Science  21 Apr 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5772, pp. 363

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    SAVIOR OF SPECIES. Stuart Pimm's epiphany came almost 30 years ago in Hawaii when the young ecologist discovered that some of the honeycreeper birds he had come to study had vanished. “I realized species are going extinct, and scientists can—and ought—to do something about it,” he says.

    Since then, Pimm, now at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has studied threatened and endangered species around the world and testified for their conservation before the U.S. Congress. This month, he was named winner of the $150,000 Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

    The academy also announced the winners of four other $150,000 prizes: Geneticist Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester, U.K., wins the biochemistry and biophysics award for discovering the genetic fingerprint; medical researcher Mary-Claire King of the University of Washington, Seattle, wins the medicine award for linking breast cancer to a gene; psychologist John Anderson of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, earns the cognitive science award for his theory of human cognition; and economist Joel Mokyr of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, wins the history award for researching the origins of the modern industrial economy.


    MOLDING AN AGENCY. Matthias Kleiner has spent a career finding better ways to manufacture new shapes and forms. Now the 50-year-old professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Dortmund will have the chance to shape Germany's research funding agency, DFG.

    Last week, the 39-member DFG Senate made Kleiner its unanimous choice to replace outgoing president Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker. The official decision will be made on 31 May, through a vote at DFG's general meeting, but those university professors and research scientists almost always follow the Senate's recommendation.

    Kleiner has been a DFG vice president since 2005, winning praise for his management skills and understanding of university and industrial research. He would be the first engineer to lead the $1.8 billion agency, which funds research in all branches of science and the humanities. Winnacker will step down at the end of 2006.


    A GRAND HOMECOMING. The British Geological Survey (BGS) has snared the head of earth sciences from France's premier research agency as its next director. John Ludden, a British Canadian who left the United Kingdom after getting his Ph.D. in 1976, will succeed David Falvey, who retires in October.

    Taking over an organization founded in 1835 to map the United Kingdom, Ludden sees new technologies such as improved satellite imaging leading to the “rebirth of mapping” along the deep ocean floor and other uncharted areas. Wielding an annual budget of $70 million to $90 million—half of which is government funding—Ludden will continue to forge links between BGS, universities, and commercial companies, focusing on projects such as the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.



    FREEDOM FROM GOVERNMENT. The Bush Administration's restrictions on funding research using human embryonic stem (ES) cells have driven a prominent National Institutes of Health (NIH) researcher into the private sector. Mahendra Rao, who works with ES cells at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, has been hired by Invitrogen, a biotech company in Carlsbad, California.

    “It was clear that the policy was unlikely to change in the next 2 to 3 years, and hence I decided that I needed to move,” says Rao. He says his replacement will probably be someone who works on adult tissue.

    Sean Tipton of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research in Washington, D.C., says Rao's departure shows “what the results of Bush's restrictive policies are going to be. Good scientists are not going to stay at NIH or even perhaps stay in the country.”

    At Invitrogen, Rao plans to work on characterization of new ES cell lines not approved by the Administration.


    ZERO ERROR RATE. Perfection is rare. But last year the National Science Foundation (NSF) batted 1.000–35 for 35—in rejecting the final appeals of disgruntled grant applicants.

    The appeals represent the fourth try for scientists who think NSF erred in declining their requests for funding. Program managers field the first plea for reconsideration, followed by division directors and the heads of the particular research directorates. If an institution still believes that NSF has made a procedural error—a conflict of interest by a reviewer, for example, says NSF's Nathaniel Pitts—it can ask the NSF deputy director to review the case.

    As head of the Office of Integrative Activities, Pitts says that about one-third of the requests sent to him are worthy of reconsideration. But if a losing complainant persists all the way to the final round, “there has to be something egregious” for the top brass to reverse the decisions of its staffers. So last year's batting average suggests to Pitts that the system is working. “I'm actually surprised that any of the requests succeed at that level,” he says about the tiny percentage (see graph) of petitioners who have won their appeals in the past.

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