Newsmakers

Science  09 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5779, pp. 1469
  1. POLITICS

    CREDIT: PIER PAOLO CITO/AP

    A CLEAN SLATE. Italy's new science minister Fabio Mussi has begun his term by undoing some of his predecessor's actions. Mussi has shelved new criteria for academic assessment, guidelines for shaping curriculum and research priorities at universities, and plans for a private university.

    Mussi intends to revise “unsatisfactory or erroneous” portions of these directives, he says, and has promised more funding for research and fresh measures to tackle controversial areas such as university appointments. His policies have been welcomed by university administrators.

    Mussi has also withdrawn Italy from a six-nation declaration signed last year that opposes embryonic stem cell research. The move could allow such research to fit in the E.U.'s Framework VII program, currently under debate. Former minister and declaration architect Rocco Buttiglione has opposed Mussi's decision and threatened a vote to remove him from the new government of Romano Prodi.

  2. PIONEERS

    BEYOND RACE. Challenged by the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court rulings on what criteria universities may use to admit students, computer scientist Juan Gilbert decided to apply his skills to improving diversity without using quotas. Using a technique called clustering, the 37-year-old professor at Auburn University in Alabama devised an algorithm for admissions officers that factors in academic ability, race, gender, geographic distribution, and extracurricular activities to yield a more diverse freshman class. Gilbert says one school plans to implement the software this fall and that many others have tested it.

    American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers official Barmak Nassirian says an organizational tool such as Application Quest “may well represent a credible model” to help universities stay within the law and still promote diversity. But he warns that software alone “is not going to be a silver bullet” that eliminates human judgment from the selection process.

  3. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    ONE PERSON, ONE POST. Andrew von Eschenbach, 65, who has directed the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for the past 4 years, will step down from the position on 10 June. Since September 2005, von Eschenbach has also served as acting chief of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for which he was nominated commissioner in March. His Senate confirmation has been stalled by FDA's stance on Plan B, the morning-after pill.

    Von Eschenbach's resignation resolves conflict-of-interest concerns about his double duty heading both NCI and the agency that regulates cancer clinical trials. Taking his place at NCI as acting director will be John Niederhuber, who has been the day-to-day manager of the institute since last fall. Niederhuber has so far kept to von Eschenbach's agenda. The White House has begun a search for a permanent director, but Health and Human Services spokesperson Christina Pearson could not comment on timing.

  4. MOVERS

    NEW MBL HEAD. Cell biologist Gary Borisy is the new director and CEO of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Borisy, known for his discovery of the protein tubulin, comes to the 118-year-old institution from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he worked as both a professor and a research administrator.

    Borisy succeeds William Speck, who is retiring next month after 5 years in the position.

  5. THREE Q'S

    CREDIT: D. NORMILE/SCIENCE

    There is no line between science and religion for Shoken Miyama. The new head of the National Astronomical Observatory (NAO) of Japan is also a Buddhist priest. At NAO, he will oversee Japan's contribution to the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a billion-dollar international array of 60 to 70 radio antennas being built in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Now 55, Miyama plans to retire from the observatory by age 63 and succeed his father as chief priest of a Buddhist temple in Hiroshima Prefecture.

    Q: What will be the most important findings coming out of ALMA?

    ALMA will clarify how planets form.

    Q: Is there a connection between Buddhism and astronomy?

    No. But in the cosmological view of Buddhism, space has a hierarchical structure, with the solar system as the base and three levels built upon it—something like a galaxy, a cluster of galaxies, and the whole universe. I think this similarity to the actual universe is extremely interesting. Also, in Buddhism, this universe is repeatedly emerging and disappearing over cosmic periods of billions of years. It is something like an oscillating universe.

    Q: In the West, science and religion are often seen as being in conflict. How does Buddhism avoid this?

    Buddhism is an invention of the human mind; science is the effort to learn natural truths.

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