them. This results-oriented initiative aims to spur innovation and creativity. So far, more than twenty agencies have posted challenges, including NASA, the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Authors of winning submissions receive recognition, and sometimes prizes. A challenge posted by NASA seeks a robot prototype that can locate and retrieve geologic samples in varied terrain without human control, for a prize of $1.5 million.
Europe Increases R&D Investment (10/10)
The European Commission tabled the “Innovation Union” measure on October 6, 2010, and issued a press release. If approved, the measure would bolster the goal to raise funding for science and technology research and development (R&D) to 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020, up from just under 2 percent currently. The measure would increase access to capital for R&D and improve other conditions that foster innovation. Particularly, the Innovation Union will focus on practical problems, such as climate change, energy, food security, health, and aging. In the process, the European Union will revamp their research structure by creating Innovation Partnerships, supporting an independent ranking system for universities, and modernizing intellectual property laws. The measure is in response to a new study, “The Costs of a Non-Innovative Europe” by the DEMETER Project, claiming that meeting Europe’s 2020 R&D investment target of 3 percent of GDP would create 3.7 million jobs and increase annual GDP by up to €795 billion by 2025.
The U.S., in contrast, spent $398 billion on R&D in 2008, which was about 2.7 percent of national GDP. Most of this total, $289 billion, was through private industry support for R&D, with the federal government providing about $104 billion and the rest coming from other sources. American R&D has averaged between 2.6 to 2.8 percent of GDP over the past decade. Eight other countries spend a higher percentage of GDP on R&D than the U.S.; in comparison, Japan spent the highest proportion of GDP on R&D in 2008, about 3.5 percent.
The Profitability of Teaching Faculty (9/10)
The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a report obtained from Texas A&M University (TAMU) on a professor-by-professor account of funds earned and spent at the University. The report found that most professors were profitable – that is, they brought in more money to the university than they were paid. The calculation for each professor included as revenue, tuition funds from students enrolled per class and state funds supporting the school, and as costs, professors’ salaries and benefits. Somewhat controversially, the calculation excluded external grants acquired by the professors. Under this formula, the Geosciences College was found to be profitable by a margin of $1,280,418 and with grants and awards total of $10,812,910. Two other colleges at TAMU, Engineering and the Bush School of Government and Public Service, were found to accrue a net cost to the university. The report raises questions about how professors are being evaluated amid a budget crisis.
TAMU performed the report for their own purposes but then passed on the document to The Chronicle after an open-records request. For the original article from The Chronicle click here.
NAS Releases New Report on Science and Technology Competitiveness (9/10)
The National Academies have released a new report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5,” authored by the same committee that wrote the original report in 2007. The report finds that US competitiveness in math and science is continuing to decline relative to global efforts. The original Gathering Storm report was influential in the writing and passage of the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which has benefitted research as well as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Basic research also received one-time stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Unfortunately, many provisions of America COMPETES remain unfunded, and the Act is now up for revision and reauthorization by Congress. The report recommends that Congress double the federal budget for basic research and work to strengthen K-12 STEM education. An interesting fact mentioned in the report: “All the National Academies Gathering Storm committee’s recommendations could have been fully implemented with the sum America spends on cigarettes each year—with $60 billion left over.”
NSF’s Science Board Releases Education Report (9/10)
A new report, “Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital,” has been released by the National Science Board. The report addresses the dearth of qualified science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals and educators. During World War II and the Cold War, the U.S. made great strides in the development of new technologies and strongly emphasized STEM education. However, by the 1970s, as détente became accepted, funding was diverted elsewhere and enthusiasm for STEM educatioal pursuits decreased. The National Science Board seeks to reverse this trend and has spent the last two years preparing this report.
“Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators” has three “keystone recommendations,” which are further broken into multiple “policy actions” and a research agenda. First, we must “provide opportunities for excellence,” offering a variety of interventions to allow students to develop their skills in these fields and foster intellectual curiosity. Next, we should “cast a wide net,” identifying a wide variety of talents throughout the spectrum of socio-economic and racial diversity and teaching educators to recognize students’ potential. Finally, we shall “foster a supportive ecosystem,” rewarding excellence and creativity in students throughout the U.S.
Report Calls for More Federal Research to Predict and Prevent Hypoxia (9/10)
A report from the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) was released in September of 2010, detailing the federal government’s response to hypoxia in major U.S. water bodies. The report, Scientific Assessment of Hypoxia in U.S. Coastal Waters, was released by the Interagency Working Group on Harmful Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and Human Health. It identifies the scale and effects of hypoxia in the U.S. and outlines the legislative action to date, as well as the current federal research addressing the hypoxia issue. Among other things, the report calls for expanded monitoring of dissolved oxygen in vulnerable waters, the development and increased use of predictive hypoxia models, and the monitoring and source-identification of nutrient loads in streams.
The report makes clear that hypoxia is a large and growing problem, contributing to fish kills and ecological degradation that have large economic costs. Despite established point source regulation and increased concern for soil and water conservation practices, hypoxia incidence has increased 30-fold in U.S. waters since 1960. In response, the federal government has attempted to decrease nutrient pollution and hypoxia with several pieces of legislation. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) of 1998, and the Coastal Zone Management Act address hypoxia directly, while portions of the Clean Water Act and the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 authorize regulation of activities that influence hypoxia-inducing conditions.
As hypoxia sustains further fish kills and compromises coastal and lacustrine ecosystems, the Interagency Working Group has recognized a need to tackle the issue with new research and adaptive management. In particular, the progress to date calls for the use of adaptive management as a means of addressing uncertainty in future hypoxia trends, and for more basic research on the watershed scale impacts and causes of hypoxia.
This report complements a review from the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology entitled Charting the Course for Ocean Science for the United States in the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy.
Congress Passes NASA Reauthorization Bill (9/10)
Before Congress left for a long break to focus on the upcoming November elections, they passed a NASA reauthorization bill that provides authorized funding for three years and sets out policy for the future of human spaceflight. President Obama received the legislation for his signature on September 30.
The measure would authorize $19 billion for NASA in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and the total authorization increases to $19.96 billion in FY 2013. Science would be authorized at $5.006 billion (with $1.802 billion for Earth Science) in FY 2011 and the authorization would increase to $5.510 billion (with $2.09 billion for Earth Science) in FY 2013.
The legislation focuses primarily on NASA’s human spaceflight program and next steps as the space shuttle is retired. As requested by President Obama, the bill terminates the Constellation program, which includes the Orion crew capsule and Ares rocket series, part of the next generation astronaut transport system that NASA has already spent billions of dollars to develop. It eliminates development of a human spaceflight to Mars, but authorizes as much as $11 billion to reach an asteroid within 10 years. It calls for an additional Space Shuttle launch and authorizes $1.6 billion for commercial companies to begin building rockets capable of sending crews to the International Space Station.
The House Committee on Science and Technology passed their version of the measure, H.R. 5781, in July. In August, the Senate passed their version, S. 3729. There were some sharp differences between the two measures, which are not surprising given the challenges that NASA faces in considering the future of U.S. space exploration.
On September 23, the House Science and Technology Committee introduced new compromise language, increasing the scope of the House version regarding human spaceflight. Members of the committee warned that the additional shuttle launch is an unfunded mandate and will likely cannibalize funds from science programs, believe the Senate language is overly prescriptive regarding the design of future rockets, called for reductions of funding for commercial companies, raised concerns about depending on commercial companies for future spaceflight, and decried a 30 percent decrease in funding for education.
In a news story on October 1, Spaceref.com suggested the Senate bill favors the civilian solid rocket motor industry because the prescriptions of the measure may only be attainable using solid rocket motors. The reporters quote Senator Orin Hatch from Utah as noting that this bill may help preserve the solid rocket motor industry in northern Utah. This and other components of the measure are likely meant to preserve NASA centers, the aerospace industry and ultimately jobs in various states and districts. It helps to explain why Representative Gabrielle Giffords, chair of the House space and aeronautics subcommittee, opposed the bill, noting that it would “force NASA to build a rocket designed by congress and not by NASA engineers.”
The House Science and Technology Committee did not have time to work out an official compromise with the Senate, so they approved the Senate version while strongly recommending their compromise language to appropriators. The House passed S. 3729 on September 29 and this is the bill that President Obama is expected to sign soon.
President Obama Announces New Education Initiative (9/10)
On September 16, President Obama announced a new education initiative, called Change the Equation (CTEq). This effort, part of a larger initiative to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, recruits top companies to devise programs that will foster science interest, learning, and diversity. The initiative aims to deepen the commitment to STEM education from business, the government, and teachers. So far, over 100 companies have joined, including Kodak, Xerox, Time Warner Cable, and Intel.
Following CTEq criteria, the companies will establish a baseline of their current investments in STEM programs and then follow a self-evaluation mechanism to gauge their improvements. CTEq will provide state-by-state report cards assessing STEM education. This program is part of the Educate to Innovate program, started by President Obama in November of 2009 and has been funded through grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Gates Foundation.
Obama Unveils Plan to Extend and Expand R&E Tax Credits (9/10)
Responding to slow job growth throughout the summer months, President Obama recently unveiled a plan to increase and permanently extend the Research and Experimentation (R&E) tax credit. The tax credit is applicable to R&E performed in the U.S., and would be expanded by about 20%, to a total of $100 billion over the next 10 years. The President would simplify the application for the credit, increasing to 17% the amount of investment that can be refunded through the simpler of two formulas. This measure is part of a broader goal to increase U.S. Research and Development (R&D) to 3% of total gross domestic product (GDP), and increase U.S. competitiveness with countries offering more generous tax incentives for research. The credit was initially authorized in 1981 and has been extended repeatedly by Congress. The last extension expired in December, however, and Congress has yet to extend the credit this year. The tax credit would reportedly be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes of about $300 billion in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget.
