ScienceScope

Science  30 Nov 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5548, pp. 1805
  1. Research Relief

    U.S. university scientists have complained in vain for 2 years that stricter arms-trafficking regulations force them to get time-consuming State Department approval for work on research satellites involving foreign graduate students and overseas partners (Science, 24 March 2000, p. 2138). But relief may be in sight. Condoleezza Rice (below), President George W. Bush's national security adviser and a former provost of Stanford University, has voiced her support for “open and collaborative basic research.”

    CREDIT: GEORGE NIKITIN/AP

    In a 1 November letter to Harold Brown, co-chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Rice says that the Administration will review the impact of the regulations on researchers. In the meantime, she notes, a 1985 order by then-President Ronald Reagan exempting basic research from the arms regulations remains in effect—a critical point that until now has been unclear. The clarification could help “ease the universities' problems,” says Eugene Skolnikoff, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has followed the issue.

  2. Culture Clash at HHS

    A plan by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to streamline its bureaucracy has raised concerns at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where 27 centers and institutes now operate with relative independence.

    The “workforce restructuring plan”—which carries the motto “One HHS”—has been under way for months, and NIH has already agreed to form a single personnel office. But two 8 and 9 November memos, one from Ed Sontag, HHS assistant secretary for administration and management, calling for management cuts appear to have hit some tender spots. For example, HHS wants to trim management layers and consolidate grants management and public affairs, now housed at each institute, into central offices. After seeing the memos, one NIH official, referring to the highway outside the Bethesda, Maryland, campus, joked: “Should we all go lie down in Rockville Pike [in protest]?”

    NIH acting director Ruth Kirschstein led a delegation of institute directors who met with Sontag on 19 November to discuss the effort, but the group isn't commenting. NIH spokesperson Anne Thomas says only that her agency is “working collaboratively” with HHS, which wants an “action plan” by 30 November.

  3. Rocky Missions

    Returning a Mars soil sample to Earth is an enticing prospect—and an expensive one, given its $2 billion price tag. NASA tentatively plans a 2011 launch with a 2014 return. Now a National Academy of Sciences panel argues that the agency should conduct not one, but 10, sample-return missions. In a Mars science report released 26 November, the panel, chaired by John Wood of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, concludes that one sample won't be enough to “unlock all of the planet's secrets.” Instead, the first mission should be a “trailblazer” for a more extensive program. That expensive vision, however, is unlikely to win support from the Bush Administration.

    CREDIT: HST/NASA
  4. Preemptive Strike?

    After years of resisting change, the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) earlier this month approved a new charter that trims the number of its divisions from 18 to 10. That will eliminate several plum positions in RAS's governing presidium. In true Soviet fashion, however, academy members reelected the only candidate on the ballot—President Yuri Osipov—to an unprecedented third term (Science, 2 November, p. 974).

    More substantial changes may be afoot for the 325-odd RAS institutes. “We must find out which are effective and which are not,” says former science minister Vladimir Fortov. That would enable the academy to funnel scarce resources to worthy institutes. Observers expect the academy to unveil other specific reforms by May.

  5. New Chief

    Developmental biologist Peter Gruss has been elected president of Germany's Max Planck Society, the nation's major science group. Gruss, 52, is currently head of the department of molecular cell biology at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. He will take over next June from biologist Hubert Markl, who plans to return to research at the University of Konstanz after leading the society for 6 years. Although he lacks Markl's administrative experience, Gruss should bring “a fresh perspective,” says Tobias Bonhoeffer, director of the MPI for Neurobiology in Martinsried. Like Markl, Gruss favors allowing research on human embryonic stem cells in Germany—an issue the government is still debating.