Science  11 Feb 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5711, pp. 827

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  1. Biosafety Lab Fallout in Boston

    New revelations about how Boston University handled an incident in which dangerous bacteria sickened three workers last year may hinder BU's plans to build a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab in the city's South End neighborhood (Science, 28 January, p. 501).

    When news of the infections broke last month, the university said that it had not suspected tularemia as the cause until October. But BU officials admitted last week that they had conducted tests on two workers in August that showed the presence of infectious bacteria. Because they were not convinced that the samples contained tularemia, they waited until a third worker fell ill in the fall before they closed the lab, ran further tests, and informed public health officials. Also last week, Peter Rice, the beleaguered head of the lab where the tularemia incident took place and chief of infectious diseases, resigned from his positions at BU. Opponents of the BSL-4 lab, meanwhile, are pushing a bill in the Massachusetts Senate which would ban such facilities from the state.

  2. Turning Bombs Into Semiconductors

    ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN—Plans are afoot to create what may be the world's first “nuclear technopark” at one of the enduring legacies of the Cold War. The government of Kazakhstan is reviewing an $80 million proposal to establish a technology incubator at the Semipalatinsk Test Site—a territory nearly as big as Israel—in northeastern Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union detonated its first atom and hydrogen bombs. Since the closure of the Central Asian facility in 1992, Kazakh authorities have been trying to secure risky materials such as plutonium-laced soil (Science, 23 May 2003, p. 1220).

    Looking to convert a liability into a sustainable venture, the former test site's physicist-caretakers have drafted plans to build an electron accelerator, a gamma irradiator, and other facilities for producing everything from medical radioisotopes to semiconductors. If the government approves the plan and kicks in the start-up money, the technopark would then use tax exemptions and other incentives to entice commercial partners from Kazakhstan and abroad. A decision is due by the end of the month.

  3. EPA to Consider Human Pesticide Tests

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will once again accept data from controversial studies that deliberately dose human volunteers with pesticides.

    EPA stopped considering such data in December 2001, after the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) challenged them as unethical. A review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommended that EPA accept the results of certain human tests if they met strict scientific and ethical criteria (Science, 27 February 2004, p. 1272). Meanwhile, CropLife America, a Washington, D.C.-based industry trade group, had sued EPA arguing that the moratorium was illegal, and in 2003 a judge agreed.

    Now EPA has announced in an 8 February Federal Register notice that unless the studies are “fundamentally unethical,” it will consider them case by case until new guidelines, including an ethics review board, are in place. That's consistent with the NAS recommendations. Still, EWG's Richard Wiles is upset. “This is the worst possible outcome,” he says. “There are no rules, as far as I can tell.”

  4. Harvard Creates New Task Forces on Women in Science

    A month after making controversial remarks about why men outnumber women in most scientific disciplines (Science, 28 January, p. 492), Harvard University president Lawrence Summers last week set up two task forces on campus to change the situation. The first, led by historian Evelyn Hammonds, will work to improve faculty searches and create a senior administrative position for improving gender diversity. The second group, chaired by computer scientist Barbara Grosz, will probe why women are underrepresented.

  5. Nascent Reform Bill Criticized

    PARIS—French scientists took to the streets last week to protest a government bill designed to boost research by reforming it (Science, 7 January, p. 27). The bill hasn't been made public yet, but after reviewing a leaked draft, leading scientists have concluded that it focuses too heavily on applied research. The government has scheduled more meetings with unions and leaders this month, so the bill won't be presented to Parliament until March at the earliest.