ScienceScope

Science  04 Jul 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5629, pp. 27
  1. Doves Land on Campuses

    BARCELONA—Some Spanish universities are just saying no to military R&D. Eleven public universities last week adopted policies that discourage on-campus studies that could aid weapons development.

    Spain spends at least one-third of its $4 billion annual R&D budget on military research, and the share is growing, according to government officials. Although most of the funds flow to private firms, universities get a small share. But antimilitary advocates have been urging universities to boot weapons science off campus.

    At the Autonomous University of Madrid, the new policy bars research that promotes an “armaments career.” Such policies could have a wide impact, especially at technical institutes that could lose computer and electronics studies not directly related to weapons, says University of Barcelona rector Lluís Ferrer. And Jordi Camí of Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona notes that academic researchers sometimes aren't aware that the military is paying their bills.

  2. Senate NIH Bill Adds $1 Billion

    The Senate Committee on Appropriations last week endorsed a 3.7% budget increase in 2004 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The $1 billion increase, to $27.9 billion, is slightly more than the 2% to 2.5% recommended by the president and the House, but less than what biomedical research advocates say NIH needs.

    “We believe that the number should be on the order of 10%,” says biochemist Robert Wells of Texas A&M University in College Station, incoming president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Lobbyists have hopes, however slim, for a higher number when the full Senate tackles the spending bill later this summer, or when conferees from both houses meet to reconcile their differences.

    Both bills would increase NIH's research account by 7% to 8%, mostly by spending less on 2004 construction projects. But the Senate bill restores $119 million in extramural construction that the House and president had zeroed out.

    In a report accompanying the bill, the Senate committee added one provision that should gladden NIH scientists: It blocked a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plan to consolidate human resources offices, saying it “could disrupt critical research” and “dilute the independence of decision-making within the agencies.” Legislators want HHS to commission a study by the National Academy of Public Administration before proceeding.

  3. Survivor: Gravity Probe B

    A $600 million spacecraft threatened with cancellation emerged from a critical engineering test last week with no significant problems—meaning that a test of Einstein's general theory of relativity likely will be launched in November.

    Concerned about years of technical troubles, cost increases, and launch delays, NASA officials in March set up an expert panel to recommend whether to kill or continue Gravity Probe B. That team concluded in April that the mission should go ahead if the spacecraft passed a thermal vacuum test—and if the team could come up with a more convincing operations plan (Science, 9 May, p. 880).

    CREDIT: GRAVITY PROBE B/STANFORD UNIVERSITY

    Francis Everitt, the Stanford University physicist who is the principal investigator, says the test was successful, although NASA officials must sort through the data before labeling it a complete success. Agency managers are already examining a revamped operations plan and say that there don't appear to be any showstoppers.

  4. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Patent Case

    A high-profile patent battle won't get its day in the high court. The Supreme Court last week denied Duke University's request to review a lower court ruling that apparently ends a 190-year-old practice of allowing academic scientists to freely use patented technologies in basic research. The case now returns to a North Carolina district court for further review.

    Last year, a specialized patent court ruled that Duke was infringing on patents held by John Madey, a former faculty member and inventor of the free-electron laser, by continuing to use equipment he had left behind. University officials say the ruling will slow research and increase costs by creating legal paperwork. They asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Last month, the government's top lawyer recommended that the court pass, saying the issue belonged in Congress (Science, 13 June, p. 1635).

    Duke spokesperson David Jarmul says the university “regrets” the court's decision to sidestep “a legal question of such importance to the research community and society.” But he is optimistic that the school's arguments “will eventually prevail.”