ScienceScope

Science  08 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5634, pp. 745
  1. Budget Cut Causes Pluto Panic

    Space scientists are scrambling to reverse a proposed budget cut that endangers NASA's mission to Pluto. The House of Representatives last week approved a $55 million reduction in the New Frontiers program—a hefty slice of the $130 million request. The program is designed to produce a string of solar system probes, beginning with a $500 million Pluto mission to be launched in 2006 or 2007 and arrive in 2015.

    CREDIT: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/SOUTHWEST RESEARCH INSTITUTE

    Mission supporters fear that the cut would prevent planners from using favorable planetary alignments. It could also delay other missions, warns the American Astronomical Society's Division of Planetary Sciences. It is urging the Senate, which will take up NASA's budget next month, to resist the cut. A final decision won't come until the two bodies reconcile their spending bills late this year.

  2. NIH Research Fellows Could Get New Boss

    Under pressure to contract out jobs, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is weighing the idea of letting a private company manage its stable of research fellows.

    The Bush Administration has told all federal agencies to shed work that is not “inherently governmental” (Science, 11 July, p. 148). According to a 9 July memo from NIH Deputy Director for Management Charles Leasure, intramural research fellows “will be competed” along with firefighters and certain other support staff. “It doesn't mean we get rid of them, just that somebody else pays them,” says Donald Poppke, NIH acting budget director, about the 942 research fellows who typically spend 1 to 3 years at the Bethesda campus.

    But some research chiefs think it's a bad idea. “It would be ludicrous” if a contractor did the recruiting instead of staff scientists, says one NIH scientific leader.

    A decision doesn't appear imminent. Last month, a White House budget official told Congress that the Administration has dropped rigid agency quotas for reviewing jobs. And Poppke says that NIH has identified “way in excess of” the number of jobs it must contract out in 2004.

  3. Landis Tapped to Head Neurology Institute

    Neurobiologist Story Landis has been tapped to move into the director's seat at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Sources in the scientific community say that Landis, who now heads the institute's intramural program, is the choice of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni, who is waiting for a nod from Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

    The $1.46 billion NINDS has gone for long stretches without a permanent director, most recently since Gerald Fischbach left in January 2001 for Columbia University. Since then, several searches have come up empty. Landis, who came to NIH in 1995 from Case Western Reserve University, studies the development of synapses. She declined a request for comment.

  4. Academia, SRI Forge New PharmaSTART

    Three California schools are joining forces with an R&D institute to develop new drug therapies. Stanford University and the San Francisco and San Diego branches of the University of California last week said they will team with SRI International of Menlo Park, California, to form PharmaSTART. The universities will provide the compounds, and SRI—a nonprofit consulting firm—will donate more than 1000 hours of advice, worth more than $500,000.

    The concept seems to be a hit: SRI has already fielded more than a dozen calls from other academic centers hoping to join the initiative, says Glenn Rice, SRI's vice president for biosciences. But the firm can't afford to sign them up without additional financial backing, he says.

    The fledgling venture also needs money for preclinical research (which SRI hopes it will be paid to conduct), because universities can't usually afford the $2 million to $5 million price tag. PharmaSTART hopes to rely on state funds, donations from philanthropic groups, and money from the National Institutes of Health. PharmaSTART's leaders say their goal is to exploit gaps left open by drug companies, particularly by developing drugs for rare diseases or those common in the developing world.