Volume 28, Number 2 April 1999
THREAT TO FEDERALLY FUNDED RESEARCH
Last October, Congress passed an omnibus, 4000 page appropriations bill, funding most federal agencies. At the time, Bob Park (What's New) warned that the "late-night, closed-door deal would provide cover for all sorts of unsavory items". Such a stealth provision was inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), without hearings on the possible consequences. Scientists nationwide are reacting with alarm at this provision, and Rep. George Brown (D-CA) has introduced legislation repealing it.
The provision calls on the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to revise "OMB" regulations "to require Federal awarding agencies to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)". In principle, this means that anyone could request scientific data from any federally-funded researcher, even if the data has yet to be analyzed, peer-reviewed, or published.
Scientists are naturally concerned about the possible premature release and potential misuse of their data, the effect on property rights, the confidentiality of research subjects, and the delays in their work by the requirement to comply immediately with such requests.
In a letter to Jacob Lew, the OMB director, Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, said that "this is an enormous change in federal policy regarding federally funded research. We are convinced that the new legislation will have serious, unintended consequences for the nation's research enterprise......One of the most troublesome aspects of the application of FOIA to federal grantee research data is the possibility that FOIA may not allow a federal research grantee to publish the results of his or her research in scientific journals before the underlying research data must be made available to the publish under FOIA......Permitting the researcher who actually collected the data to be the first to analyze and publish conclusions concerning the data is an essential motivational aspect of research. Requiring public release of data prior to publication in scientific journals would seriously short-circuit the scientific research process that has been so effective in the United States. Moreover, it would severely disadvantage federally funded scientists while providing unreasonable advantages to the competitors...Premature release of research data before careful analysis of results, and without the independent scientific peer review that is part of the normal process of publication of scientific research, would also increase the risk of public disclosure of erroneous or misleading conclusions and confuse the public, which would not be in the public interest.... The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the term "data" in the new legislation is not defined......We must not allow the entire federally-funded research establishment in the United States to be seriously burdened by compliance with new bureaucratic requirements that are intended to address a legislative concern that is irrelevant to the vast majority of federally funded research projects."
How did such a measure become law? The Harvard School of Public Health conducted an EPA-funded epidemiological study to see if health effects from fine particulates could be discerned for several cities. Industry groups wanted to gain access to Harvard's raw data in order to do their own analysis. Harvard refused, and the industry groups went to House Republicans. An Alabama congressman introduced an amendment last year to require that data generated by federally-funded research be made available through the FOIA. The defense industry was opposed, and the amendment was defeated. Then, at the end of the last Congress, Senator Shelby, with the approval of the OMB director, inserted the language requiring that data generated by federally funded grants be made available through FOIA. No one other than a few insiders in Congress and OMB knew about the action until the massive omnibus bill was made public and analyzed. Ironically, Harvard did make its data available to an industry group to do an independent reanalysis.
Rep. Brown has introduced H.R. 88 as a bill to repeal the omnibus language. He called it "ironic that a provision described as a sunshine provision needed to be tucked into a 4,000-page bill in the dead of night". Brown and 22 other Representatives, in a letter to Jacob Lew, warned of the possible consequences of the legislation...."One area of concern pertains to research involving human subjects....volunteers currently make agreements with researchers and their institutions to divulge personal medical information on the condition that their information will remain strictly confidential...." Brown said that the provision "makes scientists fair game for lawsuits, threatens academic freedom and is a blatant abuse of the democratic process". Brown hopes scientists will get behind the bill by contacting their representatives and urging them to cosponsor H.R. 88.
THE PRESIDENT'S BUDGET PROPOSALS
Last year, the Administration announced its support for doubling spending on civilian research and development within the next twelve years. Howver, since the Administration has declared the surplus off-limits until an agreement on Social Security is reached, the spending caps put into place two years ago (which cap discretionary spending) remain in force, making such increased support much more difficult. In January, the Administration released its budget proposal for FY2000. Overall, civilian R&D funding is up 3%, civilian basic research is up 4%. For specific agencies, the results were a mixed bag:
National Science Foundation: NSF Director Rita Colwell said that "we're pleased with the support we've received from the Administration", describing the 5.8% total increase for the NSF. The Research and Related Activities account is slated for a 6.9% increase; Physics is up 3.0%. The "Information Technology for the 21st Century" initiative will be headed up by the NSF, with a $146 million request. Other priorities include the South Pole Station Modernization, the Large Hadron Collider, a new "Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, a "Biocomplexity in the Environment" initiative and "Educating for the Future".
Department of Energy: Although a significant increase (5.1%) is requested for the DOE's Office of Science, much of that increase is due to various presidential initiatives in Information Technology and Climate Change Technology. Another chunk of the increase is for construction funding for the Spallation Neutrons Source. High Energy Physics would receive an increase of just under 1.0%, and Nuclear Physics is up 1.3%. Fusion Energy Sciences is flat, and the Biological and Environmental Research account is down 5.8%.
