Science  03 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5433, pp. 1469

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  1. Tilting at Solar Panels?

    Opponents of the international space station are staging another budget raid. Representative Tim Roemer (D-IN) announced last month that he will attempt to redirect $2 billion from the station's 2000 budget to other programs. Similar bids have failed in the past, but observers say this year's push packs a stronger political punch, in part because the General Accounting Office recently concluded that NASA still doesn't know the station's total price tag, adding to cost worries. Also, tight budgets in other programs have lawmakers hunting for funds; they have already “borrowed” $1 billion from NASA's 2000 budget. Finally, Roemer has forged alliances with veterans and fiscal conservatives, who have lobbying muscle.

    The vote—expected on 8 September—“could be much closer than we would prefer,” predicts one pro-station House aide. And “victory or not,” it will highlight the project's flaws, says critic Ralph DeGennaro of Taxpayers for Common Sense, who charges that “the station is not science, it's science fiction.”

  2. The One-Night Standard

    One night of passion with that seductive foreigner you can keep to yourself, but two and you've got to tell—even if you can't remember their name. That is the gist of a recent Department of Energy (DOE) security memo that has some researchers amused.

    Last month's counterintelligence directive spells out when DOE staff and scientists have to report “close and continuing contact” with citizens of “sensitive” nations, such as China, India, and Russia. It notes that employees can stay mum about one-night stands, so long as the pillow talk avoids secret subjects. But “if personnel have … intimate contact on more than one occasion with the same foreign national … the relationship must be reported” to security officials. And a lust-clouded mind is no excuse: “Such contact must be reported regardless of whether the foreign national's full name and other biographic data are known.”

    DOE officials say the policy is nothing new and is designed to avoid unnecessary intrusions into privacy. But one of the agency's globetrotting researchers says it is “a bit more explicit” than past guidance. In particular, he jokes, “it's a relief to know you don't have to remember your bedmate's name to comply.”

  3. Steamed About Stem Cells

    A prominent biomedical advocacy group is taking some heat for failing to support controversial human stem cell research. In a letter last month to John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, Stanford biochemist Paul Berg expressed “deep disappointment” over ACS's “recent action withdrawing its support for human embryonic stem cell research,” which uses cells derived from embryos and fetuses.

    The 26 August letter from Berg, head of the American Society for Cell Biology's public policy committee, was prompted by a 29 July New York Times report that influential Catholics had pressured ACS into withdrawing its endorsement of Patients' Cure, a group advocating stem cell research. It was “shocking,” Berg wrote, that ACS had failed to join with other groups calling for federal funding of such work.

    But Berg has it wrong, says Greg Donaldson, ACS vice president of public relations in Atlanta. Although ACS isn't backing Patients' Cure, he says “nothing could be farther from the truth” than the claim that ACS withdrew its support for stem cell research. “How could we, when we haven't formulated a policy yet?” he asks. Though ACS joined other groups in May to urge Congress not to ban stem cell research, he says staff are still “engaged in a deliberate internal dialogue” on its policy.

  4. Whose Mummy?

    Researchers and Native Americans are at odds over the fate of Spirit Cave man, a 9400-year-old mummy. Found in 1940 about 90 km east of Carson City, Nevada, the mummy is the oldest documented North American yet. First presumed to be less than 3000 years old, the remains were carbon-dated after being rediscovered in storage at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City in 1994. The new date sparked a flurry of research, as well as demands from the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe, which wants to bury its alleged ancestor.

    Scientists are keen to do a DNA probe on the Spirit Cave bones, but the government has forbidden any invasive procedures pending a custody decision. Both sides are pleading their case to the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which will make the decision. In the meantime, scientists eager to see whether Spirit Cave man sheds light on the peopling of the Americas are on tenterhooks. Says University of Nevada archaeologist Eugene Hattori: “Everyone is waiting for BLM.”