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March 2004

Sigma Xi International Newsletter
Volume 3, Number 3
March 2004

This monthly electronic bulletin is designed to keep subscribers updated on developments in Sigma Xi's international activities as well as provide links and topics of interest to researchers around the world. To submit an item to the newsletter, contact the Manager of the International Program at international@sigmaxi.org. You can also download and print a PDF version of this issue. To subscribe to this monthly newsletter, please use this online form.

Past Issues

In This Issue

Ethics Resources
Ethics should be an integral part of scientific research, but training in ethics is not universal. For those interested in learning about or teaching ethics of science and research, there are several helpful resources on the Internet. These resources are devoted to general ethics (ethics as a whole), branches of science and engineering such as biology or medicine, or specific topics such as genetically-modified organisms or stem-cell research. It is worth noting that ethics in science is often reduced to bioethics, and many of the governmental ethics authorities are commissions on bioethics. Here we give a small sample of some useful resources for ethics pertaining to many fields.


  • Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science at Case Western Reserve University
  • North Carolina State University Web Clearinghouse for Engineering and Computing Ethics
  • Resources in Ethics from the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at Indiana University

  • Free Online Publications

  • The Responsible Researcher: Paths and Pitfalls
    Sigma Xi; 1999 (pdf)
  • On Being A Scientist: Responsible Conduct In Research
    U.S. National Academy of Sciences; 1995
  • Regional/International Organizations

  • UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST)
  • European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies
  • U.N. Inter-Agency Committee on Bioethics
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • Regional/Country ethics gateways

  • Bioética for Latin America
  • EthicsWeb in Canada
  • Listings of National Ethics Commissions

  • European Commission's European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies
  • World Health Organization's National Bioethics Advisory Bodies (pdf; names only; no links)
  • France's Comité Consultatif National d'Ethique
  • Teaching Resources

  • The Teaching of Ethics
    2003 report from the COMEST Working Group on the Teaching of Ethics that includes a survey of existing programs, an analysis of their structure and content, and detailed curriculum advice on how to integrate ethics in scientific education
  • Resources for Teaching Research Ethics
    from a workshop at Indiana University's Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions
  • Reasonable Conduct in Science
    materials from a one-week class available on MIT's OpenCourseWare site
  • Professional Ethics for Scientists
    from Dr. Linda M. Sweeting's course at Towson University
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    Update on U.S. Visas for Scientists
    In February, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) released their report, "Border Security: Improvements Needed to Reduce Time Taken to Adjudicate Visas for Science Students and Scholars," concluding a study to determine how long it takes a science student or scholar to obtain a nonimmigrant visa, which factors contribute to the duration of the process and what measures are being implemented to improve the process and decrease the number of pending cases. The study was commissioned by the Committee on Science of the U.S. House of Representatives.

    One of the most significant factors contributing to long processing times of visa applications is the additional security check called Visas Mantis, the report noted. This extra step, to prevent transfer of technology to foreign governments that might threaten U.S. national security, involves review of the application by the Department of State's Bureau of Nonproliferation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other federal agencies.

    Consular officers decide whether or not to submit an application for Mantis review based on guidance accompanying a Technology Alert List (TAL). Although the most recent TAL is not available to the public, the
    August 2002 version encourages consular officers to submit applications pertaining to the fields on the "Critical Fields List" for review unless they are sure that technology transfer to hostile entities will not be an issue. The list includes keywords to look for on applications of scientific researchers and students, such as global positioning system, biochemistry, immunology, superconductivity, and civil engineering. This means that consular officers without a scientific background could send a significant proportion of science and engineering applications for Mantis review.

    In fact, due to an expanded TAL and increased caution overall, the number of applications being sent for review has increased dramatically since September 11, 2001. Approximately 1,000 cases were submitted for Mantis review in 2000; 2,500 in 2001; and 14,000 in 2002. If the April–June 2003 quarter as studied by the GAO was representative of the entire year, there were 20,000 or more cases in 2003, with more than half being from scientific scholars and researchers.

