Science  08 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5694, pp. 209

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  1. Spain's Mixed Science Budget

    BARCELONA—Spanish scientists heard good and bad news last week: R&D will get a hefty 35% increase in the 2005 budget, but the plan has left many wondering how much basic science will benefit.

    Spain's investment in R&D—about 1% of its gross domestic product—is one of the lowest in Europe. So scientists were elated when Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero followed through on a campaign promise to boost R&D funding. But the budget details disclosed on 30 September left many confused. For example, more than 90% of the planned growth in the R&D National Fund, which supports most science programs, is to be paid in no-interest government loans. The largest share appears slated for technology parks, innovation centers, and large facilities such as a synchrotron in Barcelona and a 10-meter optical telescope in the Canary Islands. The government also will create a new merit-based funding agency modeled on the U.S. National Science Foundation.

    Government officials said the loans were necessary to “keep budgetary stability.” But public sector scientists “are very worried; loans work best in the private sector,” says Jordi Camí, director of the Barcelona-based Municipal Institute of Biomedical Research. Researchers may have to get used to the idea: The Socialist-controlled parliament is expected to approve the budget as it stands.

  2. Montana BSL Lab Advances

    Groups opposing a federal biodefense laboratory in Montana have agreed to a plan that may let the project proceed.

    The National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, plans to build a biosafety level 4 facility for studying the most dangerous pathogens, such as Ebola virus. Three citizen groups sued NIH in August, charging that its environmental impact statement was inadequate (Science, 20 August, p. 1088). After a federal judge ordered mediation, the two sides signed a settlement last week agreeing to added safeguards. The lab will distribute a list of pathogens being studied to local doctors, for example, and has agreed not to weaponize pathogens. NIH also agreed to get public comment on a draft emergency plan before the lab opens in 2007. With the judge's approval, the August suit will be dismissed.

    “They put a lot of mechanisms in place that we thought were important,” says Alexandra Gorman of Women's Voices for the Earth in Missoula, one of the groups that sued. Construction should begin soon, a lab spokesperson says.

  3. Senator Moves on Kennewick

    American Indians aren't giving up on the battle to keep Kennewick Man, the 9400-year-old bones found in Washington state in 1996, out of scientists' hands. Last July, a federal court barred several tribes from claiming the bones because they couldn't prove that the remains came from a person related to a current tribe (Science, 30 July, p. 591). Last week, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) tacked a two-word amendment onto a bill (S. 2843) that would make such claims easier to prove.

    Currently, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act defines “Native American” as “relating to a tribe, people, or culture that is indigenous to the United States.” Campbell's amendment changes the wording to “is or was indigenous,” removing the need to show a link to living Indians.

    It was a “sneaky” move, says Alan Schneider, the scientists' Portland, Oregon, lawyer. But it may not have any immediate impact: Congress watchers say the legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this year, and it might not apply retroactively if it passed.

    Meanwhile, on 8 September four tribes moved to reintervene in the Kennewick case, petitioning to veto studies they oppose.

  4. Report Faults Biosafety Panels

    A watchdog group says that many institutional biosafety committees (IBCs) that oversee potentially risky experiments at U.S. research institutes fail to comply with rules on public access.

    The U.S. government wants to give the committees, set up in the 1970s to oversee genetic engineering experiments, a new role in weighing “dual use” research: studies whose data could be exploited by future bioterrorists. But a survey of 355 IBCs by the Sunshine Project, an Austin, Texas, group (Science, 6 August, p. 768), found that 44% of the panels were unable or unwilling to provide minutes of their most recent meetings, as required by guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Another 36% produced minutes that lacked key information, according to the report. Dozens of IBCs appear not to meet regularly at all.

    The survey “shows some weaknesses in the system,” admits Stefan Wagener, president of the American Biological Safety Association, but he adds that doesn't mean safety is compromised. The scrutiny already has prompted NIH's Office of Biotechnology Activities, which oversees the IBCs, to order the panels to convene regular meetings and release reasonably detailed minutes.