Keeping Up With a Single Monthly E-Mail
One of the best sources of information about issues in Washington that are important to the physics community is the American Institute of Physics "FYI". These 1-2 page summaries of developments in science policy cover everything from legislation affecting scientists to the federal budget, and they are extremely useful in constructing the News section of this newsletter. One can subscribe at FYI and get the summaries via e-mail. For those who don't wish to get an e-mail every couple of days (there are about 180 per year), FYI is offering a new service called "FYI This Month". Subscribers to this service will get a single monthly e-mail message, summarizing the developments covered in more depth in "FYI". To subscribe, send the message
to email@example.com. There is no charge for this service.
On November 22nd, seven weeks late, Congress finally passed the budget and adjourned. Although the magnitude of the science budgets had pretty much been agreed on many weeks earlier, the overall appropriations were held up by the usual fall political wrangling. In spite of the fact that the government has dipped into the Social Security surplus for decades, both parties insisted that they weren't going to do so this years. To achieve this, many accounting gimmicks were used. For example, the NIH budget was increased by 15% to $17.9 billion. However, $4 billion of this spending can't be spent until September 29, 2000, and thus much of the actual spending will be put off until FY 2001. The difficulties of administering this requirement (and the resulting effects on continuing grants) is an exercise for the reader. In addition, the Republican congressional leadership pushed for an across-the-board spending cut, and finally settled for a 0.38% cut. Department heads will be able to decide how to apply this cut within their overall budgets. The savings from this cut is $1 billion dollars (it is recognized that the statistical uncertainty in all budget projections is at least $20 billion dollars). The numbers below do not include this particular cut.
Individual agencies fared as follows: (many more details can be found in FYI)
National Science Foundation---The NSF budget increases by 6.5% to $3.91 billion, with increases for Research and Related Activites of 7.1%, for Education and Human Resources up 5.3% and for Major Research Equipment up 5.6%. This is one of the largest increases in recent years, and is above the administration request. NSF Director Colwell praised the conferees remarking that they "demonstrated extraordinary leadership and a clear understanding of the importance of investing in science and engineering". A detailed breakdown can be found in FYI #149 (www.aip.org/enews/fyi/1999/fyi99.149.cfm)
NASA----The NASA appropriation of $13.65 billion is above the original House, Senate and Administration requests, but slightly less than the FY1999 appropriation. Space science, Life and Microgravity Sciences and Application, and Academic Programs all get more than the Administration requested, while Earth Sciences and the Space Station receive less than requested. The detailed breakdown can be found in FYI#150 (www.aip.org/enews/fyi/1999/fyi99.150.cfm).
DOE---Although most of DOE's physics related programs saw small increases, the Spallation Neutron Source appropriation was slightly more than half of the $214 million requested. The Council of the American Physical Society, in November, issued a formal statement urging full funding of the SNS.
The Office of Science received a 4.3% increase. The biggest winner was fusion energy, with an increase of over 10%. High energy physics got a 1.6% boost, nuclear physics was up 5%, while Basic Energy Sciences was cut 3.2%.
Last year, a law was slipped into the Omnibus Appropriations Act which "requires 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". This touched off a firestorm within the scientific community. As written, it appeared to require that anybody working under an NSF or DOE grant, for example, would have to make public all of their data, even if it had not been analyzed or peer-reviewed. It was up to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to implement this law. They received an extraordinary 12,000 comments on how to do so. The regulations have now been issued, and many (but not all) of the concerns of the scientific community have been satisfactorily addressed.
OMB commented "OMB recognizes the importance of ensuring that the revised Circular (Law) does not interfere with the traditional scientific process....it needs to ensure that the changes do not interfere with cutting-edge science and the benefits that such science provides to the American people. During the revision process, many commenters expressed concern that the statute would compel Federally-funded researchers to work in a 'fishbowl' in which they would be required to reveal the results of their research and their research methods, prematurely.....Accordingly, in light of this traditional scientific process, we have not construed the statute as requiring scientists to make research data publicly available while the research is still ongoing."
They then proposed their specific regulations. Only published research findings will be subject to a Freedom of Information Act request. "Research data is defined as the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings, but not any of the following: preliminary analyses, drafts of scientific papers, plans for future research, peer reviews or communications with colleagues. This recorded material excludes physical objects (e.g. lab samples). Research data do not include trade secrets, commercial information, personnel and medical information......Published is defined as either when (a) research findings are published in a peer-reviewed scientific or technical journal or (b) a federal agency publicly and officially cites the research findings in support of an agency action that has the force and effect of law."
