News this Week

Science  06 Jan 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5757, pp. 22

    How Young Korean Researchers Helped Unearth a Scandal ...

    1. Sei Chong,
    2. Dennis Normile*
    1. With reporting by Gretchen Vogel.

    SEOUL AND TOKYO—The announcement delivered a devastating blow to stem cell researchers around the world: On 29 December, a Seoul National University (SNU) investigative team said there was no evidence Woo Suk Hwang and his team had produced any of the patient-specific stem cells they described in a June 2005 Science paper. Many Koreans lamented that the revelations dashed the country's hopes for worldwide scientific respect. But the report also vindicated dozens of anonymous young Korean scientists who, without knowing one another, worked together and with the media to unravel a huge scientific fraud.

    Two papers published in Science by Hwang and colleagues at several institutions in Korea and the United States were hailed as seminal breakthroughs in stem cell research. A March 2004 paper reported the first stem cell line produced from a cloned human embryo. The second paper, published in May 2005, reported the creation of 11 stem cell lines that genetically matched nine patients with spinal cord injury, diabetes, and an immune system disorder. Scientists hope such stem cells could someday lead to insights into many hereditary conditions as well as the creation of replacement tissues genetically matched to patients.

    Those hopes, however, began to unravel shortly after midnight on 1 June 2005, when someone sent a message to the “tip off” mailbox on the Web site of a long-running investigative TV news program called PD Notebook aired by the Seoul-based Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. (MBC). According to one of the program's producers, Bo Seul Kim, the writer said his conscience had been bothering him over problems he knew of with Hwang's research. Asking PD Notebook to contact him, he closed his message by writing: “I hope you don't refuse this offer to get at the truth.”

    They didn't. When PD Notebook executive producer Seung Ho Choi read the message several days later, he asked producer Hak Soo Han to meet the tipster that night. According to Han's recollection of the meeting, the tipster said he had been involved in the research leading to Hwang's 2004 paper in Science. He agreed to an interview on tape as long as his identity was concealed, during which he said he had left the team because of ethical and technical concerns. He claimed that despite Hwang's statements to the contrary, some of the eggs used for that research came from junior researchers in Hwang's lab. Producer Kim says the scientist provided names, donation records, and an e-mail message he had received from one of the researchers saying she had donated eggs under pressure from Hwang. The tipster also claimed that based on his knowledge of the team's work, Hwang couldn't have produced the patient-specific stem cells reported in the 2005 paper, although he admitted having no hard evidence of fabrication.

    Clear misconduct.

    Jung Hye Roe, SNU's dean of research affairs, announced that the investigative committee found no evidence of cloned stem cells in Hwang's lab.


    “It was very difficult for me to believe what this person was suggesting,” Han told Science. But the tipster's documentation of problems surrounding egg donations seemed trustworthy. So Han decided to look into the 2005 paper as well. The producers persuaded two others with inside knowledge of Hwang's lab to help. Han also recruited three scientists from outside the Hwang team as consultants.

    Han says the PD Notebook team and its advisers began to identify potential problems with the paper, using tactics that they later conceded were journalistically unethical. Claiming they were working on a documentary about Korean biotechnology, PD Notebook reporters interviewed co-authors of the 2005 paper and found that the majority had never actually seen the cloned embryonic stem cells. The TV crew also learned from their advisers that teratomas, benign tumors that embryonic stem cells form when injected under the skin of experimental mice, had been produced only for stem cell lines 2 and 3; careful scientists would have produced teratomas from all 11 lines.

    Kim says that because one of the informers suggested that the stem cell lines in the 2005 paper could have come from MizMedi Hospital in Seoul, the producers requested and received the DNA fingerprinting data for 15 lines derived at the hospital from embryos created through in vitro fertilization. Through one of their sources, the producers got a sample of stem cell line number 2 and passed it to an independent testing laboratory. The lab found that line number 2 genetically matched a MizMedi line. “Did we actually have evidence that Hwang faked his research?” Han recalls wondering. (SNU would come to the same conclusion months later, announcing on 29 December that stem cell lines 2 and 3 from Hwang's lab came from MizMedi's stem cells.)

    Han says he got the news of the lab test results on 19 October while he was in the United States preparing to interview Sun Jong Kim, another co-author of the 2005 paper who had left MizMedi to join the University of Pittsburgh research team led by Gerald Schatten, a Hwang collaborator and co-author of the 2005 paper. In an attempt to get an admission of wrongdoing from Kim, Han says, the TV team resorted to some misrepresentation of its own. When the producers met him on 20 October, Han and his partner filmed Kim with a hidden camera; they didn't reply when he asked if they were recording him. In the interview, Han told Kim they had information that could prove Hwang's work was falsified. He also tricked Kim into believing that Korean prosecutors had begun an investigation and told Kim he didn't want to see him get hurt.

    Speak no evil.

    MBC's initial broadcast on irregularities in egg donation for Hwang's research set off a wave of protests.


    On hidden camera, Kim then told Han he followed directions from Hwang to make photographs of two cell lines appear to represent 11 cell lines. The falsified photos appear in the supplementary online material accompanying the 2005 Science paper. Han says he now “really repents” their unethical reporting ruses. And those lapses nearly led to their work being dismissed entirely.

    But on 11 November, before PD Notebook broadcast any of its findings, Schatten announced he was terminating his relationship with Hwang because of concerns about “ethical breaches” in oocyte collection. Schatten emphasized that he was still confident of the research results. On 22 November, MBC broadcast the PD Notebook program containing allegations that donors were paid for eggs used in the research leading to the 2004 paper, that junior lab members were among the donors, and that Hwang had lied about the oocyte sources in the Science paper. Two days later, Hwang admitted in a press conference that he knew about junior members donating eggs but lied to protect their privacy. He resigned as director of the newly announced Stem Cell Hub but vowed to continue his research (Science, 2 December 2005, p. 1402).

    Despite Hwang's admissions, PD Notebook producers bore the brunt of public anger over the revelations. The backlash intensified after Han and another top producer held a 2 December press conference announcing that a report questioning the authenticity of Hwang's work was yet to come. After Sun Jong Kim and another colleague in Pittsburgh, Jong Hyuk Park, told another television program that the interview with PD Notebook had been coerced, all 12 of the PD Notebook sponsors canceled their ads, and on 4 December, MBC apologized for the producers' use of unethical tactics.

    Producer Kim says that 20,000 angry postings filled up MBC's online bulletin boards, and that the network received so many threatening calls that reporters had a hard time using the phones for work. On 7 December, MBC suspended PD Notebook and decided not to air the segment covering questions about the 2005 paper and the interview with Sun Jong Kim.

