Science  27 Apr 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5517, pp. 617

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  1. At Sea, at Risk

    The smalltooth sawfish may soon become the first marine fish living in U.S. waters to be listed as an endangered species. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) last week concluded that the sawfish (below), a shark relative, is in “in danger of extinction” due to fish net entanglements and habitat loss. Scientists believe the U.S. population has declined by as much as 99%, with survivors confined to a few areas off Florida.

    NMFS has listed just one other totally marine fish, a tropical species that lives off Mexico, as endangered (Science, 25 July 1997, p. 486). Sonja Fordham of the Center for Marine Conservation, which asked for the sawfish's listing, says NMFS's move, due to be finalized later this year, “sends an important warning that marine fish can indeed be threatened by human activities.”

  2. Fast Track

    Should NASA or the National Science Foundation control U.S. astronomy research? At the White House's request, a blue-ribbon panel under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences is gearing up to answer that controversial question. The 12-person panel named 21 April includes a mixture of science policy heavyweights, such as retired aerospace manager Norman Augustine and former presidential science adviser D. Allan Bromley, as well as researchers from universities and nonprofits. The panel's work kicks off 10 May with a private phone conference, followed by three public meetings this summer. A final report is due 1 September.

  3. Arsenic Punt

    After yanking a new rule for arsenic in drinking water that she felt was issued too hastily, Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman has now tossed the matter to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

    The withdrawn Clinton-era rule would have lowered the acceptable level of arsenic, a carcinogen, from the current 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb. Whitman wants the NAS panel to examine the health impacts of levels between 3 and 20 ppb by August. An academy staffer explains, however, that the panel will not recommend the best level—that's not its role—but review recent research in updating a 1999 NAS study which urged only that the standard be tightened.

  4. Appealing Case

    A state court judge has delivered a surprising setback to a Harvard researcher hoping to prove job discrimination. After a 3-week trial, a Massachusetts jury last month found in favor of biomathematician Tamara Awerbuch-Friedlander, who claimed that Harvard's School of Public Health denied her a promised slot on the tenure track and then retaliated against her for complaining (Science, 23 February, p. 1466). But before the jury could set damages, Judge Diane Kottmyer surprised both sides by dismissing the case, ruling that Awerbuch-Friedlander's 1994 complaint missed a filing deadline. Harvard officials declined comment. But Awerbuch-Friedlander says she will appeal, arguing that the timing issue is moot because Harvard actively dissuaded her from filing the complaint.

  5. Fined Example

    Spurred by a government fine for violating pollution laws, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) plans to become a model environmental citizen. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been battling the Cambridge, Massachusetts, university since 1998 over sloppy hazardous waste handling at more than 200 of its 2200 labs, and on 18 April the agency fined the school $150,000. But the same day, MIT announced that it will spend an additional $405,000 to build a Web-based “environmental campus” which will demonstrate how other schools can cope with complex environmental laws. Funds will also go to an education program at Cambridge public schools and a biofiltration storm water management system.

    In a letter to MIT President Charles Vest, EPA official Sam Silverman wrote that MIT's plan “to go beyond its compliance obligations by taking on far-reaching green initiatives is laudable.”

  6. Italian Living

    Researchers worried about the future of science aboard the international space station got some good news on 19 April. A month after NASA said it would cancel a planned crew quarters module to save money (Science, 9 March, p. 1883), the Italian Space Agency said it might take on the project in return for greater access to the station for its astronauts and scientists. Researchers say the quarters are essential, because they will house the larger crew needed to run planned experiments. NASA and Italian officials warn that it may take months to nail down a deal.