ScienceScope

Science  03 Jul 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5373, pp. 19
  1. Henney No Shoo-In

    Critics are urging caution as the Senate considers the nomination of Jane Henney, vice president for health sciences at the University of New Mexico, to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    Henney-formerly number two at FDA under David Kessler-has been praised by many public health leaders. But some medical industry officials question her commitment to streamlining the FDA bureaucracy and speeding up the drug approval process as mandated by a law passed last year. Steve Northrup, director of the Medical Device Manufacturers Association of Washington, D.C., also worries about her ability to strike an “appropriate balance” between the interests of consumers and manufacturers. Henney co-chaired a panel that in 1992 persuaded the FDA to impose a moratorium on breast implants, a decision that, Northrup says, was based on a poor reading of the science. Some conservative members of Congress also look askance at Henney because of her ties to perceived archliberal Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA). Her husband, Robert Graham, worked on the staff of the senator, who is her strong supporter.

    Senator James Jeffords (R-VT), chair of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, has responded to critics by saying Henney's confirmation hearing, which will probably be held in August, “is not going to be a quick one.”

  2. Populism and Peer Review

    The old elitism-versus-populism conflict has popped up once again as the 1999 budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF) moves through Congress.

    The Senate bill gives NSF $12 million to add three new science and technology centers (STCs), for applied molecular biology, to its existing roster of 24. But the nation's top research universities-defined as the 100 now getting the most NSF money-wouldn't be allowed to compete. The agency's peer-review system is “biased toward more established institutions,” explains the report.

    Nils Hasselmo, new president of the Association of American Universities, which represents most of those top schools, disagrees. Federal R&D funds should go where the expertise is, he says, and not be “a subsidy to universities.” The House concurs: A spending panel last week voiced its support for peer review as the determinant in making STC awards, setting the stage for a compromise later this summer.

  3. Rice Renaissance?

    The folks at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Ba-os, the Philippines-one of the groups that helped launch the Green Revolution in the 1960s-are hoping that new chief Ronald Cantrell will lead them out of the financial desert they've been wandering in for the past 2 years. Cantrell, head of Iowa State University's Agronomy Department, spent 6 years in the 1980s as maize research director at a similar international institute, CIMMYT in Mexico. Appointed to the IRRI hot seat last week, Cantrell faces “enormous challenges” in shoring up the institute's finances, strengthening international links, and restoring good will with the staff, says IRRI board chair Roelof Rabbinge. Cantrell could not be reached for comment.

    IRRI and other international agricultural institutes have fallen out of fashion with donor nations in recent years (Science, 2 January, p. 26). Last year, budget cuts forced the previous director, George Rothschild, to lay off half the staff; he later bailed out partway through his 5-year appointment.

  4. Cheaper Chemistry Journal

    The first fruit of a collaboration between libraries and scientific publishers to rein in soaring journal prices (see p. 7) will be a publication tentatively called Organic Chemistry Letters, the American Chemical Society (ACS) announced this week. To start as a monthly and evolve into a weekly, it will debut in mid-1999.

    ACS is the first publisher to join up with a group called SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a U.S.-Canadian group established last year by the Association of Research Libraries. The journal will “not be just imitation but superior to” competitors-namely Elsevier's $8000-a-year weekly, Tetrahedron Letters-says ACS publications director Robert Bovenschulte. The ACS product will cost $2300. As with other ACS journals, there will be an online version and papers will be put on the Web within 2 days of final acceptance.

    SPARC chair Kenneth Frazier of the University of Wisconsin Libraries says the 81-library group will deliver a ready market, as most are “expected” to subscribe to journals arising from the new collaboration.