ScienceScope

Science  16 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5656, pp. 295
  1. NIH Director Hits Hot Topics

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Elias Zerhouni this week defended the agency on two hot-button topics, saying reviews have supported research on sexual behavior targeted by conservative activists and cleared NIH scientists who had consulted for companies of conflicts of interest.

    Last fall, NIH launched a review of nearly 200 mostly sex-related grants after members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee raised questions about some projects, forwarding a list compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Traditional Values Coalition (Science, 31 October, p. 758). “There was no question that these grants should have been funded,” Zerhouni told his advisory council on 12 January. Officials say the agency will soon send a letter to the House panel detailing its conclusions.

    Zerhouni also took issue with a recent Los Angeles Times report raising questions about consulting fees received by several NIH officials (Science, 19 December, p. 2046). “There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that a patient was harmed because of these relationships” or that employees were improperly doing private research, said Zerhouni, reiterating preliminary conclusions included in a 23 December letter to Congress. But NIH has “an appearance problem,” he said, and he has asked his advisory board to appoint a blue-ribbon panel to examine conflict policies—including possible limits on consulting—within 90 days. The chair will likely be announced by a 22 January hearing on the topic organized by Senate appropriations subcommittee chair Arlen Specter (R-PA).

  2. Experts Target Size and Shape of E.U. Science Budget

    The European Commission wants a bigger European Union (E.U.) to bankroll a much heftier research effort. Later this month, the commission will ask the E.U. membership—which will grow to 25 nations on 1 May—to double the continent's science spending by 2010. The 15 current E.U. nations spend about $5.6 billion on science.

    Meanwhile, in a report released 15 January, the British Royal Society concludes that national research funds should not be diverted to support a continentwide European Research Council (ERC). Several international panels have called for creating an ERC to fund basic research (Science, 3 October 2003, p. 29). But the society says tweaking existing funding arrangements might be a more efficient option.

  3. Activists Ask Indian Court to Stop GM Crop Trials

    NEW DELHI—A private citizens' group has asked India's Supreme Court to stop all field trials and commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops until the government improves its regulatory and monitoring systems.

    CREDIT: PAVALLA BAGLA

    Geneticist Suman Sahai, who heads Gene Campaign, says that none of the data relating to the country's first-ever commercial Bt cotton crop in 2002 has been made public. “Our biggest concern is the lack of technical competence and the shocking absence of transparency” in the government's decision-making process, she says. But a Department of Biotechnology official says that the data “cannot be released, as it may infringe upon the intellectual property rights of the companies.”

    The Supreme Court has given no indication of when or how it will rule on Gene Campaign's request, which was filed 7 January. If it accepts the case, data from the trial are likely to become public as part of the hearing.

  4. Researchers Issue Ultimatum

    PARIS—At least 6000 French scientists are threatening to resign en masse unless the government makes good on promises to bolster science budgets. The researchers have signed an Internet petition launched last week by top scientists including geneticist Axel Kahn, head of the Cochin Institute of Molecular Genetics in Paris, that demands that the government quickly restore subsidies to research agencies, increase recruiting of young scientists, and hold a summit on the future of French research. The signers have given the government 2 months to “give a strong signal through action, not words, that research is a priority,” Kahn says.

    The government is taking the threat seriously. Research minister Claudie Haigneré initially criticized the protest, but she later promised to meet soon with petition leaders. Meanwhile, Bernard Larrouturou, the new director of CNRS, France's major research agency, conceded that research budgets would be tight this year. But it would be worse, he noted, if the government hadn't recently agreed to pay the agency nearly $220 million it has been owed since 2002 by the end of next year.

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