Science  21 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5614, pp. 1825

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  1. NASA Plans for Less Science Aboard Space Station

    The time available for science aboard the international space station would be cut by more than half under post-Columbia disaster plans now being considered by NASA. The current crew of three can conduct about 29 hours of research per week, but the planned crew of two may be able to squeeze in just 12, NASA chief scientist Shannon Lucid this week told Science.

    Lucid is part of a team assembling station research scenarios that assume the shuttle will not fly for 6, 12, or 24 months in the wake of the Columbia accident. There will be little room for research equipment or supplies on the Russian Progress supply ship slated to rendezvous this summer with the station, she notes, given that water and food for the crew take priority. In a bid to make the best of a bad situation, NASA will soon ask station researchers for advice on what experiments could and should be done. Says Lucid: “The situation is incredibly fluid.”

  2. Schroeder Pledges Funding Boost for German Science

    Amid calls for peace and cuts in welfare, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently slipped a plug for science into a major speech, promising to raise the budgets of German research organizations 3% per year beginning in 2004. He acknowledged that this year's budget woes had hit research funding hard, but “that cannot remain so,” he told parliament on 14 March.

    Officials at the Max Planck Society, the DFG research funding agency, and other science organizations greeted the promise with guarded optimism. “It is important that it comes from the chancellor,” says a DFG spokesperson, but she notes that the promised raise must still be approved by parliament and the German states.

    Such pledges have been broken before. Research organizations were promised a 3% raise last July, but the federal government later announced that it wanted to freeze science budgets for 2003. Some state governments are still trying to win at least a small increase for DFG. The next chance to settle the dispute comes on 31 March, and observers predict that negotiators will settle for a 2.5% increase for DFG, with other science budgets remaining flat.

  3. IOM Renews Call for Better Infectious-Disease Response

    There is still plenty of room to improve international efforts to track and treat emerging and existing infectious diseases, says a sobering new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Its conclusions, released this week, echo those reached 11 years ago in a similar study.

    To improve public health, the 18- member IOM panel, co-chaired by Joshua Lederberg of Rockefeller University in New York City, calls for an array of changes, including accelerated vaccine and antimicrobial drug development, a ban on antibiotics used for growth promotion in animals that also fight human disease, and greater cooperation among governments, academia, and corporations.

    But even Lederberg, who also helped lead the 1992 study, has doubts about its long-term impact, especially when it comes to threats unrelated to terrorism. The panel's priorities, he says, are “going to be in competition” with national security efforts.

  4. Congress Focuses on NIH Grants Oversight

    Two congressional committees are turning their sights on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with one asking pointed questions about how the $27 billion agency manages grant funds.

    On 13 March, Representatives Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and James Greenwood (R-PA), who chairs a subcommittee on investigations, wrote NIH Director Elias Zerhouni asking for details on how NIH oversees financial management of grants. The letter asks for copies of fraud and abuse reports, lists of grantees who have exceeded allowed administrative costs, and details on 54 reviews under way by NIH's Office of Management Assessment, which investigates possible fraud.

    In the Senate, Judd Gregg (R-NH), chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, seems less interested in finances and more in how NIH sets priorities. His staff is surveying disease advocacy and biomedical lobbying groups for their views on matters such as the balance of NIH's basic and applied research and how “barriers” to reporting disease spending can be overcome. The panel is “cooperating with” Tauzin, a spokesperson says. Neither committee has definite plans for hearings.