ScienceScope

Science  24 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5449, pp. 2433
  1. Star-Crossed?

    The U.S. Forest Service has decided to take another look at a controversial plan to build the world's largest array of ground-based gamma ray telescopes near a Native American sweat lodge at the base of Arizona's Mount Hopkins.

    In September, the agency rejected a request from astronomers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for a permit to build the $16.6 million, seven-reflector array on public land (Science, 10 September, p. 1650). It said then that the 4-hectare site, which is less than 1000 meters from a multitribe steam hut, conflicted with “Indian religious practices.” But at the Forest Service's invitation, the Smithsonian submitted a new plan last week.

    The revised proposal uses the same site, says Trevor Weekes, principal investigator for the Whipple Observatory project, but moves the access road farther from the sweat lodge and sets the dishes closer to the ground. But those changes don't satisfy Native American groups, who object to the presence of any scientific facility so close to the sweat lodge. “[The Smithsonian] can't take no for an answer,” says sweat lodge operator Cayce Boone, a Navajo, who feels “betrayed” by the Forest Service for keeping the issue alive.

  2. In the Wind

    The American Meteorological Society has decided to do something about the weather—or at least what it claims is the government's relative inattention to atmospheric policy. The society has put up $400,000 to address the problem and has recruited two prominent National Science Foundation officials—former atmospheric division director Richard Greenfield and outgoing geosciences chief Robert Corell—to lead the effort from its Washington, D.C., office.

    The Atmospheric Policy Program represents a “considerable investment” for the 12,000-member Boston-based organization, says executive director Ronald McPherson. The idea, he says, is to self-fund a few studies on hot topics—such as the growing commercialization of weather data—then persuade agencies and other funders to pick up the tab for future activities. Although the program won't lobby the government on legislation, Greenfield says he hopes to provide graduate students and professionals with a better understanding of atmospheric research. “I can't name anybody at the top levels of government with a strong background in atmospheric sciences,” McPherson says.

  3. Unsanctioned

    The U.S. government is scaling back sanctions imposed on 51 Indian research labs and industries after the country conducted nuclear weapons tests in May 1998. The organizations weren't allowed to receive U.S. exports, and their scientists were effectively barred from visiting U.S. labs.

    The change, announced 16 December, follows a congressional directive to pare down a sanctions list of 204 Indian institutions to those “that make material contributions to weapons of mass destruction and missile programs.” Indian officials see it as an effort by the Clinton Administration to nudge their country toward signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the U.S. Senate rejected this fall.

    Both Indian and U.S. scientists are happy with the move, which will take a few months to put into effect. “It will be wonderful to have [Indian scientists] back on the team,” says David Cutts, a Brown University physicist who is part of an international group upgrading one of the main particle detectors at Fermilab's Tevatron accelerator (Science, 21 May, p. 1259). Indian scientists built and shipped a piece for the detector but have been unable to travel to Fermilab to install it.

  4. Double Duty

    Xu Zhihong, a 57-year-old plant biologist, has been named president of Beijing University. In an unusual move, Xu will also retain his position as a vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in a bid to cement links between the government and university research sectors. He succeeds physicist Chen Jai'er, who will become chair of China's funding agency for basic research, the National Natural Science Foundation.

    Xu, who has spent most of his career at CAS's Shanghai Institute of Botanical Physiology, says his goals are to improve the quality of university teaching and encourage cross-disciplinary research. Researchers applaud Xu's appointment and see his dual role as a way to strengthen the sometimes tenuous relationship between CAS and universities. “Unfortunately, the two systems do not cooperate enough,” says Zou Chenglu, a biophysicist at CAS's Beijing Institute of Biophysics and a CAS member.

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