Science  16 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5818, pp. 1479

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  1. Sow Not Cool

    A federal judge has ordered farmers to halt planting transgenic alfalfa seed, the first time that a court has withdrawn a genetically engineered crop from the market. The temporary injunction follows an earlier decision by the same judge that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should have carried out a more rigorous assessment of the environmental risks of Roundup Ready alfalfa before the agency approved it in 2005 (Science, 23 February, p. 1069). USDA asked the court to allow continued sale of the seed during the required environmental impact study, but Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, California, sided instead with environmental groups calling for a halt on planting. Farmers must stop plantings by 30 March, and Breyer will issue a final ruling after a 27 April hearing.

    Daniel Putnam, n alfalfa specialist at the University of California, Davis, says that Breyer's decisions strike him as uninformed. The judge argued that the transgenic alfalfa could spread to nearby fields, but alfalfa is harvested before it produces seeds. The ruling “will cause very much consternation in agriculture,” he says.

  2. Minds Closed to Open Access

    Although fans of the concept, scientists remain reluctant to publish in open-access outlets, a new study suggests. The survey, led by information scientists at Munich University in Germany and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, found that although two-thirds of 688 respondents—mainly information systems, German literature, and medical scientists from around the world—read open-access literature, only a third chose to publish their work that way. The majority viewed open access as faster (79%) and reaching a larger readership (75%) than traditional publishing. Yet many also believed that colleagues don't publish in open access (73%), that open access has deficient impact factors (58%), and that publishing via open access would damage their chances of tenure and promotion (60%).

    Information scientist Ángel Borrego of Barcelona University in Spain says the survey, published last week, reiterates what others have called a “Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome” in which scientists behave differently as readers than as authors. Matthew Cockerill, publisher of the open-access BioMed Central, says the study shows the need “to more clearly communicate the benefits of open access” and gain a “critical mass” of researchers publishing in open-access titles.

  3. Like a Rock

    NASA told U.S. lawmakers last week it doesn't have the money to track the vast majority of asteroids that might threaten Earth, a goal set by Congress. Even so, the space agency is quietly examining how to send two or three humans to an asteroid as a trial run for a return to the moon.

    The 90-day mission would allow NASA to test its new Constellation rocket, provide physiological and psychological data on deep-space flights, and study asteroids “to refine impact physics models,” according to a 5 February report by the office in charge of building a new human launcher. The study argues that the trip, possibly by 2017, could put humans “on the way to Mars while producing exciting new science.” Carl Walz, a NASA exploration manager, says NASA has no plans to push for such a mission.

  4. NOAA Pushes Fish Farms

    Hoping to help expand fish farming into offshore waters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week proposed setting up a permitting system and environmental regulations, as well as requiring studies on how to make the farms more ecologically sustainable. A 2005 bill that contained similar provisions faced tough opposition on environmental issues in Congress. We “heard the concerns,” says NOAA Fisheries Service Director William Hogarth. So the new proposal includes calls for monitoring of disease and fish escape and requires an assessment of economic impacts on fishing communities. It would also require research to devise new feed that doesn't require as much wild fish. Hogarth hopes the legislation will be introduced by a lawmaker quickly, although Gerald Leape of the National Environmental Trust in Washington, D.C., calls the effort a “tough lift” due to powerful lawmakers wary of new competition for fishing industries in their states.

  5. X-rays in Chinese Sights

    As part of its quest spaceward, China has set 2010 as the launch year for its first satellite observatory, an x-ray telescope. The instrument will keep a close eye on black holes and other phenomena by detecting photons with energies above 20 KeV. Chief project scientist Li Tipei of Qinghua University in Beijing told Chinese reporters last year that the imaging telescope would have world-class sensitivity and spatial resolution among x-ray instruments.