ScienceScope

Science  03 Dec 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5702, pp. 1665
  1. No Meeting of Minds on NIH Honoraria Ban

    Intramural scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) remain upset about a proposed ban on university honoraria after meeting this week with NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. “This meeting did not really explain what the rules are,” says Alexander Wlodawer, a cancer institute lab chief.

    Zerhouni and his deputy Raynard Kington held a closed-door meeting with lab chiefs and many institute directors after more than 170 senior scientists endorsed a letter protesting a proposed ban on honoraria from institutions receiving NIH grants (Science, 19 November, p. 1276). Participants said that NIH has yet to clarify its policies on matters such as teaching and whether speaking, even on official duty, could pose a conflict. But some were encouraged by Zerhouni's promise to carve out “exceptions” for some activities, such as bona fide awards, and to set up a “mechanism” for collecting staff input.

  2. Salmon Plan Raises Hackles

    PORTLAND, OREGON—The Bush Administration's plan to protect salmon on the Columbia and Snake rivers is a “step backwards,” according to 250 fisheries scientists who have signed a last-ditch petition seeking changes in the court-ordered plan. A draft of that document became final on 30 November.

    An earlier plan was dismissed by Federal District Judge James Redden, who will also review the new plan, for relying on questionable recovery actions. Critics say the current version sidesteps the problem by reinterpreting provisions of the Endangered Species Act, arguing that fisheries managers need only ensure the survival of species rather than their recovery. “The new analysis is an alarming sea change in approach with no supporting scientific justification,” the petition concludes.

  3. Swiss Endorse Stem Cell Law

    BASEL—In the first-ever national referendum on the issue, Swiss voters have overwhelmingly approved the use of human stem cells for research. On 28 November, two out of three voters endorsed a law passed last December that allows scientists to use stem cells harvested from embryos no older than 7 days. The law bans therapeutic cloning and research on the embryos themselves and requires several layers of approval, including the consent of the donors. “This is incredibly encouraging for us,” says Patrick Aebischer, president of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

  4. China Tightens Biolab Rules

    BEIJING—China has adopted new biosafety rules that could include criminal penalties for lab managers who violate them. The regulations follow World Health Organization (WHO) biosafety guidelines by specifying four levels of laboratories and defining which pathogens can be handled only at level-3 and -4 labs.

    In the past, say Chinese officials, lab safety was up to individual ministries, practices were not standardized, and enforcement was lax. Song Ruilin, an official with the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office, says that work on the new rules began last year and was accelerated after sloppy lab practices at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing killed one scientist and spread the SARS virus.

    Julie Hall, the WHO coordinator for communicable disease surveillance and response in Beijing, says the new regulations are “a very positive move” and that lab biosafety management “was one of the failings” of the previous system. The rules went into effect on 27 November, but Hall predicts that “changing the research culture” will take time.

  5. The Cost of Science Advice

    The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is offering the government some free advice for improving scientific decision-making. But it comes with a hefty price tag.

    This week, the Washington, D.C.-based organization, best known for its work on arms control, proposed ways for the Bush Administration and Congress to receive more input on policy issues from gasoline additives to stem cells. It recommends a $20-million-plus-a-year replacement for the Office of Technology Assessment, which Congress killed in 1995, as well as boosting the budget of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to better coordinate the work of federal agencies. The FAS report also suggests strengthening the presidentially appointed body of advisers to the White House by giving its members fixed terms and a budget to commission rapid-fire studies. Although the National Academies play an important role in advising the government, the report notes, some topics require a quicker turnaround time than the academies' bureaucracy can deliver.

    “Now that the election is over, we're offering nonpartisan, practical solutions to meet the government's need for the best technical advice,” says FAS president Henry Kelly. “You can't force the government to base its policies on science. But you can improve the chances that it will.”