ScienceScope

Science  01 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5633, pp. 577
  1. Spain Plans to Boost Science

    BARCELONA—Spanish researchers are giving a cautious reception to a new government plan to boost R&D spending. Science Minister Josep Piqué last week unveiled a draft plan to increase the government's science budget, which currently equals 1% of the country's gross national product (GNP), to 1.4% of GNP by 2007. Piqué also wants to increase the number of scientists from three to five per 1000 people and eventually would like the private sector to increase its share of total R&D spending from its current 55% to 60%.

    Such goals are “theoretically” sound, says molecular biologist Pere Puigdoménech, director of the Barcelona-based Institute of Molecular Biology. But he and other researchers are skeptical that the government has the political muscle to pull it off. They note that it recently failed to achieve a goal of boosting R&D spending to 2% of GNP by the end of this year.

  2. Congress, White House Split on IT Assistance Bill

    A congressional plan to close the digital divide between haves and have nots means a win-win situation for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and minority colleges—if the White House goes along. Last week the House Science Committee approved a bill, H.R. 2801, that would create a $250-million-a-year program within the Department of Commerce to wire up colleges that serve mainly minority students. A similar bill passed by the Senate (S. 196) had placed the program at NSF (Science, 18 July, p. 286), but NSF officials told the science committee that a quasi-entitlement program didn't square with the foundation's approach to competitive grants, although it liked the general idea. The science committee apparently agreed. It transferred jurisdiction of the program to Commerce after winning agreement from the bill's Senate sponsors.

    That step greatly improves the bill's chances of final passage, but one wrinkle remains: The Administration says it objects to the program, calling it “duplicative” and potentially unconstitutional. That could be a politically sensitve stance. Stay tuned to see if the White House sticks to its guns.

  3. Nonproliferation Programs Teeter on Edge

    MOSCOW—Two Russian-American nuclear nonproliferation projects are in trouble. A 5-year-old deal governing the disposal of 34 tons of Russian weapons-grade plutonium expired last week. And backers worry that the Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI), which has spent $87 million since 1998 helping Russian weapons scientists find civilian work, could collapse next month. Six members of Congress last week appealed to the White House to save both projects, which they say are key to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

    Negotiations to renew both agreements stalled after Russian officials refused a U.S. request to rewrite legal liability clauses so that they would match those included in other U.S.-Russian threat-reduction deals. But congressional supportersall Democrats, including Representative John Spratt (SC)and the Princeton, New Jersey-based Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Committee, which helped design NCI, say the agreements should be extended while liability discussions continue.

    The U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees both agreements, says it is working to resolve the impasse but hasn't ruled out letting NCI lapse when it expires on 22 September. It says two similar programs will continue no matter NCI's fate. Nonproliferation experts note that the dispute comes just as Russia is preparing to lay off thousands of workers with expertise in handling plutonium and nuclear-warhead components.

  4. Senate Moves Pediatric Drug-Testing Bill

    A bill handing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to mandate pediatric drug testing was unanimously approved by the Senate last week, bringing a lengthy, winding debate one step closer to resolution. The bipartisan Pediatric Research Equity Act was proposed by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) after a federal court last fall ruled that FDA lacked authority to force companies to test their products on children.

    “Kids get lost in the mix … [so] this is a useful first step” toward making medications safer for young patients, says James Leckman, a child psychiatrist at Yale University. A House committee is still considering a similar measure.