ScienceScope

Science  06 Aug 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5429, pp. 813
  1. High-Tech Whipping Boy

    A federal program that funds high-risk industrial R&D is back in the congressional doghouse. Last week, House appropriators voted to zero out the 2000 budget of the Department of Commerce's Advanced Technology Program (ATP). House Science Committee chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) then piled on, calling reform efforts at ATP “a sham.”

    After much prodding from Congress, ATP in 1997 rewrote its rules to fund only those R&D proposals at companies that failed to secure private money for projects. But according to a new report from the Government Accounting Office, ATP officials still review initial proposals in which the prospects for private sector funding aren't spelled out.

    To Sensenbrenner, that means the reforms aren't working. ATP associate director Marc Stanley, however, says the program hews to its new line: Regardless of which projects ATP ends up reviewing, only those shunned by corporate financiers get federal dollars. The Senate has given ATP an easier go, allotting the program $226.5 million, nearly the full White House request; a House-Senate conference later this year will resolve the differences.

  2. Darwin-Free Biology

    Kansas authorities are poised to approve a new set of science standards that eliminates most references to evolution. The decision is expected on 11 August, when the Kansas State Board of Education meets to approve wording of a text that has been the focus of a prolonged public battle.

    Several members of the 10-member elected board have fought to keep evolution out of the document, which will be the basis for statewide achievement tests. Religious fundamentalists on the board have recruited a six-member majority in favor of a version that deletes most references to evolution from the biology curriculum, says John Staver, director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas State University in Manhattan and co-chair of the committee that drafted the standards. If approved, the curriculum will leave individual school districts free to decide whether to include evolution in biology classes. “It's a sad day for public education and an embarrassment for the state of Kansas,” Staver says.

  3. Pet Projects

    The Japanese government is preparing to give science a hefty 9% raise in next year's budget. But researchers aren't quite ready to celebrate: Much of the increase appears slated for projects that will be hand-picked by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's office.

    Agency spending guidelines, adopted by the Cabinet last week, include a new $2.17 billion account for R&D in information, life, and environmental sciences deemed to have potential for a high economic payoff. Science spending in usual accounts for the fiscal year starting in April 2000 will be nearly flat, says Nobuhiro Muroya, deputy director of planning for the Science and Technology Agency. The majority of the increase will go to the new category; to vie for funds, each ministry must propose projects to the prime minister's office, which will assess the projects—likely ones already on the drawing board—according to yet-to-be-defined criteria.

    “This came up so suddenly, I don't think anyone in the science community knows anything about it,” says one senior scientist. But they will soon: It should become clear by the end of this month which projects are on the funding fast track.

  4. Beyond the Numbers

    A new report offers stern advice for academic mathematicians: Pay more attention to the world around you, or at least to the other departments in your university.

    To learn how math departments view themselves—and how they're viewed on campus—a task force of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) spent 7 years interviewing the chairs of half the nation's Ph.D.-granting math departments and 30 of their deans. They found a dramatic dichotomy in perceptions. “There wasn't a dean who didn't say math was the leading cause of complaints” at his university, says AMS executive director John Ewing. And whereas most mathematicians saw their discipline as central to the sciences, says Ewing, most deans viewed mathematics as one of the most “insular” departments on campus.

    The report recommends that department chairs reward faculty members who focus on instruction, forge collaborations with other departments, and devote more resources to outreach and to remedial education. The payoff may well be more money for research, says Ewing: “Their life as a research department depends on … their teaching.”