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 ensure 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. The 111th Congress approved of the reauthorization 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 Department of Energy’s Office of Science. It details a number of STEM education and nuclear energy and hydrocarbon systems workforce initiatives. President Obama signed this act into law (Public Law 111-358) in January 2011.
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 (H.R. 4137, Public Law 110-315) 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. No modifications to the No Child Left Behind Act were passed in the 111th, but the 112th Congress will likely work towards rewriting the act. Expect the 112th to continue seeking investments in STEM fields in higher education through the Higher Education Act.
Issues related to evolution are covered on a separate page.
Bill Introduced to Fund DOE Oil Shale Energy R&D Program
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) introduced a bill, the Tapping America’s Energy Potential through Research and Development Act of 2012 (H.R. 6603), to authorize $111 million to the Department of Energy to research and develop oil shale energy extraction. The bill focuses on funding research and development (R&D) for extracting methods and reducing environmental impacts.
The bill authorizes support for R&D in oil and share resource characterizations, modeling and simulation of oil shale exploration and production technologies, minimization and re-use of water, efficient use of energy in exploration and production activities, and methods which reduce potential environmental impacts. If the bill is not passed in the lame duck session, it must be reintroduced in the 113th Congress.
The Science Committee held a hearing on this bill on November 30. A summary of the hearing can be found on AGI’s energy policy hearing web site.
Japan Gives NOAA $5 Million for Tsunami Marine Debris Research
On November 30, the Government of Japan announced a $5 million gift to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support response efforts for the marine debris created by the March 2011 tsunami in Japan, which has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is now washing ashore in the U.S.
The fund will go to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and will be used to support response efforts such as removal of debris, disposal fees, cleanup supplies, detection and monitoring.
Since the tsunami, NOAA has been leading a response effort with the federal, state and local partners to organize for data collection, debris assessment, and reducing environmental impacts of the marine debris.
Back to top
NSF Opens Wyoming Supercomputer and Launches Sikuliaq (10/12)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) dedicated the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne on October 15 and launched the R/V Sikuliaq on October 13.
The Supercomputer, known as “Yellowstone” is one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers and is able to calculate 1.5 quadrillion (a million billion) mathematical operations per second. This speed is comparable to the world’s population (7 billion) simultaneously conducting 200,000 calculations per second.
Yellowstone is dedicated to the geosciences and is funded by NSF with additional support from the state of Wyoming and a broad public-private consortium. Yellowstone’s extraordinary computing power will enable geoscientists to capture Earth’s systems in unprecedented detail. The results will improve forecasting of hurricanes, tornadoes and other severe storms; wildfire behaviors; mapping of critical water supplies; predictions of solar disruptions impact on Earth; and many other concerns.
The Sikuliaq, named after the Inupiat word meaning “young sea ice,” is the first global class, ice capable ship owned by the NSF. The vessel is capable of working in any ocean in the world and has been called “one of the most advanced research vessels in the world,” by NSF Director Subra Suresh.
Great ShakeOut Holds Largest Earthquake Drill in the World (10/12)
On October 18, more than 14.6 million people participated in the Great ShakeOut, an earthquake drill which teaches participants to “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” Participating regions included California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Guam, and British Columbia, joined for the first time by Alaska, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Southeast U.S. (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland), Washington, and Southern Italy. While most ShakeOut drills were scheduled for October 18, groups and individuals could register and participate over the two weeks before and after this date. Drill manuals and other planning documents can be found on the Great ShakeOut web site. The ShakeOut was held in participation with organizations including the Southern California Earthquake Center, National Science Foundation, University of Southern California, U.S. Geological Survey, Earthquake Country Alliance and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
National Science Board Releases 2012 Science and Engineering Indicators (10/12)
The National Science Board (NSB) released a report titled, “Science and Engineering Indictors,” which reinforces the NSB’s growing concern regarding funding trends for supporting U.S. science and engineering research within the private sector.
The report focuses on broad trends form indicators derived from a variety of national, international, public and private sources. While the U.S. maintains a position of leadership in science and technology, it has experienced a gradual erosion of its position in many areas. This erosion is due to developments in Asian science and technology capabilities outside Japan, the European Union's efforts to increase its competitiveness in R&D, innovation and technology, the increasingly globalized world economy, and recent recession.
Italian Seismologists Convicted of Manslaughter (10/12)
On October 22, 2012, four scientists, two engineers, and a government official were found guilty of manslaughter for statements made six days before a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck L'Aquila, Italy on April 6, 2009.
The prosecution emphasized that the charges were not for failing to predict the exact time, place, and magnitude of the earthquake but for reassuring statements that the risk of a large earthquake was low. Six days after the statements were made, the L'Aquila earthquake was responsible for the deaths of 309 people.
At a meeting of Italy's National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks on March 31, 2009 the experts stated that the small to mid-sized tremors, which had shaken the town over the last three months, were beneficial in reducing the danger of a larger earthquake because they were discharging energy.
The prosecution alleged that reassuring statements provided by the experts caused the deaths of 30 people who stayed indoors instead of staying outside, as is the custom after a tremor. The experts were charged with six years in prison, paying the court fees as well as $10.2 million dollars in damages caused by the earthquake and have been banned for life from serving in a public office.
The defense plans to appeal the decision. A position statement from the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) is available on AGI’s web site.
First U.S. Graduate Program in Subsea Engineering (10/12)
The University of Houston has been granted approval to offer the first U.S. graduate program in subsea engineering. The program has been formed in partnership world leading energy engineering companies including Cameron, FMC Technologies and GE Oil & Gas.
The master’s degree program, which will be offered next fall, is designed to equip students with the skills necessary to reach the world’s most inaccessible gas deposits including those located in the Gulf of Mexico. Courses will be taught by experts in the industry. Each course will include a major design project, a written project report, a technical presentation and the use of state-of-the-art subsea engineering software
This program builds on a current subsea engineering certification program currently offered at the University of Houston.
International Ocean Discovery Program Releases 10-year Science Plan (09/12)
The upcoming International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), currently the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, has released its 2013-2023 science plan titled, “Illuminating Earth’s Past, Present and Future.” The new IODP will operate from 2013-2023 and explore four scientific themes - Climate and Ocean Change: Reading the Past, Informing the Future; Biosphere Frontiers: Deep Life and Environmental Forcing of Evolution; Earth Connections: Deep Processes and Their Impact on Earth’s Surface Environment; and Earth in Motion: Processes and Hazards on Human Time Scales.
The new IODP will provide deep sea sediments which allow scientists to explore climate and ocean change questions regarding how the Earth’s climate system responds to elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, how ice sheets and sea level will respond, what controls regional patterns of precipitation, such as those associated with monsoons or El Niño, and how resilient the ocean is to chemical perturbations.
Data and samples that will be collected throughout this 10-year program are designed to explore biosphere questions pertaining to the origin, composition and global significance of deep subseafloor communities, what the limits of life in the subseafloor realm are, and how sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity are to environmental change.
For the first time, IODP will “pursue the challenge of penetrating the 5–6 km thick oceanic crust and directly sampling …the underlying mantle from which all oceanic crust, and much of the continental crust, is derived.” This effort is part of the geodynamics theme which is designed to explore what the composition, structure, and dynamics of the upper mantle are; how seafloor spreading and mantle melting are linked to ocean crustal architecture; what the mechanisms, magnitude and history of chemical exchanges between the oceanic crust and seawater are; and how subduction zones initiate, cycle volatiles and generate continental crust.
Under the geohazards theme, IODP ocean drilling experiments will provide tools to discover what mechanisms control the occurrence of destructive earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis; what properties and processes govern the flow and storage of carbon in the subseafloor; and how fluids link subseafloor tectonic, thermal and biogeochemical processes.
NSF GEO Seeks Input on Changes to Education and Diversity Programs (09/12)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has revised their portfolio of investments related to geoscience education and diversity. Affected programs include, Geoscience Education (GeoEd), Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) and Geoscience Teacher Training (GEO-Teach).
Several recent reports concerning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce needs have prompted NSF to re-invigorate and strengthen funding opportunities that support advancements in STEM education. In light of these evolving NSF-wide priorities, GEO has rebalanced investments related to geoscience education.
As part of the rebalance, GEO-Teach has been retired, GeoEd is undergoing significant review and restructuring, and the current solicitation of GeoEd has been archived. In addition, a revised OEDG solicitation will be issued in fiscal year 2013 (FY 2013). NSF is seeking comments regarding efforts to engage, recruit, and retain underrepresented students in the geosciences and broaden public Earth System Science literacy among diverse communities as well as how to best engage relevant stakeholders and communities for addressing those needs given budgetary constraints. These comments, due November 1, 2012, are intended to help shape the direction of a revised OEDG program.
Court Rules UVA Does Not Have to Publicize Mann Emails (09/12)
A Virginia Court ruled on September 17, 2012 that the University of Virginia (UVA) does not have to release emails between climate scientist and then UVA professor Michael Mann and other scientists to the American Tradition Institute (ATI).
Judge Paul Sheridan withheld the right of the university to keep scholarly communications private. Mann’s emails were central in the November 2009 “Climategate” scandal in which hackers obtained thousands of climate scientists’ emails and published them on the web. These emails were used by climate skeptics to discredit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Report which states that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that human caused greenhouse gas emissions are “very likely” the predominant driver of increased global average temperatures.
Mann is now a researcher at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and has been cleared of any misconduct after several independent investigations. Mann is well known as one of the creators of the “hockey stick” figure which shows relatively stable surface temperatures from year 1400 until a dramatic increase in the 20th century during the industrial revolution. The “hockey stick” figure was featured in the 2001 IPCC report.
Columbia University Geoscientist Awarded MacArthur Genius Grant (09/12)
Geochemist Terry Plank has been awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Genius Fellowship for her work in the field of volcanism.
Plank is currently a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory where she and her colleagues are currently studying Guatemala’s Volcán Fuego and Hawaii’s Kilauea. Her work includes contributions to understanding explosive volcanism and the amount of carbon dioxide and water in magma prior to eruption.
President Obama Hopes to Create Master Teacher Corps for Science and Math (07/12)
The White House announced the creation of a Master Teacher Corps, which aims to select the most exceptional elementary and secondary education science and math teachers to serve as mentors for fellow teachers. The program, established at 50 sites in an effort to recruit more students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields, will expand over the next four years to include over 10,000 Master Teachers.
The STEM Master Teacher Corps, recommended by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology September 2010 report, is not expected to receive the necessary funding this year. The Department of Education has requested $5 billion for the Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) project, which would reinforce the Master Teacher program. The House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Education did not include funding for the RESPECT project in the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill though it has not passed the full committee and may be amended.
Early Career Geoscientists Receive Presidential Award (07/12)
On July 23, the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) were awarded to 96 researchers for their accomplishments and discoveries in science and technology. This award represents the United States Government’s highest honor presented to science and engineering professionals during the start of their independent research careers. For the 2012 awards, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was represented by three PECASE recipients.
Awardees are nominated based on the promise of their early research efforts to advance agencies’ goals, contribute to the American economy, and assure America’s global preeminence in science and engineering fields. Innovative goals and a commitment to community service through public education and scientific leadership are additional qualities considered during the nomination process.
The USGS awardees were Joseph Colgan, Karen Felzer, and Justin Hagerty.
NSF Charters Russian Icebreaker to Supply Antarctic Research Stations (07/12)
On July 3, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Office of Polar Programs (OPP) announced it would continue its contract with the Russian icebreaker vessel Vladimir Ignatyuk. The vessel will escort supply ships to and from the McMurdo station on Ross Island, off the coast of Antarctica.
