ScienceScope

Science  10 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5447, pp. 2053
  1. Over the Top

    Despite a wobbly economy, Japan appears likely to top an ambitious goal to spend 17 trillion yen (U.S. $166 billion) on science and technology over 5 years. But Japanese officials aren't resting on their laurels: They are already working on a new 5-year plan that will address some of the problems created by expanding the country's scientific infrastructure.

    The 17-trillion goal flowed from a 1995 law intended to boost the nation's publicly funded research efforts. This week the Diet is expected to approve yet another supplemental spending package, bringing total spending for 1996 to 1999 to 13.9 trillion yen. Officials are also putting the finishing touches on an R&D science-related budget for 2000 of 3.5 trillion yen that would boost the 5-year total to about 17.4 trillion yen.

    “A lot of good things have come out of this [spending],” including a dramatic expansion of competitive grant programs and the introduction of postdoctoral positions and other schemes to boost the careers of young scientists, says Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, president of the Science Council of Japan, the nation's most influential scientific group. “But new problems have emerged,” he adds, noting that there is insufficient lab space and a dearth of positions for those completing postdoctoral fellowships. Yoshikawa says he hopes to address both issues in the next 5-year plan, which begins 1 April 2001.

  2. Salmon Summit?

    Conservation groups are anxiously waiting to see if President Bill Clinton takes them up on their call for a special review of the science behind federal plans to save endangered Pacific salmon. American Rivers and 16 other groups wrote to Clinton last month urging him to organize a “summit to address serious errors in the science now being employed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS),” the U.S. agency charged with saving dozens of declining runs in the Pacific Northwest. The groups charge that the agency's analyses underestimate the risk of extinction and downplay the benefits of a controversial proposal to remove four dams that block the Snake River (Science, 23 April, p. 574).

    Judging by the noises coming from NMFS, a summit is unlikely: Ongoing regulatory studies, set to be finalized late next year, have “already provided for significant peer review,” says one NMFS biologist.

  3. Converted

    Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has gotten religion on science. He pledged last week to create a “vigorous plan” to recruit and retain scientists at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) national laboratories, and promised to make science and technology a more central concern next year on Capitol Hill.

    Richardson has had relatively little to say about science since he took over DOE in 1998. But at a 1 December briefing for Washington science writers, he said he wants to boost funding for the new neutron source planned for Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and for fusion, a program that has received little attention from DOE chiefs in the past decade.

    Richardson also plans a recruiting drive to address department fears that the espionage scandal and resulting furor—including threats to submit more than 1000 scientists to polygraph testing—are scaring away talented young researchers. He is considering a package that would include increasing pay rates and freeing up slots via early retirement. Better salaries could help stem a mini-brain drain from the labs: “We're losing people to the private sector,” he says. Late last week, Richardson also said he would grant waivers to some foreign scientists from sensitive nations barred from doing certain kinds of research at DOE labs.

  4. Polio Push

    Two of the world's richest men have joined the crusade to rid the world of polio by the end of next year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity founded by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, will put $50 million into the campaign, while the United Nations Foundation, which administers the 1997 $1 billion gift of CNN founder Ted Turner to the UN, has pledged another $28 million. The money will be used to strengthen vaccine delivery efforts in countries like Angola and India, where the disease is still a scourge, and to boost polio surveillance. “This is wonderful,” says Bruce Aylward, coordinator of the World Health Organization's polio eradication initiative. “Having big players like Turner and Gates involved really raises the profile of the campaign.”

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