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Public Affairs Update

  • Online Census software ranks 100 largest U.S. cities . . . . The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy has launched a new interactive application that allows Internet users to query Census 2000 data, instantly generating rankings of the largest one hundred U.S. cities on more than 150 demographic indicators. The “Living Cities Interactive Databook,” provides users with the ability to create indicator-specific ranking tables or download raw Census data on population, educational attainment, race and ethnicity, employment, immigration, commuting, age, income and poverty, households and families, and housing trends during the 1990s. For more information see

  • National Academies to pursue vetting of science advisors . . . . . Recent concerns among scientists about political challenges to the sanctity of peer review at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were bolstered by earlier broad-based anxiety across the scientific community during the past year and a half over the process used to vet nominees to federal government scientific advisory panels. Past White House science advisors, and leaders of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Public Health Association, and the American Psychological Association (APA) provided commentary on the issue before the National Academy of Sciences at the urging of the Committee on Science Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP) last year. APA’s CEO, Norman Anderson, recommended that COSEPUP pursue a study of the nominations process. After deliberating for several months, COSEPUP recently released a summary of the study they intend to pursue, Science and Technology in the National Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential and Advisory Committee Appointments-3rd Edition, (see the 2000 edition at See March 2003 Footnotes, p. 3. The study commenced this year, shortly after the much-anticipated release of a GAO investigation on the subject.

  • OHRP director discusses need for more comprehensive human subjects data . . . . More accurate quantitative data is needed on human subjects research in order to better characterize the field of research according to the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) Acting Director Bernard Schwetz. Further information is needed on the total numbers of human participants in research, the numbers and types of studies conducted, and the numbers of institutional review boards currently functioning. OHRP leads the Health and Human Service’s efforts to ensure the responsible conduct of research involving human subjects. At the annual meeting of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) in December 2003, Schwetz called for more data on human studies. He said more data is needed on the “denominators” of elements in the research system including the overall number of study subjects classified by age, sex, and race; the number of studies themselves, broken down by study type and funding source; and the total number of adverse events. “It’s hard to characterize the enterprise and figure out where to make improvements or where the problems are when all we have is isolated information about events as opposed to being able to characterize the denominators,” he added. He believed improvements were needed in the interface between Institutional Review Boards and other stakeholders in the human research enterprise. The latter should include a review of investigators and university administrators, as well as other committees with research oversight responsibilities, such as scientific peer review panels and conflict of interest committees.

  • NSF needs improved process to rank proposals, manage large projects over time . . . . . A National Academy of Sciences report says that the National Science Foundation (NSF) needs a clear process and definition of the criteria and rationale for the selection of large research-facility projects that receive its financial support, ensuring that the agency evaluates proposals based on their potential returns to science, technology, and society. In 1995, NSF created the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account to support the construction of large research facilities, which enable scientists to reach previously unattainable scientific frontiers. In recent years, the number of plans to build such facilities has grown, and approved projects have become increasingly complex and expensive. The committee that wrote the report, Setting Priorities for Large Research Facility Projects Supported by the National Science Foundation, offered an approach that would strengthen NSF’s current processes for identifying, developing, prioritizing, and managing large research-facility projects funded through MREFC. Although they account for just under 4 percent of the foundation’s total budget, these projects are highly visible because of their multimillion dollar budgets, their potential to shape the course of future research, and the economic benefits they bring to the regions where they are located. However, many researchers and federal policymakers have expressed concerns about NSF’s current method for deciding which projects would be submitted to Congress for funding. Overall it found that reforms are needed to ensure that funded projects are executed properly, on schedule, and within budget—and that facilities are well managed over time. The report suggests that the National Science Board, which oversees NSF, should monitor this effort, approve the road map for selecting facilities that may be built, and use it each year to rank projects proposed for funding. The full text of the report and further information is available on the National Academies’ website at