Science  26 Oct 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5543, pp. 761

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  1. Research or Proliferation?

    Science and university groups are keeping a close eye on antiterrorism legislation that could hamper research involving biological and chemical toxins. Earlier this month, the American Society for Microbiology and the Association of American Universities, which represents 63 top research universities, successfully lobbied the Senate to exempt “bona fide research” from stiff criminal penalties for possession of potential bioweapons. A version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives, however, doesn't deal with bioweapons, and it's not clear whether such a provision will be included in the final bill, expected to be completed soon.

    Meanwhile, science advocates are also tracking a proposal (HR 3016) by Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA) to bar non-U.S. citizens who are not permanent residents from possessing potential bioweapons. They say the bill would prevent many foreign-born students and researchers from working in the field. They are also awaiting a separate set of bioterror prevention proposals from the Department of Health and Human Services, due next month.

  2. Science Stimulus

    Some science lobbyists are asking Congress to spend money on new university lab equipment as part of a larger legislative effort to revive the economy. Science groups have proposed including up to $2 billion for such purchases in a $100 billion economic stimulus package that is whizzing through Congress.

    A science tool-buying spree would pack a triple punch, says American Physical Society lobbyist Michael Lubell, one of the authors of the idea. It would give struggling computer and equipment makers an immediate cash infusion, help university researchers make discoveries that will produce future economic returns, and reduce a hefty backlog of equipment-funding requests. The National Science Foundation alone, he says, leaves $1 billion in equipment pleas on the table each year.

    It's not clear if lawmakers will bite, however. Republican leaders have argued that the package should emphasize tax cuts, whereas Democrats favor spending on an array of public works projects.

  3. Synergy Paper Misconduct

    The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) last week announced scientific misconduct findings against a former Tulane University scientist who co-authored an influential—but later withdrawn—Science paper on gender-bending chemicals. According to experiments done by Steven Arnold in John McLachlan's lab, certain pollutants became up to 1000 times more reactive when mixed together in a cell assay for estrogenic activity (Science, 7 June 1996, p. 1489). The findings fanned public concern about endocrine disrupters as Congress was passing new legislation to require testing for them. McLachlan later withdrew the paper after other researchers failed to replicate the results.

    A Tulane investigation cleared McLachlan of misdeeds but found that Arnold “provided insufficient data to support” the paper (Science, 18 June 1999, p. 1932). Now PHS, whose Office of Research Integrity reviewed the matter because Arnold had National Institutes of Health funding, has found “no original data or other corroborating evidence” for the paper and that Arnold “provided falsified and fabricated materials” to Tulane investigators. Arnold has admitted his wrongdoing and is barred from receiving PHS grants for 5 years.

  4. Biotech Bounty

    France's ailing biotech industry is slated to get a big shot in the arm next year. The finance ministry announced on 18 October that its 2002 budget will include $133 million for biotech start-ups: $53 million in seed money and $80 million in guaranteed loans.

    The industry group France Biotech celebrated the news. “We are very satisfied,” says president Philippe Pouletty. The commitment, the group notes, may also help convince the European Investment Bank to add more funds to the pot, which could be used for everything from starting new companies to obtaining patents and capitalizing acquisitions.

    The organization has long decried France's ranking behind Germany and the United Kingdom in European biotech investment. Germany vaulted to the lead in the late 1990s after the government upped its stake. The new French program, Pouletty predicts, will allow French biotech investment to “reach first place [by] 2006.”