ScienceScope

Science  06 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5723, pp. 773
  1. Democrats Protest Limits on WHO Advisory Panels

    Some Democrats in Congress want the Bush Administration to halt what they see as efforts to exert political control over science.

    Their focus is a 1-year-old policy on sending federal scientists to meetings of the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past, WHO would directly invite individuals from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to serve as advisers on topics such as avian flu and potentially cancer-causing chemicals. But in April 2004, then-HHS secretary Tommy Thompson's global health chief, William Steiger, announced that invitations needed to go to his office, which would choose the appropriate experts. The policy upset researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as outside public health leaders and scientific groups.

    In a 28 April letter to new HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, the 11 Democrats on the House Science Committee ask him to rescind the policy or explain the value of what legislators call a “counterproductive” and “potentially dangerous” policy. An HHS spokesperson said the department expects to respond “in an appropriate time frame.”

  2. NIH Wants Your Papers Now

    The National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) new push to expand public access to papers it funds kicks in this week. As of 2 May, NIH-funded investigators are requested to submit copies of final, accepted journal manuscripts to NIH (http://www.nihms.nih.gov/), which will post them in NIH's PubMed Central papers archive no more than 12 months after they're published in the journal.

    NIH announced the policy in February after a 6-month battle between open-access advocates and journal publishers, who say the policy violates copyrights and will put them out of business. One question is how authors will interpret NIH's recommendation that they ask NIH to post their papers “as soon as possible,” regardless of when the journal allows free online access to the full text. Also unknown is how well the National Library of Medicine will cope with the flood of manuscripts, expected to number at least 60,000 a year.

  3. Narrowing the Gender Gap

    The list of new members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) chosen this week contains a record number of women. But the gender ratio—19 women out of the 72 elected—still falls short of the representation of women in most scientific fields.

    “As more women get in, more will get elected,” predicts California Institute of Technology biologist Alice Huang, a former member of the academies' Committee on Women in Science and Engineering. “The academy realizes that there is something wrong, and they are trying to fix it. But I'm a little surprised at how slow the process is.”

    This year's class* tops by two the previous high-water mark for academy women, reached in 2003 and 2004, and is a marked increase from the long history of single-digit totals for women. There are now 1976 active NAS members. The academy also chose 18 foreign associates.

    The meeting also featured the swan song of NAS President Bruce Albert, whose second 6-year term ends 30 June. The new president is atmospheric chemist Ralph Cicerone, now chancellor of the University of California, Irvine.

  4. Astronomers Want to Be Heard Before NASA Acts

    Outside scientists need to weigh in before NASA decides what missions to terminate, says the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

    The unusual 2 May statement by the organization, which represents more than 6000 U.S. astronomers and astrophysicists, warns that turning off spacecraft and cutting funds for analyzing spacecraft data—two actions planned to cope with a tight 2005 budget—“can set dangerous precedents for coming years.” Continued cuts, says astronomer David Black, who chairs the AAS policy committee, “could put our nation's stature as a leader in space, and the benefits that flow from that leadership, at risk.”

    The statement calls for NASA to “involve members of the science community in an assessment of missions before finalizing decisions on possible mission terminations.” NASA officials say that they will ask for advice on prioritizing missions before taking action this fall—but the final decision, they add, rests with the agency.