Programs: Science and Policy
Science and Technology in Congress
The House and Senate chambers passed separate versions of a $180+ billion supplemental appropriations bill before the Memorial Day recess, in the hopes of negotiating a compromise in early June for final congressional approval. Included in the supplemental – which normally pay for emergencies and other short-term expenses outside the regular appropriations process – are some funds for research and development (R&D) programs.
The House would give the Department of Defense (DOD) $2.4 billion in R&D funding in FY 2008 and 2009, almost entirely for development funding with a small portion for research. The House would not give domestic agencies any supplemental R&D funding.
The Senate, on the other hand, would give domestic science programs $900 million in 2008 funding, most of which would fund R&D. The Senate would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $400 million, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science $100 million, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) $200 million, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) $200 million. On the defense side, the Senate supplemental would give DOD $2.5 billion in R&D funding in FY 2008 and 2009, as with the House almost entirely for development with a small portion for research.
The Senate’s inclusion of $900 million in domestic science funding represents a partial payoff on long months of campaigning by the biomedical and physical sciences communities. NIH would receive $400 million in the Office of the Director (OD), which would then distribute the funds to all the NIH institutes proportional to the institutes’ 2008 allocations. A Senate press release indicated that the extra funds could result in 700 additional research grant awards this year.
DOE’s Office of Science would receive $100 million--$55 million for Fusion Energy Sciences and $45 million for High Energy Physics. The Fusion funding would enable DOE to rejoin the multi-national International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion project; December’s 2008 omnibus appropriations bill had originally zeroed out the U.S. contribution for 2008. The High Energy Physics funding could help to reverse some of the abrupt program cuts, project terminations, and national lab layoffs that resulted from the 2008 omnibus bill’s funding cuts.
NSF’s Research and Related Activities (R&RA) account would receive $150 million, to be distributed among all the research directorates to help boost current-year funding of research grants, with $10 million set aside for the National Academic Research Fleet to help pay for rising fuel costs. NSF’s Education and Human Resources (EHR) programs would receive $50 million to supplement 2008 funding that fell short of authorized levels in the Robert Noyce Scholarship program ($20 million), Graduate Research Fellowships ($24 million), Graduate Teaching Fellowships ($5 million), and the Federal Scholarship for Service ($1 million).
NASA would receive $200 million to replenish science accounts that have been drained over the past several years to help pay for return to flight of the Space Shuttle after the Columbia disaster. In addition to the science funding above, DOE would also receive $248 million for environmental cleanup activities and $52 million for uranium enrichment, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would receive $26 million for the prevention of and response to medical errors, a portion of which could fund research.
But the Senate’s domestic science funding may not survive the next few weeks. The House supplemental does not include domestic science funding, and the President has in any case threatened to veto any supplemental bill that includes significant non-war funding. Both the House and the President would have to agree with the Senate in the next few weeks for the science appropriations to become law.
The defense R&D supplementals, meanwhile, are almost certain to become law. Most of these funds are part of the Pentagon’s and Bush Administration’s supplemental requests for 2008 and 2009 and are thus not subject to a veto threat. The Senate bill would give DOD’s Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) programs $1.7 billion in 2008 R&D funding ($163 million, Army; $366 million, Navy; $400 million, Air Force; $817 million, Defense Wide) almost entirely for development activities (“6.3” and higher under DOD’s system for classifying projects in the progression from research through development into deployment). In addition, $365 million would go to fund applied research (“6.2” account) within Defense Health Programs for battle casualty and psychological health research, traumatic brain injury research, regenerative medicine, and disability evaluation research.
At $1.6 billion, the House provisions for DOD would be almost identical to those of the Senate, with the only difference $120 million less for the Air Force. Both the House and the Senate would give DOD an identical $388 million for 2009 classified development funding ($113 million, Army; $72 million, Navy; $203 million, Defense Wide), nearly identical to the Pentagon request. The close matches between the House, the Senate, and DOD over these R&D supplementals should ensure that these funds will get enacted nearly intact in whatever form the final supplemental bill takes, and will bring total DOD R&D funding in 2008 close to $80 billion, a new record.