See a White House factsheet on the tax credit extension here
East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (8/10)
The National Science Foundation is accepting applications for its East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) for U.S. graduate students in science and engineering. The program provides first-hand research experiences in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore or Taiwan in the areas of science, science policy, and scientific infrastructure. Awardees receive a $5,000 stipend, a roundtrip airfare, and attend a pre-departure orientation in Washington, D.C. Additional support is provided to cover EAPSI fellows’ living expenses abroad during the period of the summer institutes. To apply, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident enrolled in a research-oriented Master's or Ph.D. degree program in the United States (including joint degree programs). Applications are due November 10, 2010. For more information see the program solicitation.
Update on Oil Spill: Damage Assessment and Research (8/10)
The April 20, 2010, BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been contained and now efforts are underway to try to remove the failed blowout preventer, insert a new blowout preventer and further seal the well with additional cementing through a relief well. While BP, its industry partners and the federal government carefully monitor and consider the next steps at the Macondo exploratory well site, activity and controversy are growing about research, assessment and response to the environmental consequences of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.
The federal response is led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. As per the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the responsible party for the damage, BP, participates in NRDA. Controversy has erupted over the disclosure of data and research collected by NRDA so far because any disclosure must be approved by NOAA and BP. This is difficult because of the inherent conflict between the government, which is seeking restoration funding from BP, and BP which is seeking to limit the company’s liability and contain costs. After an initial outcry about potential censorship, researchers are no longer being asked to sign confidentiality agreements and can publish results if they provide advanced notice.
NOAA promises to release all pre-assessment data before moving on to its injury-assessment phase and so far twenty three sampling plans have been posted on the NRDA web site. NOAA will post the other plans as soon as they are approved. NOAA has also organized a NOAA Science Missions & Data for Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill website that provides NRDA information as well as other NOAA science efforts and partnerships in the Gulf related to the oil spill.
Some other federal agencies with responsibilities and research activities related to the oil spill include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).
In addition to NRDA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided about $10.2 million through rapid response grants and more grants for Gulf research are possible through NSF. The Unified Incident Command organized discussion sessions on subsurface oil sampling plans for academics who have not yet been part of the government or BP efforts for August 31 to September 2 at the University of South Florida, Northern Gulf Institute and Tulane University.
Academics have organized additional consortia in an effort to integrate and share research efforts. For example, many universities and state agencies in Florida have formed an Oil Spill Academic Task Force website and consortium to coordinate activities and to share information. Researchers have raised concerns about the government estimates of where the oil has gone and its impact on the environment as described in an oil spill budget report released on August 4.
Researchers have also raised concerns about their ability to conduct independent research, a lack of resources for research, a lack of access to government/industry data and a lack of access to different areas of the Gulf to collect observations and samples. A recent Op-ed in the New York Times, entitled A Gulf Science Blackout by entomologist, Linda Hooper-Biu, expresses some of these concerns. It should be noted that only a small number of scientists have publicly expressed a variety of concerns and their comments do not necessarily represent any consensus among the science community.
Industry has also been involved in conducting their own studies and in supporting the research efforts of non-industry scientists. In May, BP promised $500 million over ten years for Gulf of Mexico research. About $30 million has been distributed to Louisiana State University, the Northern Gulf Institute in Mississippi, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, and to establish an oversight panel of scientists to independently review project proposals. According to media reports, the remaining $470 million has been stalled by a June 16 White House fact sheet that called upon BP to “work with governors, and state and local environmental and health authorities to design the long-term monitoring program to assure the environmental and public health of the Gulf Region.” Reports suggest the independent review panel is being set aside and BP is being asked to provide funds for Gulf state programs on some formula basis rather than through competitive peer review. No administration official has commented on or confirmed these reports.
Additional information about the administration’s response to the oil spill is available from a new Deepwater BP Oil Spill blog that replaces a more succinct oil spill response timeline. The timeline covers the period from April 20 to May 25. The Primary BP Oil Spill Response web site of the Unified Incident Command was the main portal for federal government information until July 7. A new website, RestoretheGulf, is now the main portal for government information.
Administration Reports on Impact of Science Stimulus (8/10)
Vice President Joe Biden and the Executive Office of the President have released a report entitled “The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy through Innovation.” The report found that the Recovery Act’s $100 billion investment in science, technology, and innovation projects was successful in creating new jobs and accelerating significant advances in science and technology. According to the report, the U.S. is on track towards achieving four major breakthroughs as a result of the funding, including: 1. Cutting the cost of solar power in half by 201; 2. Cutting the cost of batteries for electric vehicles by 70% between 2009 and 2015; 3. Doubling U.S. renewable energy generation capacity and U.S. renewable manufacturing capacity by 2012; and 4. Lowering the cost of a personal human genome map to under $1,000 in five years.
USGS EDMAP Survey Results (7/10)
Each year, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) conducts a survey aimed at gauging the impacts of the EDMAP program on its participants. EDMAP, the education component of NCGMP, supports undergraduate and graduate students in a one-year mentored bedrock and surficial geologic mapping project that focuses on a specific geographic area. This interactive and meaningful program helps students gain experience and knowledge in geologic mapping and contributes to the efforts to produce geologic maps for the Nation.
Since 1996, NCGMP has supported geologic mapping efforts of more than 800 students working with more than 230 professors at 140 universities in 44 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. This year’s survey shows that EDMAP-supported students have near universal satisfaction with all aspects of the EDMAP experience, including the amount of knowledge gained and the adequacy of their preparation. Also, 82 percent of the participants stated that the program has helped them in some way, and all of the students have gone on to subsequent education or employment in the geosciences. Examples of the variety of positions the students have filled include research geologist, research analyst, project manager, and laboratory technician. More information on NCGMP and the EDMAP program can be found here.
Senate Considers America COMPETES Re-authorization (7/10)
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) parts of the re-authorization of the 2007 America COMPETES law. The committee’s portion of the bill (S.3605) authorizes larger funding increases for NIST and NSF over three years, rather than smaller increases over a longer five year period that the House approved at the end of June.
The total budget of NSF would be authorized to grow from $8.254 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to $9.943 billion in FY 2013. This would authorize larger budgets than the House-approved version (H.R. 5116) of COMPETES (e.g. the House authorizes $7.481 billion in FY2011 to $8.764 billion in FY 2013). The Senate measure enhances manufacturing research, establishes a green chemistry research program, adjusts graduate student support, enhances research experiences for undergraduates, establishes a research experiences for high school students, and establishes an industry internship among other things.
NIST’s total budget would be authorized at $1 billion in FY 2011 and would grow to $1.128 billion in FY 2013. The measure would establish an Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, who would also serve as the Director of NIST. The bill establishes a green manufacturing and construction research initiative and an emergency communication and tracking research initiative within NIST.
NOAA would receive directions to promote competitiveness and literacy in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, but no increases in funding would be authorized in this bill. The agency would be directed to initiate a workforce in atmospheric and oceanic sciences through the National Academy of Sciences.
NASA would receive directions to promote science literacy, but no increases in funding would be authorized in this bill. The bill notes that the International Space Station is a “valuable and unique national asset” which should be supported until at least 2020 as part of maintaining U.S. competitiveness in science and engineering.
The White House Office of Science and Technology would be requested to lead initiatives on a national innovation and competitiveness strategy, coordination of federal science education, coordination of public access to research and coordination of the federal scientific collection.
Two other Senate committees, Energy and Natural Resources and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, have yet to consider their portions of the America COMPETES re-authorization, so sections on research at the Energy Department and science education at the Education Department have not been introduced. These committees have indicated that the legislation is unlikely to be considered until after the November elections, so it may be several months before a full measure is brought to the Senate floor. In addition the appropriation committees in both houses have already drafted funding levels well below the authorized levels for FY 2011 in this bill. Thus stakeholders can only hope the measure progresses quickly in the fall and that authorized levels for future years are seriously considered when the bill becomes law.
Elementary and Secondary School Statistics Released (7/10)
The Common Core of Data (CCD) survey system is an annual collection of data reported by state education agencies to the Nation Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on the status and types of elementary and secondary schools across the country. Statistics for the type of school (charter, magnet or regular), the status of the school (new, continuing or closed), location (rural, city, town or suburban) and number of students are available for the 2008-2009 school year. Highlights from the report include:
For more information, view the full report, Numbers and Types of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2008-09 (pdf), which is available from the NCES web site.
NAS Requests Comon Future Earth Science Research (7/10)
The National Research Council (NRC) is conducting a study at the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The study will examine new research opportunities in Earth science, with particular focus on four areas:
The National Academy of Sciences is requesting comments on the program in an effort to expand feedback to include the public. To add input, fill out the NRC questionnaire.
Geoscience Booths at Inaugural USA Science and Technology Festival (6/10)
Washington DC will host the inaugural USA Science and Technology Festival from October 10-24 on the National Mall. With over 500 booths, speakers, and performances, there will be something for everyone. Representing the geosciences will be booths from AGI, GSA, USGS, SSSA and AGU. For more information, see the festival website at: usasciencefestival.org
Public Understanding of Science Examined (6/10)
The American Academy of Art and Sciences (AAAS) released a paper summarizing the findings of its study on Improving the Scientific Community’s Understanding of Public Concerns about Science and Technology. AAAS held four workshops on topics where there is concern about scientific work: The Next Generation of the Internet, Public Perception of Nuclear Waste Repositories, The Spread of Personal Genetic Information, and The Risks and Benefits of Emerging Energy Technologies. More than 50 scientists, engineers, public policy experts, lawyers, ethicists, and journalists participated in the workshops, which examined the ways in which scientists engage with the public and how their mutual understanding could be improved.