In his budget briefing, described in FYI, #14, Secretary Richardson highlighted construction of the SNS at Oak Ridge, and cited a number of scientific user facilities that are just coming into operation---the Fermilab Main Injector, the SLAC B-factory, RHIC at Brookhaven, the Combustion Research facility at Sandia and the National Spherical Torus Experiment at Princeton. "All of these" , he said, are examples of "using science to serve society".
Office of Science Director Martha Krebs characterized the request for her office by saying "the bottom line is a pretty good one". It sustains real growth for DOE science, she said, it supports a major role in information technology, and it delivers new capability and increased utilization at the scientific user facilities. She described four themes for DOE's science portfolio: Fueling the Future, Protecting our Living Planet, Exploring Energy and Matter and Extraordinary Tools for Extraordinary Science. The latter includes the SNS, the LHC and information Technology. Exploring Energy and Matter includes the Sudbury/SNO detector, construction of Fermilab's Neutrino Experiment (NuMI), and a planned anti-matter search to fly on the space station. Full support of $70 million was requested for the LHC.
Specific details can be found in FYI at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi.
The increase in funding for the Fermilab Main Injector and the SLAC B-factory within the High Energy Physics Request are partly offset by transferring the AGS to the Nuclear Physics budget. University funding in High Energy Physics is up 3.5%. In Nuclear Physics, Bates at MIT will receive a shut-down budget, and will cease operation at the end of FY1999, although there has been serious discussion about trying to keep it open. Construction of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider will be completed in this fiscal year; Jefferson Lab will receive a 4% increase. Details can be found in FYI.
NASA: NASA's budget will decrease by 0.6%, making the sixth consecutive year for a decrease. Space science, Earth science and the Space Station all receive increases (the Space Station by 7.7%), while life and microgravity sciences, as well as aerospace technology decrease. The Relativity/Gravity Probe-B as well as the TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) missions are scheduled for launch in 2000, as is a servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. Two Explorer missions are also planned for launch next year. Details on the budget can be found in FYI #17 and #18.
FERMILAB'S CONGRESSMAN ELECTED SPEAKER
Following the surprising withdrawal of Speaker-designate Robert Livingston, Republicans elected Denny Hastert, a seven term Congressman from Illinois' 14th district, to the House Speakership. Hastert's district includes Fermilab, and he has been a strong advocate of both Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratories.
Hastert is viewed as a solid, pragmatic Congressman, who believes in conservative principles but is willing to try to find compromises. His style is viewed as similar to that of former Republican minority leader Robert Michel. Hastert is viewed as a supporter of science and technology issues. He opposed cuts in the NSF and NASA appropriations in 1995, and pushed to fully fund the NSF during the government shutdowns. He has also endorsed funding for energy efficiency programs.
Hastert taught high school history and government for 16 years, and as a member of the General Assembly supported creation of the Illinois Math and Science Academy. Recently, he opposed national education testing and supports giving education dollars to the states in the form of block grants.
With only a six-seat majority in the House, his compromising style may be necessary. In his acceptance speech, he said "To my Democratic colleagues, I will say that I will meet you halfway, and maybe more so on occasion".
THE JOSEPH A. BURTON FORUM AWARD, THE NICHOLSON MEDAL AND THE SZILARD AWARD
At the APS Centennial meeting, the Joseph A. Burton Forum Award will be presented to Freeman J. Dyson, of the Institute for Advanced Study. The citation reads, "For his thoughtful, elegant and widely published writings regarding the impact of diverse science and technology developments on critical societal issues and on fundamental questions for humankind". The Nicholson Medal will be given to Vitaly Ginzburg, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, for "courageously supporting democratic reforms in the former Soviet Union, and for leading the Soviet scientific community in humane directions". The Leo Szilard Lectureship Award will go to John Alexander Simpson "for his leading role in educating scientists, members of Congress and the public on the importance of civilian control of nuclear policy and his critical efforts in the planning and execution of the International Geophysical Year, which established in 1957 a successful model for today's global-scale scientific endeavors". The recipients will speak at the Forum Awards session at the Centennial Meeting. Future issues of this newsletter will give more details on the contributions of these three Award recipients.
HENRY BARSCHALL'S SURVEY UPHELD
Over a decade ago, Henry Barschall, a long-time friend of the Forum, conduced a survey comparing the cost-effectiveness of physics journals, based on the cost to libraries per word compared to the citation rate. Gordon and Breach's journals came out on the bottom, while APS journals were at the top. Gordon and Breach, claiming that the survey was "unfair competition", sued Barschall, the APS and the AIP in several countries, including the United States. Five years ago, a federal judge ruled that the survey constituted protected free speech and ruled in favor of Barschall. Last month (January), the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this decision. Henry Barschall passed away two years ago.
