Science  17 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5802, pp. 1059

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    TROUBLESHOOTER. The cash-strapped Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has picked a new leader. William Brown, a lawyer with a Ph.D. in ecology, will take the helm in February. He replaces D. James Baker, whose 5-year contract was not renewed.

    Brown, 58, once worked for environmental groups and was science adviser to the Interior Department during the Clinton Administration. Then he persuaded the world's largest trash company, Waste Management Inc., to adopt a policy of no net loss of biodiversity. He has also helped Hawaii's Bishop Museum double its endowment, to $65 million, and build a new science center.

    The 194-year-old academy needs similar help. It has been running a deficit of between $500,000 and $1 million for several years. Last year, three of 10 curators were let go (Science, 7 January 2005, p. 28), and earlier this year, the museum sold most of its mineral collection to bolster its library's endowment. Brown says he hopes to preserve its remaining collections, renovate buildings and displays, and perhaps expand the environmental science team—largely with outside donations. Paleontologist Ted Daeschler says curators are optimistic about Brown's arrival. “He understands the scientific mission,” Daeschler says. “We're very excited and hopeful.”



    IN HIS PRIME. Cancer robbed Paul Baltes of the chance to apply his theories of how best to face the challenges of old age. A director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and professor at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Baltes died on 7 November at age 67.

    Baltes showed that concentrating and honing a select skill—say, playing chess or the piano—could help compensate for the cognitive declines associated with aging. He himself had little time for relaxation: Until a few days before his death, he was planning the semiannual meeting of an interdisciplinary group of neuroscientists, economists, demographers, and psychologists that he founded 2 years ago. He died a day before the Naples meeting started.

    “He had been in charge until last weekend. It's a shock to everyone,” says Jacqui Smith of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


    CHANGE AT NCCAM. The chief of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) controversial alternative medicine institute stepped down last week for medical reasons. Stephen Straus has led the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) since it was started in 1999. He has strived to steer the now-$123 million center, created by Congress to study therapies such as shark cartilage supplements, into rigorous scientific territory. “He was accomplishing it,” says cardiologist David Hillis of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, a member of NCCAM's advisory council who has known Straus since medical school. But critics still question some NCCAM-sponsored clinical trials and suggest that its standards lag behind those of other NIH institutes (Science, 21 July, p. 301).

    Straus, 59, an infectious-diseases researcher, declined comment on his health issues, but Hillis and others say he has been treated for brain cancer. He will now serve as senior adviser to NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. The center's acting director will be Ruth Kirschstein, 80, former director of NIH's general medical sciences institute and once NIH acting director.

  4. THREE Q's


    Physicist Serge Feneuille, 66, was director of France's National Center for Scientific Research and CEO of Lafarge, a major building materials company. Two months ago, President Jacques Chirac appointed him chair of the new 20-member High Council for Science and Technology, which advises the government on science policy.

    Q: French scientists often say the government doesn't take them seriously, and some worry that the same may happen to your council.

    If I thought we wouldn't be taken seriously, I wouldn't have taken the job. It's true that French governments have neglected science and technology for about 30 years. But today, politicians acknowledge that science is an important part of our national strategy. That's something new.

    Q: What's ailing French science?

    We have many problems, but the biggest one is micromanagement, which makes research unattractive as a profession. We need to find a way to recruit more young people, especially young women.

    Q: You know the United States well. Can French science policy makers learn anything from the U.S. system?

    The American system of research funding has led to autonomy for research groups, competition, and dynamism, three things that we don't have enough of in France. That's why I think it's inevitable that France and the rest of Europe slowly evolve towards the U.S. model. I call it the standard model.

  5. THREE Q'S

    A decadelong work in progress, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) would set up 20 field stations to bring big science to ecologists. Biogeochemist David Schimel, who has worked at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, is taking over as the new chief officer of the project.

    Q: What's your vision for NEON?

    NEON is going to provide the first integrated view of ecological processes at the continental scale. It will address some fundamental questions in ecology but also some practical questions about how biological invasions and diseases respond to climate and land-use changes.

    Q: The project could cost up to $200 million. Is it worth that much?

    The pitch is this: Society depends on natural systems in terms of food and fiber. We're vulnerable to wildfire and the spread of infectious diseases. What NEON will do is provide the observational basis for forecasting the effect of ecological processes on the human enterprise.

    Q: It sounds like a risky career move for you. Why did you make it?

    I'm interested in NEON because it's the culmination of the kind of science I've been working on since I was a graduate student. It will transform ecology, intellectually and logistically. And as a scientist, I've always been fascinated by new ways of looking at the world.