The summary paper, Do Scientists Understand the Public?, was written by Chris Mooney, author of books like Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (2009). He concludes that while the public’s hesitance to believe in evolution or global warming is often blamed on their scientific illiteracy, scientists’ understanding of the public is also lacking. In particular, scientists often fail to realize that a more informed public does not necessarily side with scientists more frequently. Mooney recommends a more interdisciplinary approach to presenting scientific issues, involving social scientists and communications specialists. He also recommends a more forward-thinking approach, where controversies can be identified and mitigated before they result in conflict.
NSF Survey Shows U.S. Business Spent $330 Billion on Research (6/10)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and US Census Bureau have released preliminary results from their new joint Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDS). The report details the current state of research and development in the U.S. business sector and provides an official measure of R&D in the private sector. The report found that in 2008, U.S. and U.S. affiliated firms spent $330 billion on research and development, of which $294 billion (88%) was conducted at companies’ own facilities within the U.S. Among manufacturers, the industry with the greatest R&D spending was pharmaceuticals and medicines. For further details, view the complete report.
Report Shows University Research Sparks Economic Growth (5/10)
A report titled, “Sparking Economic Growth: How Federally Funded University Research Creates Innovation, New Companies and Jobs” (PDF), was released on May 11 by The Science Coalition (TSC), a non-profit, nonpartisan organization composed of leading research universities. The report expounds the benefits of basic research, demonstrating through 100 different companies the success stories that have been made possible through federally funded basic research. These example companies carry impressive numbers, collectively employing over 100,000 people and have annual revenues that are billions of dollars. TSC maintains that were it not for the federally supported research, these companies would have never been created, and our economy would not have experienced the benefits these companies have to offer. The report concludes that the United States must continue to support research and development (R&D) to remain ahead of the innovation curve and maintain its position as the global leader. For more information on The Science Coalition and to view other reports, visit the TSC web site.
Joint Economic Committee Releases Report on Importance of Federal R&D (5/10)
The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) released a report on May 12 describing the importance of federally funded research and development (R&D). The Pivotal Role of Government Investment in Basic Research discusses how federal investments generate economic growth, why investments should be increased, and the critical role federal funding plays. Basic research is conducted to gain further understanding of a subject, without a specific commercial application in mind. The lack of an assured commercial application dissuades most private firms from funding basic research, leaving the majority of basic research funding to the federal government. Although studies have found that basic research benefits the economy as whole, the funding it receives may still be too low. The JEC concludes that increased basic research funding could help the U.S. economy by creating new industries and jobs. The full report, along with others, can be found on the JEC webpage.
Third Time’s a Charm: House Passes America COMPETES (5/10)
For the third time in two weeks, the House debated and voted on the reauthorization of America COMPETES (H.R. 5116). The third vote proved to be the charm as the legislation passed by a simple majority vote of 262 to 150. The legislation authorizes significant increases in investments for physical science research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Energy Department’s Office of Science and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) over five years.
The measure provides investments for energy initiatives at the Department of Energy, outlines innovation initiatives and restructuring of NIST, increases support for Noyce scholarships and prescribes numerous incentives and improvements to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) higher education efforts across the federal government. In addition, the bill establishes an Interagency Public Access Committee directed by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to “coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications.”
The legislation suffered a far more contentious debate this year than in 2007 because the reauthorization creates new initiatives and costs more (about $86 billion over five years). Republicans tried to amend the bill and drastically reduce funding, including a freeze on all existing programs until the federal budget is balanced, but they were unable to prevail. The Democrats prevailed by requesting a separate vote on each of nine components of the amendment and only two amendments passed. One amendment called the “porn provision” would call for the termination of any federal employee who watches pornography at work and the other amendment would allow military recruiters on college campuses.
Obama Seeks Input on Grand Challenges in Science and Engineering (4/10)
As part of President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation, the administration seeks ideas for how to apply science and technology to the “grand challenges” of the 21st century. The grand challenges, as defined by the Obama Administration, are in the areas of health, clean energy, national security, and education. For more information, see the February GAP Monthly Review article.
Join the dialogue on Twitter by replying to @whitehouse (using hashtag #whgc). For those not on Twitter, you can email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
House Committee Passes America COMPETES Reauthorization Bill (4/10)
At the end of April the House Science and Technology Committee passed the America COMPETES reauthorization (H.R. 5116) with a substitute amendment. The measure authorizes significant increases for physical science research at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy (DOE). The bill continues a doubling path for these programs that started with the original America COMPETES Act of 2007. The amendment reduces the authorization levels and extends the doubling time line from 7 years to about 10 years. The committee reduced the authorization levels in order to earn support from Republicans, who are concerned about spending increases during an economic recovery. The President’s request is more conservative, calling for a doubling path of 11 years.
The bill authorizes increases for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and spending for Energy Innovation Hubs at DOE. Other aspects of the measure of interest to the geosciences community includes a call for a task force on public access to federally-funded research, specifications regarding funding for science education research at NSF and DOE and legislative guidelines for research spending for DOE programs. Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) hopes the legislation will be debated and voted on by the full House before Memorial Day. More changes may be made to the bill in the House. The Senate has held one hearing on the American scientific competitiveness, but no legislation has been introduced. The Senate may choose to start with the House bill.
EPA and NASA Renew Agreement on Environmental and Earth Science (4/10)
The Environmental Protection Agency and NASA renewed their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to foster cooperation in environmental and Earth sciences and applications between the agencies. An EPA press release concluded, “The MOA signed today promotes renewed efforts of collaboration between EPA and NASA to improve environmental and Earth science research, technology, environmental management, and the application of Earth science data, models and technology in environmental decision-making. Areas of applied research and applications expected to benefit from this partnership include climate change, air quality, and water. The re-invigorated partnership focuses on science leadership to motivate continued exploration, innovation and protection of our home planet.”
Visit EPA’s Earth Observations and Advanced Monitoring Initiative and NASA’s Earth activities web pages for more information.
NSF and NIH Partner in Commerce Department Innovation Award Competition (4/10)
The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is partnering with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the i6 Challenge. This competition will award up to $1 million to each of six teams across the country with the most innovative ideas to meet the Obama Administration’s goals of driving technology commercialization and developing strong public-private partnerships. In addition, up to $6 million will be awarded in NSF or NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants associated with the winning teams.
Entrepreneurs, investors, universities, foundations, and non-profits are encouraged to participate in the i6 Challenge. The deadline for applications is July 15, 2010. For more details join the informational conference call on May 17, 2010. To learn more go to www.eda.gov/i6.
Universities to Hold Summits on Student Shortages in Agricultural and Natural Sciences (4/10)
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is hosting a series of national summits on the shortages of graduate students in agricultural and natural sciences at institutions of higher education in the U.S. The summit is entitled “Creating Change: Building Human Capacity for a Sustainable Future.” AGI’s member societies and members have expressed considerable concern about gaps and shortages in the geoscience workforce, the shortages of geoscience students and the lack of geoscience educational opportunities in K-12 grade levels. Given these concerns, geoscientists should consider participating in APLU’s summits and working with stakeholders on solutions at the graduate level and in the educational system that proceeds graduate school.
Game On: America COMPETES in Play as March Madness Ends (3/10)
The House Science and Technology started the process of re-authorization for the America COMPETES Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-69) at the end of March. America COMPETES authorized a doubling of the physical science research budgets at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Energy Department’s Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a mark-up of the Department of Energy section of the bill on March 25. A Committee Print includes three titles: Department of Energy Office of Science Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 4905), ARPA-E Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 4906) and the Energy Innovation Hubs Authorization Act of 2010. The language describes authorized levels of funding for programs and provides direction for energy research that the legislators believe should be priorities for the Department of Energy.
The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education is working on a draft of the National Science Foundation section of the bill. This section will prescribe authorized levels of funding for research and education at NSF over a five year period. Legislators are likely to provide guidance on fellowships, scholarships and education in the language. Mark-up of the NSF portion is scheduled for April 14.
The Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology is working on a draft of the National Institute of Standards and Technology section of the bill. Subcommittee mark-up should occur in mid-April followed by a full committee mark-up of the entire bill at the end of April.
House Approves Legislation for NOAA Education Programs (3/10)
The House passed legislation that increases education funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Environmental Literacy Grant Program and the Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program. H.R. 3644 directs a 10 percent annual increase over the next five years for a total disbursement of $145.7 million.
The B-WET program is an environmental marine education program that promotes hands-on learning for K-12 students. The Environmental Literacy Grant Program funds educators to implement a broad range of informal and formal education projects on state to national scales. An amendment from Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), which would have added offshore petroleum seepage to the suggested curriculum, was blocked by House Democrats.
AAPG Partners With NSF on Geoscience Research (3/10)
In a first ever partnership with industry, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a joint agreement with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) to increase funding for basic research in the geosciences over the next five years. NSF and AAPG hope to work together on bettering hazard mitigation, understanding natural resources, increasing knowledge of paleoclimate and current climate issues, restoring ecosystems, addressing workforce and education issues, and other critical geosciences challenges facing the nation. The agreement will go into effect starting July 1, 2010.
AAUW Releases Report “Why So Few?” on Women in Science (3/10)
A new report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, presents evidence for why so few women are in these fields while they are increasingly prominent in medicine, law and business. The report covers key research findings that addressed stereotypes, gender bias and the atmosphere of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities. It also offers new ideas for what to do to more fully open scientific and engineering fields to girls and women.