    Given Hwang's popularity among the Korean public and the trust he enjoyed among researchers worldwide, the matter might well have ended there. But, according to an official of the Biological Research Information Center (BRIC), which provides online news on scientific trends and careers primarily for young researchers, at 5:28 a.m. on 5 December, a contributor to a BRIC Internet message board placed a cryptic post with the English header, “The show must go on …” The anonymous poster suggested that readers look for duplicated pictures among the supporting online material accompanying the 2005 Science paper. The poster ended his message with the tease: “I found two! There are rumors that there are more …”

    More than 200 posts followed, identifying apparently duplicated photographs. There was also an online discussion about whether someone should inform Science. Someone did e-mail Science editors pointing out the duplicated photos. By that time, however, Hwang had already notified the journal of what he termed an accidental duplication of some of the photos. Science editors and scientists around the world were still willing to give Hwang the benefit of the doubt, believing that photos had been mixed up sometime between paper acceptance and publication online.

    But the BRIC posts continued. On 6 December, another anonymous BRIC poster wrote that there appeared to be duplications in the DNA fingerprinting traces and posted evidence to support that claim the following day. At about this time, the BRIC postings were reported in the general Korean media and then picked up worldwide. On 12 December, SNU said it would launch an investigation. With public opinion starting to turn, on 15 December, MBC broadcast the PD Notebook segment showing Kim—with his face blurred—admitting that he doctored photographs at Hwang's direction. The next day, Hwang and Schatten told Science they wanted to withdraw the 2005 paper.

    Like most scientists in Korea, Hong Gil Nam, a chemist at Pohang University of Science and Technology and BRIC's first director, has mixed feelings about how the drama has played out. He's sorry to see the scandal unfold but hopeful that the postings on BRIC indicate that “young scientists have a good attitude toward research integrity.”

    The SNU committee is continuing its work, investigating the legitimacy of Hwang's 2004 paper in Science and the group's more recent paper in Nature claiming to have produced the first cloned dog. A host of questions remain about whether and when other people at the lab learned about the fraud. Korea's Supreme Public Prosecutors' Office says it is considering a probe of possible criminal activity, pending the outcome of the SNU investigation. The BRIC message board is as lively as ever. And MBC resumed broadcasting PD Notebook on 3 January, this time with more people from within Hwang's lab who were willing to talk about what their disgraced boss had done. Among the revelations, PD Notebook alleges that Hwang's team collected more than 1600 oocytes from egg donors—not the 427 originally reported—for cloning research for the 2004 and 2005 papers.


    ... And How the Problems Eluded Peer Reviewers and Editors

    1. Jennifer Couzin*
    1. With reporting by Gretchen Vogel.

    The paper landed in Science's online database on 15 March 2005, a Tuesday. Immediately, the journal's editors recognized a submission of potentially explosive importance. A group in South Korea was describing 11 embryonic stem (ES) cell lines created from the DNA of ailing patients. The advance, eagerly anticipated in the stem cell world, would be a first, and critical to using stem cells to combat disease.

    Little did Science's editors, or the nine outside researchers who would examine the paper with varying degrees of scrutiny, realize just how explosive the paper would be. Today, its lead author Woo Suk Hwang stands accused of one of the boldest scientific frauds in memory. Investigators at Seoul National University (SNU), where most of the work was done, announced on 29 December that they could find no evidence of any of the 11 stem cell lines claimed in the paper. On the 10th floor of Science's offices in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, members of the editorial department are spotting problems in Hwang's 2005 paper, as well as another landmark paper from his group published in 2004.

    Could Science have detected the fraud? Science's editors and many stem cell researchers believe not: The 2005 paper was positively received by its peer reviewers, upon whom Science relied heavily to determine whether the paper was worth publishing. “Peer review cannot detect [fraud] if it is artfully done,” says Donald Kennedy, Science's editor-in-chief. And the reported falsifications in the Hwang paper—image manipulation and fake DNA data—are not the sort that reviewers can easily spot.

    Martin Blume, editor-in-chief of the American Physical Society and its nine physics journals, says that peer review overlooks honest errors as well as deliberate fraud. “Peer review doesn't necessarily say that a paper is right,” he notes. “It says it's worth publishing.”

    That said, Science, like other high-profile journals, aggressively seeks firsts: papers that generate publicity and awe in the scientific community and beyond. The practice comes with some risks, critics say, because by definition firsts haven't been replicated. “Is the reviewing looser” on a potentially high-impact paper? asks Denis Duboule, a geneticist at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, who sits on Science's Board of Reviewing Editors. “Frankly, I don't know.” The Hwang paper was accepted 58 days after submission, slightly more swiftly than the average of 81 days.

    Science has also not instituted certain policies, such as requesting that authors detail their contributions to a paper or performing independent analyses of images, that some believe might deter fraud. The latter will change in January, when certain images in papers near acceptance will be enlarged and scrutinized by Science staffers—a plan in place prior to the Hwang debacle.

    After receiving the Hwang paper, Science sent it to two members of its Board of Reviewing Editors, who had 48 hours to proffer their opinions on whether it should be among the 30% of papers sent out for review. (The journal later sent the paper to four additional board members.) Science declined to identify the board members who vetted it.

    Board members do not inspect a paper's data but instead look for “a mixture of novelty, originality, and trendiness,” explains Duboule. On 18 March, after receiving positive feedback from the two board members, an editor sent the paper to three stem cell experts for review. They were given a week, a fairly common time frame.

    In this role, “you look at the data and do not assume it's fraud,” says one expert who told a Science reporter he reviewed the paper on condition that his name not be used. As a reviewer, he says, he sought to ensure that the scientists had identified key markers that distinguish stem cells from other cells and that the DNA “fingerprints” from the stem cells matched those from the patients. The photographs of stem cells and fingerprint data appeared to be in order, he says.

    In fact, a number of the images purporting to be of distinct stem cells garnered from patient cells were neither distinct nor from patients. The cells had been extracted from fertilized embryos, the SNU committee alleged, and, in the published version now being analyzed, supposedly different colonies were duplicated or overlapping members of the same ones.

    But ES cell colonies often look alike, says John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and “you don't really look at a photograph to say, ‘That's the same colony turned around.’” A member of Science's Board of Reviewing Editors, Gearhart declines to say whether he examined the paper prior to publication. Even knowing now about the fraud, Gearhart says the deceptions are difficult to spot with his naked eye.

    The paper also displayed DNA fingerprints that it claimed were of patients' DNA and genetically matched stem cell lines. Here again, the peer reviewers were fooled. According to the SNU investigation, the analyses were performed solely on samples of the patients' DNA. Only by monitoring an ongoing experiment or analyzing the sample being tested could this deception be unveiled, says David Altshuler of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who pored over the DNA fingerprinting data after problems with the paper arose. He says he saw nothing amiss. “The whole issue would boil down to, is the stuff in this tube … from the DNA sample of the donor or the DNA sample of the stem cell line?” says Altshuler.

    Duplicate deception.

    Photographs purported to be of distinct stem cell lines were actually overlapping images of the same colony.


    Although the flaws in the Hwang paper were especially difficult for reviewers to catch, the peer-review system is far from foolproof, its supporters concede. In 1997, editors at the British Medical Journal (BMJ) described a study in which they inserted eight errors into a short paper and asked researchers to identify the mistakes. Of the 221 who responded, “the median number spotted was two,” says Richard Smith, who edited BMJ from 1991 until 2004. “Nobody spotted more than five,” and 16% didn't find any.

