ScienceScope

Science  05 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5403, pp. 769
  1. Pluto Plea

    Leave Pluto alone! That's the message astronomers all over the world are sending the International Astronomical Union (IAU). A recent discussion about whether Pluto should be cataloged as the 10,000th entry in the list of minor bodies in the solar system rather than the ninth planet (Science, 8 January, p. 157) has alarmed planetary researchers, who worry that the public would see the move as a demotion for Pluto.

    The Committee of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society joined the chorus last week in a statement forwarded to the IAU, arguing that there is no compelling reason for the celestial body's declassification. “For now at least, nothing should be done,” says DPS chair Don Yeomans of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Most solar system researchers agree, says Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Although Pluto is by strict definition a trans-Neptunian object, dozens of which have been found in the past decade, Stern sees no reason why it can't be called a planet, too.

    The IAU isn't about to make a decision anytime soon. But it now knows how strongly some people feel about the subject. Says Yeomans: “There are nine planets, period.”

  2. Going Megaglobal

    Delegates to the Megascience Forum, a 6-year experiment in stimulating international cooperation among science policy-makers sponsored by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have recommended extending the forum's shelf life past its expiration date. At their final meeting last week, delegates offered to reincarnate themselves as a Global Science Forum that would add a new voice to perennial debates over issues such as climate change, land use, and food production. OECD ministers will consider the proposal in June.

    The forum gathers research officials and top scientists into working groups on international scientific issues; its successes include sounding an early alarm about the dangers posed by commercial encroachment into bandwidths of interest to radioastronomers and a pending proposal to set up a global biodiversity information facility.

  3. Let Them Debate!

    Like outlaws itching for a showdown with the sheriff, angry French scientists have been gunning for research minister Claude Allègre ever since he proposed controversial reforms of the nation's research agencies last year (Science, 23 October 1998, p. 607). Allègre has spurned scientists' demands for a formal national debate on the future of French science. Now, the scientists are plotting the next stage of their insurgency.

    Last week, presidents of the 40 sections within CNRS, France's basic research agency, and other science VIPs issued a communiqué insisting that “the circumstances demand” a national debate. The research ministry's answer came swiftly: Non. Instead, the ministry wants to continue ongoing discussions of Allègre's plans within its science agencies. “We don't believe a national debate is the best solution,” says the ministry's director-general for research, Vincent Courtillot.

    The next move is up to the scientists, who have already shown some fighting spirit. “We all agree changes are necessary, but there is no reason not to [debate],” says neurophysiologist Rose Katz, president of the French biomedical agency INSERM's scientific council. CNRS historian Denis Peschanski vows that his colleagues will organize a national debate—“with the agreement of the minister or without it.”

  4. Magnetic Makeover

    Dutch scientists are turning dreams of upgrading their High Field Magnet Laboratory in Nijmegen into reality. The Dutch Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter and the University of Nijmegen have signed off on a $23 million plan to refurbish the lab, which probes materials such as superconductors and studies the effects of magnetic fields on living organisms. A new power supply will boost the 20-tesla fields of two existing magnets to 34 and 41 teslas, says lab director Jan-Kees Maan, and the lab will install a new pulsed magnet, capable of producing an 80-tesla field—800,000 times as strong as Earth's magnetic field.

    The additions will allow the lab to better compete with facilities in Tallahassee, Florida, and Grenoble, France. Elsewhere on the European magnet front, scientists face a 15 February deadline for commenting on a European Science Foundation report calling for a jointly funded, continent-wide magnet lab that would be home to even more powerful devices.

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