OPP’s lease of the Ignatyuk began in 2011 when the office first made an escort agreement with the owners of the vessel, Murmansk Shipping Company. The most recent agreement came after negotiations to resolve Murmansk’s concerns after Ignatyuk’s first trip to McMurdo in February 2012. OPP planned to run the station at a reduced level if an agreement could not be reached, but the contract ensures McMurdo can continue research at the same pace as in 2011.
USAP Blue Ribbon Panel Releases Report on Improving Logistics (07/12)
Commissioned by the White House Office of Science and Technology and the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Antarctica Program (USAP) Blue Ribbon Panel released a report recommending changes needed to improve science infrastructure and research operations in Antarctica.
The report, entitled More and Better Science in Antarctica through Increased Logistical Effectiveness, follows a 2011 National Research Council report which called for enhanced Antarctic science through organizational changes, broader geographical spread, more international involvement, and increases in the quantity, networking, and duration of observations.
Following visits to McMurdo, Palmer, and South Pole bases, cargo facilities, logistics stations, supply vessels, and several foreign research stations, the twelve-member panel collaborated in Washington, D.C. on policy recommendations to ensure the sustainability of Antarctic science. The report outlines the need to upgrade McMurdo and Palmer stations, repair Palmer's pier and boat ramp, modernize communications, and increase energy efficiency at all bases. The panel acknowledges the vital need to fund a new national icebreaker because the medium classHealy icebreakeris incapable of breaking through thick ice sheets leading to research bases, and the Coast Guard’s heavy-duty icebreakers are currently out-of-service.
To improve logistics and management of Antarctic research stations the panel recommends decreasing the National Science Foundation’s appropriations for Antarctic research by six percent a year over the next four years. The reduction in research budgets would be directed toward improving the Antarctic Program's infrastructure and logistics by the same amount over the same period. The report claims that reductions to scientific research funding could be diminished by reducing the number of support personnel employed at the U.S. Antarctic Program's three bases by 20 percent. This decrease would generate enough money to create 60 new, annual science grants worth $125,000 each. The report claims that delaying investment in the logistical operations of Antarctica would place additional stress on scientific research funding in the future.
UK Government Makes Publicly Funded Research Freely Available (07/12)
The United Kingdom is requiring tax-payer funded research be publicly available beginning in April 2013. The European Commission (EC) followed UK action by opening all work funded by the Horizon 2012 research program in hopes of having about 60 percent of European funded research available by 2016.
The EC’s support of open access was made clear through the pilot run on 20 percent of the current research funding budget. The “Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications” report suggested implementation of the “gold open-access model” to have work readily available and free upon publication. Research Councils United Kingdom (RCUK) supports the gold model and plans to assist with charges incurred from the model.
Washington Post Article Claims Lack of U.S. Jobs for Scientists (07/12)
On July 7, The Washington Post published an article which claimed, despite estimates from many federal agencies and industry analysts, that the U.S. job market is oversaturated with scientists. This broad claim is based on a lack of professorships in biology and chemistry departments at universities. The article cites PhD graduates staying in post-doctoral positions for over five years and job-slashing in the pharmaceutical industry as symptoms of an economy-wide scientist glut. It acknowledges the need for physicists in industry, but is silent about geoscientists and non-biomedical engineers.
AGI submitted an op-ed in response to this article. AGI criticized the oversimplification and misrepresentation of information in the article. It argued that professor positions are historically competitive and life science departments typically graduate more students, with many eventually pursuing careers in other fields. The letter emphasized the need for geoscientists and engineers in industry and said students can pursue these careers with just a Master’s degree. The American Geophysical Union submitted a response to the article as well but neither was printed in the Post.
NSF Reports Merit Review Process for FY 2011 (06/12)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a report to the National Science Board (NSB) detailing data and relevant information on its merit review process for fiscal year (FY) 2011. The report, titled “Report to the National Science Board on the National Science Foundation’s Merit Review Process,” is similar to reports from past years, providing information on NSF’s procedure for awarding research grants. The report has two main parts: the first reports data on proposals and rewards and the second describes the merit review process.
The first section outlines data on funding rates, investigator demographics and information on the different types of awards funded. For FY 2011, 22 percent of 51,562 proposals were funded, compared to 23 percent of 55,542 proposals submitted in FY 2010. The Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) had the highest directorate funding rate in FY 2011 at 31 percent, though it had the lowest number of proposals with 4,267. GEO funded awards at an average of $159,000 with a median award of $127,000. GEO’s award statistics were very close to the overall NSF average of $159,000 with a median of $120,000. The Office of Polar Programs (OPP) awarded funds which averaged $184,000 with a median of $147,000. OPP had the highest funding rate of the offices with 44 percent, though it had the second lowest number of proposals among the offices with 689.
Female principal investigators (PIs) had their proposals funded 23 percent of the time, male PIs were funded 22 percent of the time, and minority PIs had a funding rate of 21 percent. These are the lowest funding rates for all demographics since 2004. Funding rates for new PIs dropped to 15 percent from 17 percent last year. The definition of new PIs was changed in FY 2011; previously a new PI was considered someone who had not been a PI on any NSF-funded project. Now a PI is new even if (s)he received doctoral dissertation awards, graduate or postdoctoral fellowships, research planning grants, or conferences, symposia and workshop grants.
NSF’s merit review process is used to select projects which could lead to significant intellectual merit and broad impacts. Intellectual merit encompasses the qualifications of the reviewer, new research concepts and experiments introduced by the project and advancement of knowledge in the scientific community. Broader impacts examined include applications to technology, involvement of underrepresented groups and a project’s potential effect on research and education infrastructure.
The report outlined the logistics of the merit review process. It discussed oversight mechanisms like the Committee of Visitors, the NSF advisory committees and an external contractor which examine each directorate’s merit review process. The report evaluates the appeal process and the external review selection and provides information on how most proposals are reviewed in each directorate. Merit reviews are conducted either by panel, where one group reviews a proposal together, or by mail, where the proposal is mailed to individual reviewers. These reviews are blind tests, where multiple panels or individuals evaluate a proposal without knowledge of other reviewers’ decisions.
WHOI Calls for Protection of the Scientific Process After BP Subpoena (06/12)
A court order ruled on April 20, granted BP PLC access to internal correspondence among scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) about the magnitude of oil flow rate calculations for the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Following this action, WHOI President Susan Avery and director of research Laurence Madin released a statement expressing the need for greater legal protections for scholars to prevent discrediting and manipulation of the scientific deliberative process.
Scientists Christopher Reddy and Richard Camilli concluded that a total of 4.9 million barrels leaked from the Macondo well at a rate of 57,000 barrels per day. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 amended the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 2701-2761) to stipulate that corporate penalties are determined by the quantity of oil spilled, which has led BP to question the determinations made by the WHOI scientists and demand over 3,500 emails and other scientific communication documents related to their research.
The attorney for Reddy and Camilli attempted to convince U.S. Magistrate Sally Shushan that the scientists should be granted “scholastic privilege” and should not be required to hand over the material. Shushan determined that there is a need for the research analyses conducted during the period in which WHOI was under contract by the U.S. Coast Guard, “because there is no other source of these documents.”
Issuing legal protections for scientists has been a contested issue for many years. As expressed in the WHOI statement, researchers fear that opposing parties involved in litigation could take statements out of context and undermine scientific conclusions. The nature of the scientific process to modify, test, reject, and question findings make it vulnerable to inaccurate representation of pre-conclusive material. The WHOI fears this could force scientists to “curtail, censor, or avoid the normal deliberative process.” Some scientists disagree, stating that the court order could lead to more effective use of science in decision-making, and BP claims the legal action was “in no way an attack on science.”
South Carolina Considers Ending Geology Licensing Board (06/12)
A 2012 Regulatory Report released by the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation has recommended closing the South Carolina State Board of Registration for Geologists as a way to streamline the state government and decrease “onerous regulation.” This board formed in 1986 and as of 1993 South Carolina was one of seven states still regulating geology practices.
A state issued license is required to work on projects involving geology and these projects are already regulated elsewhere for safety of the environment. The report states the licensure of a geologist is “rarely” used in consumer decisions. “With methods like certification readily available,” the report argues, “deregulation of Geology can be accomplished without threatening the health, safety, and welfare of the public or diminishing consumers [sic] ability to discern between competing professionals.”
Paul Weaver, chair of the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists – Carolinas Section, wrote a letter to Governor Nikki Haley saying that the South Carolina Board of Registration for Geologists members were not contacted to comment on the report before its publication. Weaver argued that, “the protection of the health and welfare of the public, the primary goal behind geologists’ registration, will be seriously diminished without the registration of geologists in place in South Carolina” and that eliminating the board will not save tax payers any money since it is self-funded through licensing fees.
Forum on Next Generation Science Standards (06/12)
Moderator: Gerald Wheeler, Executive Director, National Science Teachers Association
Heidi Schweingruber, Deputy Director, Board on Science Education, National Research Council
Stephen Pruitt, Achieve, Inc.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) held a briefing on June 14 in 325 Russell Senate Office Building to discuss the development of new science education standards. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are expected to influence the teaching and learning of science in the K-12 grades. If adopted, the NGSS will replace the current 15-year old science standards used nationwide. The NGSS are being developed in a two part process by the National Research Council (NRC), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Achieve, and NSTA. The NRC began in 2012 by releasing a report, titled Framework for K-12 Science Education. This report led to the development of the NGSS by Achieve, an independent, bipartisan education reform organization, created in 1998 by state and corporate leaders to help states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. The first draft of NGSS was available for comment from May 11, 2012 through June 1, 2012.
Heidi Schweingruber from the NRC listed the reasons for developing new science standards, highlighting the improvement of knowledge in learning and teaching science. The development team was comprised of an 18 member committee including representatives of academia, non-profits, and state governments. She mentioned a problem in science education of “too many disconnected topics, not treated in enough depth” which she referred to as the “mile wide, inch deep” problem. The framework contains three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. She closed by highlighting the core ideas for K-12 science instruction, which include physical, life, and earth and space sciences, as well as engineering, technology, and applications of science.
Stephen Pruitt from Achieve discussed the second stage of the NGSS development process. He noted that the states and stakeholders are included in the development of NGSS to “make an open and transparent process.” He mentioned how the 26 “lead states” are about 58 percent of the public school population. Pruitt discussed the public feedback period which ended June 1 and said he hopes to have NGSS finished by the “first quarter of 2013.” He noted six conceptual shifts in the NGSS and mentioned the most important being “using all practices and crosscutting concepts to teach all core ideas all year.” Pruitt then did a comparison of an undisclosed state’s science standards and the NGSS. He pointed out the use of verbs such as distinguish, describe, and recognize in the state’s standards and said these were “low level words.” NGSS calls for verbs of construct, plan, and use in its standards. He closed by discussing the “difference in content” between the two standards.
There was a brief question and answer segment to the panel. An attendee asked if the three testing periods in the K-12 years is reasonable. Pruitt said there is a need for “a lot of data gathering to make those decisions.” Schweingruber said she would not like to see assessment every year. One participant asked about expanding class sizes and how that would be accounted for in the NGSS. Pruitt said that “a standards document can’t take care of everything.” Scheweingruber mentioned how it “calls for collaboration” in the classroom, which could help in the implementation of the standards.
The second public draft of the NGSS will be available in fall of 2012.
