Science  10 Mar 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5459, pp. 1725

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  1. William Hamilton Dies

    Evolutionary biologist William Hamilton, 63, died 7 March from complications of malaria that he acquired in Africa while on an ambitious expedition to acquire new data about the origin of AIDS. “The most important thing is that he was out there doing something new in research, which is what he loved best,” says Paul Harvey, head of the department of zoology at Oxford University, where Hamilton worked.

    A bad malaria bout in late January forced Hamilton to rush home from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he and co-workers had collected chimpanzee feces and urine samples. Hamilton, who is renowned for his studies of the evolution of social behavior and of sex, hoped to find HIV in the chimp samples. If some do test positive, analyzing those viruses could help clarify whether an oral polio vaccine tested there in the 1950s sparked the AIDS epidemic. The thesis, explored at length in a recent book, The River, hinges on the fact that the vaccine's developers had a large research chimp colony in Congo.

    “Some of his ideas you thought were lunatic and some great, and it sometimes turned out that the lunatic ideas were the great ones,” Harvey says. “He was the most loved and respected person we had in the department.”

  2. Make a Wish

    Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees defense research, wants more money for military R&D. At a hearing last week, Weldon told Pentagon science czars Jacques Gansler, Frank Fernandez, and Dolores Etter that although a proposed 4%, $50 million increase for basic research in 2001 is “good news,” the $38.6 billion military science budget remains “overly squeezed.” He is particularly concerned that the Pentagon is shortchanging studies that may not pay off for years in favor of applied projects that promise near-term results. “There needs to be a better balance,”he said.

    In response to questions, Fernandez and Etter admitted that they could easily spend a few hundred million dollars more on wish-list projects, from computer security to advanced robotics. And Weldon promised to do what he could in coming months to “plus up” Pentagon science spending, which is the major source of cash for university math and engineering departments.

  3. Bright Idea

    Indian researchers could soon share in the fruits of their labors. The Indian government last week presented Parliament with a budget proposal that would give institutions full intellectual property rights to ideas developed with public money and allow inventors to share in any profits.

    The $2.8 billion R&D budget, which gives a 20% boost to civilian research and an 11% increase to military science, would reverse existing rules that allow funding agencies to patent discoveries but cut universities and scientists out of any royalties. Asis Datta, vice chancellor of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the new policy could be just what “universities need to unleash their creative potential.” Parliament is expected to approve the change later this year.

  4. Warming to Hot Zone

    After months of delay, Canada is preparing to open its borders to some of the world's most dangerous pathogens. Last week, a community panel endorsed a plan for the Canadian Science Center for Human and Animal Health in Winnipeg to open a biosafety level 4 lab.

    Shortly after the center's dedication last summer (Science, 18 June 1999, p. 1902), officials admitted to accidentally releasing waste water into the city sewage system without properly heating it to kill germs. A review concluded that the release posed no threat, but riled neighbors caused the government to delay issuing a permit to work with high-risk level 4 pathogens, such as the Ebola virus. To restore confidence, the lab invited local residents to join a new community liaison committee, which gave the lab's safety procedures a green light on 2 March. A thumbs-up from the government is expected shortly.

  5. Choices, Choices

    After a 13-month search, the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, has named Lura Powell, a former administrator at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as its new director. The choice pleased DOE Secretary Bill Richardson, who last fall reportedly derailed the lab's first choice, saying lab contractor Battelle had not tried hard enough to find a woman or minority to fill the post. Similar concerns have stalled the search for a new leader of DOE's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.