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Gore Lashes Out at Congress for Axing Research, Science Spending

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Baltimore

In the first of three speeches Vice President Al Gore delivered last week on the role of science and technology in American society, he criticized Congress for slashing spending on research, science, and technology.

"At the very moment global economic competition and global environmental degradation demands civilian research and the technologies it often produces, this Congress is proposing the sharpest cuts in nondefense research since America was fighting World War II," he said here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Mr. Gore urged continued funding of various science, research, and technology efforts and said the conversations of Americans show that the public continues to rely on the science of the past rather than that of the present and future.

"The language we use to discuss public problems is less vivid and less robust than it ought to be," he said. "Chaos theory may offer clues for when government should intervene in the economy. Economic policy perhaps should focus less on 'priming the pump' and more on 'imprinting the DNA.'

"We either avoid scientific metaphors altogether," he said. "Or we lean against the crutch of Industrial Age metaphors that are splintering with age: the clock, the machine."

One reason why metaphors based on computers and other technology are not more widely used may be the absence of scientific literacy in America, the vice president said.

"Lack of scientific understanding undercuts support for the pursuit of further understanding, which fosters deeper ignorance, which in turn further erodes support for battling that ignorance," he said.

Mr. Gore praised Congress for increasing spending in health science, but charged that "in almost every other realm they are approaching science with the wisdom of a potted plant"--a remark that elicited loud applause from the audience.

The National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association issued a joint statement at the Feb. 8-13 AAAS meeting voicing their commitment to a shared vision of science-education reform.

Though at times the ongoing science-standards-setting effort has been characterized by discord among the many professional science and science-education groups, the groups' statement affirms a common vision: science literacy for all students, a diverse science workforce, and the notion that science literacy includes knowledge of facts, concepts, and theories, as well as "the exercise of scientific habits of mind."

The statement continues:"Together these three organizations play mutually supportive roles in helping the nation reform K-12 education. This is truly the beginning of a cooperative era of reform in science education."

Before participating in "science by mail," a pen-pal program between students and scientists, many of the participating 4th through 9th graders thought of scientists as old, boring people who used a lot of test tubes.

But after corresponding with scientists from anthropologists to biochemists, they were more likely to use adjectives like "friendly" or "hard-working" and see scientists as real people, Melissa Cotter, the program's national manager, said at a session here on informal science programs.

Teachers participating in the 6-year-old program, based at the Boston Science Museum, have reported that it has a positive impact on students' ability to perceive science as a process rather than a collection of facts.

The National Science Foundation's Urban Systemic Initiative is helping 16 of the nation's largest school districts transform the ways they teach science, representatives of three districts said at a panel session.

"For the first time, students in classrooms are eager to learn science and math, and their performance shows it," said Luther Williams, the NSF's assistant director of education and human resources.

The initiative, Mr. Williams said, "has taken the lid off the sorry state of math, science, and technology education" and has pointed to the need for further changes.

The NSF has awarded more than $240 million in grants to 16 of the nation's 25 largest school districts since the program began in 1993.

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey reported that the initiative prompted his district to form a close partnership with Morgan State University, a historically black school in Baltimore.

"We've always had partnerships, but what we have tried to do is focus them on math, science, and technology," he said.

The district is also making sure that elementary school students have science lessons on a daily basis, rather than just a few times a week or less.

--Meg Sommerfeld

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