Thursday, December 22, 2005

Top News of 2005

It’s that time of year again. It’s the time when you’ll see lots of lists of the top 100 whatevers of the year. From songs to TV shows to the top news stories, you’ll see someone’s opinion of what should be ranked as the most important of the year.

Here’s my list of the top news stories that I’ve written about in 2005, in chronological order.

- According to speakers at the national meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science in February, the Bush administration has put the hush on input from scientists in key federal agencies. In fact, some scientists said they were pressured to change their study conclusions if they did not support administration policy.

What that amounts to is bad science. But it’s not the scientist’s fault. It is simply an issue of the president ignoring the results of scientific studies he doesn’t agree with, or worse, forcing his own scientists to fudge the results to make them fall in line with what he wants.

- On the aerospace front, Michael Griffin was put in charge of NASA.

Griffin seems right for the job. He is a scientist and engineer, holding a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and five master's degrees, in aerospace science, electrical engineering, applied physics, civil engineering and business administration.

He has the right mix of space science knowledge and administrative talent needed to put NASA on track for the future. And that’s just what the beleaguered agency needs after suffering a number of failures over the past decade.

- The most litigated right-to-die controversy in U.S. history finally ended in late March as Terri Schiavo, who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years, died 13 days after the removal of her feeding tubes.

After a state judge in Florida allowed her life support to be removed, even the U.S. Congress and President Bush got into the fray. Congress passed, and Bush signed, legislation permitting Schiavo’s parents to go through the federal courts, hoping that it would gain Schiavo more time. The scheme failed, as the federal courts rebuffed Congress at every appeal.

- The Indiana General Assembly finally passed legislation last spring putting all of the state on daylight saving time. Why state lawmakers didn’t make the change years ago will remain one of the major mysteries of the universe.

The focus then shifted to the next contentious matter: Which time zone will the U.S. Department of Transportation put Indiana in?

The final decision of the DOT is expected next month and is likely to allow a handful of counties in the northwestern and southwestern portions of the state to move to Central time.

- Hoosier motorists began driving at a more reasonable 70 miles per hour on rural Interstate highways and other limited access highways this past summer. The speed limits on some other divided highways were increased to 60 mph.

Both the House and the Senate approved the increase in speed limits by comfortable margins.

- There’s good news in the fight against indoor air pollution. The City-County Council in Indianapolis passed a measure that would ban smoking in most public places, including restaurants, beginning next March. The exception would be if those places do not allow children to enter the premises. Some smaller cities in Central Indiana followed suit.

- There’s also some good news for science education. A judge in Pennsylvania ruled against the former school board in Dover, Pa in a scathing rebuke of that board’s attempt to include intelligent design in the science curriculum. The court said the religious concept of intelligent design cannot be taught as an alternative to evolution in science class. It was a major setback for fundamentalist Christians who have been trying for decades to shove their dogma down the throats of public school students with taxpayers’ money.

- And, finally, Indiana’s academic standards in science were judged as being among the best in the nation. Indiana received an A grade from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for clear, concise, and well-grounded science standards.

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