ScienceScope

Science  21 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5649, pp. 1309
  1. German Agency Plans Misconduct Database

    BERLIN—Worried that high-profile media coverage of misconduct cases has tarnished the reputation of the country's scientists, the German research funding agency DFG is beefing up its response to fraud allegations. Last week, it announced plans to recruit two new groups of experts. One will advise DFG on legal issues surrounding misconduct investigations and the other will examine how to better protect whistleblowers. The agency also intends to establish a database of closed cases to better measure the scale of the problem and identify recurring patterns.

    In recent years, Germany's strong data- and employee-protection laws have impeded several panels investigating misconduct allegations. For example, a committee investigating a clinical study in Göttingen had to get permission from all the patients involved before it could access the study's raw data (Science, 22 November 2002, p. 1531). An expert panel could advise investigators in such cases, says a DFG spokesperson.

    The moves drew praise from Peter Hans Hofschneider of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, who has helped several whistleblowers make their charges public. DFG is “finally giving serious attention to the problem,” he says.

  2. More Cuts Expected at NATO

    NATO's already slimmed-down science division is facing the prospect of further, crippling cuts. The $24 million Science Programme could see its 2004 budget slashed by up to 25%, Science has learned.

    The program supports research grants, fellowships, and workshops linking scientists from NATO's 19 member countries with those elsewhere. It has won praise for working in flash points such as Central Asia, including mapping contamination at the Soviet Union's atom bomb test site (Science, 23 May, p. 1220). Even so, sources say that member states are intent on trimming NATO's civilian spending and that the science program could lose as much as $6 million. That could doom its fellowship program. Some savings may come from the research program's newly narrowed focus on antiterrorism and other security threats.

  3. Stem Cell Groups Fret Over Patent Amendment

    As Science went to press, advocates of stem cell research were working furiously to head off a congressional provision that they said could strangle research on human embryonic stem cells.

    A coalition of biotech and patient-advocacy groups was alarmed last July when the House inserted language into a 2004 spending bill banning patents on “a human organism.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office already denies patents on a human being but has never clarified how that is defined. Advocates worried that the language would rule out obtaining patents on human stem cell lines, which are derived from embryos. Last week, Sam Brownback (R-KS) circulated language excluding stem cell lines from the House-Senate report on the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill. But Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C., says “it's not much of an improvement,” adding that “it's a backdoor attempt” to make patent policy. Congress hopes to complete work on all 2004 spending bills by next week.

  4. Funding System Needs Fix, Says Royal Society

    LONDON—The Royal Society (RS) this week added its voice to a chorus clamoring for changes in the way U.K. university research is funded.

    Currently, scientists compete for project funding from research councils and universities vie for indirect costs and infrastructure support—including computers, libraries, and staff—in an elaborate government-run Research Assessment Exercise. This dual-support system, established after World War II, was designed to allow academic scientists to compete for grants on a relatively equal footing regardless of their location. As Britain's higher education system has expanded, however, the two evaluation streams have grown ever more costly and bureaucratic.

    Although RS President Robert May has called for a “radical shakeup,” he would not speculate about what might work better. Instead, he urged the government to conduct a “fundamental review” of the dual-support system.

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