ScienceScope

Science  01 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5595, pp. 941
  1. France's Space Crunch

    French researchers are calling on the head of CNES, the nation's space agency, to resign—and they aren't satisfied by a government promise to review the beleaguered bureaucracy. Research minister Claudie Haigneré last week said she would appoint a committee to study French space policy and the future of the Paris-based CNES.

    Some CNES staff members have publicly called on agency chief Alain Bensoussan to resign, saying that he has failed to adequately address financial problems that threaten to squeeze space science programs. Budget shortfalls have already stalled several major projects, including an Earth-observing mission and planning for Mars exploration. And staff members worry that pressure to find funds for the ailing Arianespace satellite launch company and other ventures will further bleed science efforts.

    In a bid to mollify critics, Haigneré's panel will study the situation and report back by the end of the year. But Hubert Rodriguez, a union representative at the agency's Toulouse center, vows to keep up the pressure. He says that “in view of our disastrous financial situation, this does not reassure us in the slightest.”

  2. Ozone Debate Over?

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon lay to rest a 5-year debate over the potential health benefits of “bad” ozone. The agency is expected this month to issue a new air pollution rule that concludes that the benefits of reducing ground-level ozone outweigh possible skin cancer risks.

    Ground-level ozone from cars and other pollution sources is known to cause severe respiratory ailments. But like ozone high in the stratosphere, it can also protect people against the ultraviolet radiation that causes skin cancer and cataracts. Indeed, in the late 1990s, two EPA reports estimated that tougher ground-level ozone standards could result in roughly 700 new U.S. skin cancer cases annually. Industry groups seized on such predictions in a court challenge to the tougher standards, and 3 years ago a federal judge ordered EPA to consider the science on ozone's possible health benefits before moving ahead.

    Some environmentalists decried the decision. But Randall Lutter, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., says that ignoring the science was a “serious flaw” that smacked of political bias. The controversy apparently hasn't changed EPA's mind, however. Although agency officials can't discuss details, they say the science is still “too uncertain” to warrant delaying the tougher rules.

  3. From Classroom to Boardroom

    President George W. Bush has belatedly nominated eight people for 6-year terms on the National Science Board, the National Science Foundation's governing body, and the list (www.nsf.gov/nsb) contains a few surprises. The biggest surprise is JoAnne Vasquez, who would be the first board member to have made her mark as an elementary school science teacher. Vasquez, now semiretired, is a popular speaker on school reform and a consultant for McGraw Hill Inc. Observers were also struck by the absence of any industrial leaders on the list, which is heavy with engineers and other academics.

    The board has been short-handed since May, when a third of its 24 members rotated off. But the new members, nominated 17 October, can't step in until they are vetted and then approved by the Senate, which comes back this month for a short, lame-duck session.

  4. Sea-Floor Science Silenced

    A federal magistrate has ordered the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to cut short a research cruise off Mexico that was using sound to map the sea floor, backing conservationists who claim that the noise killed several whales (Science, 25 October, p. 722). This week's ruling disrupts a $1.6 million international project that was supposed to run through 4 November.

    The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an Idyllwild, California-based environmental group, asked the court last week to halt the cruise after vacationing whale biologists discovered two dead beaked whales in the Gulf of California on 25 September. Environmentalists believe the deaths are linked to the use of sound-generating devices by the U.S. research vessel Maurice Ewing, which was mapping a nearby area. Human-created noise, including military sonar, has been linked to other beaked whale strandings. NSF said there was no clear link in this case, but it did halt the cruise for nearly a week and take steps to avoid whales. But that wasn't enough for the CBD, which successfully argued that the mappers didn't have the requisite U.S. permits—an interpretation disputed by NSF. Says agency spokesperson Curt Supplee: “This is a nightmare of legal ambiguity that will have to be hammered out by the courts.”

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