ScienceScope

Science  26 Feb 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5406, pp. 1237
  1. Food Fight

    Fed up with the ongoing media feeding frenzy surrounding genetically modified (GM) food, 19 of Britain's most eminent scientists, all Fellows of the Royal Society, have called for the use of peer review rather than public opinion to judge scientific results. Writing in the 23 February issue of London's Daily Telegraph and Guardian newspapers, they say that “it is a dangerous mistake … to assume that all statements claiming to be scientific can be taken at face value.”

    The letter follows a public statement from 21 scientists in defense of protein chemist Arpad Pusztai (Science, 19 February, p. 1094). Last summer, Pusztai was suspended from his post at the Rowett Research Institute near Aberdeen after declaring in a TV documentary that his unpublished research indicated that potatoes genetically altered to resist pests stunted growth and suppressed immunity in rats.

    One signatory of the new letter, botanist Ghillean Prance, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, says that the Fellows are concerned about several recent incidents in which unpublished results have been promoted in the media. “So much bad science is going into the press,” he says. The society is convening an expert panel to review Pusztai's results and broader issues related to GM foods.

  2. Meltdown

    Nuclear research reactors continue to disappear from U.S. university campuses as the field loses ground to other disciplines. Last month, Iowa State University in Ames finalized plans to dismantle by next year its 10-kilowatt minireactor, whose $200,000-a-year budget became an unjustifiable expense after the school closed its nuclear engineering program a few years ago.

    The 40-year-old reactor becomes the 43rd campus-based atomic plant to close since 1975, leaving about 30 operating academic reactors. Up to a third of the remaining plants could close within the next decade, experts say, due to operating cost concerns and relicensing expenses. Several advisory panels have called on the Department of Energy to stem the decline, which they say threatens a wide range of engineering, materials, and physics research.