Science  19 Mar 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5665, pp. 1745

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  1. Hungary Cuts Science Budget

    Hungarian researchers are facing some serious belt-tightening—but the situation could have been worse. The government last month threatened to slash the $33 million budget of its basic research agency, OTKA, by 31% to prepare for the country's entrance into the European Union (Science, 13 February, p. 942). In the wake of some negative publicity, the government has shrunk the cut to 18.7%. “Instead of a disaster, we have an emergency,” says OTKA President Gábor Makara. His agency tentatively plans to trim ongoing contracts by 14% and award fewer new contracts.

  2. First Contract for Postdocs

    Last fall, nearly 140 postdoctoral fellows at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) in Farmington became one of the largest groups of postdocs to join a labor union (Science, 12 September 2003, p. 1455). This week they approved, 80-5, a contract that will give them a raise, benefits, and employment protections. “We're very excited,” says Renae Reese of University Health Professionals Local 3837, the postdoc union.

    Under the contract, postdocs will get a 3% raise, to at least $34,200, with minimum salaries rising to $36,000 next year. Union members would also get 12 days' paid sick leave, 30 days' paid vacation, and disability, insurance, and adoption benefits. The Connecticut legislature has 30 days to review the agreement. But “we don't anticipate any problem,” says UCHC's Jim Walter.

  3. Canada Moves Stem Cell Law

    The Canadian Senate last week passed a new Assisted Human Reproduction Law that steers a middle path between conservative U.S. policies and liberal U.K. rules on human embryonic stem cells. The House of Commons approved the bill last October.

    The measure is consistent with guidelines laid out 2 years ago by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Science, 8 March 2002, p. 1816). Researchers are allowed to derive new cell lines from leftover blastocysts from fertility clinics, but nuclear transfer—creating cloned embryos for research—is banned. It also establishes a new body to license researchers and bans a range of practices from reproductive cloning to creating human-animal chimeras.

    Canadian researchers will soon be coming up with homegrown cell lines, predicts stem cell researcher Mick Bhatia of the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ontario. He calls the new law “very reassuring.”

  4. Russian Space Agency Shakeup Worries NASA


    NASA officials are scrambling to assess the ramifications of President Vladimir Putin's decision to shake up the leadership of Russia's newly renamed Federal Space Agency. Last week Putin replaced Yuri Koptev, who has held the post for 12 years, with Col. Gen. Anatoly Perminov (left), head of Russia's military space forces.

    Since the Columbia disaster in February 2003, NASA has relied on its Russian counterpart to ferry astronauts and cargo to the international space station. The often rocky relationship could be further strained by the change in leadership, warns an internal NASA memo obtained by “It is clear that Perminov is much less wedded to the human space flight program” than was Koptev, it warns.

  5. In Turnabout, HHS Limits AIDS Meeting Delegation to 50

    The budget-conscious U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided to slash its delegation to the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in July. Stunned staffers were told last week that HHS will send just 50 people to the meeting, compared to 236 who attended the last meeting in Barcelona. Cost concerns drove the decision, says HHS, rejecting reports that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson soured on the conference after he was heckled in Barcelona in 2002.

    According to HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce, the $3.6 million spent last time to send 236 people and for other meeting support was “an excessive amount,” a view echoed by Republicans in a recent House Government Reform Committee report. This time, HHS will spend just $500,000. Pierce says the 50-person cap—with exemptions for staff in Southeast Asia—is actually 10 more than HHS policy allows for an international delegation. Although well-placed sources told Science that HHS official Bill Steiger informed agency AIDS leaders that the cut was due in part to Thompson's heckling, Pierce says this “is completely incorrect.”

    Now, the National Institutes of Health and other agencies are deciding who should go, with those scheduled to give keynote speeches or papers first in line. Those who have to stay home have other ways to share their findings, Pierce says, such as journals.