Hearings on FY 2011 appropriations and related matters continued last week. NASA Administrator
Charles Bolden testified before the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations
Subcommittee on March 23. Members quizzed Bolden on details of the Constellation Program
cancellation and the proposed transition to leasing commercial vehicles for transportation
to the Space Station. Bolden also reiterated that a manned mission to Mars was a primary
goal for the foreseeable future.
National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Arden
Bement testified before the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee
on March 24. Most questions focused on STEM education and the relatively small increase
(2.2%) for the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate, as compared with the
8.0% increase for NSF overall. Bement noted that grants given by other directorates often
have significant STEM education components and that those contributions should not be
On March 23 Patrick Gallagher, Director of the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), testified before the House Committee
on Science and Technology on the pending NIST reorganization. He noted that NIST's expansion
over the years to 17 major line organizations had rendered the current flat organizational
structure unstable. The proposed changes would reorganize the NIST lab systems on a vertically-oriented,
mission-centered basis, instead of the current disciplinary alignment. Gallagher said
that putting the responsibility for taking a project from basic research through implementation
under a single group would increase accountability and improve NIST's ability to manage
For up-to-date news on the FY 2011 budget, visit the AAAS
R&D Budget and Policy Program Website. Detailed coverage of the major R&D funding
agencies and historical trends will appear in the AAAS
Report XXXV: Research and Development FY 2011, available online in April 2010
and released in print at the 35th annual AAAS
Forum on Science and Technology Policy, May 13-14.
America COMPETES Act Reauthorization Begins. The
House Science and Technology Committee took the first steps toward reauthorizing the
America COMPETES Act by marking up a committee
print of its energy title in the Energy and Environment Subcommittee on March 25.
This title contains three bills that provide a comprehensive reauthorization of the Department
of Energy's Office of Science (HR
4905), a reauthorization of ARPA-E (HR
4906), and an authorization of Energy Innovation Hubs (HR
4907). Much of the discussion and several amendments offered during the three-hour
markup centered on how much to authorize for these well-regarded programs in an era of
rising deficits. House S&T Committee staff are using the two-week congressional recess
to seek comments from key stakeholders on a draft of other components of the America
COMPETES bill, primarily related to NSF. The draft does not yet provide details of the
funding levels for the agencies, nor does it contain all of the education sections.
Cancer Research News. Last week the House Energy
and Commerce Committee held a hearing to
spotlight cancer research. Speakers included National Cancer Institute Deputy Director
Anne Barker, who spoke at length about the Cancer Genome Atlas, a project that is using
stimulus funds to identify and catalogue relevant genomic alterations in various types
of cancer. In other NCI news, the press has widely reported that former NIH head and
current PCAST co-chair Harold Varmus is likely to be nominated to head the institute.
Cybersecurity Bill Advances. On March 24 the
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved a far-reaching
cybersecurity bill, S.773.
This measure, sponsored by Committee Chair John Rockefeller (D-WV), would authorize cybersecurity
R&D and workforce development programs at NIST and NSF. It also seeks to improve coordination
between the federal government and industry on cybersecurity issues and to increase government
oversight of companies designated as "critical infrastructure." The bill now goes to
the full Senate for further action.
Oceans and Human Health Bill through Committee. The
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also passed S.1252,
a bill reauthorizing the Oceans and Human Health Initiative through 2014. OHHI supports
a wide variety of research examining the interactions between human health and the marine
White House RFI on Commercialization of University
Research. On March 26 the White House issued a Request
for Information (RFI) seeking public comment on the best ways to commercialize
federally funded research, especially research conducted at U.S. universities. In addition,
the White House is using the RFI to elicit thoughts on whether proof-of-concept centers
such as the NSF Engineering Research Centers are an effective means for moving early-stage
technologies into the development and commercialization phases of innovation. Public
comments are due by April 26.
Additional Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Proposed. The
Environmental Protection Agency has proposed adding
the oil and gas sector, industries that emit fluorinated gases and facilities that inject
carbon dioxide into the ground, to the list of sources that are required to report their
annual greenhouse gas emissions to the government. This proposed rule would expand regulations
issued last fall that required 31 industry sectors, covering 85% of total U.S. greenhouse
gas emissions, to track and report their emissions. The rule will be open for public
comment for 60 days after publication in The Federal
Disagreements Surface on Nuclear Stockpile Policies. Officials
at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the nation's three nuclear
weapons labs (Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore) have claimed that there are
important differences between the classified and unclassified versions of a report by
JASON (a government advisory group of independent scientists) on the life-extension programs
for the nuclear stockpile that can lead to different policy choices. Last week, Rep.
