Science  26 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5410, pp. 1989
  1. Betting on Research

    More Americans than ever are wrecking their lives by gambling away their money on everything from state lotteries to Internet virtual casinos, according to a National Research Council (NRC) report set for release next week.

    Gamblers now wager more than half a trillion dollars a year in the United States, according to the study, which was led by Charles F. Wellford of the University of Maryland, College Park. It concludes that the number of U.S. adults whose gaming is “pathological”—out of control and damaging to jobs, finances, and family—has grown to an estimated 1.8 million.

    The federal government, however, devotes “next to nothing” to research on gambling, says John Shosky, deputy director of the president's National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC). So the NRC is calling for more research and better diagnostic approaches. For example, because compulsive gambling often shows up in tandem with other compulsive behaviors, the report recommends that physicians treating people for substance abuse also be on the lookout for gambling tendencies. The NRC review is part of a larger NGISC report due 18 June.

  2. Diet Conscious

    Japan's life scientists are looking forward to greater political support—thanks to a new life sciences study group in Japan's parliament, the Diet. Similar to a caucus in the U.S. Congress, the group consists of some 70 members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). It is chaired by Koichi Kato, a contender to be Japan's next prime minister.

    A spokesperson for Hiroyuki Hosoda, an LDP member instrumental in setting up the group, says legislators have become increasingly concerned that Japan is falling behind in genomics and biotechnology, and that the Diet has no regular legislative committee to address the problem. The study group, formed last week, hopes its organizing efforts will bolster a move by five ministries to foster the growth of biotech businesses and also boost life science spending in the 2000 budget, which will be debated through the fall and go into effect 1 April 2000.

  3. Hiring Boom

    In the name of “reinventing government,” Vice President Al Gore told many research offices a few years ago that they would have to freeze, or even cut, staff. But now the hard times are over, and one research agency—the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland—is hiring researchers at a head-spinning rate.

    NCI will add 200 to 250 staffers to its intramural research roster in the next year, a nearly 10% increase, according to NCI administrative officer Maryann Guerra. But there's no need to rush in your application: The jobs are already taken. NCI has reserved the positions for people at its satellite office in Frederick, Maryland—contract scientists now employed by a management company called Applied BioSciences Laboratory. They will be grandfathered into tenure-eligible NCI positions.

    The White House this year approved the move, which NCI has been planning for 2 years, following the recommendations of an outside advisory panel. Although hiring the contract staff will increase the NCI payroll by “a big bump,” Guerra says, she guesses that because NCI won't have to pay the contractor's fees, “it's going to be cheaper.”

  4. Fishing for Sanctions

    U.S. conservation groups are calling for a trade war over Canada's failure to pass endangered species legislation. On 23 March, citing a little-used provision of a fisheries law, Defenders of Wildlife and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance petitioned the secretaries of Interior and Commerce to impose trade sanctions—such as blocking imports of fish—on the United States' largest trading partner until the Canadian Parliament passes long-stalled wildlife protections. Last year, a bill that enjoyed broad popular support withered under opposition from industry and the leaders of some provinces.

    In a bid to get a new bill introduced, more than 600 Canadian scientists earlier this month signed an open letter calling on the government to get behind strong species protections. Now, some of the researchers hope the U.S. groups' move will ratchet up the pressure to act. But Commerce officials caution that the petition may face a cool reception. “It is unlikely the U.S. would start a trade fight over something like this,” says one. A formal verdict on the petition won't come for several months at least.

  5. Hot Developments

    The federal government got mixed news this month about its efforts to safely stow the nation's nuclear waste. Department of Energy (DOE) officials were pleased on 22 March when a federal judge waved aside a final lawsuit aimed at blocking the first shipment of radioactive waste to its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a series of excavated salt caverns near Carlsbad, New Mexico (Science, 12 March, p. 1626). After a 25-year struggle, WIPP expects this week to off-load the first trucks filled with tainted clothing, tools, and nuclear weapons leftovers.

    Another long-planned repository, however, faces more questions. On 3 March, a technical review board raised further doubts about the adequacy of plans for a repository under Yucca Mountain, Nevada, where Congress wants to stash the bulk of the nation's hottest stuff, such as commercial power plant wastes (Science, 12 March, p. 1627). The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board asked DOE to reconsider current plans that allow waste to generate high temperatures in the vault. Instead, it wants the agency to ponder designs for keeping lower temperature waste caskets, which have less chance of boiling groundwater and geochemically altering surrounding rock.

  6. Price War

    Librarians dedicated to driving down academic journal prices are going on the offensive. Next week, the 160- library Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) will unveil a $500,000 program to launch five or so university-based electronic journals and Web resources in science, medicine, and technology. The Scientific Communities Initiative aims to give scientists cheaper access to information by creating alternatives to increasingly expensive for-profit journals (Science, 30 October 1998, p. 853). For-profit publishers have taken a dim view of such projects, saying it is unrealistic to expect academics to shoulder the burden of providing the services—from editing to proofreading—that they offer. SPARC, however, doesn't foresee any shortage of applicants for the roughly $100,000 grants. Interested groups have until 21 May to apply (

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