ScienceScope

Science  05 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5501, pp. 25
  1. Decisions, Decisions

    The incoming George W. Bush Administration has many R&D-related choices to make, including picking a White House science adviser and deciding biomedical research policy. At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), observers are wondering what the selection of Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson (right) to head the Department of Health and Human Services will mean for research using stem cells derived from human embryos. Last August, the Bush campaign criticized NIH's plan to fund such work, but Thompson's appointment has cheered some scientists. Although antiabortion groups that oppose stem cell funding consider Thompson an ally, he has praised groundbreaking stem cell work by scientists in his home state.

    Antiabortion politics could also complicate the selection of a new NIH director, prompting some observers to recall a similarly prolonged hunt during the last Bush presidency. Whoever succeeds Harold Varmus, who left 13 months ago, will have to satisfy both conservatives and moderates. Also look for new heads at two institutes—eye and neurological disorders—and at the Office of AIDS Research.

    At the National Park Service, Bush has pledged to undo a Clinton-era shift that sent the agency's 100 research scientists to the U.S. Geological Survey. Bush wants to return them to shore up protection for park resources.

  2. Pay Hikes

    Look for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to propose higher stipends for graduate students and postdocs in its 2002 budget request, due out early this year. NSF officials calculate that it will take $52.4 million to raise postdoc pay under research grants to $40,000, a 45% hike, and another $30 million to boost grad student stipends from $18,000 to $25,000.

    Director Rita Colwell is also hoping to launch a math initiative in 2002 that would triple or quadruple the division's current $130 million budget over 5 years. NSF is also searching for a catchy name for a social science initiative that it hopes to begin in 2003. “It's got to have ‘human’ in it, be short, and include the idea of technological change,” says NSF's Norm Bradburn.

  3. Defining Animals

    Biomedical science backers and animal-welfare groups are preparing for a congressional scuffle over research rodents. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture moved to regulate the use of laboratory rats, mice, and birds, which constitute 95% of all research animals, after activists won a lawsuit. But Congress temporarily blocked the rules at the behest of some research groups, who said regulation would be too expensive (Science, 13 October 2000, p. 243). Animal-welfare groups are mobilizing against a push to permanently block the rules. Predicts one congressional aide: “The fur is going to fly.”

  4. Help Wanted

    France is looking for a new director of research. The main man behind the scenes at the French research ministry, geophysicist Vincent Courtillot, says he plans to quit soon. In a note to his staff, Courtillot explained that after nearly 4 years of “passion, joy, and stress,” it was time to return to his Paris laboratory at the Institute of the Physics of the Globe.

  5. Forecast: Cloudy

    More fights over food and climate are coming. Last month, an expert panel formed by the European Union and the U.S. recommended stricter regulation of genetically modified (GM) foods, and its report could help make GM food safety reviews mandatory, rather than voluntary, at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The group also urged labeling GM foods, but it's unlikely the Bush Administration will go along. Still, market forces may rule: Already, some U.S. grain processors are separating crops so they can sell non-GM products in Europe.

    Meanwhile, the new Administration is also unlikely to support international efforts to put teeth into the Kyoto global warming treaty. Negotiations collapsed last year after the U.S. objected to demands by European nations to stiffen emissions-trading requirements.

  6. Boosting Science

    In Japan, science planners will launch a drive to raise government R&D spending from 0.7% of gross domestic product to 1%. The increase, which an advisory group calculates would cost about $218 billion over 5 years, would bring Japan's public-sector spending more in line with that of the U.S. and Europe, says Hiroo Imura, a key government science adviser. The target has not been formally adopted by the government, says Imura, “but we're hopeful.”

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