On the Stump
Canadian scientists are being promised wheelbarrows of cash if the governing Liberals are returned to office in the 27 November election. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien last month unveiled a campaign platform that calls for doubling annual federal research spending to $3.95 billion within a decade.
Hoping to put more distance between his Liberals and the right-wing Alliance Party, Chrétien promised to make Canada “a hotbed of research and investment.” In particular, the Liberals call for boosting annual research outlays by at least $670 million within 4 years. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research would get an unspecified “major increase,” while a quarter of the new monies are pegged for environmental research on toxins and children's health; clean air; and soil, water, and food safety. The remainder would be disbursed among the granting councils and in-house labs like those at the National Research Council.
The opposition Alliance also vows to increase granting council budgets by an unspecified amount and would appoint a “Chief Scientist of Canada to coordinate science activities in all government departments and ensure that science, not politics, prevails.”
Mad About the Cow
Concern about a surge of “mad cow disease” in France has proved a boon to the country's prion researchers. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced this week that the government will triple funding for research into prions, the abnormal proteins that are suspected of causing mad cow disease and its fatal human version, vCJD.
The move came after the agriculture ministry reported that there have been 80 cases of mad cow disease in France so far this year. That is equal to the number of cases over the previous 11 years, but still far short of the 170,000 cases recorded in the United Kingdom since 1988. And although France has documented just three human cases of vCJD, compared to 85 in the United Kingdom, news of the surge sparked what the press has called “a national psychosis.” Jospin's package to calm fears, according to the newspaper Le Monde, includes an indefinite ban on giving livestock feed that contains animal bone and tissue, which is believed to spread the disease, and boosting the prion research budget to $27.5 million, starting next year.
In the latest twist in a long-running controversy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week moved to list as endangered the few hundred remaining wild Atlantic salmon that breed in Maine rivers. But state officials and some scientists question the move, saying the fish aren't genetically distinct enough to merit protection (Science, 6 February 1998, p. 800). They claim the salmon are mongrels descended from hatchery fish dumped into rivers over the last century. A lawsuit to press their case could come by year's end.
Saying its actions have been “increasingly misunderstood,” the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, announced last week that it is withdrawing its legal bid to get rid of astrophysicist Piet Hut. The IAS, which has been disappointed in Hut's research, went to federal court last July to force Hut to abide by a pledge, signed in 1996, to leave by 2001. Hut claimed he had been coerced into signing, and supporters argued that the institute was impinging on his academic freedom (Science, 27 October, p. 683).
The institute “did not anticipate” that the contract dispute would blossom into an academic freedom fight, director Phillip Griffiths said in a statement. So, in what University of California, Berkeley, astrophysicist Frank Shu calls a “wise” move, the IAS withdrew the suit on 9 November. Both sides have agreed to continue talking.
Another Contested Election
The results are finally in—almost—on a bid by New York University grad students to join the United Auto Workers. Last week, following a National Labor Relations Board ruling that the graduate assistants are “employees” (Science, 10 November, p. 1069), officials finally counted ballots from a union vote held last spring. The tally in favor of organizing was 597 to 418, but not included were an additional 295 ballots cast by grad students—most of them in business and science. The union claimed they were ineligible. The parties this week agreed to count 156 of the votes—not enough to change the outcome. NYU now must make a choice: Negotiate with the union, or risk getting hauled to court by the labor board. So far, says NYU spokesperson John Becker, “no decision has been made.”