ScienceScope

Science  24 Jul 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5376, pp. 497
  1. Sounding the Infotech Alarm

    The nation's information technology (IT) infrastructure is looking increasingly “fragile” in the face of the growing torrent of data it must process, a presidentially appointed panel warns in a forthcoming report. It recommends a doubling in federal R&D to more than $2 billion a year.

    According to a draft leaked to CNN, without more spending in areas such as high-end computing and software, the United States risks “being overcome by nations with a clearer plan and a stronger view of the future.”

    The big problem, says panel co-chair Ken Kennedy, head of the Rice University Center for Research on Parallel Computation in Houston, is that the size and rapidly increasing complexity of IT systems have “far outstripped the growth in research.” Hence, key systems, such as those for air traffic control, are based on software that may be unreliable, insecure, error-prone, or difficult to upgrade. Kennedy also says the alleged shortage of IT workers in the U.S. is real and “very serious.” The panel's interim report is due out early next month (see http://www.hpcc.gov/).

  2. Court Sides With Tobacco

    A court ruling has attacked a milestone Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that classified secondhand smoke as a human carcinogen. On 17 July, 5 years after the report came out, Judge William Osteen of North Carolina's 4th U.S. District Court ruled in favor of tobacco company plaintiffs that the “EPA did not demonstrate a statistically significant association” between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. He also chastised the agency for being “publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun.”

    The EPA study, one of several dozen to suggest a link between cancer and secondhand smoke, has been used to bolster lawsuits and is credited by some with the quick spread of indoor smoking bans nationwide. R. J. Reynolds now says it may challenge such ordinances.

    EPA says it will appeal the ruling. But antismoking advocates such as Robert Kline, director of the Tobacco Control Legal Clinic at Northeastern University law school, contend it really doesn't matter. Says Kline, “It's going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”