House Committee Seeking Input on Education Legislation (2/10)
The leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee announced plans to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind. The committee is seeking input from groups and stakeholders about the legislation. If you have suggestions you can provide input to the committee by March 26, 2010 by sending an email with your comments to email@example.com. Please be sure to provide your full contact information and to explain if your input represents the opinions of an individual or an organization.
Engineering Education Bills Introduced in Congress (2/10)
The House and the Senate have introduced bills to strengthen engineering education at the K-12 levels. The Engineering Education for Innovation Act would authorize the Education Secretary to provide grants for integrating engineering education into curricula. Geoscience-related engineering activities could be integrated into these grants if the bills gain approval from Congress and the President signs the legislation into law. The measures would also provide funds for engineering education research and evaluation.
The House bill, H.R. 4709, was introduced on February 25 by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) and referred to the House Education and Labor Committee. The Senate bill, S.3043, was introduced on February 25 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
NSB Releases Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 (1/10)
The National Science Board (NSB) released its Science and Engineering Indicators for 2010 on January 15, 2010. Regarding the global expansion of research and development (R&D) expenditures, the report notes that the majority of funding for R&D in most nations comes from industry, with the rest from governments.
The U.S. spends about 2.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on R&D annually, while Japan and South Korea have increased their R&D growth to about 3.5 percent of GDP. The European Union spends about 1.8 percent of GDP annually over more than a decade, while China continues to rapidly expand its spending on R&D, doubling its percentage of GDP from 0.5 in 1996 to 1.5 percent in 2007. China has also become a leader in knowledge and technology-intensive exports, once areas of growth solely led by developed countries. Please see the full report for many other details regarding science and engineering in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Geologists in Africa as part of AAAS On-Call Scientists (1/10)
Geologists have volunteered to investigate the possible human rights abuses in Africa through the AAAS “On-Call” Scientists initiative. Since its launch in October 2008, “On-call” Scientists has been pairing up scientists and engineers interested in volunteering their skills with human rights organizations in need of their scientific expertise. The initiative has 350 scientists and engineers enrolled to offer their services on a pro bono basis.
Kathleen Nicoll, a professor of geology and geography at the University of Utah, has been working with Global Rights group from Washington, DC to document how oil extraction in the Congo has decreased access to food and water. Nicoll’s research shows that villagers now have to travel over one kilometer to reach a water source, many of which are polluted, due to oil extraction nearby.
Mark Logsdon, a geologist at Geochimica Inc. in California, is also working for Global Rights. He will be lending his expertise to observe a gold mining project in Guinea once it is safe to travel to the country. Logsdon will be looking at the management of the cyanide used to extract gold from low-grade ore. The Global Rights group lauded the help from scientists, explaining that industry experts are in a position to conduct tests, to ask pointed questions, to review scientific data and to help the human rights groups assess situations that require scientific or technical knowledge that human rights defenders often do not have.
AAAS encourages scientists and engineers from all disciplines to consider volunteering. They want a diverse group to enroll to meet the wide variety of possible of scientific applications to human rights, including helping organizations integrate the scientific method into their data-collection and analysis to strengthen their results.
Learn more about the On-Call Scientists initiative from AAAS: http://oncallscientists.aaas.org/default.aspx
Joint Report on International Scientific Diplomacy (1/10)
AAAS, working in conjunction with The Royal Society of London, released a report New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy following a meeting held in June 2009. The highlight was the potential for improved international policy and global relationships because of cooperative international scientific research. The three main conclusions of the meeting were that science will influence policy, increased diplomacy can improve international scientific cooperation, which in turn could lead to improved diplomatic relations between countries.
President’s Educate to Innovate Initiative (1/10)
President Obama hosted the recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Mentoring at the White House on January 6, 2010. He took the opportunity to highlight and summarize his “Educate to Innovate” initiative. The initiative is a “nationwide effort by citizens, non-for-profits, universities, and companies … to help us move to the top of the pack in math and science education”
The administration will leverage agency resources to help with this initiative. The President announced five new public-private partnerships and two agency initiatives.
Another component of the initiative is National Lab Day, a nationwide initiative to bring hands-on learning into communities across the country. The initiative is a year-long series of training and activities with a culminating week of coordinated events planned for May 2010.
Another component of this initiative is the USA Science and Engineering Festival, a hands-on science celebration on the National Mall in Washington DC on October 23-24, 2010.
The American Geological Institute and other geoscience societies are part of these initiatives. Others are encouraged to participate as the initiatives allow for activities throughout the country and throughout the year.
Obama Launches Educate to Innovate Program (12/09)
President Obama launched a new program at the end of November, called Educate to Innovate, to spur partnerships aimed at improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and encouraging more students to pursue careers in those fields. The idea is to take pre-existing, successful programs and help them expand using new and creative ways of generating student interest with help from corporations, nonprofit organizations, and individuals in the STEM field.
Educate to Innovate is based on the recommendations to improve STEM education to keep the U.S. competitive globally from the 2005 National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Many subsequent reports and studies have led to the new initiatives announced as part of Educate to Innovate. A few examples include: an annual science fair at the White House for all the winners of national STEM competitions; public-private partnerships with Time Warner Cable, Discovery Communications, Sesame Street, Sony, and others to bring educational video games, science literacy TV programming, and student STEM competition announcements to millions of children; and a grassroots National Lab Day to connect teachers with STEM societies and professionals to help implement hands-on, project-based learning in schools.
AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Twitter Feed (12/09)
For the February Presidential budget release, AAAS will be posting Twitter updates on the FY2011 budget process and policy updates for research and development (R&D) funding. The Twitter feed will deliver the breaking news and information between their more detailed email updates. Start following the R&D Budget and Policy Program now at: http://twitter.com/AAAS_RDBudget.
Science Film Festival (12/09)
The second annual Imagine Science Film Festival was held in New York City from October 15-25. The event is organized by Imagine Science Films, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit dedicated to dialogue and collaboration between scientists and filmmakers. The organization’s objectives are to ensure the accurate portrayal of science and scientists in film and to help make science more accessible to the public through the arts, particularly film.
A festival is being planned for 2010 and submissions will likely be due in the spring of 2010. Films must effectively incorporate science into a compelling narrative while maintaining credible scientific groundings. Films may have a scientific or technological theme and storyline, or have a leading character who is a scientist, engineer, or mathematician. The geoscience community is encouraged to nominate films, take advantage of other public outreach opportunities through Imagine Science Film and to consider opportunities for collaboration with filmmakers.
RFF Role of Prizes in Innovation Seminar (12/09)
Resources for the Future (RFF) held a seminar entitled “The Role of Prizes in Innovation and Entrepreneurship” to discuss the advantages of using prizes as a means of encouraging new technological developments. The speakers included Michele Gittleman, Project Manager at Carnegie Mellon University; Ned Stetson, Technology Development Manager of hydrogen storage at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); and Hillary Chen, Policy Analyst for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Each speaker had experience with prize motivation, either through creating a prize competition, or by competing to win a prize. Timothy J. Brennan, Senior Fellow at RFF, moderated the talk.
Chen called prizes important, under-utilized tools of innovation She said that they help to identify targets and focus innovation in areas that are of concern. She added that even teams who do not get the prize itself make so much progress along the way that they still gain much from the process. Stetson agreed with Chen and added that the prizes allow agencies or companies funding the competitions to draw from a larger pool than they normally could. Gittleman spoke of her experience competing in and winning, along with her teammates, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge. She said that winning has a lot of appeal and encourages research that might not otherwise be done.
Science Stimulus Money Tracking Site Launched (11/09)
ScienceWorksForUS.org is a new website launched this month to track the stimulus-funded research activities and their impacts for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy (Office of Science and ARPA-E) and the National Institutes of Health. Of the $787 billion in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1), $21 billion went towards scientific research and development, new scientific equipment, and science-related construction within these agencies. This new site separates the stimulus-sponsored research by each state, tracks how much money each state received, and the number of grants awarded. ScienceWorksForUs is a joint effort of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), and The Science Coalition (TSC), which together represent over 200 of the country’s leading academic research institutions.
Public Universities Facing Budget Woes (11/09)
The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) notes that 85 percent of public universities experienced budget cuts in fiscal year 2009 and 53 percent of Chief Academic Officers are pessimistic about their short-term fiscal future. Many institutions are conducting or initiating strategic reviews of their missions and activities. APLU surveyed the fiscal landscape and strategies at the nation’s 188 public research universities in a report entitled Coping Strategies of Public Universities During the Economic Recession of 2009 (PDF).
DOE Awards $151 Million in First Round of ARPA-E Projects (11/09)
The Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded a total of $151 million to 37 projects in its first round of proposals. The awards go to researchers in 17 states, and a variety of sectors. Most awards went to small businesses and academic institutions (43 percent and 35 percent respectively), and 19 percent went to large corporations. These projects focus on high risk, high reward breakthroughs to fundamentally change the energy sector in all fields from biofuels to carbon capture. Proposals include advanced battery science for large-scale energy storage to allow “round-the-clock” electricity from wind or solar power sources, and synthetic enzymes to trump the current amine and ammonia based carbon capture process at power plants with a cheaper, easier method.
In response to the original call for ARPA-E proposals in April, about 3,600 concept papers were submitted. Of those, ARPA-E requested full applications for 300 proposals and ultimately selected 37 for funding. This first round is only a portion of the $400 million President Obama announced for ARPA-E as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or “stimulus” funds. A second round of proposal solicitations will begin soon, but no timelines have been announced yet.