The above does alleviate many of the concerns of the scientific community. It remains to be seen whether some of the other fears materialize (such as polluting companies paralyzing environmental researches with a large number of Freedom of Information Act requests). The readers of this newsletter who were among the many who responded are to be commended, as in the American Physical Society, which played an active role in discussions with the OMB.
For decades, scientists have warned that America's stubborn refusal to embrace the metric system would be very costly, but few expected it to destroy a spacecraft. In October, however, the Mars Climate Observer (MCO) entered Mars orbit too low, went behind the planet and was never heard from again. The problem was caused by a confusion over units.
The MCO has thrusters to make minor corrections to its orbit. The effects of sunlight hitting the single, off-center solar panel nudges it off course, and the thrusters are needed to make the corrections. The JPL team would tell the Lockheed-Martin team how the trajectory needed correcting, and Lockheed-Martin would tell the navigators how much force was applied by the thrusters. Alas, Lockheed-Martin used units of pounds, and JPL assumed that they were in newtons. Thus, JPL navigators concluded that MCO was closer to its planned trajectory than it actually was. The small shifts couldn't be detected because the shifts tended to be in the plane perpendicular to the line of sight, and thus difficult to see.
NASA and JPL have used metric for decades, and the use of metric units for MCO is explicitly spelled out in the agreement between JPL and Lockheed-Martin. Unfortunately, some people in the propulsion industry have continued to use English units.
The only bright side of this fiasco is that tens of thousands of physics teachers around the country told their students about this snafu, and some lessons have undoubtedly been learned.
It was one of the darkest days in the history of the arms control movement. On October 12th, the Senate defeated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by a vote of 48-51 (67 votes were needed). How did this happen?
Two and a half years ago, the APS adopted a statement on the CTBT. It read (in part): "On September 10, 1996 the United Nations overwhelmingly approved the CTBT, a treaty ending all nuclear testing, of any yield, at any location, for all time. The United States, all other declared nuclear weapons states, and a growing majority of the world's nations have now signed that treaty. Although the date at which the CTBT will enter into force is not yet certain, the treaty is of extraordinary importance to the United States and to the future of all humankind.
"The CTBT, the culmination of over 40 years of effort, ends the qualitative arms race among the nuclear states and is central to future efforts to halt the further spread of nuclear weapons. The promise to negotiate and put into force a CTBT was an essential pre-condition to achieving an indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in May 1995.......it is appropriate and imperative that the United States ratify the CTBT at the earliest possible date. The Council (APS) notes that detailed, fully informed technical studies have concluded continued nuclear testing is not required to retain confidence in the safety and reliability of the remaining nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, provided science and technology programs necessary for stockpile stewardship are maintained. This conclusion is also supported by both the senior civilian and military officials responsible for U.S. national security"
When the treaty was submitted to the Senate, it went to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), an ardent foe of all arms control pacts, bottled it up and refused to permit hearings. The Democrats in the Senate urged him and the Republican leader, Sen. Lott, to hold hearings and schedule a ratification vote. There are a number of moderate Republican senators with a great deal of expertise on foreign policy (such as Sens. Warner, Lugar and Domenici), and it was believed that they would be likely, after extensive hearings, to support the treaty and make the required 2/3 majority achievable. But Senator Helms refused to budge. Then came other foreign relations issues, and finally the impeachment trial, and the CTBT sat in committee.
In September, Senator Helms, apparently certain that he had commitments from at least 34 senators to vote against the treaty, announced that hearing would be held and a vote quickly scheduled. Senator Lott, after over a year of insisting that the Senate should not rush to judgment on such an important matter, announced just such a rush. On October 1st, it was announced that a vote would be scheduled in 12 days. There were to be just two days of hearings. The AGU and Seismological Society, on October 6th, issued a joint statement declaring that the treaty's proposed monitoring system can be relied upon to detect cheating; 32 American Nobel prize winners in physics signed a letter to the Senate stating that "fully informed technical studies have concluded that continued nuclear testing is not required to retain confidence in the safety, reliability and performance of US nuclear weapons". Yet none of the Nobelists were asked to testify. The strongest treaty supporter to testify, Sid Drell of SLAC, testified before a virtually empty chamber at the end of a long day.
Treaty supporters immediately flocked to Washington, seeking moderate "swing senators", and found that there weren't any. Senator Warner announced (prior to hearings) his opposition to the treaty, Senator Lugar refused to meet with scientists and announced his opposition, and it was clear that the result was already determined.