Over the Memorial Day recess, congressional negotiators will try to iron out compromises on the war funding and non-war funding amendments to get a final bill, and may or may not include the policy language amendment. Sometime in June, Congress hopes to give final approval to the supplemental and send it to President Bush for his hoped-for signature, but may have to jettison policy language and/or non-war funding along the way.
--Kei KoizumiBACK TO TOP
On May 1 a huge coalition of advocates, including AAAS, saw Congress pass a bill 13 years in the making: the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA prohibits employers and insurers from discriminating on the basis of genetic information.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, was the first to introduce a version of GINA in 1995, and a bill soon followed in the Senate, where it first gained traction by passing unanimously in 2003 and 2005. The House was more challenging—the bill had to go through three committees, no easy task in an atmosphere where even most bills with single committee assignments languish and die.
That all changed after the Democratic party retook control of the House. The bill sailed through the three committees and passed the House 420-3 in April 2007.
Passage of the bill seemed likely given its previous bipartisan popularity in the Senate. But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, decided to place one of his many holds on the bill. A hold is a tactic a single senator can use to prevent a floor vote on a particular bill.
Amid a growing sense of urgency for genetic protections, a majority of states had already sought to fill the gap by enacting their own antidiscrimination policies. President Clinton had also issued an executive order pertaining to federal employees.
House leaders kept up the pressure on the bill. They first considered sticking the GINA language into the FY 2008 omnibus appropriations package but feared that such extra content would cause Bush to issue a veto they could ill afford during the December rush to finish up appropriations. Later they succeeded in adding it to a mental health parity bill, which passed the House 268-148 in March. [See STC March 2008.]
Negotiators continued to work with Coburn to persuade him to drop the hold, and in April, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, was able to bring GINA to the floor for a vote. The bill passed easily at 95-0, then went through the House with a vote of 414-1. (Rep. Ron Paul, R-TX, was the lone holdout.)
Supporters were jubilant. Longtime GINA booster Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, called the passage “a great gift to all Americans.”
President Bush signed the bill into law (Public Law No: 110-233) on May 21, 2008.
A substitute to the “America’s Climate Security Act of 2007” (S.2191) bill was released to the public on May 20. The substitute was drafted by the original bill’s three primary authors, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and John Warner (R-VA), and is expected to achieve more support than the original.
The new language will be brought to the floor as a substitute amendment to the original bill. It includes provisions that would allow the president to adjust emissions targets if necessary to protect the economy, address a lack of necessary technology, or respond to a national emergency. It also provides $800 billion in tax credits to help consumers cope with higher energy costs, $911 billion for electric utility rebates for consumers, and a variety of other financial measures to ease the transitions necessary for industry to meet emissions goals.
The bill’s sponsors intend to bring the substitute to the floor for debate as early as June 2, following the Senate recess.
Earlier this year, the National Academies issued a report entitled “Human Behavior in Military Contexts.” Such research in the social and behavioral sciences has received increased attention on Capitol Hill of late, especially with respect to the advantages it can provide to the military—both in and out of deployment situations.
The National Academies report provided much of the foundation for a joint hearing entitled “The Role of the Social and Behavioral Sciences in National Security” held by the House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities and the House Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education.
The chairmen of both subcommittees commented at the beginning of the hearing on the importance of building bridges between committees and hailed the use of social and behavioral science research in doing so.
Additionally, witnesses testified to the importance of such research in improving military performance through better understanding of adversaries and the communities in which they function, as well as our own societies and the individuals therein—notably in training as well as in outreach and recruitment.
For example, social science research could be used in improving intercultural competence, modeling and forecasting adversary attitudes, as well as in training an increasingly diverse group of soldiers, improving group cohesion, and helping service members improve non-verbal communication as well as secondary language retention.
Witnesses testified that a great deal of existing research, not conducted with the goals of aiding the military, is in fact highly relevant to the military and could immediately be put to use. For example, research on how individuals make life-course decisions as well as analysis of organizational structure could be applied to the military in understanding such factors as why a person chooses to go into the military or not or how the structure of the military might be improved.