    Some journals have taken steps they hope will keep their pages cleaner. Beginning around 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and other major medical journals began requiring that every author detail his or her contributions to the work. “Obviously, people can lie and cheat, but they have to do it with the knowledge that their colleagues know, and that's a lot harder to do,” says JAMA Deputy Editor Drummond Rennie, who came up with the idea in 1996. “And later, they have to answer for it.”

    Although this policy is mandatory at many medical journals, it's voluntary at Blume's physics journals and at Nature. Science has not adopted this approach. “If the paper is wrong and has to be retracted, then everyone takes the fall,” says Kennedy, who believes that detailing contributions can be “administratively complex,” and that perpetrators may be less than honest about their contributions.

    But some scientists such as Duboule and Gearhart believe Science should require authors to describe their contributions. “There should have been some documentation” of who did what on the Hwang project, says Gearhart.

    Not only might it now be easier to assign responsibility, but another benefit, says Gearhart, would also be in clarifying the role of a lead author, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Lead authors are often considered responsible for the integrity of the data, and Schatten has come under heavy criticism for acting principally as an adviser to the South Korean group. The University of Pittsburgh has launched its own investigation into Schatten's role in the research.

    In the aftermath of the Hwang case, editors at Science will be having “a lot of conversations about how we can improve the evaluation of manuscripts,” says Kennedy. One thing unlikely to change is the aim of high-profile journals to publish, and publicize, firsts. “You want the exciting results, and sometimes the avant-garde exciting results don't have the same amount of supporting data as something that's been repeated over and over and over again,” says Katrina Kelner, Science's deputy managing editor for life sciences. In weighing whether to publish papers such as these, “it's always a judgment call,” she says.

    But studies are rarely accepted as dogma until they're replicated, says Altshuler, a distinction often lost on the general public—and sometimes other scientists—amid the hype that envelops firsts such as Hwang's paper. Says Altshuler, “A culture that wanted to see things reproduced before making a big deal out of them would probably be a healthier culture.”


    Indian Scientist Slain in Surprise Attack

    1. Pallava Bagla

    HYDERABAD, INDIA—A retired mathematics professor was shot and killed, and four colleagues were wounded, at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), one of India's premier research outfits, on 29 December. Police have branded the incident in Bangalore a terrorist attack, although as Science went to press, no group had claimed responsibility.

    The slain scientist, M. C. Puri of the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, was a specialist in operations research, or the use of mathematics to aid in decision-making. Among the injured is IISc's Vijay Chandru, co-inventor of Simputer, a hand-held computing device. The injuries of Chandru and the other victims were not life-threatening.


    M. C. Puri.


    The attack came without warning on the last day of an international meeting on operations research. “There were no security alerts issued to us,” says IISc Director Padmanabhan Balaram. According to eyewitness accounts, at about 7:30 p.m., a single gunman wielding an automatic rifle began spraying bullets into a crowd of scientists filing out of an auditorium after the day's last talk. “A few of us were walking to the next building when we heard sounds like the heavy use of firecrackers,” says S. Sadagopan, director of the Indian Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore. On 3 January, police announced the arrest of a suspect: a 35-year-old man who claimed to be a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant organization.

    The incident has sent jitters through India's vast R&D establishment. At the annual Indian Science Congress here in Hyderabad this week, police assigned 5000 officers to protect the 5000 participants, including 75 foreigners. And aftershocks are being felt in Bangalore. In addition to IISc, the region, India's Silicon Valley, is home to more than 150 information technology firms, the Indian Space Research Organization, and several high-profile defense labs. The space and defense labs say they have enhanced already tight security. But IISc, with more than 400 researchers and 2000 students, is an academic campus largely open to the public. Balaram says he does not want IISc to become a high-security zone as a consequence of the attack: “The ambience of the university will be lost if you convert it into an armed fortress.”


    DuPont Settlement to Fund Test of Potential Toxics

    1. Erik Stokstad

    The chemicals that make life easier by keeping food from sticking to cookware and blocking stains to carpets and couches also have a darker side: Some of their ingredients don't break down in nature. And the accumulation of these manufacturing aids, called perfluorocarboxylates, is potentially hazardous to humans and wildlife (Science, 10 December 2004, p. 1887).

    Last month, DuPont, the largest manufacturer of perfluorocarboxylates, agreed to spend $5 million to assess one aspect of the possible risk of exposure. It's part of a record $16.5 million settlement reached last month with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had accused the company of breaking the law by not releasing health information about perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a perfluorocarboxylate used to make some Teflon products. DuPont has denied any wrongdoing.

    The research could potentially lead EPA to require DuPont and other manufacturers to reformulate some products, with a value exceeding $1 billion. “Ultimately, these research results could have a huge influence on regulation,” says Scott Mabury of the University of Toronto, Canada.

    No rest.

    Contract labs will test whether stain repellents and related compounds break down into a worrisome environmental contaminant.


    While welcoming the research, which will involve nine representative DuPont products, some researchers are frustrated by EPA's ground rules. They are particularly upset that the identity of the products to be tested will be kept secret, a decision they say could reduce confidence in the findings and hinder other research into the chemicals. “It really stifles investigation,” says Timothy Kropp, a toxicologist with the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. It will also make it harder for outsiders to evaluate and interpret EPA's conclusions, adds Richard Luthy of Stanford University in California.

    The contract labs hired by DuPont will cook each product in a warm brew of aerobic microbes—conditions designed to maximize the chance that they will break down into PFOA or a dozen intermediate metabolites that might suggest that PFOA is a possible outcome. If breakdown products do turn up, says Charles Auer, director of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, the agency will consider more tests to figure out the rate and extent of the process. (DuPont says that PFOA comes from accidental release during manufacturing, not from the products themselves, and that it has already reduced these emissions by 98% in the U.S.)

    The initial observations should increase basic knowledge of these chemicals, says environmental chemist Pim de Voogt of the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. EPA plans to review the research protocols with an independent scientific panel, Auer says, and make some of the data public after the 3-year studies are completed. EPA will accept nominations for the panel after naming someone to administer the process.


    NASA Terminates Gore's Eye on Earth

    1. Andrew Lawler

    NASA has quietly terminated a controversial Earth-gazing science mission left over from the Clinton Administration. Although the satellite is largely complete, space agency officials say they don't have the money to launch and operate the spacecraft, which is designed to provide data on solar storms and the effect on climate of changes in Earth's albedo.

    The Deep Space Climate Observatory began life in March 1998 when then-Vice President Al Gore proposed a mission, called Triana, to beam back real-time images of the whole Earth. Ridiculed by Republicans as Goresat, the project was resuscitated after a 2000 report from the National Research Council of the National Academies said it could do important research. But last month, NASA science chief Mary Cleave wrote scientists that “the context of competing priorities and the state of the budget for the foreseeable future precludes continuation of the project.”

