ScienceScope

Science  08 May 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5365, pp. 813
  1. Stanford Surgeon Tells All

    An autobiographical account of clashes between a female neurosurgeon and aggressive male department chiefs at Stanford University's Medical School in the 1980s and 1990s has met with “deafening silence” at the university, says author Frances Conley. Her book, Walking Out on the Boys, has climbed to third place on the San Francisco Chronicle's best-seller list since it appeared last month. But neither the university nor the former dean Conley blasts for failing to support her—pathologist David Korn—is responding.

    In her book, Conley writes of an “ingrained and traditional” pattern of sexual harassment in medicine, citing flagrant instances at Stanford—such as a female medical student who confided to her that a senior researcher had lured her to his house, pawed her, and threatened to block her career if she squealed. Conley also relates how she resigned from the medical school in 1991 to protest the appointment of a “feudal” and “blatantly seductive” male rival to the top position in neurosurgery.

    Her actions—which included notifying the press—paid off: The rival's appointment was canceled, and she withdrew her resignation. Although Conley claims her decision to go public also checkmated a move to take away her lab space, she later quit research. The reason: “The thrill of it was gone.” But she's keeping busy—last month she was named the new chief of staff at the Stanford-affiliated VA Hospital in Palo Alto.

    Korn, now an executive at the American Association of Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., won't comment on Conley's accusations, but some peers defend him. “I always found David supportive on women's issues,” says Linda Cork, chair of Stanford's comparative medicine department.

    Conley claims sexual harassment is still very much a problem at Stanford. Had she not told her story, she says, “I would feel guilty.”

  2. NSF Hits Internet Jackpot

    The National Science Foundation is slated to rake in a windfall—more than $60 million—for computer networking and research thanks to a law passed last week. The amount is nearly three times what Congress allocated to NSF last fall for its share of the Administration's Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative and tops NSF's current $46 million budget for networking activities.

    The money comes from a $15-a-year assessment attached to a $35 fee collected by Network Solutions Inc., which manages Internet registration for NSF. (The assessment was levied for 30 months, ending on 1 April.) The proceeds sit in an “intellectual infrastructure fund” meant to improve the Internet. Last fall Congress decided to tap $23 million from the fund to pay for NSF's share of the $100-million-a-year NGI initiative, a federal program to upgrade the Net. But last month a federal judge ruled that the set-aside was an illegal tax not authorized by Congress (Science, 17 April, p. 367).

    On 30 April Congress took care of the problem, passing a $6 billion emergency peacekeeping and disaster-relief bill that also gives NSF the necessary authority. The next step is to win the judge's approval, and one Hill staffer says he's confident the language will pass muster—the judge “spelled out what we should do, and we did it.” The money will be used to help universities connect to NSF's very high speed Backbone Network Service, to support research on network applications, and to improve networking technology.

  3. Government Plucks Up Kennewick Finger

    Turning a deaf ear to scientists' pleas, the U.S. government late this week planned to sequester the only fragments not already in its hands of that famous early American, Kennewick Man. A federal task force is to decide what to do with the bones.

    Kennewick Man, found 2 years ago on the banks of Washington's Columbia River, offers rare clues about the identity of inhabitants of the Americas 9000 years ago. Soon after the discovery (Science, 11 October 1996, p. 172), anthropologist James Chatters, who led the excavation, sent 1.5 grams of metacarpal bone to anthropologist David Glenn Smith at the University of California, Davis, for DNA analysis. But after Native Americans laid claim to the bones, the Army Corps of Engineers seized them. Research has been halted pending the outcome of a court case on who owns the bones.

    Last month the U.S. Justice Department ordered Smith to surrender his bone. “We've been charged with maintaining responsibility for [the remains], and we can't take responsibility for things housed at UC Davis,” says Stephanie Hanna, spokesperson for the Interior Department.

    Smith is worried about the fate of “the only [known] uncontaminated piece of bone around.” The samples, stored in flame-sealed test tubes and stashed in a fireproof safe, are “a lot safer than the rest of the bones right now,” he says. Religious groups have been allowed to hold rituals near the bones, which are housed at Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington.

    The Interior Department and the Corps formed a joint task force in March to decide on the “origin and disposition of the remains.” It will make recommendations to the court in July. “At this point we haven't established at what point or even whether DNA testing will occur,” says Hanna.

  4. Prewitt to Take On Census

    The White House is mum, but the word on the street is that the Administration plans to nominate political scientist Kenneth Prewitt for the unenviable job of Census Bureau director. Prewitt, president of the Social Science Research Council in New York, would succeed Martha Farnsworth Riche, who resigned last January after years of battling Congress over the issue of statistical sampling.

    Prewitt would not confirm the pick but says “if the president were to ask me to do it, I would do it.” Observers say he would supply strong leadership for this summer's budget battles with congressional Republicans, some of whom are trying to block the bureau from using statistical sampling instead of a traditional head count in the upcoming 2000 census (Science, 6 February, p. 798). A suit challenging the constitutionality of sampling has been filed by House members in U.S. district court. Current plans at Census are to contact 90% of the population and use sampling to estimate the rest. Prewitt won't comment on the dispute other than to hint: “If I want to find out if the soup is hot, I take a spoonful and make a decision. I don't need the whole bowl.”

    Prewitt is “technically capable and extremely bright,” says Ed Spar, executive director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics. He predicts quick confirmation by the Senate.

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