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Science  27 Jul 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5837, pp. 467
DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5837.467

27 July 2007 Edited by Edward W. Lempinen

SCIENCE POLICY AAAS Expands Vital Science Outreach Efforts on Capitol Hill

With issues such as stem cell research, climate change, and alternative fuels increasingly prominent-and urgent-on the U.S. policy agenda, AAAS has moved to expand and strengthen its role as a source of authoritative scientific insight for members of Congress and their staffs.

This year, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner testified twice before Congress on the need for a balanced approach to federal research and development funding. AAAS also weighed in on stem cell and science education bills with letters to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, urging the expansion of federally funded embryonic stem cell research and supporting national standards for math and science education.

The AAAS Board issued a statement just before a House committee hearing this spring warning of the diminishing U.S. capacity to use satellites for scientific observation of the Earth. In June, AAAS's Center for Science, Technology and Congress released two briefs on the policy pros and cons of biofuels and coal-to-liquid fuel technology as both houses of Congress consider complex, far-reaching energy bills.

AAAS's constructive relationship with Washington, D.C., policy-makers has a long history. Its Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program, now in its 34th year, has placed about 2000 scientists in temporary policy positions in Congress and in federal agencies, and many have stayed in the policy realm. The R&D Budget and Policy Program is regarded as the gold standard of analysis related to federal funding for science and technology. The 3-year-old Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy regularly holds briefings for congressional staff, with subjects this year ranging from security of U.S. food supplies to the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

The Center for Science, Technology and Congress has served as a crucial liaison between the scientific community and Congress for over a decade. In recent months, it has been critical in AAAS's effort to expand engagement with elected lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The repeat invitations to testify before Congress are one indicator of how the Hill has come to rely on AAAS's work. “The way Congress works, they need witnesses on relatively short notice, and we're able to provide a good statement and do the research in a relatively short period of time,” said Joanne Padrón Carney, director of the Center for Science, Technology and Congress.

Gary Kline, a veteran legislative staffer now working for Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), praised AAAS's reliability. “One of the things I really love about AAAS is that it's a one-stop society, someplace where I can go to find nonbiased information and experts if I need to talk with someone,” he said. “They're very easy to work with and they do a great job on their briefings.”

The Center launched an online legislative tracker in February to keep up with Congress's work in progress, and recently unveiled a comprehensive chart of the eight different climate change bills working their way through the House and Senate.

The Center itself has doubled in size in the past 2 years, adding senior program associates Erin Heath, who specializes in life sciences policy; Kasey White, who focuses on climate change and environmental science; and program assistant Lina Karaoglanova, who also works with climate issues. White edits the Center's monthly newsletter, Science and Technology in Congress, which reaches over 1000 Hill staffers, federal agency officials, and lobbyists.

The newsletter analyzes high-profile topics in Congress such as science education, innovation and economic competitiveness, export controls, and visa regulations. Such issues “affect the conduct of science as a whole” and make them prime targets for AAAS's work, White said.

“AAAS has worked with Congress throughout much of its nearly 160-year history,” said Albert H. Teich, director of AAAS Science & Policy Programs, “but it's never before had the kind of influence it does today.”

For more information about the Center for Science, Technology and Congress, and for access to its briefings and other resources, see http://www.aaas.org/spp/cstc/.

-Becky Ham

INTERNATIONAL Brazilian Scientist Sees Hope, Hype in Ethanol

José Goldemberg

A world thirsty for new energy sources should be cautious about ethanol “hype” because the technology to efficiently produce large amounts of the fuel may be a decade or more away, influential Brazilian scientist José Goldemberg said at AAAS.

Goldemberg, a physicist and former secretary of state for Science and Technology in Brazil, said in a 27 June lecture that the United States and other nations have suitable croplands to support ethanol production. The Brazilian program, started in the 1970s, derives fuel from sugarcane and has cut the nation's gasoline consumption by 40%.

But Goldemberg warned that any substantial boost in global ethanol production will require improvements in current technologies, such as more efficient distilleries, as well as breakthroughs in converting cellulose molecules in wood and other biomass into fuel. Researchers are looking to genetically modify cellulose so it can be more easily broken down, he said, and also are trying to genetically engineer microorganisms to do the job.

During his visit to Washington, Goldemberg also spoke at a 25 June Capitol Hill briefing about his nation's small nuclear energy program. In 1991, he said, he was able to convince Fernando Collor de Mello-Brazil's first elected president in more than 25 years-to abandon initial steps toward developing nuclear weapons.

Goldemberg, now at the University of Säo Paulo, also has served in Brazil as interim secretary of the Environment; minister of Education; and president of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science.

His ethanol seminar was cosponsored by AAAS and the Washington Science Policy Alliance. The Capitol Hill briefing was arranged by AAAS's Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.

-Earl Lane and Benjamin Somers

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