# ScienceScope

Science  02 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5582, pp. 751
1. # Good Reviews

U.K. learned societies breathed easier this week after a House of Commons select committee gave them mostly positive reviews. The report, requested earlier this year (Science, 15 February, p. 1212), was sparked by concerns about how the prominent Royal Society spent its government grant, which provides about 70% of its $56 million annual budget. The society gets most of the public funds given to U.K. science groups. In its report, the 11-member panel led by Ian Gibson, a former biology dean at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, concluded that two-thirds of the$41 million grant goes to “very valuable” research, with the rest spent on other activities. The panel rejected concerns that the male-dominated society—fewer than 4% of its 1248 members are women—discriminates. Instead, it worried that the body might be biased against relatively new disciplines, such as computing. It also urged the government to consult the nation's learned bodies more often and do more to compensate them for advice. But it concluded that the Royal Society has too much sway over public education efforts and suggested that the government create a new independent body.

The societies were studying the report as Science went to press. The government is expected to respond later this year.

2. # Hot Decision

Fusion scientists are heating up their case for a major new experiment. At a summit last month in Snowmass, Colorado, fusion experts from around the world concluded that they could use a new facility for studying burning plasma, a state of matter that gets most of its heat from fusing hydrogen. Now they have to decide which of several designs is best—and persuade policy-makers to come up with the money.

The summiteers didn't make recommendations, but many predicted that two proposals will dominate discussions within the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC), a U.S. advisory body: ITER, a multibillion-dollar magnetic-fusion facility planned by an international consortium; and FIRE, a less ambitious version proposed by U.S. scientists. Summit organizer and FESAC member Gerald Navratil of Columbia University expects the panel to come up with a recommendation to DOE after it meets next month in Washington, D.C.

3. # Trickle-Down

The global economic slump could delay construction of the world's most powerful particle accelerator now that a key parts supplier has gone bust. Babcock Noell Nuclear in Würzburg, Germany, is supposed to supply one-third of the 1236 superconducting magnets needed for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), being built at the European particle physics laboratory CERN near Geneva. But on 4 July, Noell's parent company, the industrial giant Babcock Borsig AG, declared bankruptcy. Noell is now in the hands of receivers—and physicists are wondering if they'll get their magnets on time.

The bankruptcy “came as a real surprise,” says LHC director Lyndon Evans, and it threatens to add to LHC's woes. The project is already $300 million over its original$1.6 billion budget and 2 years behind schedule, with completion now slated for 2007 (Science, 28 June, p. 2317).

Noell executives say the company remains profitable despite the parent company's troubles, and they plan on finishing CERN's magnets. If they can't, two other magnet suppliers—Italy's Ansaldo and France's Alstom-Jeumont—will scramble to meet LHC's needs.

4. # Dependence Day

Greater autonomy and a $3.5 million annual bank account might sound like a pretty good deal to most people—but not to the National Science Board, the presidentially appointed oversight body for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee created a separate account for the 24-member board in its proposed 2003 budget for NSF (see p. 755). It argues that the board—which oversees the$5-billion-plus agency and advises the nation on scientific issues—should be financially and operationally independent of NSF. But board chair Warren Washington says he prefers the status quo, under which the board's staff members are NSF employees and the board gets its resources from the agency. Washington also says that borrowing NSF employees as needed gives the board greater flexibility than hiring a permanent staff.

The board is expected to discuss the idea at its meeting 14 to 15 August. Legislators will also get another crack at it as the spending bill moves through Congress.