Colonel Martin Schweitzer testified as to the significance of the Human Terrain Team (HTT) that was deployed with his unit in Afghanistan and how it helped his team to view the people of local communities as “the center of gravity” as opposed to focusing this center of attention on their adversaries. The majority of HTT’s contribution came through analyzing community structures, which can vary greatly across small geographical distances. Colonel Schweitzer testified that this expertise allowed his operation to be more successful by targeting which individuals to approach with specific needs, in addition to making those interactions more fruitful.
Witnesses pointed to opportunities for collaboration between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), highlighting the value that could be achieved for DOD by leveraging NSF’s strength of peer review as well as its ties to the academic community.
Upon questioning by members as to whether it is appropriate to focus NSF in such a direction, several witnesses argued in favor of the significance of NSF conducting “unfettered” research. Dr. David Segal of the University of Maryland commented that it is important for NSF to retain its independence because it has credibility among researchers that the military hasn’t had since Vietnam. He argued that if DOD can tap into what is being accomplished by NSF research, it could greatly expand the number of researchers and amount of information accessible to the Pentagon.
In addition to the Armed Services hearing, a new RAND report released at a separate briefing drew attention to the benefits that behavioral science research could provide to the military. The study, “Invisible Wounds of War,” found that the United States could save almost $2 billion by providing better psychological treatment to veterans.
The authors report that lowered productivity of individuals suffering from psychological disorders associated with wartime experiences is a drag on the U.S. economy and that providing high-quality, evidence-based care to all veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression would in fact reduce the cost of this burden. They found this to be true even when taking into account the increased costs associated with providing both higher quality care and treating a greater number of individuals.
The RAND researchers note that while the psychological wounds of war are not new, our society has new understandings of these disorders as well as the best methods of screening for and treating them. Physicians, hwoever, are ofetn still using out-of-date practices instead of the most up-to-date methods based on research using sound testing criteria (thus referred to as “evidence-based”). The report recommends that the United States: 1) increase and improve the capacity of the mental health care system to deliver evidence-based care, 2) change policies to encourage more service members and veterans to seek needed care, 3) deliver evidence-based care in all settings, and 4) invest in research to close knowledge gaps and plan effectively.
In accordance with a recommendation in the RAND report that policies change to encourage veterans to seek mental health care, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced on May 1 that the government will change the question on the security clearance form regarding mental health treatment. Fear that getting help could harm their careers was cited as the second leading reason for not seeking care in the survey that formed the basis of the RAND report. Experts think this security clearance question has played a large role in the stigma against mental health problems that discourages service members from seeking treatment.
On April 29, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing on the impact of global warming on the world’s oceans, a relatively new topic of exploration for the nation’s policymakers. The opening statement from the committee’s chairman and ranking member reflected the polarizing effect that global warming can have on legislators.
Chairman Edward Markey (D-MA), emphasized the many potential impacts on the oceans due to rising carbon emissions and the urgent need for a policy response. Ranking member James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), meanwhile, acknowledged these dangers, but focused primarily on addressing climate change (e.g., adopting carbon-free energy alternatives and carbon sequestration) rather than addressing oceans directly.
The scientific experts at the hearing provided varying perspectives on the oceans’ vulnerability to the mechanisms of climate change, but all four were unanimous that the policies that affect the oceans urgently need to change. Among the most alarming impacts is the warming of the oceans worldwide, which contributes to sea level rise and reduces the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide because the solubility of the gas is lower in warmer seawater. Additionally of great concern, ocean acidity levels are rising because higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have led to a buildup over time of carbonic acid in seawater. These higher acidity levels negatively affect nearly all sea life.
Dr. Joan Kleypas of the National Center for Atmospheric Research discussed the irreparable damage to the world’s coral reefs, as did Dr. Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University, who also stressed the accelerating pace of change in the ocean and specific signs of ecosystem stress such as oxygen deprived “deadzones” caused by altered water and wind circulation.
