Science  13 Aug 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5430, pp. 993

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  1. New Face in Israel

    A career army officer-turned-politician is Israel's new science minister. Recently elected Prime Minister Ehud Barak last week appointed Matan Vilna'i to oversee the nation's new Ministry of Science, Culture, and Sport.

    Scientists are waiting to see whether Vilna'i can protect a drooping $50 million science budget from further cuts. He told Science he would “do everything needed to invest in and develop science” after being sworn in on 6 August—words welcomed by Israel Hanukoglu, a molecular biologist at the College of Judea and Samaria, who served as science adviser to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Vilna'i appears “committed to strongly supporting science,” Hanukoglu says.

    Vilna'i, 55, has vowed not to let science play second fiddle to soccer within his newly amalgamated ministry. But if nothing else, quips one researcher, “maybe science will become the national sport.”

  2. No Class Rings?

    Biomedical teaching powerhouses of the world relax: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) won't be muscling onto your turf after all. NIH officials last month quietly abandoned controversial plans to create a doctoral program on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

    NIH had planned to seek Congress's permission to admit about 15 students a year to a 5-year program in “disease-oriented integrative biology.” But in June, three members of an influential NIH advisory panel came out against the plan, noting that U.S. universities are already under fire for producing too many biologists (Science, 11 June, p. 1743). The row prompted NIH director Harold Varmus and deputy director for intramural research Michael Gottesman to give up the idea. “This was obviously beginning to be a source of irritation,” says Gottesman.

    Instead, the pair will focus on expanding programs that allow grad students to earn credit for work done at NIH. The agency already has such partnerships with the University of Maryland and Duke, George Washington, and Johns Hopkins universities.

  3. India's Science Summit

    Indian scientists want their government to create a pair of autonomous commissions that would help improve the country's performance in biotechnology and sustainable technologies. The recommendation, made last week by more than 150 researchers attending the first National Science Summit in Bangalore, aims to build on the success of panels that have channeled new resources into space and nuclear power.

    The summiteers, gathered by the nonprofit education group Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, also took stock of India's science record. Although many cheered advances in space research, agriculture, and other areas, others worried that success remains uneven. “There are icebergs of good science floating in a sea of bad,” said biophysicist Padmanabhan Balaram of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and editor of Current Science, a leading journal.

    It's too soon to know whether the proposed panels will ever set sail. The politicians who would have to approve them are in the thick of an election campaign that ends in October.

  4. Science Succession

    Democrats have a new leader on the House Science Committee. As expected, Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas last week officially inherited the leadership slot left open by last month's death of Rep. George Brown (Science, 23 July, p. 509).

    Hill watchers don't expect any immediate changes in the committee's slant under Hall, who will lead the 22 Democrats serving on the 47-member panel. But the Texan—who has served on the committee for almost 2 decades and is a former head of its space subcommittee—is far more conservative than his predecessor, often voting with Republicans on fiscal and social matters. Although that history may smooth relations with feisty panel head James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), House aides say it is unclear what it means for science policy. Says one: “He is further right, but those partisan labels often don't mean much in science politics.”