News: AAAS News & Notes
25 May 2007
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
S&T Forum: States, Industry Play Key Roles in U.S. Innovation Drive
With the U.S. government hobbled by financial constraints and political divisions, state policymakers are pressing new initiatives—often with partners in business or foundations—to improve the climate for science-related innovation and education, experts said at the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.
California is well known for its $3 billion ballot measure to fund stem cell research. Pennsylvania is pursuing an ambitious program to promote energy independence, biosciences, nanotech, and 21st-century manufacturing. Georgia has set aside $400 million to build research facilities and recruit top scholars. New Mexico, already home to two national laboratories and a booming high-tech sector, is joining with Virgin Companies Chairman Richard Branson to build a spaceport.
"We read about a few states in the headlines," said Mary Jo Waits, director of the Pew Center on the States, "but people would be amazed at how many states are putting in initiatives to support... research and development."
The 32nd annual Forum, held just a few blocks from the White House on 3 to 4 May, attracted some 450 policy-makers from government, education, industry, and other fields. The event included discussions of surveillance; R&D in the developing world and Europe; and "sequestered science," in which research findings are kept secret. The overarching theme was U.S. innovation policy—and its uncertain future—in a world growing smaller and more competitive.
"The Forum covered a remarkable range of topics," said Al Teich, director of AAAS Science and Policy Programs, "but the willingness of states to invest in research and innovation, largely unhindered by ideology, was a real attention-getter. They are truly becoming 'laboratories of democracy.' "
Many Forum speakers cited the urgent message of Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the National Academies' seminal 2005 report on U.S. innovation policy, and their presentations suggested that it has helped galvanize a movement that now reaches into statehouses, universities, foundations, and businesses nationwide.
Federal R&D investment still dwarfs that made by the states, and at the Forum, national science policy leaders representing both major political parties emphasized the importance of federal innovation and education initiatives.
John H. Marburger III, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, urged support for the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) offered by President George W. Bush. ACI would double the budgets for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science over 10 years, but Marburger said it is falling behind schedule because Congress has failed to provide full funding.
U.S. Representative Bart Gordon, the Tennessee Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology, later noted that the House has approved two major bills drawn from recommendations in Rising Above the Gathering Storm, one of which implements many of the study's K-12 education proposals, while the other creates an array of programs to encourage young researchers.
Overall, the funding prospects at the federal level remain "fairly bleak," said Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. If President Bush's fiscal year 2008 budget were approved, he said, big gains would go to weapons systems, space exploration, and the three ACI agencies. But cuts in other areas would leave inflation-adjusted federal basic and applied research investment down for the fourth straight year.
Innovation requires more than research and funding, said William A. Wulf, outgoing president of the National Academy of Engineering. But the broader U.S. innovation ecology is geared for a past age, not for the future. The patent system, intellectual property laws, and the tax code all need an overhaul, Wulf added, yet "inertia" is impeding reform.
A number of the state innovation initiatives are geared toward education. In California, 66% of new mathematics teachers and 54% of new science teachers do not hold a preliminary credential, said Susan Hackwood, executive director of the state's Council on Science and Technology. The Council this spring released a report on California's education needs, and its efforts have drawn "phenomenal support" from business leaders, Hackwood said.
Science Foundation Arizona plans grants totaling $3.5 million for K-12 education, said President William C. Harris. "We can no longer sit back and say...'We can throw away some of these kids,' " he said. "We need every brain."
Sherwood Boehlert, the New York Republican who formerly chaired the House Science Committee, urged scientists to be active not only in debates over science funding, but in helping inform the debate about other science-related issues. But scientists need to recognize that science is only one factor in policy decisions, and that policy-makers must weigh an array of conflicting pressures, ideas, and values, Boehlert cautioned in the 2007 William D. Carey Lecture.
"If scientists are going to be more effective participants in the policy arena, they have to do their homework and learn more about the policy world," he advised. "It should go without saying that policy-makers have to do their homework about science... Unfortunately, I don't know how to force anyone in either the scientific or political communities to do their homework."
For materials from the AAAS Forum, see www.aaas.org/spp/rd/forum.
SCIENCE AND SOCIETY
New Director Expands Human Rights Program
After Janjaweed militants burned the village of Bir Kedouas in Chad in 2005, satellite photos analyzed by AAAS's Science and Human Rights Program (SHRP) brought the devastation into sharp relief. Now, with a new director at the helm, SHRP is looking at other ways to bring 21st-century science to the service of human rights.
Recruiting "on-call" scientists who consult on human rights crises and exploring the potential of wireless Internet technologies to monitor human rights abuses in real time are a few of the programs that SHRP hopes will make scientists as essential as lawyers in the human rights field, according to the program's new director, Mona Younis.
Younis believes that the greater engagement of scientists "is essential to securing human rights. We can't allow another century to pass without seeing that promise realized."
Human rights or-ganizations increasingly depend on scientific methods and technology to monitor human rights and collect evidence on violations. At the same time, the international human rights framework also requires governments to address rights related to health, climate change, urban development, and the benefits of scientific discovery itself.