Markey questioned the witnesses on how best to approach the problem and convey its urgency to the public. All the witnesses stressed that policy solutions should include efforts to educate the public on ocean impacts, further funding for oceanic research, more control of fishing practices and pollution from land, and protection of coastal habitats.
Vikki Spruill of the Ocean Conservancy discussed three legislative proposals in various stages of development that could benefit the study and protection of the oceans. Among them is the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Marine Strategy for the 21st Century Act (H.R.21), which would create a National Oceans Advisor and establish a new method of oceanic ecosystem management in U.S. coastal waters.
Other legislation mentioned was the National Marine Sanctuary Act, passed in 2000, and the Coral Reef Conservation Act, which also passed in 2000 but a reauthorization bill (S.1580) to enhance it is currently on the Senate legislative calendar.
On May 7, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Sector Solutions to Global Warming, Oversight, and Children’s Health Protection held a hearing on the scientific integrity of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) policy decisions.
The chief witness from the EPA was Dr. George Gray, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development. Gray represented the EPA in lieu of the subcommittee’s requested witness, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, who was unable to attend for undisclosed reasons.
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) opening remarks focused on recurring accusations of political interference with scientific findings and reports by appointees of the Bush Administration, including recent criticisms of EPA setting ground-level ozone limits higher than those recommended by the agency’s board of science advisors, and the recent firing of regional EPA administrator Mary Gade over her request for a chemical industry cleanup of a site in Michigan found contaminated with dioxin.
In his testimony, Gray stated that EPA’s scientists are key contributors to a transparent process of sound decision making that begins with scientific examination of the facts and ends with careful and defensible decisions based upon those conclusions. He specifically described the decisions of the Administrator as matters of science policy that must consider the conclusions of experts from many disciplines and that must acknowledge their uncertainty.
Gray’s testimony was met with sharp criticism from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is leading an inquiry into political interference in science at EPA. He questioned Gray specifically about the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) recent survey in which 889 scientists at EPA (out of 1,586 total respondents) stated that they had been subject to political interference of at least one kind, as defined in the survey. Gray argued that individual opinions couldn’t provide a basis with which to judge the actions of the agency as a whole, but that such a number is still unacceptable. Nonetheless, he felt that the agency’s scientific work is transparent and again defended its peer-reviewed process.
Boxer remarked that Gray had lost credibility before the committee when he stated that he believed in the transparency of the EPA’s process in spite of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report citing evidence that interagency comments on EPA regulatory decisions, notably ones from the Department of Defense and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), were kept secret.
The Senate hearing coincided with “Whistleblower Week,” a series of events organized by the non-profit Government Accountability Project (GAP) that evaluate scientific freedom within the U.S. government and the effects of political interference on the conduct of science. On May 12, GAP and UCS co-hosted a panel that included two whistleblowers from the federal government who left their positions due to political interference with their work and a UCS scientist who is tracking such activity.
Among the panelists was Dr. David Ross, a former scientist at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who studied drug safety and provided recommendations to the agency during the drug approval process. Ross described a pattern of political interference in his work at FDA that culminated in his resignation after the approval of the antibiotic drug Ketek. The agency approved the drug in spite of his findings that it could cause dangerous side effects and his recommendation that it be kept off the market.
According to Ross, supervisors told him to “soften” the wording in his reports on Ketek and that concerns about employees’ findings should be kept within the agency and not disclosed to the press. Such unauthorized disclosures, even after a product had entered the commercial market, carried with them the threat of reprimands or even dismissal, Ross explained.
Such sentiments among scientists at the FDA were not unusual according to Ross, or to others who are investigating this type of activity. In a UCS survey of FDA scientists in 2006, part of the organization’s ongoing effort to uncover political intervention in science within the federal government, nearly one-fifth of the 997 surveyed scientists reported experiencing political interference, specifically that they had “been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or their conclusions in a FDA scientific document.” Such findings also surfaced in surveys of other agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the aforementioned EPA.
NEW!! Quick status reports to keep you up to date on recent S&T bills and hearings.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health panel recently held a hearing on stem cell science. Scientists, including NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, spoke about the importance of pursuing all avenues of stem cell research.
