Science  14 Jan 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5451, pp. 205

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  1. Inside Candidate

    A new name tops the list of potential future directors of the National Institutes of Health. Two high-level officials at different NIH institutes in Bethesda, Maryland, say that Gerald Fischbach, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), is in the running to succeed Harold Varmus. Fischbach chaired the neurobiology departments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston before taking charge of NINDS in July 1998. Through an assistant, Fischbach declined to discuss the rumor.

  2. Wish Granted

    National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell has an extra bounce in her step, the result of winning White House approval for a double-digit budget increase. Science has learned that President Clinton's 2001 request, to be unveiled on 7 February, will include a boost of roughly 15% for the $4 billion agency. Congressional approval would mean the biggest spending increase for NSF in a decade and more than double the 6.6% raise the agency got this year.

    NSF's budget is expected to highlight four areas. Three are ongoing efforts, in training, information technology, and biocomplexity, while the fourth—nanotechnology—is part of a new Administration initiative. The White House also has given the green light to EarthScope, which would create a mobile seismic network and probe California's San Andreas fault (Science, 26 November 1999, p. 1655), and to NEON, a string of high-tech field stations for ecologists (Science, 10 December 1999, p. 2068).

  3. Small Spark

    Managers of the overbudget National Ignition Facility (NIF) at last have something to smile about. An independent panel appointed to get the laser fusion project “back on track” (Science, 10 September 1999, p. 1647) released a report this week that gives a qualified thumbs-up to the facility. The panel did find that the $1.2 billion project has “significant” managerial shortcomings, including inadequate oversight and emergency funds. However, says chair John McTague, “the panel has not uncovered any mechanical or technical obstacles that would prevent completion of NIF.”

    Some observers are less sanguine. The panel has underestimated the engineering challenge of getting a pellet of hydrogen to fuse and release energy, argues the Natural Resources Defense Council's Chris Paine, who contends that the report “is making an open endorsement for a system of potentially infinite cost.”

  4. Mouse Victory

    Following an appeal from animal rights groups, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has agreed to scale back its use of a technique for making lab reagents—the “mouse ascites method”—which requires killing an estimated 1 million mice per year. In a policy shift, NIH says it “strongly supports” the adoption of new, in vitro approaches for making monoclonal antibodies. The ascites method involves injecting tumors into mouse abdomens and extracting antibodies with a needle. NIH did not ban the technique but promised to support a transition to in vitro methods.

    “We're declaring victory,” says John McArdle, a scientist now involved in animal rights work at the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation (ARDF) in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. McArdle predicts that 90% of monoclonal antibodies will be produced by in vitro methods in a short time. ARDF is the research arm of the American Anti-Vivisection Society of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, which petitioned for this change (Science, 9 April 1999, p. 230).

  5. Cyber Antidote

    Alarmed by rampaging computer viruses and the nation's vulnerability to hack attack, the White House is moving to beef up efforts to combat cyberterrorism. A new initiative intends to plow more funds into R&D on data security.

    The plan calls for roughly $90 million in the 2001 budget; big-ticket items are $25 million for a program to lure budding cybercops into government service and $50 million for an Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection, run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The new shop would hand out peer-reviewed grants that “fill gaps” in the current research portfolio, which includes projects aiming to foil individuals who try to hack into corporate networks, as well as secretive work on thwarting the concerted code-cracking efforts of foreign powers. Exactly which promising areas are unfunded is still being deciphered, says Edward Roback, acting chief of NIST's computer security division. Another unknown is the response from Congress, which will consider the president's budget request later this year.