Science  25 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5679, pp. 1887

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  1. Harvard Owes $3.25 Million for Grants Accounting Errors

    Improper billing on four government research grants will cost Harvard Medical School $3.25 million. The agreement is the latest in a series of settlements between the Department of Health and Human Services and universities over tracking clinicians' time.

    The Harvard settlement, announced last week by U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, stems from $5.5 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research and career development grants overseen between 1994 and 1999 by Jeanne Wei, a researcher who studies aging. Wei is now at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. An internal investigation discovered $1.9 million received for overstated budgets, unrelated research, and other improprieties; the school then notified NIH. (Harvard paid part of the settlement in 2002.)

    Harvard isn't alone: Last year, Northwestern University paid a $5.5 million settlement for overstating researcher time on grants. And in February, Johns Hopkins University agreed to pay $2.7 million for similar mistakes.

  2. Germany's GM Answer Is Blowin' in the Wind

    BERLIN—Anyone planting genetically modified (GM) crops in Germany will soon need to keep careful track of the pollen. According to a law passed on 18 June by the Bundestag, farmers and researchers will be liable for any loss of income if a neighbor's produce is contaminated by wayward pollen and can't be certified as “gene-free”—the popular term in Germany for conventional crops. The law also requires genetically altered plantings to be registered in publicly available databases.

    “For German plant research, it is a catastrophe,” says Heinz Saedler of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne. The law will eliminate open-air tests of genetically altered plants, he says, because publicly funded institutions aren't allowed to carry insurance for liabilities such as escaped pollen. The database will also leave crops open to vandalism, worries Saedler. (The locations of current GM test fields in Germany are a closely guarded secret.) Because the law doesn't directly affect state policy, it does not need the approval of the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, which is controlled by the opposition Christian Democratic Party. It is expected to go into effect this fall.

  3. U.S. Toughens Up on Travel to Cuba

    The U.S. government has made it harder for researchers to attend conferences in Cuba. A revision of limits on Cuba travel announced this month by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) requires U.S. scholars to get explicit government permission to attend Cuban-sponsored professional meetings in Cuba. The rule codifies a decision earlier this year that prevented 50 scientists from participating in the Fourth International Symposium on Coma and Death in Havana (Science, 19 March, p. 1742).


    In the past, U.S. scholars could attend Cuban-sponsored conferences by traveling under a general license category available for research. Under the modified regulations, researchers need a special license. However, they can still go to conferences in Cuba without government permission as long as they're organized by an international body. Bob Guild of Marazul Charters, a New Jersey-based tour company, says scientists can also attend a conference if it's part of their research itinerary.

  4. Ethics Inquiry Expanded to 15 U.S. Agencies

    Perturbed by recent news reports and its own findings that some National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists have earned up to $300,000 or more in outside income (Science, 21 May, p. 1091), a congressional panel has asked another 15 federal agencies to report on employee consulting and awards.

    In letters sent on 18 June, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and investigations subcommittee chair James Greenwood (R-PA) asked the Commerce, Energy, and Health and Human Services departments and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, to describe their policies on outside activities by employees and report the amounts paid since 1999. The committee wants to find out whether “the disturbing practices discovered at NIH are … commonplace,” Barton stated. The agencies were given 2 weeks to respond.