ScienceScope

Science  21 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5576, pp. 2119
  1. France's High Flyer

    French conservatives are riding high after their crushing victory in France's 16 June legislative elections. So it's not surprising that Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin reached for the stars in choosing a new science chief. Claudie Haigneré, Europe's only woman astronaut and a veteran of missions to the Mir and international space stations, has been tapped as minister of research and new technologies. She replaces interim research chief François Loos and will report to philosopher Luc Ferry, who was earlier named head of a “superministry” for youth, education, and research.

    CREDIT: ESA/CNES

    The appointment puts Haigneré “in a key position to shape the future of Europe's science and technology,” says Antonio Rodotà, director-general of the European Space Agency. But French researchers say it's too early to know whether Haigneré—a doctor and neuroscientist who commanded a Soyuz space capsule on its return from Mir in 1999—will be able to pilot France's research effort out of its current financial doldrums. Indeed, some scientists say they are keeping a closer eye on newly appointed finance minister Francis Mer. The former steel industry executive is a well-known advocate of research and development spending. Says the head of one major research institute: “I am not too worried about the new government—at least not yet.”

  2. Thinking Ahead

    Congress hasn't yet finished work on the 2003 budget, but the Bush Administration is already thinking about adding some “life” to its 2004 request. The White House budget office late last month released its annual budget guidance to research agencies, and “molecular-level understanding of life processes” is one of six areas—and the only new idea—identified as a priority.

    Agency officials are just beginning to work out what the bioscience initiative might look like, who would be involved, and how much it might cost. “We're in the brainstorming phase,” says one National Institutes of Health researcher. The other priorities are continuations of current multiagency initiatives, ranging from homeland defense and nanotechnology to information technology and climate change.

    Whatever plan emerges later this summer, the White House insists it must be “relevant” to national needs, have measurable performance criteria, and be funded through a competitive process.

  3. More for Livermore

    The Bush Administration this week delivered draft legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security to Congress, which is scrambling to decide how it will oversee the proposed $37 billion addition to the federal bureaucracy. But one element seems clear: The department's scientific and technological activities will be managed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California —although lab officials emphasize that the lab itself will not be swallowed up by the new department.

    “There'll be a separate building on the Livermore campus, with a sign on the door designating it as an office of the new department,” explains John Marburger, the president's science adviser. Asked why Livermore was chosen, Marburger says that the Department of Energy weapons lab “has a long history” of being involved in the issue, from the biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons in a potential terrorist's arsenal to the measures needed to thwart their deployment.

    Although much of the department's work might be carried out by health and medical agencies, Marburger says he expects the Livermore-based office to manage their budgets. It will also represent science to the rest of the department.

  4. U.K. Cloning Clash

    The on-and-off battle over the United Kingdom's stem cell and cloning research rules is on again. The country's highest court last week said it will allow an antiabortion group to appeal an earlier defeat that opened the door to human therapeutic cloning research.

    Last November, the High Court ruled that the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, passed in 1990 before human cloning seemed possible, applied only to embryos created by fusion of egg and sperm—and not those made by cloning techniques. The decision prompted one doctor to announce that he would attempt human reproductive cloning in the U.K. But after an appeals court overturned that ruling, the House of Lords empowered a government panel to issue licenses for therapeutic cloning research. Now, the Judicial Office of the House of Lords has ruled that the anti-embryo research group ProLife Alliance can challenge the current regulatory system.

    A ProLife win would be a setback for researchers, says Anne McLaren, a developmental biologist at the Wellcome/CRC Institute in Cambridge. The case is expected to be heard later this year.

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