ScienceScope

Science  16 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5511, pp. 2063
  1. Purchasing Paralysis

    Rules meant to improve purchasing practices across the French government are stifling research, according to an Internet petition signed by more than 3200 French scientists. The guidelines, adopted over the last 2 years (Science, 12 March 1999, p. 1613), require all government-funded institutions to use only approved suppliers for purchases above $570; competitions are held at the beginning of each fiscal year.

    The rules have put many researchers in a bind. Last month, for example, the autoclave in a microbiology lab at the University of Paris's Orsay campus broke down. But the only model that would fit through the lab's doors is made by a manufacturer that is not on the approved list.

    Some help is on the way. The finance ministry earlier this month announced that, starting in September, it will triple the amount, now $43,000, that is exempt from the rules. (The Orsay lab had already reached that level.) But the lab would still have to wait 6 months to replace its autoclave. Such “paralysis of research activities is unacceptable,” says Orsay microbiologist Betty Felenbok, a leader of the petition campaign (http://193.55.31.113/). The petitioners want the bar for individual purchases raised from $570 to $2800 and no limit on purchases under that amount from unapproved suppliers.

  2. Harvard's Catch

    Science advocates have a new and influential ally on the university scene. He's economist Larry Summers, named this week as the new president of Harvard University.

    Summers, 46, who served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton Administration, became the university's youngest tenured professor at the age of 28. As part of the Clinton team, “he was an early and constant supporter of the need to keep the engine of intellectual capital going,” says John Podesta, former White House chief of staff and now a professor at Georgetown University law school in Washington, D.C. Podesta says Summers pushed a number of research-related initiatives, from climate change to precollege education, during his stint in Washington.

    Summers beat out University of Michigan chief Lee Bollinger and Harvard Provost Harvey Fineberg in the race to succeed Neil Rudenstine. He will take over on 1 July.

  3. Polytech Plum

    Glitzy it may not be, but Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, has devoted admirers—including one who this week made a $360 million anonymous donation.

    “A gift of this magnitude, fully unrestricted, is unprecedented,” said RPI president Shirley Ann Jackson. She sees it as a vote of confidence for the Rensselaer Plan, a 5-year strategy to build stellar research programs in biotechnology—especially tissue engineering—and information technology.

  4. Investing in Science

    It's a lovely problem for David Strangway, president of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Strangway must choose between Triple-A bonds and blue chip stocks as the preferred investment vehicle for a $503 million gift from the government; the only catch is that it can't be spent until 2006–10.

    The windfall is the third in the past year for CFI as the government whittles down a budget surplus (Science, 10 March 2000, p. 1732; 27 October 2000, p. 687). The CFI now has a war chest of $2.11 billion for competitive infrastructure grants to universities and teaching hospitals.

    Although Internet stocks are definitely out, Strangway is still bullish on the prospects for solid growth. “I don't think it's unreasonable to hope that $500 million might become $670 million by the time it's needed,” he says.

  5. Dosage Details

    The main body that reviews U.S. gene therapy protocols plans to ramp up its scrutiny of safety reports despite complaints that it will reveal sensitive trade information.

    Last week, the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved a policy requiring detailed data on serious adverse effects from gene therapy experiments. The RAC has collected and made public such data for 10 years, but it wants to harmonize its requirements with those of the Food and Drug Administration (Science, 26 January, p. 572). A new RAC board will analyze the reports for trends. “We want to make the data more useful to everybody,” says RAC chair Claudia Mickelson of MIT.

    Too useful, says Michael Werner of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, who warns that forcing companies to reveal dosage levels “could be of enormous value to a competitor.” The plan now goes to the NIH director.

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