BHEF Presents New Industry-Higher Education Projects for the NexGen Workforce (06/12)
On June 11, 2012, the Business Higher Education Forum (BHEF), a collaboration of senior business and higher education executives committed to finding solutions for U.S. workforce challenges, launched twelve new National Undergraduate Partnership Strategy and Regional Workforce Projects. The projects partner industries and universities to tackle unique regional workforce demands in areas such as cybersecurity, big-data, life sciences, engineering, information technology (IT), water, energy, and entrepreneurship. The new BHEF projects aim to boost the United States’ international economic competitiveness by addressing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education deficiencies by systematically working to recruit and retain students in the STEM career pipeline. William Kirwan, BHEF Chair and Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, stated that financial support of higher education, particularly in the first two years of undergraduate learning, will yield the highest return in investments.
Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spoke of President Obama’s goal to introduce one million additional STEM college graduates over the next decade. The retention rate for students beginning STEM education is less than 40 percent. Kalil stressed that there needs to be more multi-disciplinary research opportunities and private sector partnerships to recruit and retain students. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), added that undergraduate entry-level courses should be redesigned to prevent potential STEM students from dropping out early, and internship opportunities should be available to attract students to STEM professions.
Wes Bush, CEO of the Northrop Grumman Corporation, described the need to address STEM education and workforce challenges on two fronts. Universities must seek improved ways to attract, train, and retain undergraduates in STEM education, while corporations must provide early commitment, philanthropy, and mentorship for students. The announcement of a $1.1 billion donation by Northrop Grumman Corporation to fund the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) program at the University of Maryland represents one of these partnerships called for by BHEF objectives.
The additional regional workforce projects will be implemented in twelve states, connecting companies with undergraduate students in order to encourage the perseverance of students to pursue STEM careers. The Business Leaders for Education (BLE) project in Louisville, Kentucky is dedicated to improving regional educational outcomes by adding 55,000 undergraduate degrees over the next decade. The California Polytechnic State University will establish a cybersecurity education program to attract a more diverse group of students to engineering. Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) will partner with local businesses to increase undergraduate education in materials and polymer science. The City University of New York (CUNY) has partnered with IBM to create a pipeline for students interested in urban energy and water sustainability. Drake University and The Principal Financial Group have instituted a five-year strategy, “Capital Crossroads,” to align P-12 education, post-secondary education, and regional workforce needs. Miami Dade College, with support from NextEra Energy Inc., will develop a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Technology to develop a highly skilled IT workforce. The Ohio Regional Workforce Project involves The Ohio State University, CWRU, and Battelle Memorial Institute, to increase the retention rate of students in medical, agricultural, and earth sciences. San Jose State University will establish a Silicon Valley Center for Cybersecurity with the aid of regional IT companies. In addition to the ACES program, the University System of Maryland is developing a project to link chemistry education to business, research and development, and innovation learning. The University of Massachusetts System is focusing on increasing STEM degree attainment for underrepresented minorities. The University of Wisconsin System regional workforce project will offer more waster research and technology education programs to build a sustainable pipeline for Wisconsin’s water-based economy. The last workforce project is a partnership amongst Washington University in St. Louis, local two- and four-year colleges, and regional IT companies, to work on retaining graduates in the Missouri IT career pipeline.
BHEF recognizes that the academic and industrial alliances made in the aforementioned partnerships, in addition to federal support, are essential to promoting America’s role as a global leader in STEM fields.
For more information on the STEM Higher Education and Workforce Projects visit the BHEF web site.
CoSTEM Releases Report, Public Comments Due June 15 (05/12)
Public comments on “Design Principles for Federal STEM Education Investments” are due by June 15. The document describes a plan to implement a February 2012 report from the Federal Coordination in STEM Education Task Force and the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) titled “Coordinating Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Investments: Progress Report.” CoSTEM is required to complete a five year STEM education strategic plan as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-358).
Senators Introduce Immigration Reform Bills for STEM Students (05/12)
Two bills have been introduced to the Senate to simplify the immigration process for international graduate students in the science, technology, education and math (STEM) fields. Currently, a student is put on a waiting list to obtain permanent residency after receiving an H-1B visa designating his unique qualifications by his employer. The Securing Talent America Requires for the 21st Century Act of 2012 (S. 3185) and the Sustaining our Most Advanced Researchers and Technology Jobs Act of 2012 (S.3192) have been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
The Securing Talent America Requires for the 21st Century Act of 2012 (S. 3185), referred to as the STAR Act is sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and allows international graduates from research institutions that receive at least $5 million in federal funding to claim permanent residency. To avoid increasing the immigration ceiling, 55,000 residency spots that are distributed by a lottery system would be reserved for international graduates.
The Sustaining our Most Advanced Researchers and Technology Jobs Act of 2012 (S.3192), referred to as the SMART Jobs Act is a bipartisan bill sponsored by senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN). This bill would create a new visa category for STEM students who have found a job in their field in the United States. Because it would be a new category it would likely increase the immigration ceiling.
The U.S. is a world leader in STEM higher education. These bills raise the importance of retaining the skills of international students who initially travel to the U.S. to take advantage of educational opportunities. Similar bills have not moved forward in the House of Representatives.
Global Standard on Peer Review Released (05/12)
On May 14 and 15, representatives of major scientific funding organizations from 50 countries met at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia to promote a move towards the globalization of scientific research. Themeeting produced a set of internationally-recognized principles for peer review and created a body to oversee international cooperation in the sciences, called the Global Research Council.
The peer review process is essential to scientific research, and standardizing it is paramount to creating a global research community. The common principles are intended to strengthen research and development by ensuring American research will be reviewed with the same standards as for other countries and protect researchers who may be working with scientists whose home nations do not have the same peer review standards as the U.S.
The push for international cooperation in research was stressed by President Obama at a National Academy of Sciences meeting in 2009. In 2011, Subra Suresh, the director of NSF, wrote an editorial for Science, discussing the benefits and challenges of globalized research and NSF formed an International Steering Committee to gather input on a set of guiding principles for peer review from research organizations around the world. The input was organized and integrated into the set of principles which were discussed at the meeting at NSF.
Suresh, the president of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and Glaucias Oliva, president of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) discussed the impact of the standardized guidelines after the meeting.
2011 Science National Assessment of Educational Progress Released (05/12)
Eighth-graders from across the nation improved on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment test, improving from an average score of 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011. According to The Nation’s Report Card: Science 2011 report, 16 states showed higher scores out of the 47 that participated in 2009 and 2011 and no state scored lower in 2011 than in 2009.
Students scoring in basicand proficientlevels saw higher percentages in 2011, while there was little change in the advanced level. White students scored higher on average than other racial/ethnic groups. Hispanic students had a five point gain; black students had a three point gain, while Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students had little change from 2009 to 2011.
Male students scored five points higher on average than female students. Results from questions posed to students and teachers about science projects/activities and group projects are included in the report.
Draft of Next Generation Science Standards Released (05/12)
Twenty six states in collaboration with Achieve, the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), have developed a draft set of science education standards for K-12 students. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will modernize the out of date science curricula and reinforce the United States’ competitive edge in scientific learning.
The framework is divided into three dimensions including Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas. The first dimension emphasizes scientific inquiry, the second educates students on the interdisciplinary nature of scientific concepts, and the third organizes science education into four domains (physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering/technology applications of science).
After the current public revision and feedback period, the NGSS will serve as a model for science education programs throughout the United States. If adopted by more states, the standards must be implemented in concordance with detailed guidance from teachers and more specific content for students as defined by the local school district.
Judge Reworks “Fair-Use” Policy for Higher Education Course Materials (05/12)
On May 11, 2012, Judge Orinda Evans provided additional guidance on the rules defining ‘fair-use’ of textbooks and e-reserves for teaching purposes at higher education institutions. The judge rejected 94 copyright claims made by three prominent publishing companies against Georgia State University librarians and professors. A decision was released outlining the fair-use doctrine and interpreting copyright laws of e-reserves.
The judge sided with Georgia State University on most claims stating that the publishing industry must offer materials that are “reasonably available, at a reasonable price” to have a viable claim against the institution. Lack of an accessible online licensing program for universities did not follow the ‘reasonably available’ prerequisite.
Judge Evans decided on 10 percent, or one chapter, of a book as the threshold for distribution to students under protection of fair-use doctrine. The ruling was an important stride for use of publications in academia as it establishes an inexpensive, legal way for professors to educate their students using electronic resources.
Publishers may develop licenses for partial use of books and other materials in the future, which may make it easier for publishers to collect fees for partial use, but harder for instructors to claim fair-use. Time will tell how the decision affects publishing and higher education instruction.
NAE Prompts Discussion on Creating a Diverse Engineering Industrial Workforce (05/12)
On May 21, 2012, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) welcomed a small group of interested parties to participate in an interactive discussion focusing on how to create a “game-changing” environment for under-represented populations in the industrial engineer workforce. After the newly released National Science Foundation (NSF) report, entitled Diversity in Science and Engineering Employment in Industry, was presented by Jaquelina Falkenheim of the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT), the workshop participants brainstormed ways to recruit, retain, and enhance underrepresented populations into science and engineering (S&E) fields in order to keep the U.S. the premier country for innovation.
The report highlighted the gender and race disparities within the industrial S&E workforce as well as the disparities in terms of highest educational degree, occupation, primary/secondary work activities, and managerial status. Of the 19 million scientists and engineers employed in the U.S. in 2008, more than half worked in industry. Although representing a higher proportion of the total U.S. population, women are underrepresented in the S&E industrial workforce. Furthermore, S&E industry sees an overrepresentation of Asian men and women, and underrepresentation of minorities including Hispanics, blacks, and American Indian/Alaska Natives. Women are more likely to have Bachelor’s degree as their highest educational degree, while men are more likely to have a Masters degree, and the Asian population is most likely to have Masters and doctoral degrees. Men are more represented in primary/secondary work activities (such as research and development, management/sales/administration, and computer applications) but are minorities in teaching. The representatives in the workshop sought to understand the barriers driving these gender and race differentials, and what policies could be enacted to encourage recruitment, retention, and advancement of women and underrepresented minorities (URM) in the industrial workforce.
The perspective of industry was provided through a panel discussion on business imperatives and best practices. Barry Cordero, Principal Project Engineer at Medtronic and Vice President of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), emphasized the importance of using professional association networks for recruitment and ensuring Hispanics and other minorities stay engaged in their occupation to retain individuals in the company. Sylvester Mendoza, Jr., corporate director of Diversity & Inclusion and EEO at Northrop Grumman Corporation, spoke of the role of inclusion in the S&E “pipeline” and the importance of targeting younger populations. The Boeing Company was represented by Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration, who discussed employee-managerial mentorships as an effective way to help young engineers advance and media partnerships to recruit engineers.
Following panel discussion, participants broke out into smaller discussion groups to address more specific topics including underrepresented populations in technical career paths versus management career paths within S&E industries, practices on recruiting, retaining, and advancing underrepresented minorities in S&E industries, and practices for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women in S&E industries. The technical versus managerial discussion focused on soft-skill development for young engineers and the extent of student awareness of available opportunities. The underrepresented minority dialogue spoke about the modification of mentoring techniques for different cultures and improving visibility of minorities at different levels of a company. The break-out group on women discussed the importance of having men in executive positions as champions and mentors for women, the social and cultural factors affecting women participation and advancement in engineering, and the need for industrial policies to make women feel comfortable in the workplace.
SESTAT welcomes questions and suggestions of foci for future survey and data collection efforts. More information on the research, discussions, or future goals associated with this workshop is available on the NAE web site.
White House Releases Women and Girls in Science Report (04/12)
The Office of Management and Budget and the Economics and Statistics Administration within the Department of Commerce worked together to create a new report entitled Women in America in cooperation with the Administration’s Council on Women and Girls. The report includes a section on education and details the status of women in obtaining degrees and training in science fields. More girls graduate from high school than boys and more women attend college and attain graduate school degrees than men. In college and beyond, fewer women pursue degrees in science than men.
