Science  23 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5585, pp. 1255

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  1. Rights Reconsidered

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has put on hold a controversial plan to curb foreign grantees from patenting and licensing their discoveries. Last March, NIH announced that it would limit foreign grantees to patenting discoveries only in their home nations. To make sure U.S. taxpayers reaped the benefits of federally funded research, all other rights would be held by U.S. collaborators or NIH. But critics—including the U.S.-based Association of University Technology Managers and Australian science officials—said the policy would hinder collaboration and discourage the development of discoveries (Science, 28 June, p. 2316).

    On 8 August, NIH backed off, saying that it will take another year to “explore more fully the ramifications” of the policy, which was slated to take effect at the end of the year. “There's no point in rushing,” says NIH extramural research chief Wendy Baldwin. Her office will consider arguments that, for example, most drugs end up being manufactured in the United States, so the profits end up there, too.

  2. New Hire

    A top government science chief has agreed to oversee science programs at the beleaguered Smithsonian Institution, which has been shaken by the departures of senior administrators and controversial reorganization plans (Science, 13 July 2001, p. 194). Physical oceanographer David Evans (below), currently assistant administrator for research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will become the Smithsonian's undersecretary for science on 9 September. He replaces Dennis O'Connor, who resigned in April. Evans, 56, has been at NOAA since 1993 and helped organize the government's climate research program. He also spent 5 years as a program manager at the Office of Naval Research.


    Evans told Science that his experience will help him tackle the task of stabilizing the Smithsonian's science programs, including boosting budgets squeezed by construction and renovation expenses. “I've dealt with a lot of fiscal crises,” he says, and he is “optimistic” that he can convince Congress or private donors to improve cash flows. He also needs to hire a new head of the natural history museum and hopes to smooth out currently rocky relations between some administrators and researchers. His past work, he says, “has taught me that you lead scientists, you don't push them around.”

  3. Board Strikes Back

    A Senate proposal to give the National Science Board its own bank account and staff met stiff resistance last week from its target audience. Members of the presidentially appointed board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), questioned why legislators would want to change their status and agreed that “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.”

    “There must be something else at work here,” University of Arkansas Chancellor John White opined during an impassioned discussion at the board's regular meeting. White later speculated that the language, in a 2003 spending bill drawn up last month (Science, 2 August, p. 753), might be a veiled attack on NSF Director Rita Colwell, which he feels is unwarranted. But a congressional staffer says that it is simply intended to strengthen the board's capacity to oversee the growing agency. “There's no hidden political agenda,” the aide says.

    Board chair Warren Washington of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, says he is eager to explain the board's position to Congress and hopes to resolve the matter before final passage of the spending bill later this year.

  4. Security Risk?

    Does one of the world's largest collections of dead animals pose a threat to Washington, D.C.? Yes, argue congressional lawmakers, who recently added a provision to an emergency security spending bill that would give the Smithsonian Institution $2 million to plan a new facility in Suitland, Maryland, to relocate its vast collection of fish, sponges, corals, worms, and insects. Stored in almost 3 million liters of alcohol at the National Museum of Natural History on the capital's Mall, the collection amounts to a massive bomb, lawmakers say.

    But President George W. Bush last week rejected the request, which was part of a larger $5.1 billion spending package that he vetoed, arguing that it included too many nonsecurity projects. To make his point, Bush singled out for derision the “new facility for storing the government's collection of bugs and worms.”

    The Smithsonian says it needs the extra space badly, if only to comply with the local fire code—and it might get the space anyway, because the Bush Administration itself requested the new storage pod in its 2003 budget. But museum scientists agree that the collection would be difficult to turn into a weapon because the alcohol, stored in jars and vials, is not highly combustible.