For more information and a full list of the awards, please visit the ARPA-E website.
California Geology Board Eliminated (11/09)
The California Board of Geologists and Geophysicists (BGG) has been eliminated as of October 23, 2009. BGG is responsible for regulating the practices of geology and geophysics within the state. Its responsibilities have been transferred to the Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (BPELS). California legislators under pressure to reach a budget compromise in assembly bill AB 4X 20 included a section that eliminates BGG, even though the board was self-funded. For now, there will be no geologists or geophysicists on BPELS, there will be no name change to reflect its new mission, and BPELS will not have the manpower to perform its new functions.
The three California sections of the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists (AEG; editor’s note—AEG is one of AGI’s member societies) formed a political action committee, the California Association of Professional Geologists (CAPG), to oppose the elimination of BGG. CAPG believes that an independent and dedicated board of professional geologists and geophysicists are essential to licensing, certification and enforcement in order to ensure public safety and welfare. CAPG filed an injunction to stop the termination of BGG and is awaiting a court ruling.
CAPG is asking for help and support from the geoscience community and other interested stakeholders. Even if the injunction fails, guidance and action are needed to ensure robust regulation of professional practices in geology and geophysics in California. For more information please visit: http://www.aegsc.org/bggnews/
BPELS will hold an informational meeting about the changes and the practices of geology and geophysics on December 10, 2009. For more information please visit: http://www.geology.ca.gov/
Math Proficiency Levels Stagnant for American Students (10/09)
The latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the U.S.’s most significant standardized test, demonstrate a plateau in math achievement for American students. Released after a bi-annual assessment, the scores show a slight increase in proficiency for eighth grade students, while student in fourth grade showed no improvement.
These results indicate a six year trend of slowed achievement growth since the passage of No Child Left Behind, a law that requires U.S. schools to bring 100 percent of students into reading and math proficiency by 2014. Now five years away, these scores indicate that only 39 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders are making the mark. Results also indicated a failure to close achievement gaps between minority and white students, another goal of the law.
MESA Hosts Meeting on Expanding STEM Workforce through E-Mentoring (10/09)
Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) hosted a luncheon to discuss opportunities to bolster the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce by utilizing e-mentoring. David Porush, CEO of the nonprofit MentorNet, gave a presentation about his organization’s success in promoting STEM education through an online mentoring cooperative. Utilizing an algorithm to match volunteer industry professionals to students with similar interests, MentorNet has seen dramatic improvement in school retention rates. In addition, the connections forged through mentoring relationships have yielded significant numbers of employees for the corporations participating in the program. MentorNet targets women and underrepresented minority students especially at the K-12 and community college levels, though the program is open to all interested students. MentorNet is now attempting to expand its offerings while keeping costs down. For more information on MentorNet, visit the program’s website here.
House Passes Student Loan Reform Bill (9/09)
On September 16, 2009, the House voted 253 to 171 to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (H.R. 3221), which was originally introduced by Congressman George Miller (D-CA). The bill would put the federal government in charge of student loans, eliminating private lenders, and it would simplify the financial aid application process. The savings from removing subsidies for private lenders (about $20 billion over 5 years) and simplification would be partly used to expand the Pell Grant program and partly used to reduce interest rates on student loans. Pell Grants for college education for middle- to low-income students would increase from $4,130 to $5,400 and would be available to more students. The interest rate on need-based student loans would be cut in half over four years.
Most Republicans voted against the bill and raised concerns about how the changes would affect the $90 billion student loan industry. Opponents worry that access to student loans may become more limited as the industry reduces the number of loans they provide.
MAA Hosts Briefing on Improving Diversity in STEM Fields (9/09)
The Mathematical Association of America (MAA), in conjunction with Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), held a lunch briefing to discuss issues of diversity in STEM. Called “Promising Recruitment and Retention Strategies to Improve Diversity in STEM,” the briefing examined two programs which have demonstrated success in producing minority STEM graduates.
Representative Hinojosa discussed the trends he has seen in minority involvement in STEM during his 7 terms in office, specifically declines in STEM graduates dating back to roughly 1995. He thanked the other participants for their work, as educators who have succeeded in reversing that trend within their communities. Sylvia T. Bozemen, Professor of Mathematics at Spelman College, described how Spelman--an all black, women’s school--was able to transform enrollment in STEM programs from their least popular majors in the 1970’s to a program today lauded by the National Science Foundation as one of the best in the nation. She described research indicating that one of the principle issues with minority students entering STEM programs is a lack of role models, and that one of the corresponding measures Spelman has taken to combat the issue is a strong mentorship program pairing students with faculty.
Carlos Castillo-Chavez, member of the Board of Regents and Joaquin Bustoz Jr. Professor of Mathematical Biology at Arizona State University described a program which brings undergraduate students into STEM research programs with faculty, allowing them to choose their own research initiatives. Arizona State is now a leading producer of Chicano PhDs, and is additionally seeing a high percentage of the program’s participants pursue advanced degrees in STEM elsewhere.
For more information on the session, you can visit the Mathematical Association of America website, or Dr. Castillo-Chavez’s Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute.
NRC Holds Briefing on Global Best Innovation Practices (9/09)
The National Research Council (NRC) held a briefing on science and technology innovation titled “Understanding Research, Science and Technology Parks: Global Best Practices.” The briefing covered the results of a study conducted by the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) on innovation here and abroad. A symposium held in March 2008 composed the basis for what was discussed and a report from is available online.
The meeting opened with Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) expressing the need for continued investment in small business innovation. Other speakers included Alan Wolff, Chairman of the National Council Committee on Comparative Innovation Policy; Dr. Charles Wessner, Director of Science, Technology, and Entrepreneurship for the NRC; and Brian Darmody, Assistant Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University of Maryland. The focus of the presentations was the value of Science and Technology parks, and how their creation and utilization is key to developing technologic and economic results from ideas. Physical and geographic proximity has been proven to be the leading catalyst for the dissemination of new technologies. Small businesses housed in large industrial style parks, however, need a good deal of initial support to allow them to reach a level of productivity which will allow them to prosper. For more information, see the National Research Council’s web page.
DOE Grants to Train Geologists (8/09)
The Energy Department awarded $8.5 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to seven projects to train geologists, engineers and other specialists in carbon capture and storage. The seven recipients include Seattle-based Environmental Outreach and Stewardship Alliance; the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; the Tulsa, OK based Petroleum Technology Transfer Council; the Norcross, GA based Southern States Energy Board; the University of Texas, Austin; the University of Wyoming, Laramie; and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The program will cover training, technology transfer and public outreach for 36 months and will be managed by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. As of August 21, 2009, DOE had made available $9.68 billion in stimulus funds and paid out $466.03 million. See Recovery.gov site for further details.
Geoscientists Join "On-Call" Scientists Organization (7/09)
Geoscientists have joined the ranks of “On-call” Scientists, a volunteer organization started by the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program in October 2008. “On-call” Scientists connects scientists with human rights organizations around the world who are in need of expert scientific advice. AAAS is pleased with the initial response to the program as over 250 highly qualified scientists have already signed up and there are many requests for their expertise. Human rights organizations have been calling for a full range of scientists, including geoscientists. A recent request solicited petroleum engineers and geologists with gold and diamond extraction experience to help with human rights work in west and central Africa.
STEM Education Policy Model Launched (7/09)
A new model that examines the U.S. educational system in order to strengthen STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education was released by Raytheon and the Business-Higher Education Forum on July 8, 2009. The first of its kind model uses more than 200 variables in complex algorithms to determine which policy and educational programmatic interventions will produce the most positive environment for STEM students, ultimately increasing the amount of STEM college graduates and the STEM workforce. The release of the model allows policy makers, researchers, and educators to determine the best policy scenarios for STEM education.
The U.S. STEM Education Model can be found here.
Common Core State Standards Initiative (7/09)
The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) recently released the names of 49 states and territories that have joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The initiative is committed to developing common state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, and include rigorous content and skills to be aligned with college and work expectations. This work builds on recent efforts by organizations and states to develop standards that will ensure American students are college and career ready when they graduate from high school. The goal is to have a set of standards that states can voluntarily adopt. States can adopt additional standards, but at least 85 percent of their English-language arts and mathematics must be represented by the common core.
More information can be found at www.ccsso.org.
NSF Makes Changes to Proposals and Divisions (7/09)
Proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) must be submitted using the NSF FastLane system at www.fastlane.nsf.gov. Please visit the web site for more information.
Proposals to support a post-doctoral researcher must include a separate mentoring plan in a supplemental section. Any proposal that does not include this section will be returned without review. Please review the instructions about this small change.
NSF provides information about funding opportunities at Grants.gov and proposers are encouraged to check this site often for updates and information.
The Atmospheric Science division (ATM) within the Geosciences Directorate will become the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS) as of October 1, 2009. Look for AGS rather than ATM after that date, and please consider the additional range of science included in the new division name.
Some upcoming NSF grant proposals that are outside of the Geosciences Directorate, but may be of interest to geoscientists include: Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Organization of Projects on Environmental Research in the Arctic (OPERA) and Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE).
DOE Begins Looking at ARPA-E Proposals (7/09)
The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) of the Department of Energy (DOE) has completed the submission stage of its first Funding Opportunity Announcement. ARPA-E will focus on high risk, high pay-off technologies that lead to energy transformations. Its aims to maintain U.S. economic security by identifying technologies with the potential to reduce energy imports from foreign sources, reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy efficiency while keeping the U.S. as the technological leader in the world.