    Originally slated for a space shuttle launch in 2001, the project was delayed and then put on hold following the loss of the Columbia orbiter in February 2003. The following year, however, senior NASA managers informed scientists that the mission remained a priority.

    The observatory was designed to hover at a point where the gravity of the moon and Earth cancel each other out, providing a stable platform for observing the sunlit side of Earth on a continuous basis. “We could get an incredible set of data” of the impact of albedo on climate, says Robert Charlson, a climate scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle. The satellite would also have monitored solar storms that pose a hazard to sensitive telecommunications systems.


    The Deep Space Climate Observatory may never be launched.


    Principal investigator Francisco Valero of the University of California, San Diego, says that NASA is ignoring the possibility that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—which last year requested a study on possible NOAA participation due out next month—could pick up as much as half the cost. “If there is cost-sharing, then the cost could be moderate for each agency,” Valero argues, noting that final preparation, launch, and operation of the mission could run between $60 million and $120 million. But NASA's tight budget and the mission's political roots may be too much for scientists to overcome.


    New Particulate Rules Are Anything but Fine, Say Scientists

    1. Erik Stokstad

    Cutting in half the maximum amount of fine particles that people should breathe over 24 hours sounds impressive. But critics of this revision to air pollution standards, proposed last month by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), say the new daily threshold will only marginally improve public health. They say a truly dramatic reduction in mortality rates requires lower annual exposure levels, too. In fact, an outside panel that made such a recommendation is not happy with EPA's decision.

    “What is the point of having a scientific advisory committee if you don't use their judgment?” wonders Jane Koenig of the University of Washington, Seattle. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson didn't answer that question during a 20 December teleconference announcing the standards but said he had thought long and hard about the data. “I made my decision based upon the best available science,” he explained. “And this choice requires judgment based upon an interpretation of the evidence.”

    Studies have shown that inhaling the small particles that make up soot—a widespread byproduct of combustion—harms health, although the mechanisms are not all clear (Science, 25 March 2005, p. 1858). Bad air days can trigger asthma attacks, for example, and even kill people suffering from lung or heart disease. Even chronic exposure to lower levels of soot leads to health problems and premature death. In 1997, EPA first regulated fine particles measuring 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) or less. As part of a settlement in a suit brought by the American Lung Association, EPA was required to propose revised PM 2.5 rules by the end of 2005.

    The new standards would lower the maximum allowable 24-hour exposure for PM 2.5 from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to 35 μg/m3. That's within the range recommended by the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) but still on the high side. EPA ignored other suggestions, most notably declining to reduce the average annual PM 2.5 standard of 15 μg/m3 to 13 or 14.

    Such a reduction could make a big difference in public health, scientists have found. EPA models for nine major U.S. cities predict that the tightest daily and annual standards recommended by CASAC would cut the roughly 4700 deaths due each year to PM 2.5 in those cities by 48%. In contrast, death rates would drop by 22% under the agency's proposal to tighten only the daily standard. EPA didn't make a nationwide tally of lives saved under any of the proposals, but epidemiologist Joel Schwartz of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, using an annual standard of 14 μg/m3, came up with 9000 or more. Having a looser standard is “completely unjustified by the science,” he says.

    Road kill.

    EPA's proposed regulation of harmful fine particles from buses and other diesel and coal emitting sources doesn't go far enough for some.


    EPA plans three public hearings on its proposal and will accept public comments until early April. “This isn't over,” vows CASAC chair Rogene Henderson of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who says the committee will reiterate its case. The final revisions are due out in September.


    NIH Shrinks, NSF Crawls as Congress Finishes Spending Bills

    1. Jeffrey Mervis*
    1. With reporting by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Jocelyn Kaiser, and Andrew Lawler.

    Congressional support for boosting U.S. academic research this year slammed head-on into other national needs and a growing demand to curb federal spending. The resulting crackup has left the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with its first cut in spending since 1970 and the National Science Foundation (NSF) with an increase that only regains lost ground and mocks the recent rhetoric about the importance of a 7-year doubling of its budget.

    The wreck is the 2006 budget, the last pieces of which Congress finished just before Christmas in a frenzy of convoluted deal-making that included a 1% across-the-board cut to make room in a military spending bill for hurricane relief and pandemic flu preparedness. “This is going to be a tough year, and we're going to have to make tough choices,” says NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, adding that his highest priority will be to support new investigators. Also facing a tough year is NSF. It was headed for a 3.3% increase but in the end received only 2%. The final figure, $5.58 billion, matches what NSF spent in 2004 and trails the president's request.

    Basic and applied research spending across all federal agencies will inch up by $1 billion in 2006, to $57 billion, according to an analysis* by AAAS (which publishes Science). But the lion's share of the increase went to preparation for NASA's moon-Mars mission, a bump that helped NASA achieve an overall 1.5% increase, to $16.5 billion. Even a 2.1% increase in the Defense Department's $73 billion research and development budget masks a 2.9% drop in its $1.5 billion basic research account and a flat budget for the $3 billion Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

    In addition to allocating nearly $900 billion in discretionary funding this year, Congress agreed to make $40 billion in cuts over the next 5 years from the much larger chunk of the federal budget devoted to entitlement programs. Student loan programs took the biggest hit, although the so-called budget reconciliation package also contains incentives for low-income college students majoring in science and engineering. It awaits final approval later this month by the House of Representatives.

    The gloomy 2006 budget news casts a pall over expectations about what President George W. Bush will request next month for the 2007 fiscal year (FY), which begins 1 October. NIH and NSF officials have been told to expect little or no increases, with another cut likely in NSF's education programs and no money for any major new scientific facilities. But last-minute agency appeals were still pending at press time, leaving some officials hopeful that White House budgeteers might be listening to the recent drumbeat of support to boost investment in research and training (Science, 16 December 2005, p. 1752).

    Going, going …

    Biomedical lobbyists say flat NIH budgets are erasing the gains from he recent doubling by Congress.


    NASA could again be the favored child in 2007. Even so, Administrator Michael Griffin complained bitterly to the White House in November after officials trimmed by more than half his requested 8.8% increase. Without additional funds for astronomy, earth sciences, and solar physics, Griffin warned, he would be forced “to hold science's budget fixed at FY 2006 levels for the next 5 years.” Any moves to scale back NASA's science plans are sure to anger Congress, which last month reauthorized NASA's programs with a warning not to disturb the fiscal balance between science and exploration efforts.

    This year's cut in NIH's budget, by $35 million to $28.6 billion, means that the agency is falling behind inflation. That will result in fewer new grants and a continued decline in success rates. A few years ago, NIH funded more than 30% of proposals submitted; this year it will fund 20% or less. Biomedical researchers are “extremely disappointed” by the NIH figure, says Bruce Bistrian, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in Bethesda, Maryland, adding that the cut will force some laboratories to shut down and could displace “some of our greatest current and future scientific talent.” Adds Pat White of the Association of American Universities (AAU), “This is the year it's really starting to hurt.”