Ranking Member Johnson Introduces STEM Education Legislation (04/12)
On April 27, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee introduced the Broadening Participation in STEM Education Act (H.R. 4483). The bill would require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award grants to colleges and universities to implement or expand reforms in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to recruit minority students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.
The grants would target reforms that include mentoring programs, faculty development programs, outreach to minority students, and efforts to increase the participation of minorities in research. As of 2011, only about 8 percent of 24 years-olds from underrepresented minorities had obtained a bachelor’s degree in a science or engineering discipline. Less than one percent of tenure-track science and engineering faculty members at the nation’s top 100 research universities are from underrepresented groups.
Bipartisan Group of Congressmen Announce Award for Basic Science (04/12)
On April 25, Representatives Jim Cooper (D-TN), Robert Dold (R-IL), and Charlie Dent (R-PA) announced the creation of the Golden Goose Award. The award will honor federally funded researchers whose work, which had been viewed as obscure, has ultimately produced important discoveries for society.
The first Golden Goose Awards will be announced in September 2012 and will be selected by a group of outside scientists and editors. Federally funded obscure research projects have occasionally been targeted by politicians as wasteful spending. Former Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) often gave the Golden Fleece Award, meant to indicate examples of wasteful government spending, to federally funded basic research. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report entitled Under the Microscope in April 2011 that urged the National Science Foundation (NSF) to quit funding projects “simply satisfying the random curiosities of some researchers.” Cooper remarked, “We’ve all seen reports that ridicule odd-sounding research projects as examples of government waste. The Golden Goose Award does the opposite. It recognizes that a valuable federally funded research project may sound funny, but its purpose is no laughing matter. I hope more of my colleagues will join us in supporting, not killing, the goose that lays the golden egg.”
USGCRP Finalizes Strategic Plan for 2012-2021 (04/12)
As required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-606), the United States Global Change Research Program has released its strategic plan and guiding document for the next decade. “The National Global Change Research Plan 2012-2021” is structured around four strategic goals: advance science, inform decisions, conduct sustained assessments, and communicate and educate. The plan was developed by federal scientists based on the advice of the National Academies and public comments.
The plan encourages the program, made up by 13 government agencies, to continue leveraging federal investments through national and international partnerships and requires the inclusion of other parts of the federal government to ensure a strong interdisciplinary focus for the next decade.
Tennessee Passes Anti-Evolution “Monkey Bill” (04/12)
On April 10, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam decided not to act on House Bill 368, effectively allowing the bill to become state law. The law allows Tennessee public school teachers to challenge controversial topics in science including global warming, evolution, and human cloning which arouse “debate and disputation” with agendas and opinions that are not science-based and may come from well-funded outside sources.
The legislation prevents teachers from being disciplined for speaking out against proven scientific findings and requires the state board of education to provide teachers with “effective ways to present the scientific curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies” such as global warming, evolution, and human cloning. Haslam did not believe the bill will change the Tennessee public school curriculum. The National Academy of Sciences, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have spoken out against the law and believe it may affect teaching in the state. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) tracks challenges to science education and has more information about the new Tennessee law.
NSF Will Update Merit Review Criteria (03/12)
The National Science Foundation will update its merit review criteria regarding broader impacts for proposals and awards. The National Science Board decided that the two merit review criteria should be retained, but more guidance should be provided. NSF intends to announce specific changes in April of 2012, conduct a public comment period, make any further revisions by October of 2012 and implement the revisions in January of 2013. View the NSF announcement for more details.
U.S. Census Bureau Releases Optimistic Education Data (03/12)
Using data collected in the 2011 Current Population Survey, the United States Census Bureau presented statistics on the levels of higher education achieved by adults. The Educational Attainment in the United States: 2011 supplement shows that more than 30 percent of American adults 25 and older hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In 1998, fewer than 25 percent of adults 25 and older had this level of education. The most recent census found that more than 33 percent of the nation’s 56 million bachelor’s degree holders are in the sciences. Most notably, the number of Hispanics with a bachelor’s or higher education degree increased by 80 percent in the past decade.
UVA and American Tradition Institute Case Update (03/12)
The number of legal battles involving climatologist Michael Mann and the release of his emails while employed at the University of Virginia (UVA) is now down to one. The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled against Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s case demanding the release of Mann’s emails which leaves just the American Tradition Institute’s case against UVA demanding the same documents. That case is scheduled to be heard in Manassas, Virginia on April 16, 2012.
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Cuccinelli lacked the authority to subpoena records including emails, drafts, and handwritten notes. Justice Leroy Millette, Jr. wrote in the court’s opinion that the state anti-fraud act, which Cuccinelli used to try and obtain Mann’s emails, does not authorize the attorney general to issue civil investigative demands against UVA because under the act, they are not considered “persons.”
A separate case set forth by the American Tradition Institute (ATI) has been scheduled to be heard on April 16 in Manassas, Virginia. The case began in January of 2011 when ATI, who is accusing Mann of manipulating climate change data, requested Mann’s emails from UVA. The university released 1,800 of the 12,000 emails citing that the rest were not public record. A turn in the case came in November 2011 when ATI lawyers asked lawyers from UVA if they had released the emails to Mann himself. This lead to UVA eventually admitting that they had released the emails to Mann, which ATI lawyers believed waives the university’s right to exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Mann and his lawyers are arguing that there is no waiver where the parties have a common interest in the documents, including a shared proprietary interest in protecting scholarly works under the scholarly works exemption to the FOIA statute.
NESTA and NAGT Oppose Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill” (03/12)
The Tennessee Legislature has passed legislation to encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and weaknesses” of topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” The Tennessee House of Representatives passed House Bill (H.B.) 368 a week after its companion bill, Senate Bill (S.B.) 893, was passed on March 19. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has said that he will discuss the legislation with Tennessee’s state board of education before signing or vetoing the bill. A similar bill, H.B. 1551, passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives in March but will not see a vote in the State Senate.
There has been widespread backlash against S.B. 893 and H.B. 368. An editorial by the Nashville Tennessean from March 21, 2012 referred to the two bills as “monkey bills” and described them as “wedging open a door to include a radically divisive, ultra-conservative Christian agenda disguised in politically correct language.” The National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) and the National Earth Science Teachers Association wrote letters on behalf of their societies expressing their opposition to SB 893 and HB 368. NAGT writes that “rigorous science education in Tennessee is badly served by SB 893 or HB 368, and we urge Tennessee’s representatives, state senators, and governor to reject this legislation.” NESTA writes that the two bills “misrepresent key scientific concepts and principles, and would undermine the education of Tennessee’s students.”
The Oklahoma State Senate will not take up H.B. 1551 after it passed in the State House of Representatives on March 15. The bill that would have encouraged teachers to present the “scientific strengths and weaknesses” of “controversial” topics was sent to the Senate Education Committee in the present legislative session but the Senate will not meet again before the deadline for house bills to be reported from their senate committees. Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) credited a “major response” against the bill by science societies and individual Oklahomans as the reason the Senate Education Committee did not hold a vote on it before the deadline.
Obama Announces Undergraduate STEM Education Plan (02/12)
On February 7, 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report to President Obama laying out a strategy to increase the number of college undergraduate majors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by one million graduates over the next decade. The report is titled “Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”
PCAST, along with an assembled group of experts in post secondary education teaching, formulated five recommendations to increase STEM education pathways in the first two years of an undergraduate education. The recommendations included implementing a system to validate teaching practices, shifting from traditional laboratory courses to more engaging research courses, solving the growing mathematics preparation gap, engaging stakeholders to diversify pathways to STEM careers, and creating a presidential council with leaders from academics and business to help provide leadership for STEM education. The United States only produces 300,000 STEM bachelor and associate degrees annually, and only 40 percent of students that enter college declared in a STEM field actually graduate in a STEM field.
On the same day at the White House Science Fair, President Obama proposed steps to increase STEM education funding in the United States. This K-16 funding would be from a variety of sources: $80 million in Department of Education funding, $100 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, $60 million in NSF and Department of Education co-funding, and $22 million in private funding. President Obama’s request of $80 million and the $22 million in private funding will go towards organizing preparation programs for STEM teachers, which would allow undergraduate students receiving their teaching certification to simultaneously earn a STEM teaching certificate. NSF will invest $100 million in undergraduate STEM programs like the Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence-based Reforms (WIDER) program and the Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES) program. A $60 million NSF and Department of Education co-sponsored education initiative is proposed to enhance K-16 mathematics education.
Two Education Reform Bills Introduced in House (02/12)
Chairman John Kline (R-MN) of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced two pieces of legislation to replace the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110), which expired in 2007. The committee held a hearing on February 16 to begin discussions on the Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990).
Since the expiration of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), there have been several attempts to find a long-term solution. President Obama submitted its plan for replacing NCLB in 2010 titled, Blueprint for Reform, but no reauthorization plan in the past five years has received bipartisan support.
H.R. 3989 would remove a requirement for state testing in science according to the committee’s bill summary. “States would retain the option to develop assessments in science and other subjects at their discretion,” the summary explains. H.R. 3990 would eliminate more than 70 elementary and secondary education programs according to the committee’s bill summary.
Education Bill to Repeal Federal Definition of Credit Hour Passes House (02/12)
A measure to block the Department of Education’s (DoEd) state authorization and credit hour definition for non-religious institutions of higher education passed the House on February 28, 2012. The Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act (H.R. 2117) was introduced in June of 2011 by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) who chairs the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training in the House Committee on Education and Workforce.
In October of 2010, DoEd issued a series of regulations to improve student financial aid programs including one to create a federal definition for a credit hour. The amount of federal aid awarded to students is based on the number of credits he or she takes each term. The American Council on Education (ACE) opposes a credit hour definition and state authorization. ACE wrote Foxx a letter in June 2011 in support for H.R. 2117, explaining that the new rules put an undue burden on institutions and may interfere with online learning efforts that tend to cross state lines. The bill would prohibit the Secretary of Education from enforcing any regulation or rule that defines a credit hour and remove the requirement for state authorization of an institution.
Under the Higher Education Act (P.L. 89-329), any college or university participating in federal student aid programs must be authorized to provide a postsecondary educational program within the state. H.R. 2117 would repeal DoEd’s 2010 requirements for how an institution is authorized.
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has introduced a companion bill (S. 1297) in the Senate that has 24 cosponsors.
Issa Will Not Seek Passage of Research Work Act, Elsevier Drops Support (02/12)
After initially supporting the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) when it was introduced in December of 2011, Elsevier released a statement on February 27 withdrawing support of the bill. H.R. 3699 would prevent any federal agency from disseminating any private-sector research paper without the permission of the publisher, author, or employer.
H.R. 3699 was introduced by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and is cosponsored by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). The measure would prevent federal agencies from any type of “network dissemination” of “private-sector research” without the prior consent of the publisher, or the assent of the author or employer. “Private-sector research” is defined as an article intended to be published in a scientific journal describing or interpreting research funded by a federal agency to which the publisher has entered into an agreement to make a value-added contribution such as editing or peer review. Since Elsevier’s withdrawal of support, Issa has announced he will no longer seek passage of the bill.
AGU Issues Statement on Science Ethics After Gleick Incident (02/12)
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued two statements regarding the inappropriateness of the actions of Peter Gleick and AGU’s support for scientific integrity. Gleick resigned as chair of AGU’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics citing personal reasons, hours before admitting that he lied to obtain internal documents from the Heartland Institute and then gave those documents to the media and others.
Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, obtained internal documents from the Heartland Institute through misrepresentation and gave the documents to the media and others. After intense media scrutiny of the documents and outrage from Heartland over the privacy breach, Gleickadmitted to obtaining and publicizing the documents. Gleick and Heartland have engaged in vitriolic arguments over climate change for some time, adding to the severity of the incident. Heartland is considering legal action and Gleick has taken a leave of absence from the Pacific Institute. Although Gleick apologized in his blog admission, it is likely significant damage has been done to science, scientific debate and the intersection of science and policy. In addition, as Michael Hiltzik suggests in a Los Angeles Times column, Gleick’s actions may end up giving Heartland more momentum in their efforts to subvert the use of sound science in policy discussions.
AGU issued a press release on February 21 noting that Gleick resigned as chair of AGU’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics and that Linda Gundersen, Director, Office of Science Quality and Integrity at the United States Geological Survey would be the new chair. AGU did not have any knowledge of Gleick’s actions at the time of his resignation, but quickly prepared the press release after the blog admission by Gleick. On February 27, AGU President Michael McPhaden issued a statement about maintaining scientific integrity and the negative effects of Gleick’s inappropriate actions.
The illicit, but now public documents have been reviewed by some policymakers and Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) has sent a letter to the Heartland Institute requesting original copies of the documents to investigate the institute’s “ efforts to influence science education and debate” according to a press release.
OSTP Releases Federal STEM Education Portfolio (12/11)
When the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (P.L. 111-358) was signed into law in early 2011, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was called upon to compile a detailed catalogue of all federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. OSTP has released “The Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Portfolio,” which provides a list of all STEM education investments undertaken by federal agencies. The list was compiled by the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the National Science and Technology Council, and is the most detailed inventory of federal STEM education to date.
The portfolio, within which CoSTEM developed a precise definition of STEM education and a comprehensive survey instrument to collect data about programs, says the federal government draws upon a wide range of unique assets to support STEM education.
According to the portfolio, federal investment in STEM education for fiscal year 2010 was $3.4 billion, accounting for only 0.3 percent of total investment in education ($1.1 trillion). Because two thirds of the $3.4 billion was spent on broad STEM education investments, the America COMPETES Act requested CoSTEM to develop a five-year, cross-agency STEM education strategic plan to target a more specific portfolio of STEM education investments. Through this strategic plan, OSTP hopes to consolidate programs, create joint solicitations across agencies, and develop procedures for sharing program data and performance evaluations.
Bill to Increase Transparency of Federal Grants Passes Committee (12/11)
The Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act of 2011 (H.R. 3433) was introduced by Representative James Lankford (R-OK) on November 16 and passed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform the next day. The bill would require the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to upgrade existing public web sites for finding, reviewing, and applying for federal grant opportunities so that they would provide full access to detailed information about the individual grants. It would require the disclosure of the name, title, and employer of all individuals who serve as reviewers. During the mark up, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) offered an amendment to strike language requiring the “name, title, and employer” of individuals who serve as reviewers. Cummings’ amendment passed by voice vote but was later overturned by Lankford who succeeded in retaining the language though he added “or unique identifier” after “name.” The proposed web site would provide a copy of the final grant agreement, a copy of all proposals, applications, or plans submitted for the grant, the numerical ranking of the grant by reviewers, and a justification from the reviewers if the award of the grant does not coincide with the numerical rankings. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), an original cosponsor of the bill, said the GRANT Act “lifts a veil of secrecy” surrounding federal grants.
The American Association of Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) wrote a joint letter on November 28 to Chairman Issa and Lankford questioning the need for the GRANT Act. The letter states “Under current laws and regulations governing federal grants, research universities and their faculty already provide to the federal government comprehensive financial and compliance information, which is publicly available.” The organizations strongly disagree with the language requiring the disclosure of peer reviewers’ names and employers. “Anonymity in the process permits greater candor in the evaluation of grant applications and thereby, contributes to a higher quality of review than would otherwise occur if the names of peer reviewers related to a specific application were known,” the organizations argue.
Cummings and Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations, and Procurement Reform of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote a letter to Lankford and Issa urging changes in the GRANT Act before it is brought to the full House for a vote. The two congressmen argue the nation cannot afford “to impose new, expensive requirements on cash-strapped universities and federal agencies” or “to risk that foreign adversaries could access America’s vital intellectual property by simply copying it off federal websites directly from grant applications.”
Copies of organizations’ letter and congressmen’s letter can be found on the AAU What’s New web site.
United States and Canada Complete Joint Seafloor Survey in Arctic (12/11)
After spending nearly six weeks in August and September in the Arctic, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent have returned to port marking the completion of a five-year joint effort between the United States and Canada to collect scientific data to delineate the extended continental shelf (ECS). This joint effort was undertaken to leverage the costs required to collect the data needed to delineate the boundary between Canada and the U.S. and to determine the extent of the continental shelf in relation to the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS) was adopted by the international community in 1994 as a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and seafloor. The treaty establishes “exclusive economic zones” in which a coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources within 200 nautical miles of a defined baseline. The natural resources extend from fishing and wave energy in the ocean column to oil, natural gas, gas hydrates, and mineral resources below the seafloor. The United States Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, led by the Department of State, is responsible for delineating the U.S. ECS. Geoscientists will be analyzing the data to develop accurate estimates of the extent of the U.S. ECS. Canada and the U.S. have ongoing disputes about national boundaries beyond their coastlines in the Arctic Ocean.
Healy collected bathymetric data through the use of a multibeam echo sounder while scientists aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent collected seismic data to determine the thickness of sediments under the seafloor and to better characterize the geology of the Arctic Ocean seafloor. Other scientific missions took place during the six week cruise including the collection of baseline data on ocean acidification by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
More U.S. missions led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and USGS have taken place and are planned to further delineate the U.S. ECS in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bering Sea.
NSF Awards Antarctic Contract to Lockheed Martin (12/11)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on December 28 that it had awarded a multi-year $2 billion contract to Lockheed Martin for logistical support for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions Division will be responsible for designing and implementing a cost-effective infrastructure for managing USAP’s three year-round research stations, two research vessels, medical facilities, construction projects, and remote sites in and around Antarctica. The contract begins April 1, 2012 and will last 4.5 years but may be extended for as long as 8.5 more years.
The USAP has maintained a U.S. presence in Antarctica since 1956 and NSF is America’s lead agency for the Antarctic Treaty signed by the United States and 12 other original countries in 1959.The treaty sets Antarctica aside as a scientific research preserve, bans military activity, and establishes freedom of scientific investigation.
NOAA Releases Scientific Integrity Policy (12/11)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) becomes the latest of federal agencies to release its scientific integrity policy after a White House memorandum from March 2009 directed all agencies to write a policy “to ensure the integrity of the scientific process.” NOAA announced on December 7 that it has completed and made publicly available Administrative Order 202-735D on scientific integrity. The order states that “Transparency, traceability, and integrity are…core values of [NOAA] and the reason for issuing this Order.” According to the order, NOAA scientists are permitted to “speak freely to the media and public about scientific and technical matters based on their work” and are encouraged to present their work at scientific meetings, serve on editorial boards, publish their work, and actively participate in scientific societies. Furthermore, NOAA scientists will be provided regular integrity and ethics training. As research scientists, NOAA employees are expected to be “honest in all aspects of scientific effort; accountable in the conduct of research and interpretation of research results; professional, courteous, and fair in working with others…; and good stewards of research on behalf of others.” The NOAA Research Council will be responsible for the oversight and communication of the policy.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has received and made publicly available final or draft policies from the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
NGA Releases STEM Report and Teacher Compensation Recommendations (12/11)
The National Governors Association (NGA) released a report, entitled Building a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education Agenda, to provide guidance for states to strengthen their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs. Through the NGA Center for Best Practices, participating states can share best practices, strategies, and lessons learned. In addition to reiterating the goals of the NGA STEM Agenda - increasing the number of students and professionals in STEM and increasing STEM proficiency among all students, the report documents weak links in the education system and provides steps for a state to implement a robust STEM agenda. In 2007, NGA produced a similar document titled Building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Agenda. This 2011 report updates the recommendations of the 2007 report in light of recent state progress to improve education standards and other efforts to advance STEM education.
NGA hosted a policy academy from 2009 to 2010 to provide six states a venue to discuss new models for teacher compensation. The policy academy provided teams from Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Tennessee with assistance and advice from NGA Center for Best Practices staff and with other experts. During the academy, state leadership teams found some common challenges, shared best practices, and committed to some common principles. The results of the academy are captured in a new brief from NGA titled New Models of Teacher Compensation: Lessons Learned from Six States. As states look to restructure teacher compensation systems, governors and state policymakers should strengthen student assessment systems, develop tools to measure teacher effectiveness beyond test scores, and engage key stakeholders to help develop new compensation frameworks.
American Medical Isotope Production Act Passes Senate (11/11)
On November 17, the Senate passed the American Medical Isotope Production Act of 2011 (S. 99) introduced by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill was marked-up and passed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in April. America relies on foreign companies in Canada and the Netherlands to produce the isotope molybdenum 99 (Mo-99) though these international companies purchase U.S. highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to produce Mo-99. Traditionally, Mo-99 is produced by concentrated neutron-bombardment of HEU. Processes based on HEU pose a threat to national security because HEU can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Mo-99 is preferred for medical purposes because it decays to technetium-99, which is used to detect cancer, heart disease and thyroid disease, to study brain and kidney functions and to image stress fractures. The measure supports research to increase domestic production of Mo-99 by establishing a technology neutral program within the Department of Energy (DOE) with a goal of supporting technologies to become commercially successful. Lawmakers hope this measure will help to phase out DOE’s exportation of HEU to foreign reactors used in the production of the isotope. A complete description of the bill and more background of the issue can be found in Senate Report 112-17 that accompanied the bill.
The bill has been referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, Science, Space and Technology, and on Budget. A similar bill (H.R. 3276), introduced by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) in 2009, passed the House in the 111th Congress.
Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act Seeks Support (11/11)
Supporters of the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act (H.R. 885, S. 434) are encouraging citizens to contact their congressional members by letters and social media through Speak Up for Geography’s web site. The bill would establish geography education grant programs through the federal government to increase the geographic literacy of students in grades K-12. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the lead sponsor of the Senate bill and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is the lead sponsor of the House bill. The Association of American Geographers, the American Geosciences Institute’s 50th member society, has endorsed the bill.
NSF Seeks New Management of SAFOD (11/11)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has written a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) regarding the future of the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD), a research facility that ceased drilling operations about three years ago shortly after its installation in September 2008.
SAFOD is one of three components of EarthScope, a multipurpose geophysical and geological network supported by the Division of Earth Sciences at NSF. The SAFOD observatory is devoted to understanding the physical and chemical processes of large plate boundaries through the collection of seismic and physical data along the San Andreas Fault.
Shortly after the observatory’s closure, an independent SAFOD Engineering Subcommittee appointed by NSF’s Advisory Committee for Geosciences, published a report that suggested a number of potential causes for the shutdown as well as recommendations for future drilling attempts. In July 2011 the EarthScope Steering Committee presented to NSF a letter summarizing the importance of SAFOD. Now NSF has distributed a similar DCL, agreeing that SAFOD is vital for understanding earthquake mechanisms. NSF’s colleagues include UNAVCO, USGS, the EarthScope Steering Committee, and the SAFOD Advisory Committee.
The DCL from NSF acknowledges its search for a new awardee to manage and operate the redefined facility, shifting management away from UNAVCO. The letter invites proposals until July 2012 for principal investigator-driven experiments using the SAFOD borehole. NSF will be taking a staged approach to its new long-term observatory at SAFOD, beginning with a workshop on borehole observatories for earthquake and fault physics studies.
