ScienceScope

Science  01 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5693, pp. 29
  1. French Scientists Unhappy Despite Boost in Budget

    PARIS—French scientists are disappointed with the government's science spending plan for 2005. But they are not yet protesting the moves. Research minister François d'Aubert last week fulfilled a promise (Science, 28 May, p. 1233) by unveiling a plan to channel an additional $1.2 billion a year into public and private research through 2007. The amount includes $400 million for a new national research agency and funding for 150 additional academic scientists next year.

    But the planned increases don't fully offset past cuts, critics say. And plans for the new agency “are very vague,” says Alain Trautmann, co-director of the cell biology department at the Cochin Institute and a leader of protests that forced the government to backtrack on proposed cuts. For instance, it's not clear whether the agency will focus on basic or applied studies.

    The government expects to firm up spending and management plans next month, after the research community presents ideas for reforms due to take hold next year. In the meantime, science groups say they could be back in the streets early next year if the government doesn't address their concerns.

  2. Seeing Planetary Double

    NASA should think twice before moving ahead with two separate missions to find extrasolar planets, says a National Academy of Sciences report requested by the space agency in January and released this week.

    NASA initially intended to pursue just one of two methods for detecting distant Earth-sized planets that might harbor life: an infrared interferometer, or a coronagraph for the Terrestrial Planet Finder probe. But in January, NASA decided to do both. The coronagraph would be launched in 2014, followed in 2020 by a joint U.S.-European interferometer.

    The possibility of combining data from both missions is intriguing, said the 11-member academy panel led by Wendy Freedman of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California. But NASA needs to make a stronger scientific case for the coronagraph mission, which it describes as “expensive and challenging.” Ultimately, funding both missions could “delay or even preclude” other space science efforts listed in the community's 2000 decadal plan, the panel says. NASA has not yet responded to the report.

  3. Experts Probe Flu Death, Call for Poultry Vaccination

    A 26-year-old woman in Thailand who died of avian influenza earlier this month probably contracted the disease from her daughter, researchers said this week. But World Health Organization (WHO) scientists are cautiously optimistic that the development is not the start of a major outbreak. Meanwhile, several global health groups are calling for increased vaccination of Southeast Asia's poultry flocks in a bid to corral the dangerous H5N1 virus.

    Researchers say the woman, who lived in the Bangkok area, had returned to a rural village in northern Thailand to care for her sick daughter, who probably contracted the virus from local chickens. The daughter was cremated before researchers could collect tissue samples that could confirm her illness. But tissue samples from the mother proved positive for H5N1. The woman's sister has also tested positive for the virus and is in a hospital isolation ward.

    Evidence to date suggests a case of “nonsustained, dead-end transmission,” says WHO virologist Klaus Stöhr. Similar cases have been documented in the past. But until the WHO collaborating center in Atlanta, Georgia, analyzes the new samples, experts won't know definitively whether the virus has mutated to a more dangerous form. So far, says Stöhr, Thai authorities have detected no increase in respiratory disease among villagers or health workers who cared for the patients.

    To keep the virus in check, governments should be vaccinating and not just culling poultry flocks, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health said in a 28 September statement. China and Indonesia already have vaccination programs. But Thailand and other nations do not, in part because poultry exporters fear importing countries will ban products from vaccinated birds, which don't exhibit flu symptoms but can still carry the virus.

  4. Boehlert Has Bypass

    Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) is taking an unexpected break from his duties as chair of the House Science Committee. Boehlert this week underwent triple coronary bypass surgery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after doctors discovered several blocked arteries. He's expected to be back to work within weeks.