    The defense bill, the last spending bill Congress passed before the holiday recess, contains $3.8 billion for pandemic influenza preparedness. The measure funds roughly the first year of the president's 2-year request (Science, 11 November 2005, p. 952), including $350 million for states and local officials, $241 million for global vaccine research and surveillance, and $50 million to build lab capacity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. Another $2.7 billion could go for steps such as boosting flu vaccine production and stockpiling pandemic vaccines and antiviral drugs.

    NIH's poor showing since its breathtaking 5-year run ended in 2003 has caused some biomedical lobbyists and researchers to wonder if doubling was such a good strategy after all. FASEB officials have calculated that the biomedical behemoth's budget might soon stand at the same point it would have reached if it had simply continued its historic rate of growth (see graph). In the meantime, scientists would have avoided the roller-coaster ride of the past several years: alluring opportunities followed by a steep drop in success rates for grant proposals and cutbacks in funding promises for future years.

    “Certainly, a guaranteed increase of, say, 7% over an extended period would have … allowed for better planning and the better use of funds,” says David Bylund, a pharmacology professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, who contributed to the FASEB analysis. “That said, it is not at all clear that [without the doubling], NIH would be getting larger increases now.”

    Supporters of a proposed similar doubling for the physical sciences, in particular at NSF and within the science budgets of the Energy and Defense departments, say that NIH's recent experience won't alter their own lobbying tactics. “It's incredibly premature to talk about a backlash to something that hasn't even begun to occur,” says Barry Toiv of AAU, one of several industry and academic groups campaigning for a boost in spending by federal research agencies to bolster U.S. competitiveness.

    One early payoff from that campaign is tucked into the budget reconciliation bill. Proposed by Senate majority leader and presidential hopeful Bill Frist (R-TN), it would give $4000 per year to low-income juniors and seniors majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) or a foreign language critical to national security. “I like the fact that the money will go to students who are already committed to becoming STEM majors and have demonstrated that they can do the coursework,” says Daryl Chubin, director of the AAAS Center for Building Science and Engineering Capacity.

    The bill allocates $3.75 billion over 5 years for the initiative, dubbed Science and Math Access to Retain Talent (SMART), and another program that will grant $750 and $1300 respectively to freshmen and sophomores from low-income families, regardless of their major. It will be funded at $790 million in 2006. At the same time, higher education lobbyists are disappointed that the money will come from other programs for college students, one of several features that united Democrats against the measure and required Vice President Dick Cheney's vote to pass the Senate.


    How Saturn's Icy Moons Get a (Geologic) Life

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Why is there geology on Saturn's icy satellites? Where did these smallish moons get the energy to refresh their impact-battered surfaces with smoothed plains, ridges, and fissures? These questions have nagged at scientists since the Voyager flybys in the early 1980s, and the Cassini spacecraft's recent discovery that Saturn's Enceladus is spouting like an icy geyser has only compounded the problem (Science, 9 September 2005, p. 1660). Now a group of Cassini team members puzzling over the odd shape of the satellite Iapetus has hit on a possible explanation. Perhaps the moons formed early and grabbed just enough heat-generating radioactivity from the nascent solar system.

    At last month's fall meeting here of the American Geophysical Union, California Institute of Technology postdoc Julie C. Castillo, Cassini team member Dennis Matson of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and four colleagues told how two characteristics of the 1466-kilometer Iapetus—its rotation period and its shape—point to strong early heating. Saturn has obviously slowed the spinning of Iapetus to match the moon's 79-day orbital “year.” It did that by gravitationally raising tides in the moon itself that dissipate rotational energy, they noted, just as Earth's moon raises tides in the oceans. In addition, the moon's rapid early rotation left Iapetus with a permanent 33-kilometer high equatorial bulge, first reported last September. Early in its history, the warmer and easily deformed moon must have been rotating fast enough—once every 17 hours or less—for its spinning to raise such a high bulge. As the moon cooled, the bulge “froze” in place.

    For the moon's rotation to have slowed from 17 hours to 79 days, even over several billion years, Iapetus must have been warm and therefore pliable long enough for Saturn's tidal forces to slow it, said Castillo. Saturn couldn't have raised large enough tides in a cold, rigid moon. On the other hand, Iapetus couldn't have been too warm too long, or its 17-hour belly wouldn't have gotten stuck that way.

    The Cassini group developed a model of a moon's thermal history that takes into account despinning, bulge preservation, and other factors in unprecedented detail. In the model, the only source of heat that would keep the moon pliable for just the right amount of time was the radioactive decay of aluminum-26, a relatively short-lived isotope that left its decay products in meteorites. “We knew it was there,” says Matson, but “no one knew how much to put in” their models. Iapetus would have gotten the needed amount if it formed just 1.4 million to 3 million years after the aluminum-26-containing parts of meteorites formed.

    Midriff bulge.

    Iapetus spins slowly but sports a swollen equator (topped by a more obvious ridge), suggesting early radiogenic heating.


    The history of Iapetus sheds light on the mystery of its sister moon. When Enceladus, too, forms that early in their model, the “dirty ice ball” gets enough heat from aluminum-26 to separate into an icy mantle and a rocky, aluminum-26-rich core. (Its core, Cassini has found, is unexpectedly large.) Then Saturn's tides generate another dose of heat, rather the way repeatedly bending metal does. That tidal heating, along with further radiogenic heating, raises the model core's temperature to 1000 K. That's hot enough to create a deeply buried ocean against the core and probably steam, Matson says, although not enough to make the surface still active today. For that, part of the core would have to melt, forming a weak pocket that would bend with the tides. Then tidal heating could sustain a hot spot on the core and the 8 gigawatts of power Enceladus has been giving out until today, the group calculates.

    Aluminum-26 as fuel for icy-satellite heating “is a plausible idea,” says planetary physicist William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “I think it's fascinating.” But he shares concerns with planetary scientist Francis Nimmo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, about how tightly constrained the result is. “At each stage [of the calculations], there are several knobs you can twiddle,” says Nimmo, such as how ice deforms under tidal stressing. “There are so many free parameters it's hard to make a strong statement.” The team has examined those uncertainties in analyses yet to be presented, Castillo says, and found they would not substantially alter their conclusion that radiogenic heat warmed Saturn's icy satellites. Their colleagues are awaiting just such a detailed assessment.


    A Very Good Year For Explosions

    1. Robert Irion

    Abundant cataclysms studied in 2005 kept astrophysicists tuned to extreme neutron stars in our galaxy and beyond, as well as the most distant blasts yet seen

    If you catch them at happy hour, an alarming number of high-energy astrophysicists will admit that they liked to blow things up as children. Nowadays they have graduated to bigger and better things—and blasts. In 2005, in fact, their field enjoyed its most explosive year in decades.

    Telescopes caught one startling blast after another, with convulsions on an ultramagnetic neutron star beyond the center of our Milky Way ending 2004 with a bang. Rapid bursts in remote galaxies appeared to come from long-sought collisions between two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole. And the most distant explosions ever seen, hailing from the first billion years of cosmic history, marked the deaths of giant stars.

