Science  09 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5545, pp. 1257

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  1. The fall of RISE

    In May 2000, an advisory committee to the National Science Foundation (NSF) proposed a big spending boost in mathematics and the physical sciences, citing their role in national security and economic development. Committee members hoped that the 20-page manifesto—the Reinvestment Initiative in Science and Engineering (RISE)—would inspire a doubling of the NSF budget, a goal of NSF director Rita Colwell.

    But the campaign never took off. Last week the committee vented its anger at NSF's top management for failing to trumpet its message while a recent Defense Department commission led by former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman attracted national attention by making many of the same points. “NSF had an opportunity to be at the forefront on the role of science in national security and economic development, and it dropped the ball,” said chemist Ronald Brisbois of Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minnesota. “RISE could have been on everybody's lips [after 11 September] instead of Hart-Rudman.”

    NSF staffer Robert Eisenstein says he understands their frustration. But he also told the committee that Colwell et al. “are very supportive” of the RISE plan.

  2. Arsenic Déjà Vu

    Ending one of the biggest scientific controversies of the young Bush Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a new standard for arsenic in drinking water. It chose exactly the same level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) set by the Clinton Administration.

    In March, EPA administrator Christine Whitman suspended that standard and asked for more scientific review, noting that cleanup costs could be high. Her move provoked an uproar among environmentalists and some members of Congress and inspired countless jibes about the president's disregard for the public's health. But if more review was meant to block the standard, it backfired: A National Academy of Sciences panel found that the cancer risks of arsenic were greater than previously thought, suggesting that even 10 ppb might not be protective enough (Science, 21 September, p. 2189). The panel's chair, retired pathologist Robert Goyer, declined to comment on EPA's decision. But he said that it's in line with a World Health Organization guideline followed by many countries.

  3. Geologic Rebound

    Things looked grim earlier this year for scientists in the water resources division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Department of the Interior had requested a budget that would have cut funding for the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) by 30%, slashed 71% from the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, and completely eliminated a nationwide network of cooperative research institutes (Science, 11 May, p. 1040). Alarmed, groups that use USGS water data—from environmentalists to civil engineers—raised a ruckus.


    Now they, and the USGS, can breathe a sigh of relief. When President George W. Bush signed the 2002 Interior appropriations bill into law this week, many of the proposed cuts had evaporated. The toxics and NAWQA programs got 2.3% and 1.6% raises, respectively, while the State Water Resources Research Institutes won a 10% boost. “Compared to the bleak scenario in the spring, things are much better,” says David Blockstein, a senior scientist with the National Council for Science and the Environment in Washington, D.C. But he's not optimistic that the water programs will be spared next year, when the federal budget is expected to be even tighter.

  4. Squeaky Wheels

    The newly signed interior appropriations bill (see above) also contained mixed news for researchers upset with plans to ax two science centers at the Smithsonian Institution. Last spring, Smithsonian director Lawrence Small announced plans to eliminate the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, and the Center for Materials Research and Education in Suitland, Maryland (Science, 13 April, p. 183). The proposed closures were part of a plan to reorganize Smithsonian science and free up funds for other projects.

    After protests from researchers and local lawmakers, Small backpedaled, but warned that Congress would have to come up with more money to keep the units open. It did, giving the Smithsonian $497 million in 2002, $3 million more than the president's request. That's barely enough to cover all the costs of those units, says the Smithsonian's Paula DePriest. And the other science units will take a $1.9 million hit. “It's actually very grim,” she adds.