ScienceScope

Science  18 Dec 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5397, pp. 2165
  1. NIH to Review Conflict Policies

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will take a closer look at the outside consulting fees earned by its scientists. This week, in response to a congressional query about an NIH scientist who received thousands of dollars in drug company fees, NIH director Harold Varmus requested a review of his agency's conflict-of-interest policies.

    On 7 December, the Los Angeles Times reported that Richard Eastman, chief of the diabetes division at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), had received speaking fees for several years from the Warner-Lambert Co. of Morris Plains, New Jersey. Eastman told the Times that he did not take part in decisions affecting company products while he was a consultant, but he was in charge of a clinical trial that included a Warner-Lambert diabetes prevention drug called troglitazone. Last summer, after a patient taking the drug died, the NIDDK dropped the drug from the trial.

    The story prompted Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA, above) to send Varmus a two-page list of questions about the case on 7 December. A “concerned” Varmus responded by asking the inspector-general of the Department of Health and Human Services to examine whether NIH staff involved in the case complied with federal conflict-of-interest guidelines. His staff is also reviewing how NIH's two dozen institutes and centers apply the rules, with an eye toward clarifying them.

  2. Academic Inbreeding Attacked

    South Korea wants to imbue its universities with a little fresh blood. The National Assembly is expected to pass a bill this session that would prohibit universities from filling more than half of new faculty openings with their own alumni.

    Inbreeding has been a hallmark of top Korean schools. At the prestigious Seoul National University (SNU), for instance, 95.6% of the faculty are alums. Now, government officials want to reduce the in-house promotions in an effort to spread around the scholarly talent.

    But some SNU administrators oppose any quota, arguing that SNU's star students are also the most-qualified professors. “The best candidates happen to be our alumni,” says Lee Jung Jae, an SNU education professor. Electrical engineer Park Young Joon, however, favors the change. The current system, he says, makes it too hard to bring in new talent.

  3. Science Editor-in-Chief to Step Down

    Science is looking for a new editor. Editor-in-Chief Floyd Bloom (below) last week told the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes Science, that he will not seek a second 5-year term when his current appointment expires in May 2000. He said he wants to spend more time doing research at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, where he is chairman of the Department of Neuropharmacology.

    During Bloom's tenure, Science regularly published research reports that ranked among the most cited papers of the year. The journal also underwent a major redesign and made the leap onto the World Wide Web. Bloom “brought the vision, energy, and focus necessary to make it happen,” says Science Publisher Richard Nicholson. The AAAS board plans to appoint a search committee within a few weeks, with hopes of naming Bloom's successor sometime next year.

  4. Not-so-Critical Technologies

    Japan's industrial might in the 1980s created a bull market for studies assessing whether U.S. industry was falling behind in the race to master so-called “critical technologies” such as x-ray lithography. But a new White House report suggests that the once-hot topic has become cold, thanks to a healthy U.S. economy and Asia's financial crisis.

    The report, based on interviews with 39 industrial titans from the likes of Merck, Motorola, and Lockheed Martin, is largely an exercise in chest-pounding. “Most speakers expressed their belief that the U.S. has regained its edge,” the authors note. At the same time, the industrialists register grave concern with the state of U.S. public school education, a finding that the authors admit seems far removed from anyone's definition of a critical technology.

    Perhaps the best gauge of how far techno-fears have ebbed is the affiliation of the authors. The report is from a federally funded think tank called the Science and Technology Policy Institute. Until recently, Washington insiders knew it by another name: the Critical Technologies Institute.