ARPA-E has received about 3,500 concept papers for the $150 million available from the stimulus package passed earlier this year. The number of concepts exceeded industry expectations and demonstrates the large capacity for energy innovation in the nation. ARPA-E will notify those who submitted concept papers by July 28, 2009 if they think the concepts are feasible and the applicant should proceed. Full proposals are due by August 28, 2009. ARPA-E is planning to offer further solicitations in the future.
For more information please visit the ARPA-E website at: http://arpa-e.energy.gov/
Early Career Scientist Funds for 2010 (7/09)
The Obama Administration is using part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support scientific researchers and build the nation’s scientific workforce. On July 17, 2009 Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that up to $85 million from the ARRA will be allocated to fund early career scientists’ research in 2010. Five year grants will be awarded to at least 50 researchers from U.S. academic institutions and Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories. Universities will get $150,000 per year to fund summer salary and research expenses and national laboratories will receive $500,000 per year for salary and research expenses.
Qualified applicants must have received their Ph.D. within the last 10 years and be a tenure-track assistant professor or a fulltime employee at a DOE national laboratory. To apply, researchers must submit a letter of intent by August 1, 2009, and a proposal of research is due on September 1, 2009. Researchers should apply for funding of projects that are within the programmatic priorities of one of the six Office of Science program offices.
More information is available at: http://www.er.doe.gov/SC-2/early_career.htm
Survey Assesses Scientist and Public Opinions (7/09)
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) evaluated the public view of science and compared it to the viewpoint of scientists. The survey asked 4,500 people, of which 2,500 were members of AAAS, about science and the global standing of U.S. science research. The study found that while the public has a good opinion of scientists, they do not believe that American scientists lead the world in scientific research. Only 17 percent of the public think that U.S. science is the best in the world, while 49 percent of scientists hold this belief. The number of people who view scientific advances as the most important achievements of the U.S. has declined in the last 10 years from 47 to 27 percent.
The survey also asked scientists about the scientific knowledge of the public. While two thirds of the public have a high opinion of scientists, 85 percent of scientists think that public ignorance of science is a problem. The study evaluated the scientific knowledge of the public and compared it to the scientists’ knowledge. Questions about evolution found that 32 percent of the public believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time, as opposed to 87 percent of scientists. A similar disparity is found for global warming, with 49 percent of the public and 84 percent of scientists believing that humans are the cause. However, there is some agreement between scientists and the public when it comes to funding of science research. Both groups say that government investment is essential for scientific progress. Majorities of each group also agree that advances in medicine and life science are the most important advances in science.
Another recent survey by two scientists at the University of Illinois in Chicago polled 3,146 scientists on their opinion of climate change. Dr. Peter Doran and former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman presented their findings in the American Geophysical Union’s publication Eos in January. The results showed that 90 percent of the polled scientists believe that mean global temperature has risen since 1800, and 82 percent agree that human activity is a significant contributing factor. Of the climate specialists polled, 97 percent agreed that humans have contributed to the mean global temperature rise. The study concluded that there is an overall consensus among scientists that humans are causing climate change.
The full survey report by the Pew Research Center can be found here.
More information on the Doran and Zimmerman survey can be found at CNN.
Environmental Research Parks Bill Passes House (7/09)
A bill to authorize designation of the National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs) by the Secretary of Energy (H.R. 2729), introduced by Representative Ben Lujan (D-NM) in June, passed the House with bipartisan support on July 29. There are currently seven NERPs located throughout the U.S. that do research related to energy and the environment in unique outdoor laboratory settings on protected lands of the Department of Energy. These research parks possess long-term data sets on amphibian populations, bird populations, and soil moisture and plant water stress that will be particularly valuable as climate change is studied for years to come. This bill would designate $30 million between 2010 and 2014 to the Secretary of Energy for these parks to continue their work and to engage in more education and outreach to the public.
The full text of H.R. 2729 can be found on Thomas at:
Congress Approves Small Business Research Grants (7/09)
The House and Senate have approved reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program through 2017 (H.R. 2965). The program provides federal grants for small businesses to allow small, high-technology, innovative businesses to compete with and complement federal research and development efforts.
In the past the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), and others contributed 2.5 percent of their budgets to SBIR. The Senate added an amendment from Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) that will incrementally increase the percentage federal agencies are contributing to 3.5 percent by 2020. Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) strongly opposed such an increase, as it will take away from funding allotted to basic scientific research at federal agencies. He prefers overall increases for NSF, DOE, and others that would in turn increase funds for SBIR. After the Senate vote on July 13, 2009, the bill returns to a conference committee who will reconcile the two versions of the bill before sending it to President Obama.
Read more about the SBIR program here: http://www.sbir.gov/
The full text of H.R. 2695 is available from Thomas:
National Education Standards Report Released (7/09)
On July 23, 2009 the Educational Testing Service (ETS) held a report release for “National Education Standards: Getting Beneath the Surface” by Paul Barton. This report highlights the complexities in the American education system related to establishing national education standards. Much of the challenge lies in different content standards, curriculums, and tests from state to state and a lack of consensus on the best method of teaching reading and math. This results in discrepancies in student achievement among the states. For example, the percentage of student at a state-set standard for proficiency is often very different from the percentage of students proficient in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) achievement levels. Mr. Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers and Ms. Bethany Little, Chief Education Council to Senator Ted Kennedy, also spoke about the challenges in establishing national standards in education for the country. All agreed that the large degree of variation within the system poses a major challenge to improving the quality of education in the country. The report does not advocate for a specific position in establishing national standards, but outlines the history, background, and complex circumstances surrounding the debate within which policy decisions can be framed and be considered with the goal of improving the success of the American education system.
Copies of the report can be downloaded for free at:
National Environmental Research Parks Pass Committee (6/09)
On June 24, 2009 a bill to create environmental research parks passed out of the House Science and Technology Committee and reported to the full house. Representative Ben Lujan (D-NM) introduced H.R. 2729, which would authorize designation of the National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs) by the Secretary of Energy. There are currently seven NERPs located throughout the U.S. that do research related to energy and the environment in unique outdoor laboratory settings on protected lands of the Department of Energy. In addition, these research parks possess long-term data sets, which can only be found in the parks, on amphibian populations, bird populations, and soil moisture and plant water stress that will be particularly valuable as climate change is studied for years to come. This bill would designate $35 million between 2010 and 2014 to the Secretary of Energy for these parks to continue their work and to engage in more education and outreach to the public. The Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing on June 9th on environmental research at the Department of Energy and H.R. 2729. The witnesses all made a case for the importance of the work done at these research parks and how their large-scale experiments could not be done without the unique laboratory setting the NERPs provide.
Science and Technology Research and Education Bills (6/09)
In the House, two bills establishing federal programs in support of research in science and technology were passed on June 8, 2009. The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009 (H.R 1736) was unanimously passed by the House Science and Technology Committee in April. The bill re-establishes the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET) under the supervision of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).
The second bill, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coordination Act of 2009 (H.R. 1709) also creates a committee under the jurisdiction of the NSTC. The committee will coordinate all STEM education programs in the federal agencies, create a strategic five-year plan for STEM education, and maintain an inventory of the STEM programs and activities. The bill was introduced by Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) in March and since passed through the House Science and Technology Committee. Both bills are now under consideration in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Bipartisan Bill Calls for Education Standards in Science (6/09)
On June 10, 2009, the SPEAK (Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids) Act was introduced in the House by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and introduced in the Senate by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). The identical bills are currently under review in the House Committee on Education and Labor and in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The goal of the SPEAK Act is to ensure students entering college and the workforce are prepared to compete in the global economy. The bill would add science to the standardized mathematics and reading tests that students take in grades four, eight, and twelve, and establish voluntary state academic standards in math and science for kindergarten through 12th grade. As an incentive for states to adopt the standards, competitive grants from the proposed American Standards Incentive Fund would be given to participating states. The SPEAK Act would be a step towards national education standards that enable students to receive a basic science education no matter where they live.
The full text of the House SPEAK Act (H.R. 2970) can be found on Thomas at:
The full text of the Senate SPEAK Act (S. 1231) can be found on Thomas at:
Earth Science Literacy Outlined by NSF (6/09)
The major concepts in Earth science that all people should know are outlined in the new report “Earth Science Literacy Principles: The Big Ideas and Supporting Concepts of Earth Science” released by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on June 4, 2009. With Earth science playing such a prominent, public role in issues facing society today, the Earth Science Literacy Initiative funded by NSF felt it was crucial that every citizen understand the fundamentals of Earth science. The report they commissioned is a summary of Earth history and structure written and reviewed by top Earth scientists. It is aimed at policymakers, educators, students, and the general public as a guide for education and legislation.
The report is available for download from the Earth Science Literacy Initiative website.
EarthTrek Encourages Public Participation in Science (6/09)
The Geological Society of America (GSA) and other national and international partners have developed EarthTrek, a new tool that will allow concerned citizens to contribute data to scientists around the world. Scientists will set protocols for various environmental projects that benefit from community involvement in data gathering. Participants log their data online and can monitor the progress of their project. In addition, they can be rewarded with certificates and other incentives. EarthTrek aims to raise scientific literacy by involving communities in science, and provide experiences for kids to encourage them to pursue science as a career path. EarthTrek enrollment is open now, and the first science projects will begin on July 1, 2009. Learn more at http://www.goearthtrek.com/.
Gender Discrepancies in Faculty Examined by NAS Study (6/09)
After a study of 6 science, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) concluded that women are still underrepresented in the applicant pool, but are hired at rates equal to or higher to those of men. The new study, Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty, collected original survey data from biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, civil engineering, and electrical engineering. A total of 417 departments responded from the top 89 large research institutions. The data was collected from 2004-2005, so provides a snapshot over a short period rather than tracking longer trends.
