Science  27 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5590, pp. 2187

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  1. Blue Laser Blues

    A Japanese engineer out to gain more respect—and cash—for Japanese inventors suffered a setback last week when the Tokyo District Court ruled against his attempt to reclaim patent rights to a groundbreaking discovery.

    Shuji Nakamura was working for Nichia Corp. in 1997 when he developed a blue light-emitting diode and later a blue semiconductor laser (Science, 21 March 1997, p. 1734). The devices have extremely promising commercial applications, with current annual sales topping $400 million. Now a professor of materials science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Nakamura sought to reclaim the rights to a key manufacturing process, for which the company paid him $170. He also asked for $16 million in compensation.

    On 19 September the court sided with Nichia, noting that Nakamura had used the company's facilities and staff for the research. It delayed a decision on the compensation issue. Nakamura, who hoped his suit would boost the status of Japan's corporate researchers, plans to appeal once the ruling becomes final.

  2. Britain Shifts Space Cash

    Imagine this: The U.S. government suddenly decides that scientists need a more direct hand in running space missions and moves NASA's space science budget to the National Science Foundation. Although an unlikely scenario in the United States, the British government has decided to do something similar.

    Following a review of the British National Space Centre (BNSC), the government announced this week that the agency's science budget will now be managed by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC). And its Earth- observing research funding will go to the Natural Environment Research Council. Most of the money—about $78 million annually—will still go straight into the coffers of the European Space Agency, but the researchers will now have a bigger say in how it is allocated.

    Researchers are divided over the shifts. “It's a good idea,” says Paul Murdin of Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy, a former director of science at BNSC. “There's nothing like owning a budget to make you really care about it.” But Birmingham University's Mike Cruise, chair of PPARC's space science advisory committee, thinks it is “regrettable.” Although BNSC still coordinates the government's overall space activities, he says, it will be further removed from the scientists who can help craft long-range strategy.

  3. Overseas Students Scrutinized

    U.S. graduate schools that train foreign bioscientists are looking for better ways to prevent cheats from slipping onto campus. The problem broke into the open earlier this month when University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), dean David Meyer announced that his school will be heightening scrutiny of foreign applicants to its bioscience graduate programs. The change came after UCLA officials learned that a Chinese applicant had added phony courses to his transcript. To prevent future fraud, UCLA has begun verifying transcripts of foreign students—about half of them Chinese—accepted by its bioscience admissions program. Chinese students pose a special problem, Meyer says, because their universities don't directly supply transcripts. Meyer will also be briefing members of the Association of American Medical Colleges, with an eye toward holding a meeting next April in Montreal on screening out fraudulant applicants.

  4. Curbing Conflicts

    U.S. medical colleges are attempting to set their first standards for limiting conflicts between their corporate financial interests and their duties as overseers of clinical research. A task force of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) this week issued a report that calls on members to manage “institutional conflicts of interest” more aggressively.

    The task force, headed by former Washington University chancellor William Danforth, does not offer specific rules. But it recommends that institutions separate the management of finances and research and create special committees to examine every financial relationship that might “reasonably appear to affect human subjects research.” For example, the panel says a university should conduct a “fact-driven inquiry” whenever it acquires more than a $100,000 equity interest in a publicly traded company that also sponsors human subjects research at the school.

    Reaching agreement on the guidelines was a “very significant accomplishment,” says AAMC's David Korn, a former dean of medicine at Stanford University. He says the panel wants to “set a very high standard of oversight and management” that will convince Congress and federal regulators that the government doesn't need to intervene. Korn expects AAMC to undertake a follow-up study in 18 to 24 months to learn how its members responded.