ScienceScope

Science  14 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5613, pp. 1641
  1. Judge Dismisses Missile Case

    Citing concerns about the disclosure of classified material, a federal judge has dismissed a case brought by an industry scientist against a company that she says falsified the results of ballistic missile defense tests for the Pentagon. But last week the researcher asked the court to reconsider.

    The company, TRW, and the U.S. Justice Department were elated by last month's decision, which appeared to end a 7-year fight. But on 6 March, plaintiff Nira Schwartz petitioned the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to review the case.

    Schwartz, a former TRW engineer, told Science that unclassified data support her claim that TRW used test software that couldn't distinguish between real missiles and decoys, as it was supposed to. She also wants to amend her original complaint to included unclassified data from a recent report by Congress's General Accounting Office. Still, Schwartz predicts that it will take a “strong person” to accept her petition in the face of the government's support for TRW. The court has 3 weeks to consider the petition.

  2. Spanish Advisory Panel Backs Human Stem Cell Studies

    BARCELONA—A government advisory panel has endorsed extracting stem cells from leftover human embryos, putting the panel at odds with Spain's health and science ministers in the debate over the nation's stem cell research policy.

    Advocates of stem cell research have been urging the government to revise a 1988 law that forbids using “viable” embryos for research. The Andalusian state government announced last October that it would sidestep that ban by backing research using embryos that have been frozen for more than 5 years; these aged embryos, left behind at in vitro fertilization clinics, can't be legally implanted, and so Andalusian officials deem them not viable (Science, 25 October 2002, p. 723).

    Prolonged freezing, however, may have a “negative effect” on the embryos' usefulness as a source of stem cells, the science ministry's ethics advisory panel concluded in a report issued last week. The panel, led by microbiologist César Nombela of Madrid's Complutense University, backs changing the law to allow work on fresher embryos and recommends that a new panel oversee the research.

    Science minister Josep Piqué says the report will be “hugely useful,” but he cautions that the government won't act immediately on the “complex and dense report.”

  3. NIH Sets Data Sharing Rules

    Starting 1 October, researchers who get big grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will have to submit a plan outlining how they will share their data. The new policy, finalized last month, is “a first incremental step” toward coverage of all grantees, says Belinda Seto, NIH's acting deputy director of extramural research.

    After receiving several hundred comments on a draft policy released last year (Science, 8 March 2002, p. 1811), NIH decided to initially limit the new requirement to grants with at least $500,000 a year in direct costs. Data are to be shared once they are accepted for publication. Grantees can get advice on protecting patient privacy and intellectual property at grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/data_sharing/index.htm.

    Although generally satisfied with the revised policy, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) would have preferred to have disciplines develop their own standards first. Proteomics researchers haven't ironed out how to share array data, for example, notes AAMC Senior Vice President David Korn. “They've pulled the trigger on this,” Korn says. “I just wish they had gone through a deliberative process.”

  4. EPA Unveils Risk Guidelines

    In a bid to align regulations with current science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled new guidelines for assessing pollutant cancer risks, including its first draft directive aimed at children.

    The new guidelines, released 3 March, attempt to make risk assessments more straightforward. They emphasize a “weight of evidence” approach, encouraging regulators to consider risk factors such as the molecular mode of action and the likelihood of exposure. When crucial data are missing, the guidelines spell out alternatives, such as extrapolating from animal studies. And they urge regulators to pay attention to populations that might be more susceptible to carcinogens, such as people with a genetic predisposition to cancer.

    The draft guidelines for children note that youngsters can face greater cancer risks than adults due to an array of factors, including diet and behavior. The draft is a good start, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. But it would like to see the guidelines expanded to cover all carcinogens, such as hormone-mimicking chemicals, and not just ones that damage DNA. EPA will be taking comments on both sets of guidelines until 1 May.

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