- The House Science and Technology Committee passed its National Nanotechnology Initiative reauthorization bill [see STC April 2008], which does not contain the controversial provision to mandate 10 percent of the budget go to environmental, health and safety research.
- The House Science and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Space reported out a $20.2 billion reauthorization bill (H.R. 6063) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The bill includes an increase of $2.6 billion in authorization above the Administration’s budget request for FY 2009. Much of the increase would go towards a launch vehicle program to replace the shuttle, aeronautics research, and earth and planetary science.
- On May 21, Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) unveiled legislation to improve coordination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs among the various federal agencies. The Enhancing STEM Act of 2008 proposes to create an office within the Department of Education to manage interagency activities. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is sponsoring a companion bill.
Wireless Technology and Spectrum Demand: Advanced Wireless Services (RS20993)
This report provides technical background on various wireless technologies, outlines policy issues, and presents an overview of the current proposed legislation regarding advanced wireless services. Some of the policy issues outlined includethe competitive impact on commercial wireless carriers when municipalities offer wireless broadband services, promoting the development of broadband wireless access, and assuring the availability of appropriate spectrum.
Oversight of Dual-Use Biological Research: The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (RL33342)
This report provides a background of the capability of life science research intended to enhance scientific understanding and public health to generate results that could be misused to advance biological weapon effectiveness. It discusses the role of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) and potential future responsibilities for that body. The report outlines options available to policymakers and concludes that it is not clear whether the tools available to the federal government today are adequate to assess and control security risks from federally funded research or if additional authorities need to be developed.
Extending NASA's Exemption from the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (RL34477)
This report provides historical background on the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act and explains complications which have arisen from a provision in the act which bans U.S. payments to Russia in connection with the International Space Station (ISS). The act was amended in 2005 to exempt Soyuz flights to the ISS from the ban through 2011 and NASA has requested an extension of the exemption for the life of the ISS. This report provides an overview of plans for the future of the ISS as well as nonproliferation issues associated with extending the exemption.
The Small Business Innovation Research Program: Reauthorization Efforts (RS2286)
This report describes the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs established by the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982 (P.L. 97-219). The act was intended to increase participation of small innovative companies in federally funded research and development (R&D) and requires government agencies with extramural R&D budgets of $100 million or more to set aside a portion of these funds to support R&Din small businesses. This report discusses the current nature of the program, changes authorized by H.R.5819 which passed the House, and future issues important for Congress to consider.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Improving the Cost-Effectiveness of Filling the Reserve (GAO-08-726T)
This report focuses on factors GAO recommends that the Department of Energy (DOE) consider when filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which was created in 1975 to help protect the U.S. economy from oil supply disruptions. The reserve currently holds about 700 million barrels of crude oil, but the Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed DOE to increase the SPR storage capacity from 727 million barrels to 1 billion barrels, which it plans to accomplish by 2018. GAO recommends that DOE consider acquiring a steady dollar value--rather than a steady volume--of oil over time when filling the SPR. The report also analyses the cost-effectiveness of using oil received through the royalty-in-kind program, which allows royalties on leases of federal property to be paid in oil rather than cash. GAO finds that purchasing oil to fill the SPR--as DOE did until 1994--is likely to be more cost-effective than exchanging oil from the royalty-in-kind program for other oil to fill the SPR because the latter method adds administrative complexity to the task of filling the SPR, increasing the potential for waste and inefficiency.
Global HIV/AIDS: A More Country-Based Approach Could Improve Allocation of PEPFAR Funding (GAO-08-480)
The U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria Act of 2003, which authorizes the $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), expires in September of this year. The bill contains directives to guide the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator's (OGAC) allocation of funding, but the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has recommended eliminating the directives. This report discusses (1) the views of HIV/AIDS experts on the directives, (2) an alternative approach to allocating funds, and (3) potential challenges related to this approach. The report finds that while HIV/AIDS experts recognized that the Leadership Act's spending directives have ensured funding for prevention and treatment, many expressed concern about a directive to spend 33 percent of prevention funding on activities promoting abstinence and fidelity.