The White House then tried to delay the vote. Most senators, including the moderate Republicans, knew that voting down the treaty would be a terrible blow to American prestige and leadership in arms control, and that a delay would be far preferable. However, the rules of the debate required unanimous consent to delay the vote, various parliamentary procedures failed, and the treaty was defeated on October 12th.
What next? The CTBT could be brought up again, but it would be necessary for 17 Senators to change their minds. It is highly unlikely that the turnover in the next election (or two, or three) will be sufficient. One possibility was suggested in a recent Op-Ed in the Washington Times by Arnold Kanter and Brent Scowcroft. They noted: "However one judges the merits of the CTBT, no one can deny that both the treaty's defeat in the Senate and the process by which that result was reached have done grave damage....The President and the Congress all share a full measure of responsibility for a debacle which reflected the triumph of partisan wrangling over responsible debate about the national interest. But it would only further compound the harm already done if we were to become preoccupied with CTBT post-mortems....The issues themselves, however, will not simply go away and time alone will not repair the damage. (Indeed, we now face the worst of both worlds: the continuation of a unlateral U.S. moratorium on our own testing without any of the constraints on others which the CTBT would impose). What is needed is an initiative that picks up the pieces and re-establishes U.S. credentials as leader of the community of nations."
Kanter and Scowcroft then propose: "CTBT supporters have argued that the treaty would make a vital contribution to slowing the spread of nuclear weapons. CTBT opponents are skeptical that the proliferators of greatest concern to us would ever ratify the treaty....they are also concerned that we do not know yet whether we can maintain the long term confidence we need to have in our nuclear deterrent without testing, and that it may prove to be too easy to cheat on a nuclear test ban....There is a straightforward way both to provide an opportunity to see whether the promised benefits of the treaty can be realized, and to assess whether the concerns expressed by CTBT opponents are well-founded. It is to renegotiate the CTBT--which is now of unlimited duration---for the SOLE purpose of limiting its initial terms to a fixed period (for example, five years) with the option for renewal for additional fixed periods. This one change would allow time to determine whether the stockpile stewardship program, with its reliance on computer simulations and indirect experiments will prove sufficient.....At the end of its initial term, we would be in a better position to determine whether the CTBT has been effective, whether some of its terms need to be changed...there is good precedent for limiting the duration of the CTBT. The 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was initially subject to review and renewal every five years until 1995... This proposal has many pros and cons, but the simple fact is that there will likely be no CTBT without some changes, and this change might be enough to sway a number of Senators."
Whatever the eventual outcome, the major candidates for President next year are staking out positions on the treaty, and it might make arms control a significant campaign issue.
The scientific community was shocked and outraged last August when the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to eliminate evolution, the big bang theory, all discussion of geologic time scales, radioactive dating and anything that hinted at a Universe older than about 10,000 years from its state education standards and assessments.
These standards are supposed to be guidelines, based on the national guidelines put out by the National Academy of Sciences, for Kansas' public schoolteachers. Although they aren't mandatory, they will form the basis for statewide achievement tests starting in the spring of 2001, and teachers will generally "teach to the tests". The tests will then no longer contain reference to evolutionary changes between species, the age of the Earth, the big bang theory, etc. Originally, a 27-member committee of teachers and scientists wrote a draft of the science standards, which were published in April; scientists who have looked at this draft generally find it to be an excellent standard for science education. However, the Board of Education replaced this draft with an alternative draft written by a fundamentalist group.
There was an immediate outcry following the vote. The Republican Governor, Bill Graves, said that the vote was "a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that did not exist". Six university presidents in Kansas warned that "it will set Kansas back a century and give hard-to-find science teachers no choice but to pursue other career fields". National organizations also got involved. The American Geophysical Union quickly put out a statement opposing the action and calling for scientists to get more involved politically. Several software companies let it be known that they were removing Kansas from their short lists for new centers.
The governor and legislators began talking about a constitutional amendment to bring the Board of Education back under the control of the legislature (it is now elected), although that will obviously take some time. But the Board remained firm, and announced that the new standards would go into effect next fall.
In November, the Council of the American Physical Society issued the following statement:
"The American Physical Society views with grave concern the recent Kansas State Board of Education decision to remove references to evolution and the Big Bang from its State Education Standards and Assessments. The decision to modify its previous draft of these standards is a giant step backward and should sound an alarm for every parent, teacher and student in the United States. On the even of the new millennium, at a time when our nation's welfare increasingly depends on science and technology, it has never been more important for all Americans to understand the basic ideas of modern science.