In 1999, a study on women faculty at MIT raised awareness of the disparity between the genders and led to a series of congressional hearings in 2002. The hearings, convened by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), led to the congressional mandate for a NAS study of the issue. The study concludes that there is a smaller female applicant pool, so work needs to be done to mentor tenure track female faculty. However, once women apply for faculty positions or come up for tenure review, they are at least as likely as their male counterparts to receive the position. Women also receive equal access to resources, having similar lab space and time commitments to teaching, research, and service.
New Book Outlines Strategies For Increasing Undergraduate Research (6/09)
The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) released a new book, Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research: Fostering Excellence and Enhancing the Impact. The book features institutions that are successfully engaging undergraduates in research activities, especially traditionally underrepresented groups in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM). The strategies used by various institutions are discussed in the book in order to help the audience facilitate creating their own institution specific programs. The claim is the U.S. needs more people going into STEM careers, and that research lays the foundation for innovation and solving the big challenges facing the Earth. In order to address this, the book recommends increasing undergraduate participation to attract, train, and utilize bright young minds in these fields.
At a reception for the book release, panelists discussed why there is a lack of undergraduate participation, especially from minority groups. Two conclusions were the misconceptions of the scope and scale of research projects and the structure of universities. For example, many of the target groups feel that they cannot complete a research project and have time to make enough money for school. There is also lack of incentives for students or faculty, and publicity for undergraduate opportunities.
The book is intended for a broad audience including faculty, administrators, and policymakers. It is available for purchase from the CUR website.
NSF Promotes Science with Cool Public Outreach Tools (5/09)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is making efforts to bring science to a broader audience through the creative use of burgeoning public outreach tools such as social networking sites, internet blogs, podcasts, and web-based utilities.
One example of what NSF has done can be seen at www.science360.gov, a collection of cool science stories and other information formatted like an iTunes music selection page. Besides this web series, NSF is producing a number of short podcasts highlighting new discoveries and short videos describing different science careers. NSF is also helping to facilitate media interviews and media videos of research. In the near future, NSF hopes to start a 24 hour radio channel, which they hope to air on the satellite radio provider Sirius. NSF is also partnering with NASCAR on a “Science of Speed” series, NBC at the Winter Olympics, US News for their science coverage, and Hollywood to provide scientific consulting in movies.
For more information on NSF’s media programming and partnerships, visit their website at: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsmedia/sciencefrontiers/
If anyone has suggestions for future programming, contact Jeff Nesbit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Arizona Passes Religious Liberties Bill (5/09)
On May 6, 2009 the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill designed to protect students from discrimination based on religious beliefs or expressions, in the teaching of earth science and biology classes at public schools. The bill states, “if an assignment requires a student’s viewpoint to be expressed in coursework, artwork or other written or oral assignments, a public education institution shall not penalize or reward a student on the basis of religious content or a religious viewpoint. In such an assignment, a student’s academic work that expresses a religious viewpoint shall be evaluated based on ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance to the course curriculum or requirements of the coursework or assignment.” The bill passed with the influence of the conservative non-profit organization Center for Arizona Policy. The bill has now moved on to the Arizona Senate for consideration.
Proposed Development of Education Standards in Math – Science May be Next? (4/09)
The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) want to create national math and language arts high school graduation standards by the summer of 2009 and grade specific national standards by 2010. Rigorous national standards would ensure that students are ready for college and the workplace. Arkansas and Florida have taken the lead on this initiative, and other states are asked to commit their support of common standards in writing by the end of May. Georgia and Minnesota have already pledged their support. The undertaking will require coordination not only between states, but between colleges, high schools, and the federal government in order to develop and implement practical standards nationwide.
The idea is gaining popularity in Congress too. Witnesses urged the House Committee on Education and Labor to support state efforts to develop internationally benchmarked academic standards at a hearing on April 29, 2009. Common standards are also a priority of President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who proposed using stimulus money to develop standards.
House Considers International Research Measure (4/09)
The House Science and Technology Committee unanimously passed the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009 (H.R. 1736) on April 29, 2009. The bill would reinstate the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET), a group created under former President Bill Clinton and dissolved under former President George W. Bush, that focused on developing policies to aid U.S. federal agencies in establishing cooperative science and technology programs with other countries. The bill directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Science and Technology Committee to oversee CISET, which in turn would coordinate international science and technology partnerships between federal research agencies and the State Department.
Democrats Introduce No Child Left Inside Act (4/09)
On April 22, 2009 House and Senate Democrats introduced the No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 (S.866 and H.R. 2054). The bipartisan bill, introduced on Earth Day, would amend the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act with a funding provision of $500 million over the next five years to support the development of school curricula geared towards hands-on education outdoors as well as the creation of professional training opportunities for environmental education teachers. The bills come at a time when U.S. children are spending about half as much time outdoors as they once did 20 years ago, according to a National Wildlife Federation study.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a co-author of the bill, stated that “teaching children about the environment and giving them a hands-on opportunity to experience nature should be an important part of the curriculum in our schools.” Most of the bill’s funding would go to the states to be competitively awarded to school districts and qualifying nonprofit organizations for programs that allow students to connect with nature through outdoor lessons. At least 30 percent of the funding would go directly to school districts to train teachers in environmental education. Supporters of the bill also believe these programs will increase student’s awareness of career opportunities in the environmental sector and stimulate interest in ecological issues.
Legislation to Promote Women in Science (3/09)
Women are a large proportion of the undergraduates in science and engineering, yet only 20 percent of the bachelor degrees awarded in those fields are given to women. Women make up only a small percentage of the science and engineering faculty at research universities, and receive less funding and resources than their male counterparts.
In order to fully utilize the innovative capacity of all our scientists and remain competitive Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act (H.R. 1144) at the end of February. The legislation aims to overcome the gender bias in science and engineering by requiring workshops to educate federally funded researchers on ways to better conduct impartial evaluations of grants and to extend grant support for researchers with care giving responsibilities. The Office of Science and Technology Policy would develop the policy that would be carried out by major science and engineering programs within the federal agencies.
The Role of Universities in Entrepreneurial Growth and Economic Stimulus (2/09)
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management reported findings at a Capitol Hill briefing on February 17, 2009 regarding the importance of universities in spurring innovation and entrepreneurial growth as well as stimulating economic recovery on both regional and global scales. The study, based on a 2003 survey of MIT alumni, also included detailed analyses using updated 2006 economic data. Findings showed that if all of the MIT alumni-founded companies worldwide and associated support businesses were combined into a single independent nation, that nation would be at least the 17th-largest economy in the world.
The study was conducted by E.B. Roberts and C. Eesley and presented at the briefing hosted by the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, whose mission is to advance innovation and catalyze economic growth beyond “small businesses.” As an example of the regional importance of a university, the study indicated that nearly 40 percent of the software, biotech, and electronics companies founded by MIT graduates are located in the state of Massachusetts, even though only 10 percent of MIT freshman come from instate. On a national scale, half of the companies created by MIT’s foreign-student alumni are located within the U.S., which provides additional economic opportunity and growth for the U.S.
Link to internet article on MIT news website.
Environmental Research and Education Report Released (2/09)
In early February 2008, the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) released recommendations relating to environmental and sustainability research and education policy, based on findings from NCSE’s eight annual National Conferences on Science, Policy and the Environment from 2000-2008. The recommendations, found in the report Environmental Research and Education Needs: An Agenda for a New Administration, were collected from over 5,000 participating scientists, engineers, students and decision-makers over the past 8 years. The recommendations identified research needed for improvement of scientific knowledge and the education necessary to improve public understanding, professional capacity, and maintenance of a strong workforce.
The report indicated that current investment in environmental and energy research and education is inadequate, and that this lack of investment is limiting the ability to overcome today’s environmental, economic, and other societal challenges. The report also stated that multi- and interdisciplinary efforts are essential in taking on the many challenges facing society, and that current efforts must be invigorated by competitively awarded merit-based research. Another key recommendation was to link scientific information with policymakers. Findings from this report have been provided to research and education leaders in the Obama Administration. For more information, contact Dr. David Blockstein, Senior Scientist, 202-207-0004, david@NCSEonline.org.
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Innovation and Competitiveness
Maintaining U.S. competitiveness in the global economy through scientific and technological innovations has been of growing concern in Congress. Throughout the course of 2006 and 2007, a multitude of legislation addressing American innovation was introduced in the House and the Senate. A number of bills support basic research funding, or provide early career support, some target education reform, and others provide career incentives for students who become math, science, or engineering professionals or teachers. The bills mostly aim to implement the 20 recommendations detailed in the National Academies' 2005 report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm”.
In his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced the “American Competitiveness Initiative” (ACI). Although the specifics of the initiative differ from the various congressional bills, it covers a number of the same issues. To ensure economic strength and global leadership, the President’s comprehensive strategy includes: doubling the funding for basic research within the physical science based federal agencies; encouraging private sector investment in innovation through tax breaks; improving K-12 science and math education; supporting world-class research and education at universities; providing job training that improves workers’ skills so they can better compete; and attracting new people to the discipline to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, thus creating more American jobs.
