Science  01 Feb 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5556, pp. 779

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  1. FMD Free

    It's official: The foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) epidemic that ravaged British farms in 2001 is over. Last week, the International Epizootic Office in Paris declared the U.K. free of the dreaded virus, clearing the way for resumed meat exports. The total number of animals slaughtered to subdue the virus, according to the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs: 6,131,440.

  2. W.'s Other War

    The Bush Administration appears to be more sympathetic than the Clinton team to the cause of veterans with Gulf War illness, a mysterious set of symptoms plaguing some veterans of the 1991 conflict. Based on as-yet- unpublished research, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced in December that Gulf War vets face double the risk of Lou Gehrig's disease—marking the first time an Administration has acknowledged a direct link between the war and a specific disease. And last week, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi named several vocal critics of past government policy to a new research advisory committee. In contrast, a Clinton-era oversight panel was heavy on military brass and widely mistrusted by veterans (Science, 2 February 2001, p. 816). Epidemiologist Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, one of the Clinton-era critics and a member of the new panel, says, “We're seeing a complete reversal of policy.”

  3. Cloning Bills Blossom

    A looming Senate debate over cloning got a little more complicated last week. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) threw a third major proposal for banning human reproductive cloning onto the table, giving lawmakers preparing for an expected vote later this spring even more to think about.

    The new bill (S. 1893) is similar to S. 1758, proposed last December by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Her bill would keep the door open for research using cloned embryos but impose civil penalties on anyone who tries to clone a person. Harkin's bill adds criminal penalties to the mix.

    More than 20 research organizations have endorsed Feinstein's bill over legislation backed by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) that would ban all uses of cloned embryos. The next step: March hearings on Brownback's bill (S. 790), with a full Senate vote coming sometime later.

  4. Time Limit

    German researchers are protesting a new law that would require aspiring academics to get a doctorate and a permanent university job within 12 to 15 years. Faculty members at the University of Bielefeld this week boycotted classes to protest the new rule, which lawmakers approved in December and German President Johannes Rau will sign soon.

    Currently, would-be professors face some time limits on tenure-seeking and temporary research contracts, but a switch to a different institution restarts the clock. Under the new rules, researchers who don't find permanent posts within the qualification period—up to 15 years for medical scientists—would have to try to extend their contracts under general employment law or leave. Backers say the limits will bring new blood into academia and prevent institutions from exploiting temporary researchers.

    But the Bielefeld protesters say the new deadlines are unrealistic given the scarcity of permanent posts. And they fear that thousands of contract scientists will lose their jobs under the law. University administrators are calling for a phase-in period that gives threatened researchers more time to adjust. German officials have yet to respond to the idea.

  5. About-Face

    The U.S. military is planning to surrender a long-running HIV research program to civilian bosses, according to scientists. Caltech president David Baltimore, chair of the AIDS Vaccine Research Committee of the National Institutes of Health, said at a meeting this week that the Bush Administration has decided to transfer military HIV research—including a $40 million Army vaccine trial—to the Department of Health and Human Services. A Pentagon spokesperson declined comment, but an Army vaccine researcher attending the meeting confirmed the plan. Although similar past efforts were shelved, “this time it's going to stick,” the researcher predicted. He said the decision was made 4 January at “a very high level.”

    AIDS is a significant problem in the U.S. military: HIV infects about 500 soldiers in active and reserve forces each year. But Secretary of the Army Thomas White ruled in a memo last year that studying HIV was a “nontraditional” military activity (Science, 20 July, p. 404). Congress still must approve the shift, which is expected to be included in the 2003 budget proposal the president will release on 4 February.