ScienceScope

Science  15 Dec 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5499, pp. 2045
  1. Back From the Dead

    Radio astronomers may have to cope with some unwanted static after all. The U.S. Defense Department last week announced that it will spend $72 million over the next 2 years to revive the bankrupt Iridium satellite phone network, which produces signals that interfere with radio telescopes (Science, 24 March, p. 2135). Last March, some astronomers quietly celebrated after Iridium and parent company Motorola announced that they would scrap the 70-spacecraft constellation after losing nearly $7 billion. Now, the Pentagon says it wants the moribund system reenergized next year for emergency communications. Says one sky watcher: “It's like a bad roommate moving back in—you just learn to live with it.”

  2. Take Your Pick

    The presidents of the American Physical Society (APS), the American Chemical Society, and the American Mathematical Society are offering the next U.S. president a list of recommended candidates for top science policy jobs. The names for two dozen key executive posts and four R&D-related advisory boards could go to the president-elect as early as this week.

    For White House science adviser, sources say the trio favors mathematician Phillip Griffiths, director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey; engineer and MIT president Charles Vest; or chemist Tom Meyer of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. For defense secretary, they recommend retired aerospace executive Norm Augustine, while they hope current NASAchief Dan Goldin will stay. The groups plan to forward only the names of those candidates who express interest.

    APS is coordinating the effort and has even hired Christine Niedermeier, a former congressional staffer, to direct transition-related work. The effort “could be a rallying point” for the R&D community and “a valuable service” to the president-elect, Niedermeier told Science, while declining to confirm specific names.

    No life scientists made the cut for science adviser. “Our parochialism is showing,” acknowledges one person involved in the effort. Others say biology groups were invited to join but could not respond in time. Meanwhile, other groups, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes Science) and the National Academy of Sciences, may also assemble wish lists in coming weeks.

  3. Thinking Strategically

    Canadian researchers will soon get a chance to share their visions of a “strategic investment.” The new Canadian Institutes of Health Research last week launched plans to give each of its 13 newly appointed scientific directors (for a list, see sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2000/1206/4) $3.5 million annually to spend on strategic research. That has triggered a debate on exactly what to fund.

    Genetics institute director Roderick McInnes, for instance, says the focus should be on cutting-edge science, while Jeff Reading, head of the Aboriginal People's Health institute, wants to emphasize research addressing social needs, such as reducing suicide among aboriginal teens. Infection and Immunity director Bhagirath Singh envisions using the money as leverage to attract research partners from industry and academe.

    The directors agree that canvassing the science community for their ideas will be essential. “The biggest fear that scientists have is that some director is going to propose his pet project … and that's it,” says Cancer institute director Philip Branton. The spending plans are due 1 April.

  4. Mehr, Bitte

    Germany's top basic research organizations are bemoaning a “disappointing” science budget for 2001. Research leaders said this week that planned increases won't be enough to sustain some innovative programs—or keep pace with other leading nations.

    At the Max Planck Society, the nation's premier basic research agency, spending will rise 3% next year, to about $800 million, says president Hubert Markl. That's well short of the requested 5.2% budget hike, so the society may scale back new “international research schools” and other efforts to promote interdisciplinary partnerships, he says.

    Markl and Ernst Ludwig Winnacker, head of the DFG basic-research granting agency—which will also get a 3% increase to about $1 billion—warn that Germany is falling behind the United States. To keep pace, both men vowed to push for more “substantial” raises in the 2002 budget. Markl is aiming for at least 5% more, while Winnacker hopes for as much as a 10% boost.