ScienceScope

Science  09 Jul 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5425, pp. 177
  1. Dying Flame?

    The Department of Energy's (DOE's) fusion program is dangerously close to flickering out, says an advisory panel.

    In March, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson appointed a task force led by physicist Richard Meserve, a Washington, D.C., attorney, to examine DOE's $230 million fusion portfolio. Battered by budget cuts, DOE's “vibrant and valuable” fusion work “is now subcritical,” the panel states in a draft report scheduled for release today. All it would take to get the effort back on track, the panel suggests, is a gentle management shake-up and a budget increase of less than $20 million a year to fund a handful of promising research projects.

    The report is “mostly a pat on the back” for DOE, says Stephen Dean of Fusion Power Associates in Virginia. More-critical reviews could come later this year, when a National Academy of Sciences committee and another DOE advisory panel offer their advice on fusion's future.

  2. Blood Money

    Scientists could get an extra $25 million over the next 5 years to study youth violence. In the wake of the Columbine High School shootings, House and Senate lawmakers have passed anticrime bills calling on the National Institutes of Health to spend the funds—which would come on top of more than $50 million the agency already pumps into related work each year.

    The American Psychological Society had pushed for a $100 million boost for studies on violence prevention, peer pressure, and other issues. But the lower figure is fine with executive director Alan Kraut, who calls it “a big first step.”

    There are still some hurdles to clear before the cash arrives. Later this year, House and Senate negotiators must agree on a final version of the crime bill—but talks could bog down over controversial provisions, including several on gun control. And even if the bill passes, Congress must still come up with the money in the 2000 budget, now under discussion.

  3. Tax Relief

    A move to give companies a permanent tax break for R&D investments is gaining momentum. Over the last decade, the White House and Congress have backed only temporary renewals of the $2 billion-a-year R&D tax credit. But last month a congressional panel said the projected budget surplus makes it a good time to put the subsidy on firmer footing, and last week—just as the rebate expired—the White House changed its tune, endorsing legislation for a permanent credit.

    Company officials claim the incentive may loosen up an extra $40 billion for R&D by 2010. Congress could vote on the issue as early as next week.

  4. Bone Tired

    The Kennewick Man drama seems set for a long engagement. Last week, the Interior Department announced that a scientific panel appointed in February has been unable to conclusively date the controversial remains. The government now must negotiate with five Native American tribes that lay claim to the remains for permission to destroy a bit of bone for radiocarbon tests.

    Scientists believe Kennewick Man, found 3 years ago in the bank of Washington's Columbia River, could offer insights into the peopling of the Americas. After extensive legal wrangling, Interior set up a panel to decide whether the bones qualify as Native American—defined by the government as anyone in the United States before the Europeans (Science, 26 February, p. 1239).

    Scientists earlier had got an age of 9300 years after carbon dating a finger fragment. But with only nondestructive testing now allowed, the Interior panel had to try to date organic matter in sediment adhering to the bones. They failed to find any scraps bearing carbon-14.

    Even if tribes assent to a new test on the bones, a firm date won't settle the dispute: Assuming the remains are ancient, Interior must still try to figure out if Kennewick Man has any biological or cultural link to a modern tribe.

    Meanwhile, scientists who have filed suit to gain access to the bones aren't optimistic about getting a look. Says plaintiff Robson Bonnichsen of Oregon State University in Corvallis: “This one's going to drag on a long time.”