Diversified Science on New Panel's Agenda

WASHINGTON, D.C.--In the latest effort to boost the numbers of underrepresented populations in science, President Clinton signed a bill last week that calls for a new commission that will recommend ways to remedy the imbalance. The commission, to consist of seven corporate representatives and four science educators, will meet over the course of a year to explore what can be done for women, minorities, and people with disabilities who are pursuing scientific careers.

Representative Connie Morella (R-MD), who proposed the bill, was initially struck by the scarcity of women in science and engineering--they make up less than 10% of the profession. But when her bill reached the House Education Committee earlier this year, Democrats argued that it would be a mistake to focus only on women, because minorities and disabled individuals fare just as poorly. "For many years science has been a white male profession," says one Democratic congressional aide. Republicans agreed to broaden the bill, but discouraged the use of affirmative action as a remedy.

So while Morella was pleased to see some progress on her initiative this year, her staff remains cautious about how the commission will work: "I just hope [its broadness] will be manageable," says an aide to Morella. On the Democratic side, aides worry that this new commission, whose members will be appointed within 6 weeks by the Washington, D.C.-based National Governors' Association, will do little more than those that preceded it.

Outside the Capitol, however, some are more hopeful. "If the committee could pull together what we already know ... and make very strong recommendations" regarding changes in science and engineering education, the effort would be worth it, says Elaine Seymour, who works in the Bureau of Sociological Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder.