Congress returns to session this week after a one-week recess. The House and Senate are scheduled to cast final votes on the 2009 budget resolution, which could add $21 billion to the President’s request for domestic appropriations in 2009. House and Senate negotiators will also try to reach a compromise on a final 2008 war supplemental appropriations bill; right now, only the Senate version contains $900 million in additional domestic science-related funding for NIH, NSF, DOE, and NASA. See the preliminary analysis on AAAS’s web site for details.
Other Congressional News
Markey Announces New Climate Change Bill. With the Senate set to take up major cap-and-trade legislation, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, has announced a proposal for a more stringent cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 85 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
Safe Chemical Bill Includes Animal Testing Provision. Reps. Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) have introduced the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act of 2008, intended to keep children safe from harmful chemicals. One provision directs the EPA administrator to "require the use, where practicable," of alternatives to the use of animals in toxicity testing. The bill would also encourage the formation of industry consortia to jointly conduct testing with the goal of avoiding duplicative tests and would fund studies "to reduce and replace the use of animal tests."
FDA Changes Rules for Clinical Trials Outside the US. The FDA recently rejected the requirement that data from clinical trials conducted outside the United States could only be used in approval decisions if the trials adhere to the 1989 version of the Declaration of Helsinki, issued by the World Medical Association. Instead, starting in October, there will be a requirement that the studies follow "good clinical practice," which includes oversight by an independent ethics committee and informed consent provisions. This means that the approval of new drugs in the United States can be based on international drug trials that only incorporate a placebo control rather than giving all subjects access to current standards of care. It has raised concerns that the ruling will result in more "outsourcing" of clinical trials and could have negative impacts on populations from the developing world who participate in trials.
Genome Institute Leader Announces Resignation. Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH, plans to step down from his post on August 1 to pursue other opportunities. His first project will be a book on the use of genetic information for personalized medical treatments. Alan E. Guttmacher, the institute’s deputy director, will serve as director on an interim basis.
Administration Releases Major Report on Climate Change Impacts. On May 29 the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) released the latest version of its periodic scientific assessment, which describes the current and potential impacts of climate change. The law requires a report to be issued at least every 4 years; but, the last report was issued in 2000. The current report was only issued after an order from a federal district court judge.
Groups Suing EPA Over Ozone Standard. Several groups are reportedly suing the EPA over its new national ambient air quality standard for ozone, a primary constituent of smog. One group, representing such organizations as the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Lung Association, and National Parks Conservation Association, is challenging the standard as too low and not in keeping with the recommendations of the EPA’s scientific advisory board. Another group that includes the National Association of Manufacturers and other industry organizations is filing a countersuit arguing that the new standard is too costly to business and that the agency did not consider the science objectively.
Brazil and Japan Address Stem Cell Research and Research Cloning. Last week Brazil’s Supreme Court voted to uphold legislation that allows research on stem cells derived from frozen embryos that are considered unsuitable for human reproduction. In addition, Japan’s science ministry has approved a draft proposal to allow the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of conducting research on incurable diseases. The proposal, to be effective later this year, will stipulate regulations and criteria under which research is to be conducted.
UN Biodiversity Conference Concludes. The 12-day UN biodiversity conference in Bonn, Germany, ended last Friday, May 30. Some 5,000 delegates from 191 countries took part in the event. They agreed on various measures to preserve biodiversity and protect the world’s most threatened wildlife. Some of these measures include: setting up deep-sea nature preserves, expanding reserve lands, and banning experiments to boost plankton growth as a means to reverse climate change because of potential risks to other animals. Delegates also pledged to set standards on developing biofuels.
Ocean Science in Policy. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signed a measure last week that would provide sweeping changes in the way the state regulates human activities in the ocean off its coast, addressing mineral resource recovery, fishing, and placement of offshore wind farms. The law is the first of its kind in the United States and has won praise from ocean advocacy groups. In related news, this week marks the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s annual Capitol Hill Oceans Week. Also last week, an Ocean Science Summit held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and cosponsored by AAAS brought together leading scientists, policy makers (including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], Rep. Lois Capps [D-CA] and Rep. Sam Farr [D-CA]), numerous Congressional staff and NGO officials to discuss mechanisms for bridging the gap between ocean science and policy.
American Academy Calls for More Investment in Transformative Research, Young Scientists. A new report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences expresses concern about the impacts on U.S. preeminence in science of shortfalls in funding for early-career scientists and high-risk, high-reward research. It calls for substantially increased investment in these areas by the federal government, foundations, and universities. Titled ARISE: Advancing Research in Science and Education, the report was prepared by a committee chaired by Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which last week announced a new $600-million program to support high-risk high-reward medical research.
Foreign Students Still Face Visa Problems. Despite high-level attention and improvements in visa processing since post-9/11 logjams, foreign students coming to the United States still encounter difficulties. According to a new survey of nearly 1,600 foreign students and academic visitors at UCLA, 38% of those with F-1 student visas and 56% of respondents with H-1B work visas reported that visa delays had forced them to change travel plans.
Science Festival Successful. Last weekend’s first World Science Festival in New York City appears to have been a success, with most of the 40 events selling out, according to a festival spokesman. At an opening science summit, as reported in The Washington Post, AAAS Board Chairman David Baltimore criticized the diminished stature of science in the United States and called for "leadership that respects science." Nina Fedoroff, the State Department’s science and technology adviser, said U.S. science has "died over a quarter of a century, even as the importance of science has grown."
Israel Boycott Still An Issue for UK Faculty Union. Once again, the United Kingdom’s main faculty union has passed a resolution on relationships with Israeli scholars. While previous resolutions have criticized the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and called on members of the University and College Union to boycott Israeli universities, this most recent version urges British professors "to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions." AAAS has objected to these kinds of boycott initiatives as being political, rather than scientific, in character.
S&T Policy Forum Resources Now Available. Podcasts of all presentations from last month’s AAAS Forum on S&T Policy, as well as PowerPoint files and prepared texts (where provided) are now available on the Forum web site.
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NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Fellows to inform them of developments in science and technology policy that may be of interest. Information in the Policy Alert is gathered from published news reports, unpublished documents, and personal communications. Although the information contained in this newsletter is regarded as reliable, it is provided only for the convenience and private use of our members. Comments and suggestions regarding the Policy Alert are welcome. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.