With the mid-term elections approaching and many observers predicting that Republicans could take control of the House of Representatives, what changes in R&D spending might be in the offing? In their policy agenda A Pledge to America, released Sept. 23, the Republican leadership proposed cutting government spending to "pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels" with "exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops." Using FY 2008 as the baseline for pre-stimulus and pre-bailout as proposed by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) in a Sept. 8 press release, and assuming that Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Department of Defense would be exempted from the proposed cuts, this would suggest a proposed total federal R&D investment for FY 2011 of $140.0 billion, an $8.5 billion (5.7%) cut from FY 2010 and $8.1 billion (5.5%) less than President Obama's request. The non-defense portion of the federal R&D investment would be hit particularly hard, going from a presidentially-requested $3.7 billion (5.9%) increase for FY 2011 to a $4.4 billion (7.1%) decrease -- an $8.1 billion (12.3%) swing downward. Cuts in R&D programs could well be larger than estimated here, because other agency budget items such as employee salaries, operations and maintenance, and income security programs have grown since FY 2008 and are typically less vulnerable to budget cuts than R&D programs. Democrats have not released any policy statement analogous to the Republican Pledge, but one indication of what the final FY 2011 R&D budget investment would look like, if the Democrats were to retain control of one or both chambers of the Congress, is the actions to date by the House Appropriations subcommittees and the Senate Appropriations Committee, summarized at the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program website.
Other Congressional News
House Leaders Push for Adaptation Fund. On Oct. 5 the chairs of five House Foreign Affairs subcommittees sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to work to establish an independent "global climate fund" that would help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. The Members are asking Secretary Clinton to push for the fund at the United Nations climate summit later this year in Mexico and note the importance of making the fund "independent in management and governance from existing financial [institutions]."
Republican Members Question NRC Action. In a letter to the chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), four senior House Republicans requested justification for the termination of NRC's safety review of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. The authors question the legal basis for Chair Gregory Jaczko's "unilateral" decision to stop the review.
Increased Ethanol Allowed for Some Cars. EPA announced that it will allow 15% ethanol (up from 10%) to be blended with gasoline for use in cars and trucks made in 2007 or later. EPA ruled that the new ethanol blend will not be allowed for any vehicles made before 2000 nor for heavy-duty or off-road vehicles. EPA will decide later this year whether the increase will apply to vehicles made between 2001 and 2006. The announcement has been met with criticism from both the ethanol and auto industries, who are concerned that the multitude of regulations will confuse consumers and do little to increase ethanol production.
FDA Acts on Knee Implant, Chelation. The Food and Drug Administration has issued a rare mea culpa following allegations that it approved the knee implant Menaflex against the advice of its scientists. It now says the device should not have been approved, and it is taking steps to revoke approval of the product. The agency approved the device two years ago following interventions by four lawmakers from New Jersey, the manufacturer's home state. FDA is also cracking down on a controversial therapy called chelation, which seeks to remove metals from the body and is used by some families of individuals with autism or other diseases. It informed eight companies that the chelation products they sell violate federal law because they qualify as unapproved drugs or devices. FDA advises consumers to avoid over-the-counter chelation products because of safety concerns.
NSF Equal Opportunities Committee to Meet. The next meeting of the NSF Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering will be held October 25-26, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Items to be discussed include: a progress report on correcting multi-race coding errors in the Survey of Doctorate Recipients; an update on plans to establish the Science of Broadening Participation Program; and an overview of the latest NRC report on expanding minority participation in S&T (Policy Alert, 10/14/10). For more details, contact Dr. Margaret Tolbert (email@example.com) who staffs the committee.
National Medal of Science and Technology Winners Named. On Oct. 15 President Obama announced the recipients of this year's National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Included among the 13 individual recipients (and one team) is former AAAS Board of Directors member Warren Washington of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The awards will be presented at a White House ceremony later this year.
Report Finds Bayh-Dole IP System Generally Effective. A new National Research Council report, Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest, available in prepublication form, reviews the effectiveness of university technology transfer practices. The report concludes that while improvements can be made, the system put in place since the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980 has been largely effective and that a much-discussed proposal to radically alter the system, by allowing faculty members to bypass their university's technology licensing office and choose their own licensing agents, is not justified.
