Friday, September 05, 2008

I get e-mail.

In my e-mail today from AAAS (emphasis and commentary mine):
AAAS Policy Alert -- September 5, 2008  

Campaign News
Election Update. This week the Republicans kick off their convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and as an early matter of business, have adopted their party platform. The Democrats issued their party platform at the outset of their convention last week. Both parties’ platforms address issues concerning research, innovation, energy and environment, and education. It should be emphasized that the presidential candidates may not necessarily subscribe to all points laid out on the official party statements. The AAAS Election Project will issue special post-convention newsletters this week and next summarizing key science and technology issues addressed during both conventions.

Obama’s Responses to Science Debate 2008’s Questions Released. Science Debate 2008 has released Barack Obama’s responses to its "top 14 science questions facing America." (Great - this is one half of what we would want: statements that show that scientists are an important demographic, too.) The questions cover topics such as innovation, climate change, energy, health, and research, among others. John McCain has said that he will also address the questions but has not yet provided his responses. (Well, he did just have his convention. I'm sure he'll get right on answering that Science Debate 2008 questionnaire. Maybe he'll let Palin help.)

Republican VP Pick Supports Teaching "Both Sides." Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s choice for his running-mate, has expressed views on a number of issues of interest to scientists. In a televised debate during the Alaska governor’s race in October 2006, Palin, in response to a question about teaching creationism in public schools, replied, "Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both." As governor, Palin has opposed the federal government’s decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species because of climate change and shrinking sea ice with an op-ed in The New York Times and a suit in federal court. She believes that human activities are not responsible for global climate change, favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and opposes federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research - all positions that conflict not only with the Democratic platform but also with positions McCain has taken in the past.
Budget News
NSF Report on U.S. R&D in 2007. The latest data from the National Science Foundation show that after stagnating in the early part of the decade, total U.S. R&D spending grew in real terms in 2007 for the fifth year in a row to reach a new high of $368 billion. U.S. R&D (federal, industry, and other funding sources) grew six percent between 2006 and 2007, buoyed largely by increases in industry support of R&D. Federal support of R&D, however, failed to keep pace with inflation. (So, when you hear the GOPpers saying that Bush increased the amount of US R&D, you know that it's just not true.)

Executive Branch
Public Access to Some NIH Databases Halted. The National Institutes of Health has halted public access to large amounts of aggregate human DNA data in databases that it manages, following reports of a new bioinformatics tool that could allow researchers to identify a single research subject’s DNA out of thousands who give samples for genome-wide association studies. Citing privacy concerns (yeah, right - privacy concerns), NIH removed aggregate statistics files from the public portion of datasets it manages, such as the Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes and the Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility. NIH said that others operating similar databases, such as the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium in England and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, have taken similar actions. The new bioinformatics tool, described by researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix and UCLA, was developed as a way to identify possible suspects at crime scenes using only a small amount of DNA, even if it is mixed with hundreds of other DNA samples.

Environmental Impact Statement on Whale Protection Rule Released. NOAA has released for public comment an analysis of the environmental effects of a proposed rule that aims to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale. (Do anyone wonder if NOAA will cave to the same pressures that caused the FWS to back down on rules managing bighorn sheep and spotted owl - see below.) Of the six alternatives examined in the document, NOAA’s preferred alternative would require vessel speed restriction of 10 knots or less in designated areas within 20 nautical miles of shore. Previous plans had mandated a 30-nautical-mile buffer zone. After the public comment period closes on Sept. 29, NOAA will promulgate a final rule that will become effective 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

Critical Habitat for Spotted Owl Reduced. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reduce the federal forest land designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl in Washington, Oregon, and California by 1.6 million acres, a reduction of 23 percent. The Bush administration had agreed to produce a new spotted owl recovery plan and to review the critical habitat designation under terms of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the timber industry. (Why am I not surprised by this....?)

FDA Advisory Subcommittee to Reassess Agency’s BPA Draft Report. While eleven U.S. states and Canada are considering bills that would ban or sharply reduce exposures to the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used to make plastics, and several studies have linked the chemical to obesity, type-2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders, the Food and Drug Administration released a draft policy in mid-August concluding the chemical is safe. (FDA: "No, we're not going to worry about existing science. We won't look at what other industrialized countries are doing. We'll just cave to industry groups.") The report has not put the issue to rest, as industry and environmental groups continue to debate the science used to assess the chemical’s safety. The FDA Science Board’s Bisphenol-A Subcommittee will hold a public meeting on its draft report on Sept. 16, featuring testimony from both supporters and critics of the agency’s findings.

Comment Period for DEAC Recommendations Extended. The Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) extended to Sept. 22 the deadline for submitting comments on two recommendations made in a report of the Deemed Export Advisory Committee (DEAC). (A "deemed export" is "the release of technology or source code having both military and civilian applications to a foreign national within the United States. Thus, even though the release in question takes place within the confines of the [U.S.], the transaction is ’deemed’ to be an export.") The original Federal Register notice filed in May sought comments on (a) whether the scope of the Commerce Control List (CCL) should be narrowed, and (b) the criteria that should be utilized to assess a foreign national’s loyalty to the U.S. The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Council on Government Relations (COGR) jointly submitted comments to BIS in mid-August.
Report: Saving Science From Politics. A new report from the Center for Progressive Reform, a non-profit that focuses on health, safety, and environmental issues, proposes "nine essential reforms of the legal system" as a means to "help ensure researchers are free to develop, share, and debate their work without interference from special interests whose power or profit might be affected." Among the recommended reforms are that the data requirements applying to federally-funded researchers also apply to industry-supported scientists; that a "registry of scientific studies" similar to clinical trials registries "should be established for chemicals and pesticides;" and that "scientists subject to harassment, including frivolous charges of scientific misconduct or open record requests and other legal processes…that are unreasonable in scope or demand, should have the right to seek damages" in federal court.

Federal Court Strikes Down Florida Law on Travel to Cuba. A 2006 Florida law banning travel to Cuba by professors at public universities, using either state or non-state funds, has been struck down in federal district court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed suit against the law on behalf of the Florida International University faculty senate. The decision let stand the portion of the law that applies to state funds but declared the ban on travel with private or federal funds to be unconstitutional.

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