ScienceScope

Science  28 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5577, pp. 2313
  1. Statistical Victory

    The Supreme Court has successfully waded through another census-related statistical morass. In a 5-3 decision last week, the justices declared that the statistical technique known as “hot-deck imputation” is constitutionally acceptable in creating congressional districts. The ruling protects a mainstay method of the modern U.S. census and slaps down an effort by Utah to claim a seat that had been awarded to North Carolina.

    Two years ago, Census Bureau officials announced that Utah was 900 citizens shy of getting a fourth seat as part of the decadal legislative reshuffling. Utah then sued the bureau, contending that its use of hot-deck imputation, which allows counters to fill in missing or inconsistent data, fell afoul of a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed statistical “sampling” to apportion congressional seats (Science, 1 February, p. 783). But a court majority found that the hot-deck method is distinct from sampling, so the census result stands.

    Many statisticians say the court did the right thing. A census conducted without hot-deck imputation, they note, would require a statistical assumption, something the court was trying to avoid in the first place.

  2. Name That Ship

    Canada has agreed to spend $24.5 million to turn an icebreaker into the country's first Arctic research vessel. It's one of nine infrastructure awards, totaling $130 million, announced last week by the Canada Foundation for Innovation to help the nation's scientists participate in international projects.

    The retrofit of the 42-berth ship will add current meters, biological sonars, sediment traps, and a multibeam system to scan the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, allowing climate change researchers from around the world to conduct studies. One planned mission will be to assess the ecological impact of a reduction in the McKenzie Ice Shelf. Scientists would also like to rechristen the ship, now named for the famously unlucky Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, who in 1847 led two ships and a crew of 134 on a search for a Northwest passage but disappeared. “That's why we want to change the name,” laughs principal investigator Louis Fortier, an oceanographer at the University of Laval in Quebec.

    Other projects include one to transform the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario into an international lab for underground science and a beamline at the Spallation Neutron Source being built at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

  3. Station Plea

    Biologists, materials scientists, and physicists from Arizona to Japan are flocking to sign an unusual petition to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. Their plea: Reverse current plans to trim the international space station's crew and scientific instruments and end what they see as discrimination against academic science.

    CREDIT: NASA

    The letter to O'Keefe (www.desc.med.vu.nl/ISS) complains that NASA is failing to capitalize on its immense investment in the station and that cuts in crew and equipment will undermine efforts to produce good orbiting research. In particular, it warns that peer-reviewed science has “become rare, routinely taking a back seat to commercial/NASA center priorities” for the limited slots available on the space shuttle.

    The plea struck a chord: Within hours of being posted on the Internet last week, more than 150 scientists had signed. Organizer Millie Hughes-Fulford, a former astronaut and biologist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Francisco, says the drive allows potential station users to “speak with a global, unified voice.” Researchers have until 3 July to add their names.

  4. A Second Blow

    More belt-tightening could be in store for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) if Japan goes ahead with a planned cut in its contribution.

    Last year Japan reduced its support to the 16 agricultural institutes by 48%, to about $15 million, as part of a deficit-shrinking 10% cut in its overall foreign aid budget, called Official Development Assistance (ODA). As an optional program, CGIAR absorbed a heavier blow than most, as Japan stepped up aid to Afghanistan and honored commitments to U.N.-related agencies. “This really does not indicate any negative evaluation of CGIAR's activities,” says an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    The Finance Ministry is contemplating ing another 10% cut to ODA for fiscal year 2003, which begins next April, and the foreign affairs official says, “We will have to carefully watch what that means for the optional international organizations.” The agricultural institutes last year received some $336 million from 58 member contributors.

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