This ambitious strategy will increase Federal investment in critical research, ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in opportunity and innovation, and provide American children with a strong foundation in math and science. The ACI commits $5.9 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2007, and more than $136 billion over the next 10 years, to increase investments in research and development (R&D), strengthen education, and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. The President recommends $380 million to go towards K-12 education alone, and to double the funding over the next 10 years to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE Science), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The resulting appropriation bills over the last couple of years have fallen short of these marks. The FY 2008 appropriations fell almost $1 billion short of what the ACI outlined. In his 2008 State of the Union address, President Bush reaffirmed his support for bolstering American competitiveness and blamed Congress for failing to follow through with funding for the initiative. Congress responded by pointing out the passage of the America COMPETES Act and argued that the President himself cut K-12 science education funding from the budget. For the FY 2009 budget, the President has requested significant increases in funding for NSF, DOE Science, and NIST. It still remains to be seen, how much funding will actually be appropriated to the sciences for FY 2009 and beyond.
America COMPETES Act
The America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), or “America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act”, was introduced in the House in May 2007 and signed into law (Public Law 110-69) by President Bush in August 2007. This landmark piece of legislation promotes the physical sciences in accordance with the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). The legislation makes specific recommendations for all the key federal science agencies, including: the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE Science), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). It also makes recommendations to the Department of Education (ED) to help improve science education funding and teaching. The recommendation highlights for each department or organization listed in the bill follow.
For OSTP the legislation directs the President to convene a National Science and Technology Summit to examine the health and direction of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education enterprises, and to establish a President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness (akin to the President’s Council on Science and Technology). It directs the OSTP director to commission a National Academy of Sciences study on barriers to innovation; prioritize planning for major research facilities and instrumentation nationwide through the National Science and Technology Council; and facilitate the open exchange of data and results between agencies and policymakers. Finally, it expresses Congress’ sense that each federal research agency should support and promote innovation through funding for high-risk, high-reward research.
NASA is affirmed as a full participant in all interagency activities, including its own aeronautics program, to promote competitiveness and innovation and to enhance STEM education. The legislation urges NASA to implement a program to address aging workforce issues at the agency and to utilize NASA’s existing Undergraduate Student Research program to support basic research on subjects of relevance to NASA. Finally, the legislation expresses the sense of Congress that the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory offers unique opportunities for educational activities and provides a unique resource for research and development in science, technology, and engineering which can enhance the global competitiveness of the U.S.
NIST is authorized for $2.65 billion over FY 2008-2010. This includes funds for NIST labs, lab construction, the Technology Innovation Program (TIP), and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program. This funding level keeps the NIST labs on a path to doubling in ten years. The goal of the new initiative, TIP, is to assist U.S. businesses, institutions of higher education, or other organizations--such as national laboratories and nonprofit research institutions—in the support, promotion, and acceleration of innovation in the U.S. through high-risk, high-reward research in areas of critical need. It specifies that large companies may not receive TIP funding and that TIP will bridge the funding gap between the research lab and the marketplace.
NOAA is directed to establish a coordinated ocean, Great Lakes, coastal and atmospheric research and development program in consultation with NSF, NASA, academic institutions, and other nongovernmental entities. In addition, NOAA is required to build upon existing educational programs and activities to enhance public awareness and understanding of the ocean, Great Lakes, and atmospheric science. NOAA will also be recognized as a full participant in interagency efforts, as well as a historic contributor, in promoting innovation and competitiveness.
DOE is the largest supporter of the physical sciences, and the DOE Office of Science funds basic research and world-class facilities that play an integral role in maintaining technological competitiveness. DOE Office of Science is authorized at nearly $17 billion over FY 2008-2010. The legislation establishes the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to quickly address long-term and high-risk technological barriers in energy through collaborative research and development that private industry or DOE are not likely to undertake alone, and provides separate funding so as not to inhibit other DOE programs. For K-12 STEM education programs, the legislation allocates $150 million, including: a pilot grant program to help establish or expand statewide specialty high schools in STEM education; a program to provide internship opportunities for middle and high-school students at the national labs; a program at each national lab to help establish a Center of Excellence in STEM education in at least one high-need public secondary school in each lab region; and a program to establish or expand summer institutes at the national labs and partner universities in order to improve the STEM content knowledge of K-12 teachers. All of these programs would be coordinated by a newly appointed Director for STEM Education at the Department, who would also serve as an interagency liaison for K-12 STEM education. In addition, the legislation highlights the critical role of young investigators working in areas relevant to the mission of DOE by establishing an early career grant program for scientists at both universities and the national labs; and a graduate research fellowship program for outstanding graduate students in these fields.
NSF is authorized $22 billion for FY 2008-2010, putting it on a path to double in approximately 7 years. STEM education programs to prepare current and future STEM teachers are the particular focus of this money. In addition, the legislation will help create thousands of new STEM college graduates, including 2-year college graduates, through increased support for the STEM talent expansion (STEP) program and the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. For those STEM graduates who continue on the path towards academic careers, the conference agreement provides critical support for young, innovative researchers by expanding the graduate research fellowships (GRF) and integrative graduate education and research traineeship (IGERT) programs, strengthening the early career grants (CAREER) program, and creating a new pilot program of seed grants for outstanding new investigators. Such programs have an additional benefit of helping to stimulate high-risk, high-reward research by identifying and taking a chance on the best and brightest young minds. Finally, there are several programs for outreach and mentoring women and minorities, including a request for a National Academy of Sciences report to identify barriers to and opportunities for increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
ED will have new programs to enhance teacher education in the STEM fields. The “Teachers for Competitive Tomorrow” program will specifically help undergraduates get a bachelor degree with concurrent teacher certification and, at the graduate level, help scientists get a masters in education and current teachers get a masters of science. The legislation authorizes competitive grants to increase the number of qualified teachers serving high-need schools and expand access to honors classes. Lastly, it authorize the Secretary of Education to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to convene a national panel to identify promising practices in the teaching of STEM courses in elementary and secondary schools.
The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields have been emphasized in recent legislation, especially with the passage of America COMPETES in 2007. Students are not being taught the basic scientific and mathematical principles, how to use a computer, and the problem solving skills that are necessary for most jobs. In order to spur innovation and remain competitive, STEM education needs to improve. Concern with the falling math and science test scores in American schools and the pressing need to educate students in the STEM areas led to the formation of the Coalition for STEM Education and the House and Senate STEM Education Caucuses. The caucus is a group of congressional representatives who advocate for continued investment, link the various stages of STEM education to create a cohesive learning environment and improve the quality of education, and assess the status and success of current efforts to implement STEM education programs. The coalition works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U. S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM related programs.
No Child Left Behind
When President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (H.R. 1) into law (Public Law 107-110) on January 8, 2002, he changed the way the federal government approaches educating elementary and secondary school students in math and science. The act was the presidential version of the reauthorization bill for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), that established a range of federal programs. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) eliminated the Eisenhower Professional Development programs, which provided support to math and science educators. Some of the Eisenhower programs have been replaced by two new Math and Science Partnership (MSP) programs; one administered by the Department of Education (DoEd) and one administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The two MSP programs have a shared purpose of improving academic achievement in mathematics and science. The DoEd's MSP program gives funds to states and school districts to allow local communities to partner with universities, businesses, and educational organizations to help math and science teachers enhance their understanding and ability to teach these subjects. It is a formula grant program to the states, with the size of individual state awards based on student population and poverty rates. The states are responsible for administering competitive grant competitions within their boundaries. The NSF's MSP program is based on competitive grants to fund projects to help improve math and science learning in elementary and secondary schools. In fiscal year (FY) 2001, the Eisenhower programs were funded at $485 million. NCLB authorizes a similar $450 million annually for math and science partnerships; but appropriators have provided only $258 million ($179 million for DoED and $79 million for NSF) in FY 2005 and $245 million ($182 million for DoEd and $63.2 million for NSF) in FY 2006.
NCLB requires states to assess each students' math skills each year in grades 3-8 and at least once during grades 10-12. Reading and math assessments became mandatory for the first time in school year 2005-2006. Science assessments will be added to NCLB in school year 2007-2008. States will be required to test students' science proficiency at least once during grades 3-5, once during grades 6-9, and once during grades 10-12. NCLB is up for reauthorization every 5 years, next in FY 2008.
Controversies over provisions in the law prevented the 110th Congress from voting on reauthorization, leaving it to the new administration. While on the campaign trail, President Obama criticized NCLB. He admitted the act had good intentions, but deemed full funding and massive revisions necessary. President Obama’s 2009 Budget allocates more funding for NCLB and he pledges to work on reforming the law.
Higher Education Act
The Higher Education Act (HEA), or H.R. 4137, was originally signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The primary aim of the HEA is to help low and middle income students gain access to higher education opportunity. The act, which must be reauthorized approximately every five years, was reauthorized by President Bush in 2008. It was the first major revision since 2003. The act requires colleges to provide tuition information and to rein in rising tuition prices, tries to restore integrity and accountability to the student loan process, simplifies federal student aid applications, tries to make textbook costs more manageable, expands support for low-income and minority students, expands aid for veterans and members of the military, ensures equal opportunities for students with disabilities, improves campus safety and disaster readiness plans and encourages colleges to adopt energy-efficient practices. Of particular interest to the geoscience community, the bill provides incentives to “strengthen our workforce and our competitiveness” by creating programs to bolster students’ interest in science and improve teacher training in the sciences.
Sources: AGI's Monthly Review
Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, Rachel Poor, and Linda Rowan, Government Affairs staff; Merilie Reynolds, AGI/AAPG Fall 2008 Intern; Stephanie Praus, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern; Elizabeth Brown, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Elizabeth Huss, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; Kiya Wilson, AGI/AIPG Summer 2010 Intern; and Matthew Ampleman, AGI/AAPG Fall 2010 Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Federal Science Education and Innovation and U.S. Competitiveness in the 110th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on January 5, 2011