ScienceScope

Science  04 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5382, pp. 1425
  1. Societies Leap Into California Standards Fray

    The battle over science instruction in California is moving to a new front. This week, a group calling itself the “Scientists' Standards Project”—backed by the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, and the American Astronomical Society—charged that a draft set of science standards for state schools released in July stresses facts at the expense of concepts. They want the state Board of Education to give them a chance to revise the standards before the state finalizes them in October.

    The debate erupted last fall, when the state got caught in a tug-of-war between two groups that wanted to draft the standards—one emphasizing facts and the other concepts (Science, 12 December 1997, p. 1885). Members from both groups produced a consensus draft of the standards in July. The draft represents a “very hard fought compromise,” says Scott Hill, executive director of the California standards commission. He doubts substantial changes will be made before the October deadline.

  2. EPA to Expose Hormone Impostors

    Environmental scientists are preparing for a massive chemical hunt. This month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalizes plans for its endocrine disrupter screening program, which will require companies to spend millions of dollars to test thousands of chemicals for their potential to wreak havoc on the hormonal systems of people and wildlife.

    Studies have shown that synthetic chemicals found in many common products—from pesticides to plastics—can mimic the behavior of estrogen and other hormones in wildlife, disrupting everything from sexual development to immune resistance. But it's not clear if the substances pose a threat to people. To find out, in 1996 Congress asked the EPA to identify the riskiest compounds.

    The effort, to start later this year, won't provide all the answers, but Tufts University physician Ana Soto says screening is “an important first step.”

  3. Stanford Psychiatrist Fined in Tenure Battle

    Stanford University has fined and suspended a tenured psychiatrist in the latest round of a case that some observers see as a worrisome sign of university attempts to narrow the rights associated with tenure.

    Stanford's Academic Council ruled last month that Adolf Pfefferbaum, a 22-year veteran of the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital known for his research on schizophrenia, flouted school policy when he quit the hospital in 1996 due to what he called “intolerable” working conditions. He asked to move to the university's medical school, where he had a joint appointment. The university refused, arguing that he had lost his protected post when he left the VA, his primary employer (Science, 3 October 1997, p. 27). After Pfefferbaum sued, a judge ordered him reinstated pending a university inquiry, completed recently. In its report, the council concluded that Pfefferbaum—now the head of psychiatry at SRI International in Menlo Park, California—had failed to prove a “hostile” working environment and had no right to “unilaterally” change his academic duties. Although President Gerhard Casper wanted to fire the errant professor for neglect of duty—and made it clear that he will not tolerate similar gambits by other academics—the council recommended leniency. It suspended Pfefferbaum for 3 years and ordered him to pay a $20,000 fine if he wants to come back to campus. The decision helps clarify what constitutes a “reasonable academic assignment,” says Stanford statistician Bradley Efron, one of the report's authors.

    Pfefferbaum's attorney, former California congressman Pete McCloskey, says his client has not yet indicated whether he will return to Stanford. Meanwhile, McCloskey says he will ask a judge to overturn Stanford's “unconscionable” action when he goes to court on related litigation in September. He adds: “We have not yet begun to fight.”

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