UNESCO Faces Funding Shortfall As U.S. Withholds Contributions (11/11)
On October 31, 2011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to accept Palestine as member state at their biennial General Conference. The United States is against Palestine becoming a member state of any United Nations entity and by law the U.S. is required to halt contributions to UNESCO. As a result, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova announced that all budgets would be frozen until the end of the year. A large proportion of science funding at UNESCO comes from voluntary contributions from member states of which the United States is the largest contributor. UNESCO faces an immediate loss of $65 million through 2011 and a 22 percent drop in its $653 million budget for 2012-2013. The United States will continue to be a member of UNESCO. Ironically, the U.S. was just approved as a member of the UNESCO Executive Committee, but will now have a non-voting role because of the stoppage of contributions. The State Department issued a press release on October 31 that said, “The United States will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO and [the State Department] will consult with Congress to ensure that U.S. interests and influence are preserved.”
UNESCO’s Natural Science Sector supports geoscience related programs such as the International Geosciences Programme, the International Hydrological Programme, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and is the largest beneficiary of UNESCO’s extra-budgetary contributions. These long-standing programs fund international researchers among UNESCO’s member states, often in collaboration with American researchers, and a funding shortfall would be detrimental to ongoing international research on oceans, climate change, clean water, renewable energy, natural hazards, and other critical issues. Bokova announced in a video response that until the United States’ contributions return, “It will be impossible for [UNESCO] to maintain [its] current level of activity” and that the United States’ actions would “immediately affect our ability to deliver programs in critical areas.”
Two laws from the 1990’s (P.L. 103-236 and P.L. 101-246) declare that no United States funding “shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.” UNESCO was one of the first UN entities to vote on Palestine’s membership and many other UN bodies are poised to conduct similar votes. The United States may have to halt contributions and lose voting status to the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is responsible for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the laws are not reversed. Palestinian UN Envoy Ibrahim Khraishi has said that Palestine is considering joining at least 16 U.N. agencies.
The State Department is working with Congress to restore funding to UNESCO and sent a memo to congressional staffers titled, How the Loss of U.S. Funding Will Impact Important Programs at UNESCO. In this memo, the State Department cites the immediate suspension of the Afghan Mapping Initiative for Geospatial Technologies Capacity Building and Training Program as a result of the budget freeze which had received support from the U.S. Geological Survey in 2011. Other programs highlighted in the memo that would be negatively impacted but not necessarily suspended include the management of the Tsunami Early Warning Systems, efforts to manage hydrological extremes and geo-hazards in Pakistan, and water resource programs in Africa and the Middle East.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides assistance to countries responding to natural hazards and funds international environmental, climate, and water programs, is facing budget problems of its own. The House of Representatives proposed a budget that would give USAID $1.038 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2012 and the Senate has proposed $1.437 billion (S. 1601) but neither State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill has been passed. The President requested $1.744 billion for FY 2012.
The American Geosciences Institute’s executive director, P. Patrick Leahy, serves as a commissioner to the United States National Commission to UNESCO.
National Academies and Canadian Embassy Host Discussion on IPY (11/11)
On November 29, the National Academies and the Canadian Embassy hosted a discussion on the legacy of the International Polar Year (IPY) in preparation for the IPY’s 2012 Conference, From Knowledge to Action, in Montreal, Canada. The IPY was held in 2007-2008 and involved 60 countries that contributed over $1 billion, making it the largest international science collaboration since the International Geophysical Year in 1957. The Polar Research Board of the National Academies acts as the U.S. National Committee for the IPY and is working on a report, “The Legacies and Lessons of the International Polar Year 2007-2008,” that will highlight the outcomes of the IPY, integrate the lessons learned from different disciplines, and record America’s IPY activities.
Julie Brigham-Grette and David Holland described the success of the polar educational program, Polar Palooza, funded in part by the National Science Foundation. The program, held in conjunction with the IPY, traveled around the country educating students and the general public by interactive lectures with props, videos, and demonstrations of polar research.
The American Geosciences Institute maintains the Cold Regions Bibliography Project which contributes to the collaborative International Polar Year Publications Database.
MIT Graduate Student Group Organizes Letter to Supercommittee (11/11)
In an effort to convince the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “supercommittee”) of the value of science funding, a group of graduate students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) organized a campaign to attract graduate student signatures to support federal funding for science. The campaign, titled “Stand with Science: A Call to Action to America’s Science and Engineering Graduates,” produced a YouTube video and collected over 8,000 signatures to its letter that outlines the value of federal support for science to the economy.
Education Report Shows Physical Science Students Are Hard Workers (11/11)
In a study conducted at about 700 colleges and universities in the United States, the National Survey of Student Engagement found that on average, full time college students study 15 hours per week. The study, titled “Fostering Student Engagement Campuswide,” grouped majors into seven academic disciplines and found that seniors majoring in engineering spend more hours per week on average than other students. The study found physical science seniors to spend the second most amount of time studying per week followed in order by biological sciences, arts and humanities, education, social sciences, and business. In the report, 42 percent of seniors majoring in engineering reported that they spend at least 20 hours studying per week. Interestingly, the trend in disciplines reversed when students were asked to estimate the hours per week spent at a paying job. Seniors majoring in economics spend an average of 16 hours per week at a paying job while seniors majoring in engineering only spend an average of 9 hours per week.
The survey asked students questions about studying habits and found that 88 percent of first-year students and 86 percent of seniors take notes in class but less than two thirds review them later. Only 70 percent of those surveyed said that they ask for help when they do not understand the course material. The report is issued annually.
U.S. Has Lowest Percentage of STEM Graduates Among G-8 Countries (11/11)
A recent report written by the National Center for Education Studies (NCES) titled "Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011" shows that the United States graduated the lowest percentage of science, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) university students across the Group of Eight countries (G-8) in 2011. The G-8 countries include the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, and the Russian Federation. According to NCES, only 15 percent of university graduates in the U.S. studied in STEM fields, while Germany took the lead with 29 percent STEM graduates. The report shows a significant gap between the U.S. and the next-lowest percentile: Canada and Italy outdid the U.S. with 22 percent STEM graduates.
This report describes key education outcomes and contexts of education in the G-8 countries and is organized into five topical areas: population and school enrollment, academic performance, contexts for learning, expenditures for education, and educational attainment and income. Results are drawn from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) ongoing Indicators of Education Systems program, as well as the Program for International Student Assessment.
First Lady Speaks on Importance of Women in STEM Fields (10/11)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a 10-year plan to increase work-family flexibility for men and women in fields of research. Called the “Career-Life Balance Initiative,” the plan includes a provision to allow researchers to delay or suspend grants for up to a year because of the birth of a child, adoption or other family obligations.
At a rollout for the new initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama stressed the importance of increasing the role of women in the fields of science and technology. “We need all hands on deck,” she stated. “And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.” She said too often women pursuing scientific careers have to compromise or give up on them entirely because of the demands of family.
Senate Committee Passes Bill on K-12 Education (10/11)
On October 20, 2011 the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act by a vote of 15 to 7. Introduced by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), the bill follows the Blueprint for Reform released by the Obama Administration in March 2010 and overhauls No Child Left Behind. The bill, which will be sent to the Senate floor for consideration, would provide more flexibility for states and districts, better prepare students for college and careers, focus on low-performing schools, and improve transparency for parents.
Obama Honors Early Career Geoscientists (09/11)
On September 26, President Barack Obama honored 94 early career scientists, including many geoscientists, in the federal government with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award was established by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and is coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Branch. The honorees were selected for their innovative research and their commitment to community service.
Leahy-Smith America Invents Act Passes into Law (09/11)
On September 16, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (P.L. 112-29) after the Senate passed an amended House version (H.R. 1249) by a vote of 89-9 on September 8. The law reforms America’s patent system to improve patent quality, reduce backlogs at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and provide funds to ensure processing of the 700,000 backlogged applications. One significant change that has generated controversy is initiating a “first-to-file” model rather than a “first-to-invent” system. The law is named after Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) who worked to secure its passage in Congress.
LightSquared Creates Interference, Costs and Controversy (09/11)
LightSquared, a new wireless technology backed by billionaire Philip Falcone, is likely to render the Global Positioning System (GPS) useless due to a bandwidth overlap issue. The U.S. Air Force and local police forces, among others, consider this potential problem a threat to national security. Falcone believes the bandwidth issue is due to the receivers on the satellites, each of which would only require a 10 cent filter to fix the problem. The GPS industry disagrees, saying that this is a bandwidth physics issue not a quick-fix technology issue. The industry has requested sample filters from LightSquared to test them, but they have not received any from the company.
During a House Committee on Armed Forces hearing on September 15, General William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, gave testimony which detailed the effects of LightSquared technology on GPS systems. According to his testimony, all types of aviation receivers, including handheld, aircraft, and weapons receivers, were adversely affected by LightSquared transmitters as far away as 16.5 miles, while high-precision GPS units used for geological surveying were affected out to 213 miles.
The interference issue is also driven by costs and politics. Adding a filter to every GPS driven device would be expensive. According to media reports, LightSquared has offered to pay the U.S. military about $50 million to retrofit or replace GPS units, while the military counters that the costs are much higher. LightSquared could compete with AT&T and Verizon networks, creating significant competition in the marketplace. Finally, media reports suggest a role for politics in this controversy, by suggesting that some unnamed Democrats have connections with LightSquared and that the Administration is fast tracking approval for the company. Republicans, such as Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) are very concerned about these reports and the potential costs and are requesting more oversight.
DOE Releases Quadrennial Technology Review (09/11)
The Department of Energy (DOE) released its Quadrennial Technology Review in September. DOE priorities with a limited budget include deploying clean energy, modernizing the electrical grid, increasing building and industrial energy efficiency, deploying alternative hydrocarbon fuels, electrifying the vehicle fleet, and increasing vehicle efficiency. The report found that DOE spends about half of its energy technology funds to support clean energy generation, 19% on building and industrial efficiency, 5% on electrical grid improvements, 9% on vehicle electrification, and 13% on deploying alternative fuels.
USGS Hydrologist Awarded 2011 Federal Employee of the Year (09/11)
Paul Hsieh, a USGS hydrologist involved with the containment of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has been awarded the 2011 Federal Employee of the Year Award. At the request of USGS Director Marcia McNutt, Hsieh and his team helped to determine the integrity of the well once the containment cap was placed on the damaged well to stop the oil and gas leak. Leaving the cap on could have potentially resulted in an uncontrollable oil leak from the subsurface if pressures were too high and the cap was forced off, while removing the cap would have allowed the oil to continue flowing rapidly from the well. Hsieh determined that the cap and well integrity were fine so no further action was needed.
Hsieh used his keen and creative intellect to perform calculations that ultimately led him to conclude that the well integrity was ok after the containment cap was placed on top to stop the escape of more oil and gas. “Paul performed in the heat of the moment using this incredibly complex, detailed model,” said McNutt. “It not only fit the pressure data and the shape of the curve as the pressure rose, but also showed that the shape of the rise in pressure was consistent with the integrity of the well. That was the deciding factor.” Hsieh also helped to determine that more than 4.9 million barrels of oil were spilt during the the 86 day disaster. Hsieh is the first Department of the Interior employee to be named the Federal Employee of the Year, and is also the first earth scientist to receive this honor.
Italian Seismologists on Trial For Manslaughter (09/11)
The trial of six Italian seismologists and one government official for alleged negligence and manslaughter for failing to sufficiently warn the citizens of L’Aquila before a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2009 that killed 308 people began on October 1, 2011. According to the prosecution, the seismologists downplayed the significance of nearly 400 tremors during the four months before the earthquake and provided assurances that an earthquake was not likely.
