News: AAAS News & Notes
29 SEPTEMBER 2006
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
"Evolution Dialogues" Seeks to Bridge Science and Religion
At a time when several leading scientists have written personal accounts of their belief in both God and the scientific method, a new AAAS book seeks to resolve some of the misunderstandings on both sides of the ongoing public debate over the teaching of evolution in the nation's public schools.
The book, "The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding," is a thoughtful look at both the development of evolutionary biology and the rich diversity of Christian responses to the theory. Written with the input of both scientists and theologians, it is intended to be an accessible, authoritative resource on evolutionary science that also can be used in schools and religious education classes.
One reason evolution remains a cultural flashpoint, the book notes in its prologue, is that there are "deep misunderstandings about what biological evolution is, what science itself is, and what views people of faith, especially Christians, have applied to their interpretations of the science. With this volume, AAAS seeks to correct some of those misunderstandings."
The book was written by Catherine Baker, edited by James B. Miller, and produced by AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). Connie Bertka, DoSER's director, said the book grew out of concerns among scientists and some religious leaders that intelligent design is being sold as an integration of science and religion, enticing even some members of mainstream religious communities to question evolution.
Proponents of intelligent design argue that there is empirical evidence in nature for the existence of an intelligent agent beyond nature, and they have tried to convince politicians and school officials that there is a scientific controversy over evolution. The new book details why any controversy is cultural and political, but not scientific.
Evolution remains one of the most substantiated theories in all of science, it notes, and serves as the essential framework for modern biology. The book discusses recent observations that have led to revisions in the theory since the time of Charles Darwin, including new views on why the giraffe's neck is long. But it emphasizes the underlying principles of evolution that continue to stand the test of time: all species, living and extinct, are related to each other, and the forms of life that populate the Earth have changed over eons and continue to change.
The book features a narrative about the personal dilemma of a fictional college student, Angela Rawlett, as she struggles to reconcile her Christian upbringing with her keen interest in biology. Her story is rooted in reality, according to Bertka. Students from some conservative Christian backgrounds sometimes approach biology professors with concerns that the study of evolution will conflict with their religious beliefs.
"Biology 101 teachers can cite cases like this," Bertka said.
In addition to its potential use in religious adult education programs, the new book also should have value in other educational settings such as history-of-science classes, seminaries, and community libraries. An array of distinguished reviewers, contacted by AAAS, found the book to be a useful, balanced treatment of the issues.
Jack Haught, a Georgetown University theologian, said the book "will prove to be very helpful to teachers and students of biology, especially where questions might arise about the scientific status of Darwin's theory and the religious implications of evolution." Haught also said the book "demonstrates how a religious understanding of the world need not be looked upon as an alternative to evolutionary science and vice versa."
Rodger Bybee, executive director of the nonprofit Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, said the book "will be an excellent, positive contribution to a contemporary understanding of evolution and religion."
To obtain "The Evolution Dialogues," and to learn about a free online study guide that can be used in church groups and other settings, see www.aaas.org/spp/dser.
S&T Fellows Brave War to Stage GIS Conference
After months of difficult planning and preparation, an ambitious forum on geographic information systems (GIS) and sustainable urban development was days away from opening in Amman, Jordan. And then, in neighboring Lebanon, the war started.
For AAAS Diplomacy Fellow Marsha Goldberg and former Diplomacy Fellow Fernando Echavarria, it was a time of acute uncertainty. They had conceived and organized the conference--but would professionals from around the region still attend? Would it be best to postpone it or cancel it?
|Marsha Goldberg and Fernando Echavarria|
The conference started on schedule, and while the 4-day gathering was colored by tension and sadness arising from the conflict, it proved a powerful reminder that science and technology can help build constructive relations among the nations of the Middle East and North Africa and between the West and the Muslim world.
"These kinds of events are extremely important," keynote speaker Eduardo Lopez Moreno, chief of the Nairobi-based Global Urban Observatory for the U.N. Habitat, said in an interview. "When trying to respond to regions where there are some political tensions, this creates an excellent opportunity to use science and technology to build bridges and to use this as an example of the value of collaboration."
Goldberg offered a more personal reaction, putting her work on the conference in the context of her 2 years at the U.S. State Department. "This was the most satisfying activity of my Fellowship," she said.
Goldberg became a Diplomacy Fellow under the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship in September 2004. (After her fellowship ended in August, she joined the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation as a director of environment and social assessment.) Echavarria was a AAAS Diplomacy Fellow for a year beginning in 1997, and he currently serves in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science at State.
Goldberg is an urban planner; Echavarria has been involved in past State Department efforts to promote the use of GIS. When Goldberg was assigned an office adjoining his, they developed the idea for the conference, then obtained seed funding and built a team that included other federal agencies and private companies.