A little over a year ago, Laurie McNeil and Marc Sher began a Web-based survey on dual-science-career couples. Since the density of jobs in physics is so low, it is very difficult for both members of a couple to find positions in the same geographical area. Since 68% of all married female physicists are married to scientists (compared with 17% of married male physicists), this problem has a disproportionate effect on women, and many believe it is the single greatest obstacle to significantly increasing the percentage of women in physics. Although the survey was long and comprehensive, the response was spectacular, with over 630 responses received (close to 40% of the total target audience). A detailed report on the survey has been written, and is available through the dual-career-couple Website that they have established at http://www.aps.org/units/fps/dualcareer.html. The report discusses the details of the survey and demographic responses, has a long section noting what institutions are doing to make the problem worse (which includes many very disturbing quotes from the survey respondents), and then has an even longer section discussing various solutions and responses to the problem. These include split/shared positions, spousal hiring programs, alternative academic positions, alternative non-academic positions, commuting suggestions and legal responses. A brief summary appears in the February issue of APS News, and a longer summary has been submitted to Physics Today. The full report is available at the above Website.
CHANGE IN MISSILE DEFENSE POLICY
On January 20th, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced a significant change in the Administration policy on national missile defense (NMD).
In the past, the Administration has treaded cautiously, supporting continued research in NMD, but deferring any decision on deployment. There has been concern that going ahead with deployment would require abrogation of the ABM treaty, an action which could spell the end of strategic arms reduction talks (START). The Russian Duma has been considering the START II treaty (which has passed the U.S. Senate); should it be ratified, the U.S. and Russian governments would immediately begin START III talks, with a hope of reducing the number of strategic weapons on each side to 1000-1500 (compared with tens of thousands at the height of the Cold War). The Russian government has consistently claimed that unilateral abrogation of the ABM treaty would doom START II ratification and/or START III negotiations. Recently, however, angered by the bombing of Iraq, the Duma has put START II ratification on hold.
In his announcement, Secretary Cohen announced four elements of the new policy. First, "we are budgeting funds that would be necessary to pay for an NMD deployment", with the expectation that a decision on deployment would take place in June, 2000. Second, "we are affirming that there is a threat, and the threat is growing, and that we expect it will soon pose a danger not only to our troops overseas but also to Americans here at home". This affirmation is based on the recent firing of the Taepo-Dong II missile by North Korea, which could, with a reduced payload, reach the Western Aleutian Islands, and recent advances by Iran.
The third element says "deployment might require modifications to the ABM treaty, and we will seek to amend the treaty if necessary". He also noted that the U.S. has the right to pull out of the treaty with six months notice. This is the biggest change in current policy. Finally, the fourth element is that "we will phase key decisions to occur after critical integrated flight tests....we are projecting a deployment date of 2005".
Russia was predictably upset by this change in policy, and reiterated that any violation of the ABM treaty would result in the end of the START process.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced S.257, "The National Missile Defense Act of 1999": "It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against a limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized or deliberate)." Secretary Cohen said that this was the Administration policy as well. However, in a letter to Sen. John Warner (R-VA), the head of the National Security Council, Sandy Berger, objected to the Act for being focused solely on a determination that the system is "technologically possible". The cost of the system, the extent of the threat and the impact on START II and START III must also be considered, he said.
Of course, all of this assumes that the system will work---most early tests of theatre defense systems have failed miserably. Furthermore, countermeasures could evade any currently planned defense system. In Bob Park's words, "It's not enough to kill a strapped-down chicken; any nation that can launch an ICBM can equip it with simple countermeasures".
There has been discussion of an amendment to the Act which would define "technologically possible" as being effective against missiles equipped with simple countermeasures. In the House of Representatives, a similar Act is being proposed, however it leaves out the phrase "as soon as is technologically possible". President Clinton says that he will veto the Senate bill. START II ratification remains on hold.
WANTED - A NEW ARTICLES EDITOR
Physics and Society is now soliciting applications and nominations for the position of articles editor. The articles editor plays a crucial part in determining the content and quality of P&S by evaluating and editing articles that have been submitted, as well as in inviting potential authors to contribute.
If you wish to apply, please send a letter outlining your interest, TOGETHER WITH A RESUME, to . the Editor, Al Saperstein (addresses in the "boiler plate" section, top of page 2 of each issue of Physics and Society), for consideration by the P&S staff and the Editorial Board We also welcome nominations of potential candidates.
We report with regret that the previous articles editior, Eliza Estafani, was forced to resign due to the pressure of other professional demands on her time. The remaining editorial staff of P&S thank her for her valuable contribution during the past two years and wish her continued success in her work."