Science  10 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5643, pp. 209

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  1. U.K. Needs Darker Skies

    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—Professional astronomers have long fled the British Isles in search of darker and clearer skies. But light pollution is now ruining things for stargazers who stayed at home, concludes a report issued this week by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. It warns that the growing glow will soon blind a thriving corps of amateur astronomers and urges the government to take action to control nighttime lighting.

    The U.K.'s professional optical telescopes are all sited abroad. But the island's amateurs still play an important role in monitoring comets, supernovae, and other celestial events. And they foster the next generation of researchers through school visits and outings. But a “swath of light” is now “ruining the night sky for everyone,” say the parliamentarians. Possible solutions could include stricter local guidelines on street lighting and, possibly, a tough national law. The goal, the report says, is “for young people studying astronomy to see the Milky Way … once more.”

  2. Spanish Science Taking the Slow Boat?

    BARCELONA, SPAIN—It will take a century for the Spanish government to reach recommended science spending levels unless it dramatically revamps budget priorities, concludes a new report.

    European science leaders say nations should aim to spend 3% of their gross domestic product on fundamental science by 2010 to sustain innovation. But a study released late last month by a group of 3000 Spanish scientists says their nation is heading in the wrong direction. Basic researchers have seen their budgets shrink by nearly a third since 1990, they found, while government support for applied technology work in business and the military has soared. Adding insult to injury, says report co-author Pedro Serena of the Materials Science Institute of Madrid, the science ministry has failed to spend its full research budget in recent years due to red tape and poor planning.

    A government spokesperson, however, disputes the 100-year estimate for increasing the science budget, saying researchers downplayed recent trends. For instance, he notes that basic research spending has soared more than 60%, to about $260 million, since 2000, thanks largely to European Union assistance.

  3. Warming Up to "One HHS"

    A Senate panel is expected to pull a provision from a spending bill that would have blocked a merger of human resources offices at the Department Health and Human Services (HHS). The move comes after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reversed its opposition to a plan that would give HHS final authority over NIH hiring decisions. The centralization—from 40 offices to four—is part of HHS chief Tommy Thompson's “One HHS” effort to unify his department.

    On 30 September NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and nine other HHS agency heads sent a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), asking him to delete language in HHS's 2004 appropriations bill that called for a study of the issue. The agency chiefs wrote that they had worked out their concerns with HHS and found a way to preserve their agencies' “personal touch and direct involvement” in hiring scientific staff.

    A Senate staffer said the request came as a “surprise. We thought this was what NIH wanted.”

  4. Iraqi Marsh Muddle

    House Republicans have cut out a proposed U.S. contribution to restoring southern Iraq's ancient marshes, part of the White House's request for emergency funding to rebuild the country. The marshes are the traditional home of the Ma'dan people, a flyway for migratory birds, and a refuge for endangered species. They also have been a center of antigovernment activity, explaining why Saddam Hussein mounted a massive effort that drained 90% of the water.

    This week, the chair of the House appropriations committee, Representative Bill Young (R-FL), announced that his committee had “scrubbed … and made some improvements in” the president's $20.3 billion request for restoration and relief, cutting $1.7 billion destined for Iraq but adding $413 million to repair damage done by Hurricane Isabel in the United States. The plan cuts more than $250 million from Iraqi water and dam projects, zeroing out an estimated $100 million for marsh restoration.

  5. Nobels Next Week

    This year's Nobel Prizes were announced as Science was going to press. Look for daily stories on ScienceNOW ( and complete coverage in the next issue.