Science  03 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5446, pp. 1825
  1. DESY Debate

    Researchers are contesting a one-man campaign to shutter Germany's flagship particle physics facility. In an article last month in the magazine Der Spiegel, physicist Hans Grassmann charged that the Deutsche Elektronen Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg conducts “irrelevant physics” and advocated making better use of its $140 million annual budget. In response, DESY's directors, led by physicist Albrecht Wagner, posted a four-page rebuttal on the lab's Web site, along with more than 50 endorsements from physicists around the world. In one, Fermilab director Michael Witherell calls DESY “one of the world's most important physics laboratories.”

    But Grassmann, a German who recently joined Italy's University of Udine, contends that DESY's scientific output has been poor. And he denies that his attack was motivated by his failure to win a job at DESY, where he worked briefly as a student. But Grassmann has found few allies so far. Because German scientists fear reprisals, he says, it is “almost impossible” to find physicists “who would make such criticisms in public.”

  2. Choices, Choices

    The saga of where to build DIAMOND, Britain's new $290 million synchrotron x-ray source, has taken some new twists. Just as he was expected to announce which of two sites had won the machine, Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers last week told Parliament that he will put off the choice until next month pending the completion of two new government studies.

    Along with the delay came word that the charitable Wellcome Trust, which is footing $184 million of DIAMOND's construction costs, favors one competitor: the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) near Oxford (Science, 22 October, p. 655). Indeed, trust officials asserted in a statement last week that their discussions with Byers's department and the French research ministry, which is contributing $57 million to the project, “have been based on the understanding that the … RAL site was the preferred location.” Wellcome said DIAMOND would face engineering problems at RAL's rival, the Daresbury Laboratory near Manchester.

    But such claims are “flimsy,” charges physicist Graham Bushnell-Wye, who helps run the “DIAMOND at Daresbury” campaign. And he predicts Daresbury is going to do just fine in the new studies, which will weigh engineering issues and opinions in the scientific community.

  3. Northbound

    MIT's dean of the school of science, Robert Birgeneau, will leave the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus next summer to become head of his alma mater, the University of Toronto. That's causing jitters among the women faculty at MIT, who praise the physicist as their most important advocate in a long battle to address gender inequality (Science, 12 November, p. 1272). But Lotte Bailyn, an MIT management professor and former faculty chair, is optimistic that the issue won't die with the dean's departure. And Birgeneau himself says that the effort to address inequality issues “is in transition—but there's enough momentum” to ensure that the issue remains on the front burner. Both academics note that the other four MIT schools have already organized committees to examine the status of faculty women similar to the one Birgeneau helped create.

  4. Who's No. 1?

    Japan's investment in research has reached record levels. According to new figures from the country's Management and Coordination Agency, total R&D spending was $122 billion for the year ending on 31 March, a 2.5% increase over the previous year despite an economy that shrank by 2.1%. Japan devoted 3.26% of its $3.7 trillion gross domestic product to research, well ahead of the 2.79% figure posted by the second-place United States for its $8.8 trillion economy (Science, 29 October, p. 881), although the countries use different accounting methods.

    The 1998 numbers for Japan show that public spending grew by a robust 9%, to $27 billion, while spending by the recession-battered private sector edged up 0.7%, to $95 billion. “Given the severe [economic] conditions, the spending trend is very positive,” says an official at the Science and Technology Agency.

    The government's share of the spending pie rose to 21.7% in a deliberate effort to bring it in line with rates for other industrialized countries. Meanwhile, the U.S. government's contribution to R&D spending continues to drop, reaching a record low of 26.7% of a projected $247 billion in 1999. Ironically, many U.S. officials are wringing their hands at the declining federal contribution, caused largely by a surge of industrial R&D in conjunction with a booming economy.