Science  02 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5505, pp. 805

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  1. Aussie Windfall

    Researchers are applauding a $1.6 billion plan for Australian science. The 5-year government roadmap, released this week, largely follows recommendations from two reports issued last year by researchers and industry to reverse cuts and strengthen education, research, and the commercialization of new technologies (Science, 13 October 2000, p. 255).

    The plan calls for doubling basic research spending by the Australian Research Council to $300 million in 2006 and nearly doubling funding for university infrastructure to $108 million. It also includes funds to support 21,000 new undergraduate students in math, science, and information technology, and for new IT and biotechnology research centers. Responding to complaints about earlier cuts, the government also plans to bump up tax credits and subsidies for industrial R&D.

    Government chief scientist Robin Batterham, who wrote last year's scientists' report, is “delighted” by the plan. “Virtually all the recommendations of [our] report have come through,” he says.

  2. Fusing Behind Fusion

    European Union research ministers have united behind plans to build an International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Last year, after the United States backed out of the megaproject, E.U. ministers couldn't agree on whether to move ahead with the $3.7 billion tokamak, a device designed to test the feasibility of fusion power. But at a special meeting in Brussels last month, officials agreed to put funding for the project—which is also backed by Japan and Russia—into the E.U.'s next 5-year Framework research plan, which begins in 2003.

    Exactly how much Europe will spend on ITER, however, will depend on where it is built. Japan, France, and Canada are interested in hosting the machine, which means shouldering a greater share of the cost. E.U. officials say their existing $500 million fusion budget could handle an expected contribution to a machine built outside Europe, but not to a regional facility. ITER's partners hope to settle on a site by the end of 2002 and complete the device by 2014.

  3. Whistleblower Blowup

    A government proposal to protect people who report scientific fraud from retaliation is drawing harsh criticism. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and another group claim that the whistleblower rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be a nightmare to implement.

    The draft rule, required by a 1993 law, lays out a detailed process that institutions must use to resolve whistleblower complaints within 30 to 60 days. But the rules are “overly prescriptive,” FASEB president Mary J. C. Hendrix wrote in a letter to HHS on 29 January. Hendrix noted that the rule may conflict with other laws, favor accusers over the accused, and prove expensive. The Council on Governmental Relations, which represents 143 research universities, sent a similar letter. “I've never had so many calls from [university] general counsels,” says executive director Kate Phillips.

    Chris Pascal, head of HHS's Office of Research Integrity, declined comment. A final rule could come later this year, pending review by the new Administration.

  4. Unclear Forecast

    President George W. Bush kept scientists guessing last week about the fate of federal funding for stem cell research. In his first comment on the issue since taking office, Bush said on 26 January that “there are some wonderful opportunities for adult stem cell research,” and that “I believe we can find stem cells from fetuses that died a natural death. And I do not support research from aborted fetuses.”

    He did not say whether he would block a National Institutes of Health (NIH) plan to fund research on the cells, which could help treat many diseases. And he was silent on cells derived from another controversial source: “excess” embryos slated for disposal at fertility clinics. Aides, however, said Bush was signaling his intent to block NIH's plan.

    But stem cell enthusiasts still had reason to hope. Bush's choice for secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, who will oversee NIH, has in the past supported embryonic stem cell research. And in Congress, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), a vocal supporter of stem cell research, intends to reintroduce a bill that would allow NIH's plan to go forward. Last year, opponents blocked debate on a similar measure.