ScienceScope

Science  14 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5464, pp. 241
  1. Looking East

    Germany's Max Planck Society, which recently completed an expansion into the former East Germany, is now stretching even farther eastward. Society officials announced last week that they will set up a joint “junior research group” with Poland's Academy of Sciences.

    The collaboration between Germany's premier basic-research organization and Warsaw's year-old International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology is seen as a possible model for joint efforts in other fields and with other central European countries. The new research group will be led by a scientist under age 35—chosen after a global search—and will include several Polish postdocs and young researchers. Max Planck, which will pay for salaries and equipment costs, has set up similar groups in France, Israel, and China.

    “We want to show that outstanding biology can be done in Poland,” says Polish biochemist Maciej J. Nalecz, the director of the Polish academy's Institute of Experimental Biology. “We also want to keep outstanding biologists in Poland.” In a reciprocal move, Poland hopes to set up its own satellite research group at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in nearby Dresden.

  2. Vaccine Trial

    Convinced that vaccines caused his grandson's autism, Representative Dan Burton (R-IN, below) said last week he will ask the National Institutes of Health and other health agencies to investigate his theory.

    Burton, who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform, held a 7-hour hearing on autism and vaccines on 6 April. It included testimony from parents, a touter of vitamin cures, and a practitioner who said that stretching the heads of autistic children relieves symptoms. Also on hand was Andrew Wakefield of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. In 1998, Wakefield and colleagues published a paper—since refuted by larger studies—that linked one kind of autism to measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. But when an infectious disease specialist testified that the link was highly unlikely, Burton accused him of conflict of interest because his research was funded by a vaccine maker.

    Such badgering drew attention. “I'm troubled by this hearing,” said Henry Waxman (CA), the committee's ranking Democrat. “This was structured to satisfy the chair's point of view.”

  3. Hit or Missile?

    A few well-designed balloons could burst the Pentagon's planned nuclear missile defense, according to a report issued this week by the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. The controversial $7 billion system would send antimissile missiles crashing into enemy warheads sailing through space (Science, 16 April 1999, p. 416). But an 11-member panel led by Andrew Sessler, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and former head of the American Physical Society, says adversaries could bewilder the interceptors by making modest changes to warheads.

    A shroud filled with chilly liquid nitrogen, for instance, could make a warhead virtually invisible to the interceptors' heat-seeking infrared eyes, the panel predicted. Similarly, hiding a warhead inside one of a flotilla of radar-reflecting balloons would bamboozle the system. In two tests against simpler targets, the panel noted that interceptors have scored just one hit.

    Pentagon planners say they will “study” the report. But shield skeptic Representative Thomas Allen (D-ME) says it demonstrates that the expensive defense “will be obsolete by the time it is deployed.” The next missile test is slated for June, and the Clinton Administration could decide by October to deploy the system's first phase, which could be in place by 2005.

  4. Policing Science

    Indian scientists have drafted first-ever codes of conduct for researchers and scientific institutions. The 15-point scientists' code, drafted this week by 450 researchers at a National Symposium on Ethics in the Administration of Science in Hyderabad, says researchers shouldn't “cook” results, pad their publications list, or “yield to political or social pressures.” And the 16-point institutional code calls for protecting whistleblowers by creating systems that “institutionalize dissent.” Conferees also recommended that the government establish an independent Office of Research Integrity to investigate misconduct.

    The next step is to present the recommendations to India's Department of Science and Technology, says Pushp Bhargava, president of the Society for Scientific Values, which sponsored the conference. He and other researchers hope the agency will eventually formulate an official “Charter for Scientists.”