"These are human rights that are very directly related to the work of scientists, as they have substantial scientific components to them," said Younis.
With this in mind, SHRP has four key areas in its new portfolio: engaging scientists in human rights efforts, applying scientific tools to human rights problems, promoting the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, and exploring the human rights implications of new technologies and scientific discoveries. Details about the program's new framework will be posted in June at http://shr.aaas.org/.
Younis wants to enlist scientists and their professional societies in the important human rights work being undertaken in the United States and around the world. In keeping with this plan, SHRP is reviving its Science and Human Rights Coalition, an umbrella group of affiliated scientific societies with human rights interests, with a membership meeting planned for the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston next February.
In the realm of scientific tools, SHRP has already had great success with its year-old geospatial technologies project, which has documented human rights violations in Zimbabwe, Sudan, and other countries. Now, the program staff is researching ways to use wireless technologies to document human rights violations and to scrutinize government budgets for their effects on health, housing, and education. The program is also looking at the social science tool of structure mapping, which graphically represents webs of human relationships. Structure mapping can help human rights workers understand how multiple groups in a society—from the police to the medical community—may work together to promote the use of torture in some countries, for example.
The impact of new technologies and of scientific research itself on human rights issues is another new area for SHRP, but one that follows naturally from the program's work, according to Younis. "For instance, there are privacy issues related to using geospatial technologies, so how do we proceed without violating privacy rights?" she said.
In the three decades since the program began, SHRP has been a trailblazer in using science to aid human rights work. It brought human rights issues involving scientists to the forefront, beginning with its vigorous defense of Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov and other scientists similarly persecuted worldwide. More recently, SHRP applied forensic science to the identification of victims of mass atrocities in Argentina and Guatemala, and worked with truth and reconciliation commissions in Guatemala, South Africa, Peru, and Sierra Leone.
Younis worked as the human rights program officer at the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and was coordinator of the International Human Rights Funders Group before coming to AAAS in January. SHRP's experience, she says, has shown that "across disciplines, when scientists are aware of what's needed and what they can do, they contribute inimportant ways."
Building Libraries—and Partnerships—in the Middle East
Many Middle Eastern nations are making significant investments in higher education systems, and some have built libraries on par with the best in the world. But most colleges and universities in the region are only at the early stages of building electronic collections, and a few still rely on the card catalogues of earlier times.
Nikolas Coffrin, a senior sales coordinator in the AAAS Office of Publishing and Member Services, was in the Middle East for a month this spring, co-hosting a workshop, visiting libraries, and talking with librarians. In their meetings—and in many casual conversations over coffee or tea—he found them eager to engage with AAAS and Science and to build expertise that will aid their libraries and their nations' economies.
The workshop was "the first meeting of its kind we've attended" in the Middle East, said Science Publisher Beth Rosner. "We're very excited about working with the universities, schools, and institutes in that part of the world. We think that the scholarly tools we're offering, and the dissemination of scientific information, could be very valuable to them. Eventually, this collaboration really could help bring all of our communities closer."
The workshop emerged from discussions last year between Tom Ryan, director of site license sales for Science, and Mohamed Ghali Rashid, a librarian at Arabian Gulf University, during a meeting of the Special Libraries Association-Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC).
Convening from 31 March to 2 April, "Electronic Collection Development for Health & Medicine E-Libraries" brought 30 librarians from the region's universities and medical research centers to Manama, Bahrain, for lectures, hands-on training, and networking. It was co-sponsored by SLA-AGC/Mondesic TechKnowledge, a publishing agent based in Dubai, and AAAS/Science. The workshop was followed by the 2007 SLA-AGC annual meeting, where Coffrin made informal presentations to many of the 200 librarians who attended.
Meeting with representatives of the publishing world "provided us with the opportunity to explain the difficulties medical libraries of the region face in the rapidly evolving world of electronic information, the vast increases of journal prices, and the shrinking library budgets," said Randa Al-Chidiac, electronic resource librarian at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. "I hope that it will be the launching pad for further cooperation and collaboration in the near future."
Coffrin later met with librarians at 15 colleges and universities in Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
Booklet Covers the Basics of Science Job Seeking
Career Basics is a new booklet that compiles the best advice and resources for scientists looking for their first jobs from the thousands of articles on ScienceCareers.org, the Web's most comprehensive site for science career information. The booklet can be downloaded for free at the ScienceCareers.org Web site (www.sciencecareers.org/careerbasicspdf).
The articles were chosen by the site's editorial staff to reflect the essential elements of landing a good job in science. "It's the fundamentals, basic career information that will help every scientist," said John Meyers, AAAS's Director of Marketing, Office of Publishing and Member Services
Although several of the chapters deal with challenges common to all job seekers—making the most of your résumé and curriculum vitae and preparing for interviews, for example—the authors home in on issues specific to research careers. For instance, are interviewers impressed by a tide of technical details in a job talk? Should pregnant researchers ask for a special risk assessment of their lab conditions?
The booklet also offers advice on sprucing up grant proposals, managing a lab, pursuing alternative careers, finding unusual sources of funding, and making the most of networking opportunities.
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