ScienceScope

Science  29 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5441, pp. 879
  1. Beijing Brouhaha

    Brushing aside last-minute objections from an influential congressman, the National Science Foundation (NSF) last week gave the green light to a science policy meeting in China involving officials from both countries. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI, right), chair of the House Science Committee, was supposed to deliver the keynote address at the 3-day Beijing conference organized by Thomas Ratchford, a senior science official in the Bush Administration who now teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Ratchford has a $325,000 NSF grant to explore U.S.-Chinese roles in a “borderless, knowledge-based 21st century economy.”

    But Sensenbrenner pulled out on 20 October, blasting China's “repeated efforts to obtain or misuse sensitive military technologies,” and urged NSF to cancel the meeting. Ironically, he broke the news to NSF director Rita Colwell in a call that interrupted a meeting with reporters in which she and presidential science adviser Neal Lane had heaped praise on Sensenbrenner and his Republican colleagues for their help in passing the just-signed 2000 budget for NSF and NASA.

    Colwell spent the next day conferring with Lane and other scientists before deciding that the meeting should go on. The seminar “is not linked to [Sensenbrenner's] specific concerns” and upholds “the principle of free circulation of scientists,” she says. Sensenbrenner released a statement expressing disappointment with NSF's decision, which he said “prompts further questions about the Administration's handling of S&T issues involving China.”

  2. Opinion-Makers

    How do British scientists think they rate with the public? The Wellcome Trust aims to find out. Next month, with support from the government's Office of Science and Technology, the biomedical research charity will begin face-to-face interviews with a “nationally representative” sample of 1600 U.K. scientists in a bid to discover—among other things—how they see their role in society and how the fuss over genetically modified foods has shaped their attitudes toward the media. Preliminary results of the survey, to be conducted by the market research firm MORI, will be available next spring, with a final report in July.

  3. Upwardly Mobile

    A strong economy has pushed the share of U.S. resources devoted to research to the highest level since the race-to-the-moon boom of the 1960s. This year the United States will spend 2.79% of its $8.8 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D, concludes a new National Science Foundation report (NSF 99-357, at www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs). The $247 billion investment extends a 6-year uptick and erases an earlier decline that had triggered dire warnings of a loss of U.S. leadership in science. The most recent figures keep the United States close to Japan's 2.92% and comfortably above Germany's 2.3%.

    This year's $20 billion, 8.8% spending boost is fueled by industry, which funds 68% of the U.S. scientific enterprise. Meanwhile, the federal government's spending share slipped to 27%, the lowest percentage since NSF began collecting data in 1953. “It's a reflection of good economic times,” notes NSF's Steve Payson. If industrial investment remains strong, he says, next year's figures could beat the 1964 record of 2.87% of GDP.

  4. Minority Report

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) already has too many institutes and centers, according to NIH director Harold Varmus. But his lack of enthusiasm for subdivisions hasn't stopped Congress from proposing more. This week Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) planned to throw his legislative weight behind a bill to create a new Center for Research on Domestic Health Disparities, which would study health problems of particular concern to minorities.

    Kennedy's bill is expected to mirror one proposed in the House on 30 June by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL). Jackson's bill (HR 2391) calls on NIH to fund research that aims to find out why ethnic minorities and “individuals in underserved communities” are likely to die earlier than whites of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and AIDS. Jackson has already signed up 70 co-sponsors, including members of the Asian, black, and Hispanic caucuses. But neither bill is expected to make much progress this year.