Science  20 Apr 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5516, pp. 413
  1. Dioxin Dilemma

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is facing a tough decision over whether to back away from calling dioxin a human carcinogen. In a 13 March draft summary to EPA chief Christine Whitman, a subpanel of EPA's Scientific Advisory Board approved a long-debated draft report that includes the classification (Science, 10 November, p. 1071). But the group slammed some of the agency's conclusions. In particular, “most” members of the 21-person panel disagreed with the label.

    EPA scientists are hoping for a stronger endorsement from the full science board, due to meet next month. And they vow to resist pressure from industry to downgrade dioxin's dangers. “We're sticking by our guns,” says one, noting that the National Institutes of Health and other bodies agree that dioxin causes cancer. But some observers—including The Washington Post last week—say Whitman may put the report on ice and order more study.

  2. IT Anyone?

    It's spring in Canada, and multimillion-dollar national science initiatives are popping up like crocuses. The latest to bloom is a $325 million, 5-year proposal from industry to rejuvenate university information technology departments through research in microelectronics, photonics, and other fields. The initiative, which would be run by a nonprofit entity dubbed eMPOWR Canada, hopes to follow the path taken by a national genomics initiative (Science, 13 April, p. 186). Although advocates say it would triple the estimated 350 faculty members in the field, produce skilled workers, and lead to marketable products, the proposal is only one of several that the government is being asked to weigh to bolster academic research.

  3. Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card

    Geologist Martin Pickford may no longer have to worry about being thrown into a Nairobi jail. Last year, Pickford, a geologist at the Collège de France in Paris who studies human evolution, was arrested by Kenyan authorities and imprisoned for 5 days on charges of fossil hunting without a permit. The charges are linked to a paleontology turf war between Pickford's research group and rivals (Science, 13 April, p. 198).

    Pickford insists that he had a valid permit, and the charges weren't prosecuted. But just to be safe, the Community Museums of Kenya (CMK)—which sponsors Pickford—has procured him a new license that is good for the entire country through April 2004. Addy Kaaria, head of Kenya's permitting department, confirms that Pickford can now work “with no problem.”

  4. Life Sentence

    X-ray astronomers are cheering a decision to give BeppoSAX, an Italian-Dutch x-ray satellite, a new lease on life. The Italian space agency ASI last week extended operation of the spacecraft, which was due to die at the end of the month, to 1 May 2002. The reprieve is “just marvelous,” says astronomer Stan Woosley of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    BeppoSAX, launched 5 years ago, hit the headlines in 1997 when its wide-field x-ray cameras enabled astronomers to pin down gamma ray bursts (right), the most violent explosions in the universe (Science, 23 May 1997, p. 1194). Keeping it alive gives astronomers access to two gamma ray trackers, as NASA launched its HETE-2 orbiter last year.

    BeppoSAX is down to just one working navigational gyroscope, but even if it fails officials expect the craft to remain operable due to an upcoming software fix. And if BeppoSAX stays healthy, its mission could be prolonged even further.

  5. How Big?

    Would a larger, longer grant improve the quality of YOUR research. Principal investigators and their institutions will be able to take a swing at that softball question this year as part of a survey designed to improve grants management at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The survey is intended to help the government “determine the ‘right' grant size for the various types of research [NSF] funds,” according to the president's recent 2002 budget request to Congress.

    NSF officials hope it also will lead to double-digit budget increases in 2003 and beyond. NSF director Rita Colwell has already calculated that National Institutes of Health-sized awards would require a doubled budget, but White House officials have complained that such calculations are based on anecdotal rather than hard evidence.

    The community stands ready to pitch in. At last week's NSF budget briefing, Alan Kraut, executive director of the American Psychological Society, asked Colwell: “What can we do to help you convince [the White House].”