Supreme Court Hears Vaccine Case. The Supreme Court appeared divided last week after hearing a case regarding whether people who claim they have been harmed by vaccines have the right to sue vaccine manufacturers if a safer vaccine could have been made available. At issue is a 1986 law that created a special "vaccine court" to handle such legal claims as a way of shielding drugmakers from expensive lawsuits that might inhibit their producing vaccines.
Oil Spill Research Plans Announced. BP announced plans for implementing its $500 million Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) to study the environmental and public health impacts of the spill. The fund will be managed by a board of scientists from academic institutions, to be appointed by BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a partnership of the Gulf states. Funds will be primarily directed to academic institutions in the region, but partnerships with institutions based outside the Gulf are encouraged. A press release noted, "All GRI-funded research will be independent of BP, and the results will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals with no requirement for BP approval."
BIO Report Documents Partial Shake-Out in Biotech Industry. Information from BIO, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, reveals that the biotechnology industry has 25% fewer active public companies in 2010 than three years ago, in large part due to acquisitions. The estimated 294 public companies that remain in the industry are in a better cash position than they were at the end of 2008, when 45% of companies had less than a year's worth of funds available. Today, only 25% of companies have such limited resources.
Public Understanding of Climate Change Study Released. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a new report titled Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change, which found that 63% of Americans believe that global warming is happening but many do not understand why, and that many gaps in knowledge and misconceptions exist. The report noted that despite the recent climate science controversies, Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.
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IPCC Will Keep Chairman, Tighten Procedures. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that it will take steps to implement new procedures, proposed by the InterAcademy Council, "including tighter policies to reflect scientific uncertainty in its reports and to ferret out and fix any errors in them." The group also said that it will retain Rajendra Pachauri as chairman, despite some calls that he step down in light of criticisms aired after errors were discovered in a 2007 report.
China Issues Ambitious Talent Development Plan. China has issued its Medium and Long term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020) which includes plans to import top talent as well as to produce a new generation of political and local government leaders, engineers, scientists, technology professionals, entrepreneurs, educators, agricultural experts, and social welfare experts over the next ten years. The plan includes raising the gross enrollment rate for universities from around 24% to 40% and the number of citizens with college-level education in the work force from 9% to 20% overall. Other elements of the plan are to attract foreign researchers back to the country and to recruit 10,000 more foreign students. The plan was approved by the Beijing Politburo in May this year, and Chinese officials have begun a campaign to promote it abroad. Officials have stressed the aim is to transform China into an "innovation society." The plan also includes implementing policies to provide support for entrepreneurs.
European Commission Releases New Innovation Plan. The European Commission's "Innovation Union," released Oct. 6, sets out a strategic approach to innovation and will focus Europe's efforts, and cooperation with third countries, on challenges like climate change, energy and food security, health, and an ageing population. Its goal is to use public sector intervention to stimulate the private sector and to remove bottlenecks which prevent ideas from reaching the market.
UK Genetics Commission Axed. The UK Department of Health has announced that it will disband the country's Human Genetics Commission, established in May 1999, at the end of this year as part of a "cross-government budget-cutting and reform effort." The decision was based on a review by the Cabinet Office of Arms Length Bodies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies. The Commission's work will become the responsibility of a new committee within the Department of Health.
Anti-Evolution Israeli Science Minister Dismissed. Gavriel Avital has been dismissed from his position as chief scientist for the Israeli education ministry following comments he made earlier this year saying he did not believe the science behind evolution and global warming. The dismissal apparently coincides with the conclusion of Avital's "trial period" in the job.
FAO Declares Rinderpest Eradicated. According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), rinderpest, a fatal cattle disease that has caused epidemics, famine, and billions of dollars of losses, has been eliminated from Europe, Asia, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. As a result, the FAO is stopping all field surveillance activities. The last report of infection by rinderpest virus in the field was in 2001 in Kenya. This would make it the second viral disease to be eradicated (after smallpox) and the first veterinary disease. A formal declaration is expected in May by the FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) once official reports are received and evaluated.
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NOTE: The AAAS Policy Alert is a newsletter provided to AAAS Members 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.