ScienceScope

Science  28 Feb 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5611, pp. 1293
  1. New Policy Reaffirms Pledge to Share Genome Data

    After much agonizing, most recently at a closed meeting in Florida, human genome sequencers have “enthusiastically reaffirmed” their commitment to immediate data release. Fears of being scooped by unscrupulous colleagues had led to some backsliding—and pleas for special exemptions—from this near-sacred policy, codified in the 1996 Bermuda Principles (Science, 24 January, p. 487).

    The new draft policy of the National Human Genome Research Institute (www.genome.gov/page.cfm?pageID=10506376) calls for “tripartite responsibility.” Big sequencing centers must bite the bullet and release their data immediately. Users should show “respect” and give proper credit. And funders should guarantee the quality of “community resources,” provide enough money for sequencers to perform initial analyses, and generally ensure that everyone behaves themselves. The draft policy, which is open for public comment through 23 April, extends to “shotgun” and other large sequence data sets not covered by the original Bermuda rules.

  2. U.S. Needs Bigger R&D Effort to Detect Mines, Says Report

    The U.S. government should launch a 5-year, $50 million research program if it wants to develop better ways to detect deadly land mines, according to a report released last week. No existing technology can reliably spot the millions of abandoned mines that kill and maim thousands of people each year around the world, according to the study, done by the RAND think tank for the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    Current U.S. spending on mine detector R&D amounts to just several million dollars per year, the report notes. As a result, most deminers still rely on World War II-era devices that can't distinguish metal debris from live mines and have trouble detecting new, mostly plastic mines. Those failings have further slowed demining efforts; RAND estimates that it would take nearly 500 years to find currently buried mines.

    “There is a desperate need for better equipment,” says RAND engineer Jacqueline MacDonald, a co-author of the report. “But nothing will be developed,” she warns, “unless there is investment in a well-organized, focused research program.” The next step is up to the White House and Congress, which this week began reviewing the proposed 2004 budget.

  3. Court Ruling Leaves Kennewick Man in Limbo

    Scientists seeking to study the 9300-year-old bones of Kennewick Man suffered another setback last week when a federal appeals court ruled that they must wait for a hearing by a three-judge panel.

    The scientists, who have been battling for access to the remains since they were discovered in the U.S. Northwest in 1996, got the go-ahead last August from a federal district court in Portland, Oregon (Science, 6 September 2002, p. 1625). But Indian tribes, claiming a right to rebury the bones, promptly sued again to put the study on hold. The tribes lost a first round in January, but they have now won the right to be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

    It will take at least a year to resolve the standoff, says Alan Schneider, the scientists' lawyer. James Chatters, a Richland, Washington, anthropologist who studied the bones before the feds appropriated them, predicts that “at this rate, half the plaintiffs will be retired, at best, before the case is resolved.”

  4. U.S. National Academies Move to Review Advisory Panels

    The U.S. National Academies may take a closer look at who is giving technical advice to the U.S. government—and how those advisers are chosen. The academy's public policy committee last week endorsed a plan to create an ad hoc panel that will analyze the government's “capacity to select highly qualified individuals for the top science and technology- related advisory committees in the executive branch.” The move comes in the wake of charges that the Bush Administration has politicized the selection process in order to stack advisory panels with allies on controversial issues such as workplace safety and abortion (Science, 12 July 2002, p. 171).

    The proposed panel, which still must be approved by the academies' governing board, would “assess the current recruiting environment” and review policies aimed at ensuring that the panels are balanced and independent, according to a draft task statement. It will also consider whether Congress or the White House needs to make changes in the recruiting process. If the panel moves ahead, an academies staffer says it could issue a report as early as next spring.

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