Science  29 Jun 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5526, pp. 2411

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  1. Environmental Reparations

    Five Middle Eastern countries will soon get unprecedented payments to conduct studies of the environmental damage caused by the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi troops set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells, shrouding the region in smoke for months. The money is part of reparations being drawn from the Iraq “oil for food” fund run by the United Nations (U.N.).

    Last week, the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC) council approved distributing $243 million from the fund for environmental impact research, with the lion's share going to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and smaller amounts to Iran, Jordan, and Syria. The nations have UNCC approval for 107 studies, including surveying coastlines for spilled oil, studying smoke damage to archaeological sites, and following health effects in people who inhaled the smoke.

    Julia Klee of UNCC says “as far as we're aware, this is the first time” a country has paid environmental damages after a war. The money should be disbursed within a month.

  2. Channeling Science

    China Central Television (CCTV), China's leading TV network, is starting a channel devoted to science. It debuts on 10 July and will air programs on nature, history, geography, ecology and environment, hot issues in science and education, and interviews with prominent scientists.

    The channel is part of the government's strategy to “rejuvenate China by relying on science and education,” says Gao Feng, director of CCTV's Department of Society and Education, which is spending $12.5 million to get the channel off the ground. Programs from National Geographic and the Discovery Channel imported by local TV stations “have cultivated an audience for our new channel,” he says. Some 300 people are involved in the effort, which will include 7 hours of new programming as part of every 18-hour broadcast day.

    The scientific community welcomes the new outlet, which will be broadcast via satellite on Channel 10. “It may serve as a bridge between the scientists and the public,” says Yang Linzhang, deputy director of the Nanjing Institute of Soil Science under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “But it will be a challenge for the TV workers to make their programs appealing to different kinds of audiences.”

  3. Synchro Wars

    The race to build Australia's first synchrotron is heating up. The Victoria state government said last week that it has found $82 million to build an x-ray facility that researchers can use to probe the atomic structure of everything from proteins to new materials. The announcement surprised and upset officials in Queensland and New South Wales, two other states that are fiercely competing to host the device.

    Last May, the three states submitted proposals to the federal government to win $15 million in synchrotron start-up funds, with a decision due in August. But Victoria premier Steve Bracks upstaged the competition by saying that his state will pony up $52 million for its planned device (above), with industry and research institutes adding $30 million more.

    The preemptive strike took federal science minister Nick Minchin “totally unawares,” says a spokesperson. Minchin cautiously praised the initiative but noted that the government will still evaluate the pending proposals. Queensland premier Peter Beatty says Victoria's move was unsporting and that his state will stick to its “more honorable approach.” He urged the warring parties to meet soon to sort things out.

  4. Warning Shot

    For months, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been fielding questions about how PubSCIENCE, its free Web index of scientific journals and articles (Science, 8 October 1999, p. 195), might compete with private businesses. Now, Congress has gotten into the act. On 25 June, a House appropriations committee decided that PubSCIENCE poses a threat to private vendors of scientific information.

    The House energy and water appropriations subcommittee voted to cut $730,000 from the current funding of DOE's Office of Scientific and Technical Information, in the name of cutting waste. In a report accompanying the bill, the committee notes that DOE “should carefully review its information services such as PubSCIENCE to be sure that such efforts remain focused on appropriate scientific journals and do not compete improperly with similar services from the private sector.” It is not yet known whether the Senate will include a similar warning in its version of the funding bill, to be considered later this year.