Science  25 Oct 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5594, pp. 721

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  1. Pentagon Science Gains

    A ballooning defense budget is lifting research spending, too. Congress last week approved a $355 billion military spending bill that includes $11.4 billion for science and technology programs in the 2003 fiscal year, which began 1 October. Basic research gets a 7.8% boost to $1.5 billion, and applied studies receive a 12.5% increase to $4.6 billion. Both totals exceed the Bush Administration's request.


    The Coalition for National Security Research, a group of universities and science societies, pronounced itself “pleased” by the outcome, which keeps research spending at about 3% of the Pentagon's overall budget. That's a goal backed by numerous government advisers and think tanks. The Pentagon is one of the biggest backers of math, engineering, and computer science research at U.S. universities, but its spending in those areas has lagged over the last decade.

    The bill is just the second of 13 annual appropriations measures to clear Congress. The rest of the government is operating on temporary budget measures that freeze spending at current levels.

  2. Separate Partners

    Congressional negotiators have stripped controversial language on how to manage a $160 million education program from a bill (H.R. 4664) to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF). Legislators last week agreed to eliminate a Senate provision that would have given each state a predetermined amount of money for the fledgling math and science education partnerships program, leaving intact NSF's traditional system of awarding competitive grants through peer review (Science, 27 September, p. 2187).

    The deletion represents a victory for backers of merit review and for the education lobby, which saw the Senate proposal as a threat to a similar, smaller program run by the Department of Education. “We're very pleased that NSF will be allowed to continue to develop model programs. That's what they do best,” says Gerry Wheeler, president of the National Science Teachers Association. The Education Department grants are a better way to serve all U.S. students, he says, adding that the $12.5 million program needs to grow to at least $100 million a year to achieve its goals. Congress must still approve the reauthorization bill, which has been stalled by budget politics (see p. 719).

  3. Kid Drug Rule Blocked

    An effort to force companies to test new medications in children has suffered a setback. A federal court in Washington, D.C., last week struck down a 1998 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule aimed at developing safe dosing regimens for children. But supporters of the pediatric rule are urging Congress to override the court's order.

    The pediatric rule required companies to include children in drug trials before FDA would approve any product likely to be prescribed for children. Prior to the rule, doctors complained that without tests, they had to guess how their small charges would respond to a particular drug. But FDA's move sparked a lawsuit 2 years ago from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and two other groups. They argued that Congress hadn't given the agency the power to mandate pediatric testing, and a federal judge agreed. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations are pushing Congress to formally give FDA that power. A vote on the issue could come as early as next month.

  4. Spain's Stem Cell Standoff

    One of Spain's state governments is hoping to drill a loophole in the nation's restrictive policy on human embryo research. Officials in Andalusia last week announced that they plan a $2 million research center in Seville that will extract human stem cells from embryos that have been frozen for more than 5 years.

    The center—to open next year and be led by Bernat Soria of Miguel Hernández University in Alicante—aims to sidestep a 1988 ban on research involving “viable” embryos. Since that vaguely worded law also forbids implanting embryos that are more than 5 years old, Andalusian officials argue that such embryos are not viable and therefore are accessible to researchers.

    It's not clear if federal officials will agree. Health minister Ana Pastor, who has criticized stem cell research advocates, has called a “technical meeting” with Soria later this month. If she tries to scuttle the center, Andalusian officials could appeal to Spain's high court, notes geneticist Josep Egozcue of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. But public pressure to approve the center will be enormous, he predicts, noting that patient groups recently collected 1.3 million signatures on a petition calling for the government to back stem cell studies.