ScienceScope

Science  08 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5485, pp. 1665
  1. Biological Riches

    Conservationists are shaking the tropical copaiba tree, hoping it will rain cash. Their goal, set last month at a California conference, is $5 billion to save the richest—and most threatened—areas of biodiversity.

    The weeklong summit, held at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and organized by Conservation International (CI) of Washington, D.C., produced a draft “practical agenda” for saving 25 “hotspots” that cover 1.4% of Earth's surface. They range from the deserts of Morocco to the cloud forests of the Andes and are believed to hold 44% of the world's vascular plants and 35% of all mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles.

    CI, the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility have already pledged $75 million over the next 5 years to create, expand, or improve protected areas, beginning in three of the “hottest” spots: Madagascar, West Africa's Ghanaian forest, and the tropical Andes. They hope to double that seed fund with private and foundation gifts. Says CI chief Russ Mittermeier: “If we don't start investing in living biodiversity with the same enthusiasm and commitment as we did in the space race of the 1960s, we're going to fail.”

  2. Adding SALT

    South Africa has broken ground on what will be the Southern Hemisphere's single largest optical telescope. Thousands of onlookers gathered on a windy hill near the town of Sutherland last week to celebrate the start of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), a 10-meter-class observatory that will take advantage of the Karoo Plain's clear skies to track nebulae and other celestial objects.

    South African officials are banking on the telescope to produce more than imagery. The multinational project, which includes partners from the United States, Poland, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, “will provide a focus for the development of basic sciences on the African continent,” predicts Ben Ngubane, South Africa's science minister. He also sees it drawing tourists to the rural region, long targeted by astronomers as prime observing grounds.

    Visitors, however, have a while to wait before there will be anything to see: Construction isn't due to be completed until 2004.

  3. Help Wanted

    The United Kingdom may open its borders to droves of foreign high-tech workers. Worried that the nation's economic engine may begin to sputter as record-low unemployment rates make it harder for businesses to find qualified workers, the government next week plans to unveil a proposal to relax its strict immigration laws.

    Current law limits foreign workers to temporary stays in the country. The new plan would allow up to 100,000 skilled workers a year to permanently move in and fill jobs in fields such as information technology and teaching, the Sunday Telegraph reported on 3 September. Conservative lawmakers, however, are already taking shots at the proposal, arguing that the current rules are sufficient to sustain the boom.

  4. Biomedical Balance

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) shouldn't encourage universities to churn out any more biomedical scientists—but it should strive for greater balance in how they are trained, a new National Academy of Sciences report recommends. Currently, the agency's National Research Service Award (NRSA) training program gives grants to universities to help roughly 7000 graduate students a year pursue multidisciplinary studies. Twice that number get NIH funds through grants to individual researchers, who then hire students to work on specific projects.

    In the future, however, the proportion of students drawing money from each funding pot should be about equal, concludes Addressing the Nation's Changing Needs for Biomedical and Behavioral Scientists, the 11th report in a series that began in 1975. By gradually shifting funds from more focused assistantships to broader NRSAs, NIH can better train researchers able to bridge the gaps separating disciplines, says the report committee, led by medical professor Howard Hiatt of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

    NIH officials generally agree with the goal and are considering guidelines that would “encourage” universities and investigators to fund more generalized training, says agency training officer Walter Schaffer. But in an unusual addendum to the report, psychologist John Kihlstrom of the University of California, Berkeley, warns that the behavioral sciences may get short shrift without further reforms. The panel, he says, did not fully consider “the actual and potential contributions that the behavioral and social sciences can make to health and health care.”