ScienceScope

Science  10 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5604, pp. 183
  1. And Then There Were None

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last month quietly ended an exemption that seven civilian sciencelaboratories had enjoyed from certain security regulations involving visiting foreign scietists. From now on, the labs will have to gather and report to DOE more information about non-U.S. citizens who want to use their facilities. “It's a little tedious, but it shouldn't keep anyone away,” says Judy Jackson of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, where scientists are getting new security badges and filling out more forms.

    The old rules, developed in the wake of the 1999 Wen Ho Lee spying scandal at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, required DOE labs doing classified research to screen and track visitors from about two dozen nations, including China and Russia. Officials at the more academic labs—including Fermilab and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California—had successfully argued that the rules weren't necessary in their settings. But on 17 December, after the DOE Inspector General found continuing problems in tracking foreign visitors, the agency announced that it was ending the exemption, to enhance security.

  2. Biosphere 2 Reconsidered

    Rumors are flying that Columbia University will end its association with Biosphere 2, a research and educational facility in Oracle, Arizona. The university is mulling the partnership's future, officials say, and administrators have already decided to move one Biosphere-based master's degree program to Columbia's New York City campus.

    Built by Texas billionaire Edward Bass in 1990, the 1.3-hectare greenhouse was originally designed as a sealed, experimental ecosystem capable of supporting eight people for 2 years. After the experiment failed, Columbia took over the facility in 1996, eventually signing a 14-year contract to transform its miniocean and landscapes into a center for ecosystem studies (Science, 22 May 1998, p. 1183).

    The center has produced some interesting science. But high costs and leadership changes at Columbia have apparently prompted a second look. A university spokesperson confirmed that officials are “evaluating our level of involvement in Biosphere” but gave no timeline for decisions. Moving the degree program, she said, was designed to strengthen the home campus.

  3. Synthesize

    That's the message from an expert panel that this week laid out a decade-long environmental research strategy for the National Science Foundation (NSF). It identifies 10 high-priority interdisciplinary research areas.

    The report—from a standing panel led by oceanographer Stephanie Pfirman of Barnard College in New York City—aims to support a 3-year-old call from NSF's governing National Science Board (NSB) to boost the agency's environmental research spending from $600 million to $1.6 billion over 5 years. The NSB appeal helped nudge NSF outlays in the field to about $825 million last year, a staffer says. And the panel indicates that future increases would be well spent on studies that link biology, ecology, and geoscience to social and economic concerns. “It's science with a human face, almost,” Pfirman says. NSF also needs to beef up infrastructure and environmental education, the according to the panel.

  4. Take Me Off This List

    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unveiled the membership of a new advisory board on protecting human subjects in clinical trials. But one of its picks, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, won't serve, saying it's a waste of time.

    Last summer, HHS abruptly decided to let lapse the charter of its National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee and form a new, smaller group (Science, 25 October 2002, p. 721). The new committee's charter emphasizes the protection of embryos—which are not currently covered by human subjects regulations. Critics say the Bush Administration made the change to advance its antiabortion agenda.

    Moreno was a member of the old panel, but he says HHS officials never contacted him about serving on the new version. He plans to resign because the agency “ignored” reports “churned out” by the last committee, says Moreno, whose decision was first reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. And adding embryos to the panel's portfolio, he says, shows that “they're just not interested, except where there's some partisan interest.”

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