ScienceScope

Science  20 Dec 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5602, pp. 2307
  1. Neutrinos, Take Two

    It's not wasted effort to build two different laboratories to look for neutrinos, a National Academy of Sciences panel concluded last week. The verdict is welcome news to proponents of converting South Dakota's Homestake gold mine into the world's deepest underground laboratory.

    Earlier this year, a budget-conscious White House asked the academy to assess U.S. neutrino detectors, with an eye toward avoiding duplication (Science, 5 July, p. 31). The panel, chaired by physicist Barry Barish of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, focused on the Antarctic IceCube project and an underground lab, concluding that both projects are important. Whereas IceCube looks at astrophysical objects by using neutrinos, an underground lab would directly study the nearly massless particles, which are produced by the sun and other cosmic objects.

    The report won't assure Homestake's creation, however. The mine's owners haven't resolved legal issues with the government, and the National Science Foundation hasn't said if it will seek an estimated $300 million in start-up funds. Congress, meanwhile, has started funding the $240 million IceCube project.

  2. Journal Goes Public

    With a $9 million, 5-year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nobel laureate Harold Varmus and other biologists are setting out to publish a model “open-access journal” in biology. Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, teamed up with Patrick Brown of Stanford University and Michael Eisen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to secure funds and staff for the venture, with Varmus serving as chair. Their aim is nothing less than to “create a new economic model in scientific publishing”—a low-cost operation that will not charge for articles but would pay its way with authors' fees (estimated at $1500 per article initially).

    In 2000, these scientists organized a movement called the Public Library of Science (PLOS) to advance open-access publishing. Their international appeal garnered 30,000 pledges of support, including a threat to boycott journals that do not make their content available for free. That threat was not carried out because authors didn't have a good alternative journal to turn to. But now they do, Varmus says: PLOS Biology's first issue will appear “in the latter part of 2003.”

  3. Facts in Flux

    The National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) views on whether abortion raises a woman's risk of breast cancer continue to evolve. And researchers are hoping that the next iteration reflects good science rather than politics.

    In March, NCI officials put out a fact sheet, updated with recent studies, that concluded abortion wasn't a risk factor. In June, new NCI director Andrew von Eschenbach ordered his staff to pull the fact sheet after 28 abortion opponents in Congress disputed NCI's conclusions (Science, 12 July, p. 171). Last month, however, NCI announced on its Web site that the evidence is “inconsistent.” It plans to hold a workshop to explore the molecular mechanisms by which hormonal changes during pregnancy protect against breast cancer.

    CREDIT: NCI

    NCI epidemiologist Robert Hoover welcomes the workshop, tentatively slated for February, saying that he has wanted to convene experts on this broader topic for years. But attendees will be asked to do more than just talk science, says NCI spokesperson Mike Miller. The institute is looking for a “statement” on what its abortion fact sheet should say.

  4. Opening Up in Japan

    Japanese legislators have endorsed the drive to give research institutions a freer hand in managing their affairs, passing a package of laws that will allow several government corporations to become independent agencies.

    The changes, approved last week, should let institutions adopt personnel policies that deviate from national regulations. They also allow agencies to hold over excess cash from year to year, helping stabilize long-term projects. The laws affect the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), the National Space Development Agency, the grant-giving Japan Science and Technology Corporation, and a handful of other science-related organs.

    “We're not expecting major changes,” says RIKEN president Shun-ichi Kobayashi. But there is uncertainty about the future. One issue: the relationship that a new government panel created to evaluate RIKEN's performance will have to RIKEN's long-standing external review committee. The changes go into effect next fall.

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