ScienceScope

Science  13 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5392, pp. 1237
  1. U.K. Panel to Vet Gene Testing

    The British government is taking steps to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people who have had genetic testing. Critics worry that insurers may use the tests, which can reveal who carries genes that increase disease risks, as an excuse to jack up policy prices or deny coverage to those carrying “bad genes.”

    Government officials announced last week that they will work with insurers over the next year to devise a scheme for reviewing test reliability and the fair use of results in policy pricing. The initiative, led by the government's Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing, will also establish an appeals process for those who believe insurers have discriminated against them.

    “People are waiting to see flesh on the bones of these proposals,” says Martin Bobrow, a medical geneticist at the University of Cambridge. “A lot will depend on who is on the evaluating committee and how the appeals process works.”

  2. More Space Missions Imperiled by Russian Woes

    Russia's economic woes are threatening to derail three more high-profile space science projects. Just a month ago, the United States moved to save the international space station by launching what could end up being a billion-dollar bailout of its ailing Russian partners. Now it is the European Space Agency (ESA) that must ponder how to pay for planned missions if Russia proves unable to provide promised Proton launch vehicles and other support.

    The threatened missions are Mars Express, which would map the Red Planet and hunt for water beginning in 2003; Integral, an x-ray observer scheduled for a 2001 launch; and Spectrum-X-Gamma, a long-delayed astronomy platform now slated for launch in 2001.

  3. Canadian Panel Dials Up Fields

    The Canadian government has asked a blue-ribbon panel to assess the potential health risks of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by cell phones and other wireless devices. The study is meant to inform a government effort to update regulations that set limits on EMFs produced by consumer products.

    “There's an awful lot of controversy around this issue,” says Elizabeth Nielson of Health Canada, the nation's health agency. Although she says any risks associated with EMFs have been “difficult to prove one way or another,” she hopes the panel—which will review existing studies—will address public worries about cancer and other issues. Epidemiologist Daniel Krewski of the University of Ottawa will chair the eight-member committee.

    Canadian officials would like to consider the panel's findings when drafting the new regulations. But that may have to be done informally, because the panel isn't scheduled to officially release its report until March—the same time the safety code revisions are due out.

  4. PNAS Maintains Embargo

    Biologist Nicholas Cozzarelli dreams of a world in which scientists wouldn't have to keep quiet in public about their papers in press at a scientific journal. He believes such embargo rules, which many journals use to prevent early data release, are inimical to scientific communication. So, as editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Cozzarelli has proposed getting his journal out of the embargo business.

    But the 50-member PNAS editorial board is divided on Cozzarelli's plan, which he presented at a 30 October meeting. Some members argue that PNAS's competitive edge might suffer. Geneticist Arno Motulsky of the University of Washington, Seattle, also worries that the lack of an embargo might encourage commercial sponsors of research to hype findings before publication. Such concerns prompted the PNAS board to postpone action on making their journal embargo-free—at least until their next meeting in April.

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