ScienceScope

Science  25 Mar 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5717, pp. 1851
  1. A Numbers Game at NSF

    Those upset that President George W. Bush proposed only a 2.4% increase in the 2006 budget for the National Science Foundation now have reason to believe NSF's new director, Arden Bement, is on their side. But don't ask him to talk about it.

    Appearing 11 March before a House spending panel that handles NSF's budget, Bement was asked how much the agency requested last fall in its 2006 budget submission to the White House. Most officials duck the commonly asked question, but Bement, known for his straight talk, decided to answer. “To my best recollection it was 15%,” he replied, a figure in keeping with an NSF authorization passed 3 years ago that would have doubled NSF's budget over 5 years. The agency actually submits “several scenarios,” he told the panel, and this year the final request wound up “somewhere between the median and the low end.”

    Asked later for details, however, Bement told Science that the number “was based on a fuzzy memory.” He declined to give the actual figure, citing “predecisional” negotiations with the Administration.

  2. India to Outlaw Animal Drug

    CREDIT: P. BAGLA

    NEW DELHI—The Indian government has decided to phase out veterinary use of a painkiller implicated in the catastrophic decline of vultures on the subcontinent. Officials are now asking farmers to replace diclofenac with alternatives, like ketoprofen and meloxicam, believed to be less toxic to the birds.

    Vultures carry out an important function in the food chain. But their once-abundant numbers have dropped precipitously in the past decade, and studies in India, Pakistan, and Nepal have found the drug in dead vultures. “The only way of saving the vultures was to ban the use of the drug in animals,” says Asad Rahmani, director of the Bombay Natural History Society. The decision, announced last week by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, embraces a recommendation from the government's National Board for Wildlife, which proposed a 6-month phaseout.

  3. NIH Fellows Avoid Stock Ban

    The National Institutes of Health has exempted research and clinical fellows from its tough new ethics rules, easing fears that the rules would scare away talented young scientists. People on staff for less than 4 years won't be required to limit or sell their family's medically related stock, NIH announced last week, although they are still barred from consulting for industry.

    Cynthia Dunbar of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, who chairs a committee overseeing fellows, says she's “pleased” about the exemption but that NIH scientists still object to the “unfairness and illogical nature of the regulations in general.” In addition, employees now have 90 more days, or until October, to divest.

  4. Keep Your Eye on Your iPod

    The prospect of humanlike computers became a partisan issue for federal legislators last week. Republicans on the House Science Committee rejected an amendment from a California Democrat to have the National Science Foundation study the societal implications of “the creation of a sentient, cognitive intelligence on this planet.” The amendment, for which committee Republicans had voted last year, was part of a bill to promote supercomputing.

    “All the experts tell us we are nowhere near the dystopia that Mr. [Brad] Sherman fears,” said committee chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), explaining why he and his fellow Republicans had changed their minds. The amendment lost by a party-line vote of 19 to 17; the bill was approved and sent to the floor.

  5. Bioboard Not on Board

    Work on U.S. guidelines for “dual use” biological experiments has not begun because the members of a new federal board created 1 year ago have yet to be appointed.

    The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity was a key recommendation from a National Academy of Sciences report that looked for ways to prevent the misuse of genetic engineering by terrorists without stifling legitimate experiments (Science, 17 October 2003, p. 368). The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on 4 March 2004 that the 25-member board would take on the job, which researchers hope will offer concrete advice for scientists and biosafety boards without censoring scientific efforts. HHS spokesperson Bill Hall says a final slate of members is now being cleared and that the first meeting should be held “later this year.”