    The discoveries marked a stunning inaugural year for NASA's Swift satellite, launched in November 2004 to detect the fleeting explosions called gamma ray bursts (GRBs) (Science, 8 October 2004, p. 214). Other satellites and a growing roster of telescopes on the ground—including many new robotic systems—partnered with Swift to observe GRBs and their home galaxies in gamma rays, x-rays, optical and infrared light, and radio waves.

    The results, especially the outbursts from neutron stars, yielded vivid insights into the violent universe. “We have hoped for these observations for years,” says theorist Stephan Rosswog of the International University Bremen in Germany. Observers were thrilled as well, after years of doubt that they would ever catch up to the transient sky. “If you get onto the telescope quickly enough, you can learn amazing new things about why these objects explode,” says radio astronomer Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    The long and short of GRBs

    Of all the explosions observed by Swift and its telescopic partners, “short” GRBs garnered the most headlines last year. These pulses of gamma rays, lasting fractions of a second, had eluded explanation for 35 years. “It was an open playing field for theorists,” says Edo Berger, a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California. “Then, in just two or three months, we answered the basic questions about them. It was really amazing.”

    Astrophysicists had been confident that short GRBs erupt from different sources than do “long” ones, which linger many seconds to minutes. Several years ago, research showed that long GRBs arise when the spinning cores of massive stars collapse into black holes. Tight beams of gamma rays tunnel outward through the stars, which then detonate in powerful supernovas visible in optical light. But this messy process is too drawn-out to explain short GRBs.

    To account for those bursts, astrophysicists favored quick and deadly mergers of neutron stars: the dense remnants of large stars with cores that fall just short of making black holes. Models of two crashing neutron stars seemed consistent with the sketchy data about short GRBs. Further, astrophysicists had identified neutron-star binaries in the Milky Way and had confirmed that some of them slowly spiral together. Fiery collisions in other galaxies seemed inevitable.

    Telescopes caught several such flares in 2005. There were telltale signs of compact mergers: brief gamma ray flashes, no accompanying supernovas, and energies just 0.1% to 1% as prodigious as those of long GRBs. And in three out of four well-studied cases, the short GRBs appeared to blow up in the outskirts of old burned-out galaxies, where stars haven't formed for at least two billion years. Supernovas have long stopped exploding there, but their shrunken neutron-star remnants could still be slowly converging. The fourth short GRB, spotted on 9 July by NASA's High-Energy Transient Explorer-2 satellite, appeared in a completely different setting: a dwarf galaxy that was still creating new stars. But it could still have come from the same sort of collision, theorists say, because some neutron stars—including a tight binary in our own active galaxy—merge much more quickly if they start out close together.

    University press releases and NASA's publicity juggernaut declared that compact binary mergers “solved” the short GRB mystery. But many astrophysicists urged restraint. “Everyone jumped on the neutron star merger bandwagon, but there may be other physical causes,” says Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Swift's principal investigator.

    For one, an unknown fraction of short GRBs may come from neutron stars plunging into black holes. Models suggest that such bursts would display a distinct pattern: flares of x-rays minutes later, as the black hole finishes off debris torn from the neutron star by intense tidal forces. A short GRB that Swift spotted on 24 July emitted such delayed flares, leading NASA to proclaim discovery of a neutron star-eating black hole.

    But that's not the only explanation for the July event. Theorist Andrew MacFadyen of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and colleagues proposed that a single neutron star could suck enough gas from a nearby companion star, creating an object massive and dense enough to form its own black hole. The collapse would spark a short GRB, followed minutes later by x-ray flares as the blast wave struck the parasitized star.

    The small number of short GRBs studied in detail so far makes any claims of black holes or other sources tenuous at best, Gehrels agrees. “We think neutron star—neutron star mergers are the most common,” he says. “But once we've seen 10 to 100 of these, we'll know a lot better whether any of them stick out as unusual.”

    LIGO lies in wait

    One potential observation at the time of a short GRB would settle all debate: gravitational waves. Einstein's general theory of relativity predicts that inward spiraling binary neutron stars or black holes should distort and ripple the fabric of space-time, producing such waves. The shapes of the resulting waves would depend on the masses of the two objects, the eccentricities of their orbits, and our viewing angle, which affects the patterns of waves we observe. As a result, detecting gravitational waves along with a GRB “would really nail the nature of the compact binary,” Rosswog says.

    And astrophysicists may finally have the tool to see Einstein's waves. The two facilities of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, have reached their promised sensitivities for the project's first phase and will gather scientific data throughout 2006.

    Out of round.

    An elongated radio nebula surrounds the magnetar that unleashed a giant flare in December 2004, perhaps betraying the influence of ultrastrong magnetic fields.


    At today's sensitivity, LIGO could firmly detect a typical neutron star merger 30 million light-years away, says physicist David Shoemaker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. That range extends to 70 million light-years if the viewing angle is good, and even farther if a black hole is involved. “We are certainly optimistic,” Shoemaker says. “There is no doubt we are in completely new territory in terms of the probability of observing something.”

    A perfect magnetic storm

    Although technically not a 2005 event, an extraordinary outburst on the far side of the Milky Way on 27 December 2004 dominated much of the discussion of short GRBS in the past year. The unusual blast raised the odds that many gamma ray flashes pop off in relatively nearby galaxies—and from radically different sources.

    The explosion came from an object about 50,000 light-years away called SGR 1806–20, an exotic neutron star ensnared by the strongest magnetic fields known (Science, 23 April 2004, p. 534). Other “magnetars” had erupted with violent flares in 1979 and 1998, but the December event astonished observers. It was brighter than any solar flare, even from its great distance. The x-rays and gamma rays swamped nearly every orbiting detector. Fingernail-sized particle counters on a few satellites kept up with the onslaught, revealing that the explosion released as much energy in a 0.2-second spike as the sun churns out in 250,000 years.

    The flare's features jibed with a magnetar model developed in the 1990s by theorists Robert Duncan of the University of Texas at Austin and Christopher Thompson of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto. In their scenario, the neutron star's interior is shot through with fantastically tangled magnetic fields, a remnant of the star's youthful spin. Judging by the immense punch from SGR 1806–20, the magnetic field may reach 1016 gauss—three times as high as Duncan had previously believed, and 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than fields on most neutron stars. Over time, the field lines untwist and diffuse toward the surface, forcing the star's magnetized crust to shift. When these shifts become extreme, the entire surface fails and yields. The external field lines, suddenly displaced, whip into new configurations. The implosive release of magnetic tension triggers a blast of gamma rays and other radiation.

    Researchers are debating the contents of this blast wave. One clue comes from a nebula expanding into space around the magnetar at 30% the speed of light. High-resolution radio images revealed a surprisingly stretched glowing cloud, created by accelerated particles. “Contrary to expectations, the explosion may not have spread over the entire star,” says Bryan Gaensler of CfA. “Material may have been thrown off one side or focused into a jet.” Gaensler and his colleagues will use the Very Large Array of 27 radio telescopes in Socorro, New Mexico, on 4 February to scrutinize the nebula's evolving shape.