AAU Announces Initiative to Improve Teaching of STEM Fields (09/11)
The Association of American Universities (AAU) has announced a five-year initiative to improve teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at its more than 60 research institutions in the United States and Canada. Announced on September 14, the goals of the initiative are to help institutions assess the quality of STEM teaching, share best practices, and create incentives for departments and faculty members to adopt the most effective teaching methods in their classes.
NSF Will Restructure Ocean Drilling Program (08/11)
In a letter addressed to the ocean drilling community, National Science Foundation (NSF) Assistant Director for Geosciences Tim Killeen and Division Director for Ocean Sciences David Conover announced that NSF will review the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and consider future options beyond the end of the IODP contract in September 2013. NSF and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology are currently co-lead agencies of IODP. Through contributing and associate member nations and consortia, IODP operates three drilling ships including JOIDES Resolution (JR) which will be operated independently by the United States under the proposed operating model. The new operating plan is intended to lower costs and generate new sources of revenue to allow JR to conduct more research than it could as part of IODP.
NSF Gets Russian Icebreaker for Antarctica (08/11)
In order to refuel the McMurdo and South Pole Stations in Antarctica, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a one year contract with the Murmansk Shipping Company in Russia for the use of a diesel-fueled icebreaker. NSF had previously relied on the Swedish icebreaker, Oden, but the Swedish government did not renew its contract this year because they may need Oden in the Baltic Sea where heavy ice disrupted cargo traffic last winter. The Murmansk Shipping Company will provide Vladmir Ignatyuk, a Canadian built icebreaker, to escort 5 million gallons of diesel fuel and other supplies to McMurdo in January and February 2012.
The United States owns three icebreakers. The Healy is being used in the Arctic, the Polar Sea is being decommissioned, and the Polar Star, currently undergoing an extensive refit,will not be available until 2014. Even though the contract with the Murmansk Shipping Company includes an option for additional years, the U.S.’s inability to provide its own icebreakers will be a long-term problem.
The U.S. needs icebreakers in Antarctica and the Arctic, yet it only has one working icebreaker that cannot meet research, exploration or strategic needs at both poles. The Arctic is opening up to research and exploration because of the decreasing ice sheet and the rise of the price of vital commodities such as petroleum. The Healy is servicing a joint U.S.-Canada mission to map part of the continental shelf and seafloor in the Arctic that began on August 22.
DOC Report Finds More Women are Needed in STEM (08/11)
The Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce released a report investigating the representation of women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce. The report, Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, found that women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, yet they hold almost 50 percent of all other jobs. Women earn 33 percent more in STEM jobs than their non-STEM counterparts, creating a smaller gender wage gap in STEM jobs. However, women have a “disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees.” The report is an effort to provide the evidence for a need for greater representation of women in STEM careers. Women present an “untapped opportunity” to expand the STEM workforce and improve the competitiveness of the United States.
NSF Grants $10 Million to Improve Geoscience Education (08/11)
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $10 million grant to Carleton College’s Science Education Resource Center (SERC) to improve geoscience education and integrate the geosciences into societal challenges including natural hazards, resource issues, and environmental impacts. This five-year grant presented to SERC will create teaching materials and programs to use in undergraduate education through the program InTeGrate (Interdisciplinary Teaching of Geoscience for a Sustainable Future.) The activities within InTeGrate will target undergraduates who do not take geoscience courses, in hopes of improving geoscience literacy. Program leaders anticipate that InTeGrate will influence 1,400 faculty members, 59 geoscience departments, and half a million undergraduate students across the nation over the lifetime of the grant.
University of Texas at Austin Responds to Texas Public Policy Foundation (08/11)
Several academics from the University of Texas at Austin have responded to a series of seven proposals offered by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) to reform higher education. A think tank linked to Governor Rick Perry, TPPF issued these seven proposals as “7 Solutions” to run higher education on a more business oriented model. Research and teaching budgets would be split, students would be viewed as “customers,” and teachers would be rewarded for their “efficiency and effectiveness.” In a response offered by several academics at the University of Texas at Austin, lead author and Dean of the University’s College of Liberal Arts Randy Diehl wrote that higher education in Texas would “face radical change” if the seven proposals were implemented.
California Science Center and American Freedom Alliance Reach Settlement (08/11)
The American Freedom Alliance (AFA) and the California Science Center (CSC) have reached a settlement in a lawsuit dating back to 2009. AFA was scheduled to show "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record" and hold a subsequent debate in the center's theater as part of a fundraiser two years ago. Before the event, CSC canceled the showing citing a breach in contract after the Discovery Institute, known proponents of intelligent design, promoted the event. As part of the settlement, CSC will pay AFA $110,000 and allow the showing of the film.
"Darwin's Dilemma" questions the validity of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in light of the Cambrian Explosion 545 million years ago.
Policymakers Take Education Outdoors (07/11)
The No Child Left Inside Act of 2011 (S. 1372 and H.R. 2574) was introduced on July 14, 2011 in the House and the Senate. The bipartisan effort, lead by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), encourages teachers to take their students outside and connect with nature. Supporters of the bill argue it is an effort to reincorporate environmental education after the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) minimized its importance. The legislation amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-10). The sponsors of the legislation say the bill is a way to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education while promoting an active lifestyle.
NASA Completes Last Space Shuttle Run (07/11)
The space shuttle Atlantis took one final trip into low Earth orbit and hooked up with the International Space Station in July 2011. The 135th flight of the shuttle (STS-135) ended the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) 30-year shuttle program. Atlantis brought 11,600 pounds of supplies to the space station and removed 5,700 pounds of materials to be returned to Earth.
The shuttle program included six orbiters: Columbia (28 missions), Challenger (10 missions), Discovery (39 missions), Atlantis (33 missions), Endeavour (25 missions) and Enterprise (test vehicle on display at Dulles Airport). Challenger and crew were lost about 73 seconds after liftoff in an explosion on January 28, 1986 and Columbia and crew were lost about 16 minutes before landing in an explosion on January 16, 2003. In fiscal year 2010, the average cost to prepare and launch a shuttle mission was $775 million and the cost to build Endeavour was $1.7 billion in 1991. The total cost of the program was $113.7 billion (not adjusted for inflation). The program never met its objective of routine and inexpensive flights, but it accomplished many other objectives.
The shuttles carried more than three million pounds of cargo, mostly made up by 50 satellites and the major pieces of the International Space Station, into space. Interplanetary craft, Magellan, Galileo and Ulysses were launched from shuttles and astrophysical observatories, the Hubble Space Telescope, Gamma Ray Observatory, Diffuse X-ray Spectrometer and Chandra X-Ray Observatory were deployed from shuttle bays. Shuttles docked with the Russian Mir Space Station and with the International Space Station bringing cargo and crew. Hundreds of experiments were conducted on the orbiters and crews serviced and repaired many satellites. Not to be forgotten are the thousands of photographs and Earth observations completed by the crew members. NASA counts about 100 technology spinoffs from the shuttle program including artificial hearts, land mine detectors, green lubricants, home and automotive insulation, and video stabilization software.
Discovery will retire to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Enterprise will move to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Endeavour will retire to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in Florida. Members of the Texas delegation in Congress have requested that a shuttle be retired in or loaned to Texas, probably at the Johnson Space Center Visitor’s Complex in Houston, but NASA has so far not altered their plans.
NSF Has No Icebreakers For Antarctica Research Bases (07/11)
Each year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) uses icebreakers to barrel through miles of ice to access and restock the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica during the summer months of December and January. For the 2011-2012 season, NSF may not be able to get to McMurdo because there are no available icebreakers. For the past five years, NSF has been leasing the Swedish icebreaker, Oden, to transport supplies to McMurdo. Sweden did not renew its contract with NSF this year because they may need the Oden in the Baltic Sea where heavy ice disrupted cargo traffic last winter.
The United States has three icebreakers. The Polar Sea is being decommissioned, the Polar Star is being repaired and the Healy is being used in the Arctic. In a hearing in July before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp did not rule out the possibility that Healy could come to the rescue. If no solution is found in time, McMurdo and the South Pole station would have to ration their fuel, which is used for power, water, flight operations, and field camps, until at least January 2013.
Congress transferred the responsibility for the three icebreakers to NSF from the Coast Guard a few years ago, but there have been requests to transfer the responsibility back to the Coast Guard, to build a new fleet for Arctic and Antarctic use, and to decommission the remaining ships as new ships become available. With the opening of the Arctic to greater navigation, exploration and development and the need for continued work in Antarctica, the U.S. cannot afford to have limited navigation capabilities.
Department of Commerce Release Report on STEM Related Careers (07/11)
The Department of Commerce’s Economic and Statistics Administration released “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future,” a report that outlines U.S. employment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This report offers an inside look at workers who are propelling America forward with “new ideas, new companies, and new industries.” The report found that over the past 10 years, STEM jobs grew three times faster than non-STEM jobs and STEM employees earned 26 percent more than non-STEM workers. President Obama has made STEM education a priority in ensuring U.S. competitiveness.
U.S. Department of Education Releases College Cost Data (07/11)
On June 30, 2011 the U.S. Department of Education released College Affordability and Transparency Lists as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-315). Separate lists rank the public and private institutions with the highest and lowest costs as well as the highest percentage increase in costs. The institutions where prices are rising the fastest will be required to report why costs have gone up and how they plan to address rising prices. These reports will be available online. The College Affordability and Transparency Center web site includes information on admissions, retention and graduation rates, and financial aid.
National Research Council Releases STEM Education Reports (07/11)
The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Science released two new Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education reports, “Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” and “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.” The first report, released in June, was released by the STEM K-12 Commission funded by the National Science Foundation. Representative Mark Wolf (R-VA) secured funding for the commission in the FY 2010 appropriations hearing. This report focuses on science and math, highlighting successful K-12 school and programs throughout the U.S. Released by the NRC Board on Science Education, the second report provides recommendations, though no specific curriculum, on K-12 science education. It suggests educators focus on four broad core areas, which include physical sciences, life sciences, Earth and space science, and engineering and applied science. The authors expect resistance from some public schools on the report’s stance on climate change and renewable energy education.
RAND Reports on Alternatives to Peer Review (07/11)
RAND Corporation released a technical report titled “Alternatives to Peer Review in Research Project Funding.” This report offers unique alternatives to traditional peer review, categorizing the alternative approaches into three key elements of the decision making process: funding strategy, expected outcome, and reviewers. Within these three categories, there are two to three different approaches to achieve a funding strategy, an expected outcome, or a peer review panel. This report’s purpose is to show research funders innovative ways to improve the review process. RAND hopes that research funders will consider these alternatives to peer review in efforts to support a ranging portfolio of projects leading to new influential work.
US, UK Issue a Joint Statement on Education, Science, and Innovation (05/11)
As part of his tour through Europe in May, President Obama met with Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom (UK) and released a joint statement on education, science, and innovation collaboration. The statement points out that the United States and the UK are clear leaders in global scientific research and home to the world’s top ten universities. “Recognizing the great potential for productive cooperation in these domains, the Prime Minister and President reaffirmed during the State visit their mutual commitment to strong collaboration in science and higher education and agreed to work to increase the number of joint endeavors,” the statement reads.
As an example of the collaborations to come, the two leaders highlighted the recent memorandum of understanding on space weather between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK Meteorological Office. The two agencies will set-up a 24/7 space weather warning center and develop an improved model of space weather. Areas of stated collaboration include “Space Science and Exploration, Clean Energy and Climate Science, Food Security, Health and Wellbeing, Innovation and Growth”. An addendum to the statement mentions collaborations in clean energy and climate science that will include a National Science Foundation project on Sustainable Materials for Energy.
