Science  16 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5473, pp. 1943

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  1. Environmental Science

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs a new science czar to give researchers a greater voice in agency decisions, according to a National Academy of Sciences report released this week. EPA has long been under assault for the questionable quality of the science underlying its regulation of everything from air pollution to dioxin (see p.1941). The agency “has made significant improvements” to its research program since a critical 1992 study, according to “Strengthening Science at the U.S. EPA,” released this week. But “there is a continuing basis for many of the scientific concerns” raised by previous reports, it concludes. In particular, the agency's current science chief—the head of the Office of Research and Development (ORD)—lacks clout in how regulatory offices use research findings, says panel chair Paul Risser, an ecologist and president of Oregon State University in Corvallis.

    To elevate science, the report urges Congress to create a new senior position: deputy administrator for science and technology. It also recommends a fixed 6-year term for ORD chiefs and attracting more top-notch academic scientists to EPA labs. Congress's first reaction to the report may come at a Senate environment committee hearing this summer.

  2. Resistance Was Futile

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials have decided to create a Center for Health Disparities Research on their own, instead of waiting for Congress to force it on them. The new center will coordinate research across NIH and make grants to investigate such questions as why the cancer death rate of African Americans is twice that of other groups. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), who has been pressing legislation to create the center, this week hailed NIH's decision as “a tremendous step forward.”

    Former NIH director Harold Varmus resisted the idea last year, reasoning that, with 25 separate institutes and centers, NIH is already too Balkanized. He also worried that establishing the center would allow the agency's other arms to ignore health disparities issues. But Acting NIH Director Ruth Kirschstein says that won't happen; there are enough research questions to go around. And “the reality,” says Acting Deputy Director Yvonne Maddox, is that if NIHdidn't act now, Congress would force “the same discussion” next year.