Biological and physical evolution are central to the modern scientific conception of the Universe. There is overwhelming geological and physical evidence that the Earth and Universe are billions of years old and have developed substantially since their origins. Evolution is also a foundation upon which virtually all modern biology rests.
This unfortunate decision will deprive many Kansas students of the opportunity to learn some of the central concepts of modern science."
In addition, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a statement on October 15th, which can be found at www.aaas.org and many other national organizations have endorsed their statement.
So, what is next? The revised standards (as do many state standards nationwide) refer heavily to the science standards publications of the National Research Council, the AAAS and the National Science Teachers Association. These organizations have all formally denied the Kansas board permission to use parts of their publication in the new draft. This means that they cannot be implemented until after the Kansas board has removed all of this material, which will be costly and time-consuming. This could delay implementation of the new standards by up to a year.
In the meantime, next year Kansas will conduct the most heavily watched School Board election in history. 4 of the 6 Board members who voted for the new standards will be up for reelection, and opponents of the School Board decision will mount strong challenges to these incumbents. A recent poll by the Kansas City Star showed that only 32% of Kansans support the School Board decision, and 52% opppose it (in addition, 81% said that they thought dinosaurs lived millions of years ago). When asked whether they were likely to vote next year, the opponents of the decision were much more likely to say that they will be voting. Three years ago, a similar action by the New Mexico school board resulted in a flurry of activity, several candidates running against the creationists on the Board (and defeating them), and in October the new Board voted 14-1 to adopt a curriculum which includes evolution and explicitly prohibits creationism from the science curriculum. Similarly, in Kansas, a growing group of educators, parents, scientists and students have formed the "Kansas Citizens for Science" to plan an education campaign to reverse the decision. The Website for this new organization is at www.kcfs.org and they have many plans for brochures, outside speakers, mailings targeted to the appropriate school districts, etc, and they encourage all interested parties to join.
(From FYI#157) As the country approaches a new millennium, the need for scientists who can contribute technical knowledge to the lawmaking process has never been higher. The AIP/APS Congressional Science Fellowships provide a mechanism for making a unique, personal contribution by working as a staffer for a Member of Congress or congressional committee.
The federal government funds about 30% of the nation's R&D, and almost 60% of basica research. Lawmakers are rarely schooled in science and technology, yet their actions influence R&D in major ways, as discussed in these news items. Members of Congress frequently rely on their staffs for scientific and technological know-how in addressing these issues, but those staffers are often no more well-versed than their bosses. Providing this much-needed expertise is the purpose of the Congressional Science Fellowship programs run by the American Institute of Physics and the APS. The Fellowships enable qualified scientists to spend a year on Capitol Hill, learning about the legislative process while applying their knowledge to science-related policy matters.
Yet Fellowship applications have fallen in recent years; in fact, APS is not sponsoring a Fellow for the 1999-2000 term. AIP and APS need good candidates who want to serve their government by analyzing and contributing to national science policy. The two programs are now accepting applications for the 2000-2001 Fellowships.
While some Science Fellows choose to stay in the policy arena, others return to industry or academia to share what they've learned about lawmaking with scientific colleagues. As Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) commented, the science community "in essence doesn't know diddly about shaping public policy". He strongly urged scientists to participate in programs like the Fellowship to learn how Capitol Hill works so they can "help shape policy in the right way".
Those interested in applying should have a PhD in physics or a closely related field. Other requirements include U.S. citizenship and membership in APS or AIP at the time of application. While a Fellow must have the scientific qualifications to be a credible representative of the science community on Capitol Hill, he or she should also have demonstrated an interest in broader societal concerns and the application of science to their solution.
The application deadline in January 15, 2000. Further information of the programs and how to apply can be found on the AIP site at www.aip.org/pubinfo/ or the APS site at www.aps.org/public_affairs/fellow.cfm
The Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is pleased to announce the establishment of the Leonard M. Rieser Research Fellowship. The Fellowship honors Leonard Rieser (1922-98), an accomplished physicist, activist for the peaceful resolution of conflict, and professor emeritus of Dartmouth University, who was deeply committed to investing in the ideas and the potential of young people. The Leonard M. Rieser Research Fellowship will afford research and professional development opportunities for undergraduate students by providing them with funds to support unique research projects, internships, or travel expenses related to the above. The Fellowship is targeted toward students seeking to explore emerging or critical issues at the juncture of science, public policy, and international affairs and is notable as so few opportunities of this kind exist for talented undergraduate students. More details and application information can be accessed at http://www.thebulletin.org/fellowship.html. We ask that you post this announcement at your institution and that you promote it among students whom you feel would benefit from receipt of the Fellowship.