ScienceScope

Science  21 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5674, pp. 1091
  1. India's Congress Party Returns

    NEW DELHI—The party that laid the foundation for modern India's scientific achievements is back in power. The Indian National Congress party swept out Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his BJP party in a stunning upset in last week's general elections. Former finance minister Manmohan Singh, 71, was expected to be named prime minister after Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi declined the post.

    CREDIT: PALLAVA BAGLA

    The results are being interpreted as a rejection of the government's support for costly high-tech solutions to the country's problems at the expense of the needs of the agricultural underclass. The chiefs of the two Silicon Valley-like states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka lost their jobs, and Murli Manohar Joshi, a prominent physicist and the country's first Cabinet-level science and education minister, failed to win reelection to the new Parliament.

    Indian scientists are generally encouraged by the shift in power. Although research spending grew from 0.7% to 1.1% of GDP during BJP's 6 years at the helm, “the Congress [party] understands how to support and nurture science,” says C. N. R. Rao, a chemist and veteran adviser to earlier Congress-led governments. The other winner in last week's vote was the electronic voting apparatus (above) deployed at 10,000 polling places.

  2. French Science Is Golden

    PARIS—Confounding the skeptics, the independent Bank of France has agreed to sell off some of its $40 billion gold reserve to fund French science (Science, 13 February, p. 939). Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced 14 May that the bank will funnel roughly $100 million worth of ingots into research next year and $200 million per year after that.

    The cash will go to priority projects, including cancer and brain research, promising industrial projects, and incentives for young researchers to remain in France or return from abroad, says research minister François d'Aubert. Raffarin said he was inspired by a similar, but so far hypothetical, plan floated by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

  3. U.S. Supercomputing Research Gets a Boost

    Efforts to reinvigorate scientific supercomputing in the United States are picking up speed. The White House last week released an R&D blueprint for supercomputer development and endorsed legislation moving through Congress that aims to refocus federal funding programs. But some experts have concerns.

    U.S. researchers are increasingly worried that they don't have access to the world's fastest computers (Science, 18 July 2003, p. 301). To close the gap, they are backing the High-Performance Computing Revitalization Act (H.R. 4218), which aims to update a 1991 law. “This is needed to crank the energy level back up,” says computer scientist Daniel Reed of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who testified at a 13 May House Science Committee hearing on the bill.

    That view was echoed by presidential science adviser John Marburger, who also released a preliminary road map for future research. It calls for shifting federal R&D programs toward machines tailored for science, not business. But some scientists cautioned that an emphasis on research rather than deployment could backfire. “The agencies could technically comply without deploying any new hardware,” says computer scientist Richard Stevens of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The House panel is expected to vote on the measure next month, but the bill may go no further this year.

  4. U.N. Convention Targets Dirty Dozen Chemicals

    The United Nations' Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants entered into force this week, ending or severely restricting the use of 12 toxic substances (Science, 15 December 2000, p. 2053). The “dirty dozen” chemicals—which include the pesticide DDT and PCBs used in electrical equipment and paints—have been linked to birth defects, cancers, and immune and nervous system damage.

    The list of 59 nations that have ratified the 2001 treaty doesn't include the United States and the European Union. About 25 countries will be allowed to continue using DDT against malaria-spreading mosquitoes until a viable alternative is found. Meanwhile, experts want to add other chemicals, such as flame retardants.