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WASHINGTON (AP) – Seeking to recover a reputation battered by proposals to cut back research programs, the Smithsonian Institution announced the members of a new commission to review its science efforts and recommend directions for the future.

“The mandate is completely broad, any aspect of Smithsonian science is fair game for the commission,” said commission Chairman Jeremy A. Sabloff of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Plans for a reorganization of science at the institution, announced early this year by Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, caused an uproar within and outside the organization.

It is necessary “to do nothing less than chart – for the first time in many years – a strategic new course for science at the Institution,” Small said at the time.

But, swamped by complaints, the Smithsonian’s board of regents announced plans in May for the appointment of the advisory panel announced Monday.

And on May 30, Robert W. Fri, director of the National Museum of Natural History – a center for much of the Smithsonian’s science – announced that he would leave office in the fall because he was unable to enthusiastically support the planned changes.

A proposal to close the National Zoo’s animal research and conservation center in Front Royal, Va., was eventually dropped. And the Senate has moved to restore funding for a research center working restoration and preservation of artifacts.

Now the ongoing science activities at the Smithsonian will be reviewed by the new, 18-member commission, which will recommend what, if any, changes are needed in the future.

Sabloff called it a “daunting” job but an important one that needs to be done.

“There are lots of reasons and lots of push for us to do it quickly. We will try to be as efficient as we can … but the charge is so important, I’d rather take longer and do it right. It’s not something that’s going to be done overnight,” he said in a telephone interview.

The commission will meet in Washington on Sept. 7, and Sabloff said it will work out an agenda at that time.

“We are honored that this distinguished group has agreed to work with us,” Small said in a statement. “The beginning of a new century is an optimum time to subject our own organization to critical evaluation, with an eye toward sharpening the focus on the Smithsonian’s strengths.”

Small has said he is committed to maintaining many scientific programs in anthropology, tropical biology, marine science, mineral science, paleobiology and the identification of species.

To most Americans, the Smithsonian is the set of museums scattered along the national mall in Washington.

But James Smithson’s bequest that established the organization directed that the money be used for the “increase and diffusion” of knowledge.

The museums and their publications easily handle the “diffusion” part.

And over the years the Smithsonian has also taken the “increase” part seriously, conducting a wide variety of research ranging from tropical habitat to astrophysics to aviation to butterflies to Arctic peoples.

Joseph Henry, the first head of the Smithsonian, set the tone for research, setting up a system of weather reporting stations connected by telegraph. Later taken over by the Army, this project eventually became the National Weather Service.

A successor, Samuel Pierpont Langley, conducted research in flight in the 1890s, building a series of unmanned, steam-driven flying machines.

Today’s science includes such varied topics as research on volcanoes; a study of the Viking discovery of North America, analysis of the plants in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma; a look at the long term ecology of coral reefs in Papua-New Guinea; an analysis of bird strikes on airplanes and research on the deep-water fish known as the coelecanth.

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In addition to its museums and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian also operates several research centers including:

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Md.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.

National Zoo Conservation and Research Center, Front Royal, Va.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass.

Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education, Suitland, Md.

Smithsonian Marine Station, Fort Pierce, Fla.


Smithsonian Institution:

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