Science  18 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5618, pp. 405

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  1. Updates: Mars andPatent Law

    NASA has chosen its two landing sites for upcoming rover missions. The choice spots unveiled last week are Gusev Crater, an ancient lakebed, and the Meridiani Planum halfway around the planet, which features iron oxide deposits. Other candidates were deemed too hostile (Science, 10 May 2002, p. 1006). The rovers are scheduled to be launched in June and arrive on Mars next January.


    The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month asked the government to offer its views on a lower court decision that ends the 170-year-old “research exemption,” which has allowed academic scientists doing basic research to freely borrow patented technologies. Duke University has asked the court to overturn the ruling in Madey v. Duke (Science, 3 January, p. 26). The request suggests that some justices are interested in hearing the case, but a decision isn't expected until later this year.

  2. NSF Cools McCain's Claims

    Congress last week passed an $80 billion spending bill to help pay for the war in Iraq and combat terrorism that included a provision that some legislators saw as a money grab by the National Science Foundation (NSF). But NSF officials say it was all a misunderstanding.

    Senator John McCain (R-AZ) attacked unrelated “earmarks” in the bill, including language allowing NSF to spend $10 million more on its $320 million Antarctic research program. “I didn't realize that al Qaeda had reached all the way to the South Pole,” McCain griped in The New York Times.

    But at a House hearing last week on NSF's budget, lawmakers and agency officials said McCain was misguided. “This is not new money, right?” asked Representative James Walsh (R-NY), drawing agreement from NSF chief Rita Colwell. She noted the provision simply gives NSF the ability to redirect existing funds, with congressional approval, if the need arises.

    Science funding boosters, meanwhile, predict that Congress's new budget blueprint could spell trouble. The $2.27 trillion plan allows spending controlled by Congress to rise by less than 3%, which could complicate efforts to win heftier raises for NSF, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy's science programs.

  3. Green Light for Germany's Idled Neutron Source

    BERLIN—More than 20 months after its construction, neutron researchers in Germany at last have permission to turn on their newest reactor. The federal environment ministry this week gave its long-awaited approval to the FRM-II neutron source in Garching, outside Munich. The controversial reactor is designed to burn highly enriched uranium fuel, which some worry could be diverted for weapons use (Science, 30 March 2001, p. 2527).

    Workers finished construction in August 2001, and the Bavarian and federal governments later agreed to start the facility if it switched to low-enriched fuel within 10 years. But early hopes for a prompt start faded as the environment ministry asked for revised plans on reactor safety and waste disposal. This week's approval requires conversion to medium-enriched uranium fuel by 2010.

    That will be a challenge, says scientific director Winfried Petry of the Technical University Munich, because scientists have lost 18 months of research and testing. Final approval for start-up is expected soon from Bavaria's environment minister, and Petry predicts experiments will be running within a year.

  4. France Softens Budget Cuts

    PARIS—Responding to protests, the French government has softened proposed cuts in science funding. But research groups say the financial outlook remains grim.

    Last month, French researchers took to the streets after Research Minister Claudie Haigneré announced plans to freeze or reduce budget credits used to finance an array of public and quasipublic research institutions (Science, 21 March, p. 1823). CNRS, France's main basic research funder, and other institutions claimed they could lose up to 30% of their operating funds. Last week, the government softened the blow by lifting a freeze on some credits and pledging to impose no more cuts this year. Officials also said funds carried over from last year would allow institutes to keep spending stable.

    Many scientists are skeptical. “It is a victory, [but] the cuts still mean a 30% drop for CNRS,” says microbial ecologist Patrick Monfort of researchers' union SNCS. And other researchers note that the government has warned that mounting deficits may require across-the-board cuts in the future.