- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

The Smithsonian Institution yesterday appointed an 18-member science commission to advise the Board of Regents and Secretary Lawrence Small on improving scientific research at the museums and methods to evaluate and hire researchers.
"It's a problem not only facing the Smithsonian, but any research museum: How do you strengthen science at a time of growing fiscal constraints?" said Jeremy Sabloff, the commission's chairman and a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. "The challenge to the commission is to make recommendations on how this can be accomplished."
A group of Smithsonian scientists who have criticized Mr. Small's commitment to scientific research yesterday said they approve of the science commission. "This is a team approach to moving forward," said Brian Huber, a curator at the National Museum of Natural History. "The questions are appropriate and the expertise of the membership seems to represent the kind of research we do."
Since Mr. Small became secretary more than a year and a half ago, some scientists have accused him of being more interested in crowd-pleasing exhibits than serious science. The discontent reached a pinnacle after Mr. Small this year announced plans to close the Conservation and Research Center, the National Zoo's research arm in Front Royal, Va., while spending more money on renovating buildings. Under pressure from politicians, scientists, environmental groups and the media, he reversed his decision to close the CRC.
The science commission's first meeting will be held Sept. 6-7 an organizational session at which commissioners will decide how often to meet and when to deliver their first recommendations. Part of the meeting will be held behind closed doors, but Mr. Sabloff said he and the other members will make sure that Smithsonian scientists are heard.
A half-dozen commissioners are from the Smithsonian, or Smithsonian-affiliated institutions, such as Douglas Erwin, William Fitzhugh and Warren Wagner, all curators at the National Museum of Natural History.
"We've got people from the inside who are well-respected and I think they are going to represent us fairly," Mr. Huber.
The commission also has been asked to define the qualifications of leaders in the scientific units should have. This does not mean that current researchers are unqualified or that the research is lacking, Mr. Sabloff said.
"I think it's very good, but there is no reason that it couldn't be even better," Mr. Sabloff said. "The question is how the scientists can work more collaboratively than in the past."

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