ScienceScope

Science  01 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5731, pp. 31
  1. PNAS Publishes Botulinum Paper

    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week published, unchanged, a hot-button paper modeling a possible bioweapons attack. And federal officials aren't happy.

    The study, led by Stanford mathematician Lawrence Wein, models a terrorist attack on the U.S. milk supply using botulinum toxin and discusses possible preventive measures. PNAS released the paper 25 May to reporters under embargo but delayed publishing it after Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Stewart Simonson suggested that the information could aid terrorists and asked NAS President Bruce Alberts to hold off (Science, 3 June, p. 1395).

    The paper is being published with only copy editing changes, writes Alberts in an editorial accompanying an online version of the paper. Data useful to a terrorist—such as the lethal dose of botulinum toxin to humans—are available on the Internet, he says, and the modeling “can be valuable for biodefense.”

    “While I respect the academy's decision, I do not agree with it,” HHS's Simonson told Science. “If the academy is wrong, the consequences will be serious, and it will be HHS—not the academy—that will have to deal with them.”

  2. Barton Wants Answers

    Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) has jumped into the scientific debate over the climate record of the past millennium. Citing reports in Geophysical Research Letters andThe Wall Street Journal of scientific error and possible ethical lapses, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee is demanding that three scientists respond to detailed questions on their life's research. In 23 June letters to Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and his two co-authors on a 1998 paper, Barton requests a host of details about the climate study. These include whether the researchers performed a particular statistical test on a 15th century climate record. Mann has noted that his conclusions have been independently replicated.

    Accustomed to battling his scientific critics (Science, 11 February, p. 828), Mann is not commenting on Barton's demands on the advice of his lawyer. Officials with the National Science Foundation and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also received letters from Barton, who wants answers by 11 July.

  3. Researchers Consider Codes of Conduct

    Scientists should adopt codes of conduct aimed at preventing the development of biological weapons. That was the consensus declared this month in Geneva at the end of a 12-day meeting of experts from 85 countries that have signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Such codes may help raise awareness and set norms for researchers in sensitive fields, participants said. Some existing codes of conduct leave out the issue of biological weapons, and only a few scientific organizations now have such guidelines.

    Although the meeting was not set up to reach any agreement, it should “help build momentum” for wider adoption of codes, says bioterror expert Ronald Atlas of the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

  4. Germans Resolve Funding Stalemate

    BERLIN—Top universities and science organizations in Germany are applauding a long-awaited science funding boost. The 5-year, $2.3 billion “Excellence Initiative,” which is designed to propel several institutions to world-class status, was blocked for more than a year by political fights between state and federal leaders (Science, 22 April, p. 483). The prospect of early elections this fall and a minor rewording of the proposal apparently helped break the deadlock late last month. Proposals from universities are due in September, and funds are set to flow next year. The agreement also includes a minimum 3% yearly budget increase through 2010 for Germany's nonuniversity research organizations such as the Max Planck Society.

  5. Updates

    ·National Institutes of Health Director Elias Zerhouni last week extended employees' deadline for reporting stock holdings by 3 months to 3 October, with a 2 January 2006 deadline for divesting. It's the second extension since a new ethics policy was announced in February.

    ·The Pasteur Institute announced this week that its controversial Director Philippe Kourilsky will leave on 31 July. The institute's board of directors had decided this spring (Science, 22 April, p. 493) to make the change and has begun a search for his replacement.

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