Science  14 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5673, pp. 939

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  1. Creationism Loses in Montana Town

    The residents of Darby, Montana, have doused one creationist brushfire by tipping the balance of its school board.

    In February the small town attracted national attention after the board voted 3-2 for an “objective origins” policy that would have encouraged students to “analyze scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution.” Critics say the policy, espoused by local minister Curtiss Brickley, was carefully worded to avoid accusations that it was mixing religion into science teaching. Litigation threats followed the vote. But the controversy cooled after evolution supporter Erik Abrahamsen handily defeated incumbent chair Gina Schallenberger in a 4 May election.

  2. Monsanto Beats a Retreat on Fielding GM Wheat

    Facing stiff opposition from farmers, Monsanto announced this week that it is halting plans to commercialize a genetically modified (GM) wheat variety designed to resist a popular herbicide. Farmers in Canada and the United States, which exports almost half its wheat, are worried that foreign countries won't buy the GM grain.

    The market reluctance may be due to wheat's being a staple for people, says Alan McHughen, a plant biotechnologist at the University of California, Riverside: “It's a sacred crop.” Soybeans and corn with the same genes for herbicide tolerance are already widely planted, primarily for animal feed. But GM wheat will ultimately find its way into fields, predicts Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. “I don't think this is a technology that will sit on the shelf forever,” he says.

    Monsanto says GM wheat varieties with other added traits are 4 to 8 years away from market. It's now focusing on developing new varieties of other GM crops, such as drought-tolerant corn and more healthful vegetable oil, that are less objectionable to consumers.

  3. Cutting NASA Down to Size

    The U.S. Defense Department is bracing for another round of base closings (Science, 30 May 2003, p. 1361), and NASA may be laying the groundwork for a similar exercise involving its research labs. This winter NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appointed Washington, D.C., consultant and former Navy official William Cassidy to chair a panel looking at ways the agency can save money by streamlining operations. Dubbed the Real Property Mission Analysis team, the group will produce an interim report this summer and a final report by the end of the year. One target will be the research labs and equipment scattered throughout NASA's nine centers. “While scientists are worrying about Hubble, a dozen of us are looking at these science facilities,” says one committee member.

  4. Trickle, Not Flood, of Data Quality Requests

    A new law allowing anyone to challenge the quality of federal science documents has so far not been the disaster that some critics predicted, the White House suggests in a new report.

    The Data Quality Act, which requires that agencies ensure the “quality” of information they disseminate, was slipped into a 2001 spending bill at the urging of an antiregulatory group (Science, 21 March 2003, p. 1837). Opponents said it would be used to swamp agencies with requests and slow the implementation of rules. But the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says in a 30 April report that only 35 requests had been filed by January 2004. Agencies rejected at least nine filings but revised some documents in response to other challenges.

    The requests, from both environmental groups and industry, cover topics ranging from nickel carcinogenicity to protection of trumpeter swans. So far they don't seem to be delaying agency actions, OMB concludes, adding that the requests have provided its officials with insight into research debates: “OMB also has learned [that] with uncertain scientific issues … more than one plausible answer or methodology may exist.”

    But Sean Moulton of the citizens' group OMB Watch warns that the law may be “a Trojan horse.” OMB “doesn't seem to want to talk about” the costs of the act, which requires agencies to track requests and have senior staffers or panels examine appeals, he says. And it faces three lawsuits on whether the law can be used to override an agency's decisions.