Science  16 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5546, pp. 1433
  1. In the Dark

    In a major setback for neutrino observations, the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in central Japan has been knocked out of commission during repairs to the $100 million facility.

    Buried a kilometer underground in a mine, Super-Kamiokande is a 39-meter-by-41-meter tank of water lined with 11,146 photomultiplier tubes that watch for a characteristic glow, known as Cerenkov radiation, from the statistically rare interaction of ephemeral neutrinos and atomic particles in the water. In 1998, it provided researchers with the first convincing evidence that neutrinos have mass.


    The tank was emptied in August to replace 100 burned-out tubes and was being refilled on Monday when more than half of the tubes suddenly shattered in an apparent chain reaction. Yoji Totsuka, director of the University of Tokyo's Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, which heads an international collaboration operating Super-Kamiokande, says he has no idea what caused the accident or how soon the facility can be put back online. One scientist estimated that it could cost $10 million just to replace the tubes.

  2. Deep Decision

    The underground science movement is still kicking. Congress last week included $10 million in a housing appropriations bill to prevent an abandoned gold mine from flooding. The money, for a skeletal crew and equipment to keep the mine dry, keeps alive scientists' hopes of transforming the Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, into the world's deepest underground laboratory (Science, 15 June, p. 1979). Scientists studying certain phenomena, such as neutrino signatures, need such sites to shield experiments from cosmic radiation.

    Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and mine owners last month worked out environmental and liability issues that threatened to scuttle the plan. Ironically, Daschle aides were hammering out the final deal in the senator's Washington, D.C., office when they learned that a staffer had just opened the anthrax-bearing letter, according to The Wall Street Journal. While members of Daschle's staff wait to return to their shuttered building, researchers await word from the National Science Foundation on a $281 million proposal to build the underground lab.

  3. Delayed Again

    German researchers hoping to work with human embryonic stem cells are braced for yet another delay, while a Japanese group has won approval from its university to move ahead.

    Germany has a law that forbids embryo research. But the DFG—Germany's science funding agency—was scheduled to decide on 7 December whether to fund a grant application from University of Bonn neuroscientist Oliver Brüstle to work with cell lines imported from abroad (Science, 8 June, p. 1811). Last week, Bundestag leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties urged DFGchief Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker to put off the decision until parliament debates the issue. If Winnacker agrees, the debate could be difficult for stem cell research backers. An ethics commission advising the Bundestag, for instance, this week voted 17–7 against allowing importation of the cells.

    Brüstle, frustrated, says the nearly 2 years of discussions soon “must reach a conclusion.” If the DFGdelays, his application could be considered at the next meeting of the grants panel on 1 February.

    In Japan, a national board must now review a stem cell research proposal approved 5 November by Kyoto University.

  4. Indian Reshuffle

    A hawk has replaced a hawk as principal scientific adviser to the Indian government. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (below), who spearheaded India's missile and nuclear program for more than 4 decades, resigned this week amid rumors that he was frustrated by bureaucratic delays in implementing a new technology policy he had crafted. He has been replaced by Rajagopala Chidambaram, until recently head of the country's atomic energy program and a major force behind the May 1998 nuclear tests.


    Appointed 2 years ago, Kalam was the first chief scientist to also hold the rank of cabinet minister and report directly to the prime minister. But it was never clear what his duties entailed, and he reportedly was miffed at a lack of executive authority. Unlike Kalam, Chidambaram will not hold the rank of cabinet minister.

    Kalam says he is joining the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore to fulfill his wish to work more closely with students. Indian Science Minister M. M. Joshi says that “there were no differences between Kalam and the government.”

  5. Call to Arms

    The Swiss Science and Technology Council (SSTC) has issued a “manifesto” calling on the government to take science more seriously. Signed by many leading Swiss scientists, last week's appeal follows a strongly worded September warning from council president Gottfried Schatz that a decade of stagnant spending has caused Swiss science to lag behind that of other nations. The SSTC advises the Swiss Federal Council, which is currently setting science policy for 2004–07.

    Among the council's complaints: an “abominable” Swiss training and tenure system that it says shortchanges young scientists and favors hiring foreign professors. The manifesto demands a “minimum” science spending increase of nearly $1 billion per year, new training grants for young researchers, and a more transparent, U.S.-style tenure-track system. Researchers are aware of the problems but the public is not, Schatz told the Swiss newspaper Der Bund. He says researchers “need a lobby.”

  6. Scientist Sanctioned

    A Johns Hopkins University scientist charged with improperly testing an anticancer drug in India has been barred from leading future trials.

    Hopkins came under fire last July after the Indian media reported problems in an oral cancer study involving Ru Chih C. Huang, a biologist in Hopkins's School of Arts and Sciences. This week, a Hopkins faculty committee found that the trial hadn't received required approvals from a university Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), involved insufficient animal tests, and used inadequate consent forms. The three panelists found no evidence that patients were harmed, nor financial conflicts, says a Hopkins spokesperson. In response, Hopkins's arts and sciences dean—who didn't identify Huang by name—said that any future human studies she participates in must be supervised by a Hopkins clinical researcher.

    Huang has said Hopkins administrators led her to believe she needed approval only from an IRB in India (Science, 10 August, p. 1024). She told Science that she “totally agree[s]” that she should not oversee trials: An Indian doctor headed the trial in India, she says. Huang added that she is now requesting approval to conduct a second trial, which would be led by a physician from the Hopkins Singapore campus.

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