Bill to Strike 43 Educational Programs from ESEA Marked Up (05/11)
Legislation (H.R. 1891) sponsored by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to eliminate 43 programs under the Elementary and Secondary Elementary Education Act (ESEA) was introduced and passed by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in May. The “Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act” eliminates numerous programs already defunded in the 2011 continuing resolution and the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget request plus several other deemed to be duplicative or ineffective. No programs under Title 2, Part B or D which cover math, science, and technology grants were singled out. The bill was passed on a party-line vote.
Bill to Expand Hydrographic Services in the Arctic Introduced (05/11)
Representative Don Young (R-AK) has introduced a bill (H.R. 295) to amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 (32 USC 892). The amendment would authorize $5 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire new hydrographic data, perform hydrographic services, review coastal change to ensure safe navigation, and improve management of coastal change in the Arctic. An additional $2 million would be authorized to improve hydrographic data necessary to delineate the United States extended continental shelf. In May, Captain John Lowell, Director of the Office of Coastal Survey at NOAA, testified before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs in support of Young’s bill. Captain Lowell told the subcommittee, “NOAA’s hydrographic services are an essential component of an open Arctic where conservation, management, and use are based on sound science to support U.S. economic growth and resilient and viable ecosystems and communities.”
Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Issues Request for Proposal (05/11)
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) has completed its proposal and review plan and will begin to consider research proposals in May 2011. BP committed $500 million to research regarding the effects and response of the Gulf to the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After releasing about $50 million soon after the spill, there was an outcry from Gulf State governors about where the funds were going. The GRI was set-up in response to complaints and will ensure that much of the funding remains in the Gulf States. The first RFP, designated RFP 1, is devoted to the selection of research consortia, defined as four or more academic or research institutions, and will distribute a total of $37.5 million per year. Although yet to be released, RFP 2 will fund individual or collaborative (three or fewer academic or research institutions) efforts at a total of $7.5 million per year. Research consortia must include an academic or research institution in a Gulf State (Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana) though an outside member may be a member or participate in a partnership “to the extent required to ensure the delivery of high-quality scientific studies in fulfillment of the objectives and ultimate goal of the GRI.”
UK Finds No Evidence to Support “Climategate” Allegations (05/11)
Climate skeptics have pointed to the thousands of stolen emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) as evidence that scientists manipulated data and silenced differing opinions. Reviews by Pennsylvania State University, the Associated Press, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Inspector General, and many others have cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing. In May, the British Government’s Office for Science reported to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that “no events at CRU undermine the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change.”
California District To Teach “Multiple Perspectives” on Climate Change (05/11)
In a unanimous decision, the Los Alamitos Unified School district trustees agreed to require teachers who teach classes with controversial material to teach “multiple perspectives.” This is largely aimed at the Orange County, California school’s advanced placement environmental science course which covers climate change. "There are two clearly divergent opinions on global warming," said Jeffrey Barke, the trustee who requested the provision. "There are those who believe that global warming is a fact, created by man's impact on the environment and the consequences will be devastating. There are others on the conservative side who believe it is much ado about nothing. It is overhyped and politically motivated, and the science is not solid, and there's room for more studies."
AGI Releases 2011 Status of the Geoscience Workforce (05/11)
The American Geological Institute’s (AGI) Status of the Geoscience Workforce Report for 2011 was released in late May. The report provides a statistical synopsis of trends in geoscience education at the K-12 level, in community colleges, and at four-year institutions. The report outlines trends in student transitions to the workforce including salaries and skills used. Metrics and drivers of the geoscience workforce such as funding for research, commodity pricing, and productive activity of industries are also analyzed.
Declining US Academic Fleet Could Impede Polar Research (04/11)
The National Academy of Sciences released a finding this month that recommends a coordinated national plan to revitalize the nation’s declining ocean research infrastructure. Most notably, it highlighted the grim future for America’s polar icebreaker fleet – currently only three ships and expected to decline to two soon. These polar icebreakers, operated by the Coast Guard, are used in the Arctic and can address urgent issues such as climate change, offshore energy usage, tsunami prediction, and sustainable fisheries. If infrastructure needs are not met in the near future, the federal government may have to resort to leasing icebreaking vessels or working with other nations to resupply its Antarctic research bases and conduct science missions at high latitudes. In 2007, the National Research Council released a report with similar warnings.
Report on China’s Science and Technology Capabilities Released (04/11)
Established by Congress in 2000, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a report that describes China's capabilities in science and technology as compared to the global economy. China’s Program for Science and Technology Modernization: Implications for American Competitiveness uses three sectors -- semiconductors, nuclear energy, and nanotechnology -- as case studies to underline China’s low-cost manufacturing capabilities, export promotion strategy, and "shrewd appropriation" of international technologies.
Geochemist Jill Banfield Wins Two Prominent Awards (04/11)
Dr. Jillian Banfield, Professor of Earth and Planetary Science, of Environmental Science Policy and Management, and of Materials Science at the University of California-Berkeley, is the recipient of two major awards. The geochemist received the 2011 North American L’Oreal-UNESCO “For Women in Science” Award last month for her research on bacterial and material behavior under extreme conditions relevant to the environment and the Earth. Before the ceremony, Dr. Banfield reflected on her career by saying, “most people nowadays accept that the real frontiers are at the interfaces, the places people haven’t worked traditionally and where discoveries can be made.” Banfield is also one of seven recipients of the 2011 Benjamin Franklin Medal, presented every year by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
EarthScope Crosses Mississippi (03/11)
The EarthScope Transportable Array seismic network crossed the Mississippi river on March 31, 2011 according to a press release from the National Science Foundation. For six years the array has been monitoring earthquakes and collecting massive amounts of data as it has marched from the west coast to the middle of the country. The data provides essential and abundant information about the surface and near subsurface including information about faults, earthquakes and other important structural features. The network will significantly advance our knowledge of natural resource and natural hazards across the country. In addition to the research and data, the installed instruments can be kept by local communities for future research and monitoring if funds are provided for operation and maintenance.
The Transportable Array is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded EarthScope project, an integrated Earth science effort to explore the structure, evolution and dynamics of the North American continent. EarthScope has additional support from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Transportable Array is constructed, operated and maintained by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) as part of EarthScope.
Johnson Introduces Women in Science Bill (03/11)
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, introduced the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act of 2011 (H.R. 889). The bill would require the National Science Foundation (NSF), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and other federal agencies to take actions to reduce gender bias in grant distribution and academic advancement within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. It directs agencies to hold workshops on gender bias; develop policies for extended research grant support for individuals who have care-giving responsibilities; and requires NSF to collect detailed demographic data on STEM faculty and grant awardees across the country.
The bill is similar to an amendment by Representative Johnson that was included in the House version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5116) but was removed by the Senate from the final version.
Representative Introduces Resolution in Support of Darwin Day (02/11)
On February 9, Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) introduced H.Res. 81, “Expressing support for designation of February 12, 2011, as Darwin Day and recognizing the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.” Stark chose February 12, Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) birthday, as a “time for us to celebrate the advancement of human knowledge and the achievements of reason and science.” The bill was cosponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) but did not pass before February 12.
Clean Energy, Science and Education Highlights of State of the Union (1/11)
President Barack Obama called for increased American innovation and investment in research and development, comparing the present age of innovation to the space race, in his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011. Obama said “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology…”
The President stressed the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; clean energy development; and infrastructure improvements, stating that investments in these arenas can spur job creation. He revealed that his budget request will include increased funding for research and development and urged Congress to avoid “cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education.”
National Science Tests Show Room for Improvement (1/11)
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of the 2009 science tests for grades 4, 8 and 12. Only about thirty percent of students across grade levels were proficient in science and proficiency percentages decreased as students advanced in grade levels. There were also gender, racial/ethnic and geographic discrepancies with females, minorities and southern states scoring lower than their respective comparison groups. The exams test knowledge of physical science, life science and Earth and space sciences. The 2009 exams used a different framework so comparisons cannot be made to previous NAEP tests.
Administration Releases Scientific Integrity Guidelines (12/10)
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 supposed 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.
America COMPETES Reauthorization Passes Congress (12/10)
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.
Back to top
Innovation and Competitiveness
Maintaining U.S. competitiveness in the global economy through scientific and technological innovations has been of growing concern in Congress. In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called for increased American innovation and investment in research and development, comparing the present age of innovation to the space race. Obama said “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.” He called on America to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. Members of the 112th Congress are calling for an American “renaissance” in science, but it remains to be seen how much support there will be for federal research and development in the midst of the present financial instability.
President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request includes increases in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funding is held constant. (See AGI’s page for an Overview of Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations.)
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.
The 111th Congress approved of the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 5116, Public Law 111-358), which authorizes increases for research NSF, NIST and DOE Science through FY 2013.
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.
NIST is authorized for $2.93 billion over FY 2011-2013. 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.
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 2011-2013. The legislation authorizes funding to continue the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) that was established to quickly address long-term and high-risk technological barriers in energy through collaborative research and development that private industry or DOE would not likely undertake alone. It is funded separately from other energy programs so as not to inhibit DOE research. 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.
For K-12 STEM education programs in DOE, the law allocates $25 million per year, including: a 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 DOE, who would serve as an interagency liaison for K-12 STEM education.
NSF is authorized $23.5 billion for FY 2011-2013. 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 law 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.
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 that can enhance the global competitiveness of the U.S.
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.
Department of Education is authorized to have new programs to enhance teacher education in the STEM fields. The “Teachers for Competitive Tomorrow” (TCT) program will specifically help undergraduates obtain a bachelor’s degree with concurrent teacher certification. At the graduate level, TCT will help scientists get a master’s in education and current teachers get a master’s of science. The law 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 (H.R. 2272, Public Law 110-69) in 2007. Students are not being taught the basic scientific and mathematical principles, how to use a computer, or the problem solving skills that are necessary for most jobs. In order to spur innovation and remain competitive, STEM education must 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.
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 were 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 FY 2012 budget request proposes to replace the DoEd's MSP with the Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program. It has the similar purpose of improving academic achievement in mathematics and science by giving 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 FY 2001, the Eisenhower programs were funded at $485 million. NCLB authorizes a similar $450 million annually for math and science partnerships; but appropriators provided only $183.28 million ($180.5 million for DoEd and $2.78 million for NSF) in FY 2010. The FY 2012 budget requests $254.2 million ($206 for DoEd and $48.22 for NSF), but DoEd and NSF have said that funds from the MSPs are being reallocated to other education programs that will incorporate some MSP aspects.
NCLB requires states to assess each student’s 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. The future of NCLB is largely unknown, and it has not been reauthorized as scheduled in FY 2008 during the 111th Congress.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has stated it hopes to rewrite NCLB in the 112th, and the Obama Administration has said it wants to strengthen and improve the act.
Higher Education Act
The Higher Education Act (HEA) 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 about every five years, was reauthorized by President Bush in 2008 (H.R. 4137, Public Law 110-315). It was the first major revision since 2003. The act requires colleges to provide tuition information and to rein in rising tuition costs, tries to restore integrity and accountability to the student loan process and simplifies federal student aid applications. It tries to make textbook costs more manageable, expands support for low-income and minority students, expands aid for veterans and members of the military and ensures equal opportunities for students with disabilities. Regarding infrastructure, it 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.
Contributed by Linda Rowan, Geoscience Policy staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; Nell Hoagland, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; Krista Rybacki, AIPG/AGI Summer 2012 Intern; and Kathryn Kynett, AAPG/AGI Fall 2012.
Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Education, Research and Development, and Workforce Policy in the 111th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.
Last updated on December 5, 2012