    But evidence suggests that most of the flare's energy didn't emerge in this lopsided particle flow. The blast's initial energy spectrum was nearly that of a perfectly radiating blackbody with a temperature of 2 billion degrees kelvin, Duncan says. “To make that happen you need a clean source of energy from magnetic reconnection, with little matter involved.”

    Theorist Roger Blandford has a picture of how the 27 December flare proceeded. The magnetar's external fields initially assumed a “smoke ring” geometry used in a spheromak, a prototype of a magnetically controlled nuclear fusion device, says Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology in Stanford, California. “If you suddenly release this confined field, it's like an electromagnetic bomb that expands relativistically. There is still some plasma to create the gamma rays, but it's mostly magnetic field.” The doughnut-shaped geometry of the magnetic stresses neatly explains the squashed nebula that resulted, he adds.

    Another catch.

    The Swift satellite (artist's conception) has tracked dozens of gamma ray bursts in its first year of operation, including the two most distant explosions yet seen.


    The magnetar flare also renewed interest in whether similar events in other galaxies produced many of the short GRBs that Swift and previous gamma ray satellites have observed. Even though the SGR 1806–20 outburst came from a single neutron star, it bears an eerie resemblance to explosions from merging neutron stars, says astronomer Joshua Bloom of the University of California (UC), Berkeley. “If you squint your eyes, they almost look the same.” The only difference is that astrophysicists can resolve more details for the Milky Way blast, such as x-ray oscillations possibly due to vibrations of the neutron star's crust.

    Astrophysicists now think a short GRB detected on 3 November 2005 was a magnetar flare in a nearby group of well-known galaxies. Astronomer Kevin Hurley of UC Berkeley, who coordinates a network of solar-system probes capable of detecting such flares, believes that extragalactic magnetars produce 1/5 to 1/6 of all short GRBs.

    A team in the United Kingdom reached a similar conclusion by examining archival records of short GRBs recorded by NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which flew from 1991 to 2000. Astronomer Nial Tanvir of the University of Hertfordshire, U.K., found a modest correlation between the locations of about 500 short bursts seen by the satellite and the positions of galaxies in our neighborhood of the universe, within about 300 million light-years. Although those “local” galaxies are just a tiny fraction of all galaxies in the cosmos, they may have produced 10% to 25% of Compton's short GRBs, the team reported in the 15 December Nature. This suggests that magnetar flares—rather than much rarer neutron-star collisions—do indeed account for most of the short GRBs in nearby galaxies.

    For Blandford, SGR 1806–20 was the highlight of a rich period in astrophysics. “This was a rather magical thing to happen,” he says. “We were lucky to see it with so many telescopes.”

    The great bright hopes

    No luck was involved in the other explosive advance of 2005: GRBs from the era of galaxy formation. Swift has seen two of them so far, most notably a burst on 4 September from a star that died when the universe was just 900 million years old. A 14 August GRB was less well studied but appeared to date to a cosmic age of 1.1 billion years.

    Both astrophysicists and cosmologists covet GRBs from even earlier epochs. Astrophysicists hope such primeval bursts will give clues to the types of stars that existed within a few hundred million years of the big bang. The first generation of stars, called “Population III,” consisted only of primordial hydrogen and helium. These stars made carbon, oxygen, and heavier elements such as iron, starting the chemical evolution of the universe that continues today. Models suggest that Population III stars were at least 100 times as massive as our sun—huge enough to explode as supernovae (Science, 4 January 2002, p. 66). However, physical conditions may have stifled GRBs from the dying stars.

    One barrier is the massive envelope of hydrogen in a Population III star. That gas could have acted like a wet blanket, damping the jets of a GRB and preventing their escape when the star's core collapses. New research suggests one way out: If a binary companion strips much of this material, then the GRB blast might break out into space, according to calculations by astrophysicists Volker Bromm of the University of Texas at Austin and Abraham Loeb of CfA.

    Bromm and Loeb think Swift's detector might not be quite sensitive enough to spot faint radiation from the earliest Population III GRBs, those that happened within the first 200 million to 500 million years of cosmic time. But if pristine pockets of Population III star formation persisted a few hundred million years later than that, Swift might catch some of their deaths. “Whatever Swift does see, it will help us construct better models of the history of star formation at these times,” Bromm says.

    Cosmologists are equal fans of Swift, for a different reason: GRBs are ideal probes of the early universe. “For a short time, they are so much brighter than quasars at those distances,” says astrophysicist Donald Lamb of the University of Chicago. “They are the great bright hopes of cosmology.” Like needle-sharp searchlights, GRBs would illuminate all material along the way to Earth. In particular, cosmologists are eager to learn about how radiation from the earliest stars and galaxies sculpted and ionized the ingredients of the young cosmos. Each distant GRB will expose a bit more of that growth history, Lamb says.

    Lamb is optimistic that about 10% of Swift's GRBs will date back to the first billion years of the universe. He thinks a few may even unveil the environment of embryonic galaxies just 500 million years after the big bang. But to take full advantage of the potential science, the largest telescopes on the ground must be ready to gather light before the bursts fade. That hasn't happened yet; for the 4 September GRB, it took 3.5 days for Japan's 8.2-meter Subaru telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to take marginal data. “We have to get our house in order,” Lamb comments.

    Still, there's no denying Swift's landmark find. By responding to a faint cry of gamma rays that had journeyed across space for 12.77 billion years, the satellite and its partner telescopes exposed light from the most distant single star yet seen—the type of object that set the stage for a mature universe brimming with violence.


    By Design, New Los Alamos Head Hopes to Leave Big Imprint on Lab

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Michael Anastasio has spent 25 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Now he's bound for its archrival as part of a new team that will manage the troubled nuclear weapons lab

    Outside the closed world of nuclear weaponry, Michael Anastasio isn't exactly a household name. But he's quietly risen to become the most powerful scientist in the U.S. weapons complex. Later this year, he will leave his current job as director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California to head Livermore's archrival, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He will be the first person ever to have led both weapons labs.

    Anastasio will also be the first director of either weapons lab to answer to a management team that includes several corporations. Since Los Alamos was founded in 1943, the labs have been run solely by the University of California (UC), but on 21 December, the Department of Energy (DOE), the labs' federal overseer, chose a partnership of UC, the Bechtel corporation, and two industrial firms to manage Los Alamos. Insiders say the fact that Anastasio would be the lab's director in the Bechtel/UC partnership helped tip the scales against a bid from Lockheed Martin and the University of Texas. Now comes the hard part—showing that he has the scientific, political, and managerial savvy to reinvigorate Los Alamos as nuclear weapons science arrives at a crossroads.

    Hands-down choice.

    Colleagues say Michael Anastasio knows the bomb business as well as anyone.


    When he replaces interim director Robert Kuckuck in June, Anastasio will inherit a $2.2-billion-a-year lab whose proud history as home of the world's first atomic bomb has been besmirched in recent years by a succession of scandals related to safety, security, and financial management (Science, 27 May 2005, p. 1244). “Mike will have his hands full,” said John Gordon, former director of DOE's weapons-focused National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). “He stands to be at a pivot.”

