Science  02 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5509, pp. 1679
  1. SAGE Decision

    Russian researchers have lost a key court fight over the ownership of a hoard of precious metal, endangering a major international experiment. A Moscow court last week rejected the Baksan Neutrino Observatory's appeal of an earlier order to hand over 7 tons of gallium to the Russian Ministry of Fuel and Power Production. Scientists say the transfer would end the $60 million Soviet-American Gallium Experiment (SAGE), which uses an underground gallium-laced detector to study neutrinos streaming from the sun (Science, 23 February, p. 1470).

    The ruling marks the latest twist in a 4-year struggle over the silvery-white metal. It began when the power ministry moved to acquire SAGE's gallium, presumably so the government could eventually sell the metal, which is used in semiconductors and brings up to $600 per kilogram.

    The observatory, however, is in no hurry to comply with the latest court order. “There are many ways to delay,” says Leonid Bezrukov, deputy director of the Institute for Nuclear Research. But he fears that opponents may use other tactics to seize the metal. Local police have already launched one investigation into alleged gallium “waste” by the researchers, and Bezrukov says “no one knows what could happen next.”

  2. Bad Break?

    Although some scientists complain that biomedical research is getting more than enough funding (see p. 1677), some lawmakers want the U.S. government to offer a new tax break to encourage greater giving to medical studies. The legislators introduced a bill this week that would give a deduction to science backers who donate stock options to universities and other nonprofits engaged in medical research.

    “With stock options playing a larger role in employee compensation packages in the new economy, people should have the option of giving … without having a portion siphoned off for Uncle Sam,” says Representative Jennifer Dunn (D-WA), who is sponsoring the legislation with Representative Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ). Dunn claims the change could bring $1 billion to medical charities over 5 years.

    But a similar bill that Dunn introduced last year won only lukewarm support from many philanthropic and scientific groups. The problem, they say, is that singling biomedical science out for a tax benefit might lead to complaints from other disciplines. Says one lobbyist: “Why shouldn't ecology get the same treatment?”

  3. Abbey Hits the Road

    One of NASA's top dogs has been sent to the doghouse. Space agency chief Dan Goldin last week removed George Abbey as head of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and transferred him to an undefined job at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

    Abbey played a key role in choosing Goldin for NASA's top job while he worked at the White House under former President George Bush in the early 1990s. He then served as Goldin's right-hand man in Washington before becoming space center commander in 1996.

    The surprise fall from grace comes as NASA is struggling with major space station cost overruns—estimates run as high as $4 billion—which will likely force Goldin to make major cuts in other programs. Abbey and his center play a key role in station development. Goldin says only that it was time “for a change” and “reform.” Rumors swirled this week over whether Abbey's removal was approved—or ordered—by the White House. Meanwhile, Goldin is still waiting to hear who his own successor will be.

  4. Egalitarian Elitism

    The U.K.'s Royal Society is looking to inject more diversity into its hallowed rolls. Society president Sir Robert May this week prepared to announce a change in the nominating process that he hopes will net the elite group more researchers from less prestigious labs outside the biology and physics mainstream.

    The society funds select researchers, advises the government, and has recently sought to raise its profile as a communicator in explaining how science shapes society. But May believes the nominating process—which leads to the election of 42 new fellows each year—has favored researchers working in traditional disciplines at science bastions such as Cambridge and Oxford universities. As a result, May notes, the process has missed such worthy candidates as computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web.

    To “make it easier for us to pick up scientists in newly emerging disciplines,” May says, he drafted a letter this week to U.K. university vice chancellors announcing that, from now on, nominees will need endorsements from just two current fellows, not six. This should help the society, May says, “not to overlook the Tim Berners-Lees of tomorrow.”

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