ScienceScope

Science  22 Feb 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5559, pp. 1441
  1. MIT Inquiry

    After nearly a year of pressuring Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) leaders, security studies professor Theodore Postol has gotten the university to investigate alleged scientific misconduct by professors involved in ballistic missile defense studies. In an 11 February letter, MIT provost Robert Brown grudgingly agreed to the inquiry, which will be headed by Edward Crawley, aeronautics and astronautics department chair. Crawley's panel will examine whether MIT Lincoln Lab researchers involved in a 1998 study covered up failures in a Pentagon missile test, as Postol has charged (Science, 1 February, p. 776).

    Postol says the inquiry is too little, too late, and refuses to cooperate. “I will only respond to an inquiry that clearly is independent,” he says. But Brown has rejected including non-MIT officials on the panel, which is the first step toward a formal university investigation. The feud is likely to continue. In a 7 February letter to the MIT board, Postol rails against a culture of “negligence, indifference, and lying” within the university's management.

  2. More Light

    Germany wants its brightest scientists to focus on cutting-edge optics technology. Government officials this week said they will spend $243 million over the next 5 years on an array of projects, including optical lithography for better computer chips and optical scanners to identify new drugs, in a bid to lift Germany back to the top of a field it once dominated. Japan and the United States have the lead in some optics fields, says Eckhard Heybrock of VDI, the German association of engineers, who advised the government on the new program. To catch up, Germany will award funding to applied research done by several recently established “competence networks,” collaborations between academic and industry researchers.

  3. Yucca Yes

    Saying 2 decades of study is enough, President George W. Bush last week approved plans to bury radioactive waste from U.S. commercial nuclear reactors under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But state politicians are vowing to block the long-controversial plan in the courts and Congress (Science, 28 April 2000, p. 602). Nevada governor Kenny Guinn (R) sued Bush just hours after the 15 February announcement, claiming the state didn't get enough time to review an environmental study. And a major congressional fight over the issue is expected this summer. The White House needs to win a simple majority in the House and Senate for the plan to proceed.

  4. Energetic Discussion

    U.K. researchers have mixed reactions to a call for a new national energy research center. A government panel reviewing energy policy last week recommended that a new center is needed to energize studies of power use, production, and environmental and social issues. Chemist David King of the University of Cambridge, the government's chief scientist and head of a subpanel that looked at energy research, says the center would help pull together a “broad menu” of new energy technology studies. But Ian Fells, an energy expert at the University of Newcastle, favors a more decentralized approach that would boost energy research at “half a dozen” local research centers. That is just one funding model currently being studied by the U.K.'s research councils, which oversee government science spending.

    CREDIT: NEIL BEER/CORBIS

    No final decision is expected soon. The energy panel's recommendations are now open for public comment, and a final long-term strategic plan is due later this year.

  5. Oversight Overlords

    British researchers say pending legislation to prevent the export of sensitive technologies to hostile countries could give the government too much control over what research gets published. According to the lobby group Universities UK (UUK), a revised Export Control Bill now before the House of Lords would give the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the right to review new research before it is submitted for publication. DTI would also be able to impose controls on e-mails and instruction manuals covering topics deemed sensitive. The current law applies only to tangible objects and descriptions of certain military technologies.

    DTI officials insist that the rules would pertain only to applied research and that additional legislation will define and exempt basic research from export control oversight. UUK, however, wants to see academic freedom enshrined in the export law itself and is seeking support for an amendment during debate next month.

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