    Anastasio's friends say that few people know the bomb business better than the 57-year-old Washington, D.C., native, and his career has mirrored the evolution of weapon science. He joined Livermore in 1980 with a Ph.D. from Stony Brook University in New York and helped design three weapons in the current stockpile. In 1993, he helped DOE craft its stockpile stewardship program—a $5.4-billion-a-year effort to quantify whether aging bombs would work in war without testing them—and began climbing the management ladder as the stewardship regime took shape. By 2003, his second year as Livermore director, scientists completed a refurbishment of the W87 warhead that extended its shelf life by 3 decades. “In the order of 10 years, we've made some very significant advances,” says Anastasio. Without providing details that he says are classified, he points to a “factor of 10” reduction in key uncertainties about aging bombs. Critics dispute such claims, in part because the necessary details are secret.

    Observers say that his reputation as a skillful but low-keyed manager could help Los Alamos restore its tarnished reputation. Livermore has experienced fewer safety and security lapses and “is recognized as the best managed [weapons] lab at the moment,” says Gordon. Anastasio has also shown an ability to retain the support of his troops despite budget cuts and other unpopular moves, says Bruce Goodwin, Livermore's weapons chief. His first major management task will be to sell Los Alamos employees on a pension plan due out this winter from Bechtel/UC that, under NNSA rules, will be less generous than the current one. Some fear the terms could spark mass retirements, draining the lab of valuable expertise.

    Righting the Los Alamos ship will also require him to spend time in Washington, D.C., where he's shown some Beltway panache. “He's not a great briefer, he's not really slick,” says former DOE official Victor Reis. “But he answers questions directly.” On 6 June 2002, 2 days after he became Livermore's director, the White House proposed changing it into a homeland security lab. Anastasio flew to Washington to protest the idea, which was quietly withdrawn. This year, he successfully fought off congressional attempts to shut down the lab's superlaser, the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility, after respected scientists questioned whether NIF was meeting its technical benchmarks (Science, 2 September 2005, p. 1479).

    In his new job, Anastasio will manage a team competing in a congressionally ordered feasibility competition between Livermore and Los Alamos to design replacement warheads. The outcome of that competition will affect the future of the weapons complex for decades. On a day-to-day level, Anastasio will oversee a budget $600 million larger than Livermore's, and a bigger campus.

    On the scientific front, he will be moving from interdisciplinary teams that specialize in simulation to a culture known for investigator-driven experimental science. Los Alamos also conducts a broader range of research, a challenge that he promises to address by having UC and its corporate partners work “as an integrated team.” And despite several studies that have called for an expansion of plutonium bomb parts manufacturing at Los Alamos, Anastasio says the lab's new corporate management structure “is not a de-emphasis on science.”

    The Bechtel/UC team's victory last month could mean as much as $79 million a year in management fees if the original 7-year contract is extended for another 6 years. The decision left many pundits speechless, and critics fumed that DOE had overlooked UC's poor record. Department officials clearly liked UC's decision to share management duties with Bechtel, which has managed several nuclear facilities for DOE, and a congressional staffer says that Anastasio and his team helped their cause by thoroughly answering all questions about their proposal. Although healing the storied lab in the coming years will take much more than talk, those who know Anastasio say that he has a knack of coming out on top.


    Judge Jones Defines Science--and Why Intelligent Design Isn't

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    In a sweeping decision, a federal district court judge makes the connection between how science operates and the First Amendment

    Eric Rothschild says he couldn't be happier with the 20 December decision by federal district court Judge John Jones III ordering the Dover, Pennsylvania, schools to remove references to intelligent design (ID) from the science curriculum. “Our game plan was to explain what science is, so that we could show very clearly that intelligent design was not science. … And the judge got it,” says Rothschild, a lawyer with Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia who helped to represent the parents of 11 Dover students who brought the civil suit. (For a news report on the decision, see

    The parents sued after the school board passed a resolution in October 2004 declaring that “students will be made aware of gaps and problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.” In his ruling, Jones went beyond the question of whether the policy was religiously motivated and tore into the whole foundation of ID. His 139-page decision,* which incorporates substantial portions of the plaintiffs' arguments, also castigates the school board for the “breathtaking inanity” of its policy.

    Holding court.

    Eric Rothschild fields questions after the judge announced his decision.


    The winners hope the decision will end the ID debate in Dover: Eight of the nine members of the school board were defeated in a November election by candidates opposed to the ID statement, and the new board has said it doesn't plan to appeal the ruling. But it isn't expected to end attacks on evolutionary theory by supporters of the view that the complexity of life requires a supernatural designer, say scientists and those who have followed the bitter debates. “ID is like a waterbed,” quips Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which tracks the issue. “If you push it down in one place, it pops up in another place.”

    In the following excerpt, Jones mentions two important cases—Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 Supreme Court decision, and McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, a 1982 district court decision—that set down a national prohibition against the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. He also refers to plaintiffs' witness Kevin Padian, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and defense witness Michael Behe, a biologist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

    Excerpts from the decision ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are:

    1. 1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation;

    2. 2) The argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s, and;

    3. 3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. … It has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. …

    ID takes a natural phenomenon and, instead of accepting or seeking a natural explanation, argues that the explanation is supernatural. … It is notable that defense experts' own mission is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the [district] court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. … Not a single expert witness over the course of the 6-week trial identified one major scientific association, society, or organization that endorsed ID as science. What is more, defense experts concede that ID is not a theory as that term is defined by the National Academy of Sciences. …

    ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed. This argument is not brought to this Court anew, and in fact the same argument, termed ‘contrived dualism’ in McLean, was employed by creationists in the 1980s to support ‘creation science’. … However, we believe that arguments against evolution are not arguments for design. Expert testimony revealed that just because scientists cannot explain today how biological systems evolved does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain them tomorrow. …

    The concept of irreducible complexity is ID's alleged scientific centerpiece. Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design. Irreducible complexity additionally fails to make a positive scientific case for ID. … As expert testimony revealed, the qualification on what is meant by ‘irreducible complexity’ renders it meaningless as a criticism of evolution. In fact, the theory of evolution proffers exaptation as a well-recognized, well-documented explanation for how systems with multiple parts could have evolved through natural means.

    Exaptation means that some precursor of the subject system had a different, selectable function before experiencing the change or addition that resulted in the subject system with its present function. For example, Dr. [Kevin] Padian identified the evolution of the mammalian middle ear bones from what had been jawbones as an example of this process. By defining irreducible complexity in the way that he has, Professor [Michael] Behe attempts to exclude the phenomenon of exaptation by definitional fiat, ignoring as he does so abundant evidence which refutes his argument. …

    We find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory. … [It] is grounded in theology, not science. … It has no place in a science curriculum. ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous and, at worst, a canard. The goal of the ID movement is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution that would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.

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