Michael Turner (R-OH), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee
on Strategic Forces, released letters from the directors of the laboratories that stated
specific disagreements with some of the conclusions in the unclassified version. Rep.
Jim Langevin (D-RI), chair of the subcommittee, has requested a classified meeting that
will include subcommittee members, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino, the three lab
directors, and members of the JASONs to address the differences.
Judge Strikes Down Human Gene Patents. A federal
judge's decision on March 29, striking down a company's patents on two genes linked
to breast and ovarian cancer, could have far-reaching consequences, legally, economically,
and scientifically. The judge ruled that the patents were "improperly granted" since
they depended upon isolating the DNA from the body in order to supposedly make it patentable,
a move that critics of gene patents called "a lawyer's trick." Plaintiffs had also
argued that the patents stifled research and limited patients' testing options. The
case is likely to be appealed but, if upheld, will likely have widespread effects on
biotechnology firms, university research, and the delivery of health care.
Appeals Court Rules on Patentability of Basic Research. The
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit last week upheld a ruling that may make
it more difficult for university scientists, engineers, and their institutions to patent
their basic research. The 9-2 decision (Ariad
Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Eli Lilly and Company) stated that "the patent law has always
been directed to … inventions of a practical use;" and further that "patents are not
awarded for academic theories, no matter how groundbreaking or necessary to the later
patentable inventions of others." The court was aware of the likely effects of its decision,
saying: "Universities may not have the resources or the inclination to work out the practical
implications" of the research they do, and that might mean universities become "disadvantaged" when
"Academic Inventors' Bill of Rights" Proposed. At
the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) Annual Meeting last week, a
proposal for an "Academic
Inventors' Bill of Rights" was unveiled for comment. The authors, Alan Bentley, Director
of Commercialization for Cleveland Clinic Innovations, and Dr. Renee Kaswan, a former
research professor at the University of Georgia and inventor of the eye drug Restasis® and
founder of IPAdvocate.org, argue for greater
rights for academic researchers. The "Bill of Rights" states, among other things, that
inventors should be allowed to consult with outside firms in accordance with conflict
of interest policies, and that the inventors should retain the intellectual property
created under such consulting agreements.
Ayala Awarded Templeton Prize. UC-Irvine Professor
Francisco Ayala, an expert on evolution and genetics and a former president of AAAS,
has won this year's Templeton Prize, a prize worth about $1.5 million, which is given
to someone who has contributed to "affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through
insight, discovery, or practical works." In addition to his scientific accomplishments,
Ayala has also been a vocal critic of intelligent design and a strong advocate for the
teaching of evolution.
AAAS Advocates Uniform Science Standards for U.S. Schools. While
the nation's governors and state school officers have proposed uniform standards in English
and mathematics for all students in American public schools, science also should be included
in the standards, Shirley Malcom, AAAS director of Education and Human Resources, and
Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of Science,
wrote in a 28
March op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
While the proposed standards are an excellent first step, Malcom and Leshner say Virginia
and the other states also must adopt common learning standards for science if the nation's
students are to acquire the skills they need to compete for the best jobs in the world
of the future.
Massachusetts to Tie College Goals to Economy? Since
1997, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has been publishing an Index of the
Innovation Economy, tracking a variety of indicators within the state. Now, the Board
of Higher Education in Massachusetts is planning to change the way public universities
and colleges of the state measure and report educational and research outcomes. The proposal,
called the Vision
Project, will incorporate ties to the state economy into the indicators of success.
Among the goals are alignment of degree production with key areas of workforce need and
leadership in research that drives economic development. A PowerPoint presentation on
the project is available at http://www.mass.edu/aboutus/documents/2010-03-16ReportonVisionProject.ppt.
Pharmaceutical Firms to Provide Low-Cost Vaccines to Poor
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Under an agreement
brokered by the nonprofit Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI
and GlaxoSmithKline have agreed to provide vaccines for pneumococcal disease, including
pneumonia and meningitis, at costs far below market, to the world's poorest nations. The
governments of Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, and Norway as well as the Gates
Foundation have committed a total of $1.5 billion to underwrite the ten-year program which
will provide the vaccines initially for $7 a dose and later for $3.50 a dose. In Western
countries the vaccines sell for $54 to $108 per dose.
Archived issues of AAAS Policy Alert can be found at http://www.aaas.org/spp/policyalert
Editor: Steve Nelson
Contributors: Joanne Carney, Patrick Clemins, Ed Derrick, Mark Frankel,
Erin Heath, Earl Lane, Shirley Malcom, Jonathan McMurry, Gretchen Seiler, Peter Sprunger,
Al Teich, Ric Weibl, Kasey White, Brad Wible
NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members to inform them of
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