Science  30 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5586, pp. 1459
  1. Sensitive Meeting

    The White House is seeking science and university group views on new guidelines that could restrict access to “sensitive” government information. Bush Administration officials met last week with about a dozen research advocates to discuss the new rules, which could be out in draft form within a few months. “It was a listening session: a chance for [research advocates] to voice concerns,” says Shana Dale, chief of staff at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

    Several science lobbyists who attended say that Administration officials did not detail their thinking but did reassure the group that university-based basic research was not the target of the emerging policies, which aim to keep “sensitive homeland security information” generated by government scientists and contractors out of hostile hands. How the rules would affect more applied studies was less certain, they said.

    “There are no clear answers yet,” says Dale, who notes that the White House Office of Management and Budget hopes to release a proposal for public comment by the end of the year.

  2. Contour 2?

    As hopes of recovering the comet-bound Contour spacecraft fade, NASA officials have named an admiral-studded panel to look into the disaster—and begun considering a second try at the nearly $100 million mission.

    Mission director Robert Farquhar of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, says “we are not very optimistic” about the spacecraft, which apparently blew apart on 15 August when it began a rocket burn designed to lift it out of Earth's orbit (Science, 23 August, p. 1253). Telescopes have picked up evidence that it exploded into at least three pieces.


    The investigation panel, which will be led by NASA chief engineer Theron Bradley and will include two retired admirals, is expected to report this fall. Engineers, meanwhile, are looking at building a replacement that would not require a solid rocket motor burn in orbit but might require a larger—and more expensive—launch vehicle. The Contour program does not have enough spare parts for a second spacecraft, so a new mission would be costly, although agency officials say it is too early to estimate a price.

  3. Stem Cell Slowdown

    Australian scientists will have to wait a little longer for national legislation endorsing research on human embryonic stem (ES) cells. Researchers had hoped that federal legislators would finalize a long-debated law (Science, 12 April, p. 238) by the end of August, but the Senate last week ordered another committee review, delaying action until at least December.

    The delay won't disrupt existing research, scientists say. But “we really do need the endorsement of the legislation to get on with our work,” says cell biologist Martin Pera of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development in Melbourne and chief science officer of the new Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair. The bill would ban human cloning but allow researchers to use and derive certain human ES cell lines.

    Researchers are cautiously optimistic that the bill will pass this year. But if it fails, at least three of the nation's six state governments—which have the power to regulate health research—have vowed to enact similar laws.

  4. It's in the Mail

    U.S. efforts to implement a major new bioterrorism law have hit a glitch—infuriating some university officials who are scrambling to meet a looming deadline. Under the law, universities and thousands of other facilities must notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta by 10 September if they possess any of about 40 potential bioterror agents. But when a CDC contractor mailed out 190,000 special notification forms earlier this month, it somehow missed the nation's 3000 or so colleges and universities—one of the major targets of the law.

    “Given more time, we certainly could have had a more accurate list,” the contractor, Analytical Sciences Inc. of Durham, North Carolina, told academic officials in a note posted on an Internet bulletin board. It promised to have the forms—which are printed with special machine-readable ink and paper—in the mail to academia by this week. But if one doesn't show up, the company advises campus officials to “go looking for it!”

    The oversight “is helping making a hard job for universities even more confusing and difficult,” says Cheri Hildreth, who is managing compliance for the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Even institutions that don't get the forms, she notes, could face penalties for missing the deadline. Help seekers can call 866-567-4232.