Science  02 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5471, pp. 1561

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  1. Defenses Raised

    In February, President Clinton alarmed academic researchers in math, engineering, and computing—fields that get major military funding—by proposing to slash the Department of Defense's (DOD's) applied research spending by 8%, while boosting basic funding by 4% (Science, 11 February, p. 952). But leaders of the House and Senate panels that oversee DOD's budget promised to do more to keep innovative ideas flowing—and last week they followed through.

    On 25 May, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill providing $3.4 billion to applied studies, about 2% below this year's level, while giving basic research a 12% increase to $1.3 billion. Earlier, a Senate panel approved even rosier numbers, giving applied and basic science increases of 5% and 10%, respectively.

    “We are pleased that Congress has recognized the importance of basic research, but we will continue to push for overall increases,” says Caroline Trupp Gil of the American Chemical Society and the Coalition for National Security Research, a lobbying alliance. Computer researchers, for instance, will be pushing to raise some program budgets to requested levels when the full House and Senate vote on the bills later this month.

  2. Hair of the Bear

    DNA samples taken from grizzly bear hair may help resolve a bitter dispute over the size of the bear population in and around Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. Last month, federal scientists released a preliminary count of bears in Yellowstone's Lake area based on hairs found on barbed wire fur catchers. The figure—84 individuals, compared to 44 estimated in the 1980s from bear tracks—benefits from “a much more sophisticated technology” for tracking bear numbers, says Chuck Schwartz, head of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

    Schwartz now wants to do a Yellowstone-wide hair study to help pin down grizzly population trends—information that could prove pivotal in the debate over whether the animals should be removed from the U.S. endangered species list (Science, 23 April 1999, p. 568). A similar new study in Montana's Glacier National Park proved useful, but it's “not an inexpensive proposition,” Schwartz says. A baseline bear count could cost $1 million, with more surveys needed to establish trends.

  3. Vaccine Variation

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is restructuring its HIV vaccine research in a move designed to spark flagging efforts to combat the global AIDS epidemic. The agency recently abandoned its current two-pronged approach, which used separate networks of academic and clinical centers to run early-stage domestic and late-stage international vaccine trials. In its place, NIH is forming a single HIV Vaccine Trials Network, a system of nine U.S. academic centers. Most will be paired with clinics in countries suffering the brunt of AIDS deaths.

    The shift is a response to criticism that the existing networks—the U.S.-based AIDS Vaccine Evaluation Group and the international HIV Network for Prevention Trials—lacked coordination. Critics also argued that scientific priorities were being set by NIH bureaucrats, not researchers. The new approach will move much of the administrative control and priority setting to a Core Operations Center run by Lawrence Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.

    The makeover isn't a sure bet to succeed, says Mark Mulligan, who runs one of the new network's centers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. But, he adds, “when there's not success, the structure gets changed to try to stimulate some new vitality.”

  4. Family Quarrel

    Energy Secretary Bill Richardson moved quickly last week to break up an internal fight over the future of the world's largest laser. While publicly supportive of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) being built at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, some officials at New Mexico's Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories have long privately attacked the project as ill conceived. And recent news that NIF is $1 billion over budget (Science, 5 May, p. 782) has only added to fears that Livermore may eat into its sister labs' budgets.

    To prevent that, Sandia vice president Tom Hunter told the Albuquerque Tribune on 25 May that NIF should be downsized so that it will not “disrupt the investment needed” at the other labs. But Hunter's statement was “out of line,” “the type of lab divisiveness which is extremely unhelpful,” and “will be totally disregarded,” Richardson promised in a statement. The discord, however, may raise questions in Congress, which will vote on NIF's budget later this year.