Newsmakers

Science  23 Feb 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5815, pp. 1061
  1. POLITICS

    INSIDE KNOWLEDGE. For more than a decade, Dutch molecular biologist Ronald Plasterk has told others how to run science policy. Now, he'll be in the driver's seat himself. Plasterk, who heads the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht and moonlights as a sharp-tongued newspaper and TV columnist (Science, 5 September 2003, p. 1311), is the minister of science, education, and culture in the new Dutch government. “I'm sad. He's a great scientist,” says Stanford University researcher and Nobelist Andrew Fire. “But it's wonderful for Holland.”

    Plasterk helped pen the Labor Party's election platform last fall, and longtime colleague Piet Borst of the Netherlands Cancer Institute expects him to make some “radical changes.” One likely move is to boost merit-based project funding through the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

    Borst says Plasterk's presence in the new Cabinet, which includes two Christian parties, is also “a huge relief for atheist intellectuals.” Two years ago, Plasterk blasted his Christian-Democratic predecessor, Maria van der Hoeven, for supporting intelligent design.

  2. MOVERS

    CREDIT: AP PHOTO

    BACK IN THE FOLD. After a period of self-imposed exile, Carlo Rubbia, one of Italy's best-known scientists, has made peace with the Italian government and is returning home to a new role as a special counselor to the environment ministry. “Above all, as an Italian living abroad, I do care about the future of my country,” he says.

    A former director of the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, and joint winner of the 1984 physics Nobel, Rubbia has focused on energy research in recent years. He was made president of ENEA, Italy's energy research agency, in 1999, but in 2005, after beginning work in Sicily on a solar thermal energy project called Archimedes, funding for the project was suddenly axed by Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government. Rubbia openly criticized energy policies in the Rome daily La Repubblica and was removed from his ENEA post (Science, 22 July 2005, p. 542). Undaunted, Rubbia moved to Spain and continued work on Archimedes in Andalucia.

    On 11 February, however, during an Italian TV debate about climate change and energy, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, Italy's environment minister in the new center-left government, asked Rubbia to accept Italy's apologies and join a government energy policy committee. On accepting his new appointment, Rubbia said: “The sun is one of Italy's great resources, and it's something we must learn to use.”

  3. IN BRIEF

    ANTI-GM. Uprooting a field trial of transgenic corn in 2004 may land French presidential candidate José Bové in prison. On 7 February, an appeals court upheld a 4-month sentence issued in November. (Another judge may yet commute the penalty to home imprisonment.) A farmer and “alter globalist” who previously served time for ransacking a McDonald's, Bové launched his bid for the April elections on 8 February, billing himself as “the first political prisoner who's also running for president.”

  4. IN BRIEF

    NAE. The National Academy of Engineering has elected 64 new members and 9 foreign associates. The list is at http://www.nae.edu/.

  5. THREE Q'S

    Figure
    CREDIT: AP PHOTO

    The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory is closing down at the end of this month. Since 1979, the lab, headed by aerospace scientist Robert Jahn, 76, has stirred controversy with claims that human thought and emotion can influence physical reality.

    Q: Has it been a worthwhile effort?

    I think so. We certainly have learned a lot ourselves. We certainly understand much more about the nature of the phenomena than we did going in, and I think we have been faithful in sharing our insights with others.

    Q: Do you think these phenomena will ever be proved in a way that will satisfy the skeptics?

    That raises the whole question of where the skepticism stems from. I have to tell you that I was not totally prepared for the intensity of recalcitrance we have encountered. … For skepticism to be useful, it has to be informed. It doesn't help if the people haven't read your papers or visited your laboratory or talked with you personally.

    Q: What's the worst snub you ever received from a scientist?

    [One wrote that] “It's not worth my time to inform myself [about your research] because it is so obviously impossible.” This is not a scientific attitude.

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