Science  13 Jul 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5528, pp. 189

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  1. Data-Quality Jitters

    A federal proposal that would allow citizens to critique data disbursed by government agencies is troubling some researchers. Its backers in Congress and industry make no bones about wanting to use the rules to pick apart reports and Web sites (below) on hot-button topics such as global warming and toxic chemicals.

    The guidelines, proposed by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the 28 June Federal Register, call for agencies to ensure the “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity” of information they disseminate, including “opinions.” Agencies would have to set up “mechanisms” for “citizen review” so the public can “obtain correction of information.” OMB crafted the plan in response to language tucked into a funding bill by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and other lawmakers last fall.

    Researchers are particularly alarmed by a requirement that any scientific results “be substantially reproducible upon independent analysis of the underlying data.” That could force academics to turn over their data to anyone who asks, worries Wendy Baldwin, extramural grants chief at the National Institutes of Health. Adds one academic lobbyist: “It's an open invitation to industry to come in and trash” the work of scientists. Comments are due by 13 August.

  2. Planet Finders

    The ongoing battle over whether to send a spacecraft to Pluto (Science, 17 November 2000, p. 1270) is the most obvious sign that U.S. planetary scientists are at odds over how to spend limited dollars. Next week, senior researchers will kick off a sweeping 10-month review of solar system exploration aimed at deciding which missions are most needed.

    The two dozen planetary scientists want to come up with “a plan written by the community” rather than NASA or White House officials, says retired astronomer Michael Belton, who will lead the panel. Modeled on the astronomy decadal survey, the National Research Council study is funded by NASA and due next May. The results could replace NASA's current planetary science plan, which researchers criticized last year for lacking a clear set of science goals.

  3. New Faces

    A trio of prominent research institutions is getting new leaders. The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, this week appointed two women to lead key outposts. Janet Thornton, a structural biologist at University College London, will become research director at the European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge, U.K. Nadia Rosenthal, a biomedical researcher at Harvard University, will take over EMBL's mouse biology program in Monterotondo, Italy. Both programs are emerging reinvigorated from financial crises (Science, 18 May, p. 1275, and 15 June, p. 1985).

    In the United States, veteran virologist Edmund Tramont has taken the helm of the government's largest AIDS program. Tramont, former head of the U.S. military's AIDS research program and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Center, will lead the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' $1 billion Division of AIDS.

  4. Celera, NIH Make a Deal

    After 7 months of painstaking review, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has agreed to let some of its scientists use private DNA databases maintained by Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland. NIH's largest unit, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), signed a memorandum of understanding with Celera in late June that permits NCI scientists to pay for Celera's data from their own budgets. The decision was controversial because NIH has already used public funds to create its own DNA data archive, GenBank (Science, 12 January, p. 223).

    NCI's decision does not signal a loss of confidence in the public system, says NIH intramural chief Michael Gottesman. “Some people at NCI were interested” in seeing Celera's data, he said, so NCI managers made a deal that would give them access and serve as a model for other NIH institutes. He doubts many researchers will sign up but hasn't taken a “head count” of potential users.

    Celera president J. Craig Venter says NIH was pushed into the decision by its own researchers, especially those who want to check out the company's assembled and annotated mouse genome. (The public mouse genome may not be available for years.) The agreement “will put behind us” old battles, Venter says. He predicts Celera will bill NCI “less than $20,000 per lab” for use of all its databases, including the mouse genome.