Science  19 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5503, pp. 411

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  1. Astronomical Pressure

    They have yet to hire an enforcer. But Canadian astronomers last week began some serious arm-twisting in their bid to get the federal government to spend the $100 million needed to fund a long-term plan that includes promises to help build several international observatories.

    Following a road map for the field (Science, 4 February 2000, p. 781), Canada's National Research Council this month inked pacts with the U.S. National Science Foundation to buy into the two facilities. One tentatively commits Canada to providing $20 million for the $400 million Atacama Large Millimeter Array project in Chile, a U.S.-European project with possible involvement by Japan. The other promises $10 million toward an upgrade of New Mexico's Expanded Very Large Array.

    Now, “it's time for the government to ante up,” says astronomer Peter Janson, co-chair of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. Supporters hope that the government will back both projects, if only to avoid the embarrassment of voiding letters of intent signed by its foremost in-house laboratory. The government's answer may appear in a new budget that goes into effect on 1 April.

  2. Staying Cool

    A prominent standard-setting group for animal care is struggling to stay neutral in the increasingly testy fight over whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should regulate the use of laboratory rats, mice, and birds, which constitute 95% of research animals.

    Two years ago, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), which sets voluntary standards that are widely used by major U.S. research universities, gave its qualified support for USDA regulation, heartening animal rights activists. The activists then cited AAALAC's statement in responding to research community claims that regulation would be too onerous. But AAALAC chief John Miller now suggests that the activists stop mentioning his group: “AAALAC is neutral on this issue,” he told Science.

    In a clarification last month, Miller noted that the statement never won the support of AAALAC's entire board, which includes 50-odd major science societies, some of which have opposed regulation. Instead, board members opted to take their own positions on possible new rules, which a congressional moratorium has put on hold for at least a year.

  3. Vision Thing

    The National Eye Institute (NEI) is getting a new chief this spring: Paul Sieving, an expert in the genetics of macular degeneration.

    Sieving—who was recruited from the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor—has a broad record of academic achievement: an M.S. in physics from Yale (seasoned with a year of law school) and two degrees from the University of Illinois, an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

    “I am honored to be joining the NEI” at a time of great scientific opportunities, Sieving said in a statement. “His experience as a senior administrator will be invaluable,” says Ruth Kirschstein, acting director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    His appointment leaves just three unfilled vacancies in biomedicine's upper reaches: director of the NIH, director of NIH's AIDS office, and director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

  4. Discerning Diamond Origins

    Wondering whether science can quell a threat to peace, the White House held a diamond summit last week to discuss how scientists might help identify gemstones that are fueling conflicts in Africa.

    So-called conflict diamonds, which represent an estimated 4% of all diamonds sold annually, fund rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once the gems enter the trade, however, their origins are difficult to discern. Researchers say spectroscopic and physical analyses might yield a unique signature that identifies a stone's origins, but the methods are untested and likely to be expensive, time consuming, and sometimes destructive to the jewels.

    To get around such problems, a conflict diamond working group led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will submit recommendations for future research to the National Science Foundation. NSF has not yet committed to funding the work, but outgoing OSTP technology chief Duncan Moore hopes to “move forward even this year.”