Offshore Marine Aquaculture: Multiple Administrative and Environmental Issues Need to Be Addressed in Establishing a U.S. Regulatory Framework (GAO-08-594)
In the U.S., raising fish and shellfish in captivity, a practice known as aquaculture, has generally been confined to near-shore coastal waters or in other water bodies that fall under state regulation. Recent interest in expanding aquaculture to the open ocean has led to the need for federal regulation because there is currently no comprehensive legislative or regulatory framework to manage such an expansion in existence. This report addresses key issues that should be in the development of an effective regulatory framework: program administration, permitting and site selection, environmental management, and research.
Desalination: A National Perspective (ISBN-10: 0-309-11923-5)
This report finds that recent technological advances have made removing salt from seawater and groundwater a realistic option for increasing water supplies in some parts of the U.S., and that desalination will likely have a niche in the nation’s future water management portfolio. However, the authors find that the potential of desalination is constrained by financial, social, and environmental factors. Specifically, substantial uncertainties remain about its environmental impacts, which have led to costly permitting delays. The report stresses that a coordinated, strategic research effort with steady funding is needed to better understand and minimize desalination’s environmental impacts and to find ways to further lower its costs and energy use.
Estimating Mortality Risk Reduction and Economic Benefits from Controlling Ozone Air Pollution (ISBN-10: 0-309-11994-4)
This report finds that, in many areas, short-term exposure to current levels of ozone, a key component of smog, is likely to contribute to premature deaths. Additionally, the report states that deaths are more likely among individuals with pre-existing diseases or other susceptibility factors. The authors recommend that future research examine whether longer-term exposure--of periods of weeks to years--is also associated with premature death. The committee recommends that ozone-related mortality be included by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its estimates of the benefits of reducing ozone exposure, and provides recommendations on how EPA should improve its process for conducting cost-benefit analyses in establishing its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce (ISBN-10: 0-309-11966-9)
This National Academies report finds that the health care workforce is too small and unprepared to meet the specific health needs of the aging Baby Boomers who will soon reach retirement age. The report calls for immediate bold initiatives to train all health care providers in the basics of geriatric care and to prepare family members and other informal caregivers, who currently receive little or no training in how to tend to their aging loved ones. Medicare, Medicaid, and other health plans should pay higher rates to boost recruitment and retention of geriatric specialists and care aides, says the report.
The Utility of Proximity-Based Herbicide Exposure Assessment in Epidemiologic Studies of Vietnam Veterans (ISBN-10: 0-309-11449-7)
To aid in the analysis of veterans’ level of exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides, researchers have developed a model to assess the opportunity for herbicide exposure. While the report finds this an important improvement over the cruder yes/no system used in the past, it warns that results from the new model will inevitably lead to an unknown amount of misclassification and must be used and interpreted with caution. The authors note that for these studies to be effective, researchers will need data on where each veteran served in Vietnam and on the veteran’s health outcomes. However, gaining permission for access to relevant military records and of collecting data for individuals are likely to be administratively difficult. The report thus recommends that Veterans Affairs work with the Department of Defense and the National Archives and Records Administration to facilitate access to and interpretation of military records for use in the studies.
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
“Interference at the EPA: Science and Politics at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”
This report presents the results of an investigation of political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency. The report combines interviews with current and former EPA staff, analysis of government documents, approximately 1,600 responses to a survey sent to current EPA scientists, and written comments from EPA scientists. The report finds that almost 50 percent of scientists surveyed reported political interference in their work, significant barriers to the free communication of scientific results, and concerns about the agency's effectiveness. Based on results of the investigation, UCS recommends that work be done in five primary areas: protecting EPA scientists, increasing agency transparency, reforming its regulatory process, strengthening its scientific advisory system, and depoliticizing funding, monitoring, and enforcement.