In all, the GeoInformation for Sustainable Cities conference drew 50 planners, scholars, and government officials from 10 countries and regions in the Middle East and North Africa--Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, the West Bank and Gaza, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait, and Yemen. Fifteen of the participants were women; seven of the experts were from Libya, and seven more from Iraq.
GIS uses high-powered computer hardware and software along with mapping systems, satellite images, and socioeconomic data for a range of purposes, from tracking leaks in an urban water system to charting broad development and poverty patterns. These tools could be crucial in coming decades as hundreds of millions of people worldwide leave rural areas for makeshift urban settlements.
"This is where the sustainable development challenge will have to be met," Echavarria said. "How are we going to address the needs of the urban poor--clean water, health, transportation, housing, and other incredibly challenging problems?"
Moreno and others agreed that the conference would bring broad benefits and, ultimately, could promote democracy. "After the workshop, we can create a collaboration of people working together," he said. "When you have an extended support network, you feel more confident and more empowered to discuss issues you might not otherwise be able to."
Such events "can assist people living in the Middle East in dealing with the critical and extremely complex challenges that characterize the region in the political, social, and economical realms," said Nidal Saliba, GIS manager for the Water Authority of Jordan. That, in turn, promotes the "enhancement of people's everyday lives."
Over more than three decades, the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships have brought scientists and engineers into public service in a variety of agencies and in Congress. The fellowships are designed to nurture links between federal decision-makers and scientific professionals to support public policy that benefits the well-being of the nation and the world.
An Energy Infusion for Global Career Outreach
Over the course of this fall, ScienceCareers.org's Garth Fowler will travel 8200 miles, crisscrossing time zones to attend programs in nine different U.S. cities. Science International's Seema Sharma, his European counterpart, is scheduled to attend events in London, Paris, Stockholm, and Manchester--all before 2007.
The schedule is rigorous, but with the training and retention of scientists and engineers a top global priority, Science and AAAS have moved in recent months to add energy to their career-outreach program. Though the programs have long been seen as among the world's best, Fowler, Sharma, and their colleagues are busy planning, implementing, and evaluating the programs to make them even better.
"With great people on two continents, the full support of AAAS, and synergy between our outreach events and our editorial products, we are prepared to make an even larger positive impact on the careers of today's and tomorrow's scientists and engineers," said Jim Austin, the editor of ScienceCareers.org.
Late last year, a decade after their first career resources went online, Science and AAAS moved to dramatically update their programs, consolidating powerful recruitment and jobsearch features with Science's Next Wave, GrantsNet, the Minority Scientists Network, and other features--all at one fresh-looking, easy-to-navigate site. At ScienceCareers.org, users now are offered free access to over 2000 job postings, along with career advice articles, graduate school listings, and funding opportunities.
"ScienceCareers.org's goal is to increase awareness of the job opportunities and resources available for scientists," Sharma said. "We offer fundamental, practical advice on how to be successful--whether you do benchwork, clinical studies, public policy, or something else."
In addition to online resources, ScienceCareers.org has teamed up with nonprofit organizations like the National Postdoctoral Association and the University Consortium, along with universities and private institutions such as New York University, to provide essential career-advancement skills and resources.
For example, this fall AAAS and its partners are co-sponsoring the Scientific Management Course for Postdoctoral Fellows, a laboratory management program geared to young scientists.
Many career-development experts and counselors at academic and research institutions believe that AAAS career-development programs are instrumental in training the next generation of scientific investigators.
"These courses are in high demand and springing up all over the country at various institutions and at professional scientific society meetings," Fowler said.
Two years after it was founded, an ambitious AAAS effort to help colleges and universities more effectively recruit and retain science and engineering students is showing positive results.
The AAAS Center for Advancing Science and Engineering Capacity took on eight new clients, disseminated its research findings at conferences and workshops and in publications, and raised more than a half-million dollars in revenue in the year ending 30 June 2006, center Director Daryl Chubin said in a report to The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The Foundation awarded AAAS a 3-year, $400,000 grant in 2004 to underwrite the new center's plan to offer consulting services to individual universities and colleges seeking to increase the participation of U.S. students, especially women and underrepresented minorities, in science and engineering careers. The goal has been to make the center self-supporting after 3 years (see www.aaascapacity.org).
"We understand the demographic, financial, and legal pressures that universities must balance," Chubin said. "The problems that emerge from imbalances require tailor-made solutions. ‘Off-the-shelf' won't do. This is about local context, policies, and practices. The need for help from the outside is clear--and growing."
Ted Greenwood, the Sloan program director who oversees the AAAS grant, said the gains in the center's second year bode well for the future. "We are hopeful that they have now become sufficiently visible and developed a sufficiently positive reputation that their client base will continue to grow over time," he said.
In other education news, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded AAAS Education and Human Resources a grant of $973,572 to organize and co-sponsor the 2007, 2008, and 2009 conferences for awardees of the NSF's Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program. The program provides funds to broaden participation in the nation's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. About 800 people--more than half of them students--are expected to attend each annual conference