ScienceScope

Science  12 Oct 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5541, pp. 281
  1. EPA Science Bill Moving

    A plan to beef up science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is wending its way through Congress. Last week, the House Science Committee approved HR 64, which would direct the agency to appoint a new deputy administrator for science and technology to oversee all EPA research (Science, 21 July 2000, p. 371). The bill would also extend to 5 years the term of the assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development. (The term is currently undefined.)

    The bill's sponsor, Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), hopes for a vote on the House floor before Congress recesses this fall. Eventually he wants to merge his proposal with a companion Senate bill sponsored by Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH). EPA has not yet officially weighed in on the legislation, but agency officials have reportedly expressed some concerns. Ehlers says he doesn't see that as an obstacle, because he is hearing “favorable signals from the White House.”

  2. Is Proximity Power?

    Physicist John Marburger (right), President George W. Bush's pick to be his science adviser and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), had an easy confirmation hearing this week before a Senate committee. And science lobbyists predict that his nomination will sail through the full Senate by the end of the month. But once officially in place, Marburger may find his office arrangements in flux.

    CREDIT: BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY

    The Secret Service last week confirmed that, due to security concerns, OSTP staff have been moved out of their longtime offices in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House and into offices outside the White House fence a few blocks away. The ouster apparently is part of a plan to make workers less vulnerable to truck bombs.

    Marburger will reportedly retain a workspace near the corridors of power and told senators that he will have access to the president. But lower level OSTP staffers have heard that their transfer could be permanent. The separation, says one former OSTP staffer, will make it harder for science policy advocates to “cultivate the kind of water-cooler contacts that can make a big difference in getting your voice heard in policy debates.”

  3. Patent Challenge Grows

    The battle against a European patent for a breast cancer test went continent-wide this week. As Science went to press, researchers and clinicians from six European countries were poised to file formal opposition to a patent awarded last January to Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, Utah. It covers a test that detects mutations in the BRCA1 gene that researchers believe are responsible for more than half of all hereditary breast cancers. Opponents say the patent gives Myriad an unfair monopoly on breast cancer testing.

    The Institut Curie in Paris had already announced that it would oppose the patent (Science, 14 September, p. 1971). Now weighing in are human and medical genetics societies from five other European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In addition, on 4 October the European Parliament adopted a resolution opposing the patent.

    Patent opponents, says human geneticist Gert Matthijs of the University of Leuven in Belgium, want to “make sure … that the social medicine we practice [in Europe] does not become exceedingly expensive because of patent rights.” Myriad officials predict that their patent will stand.

  4. Howling at Earmarks

    Critics and supporters of congressional pork-barrel spending on academic science projects found little common ground at a 1-day workshop on the issue in Washington, D.C., last week. Lawmakers last year “earmarked” a record $1.7 billion to universities for buildings and research projects that had not been requested by the White House. The meeting was held in the wake of a White House effort to persuade university and science groups to publicly oppose such practices (Science, 28 September, p. 2364).

    Critics, including House Science Committee aide Dan Pearson, said that earmarking leads to taxpayer funding for questionable science. But one prominent ex-earmarker, former Louisiana Senator J. Bennett Johnston—now a lobbyist—noted that earmarks account for just a few percent of the government's $43 billion civilian R&D budget. He advised earmarking opponents to “put your efforts elsewhere, because you are not going to win.” He also accused some universities of hypocrisy, publicly decrying earmarks but privately hiring lobbyists—such as himself—to win cash from Congress. Some schools, he charged, “want to bark with the dogs and howl with the coons.”

  5. Science Posts

    The White House is said to be close to naming nominees for top posts at two federal science agencies. Veterinarian and pharmacologist Lester Crawford is rumored to be in line to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Crawford has held posts at FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and currently runs a food policy center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. His nomination may draw opposition from some consumer activists because his center has received funding from industry groups.

    Less controversial is the apparent pick to head the Office of Research and Development (ORD) at the Environmental Protection Agency. Paul Gilman, now policy director at Celera Genomics in Rockville, Maryland, is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist by training whose career path includes a stint as an aide to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and posts at the Department of Energy, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the National Academy of Sciences. With that wealth of experience, Gilman would make “an excellent choice,” says Robert Huggett, a former ORD head who is now vice president for research at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

  6. Conflict Crackdown

    Leaders of the top U.S. research universities have recommended some tough new rules for managing conflicts of interest. Noting that academia is facing a “substantial” risk of seeing its integrity questioned due to entanglements with industry, the Association of American Universities (AAU) on 9 October called on its 63 members to require researchers to make financial disclosures that go far beyond current legal requirements.

    An AAU task force, co-chaired by presidents Steven Sample of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and L. Dennis Smith of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, says that all members of the faculty doing research—not just biomedical scientists—should disclose to university managers any financial holdings that could be “related” to their studies. Academics should also open their books to journal editors, the panel says, while the “publications should print this information so that it can become available to the public.” At medical centers, the AAU says that the Institutional Review Boards that approve human subjects research should have authority to “prohibit the research” if a conflict is not properly managed.

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