Science  15 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5439, pp. 385

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  1. Thin ice

    Now may not be the best time to borrow money in Russia, but don't tell that to the Russian Antarctic Expedition (RAE). Crippled by the ruble's collapse last year, the RAE has won approval to take out an emergency loan to fund its operations during the coming austral summer

    During the Cold War, the Soviet Union maintained a vast antarctic operation, with several year-round coastal bases and the inland Vostok station. But the post-Soviet days have been bruising: The RAE must use 61% of its $5.6 million budget to finance the research ship Academik Fedorov and spend most of the remainder on supplies from overseas vendors. Following the ruble's plunge in August 1998, the RAE had to raid its 1999 budget to pay for last season's operations.

    Now the government says it doesn't have the funds to keep its promise of maintaining four year-round bases. So it has authorized RAE to take out a $2.3 million loan at high interest, promising to come up with the principal by February. RAE will cobble together the interest payments from money it receives ferrying Scandinavian researchers. Says vexed RAE chief Valery Lukin, “It's a crazy situation.”

  2. Supplemental science

    Japan's scientists once again stand to gain from the government's efforts to stimulate the economy. Last week, the cabinet instructed ministries to draw up plans for $33 billion in additional spending on public works and “emerging technologies.”

    The $7.3 billion Science and Technology Agency, for example, is asking for $1.9 billion more to sweeten its efforts in information technologies, life sciences, and the environment. It also wants to accelerate work on such large projects as an ocean drilling ship and an Earth simulator for modeling climate change. Other science agencies will also request funds and it is likely that some new lab buildings and other research facilities will be financed from a pot earmarked for public works.

    The ministries' requests are part of a $100 billion economic revitalization package that includes loan guarantees, local government spending, and tax cuts. The spending plan is expected to be finalized by mid-November and put into effect before the next fiscal year beginning on 1 April.

  3. Gender shift

    It took 25 years for a woman to break into the upper echelon of the male-dominated National Science Foundation (NSF). And it was only last year that Rita Colwell became the first woman to head the $3.8 billion agency. But next year, as NSF marks its 50th anniversary, women will hold the balance of power.

    Women will hold five of the nine top slots at NSF in January, when University of Rhode Island oceanographer Margaret Leinen will succeed Robert Corell as head of geosciences, one of NSF's seven research directorates. Indeed, all three of Colwell's assistant director picks have been women—starting last fall with Ruzena Bajcsy to lead computer sciences and continuing with the appointment in August of Judith Sunley as acting head of education and human resources. They join Mary Clutter, who has headed the biology directorate since 1991.

    “I'm delighted that NSF is appointing a significant number of women to high positions,” says Betsy Clark, a biologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who in 1975 became the first female assistant NSF director and who, perhaps not coincidentally, recruited Clutter. “Good women have been available for a long time, but many haven't gotten the chance to be leaders.”

  4. Less taxing

    A major cut in Australia's capital gains tax could spur investment in biotech and other fields. The new rates are intended to open the door to outside sources of venture capital and encourage Australians to keep their funds in-country. The tax break “will remove a major barrier,” predicts John Mattick, director of Queensland's Institute of Molecular Bioscience.

    The new rates are part of a top-to-bottom government overhaul. The current 48% capital gains tax would be cut in half for individual Australians and erased for overseas pension funds that commit cash to Australian projects for at least 1 year. Skeptics note that the breaks don't apply to Australian investment funds. Still, some research centers are taking advantage of the change: Sydney's Garvan Institute, for example, has already spun off investor-ready mental health and diabetes research firms. Legislators still must approve the changes, which a recent review deemed critical to raising Australian's international science standing (Science, 21 May, p. 1248).