Science  29 Mar 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5564, pp. 2343

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  1. Making It Official

    In a packed East Room ceremony, President George W. Bush this week formally introduced his pick to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As expected, it is radiologist Elias Zerhouni. Executive Vice dean for research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where he has spent most of the past 27 years, Zerhouni is also known for his entrepreneurial bent, having invented a new MRI technique and co-founded a company to develop it (Science, 15 March, p. 1988).

    Bush said that Zerhouni is “well prepared” to manage NIH as it completes a 5-year doubling of its budget to $27.3 billion and takes on “urgent” biodefense efforts. The president also indirectly raised the stem cell debate, saying that Zerhouni “shares my view that human life is precious and should not be exploited or destroyed for the benefits of others … [and] that the promise of ethically conducted medical research is limitless.”

    Zerhouni made no reference to the stem cell controversy, saying only that as an Algerian immigrant 27 years ago, he “could never have dreamed of” the nomination, and that “I will do my very best to advance the noble mission of the NIH.”

    Bush also announced his pick for U.S. Surgeon General: Richard Carmona, a trauma surgeon and professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Both nominations are now subject to Senate confirmation.

  2. Stem Cells United

    Stem cell researchers are organizing in a bid to influence political and ethical debates over their hot new field. Last week, they announced the creation of the International Society of Stem Cell Research at a symposium in Keystone, Colorado.

    Leonard Zon of Children's Hospital Boston will lead the new society. Board members include Irving Weissman of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and Douglas Melton of Harvard University. Zon says the group will offer advice on clinical trials of new stem cell therapies and weigh in on hot topics such as human therapeutic cloning, which is expected to be the subject of a Senate vote next month. The society plans to hold its first annual meeting late next year (see

  3. Pondering Quality

    A new rule aimed at improving the quality of technical information released by the government could do both good and harm, experts concluded last week at a Washington, D.C., workshop. The data quality rule, issued by the White House Office of Management and Budget on 22 February, requires agencies to rigorously vet data in reports and regulations. It also allows citizens to challenge information that they think is inaccurate (Science, 13 July 2001, p. 189).

    Legal experts at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) workshop predicted that the rule's loosely defined call for “objective” review of “influential” information will trigger lawsuits. A business group has already cited the rule in challenging U.S. climate projections, but environmental activists could also use it to question industry data, suggested David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Academic scientists, meanwhile, worry that they could become entangled by provisions that “third-party” data cited by the government be subject to review. That could be used to harass scientists, marking “the dark side of an otherwise positive development,” says Washington, D.C., attorney Fred Anderson, a member of an NAS task force on data quality. Agency proposals for implementing the rule are due 1 April.

  4. India OKs GM Cotton

    Indian agriculture reached a milestone this week as the government approved the first commercial release of genetically modified (GM) cotton. Farmers have been given a 3-year pass to plant three Bt cotton varieties developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. (MAHYCO) in Mumbai. Under the new rules, farmers must plant at least 20% of any GM field with non-Bt varieties and surround them with five rows of non-Bt plants. MAHYCO must also report insect resistance and track annual GM seed sales. Monsanto, which imported the Bt gene, owns a minority stake in the company.


    Some farmers like the promised higher yields, but environmentalists say the government's decision is premature. Pests are “bound to develop resistance,” says Devinder Sharma, a food policy analyst with the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.