The Scientific Activist

i-d8a87aac2f9e22dd55e73cce582e37f1-no-evolution-here.gif…Or at least that’s the impression that college freshmen with US Department of Education Smart Grants are getting, the The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Tuesday:

Like a gap in the fossil record, evolutionary biology is missing from a list of majors that the U.S. Department of Education has deemed eligible for a new federal grant program designed to reward students majoring in engineering, mathematics, science, or certain foreign languages….

The awards in question — known as Smart Grants, for the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent program — were created by Congress this year, with strong support from the president. The grants are worth up to $4,000 and are awarded in addition to Pell grants.

Recipients must be college juniors or seniors enrolled in one of the technical fields of study that the Department of Education has deemed eligible for funds. Many different topics, as varied as astronomy and Arabic, qualify.

But evolutionary biology is absent.

The department has an index of classification numbers — referred to as “CIP codes,” for the Classification of Instructional Programs — for all academic areas of instruction,

Under that classification scheme, there is a heading for “Ecology, Evolution, Systematics and Population Biology,” under which 10 biological fields are defined. For instance, ecology is 26.1301, and evolutionary biology is 26.1303.

But on a list that defines majors eligible for the grants, issued by the department in May, one of those 10 is missing. On that list, the classification numbers rise in order from 26.1301 to 26.1309 — with the exception of a blank line where 26.1303, or evolutionary biology, would fall.

The Panda’s Thumb notes several other (more innocuous) absences:

15.0501: Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning Technology

26.0908: Exercise Physiology

26.1303: Evolutionary Biology

From “Inter/mulitdisciplinary studies” 30.17 (Behavioral Sciences) is also missing, but a lot of other majors from this category are excluded as well, so I wouldn’t read too much into it.

Several others have chimed in on the issue as well.

The Department of Education claims that the absence of evolutionary biology from the list was unintentional. Although, given the current political climate, this omission is suspicious (to say the least), I haven’t become quite cynical enough yet to believe that this is part of some government conspiracy to decrease the number of future evolutionary biologists.

Intentional or not, though, it could have that effect. Until the omission is rectified, students with Smart Grants will not be able to choose evolutionary biology as their major, and will instead be told to choose another major (or lose the grant). Surely this situation will be corrected soon, but it is unclear how many students have already been forced to choose an alternative major. I remember being a college freshman: the insecurity of being in a new place with new people, the stress of classes, and the confusion of choosing a major and planning your schedule. Given all of that, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those interested in evolutionary biology just chose–and stuck with–a different major. Hell, these kids have enough to deal with already!

Like I said, this couldn’t be a part of some big government conspiracy. No, the federal government, under this administration, would never do something like that. It wouldn’t go so far as to actually censor scientific information, especially on a topic like evolution… or the big bang or global warming….

Hmmm…. On second thought, maybe we’d better start checking resumes….

Image from New Scientist


  1. #1 Michelle
    August 25, 2006

    As of Thursday afternoon, it’s back on the list. See summary at the KSJ tracker with a link to one of yesterday’s articles as well as the PDF on the DoE website:

  2. #2 Nick Anthis
    August 25, 2006

    Unless you’re looking at a different PDF than I am, it looks like it hasn’t changed yet:

    For when it does change, though, here is saved copy of the PDF in its current form (with the omission). Evolutionary biology is supposed to appear on page 7:

  3. #3 jokermage
    August 25, 2006

    It’s still off the list. The KSJ people have mistaken 26.1399 (the misc. catch-all category) for 26.1303 Evolutionary Biology.

  4. #4 Michelle
    August 25, 2006

    Ah – I wasn’t aware of the intended catch-all purpose of that entry. Thank you for the correction. Regardless, I certainly hope this “clerical error” is taken care of soon…

  5. #5 TOR Hershman
    August 26, 2006

    That sums it all up.

    Stay on Groovin’ (DNA Jungle) Safari,

  6. #6 Pritchard
    September 5, 2006

    Nothing to do with the subject, but I am amazed how many working scientists write “loose” when they seem to mean “lose” – or has the American language changed yet again?

  7. #7 Nick Anthis
    September 5, 2006

    Damn, that’s embarrassing. As much as I’d love to be a trailblazer… I had to fix that one.

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