ScienceScope

Science  21 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5465, pp. 413
  1. BeppoSAX Slimmed

    Gamma ray scientists are losing more observing time. Last month, NASA said it would destroy the 10-year-old Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (Science, 31 March, p. 2393). Now, the 4-year-old Italian-Dutch BeppoSAX satellite is trimming operations due to budget cuts.

    The Italian Space Agency on 15 April began shutting down BeppoSAX's instruments on Saturday and Sunday nights, and staff will no longer work around the clock. As a result, astronomers won't be able to react quickly to some gamma ray bursts, the high-energy explosions that occur about once a day in the far reaches of the universe. On 16 April, for instance, BeppoSAX missed a chance to study the afterglow of one unusual burst, notes Luigi Piro of the Institute for Space Astrophysics in Rome. “It's a pity,” adds John Heise of the Space Research Organization Netherlands in Utrecht.

    Heise expects BeppoSAX to be shut down permanently in April 2001. But gamma ray bursts will still be monitored by a network of interplanetary satellites, and a new gamma ray observatory—NASA's High Energy Transient Explorer—is slated for launch within a few months.

  2. Lame Duck Soars

    Neal Lane has avoided the political limelight during his 7 years as a senior science official in the Clinton Administration by hewing to the party line and speaking in generalities. But last week, at the annual R&D colloquium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes Science), Lane threw out some uncharacteristically specific science policy goals. “In 10 years, the federal government should double [spending on civilian research] to 1% of GDP,” he declared. Corporate America, he added, should double its investment in university-based research. And universities should promise to increase the number of minorities and women awarded science-related degrees by 10% a year.

    What's behind the sudden spurt of specificity in the waning months of the Administration? Lane wanted to “sharpen the debate,” says a White House source, especially with regard to minorities, where “collectively we've been sitting on our hands.” Others discern an agenda outline for presidential contender Al Gore. All agree that it's a striking departure for the mild-mannered Lane. Says one Washington insider: “It's like he felt suddenly unchained and free to speak his mind.”

  3. Science in the Parks

    Canadian biologists are welcoming a new plan for making ecological science the foundation for managing the country's 39 national parks. But they have mixed feelings about another proposal to protect endangered species.

    Two years ago, in the wake of public debate over proposed development in the parks, the Minister of Canadian Heritage appointed a scientific committee to examine park management. Last month, the panel recommended making “ecological integrity”—preserving intact assemblages of native organisms—managers' “first priority.” The panel's report also calls for adding C$328 million to the Parks Canada budget over 5 years and hiring more staff to supplement the present team of 51 scientists. The ambitious proposal parallels a similar effort in U.S. national parks (Science, 7 April, p. 34) and has won support from politicians. “I think the political mood is there [to implement the plan],” says panel member Tom Nudds, an ecologist at the University of Guelph, Ontario.

    But many biologists are less enthusiastic about a plan to protect threatened species. Introduced by the government last week, the Species at Risk Act would impose stiff penalties for killing protected plants and animals. Critics are unhappy that the bill leaves final listing decisions to the Cabinet rather than scientists and doesn't make protecting habitat mandatory. But after 7 years of debate, even some skeptics are hoping the bill will pass this year, warts and all, so Canada will finally have an endangered species law.

  4. Metric Mandate

    Complaining that NASA's approach to projects is “faster, cheaper, worse,” Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) says he is drafting legislation requiring government contractors, scientists, and engineers to use exclusively metric measures. That's in response to the 1999 failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter due to a mix-up between English and metric units (Science, 7 April, p. 32). “He wants to send a clear message … that we won't tolerate mistakes like this again,” says an aide.

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