Science  07 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5706, pp. 25
  1. Consulting Turmoil

    A controversy over industry consulting by staff scientists will likely loom over the National Institutes of Health (NIH) well into 2005, possibly hindering efforts to retain and attract top talent. The fate of the agency's $28.4 billion budget could rest on Director Elias Zerhouni's ability to satisfy critics without alienating staff.

    The uproar began in late 2003 when the Los Angeles Times reported that several scientists at NIH had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from drug companies, sparking a congressional investigation (Science, 19 December 2003, p. 2046). Last month, the newspaper alleged that other prominent researchers improperly consulted for drug or product manufacturers on topics that involved their official work. The paper's editors called for Zerhouni's resignation, but he fired back with a letter denying “complacency” and defending NIH's “new stringent rules,” which include a 1-year ban on all industry consulting and limits on lecture honoraria.

    Meanwhile, those proposed rules have angered many agency scientists. They have also hindered recruitment of intramural directors for the neurological disorders and mental health institutes, sources suggest. And scrutiny has contributed to at least one departure: Alzheimer's researcher Trey Sunderland, who reportedly didn't disclose to NIH ethics officials some of his consulting activities, is leaving for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

  2. Trials by Fire

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) faces a push this year from federal legislators bent on overhauling how the agency monitors drug safety. One vehicle may be a bill creating a mandatory clinical trials registry, an idea that picked up steam last year after the pharmaceutical industry and FDA ran into sharp criticism for their handling of antidepressants linked to suicidal behavior in children and teenagers. Adding fuel to the fire is the ongoing debate over harmful side effects from anti-inflammatory pain medications, such as COX-2 inhibitors. How these proposals will fare is unclear. The Republican-led Congress, the White House, and the pharmaceutical industry have traditionally shied from hands-on drug monitoring. But a frustrated and confused public may demand greater regulation.

  3. Space Program Shakeup

    NASA soon faces some key scientific decisions and budget issues, starting with who will succeed Sean O'Keefe as administrator. The White House is likely to nominate a new chief in the next few weeks, and a Senate confirmation hearing could come as early as February, in time for the start of the 2006 budget battle.

    The new space agency leader will have to wrestle with whether to service the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the shuttle—as astronomers prefer—or with a robotic mission. And he or she will have to persuade Congress to fund the moon-Mars human exploration effort proposed a year ago by President George W. Bush. To bring some budget discipline to that program, NASA Comptroller Steve Isakowitz, a longtime White House budget official, will take over as deputy in the exploration office. One of his tasks will be to decide whether a new nuclear propulsion system, dubbed Prometheus, should first be used to head for Jupiter's icy moons or Earth's moon.

  4. Aux Barricades?

    PARIS—In the wake of protests by researchers last year, the French government is expected to unveil a new bill next week to bolster the nation's sciences. Described as a reform package, it's intended to make scientific careers more attractive and improve the national funding and evaluation of research. But scientists say they fear it may go in the wrong direction.

    Early signals about the plan “are not good,” says Alain Trautmann, co-director of the cell biology department at the Cochin Institute and spokesperson for the protest movement last year that forced the government to back down on spending and job cuts (Science, 16 April 2004, p. 368). The biggest worry is about jobs. Leaders of the protest movement criticized the government just before Christmas for, among other things, announcing a “derisory” 150 new university lecturer-researcher posts in the 2005 budget. Hundreds more are needed, says Edouard Brézin, incoming president of the French Academy of Sciences, if the government is serious about reducing their teaching hours. If the bill falls short, researchers say, they will take to the barricades again. The legislation is expected to reach Parliament for a vote by summer.

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