Pew Charitable Trusts: The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production
“Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America”
This report, based on an extensive two and a half year examination, finds that the current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment, and the welfare of animals. The commission, composed of fifteen experts from a variety of fields, reports that over the last 50 years the method of producing food animals in the United States has changed from a system of small and medium-sized farms owned by a single family to a system of large, intensive operations where the animals are housed in large numbers in enclosed structures. The report finds that this change comes with serious consequences and provides recommendations for addressing specific concerns.
Health and Human Services, The Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health, and Society (SACGHS)
“Realizing the Potential of Pharmacogenomics: Opportunities and Challenges”
This report explores the potential for pharmacogenomics to advance the development of diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive strategies to improve the safety, effectiveness, and quality of health care; identifies opportunities and critical barriers in need of the federal government's attention; and makes 35 policy recommendations aimed at enhancing the development and integration of pharmacogenomics applications.
Department of Energy
“20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply”
This DOE report analyzes U.S. wind resources, technology requirements, and manufacturing, siting and transmission hurdles to increasing the use of wind power. The report finds that with concerted efforts, the technology currently available could lead to 20 percent of U.S. energy coming from wind by the year 2030. DOE reports that the costs of integrating intermittent wind power into the grid are modest and no material constraints currently exist. The report recommends that in order to get to 20 percent wind by 2030 the United States needs to increase the number of annual turbine installations threefold and it needs to address transmission challenges such as issues related to siting and cost allocation of new transmission lines.
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
“The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI): Second Assessment and Recommendations of the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel”
The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 calls for a National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel (NNAP) to periodically review the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). PCAST was designated as this NNAP and this report provides the second assessment of the program since its inception in 2003. The report provides recommendations in six areas: 1) infrastructure, management, and coordination; 2) standards development; 3) technology transfer and commercialization; 4) environmental, health, and safety implications; 5) societal and ethical implications; and 6) communication and outreach. Across the areas of recommendation, the Council stresses the importance of international collaboration. Two other reports have also been released this month on nanotechnology:
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN)
“Room at the Bottom? Potential State and Local Strategies for Managing the Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology”
International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON)
“Towards Predicting Nano-Biointeractions: An International Assessment of Nanotechnology Environment, Health and Safety Research Needs”
BACK TO TOP
AAAS Writes Letter Opposing Bill that Could Hamper Science Education in Oklahoma
On May 14, AAAS submitted a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry opposing the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which could have negative consequences for science education in the state. The bill ostensibly seeks to protect students who want to express religious viewpoints, but this could introduce religion into the science classroom by allowing students to defend answers on assignments as being based on their religious beliefs. AAAS CEO Alan Leshner points out in the letter “as federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled in Pennsylvania, religion has no place in the science classroom.”
PBS's Charlie Rose Hosts AAAS Spokespeople in Science Series
The U.S. public television program, Charlie Rose, recently aired a conversation with Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts and AAAS Past President Shirley Ann Jackson as part of its ongoing science series.
Watch the PBS video
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
AAAS/FDLI “Personalized Medicine: Promises and Challenges” Conference Coming Soon
On June 20, AAAS and the Food and Drug Law Institute (FDLI) will host a two-part conference exploring the scientific basis of personalized medicine as well as its individual and societal implications. In the morning roundtable, "Anticipating Personalized Medicine," attendees are welcome to listen as stakeholders from a variety of professional and institutional perspectives discuss a case study as a springboard to assess a possible future of personalized medicine. During the afternoon session, "Implementing Personalized Medicine," expert panelists from government, private industry, science and medicine will discuss the legal, regulatory and policy implications of developing drugs, biologicals and diagnostics.
Presentations and Podcasts from AAAS Forum on Science & Technology Policy held May 8-9, 2008
Missed the forum? Want to see what was going on in concurrent sessions? Need to check on a piece of information you heard mentioned? Get filled in on the AAAS Forum on Science & Technology Policy held earlier this month by visiting the forum website, where you can access links to presentations, view AAAS news coverage, and listen to podcasts of nearly every talk.
Walsh, Tom, et al., “Rare Structural Variants Disrupt Multiple Genes in Neurodevelopmental Pathways in Schizophrenia,” Science, 25 April 2008; Vol. 320. no. 5873, pp. 539-543.