ScienceScope

Science  11 Jan 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5553, pp. 249
  1. Take It Back

    White House budget officials have backed off from a proposal to transfer some $35 million in research funds from the Smithsonian Institution to the National Science Foundation (NSF) after hearing strong protests from Congress and the scientific community.

    The Office of Management and Budget had planned to shift the money as part of the president's 2003 budget request that will be released on 4 February (Science, 7 December 2001, p. 2066). Budget officials had argued that the funds, for the museum's astrophysical observatory, tropical research institute, and environmental center, could be better managed by NSF, which would then hold a competition open to all scientists. But shortly before Christmas, Smithsonian officials were told that the plan had been withdrawn.

    “The change is as definite as it can be [without a formal budget],” says a Smithsonian official. But the White House may still order up a study on how best to support science at the Smithsonian.

  2. Human Genome, Take 2

    ScienceScope's recent item about an informal vote on the future of the Human Genome Project painted a darker picture than was intended (21 December 2001, 2451). National Human Genome Research Institute director Francis Collins invited dozens of researchers attending a December meeting on the sequencing project's future to vote on one of two propositions: “A. We declare victory for the Human Genome Project at the essential completion of the human sequence [in 2003] … and we will then identify what happens next with some other term, such as ‘genome research,’” or “B. We consider the Human Genome Project to be a continually evolving entity, adding new goals and opportunities as the science and its medical applications move forward.” Participants voted roughly 3:1 for proposition A.

    Prior to the tally, Collins noted in a jovial—not dictatorial—tone that the poll wouldn't be the final word. Afterward, he cracked that some members of his staff probably wouldn't be happy that he'd put the choice to a vote—drawing laughs from the crowd. To see the entire event for yourself, check out www.nhgri.nih.gov/CONF/beyond01.htm.

  3. Research Injection

    Work on infectious diseases got a boost last month with the opening of a new vaccine center at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. Scientists there plan to develop vaccines for a range of pathogens—from bioterror threats to sexually transmitted diseases—and ponder policy issues, such as the growing public resistance to vaccination.

    The center was kick-started by a $3.75 million grant from the John Sealy Memorial Endowment, a charity that gives exclusively to UTMB. It will be directed by herpes vaccine researcher Lawrence Stanberry, who says he has lured Martin Myers, director of the U.S. National Vaccine Program Office, to be the resident policy wonk.

    The new center will allow UTMB— already noted for infectious disease research (Science, 28 April 2000, p. 598)— “to make some very important contributions” to vaccine development, predicts John La Montagne, deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.

  4. Victims of Sound

    The U.S. Navy has concluded that a sonar training exercise caused a mass whale stranding in the Bahamas in March 2000 that killed several rare beaked whales (Science, 26 January 2001, p. 576). In a report released 20 December 2001, the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service conclude that the strandings were caused by an “unusual combination” of factors, including sea-bottom contours and water conditions that may have channeled and magnified sonar pings. The researchers could not pinpoint exactly how the sound energy injured the whales, but the acoustic assault appears to have left some dazed and confused, causing them to swim ashore. The Navy says that it will try to avoid using sonar in similar situations during training runs. But Naomi Rose, a marine mammal expert with the Humane Society of the United States in Gaithersburg, Maryland, says the report is “carefully worded” so that it does not give ammunition to critics of SURTASS LFA, a new, lower frequency sonar system the Navy plans to deploy.

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