    According to Stewart Patt, spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, these reviews used to be processed regionally by three people working part-time, but a centralized office was established last year with five full-time employees for Visas Mantis. Patt says that the duration of the average review has been cut in half over the past year, and that 85% of all Visas Mantis cases are resolved in less than one month. The GAO study found that the average duration of a Mantis review for a scientific, nonimmigrant visa application was 67 days between April and June 2003. When adding in the wait to get an interview and an additional time for the consulate to notify the applicant, scientific students and researchers whose cases are sent through Visas Mantis receive an answer on average three months after submitting their application. Until recently, visa holders leaving the U.S. risked being detained for another Mantis check prior to being able to re-enter the U.S. Now Visas Mantis security clearances are valid for one year if the applicant is returning to the same activity in the same location.

    Evaluation of a possible scientific threat comes primarily from the consular officers themselves, the Department of State's Bureau of Nonproliferation, outside experts that may be called upon by this bureau and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Interagency Panel on Advanced Science and Security (IPASS), announced in May 2002, was promoted as a vehicle for "embedding technical expertise" in the process and "would provide systematic input from scientific experts to define and identify the 'sensitive areas' mentioned in the Presidential directive." Although a representative from the Office of Science & Technology Policy pointed to IPASS as one of the answers to the problem of visas for scientists as recently as October 2003, IPASS does not exist and, according to a member of the Department of Homeland Security, the administration concluded that IPASS "didn't make sense and so decided not to do it."

    Some consular officers interviewed for the GAO report were not comfortable using the TAL and did not have a clear understanding of the Visas Mantis process. Patt says the State Department is now putting a lot of effort to ensure that the consular officers know how to use the TAL and the Visas Mantis system. Specifically, all new officers received specialized Mantis training. In addition, the Bureau of Nonproliferation is attending some consular conferences to train the previously hired officers. Nevertheless, the GAO report's recommendations included providing additional information about the Visas Mantis system to the consular officers and making the data-storage systems of the different agencies compatible with each other.

    The state department does not track the total number of applications being sent for Mantis review but points out that it is a small fraction of the total number of applications. This may be the case, but, for multiple reasons, the number of visa applications has steadily declined after September 2001. The graph below shows the number of F1 visas issued and denied for the past four years. F1 is the only visa category that exclusively encompasses students—not their family members, and not other categories of visitors such as those coming to work summer jobs. The number of visa applications in 2000 was not available.

    For a country whose scientific infrastructure depends heavily on international students and researchers, it is critical for the future of science in the U.S. to reverse or at least halt this trend. [Data source: U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs]

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    Did You Know?
    Aldo Leopold Leadership Program provides communication and leadership training to academic environmental scientists and facilitates collaboration and networking among scientists and a broad range of decision-makers. Up to 20 of the top environmental scientists in their fields are selected to be fellows each year. The deadline for applications is April 19, 2004. [Source: SciDev.Net]

    The European Council of Applied Sciences, Technologies and Engineering has announced the 2004 competition for the European Information Society Technologies (IST) Prize. Companies or organizations in European Union member or associated states with an innovative IT product that has a promising market potential should submit their applications by May 5, 2004. Three grand prize winners will receive trophies and €200,000 each; numerous other prizes will be awarded. This program is sponsored by the IST program of the European Commission. [Source: Internet Resources Newsletter]

    UNESCO has announced the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Young Scientists Awards Scheme. These awards are for young researchers who undertake interdisciplinary research in line with the MAB Program and whose projects preferably are carried out in biosphere reserves on the theme of ecosystems and water. Applicants must not be older than 40 years of age. Most or all of the 10 awards of maximum US$5000 each will go to researchers in developing countries. [Source: SciDev.Net]

    Until June 15, 2004, scholarly institutions are invited to nominate bioethics scholars residing in the Latin America/Caribbean region for the Manuel Velasco-Suárez Award in Bioethics. The Pan American Health & Education Foundation will award the winner a grant of US$10,000 and a trip to Washington D.C. to the award ceremony at the 45th Directing Council meeting of the Pan American Health Organization in September 2004.

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    Upcoming Meetings
    1st General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union; Nice, France; April 25–30, 2004

    8th International Conference on Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST-8); Barcelona, Spain; June 3–6, 2004

    International Association for Development of the Information Society (IADIS) International Conference: e-Society 2004; Avila, Spain; July 16–19, 2004


    For more information on any of the programs mentioned in this newsletter, please contact:

    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
    P. O. Box 13975, 3106 East NC Highway 54
    Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 USA
    Telephone: +1-919-549-4691 or +1-919-547-5246
    Fax: +1-919-549-0090
    E-mail: international@sigmaxi.org


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