Science  26 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5504, pp. 569

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  1. Bioscheme

    The U.S. government is jumping into Biosphere 2, the giant greenhouse in the Arizona desert. On 18 January —2 days before leaving—Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson signed an agreement with Columbia University to examine the feasibility of making Biosphere 2 a Department of Energy (DOE) “national user facility.” DOE will pitch in $700,000 over the next 2 years to help Columbia work up plans for a structure that failed its original test in the early 1990s as a self-sufficient home for Earth-bound econauts.

    Scientists at Columbia, who took over the facility in 1996, have struggled to control gas levels and temperature in Biosphere's “biomes,” including a minirainforest, ocean, and desert. The DOE agreement is evidence that Biosphere 2 “has proven itself” as a facility to study ecosystems' responses to climate change, says Columbia's Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow.

    A DOE official says the department “is not prepared to start sending scientists to Biosphere 2 to do research.” But the pact will allow it to explore whether the facility can complement ongoing studies of climate change, carbon sequestration, and atmospheric chemistry.

  2. Headhunting

    A looming labor shortage has led some Canadian universities to spice up their hiring efforts. The province of Ontario is seeking $350 million for a recruiting drive, while Quebec is offering a 5-year income tax holiday to scholars who relocate to institutions within la belle province.

    The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) recently estimated that 15,000 new professors—more than the number now employed—will be needed over the next decade by provincial universities to cope with retirements and a projected 40% jump in enrollment. Government budget cutbacks have already led to skyrocketing student-to-faculty ratios, says McMaster University political scientist and OCUFA president Henry Jacek. “The situation is bad and every day it gets worse.”

    But Jacek opposes tax holidays as a recruiting lure, saying they engender “animosity” within faculties and encourage professors to move away temporarily to be eligible for the break. He believes the long-term solution “is increased operating grants” from the government.

  3. Off the Hook ...

    Last week's transfer of U.S. presidential power brought good news for MIT chemistry professor John Deutch, former director of the CIA. Deutch was in the middle of negotiating a plea agreement with the Justice Department over his mishandling of classified data while at the CIA when Bill Clinton awarded him a last-minute presidential pardon. Deutch was stripped of his security clearances last August and was expected to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of keeping classified files on his home computer.

  4. ... And Staying On

    Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin received another kind of reprieve: The new Bush White House accepted his offer to stay on as agency chief for a few more months until a permanent replacement is named. The list of possible successors to Goldin, who was appointed by Bush père, includes former astronaut and Senator Harrison Schmitt and Air Force General Pete Worden. And Charles Groat, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, has been spared the ax. “I very much wanted to continue and made that desire known,” he said in a 22 January staff memo announcing his continued employment.

  5. Animal Defense

    The United Kingdom wants to protect an ailing drug firm from animal-rights protesters. Last week the government pledged to help Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), Europe's largest center for animal experiments, with legislation banning protests outside employees' homes. The government may also outlaw mail threats.

    For several years, employees of the Cambridgeshire firm have endured violent attacks and other abuse from protesters. Adding to the HLS's woes, activists recently claimed credit for triggering a financial crisis after pressuring a major financial backer to withdraw loans. To help out, U.K. Home Secretary Jack Straw plans to amend the Police and Criminal Justice Bill to clamp down on violent protest and spend $1.45 million to beef up security for HLS staff. U.S. financiers also stepped in to provide new financing.

    Many scientists are glad that the government is acting but would like to see it do more. “These half-measures will do little or nothing to prevent the harassment,” predicts Mark Matfield of the Research Defense Society, which represents scientists who experiment on animals. Protesters have vowed to continue their campaign.