ScienceScope

Science  10 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5839, pp. 735
  1. Educating India

    Over the next 7 years, India plans to invest roughly $33 billion in new universities and institutes. The plan, announced last week, will add eight elite Indian Institutes of Technology and 20 regional engineering colleges, along with scores of new research, computing, and management campuses. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the system will be a “symbol of excellence” and emphasized his commitment to offer scholarships to increase the gross enrollment rate at the college level; of India's 1.1 billion population, only 9.2 million are higher education students. The government has ordered a 50% hike in the starting stipends for grad students and postdocs.

  2. A Western Slant?

    Young scientists from Western Europe were about three times more likely than Eastern European researchers to make the first cut in a grants competition in all disciplines from the new European Research Council (ERC). Last month, the ERC announced 559 finalists for the 250 so-called Starting Grants it plans to award before the end of the year, and only 21 work in the mostly Eastern European countries that have joined the E.U. since 2004. Although some politicians might complain that their country is being slighted, Pavel Exner, a physicist at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague and a member of the ERC Scientific Council, thinks that the peer-review process did its job in sifting through the 9167 applications. “The point is not fairness; the point is excellence,” he says.

  3. Sonar Tests Halted

    The U.S. Navy plans to appeal a decision this week by a federal judge to halt use of so-called active sonar during naval exercises planned through December in the southern Pacific off the California coast. “Plaintiffs have established to a near certainty that use of [active] sonar during the … exercises will cause irreparable harm to the environment,” wrote Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the Central District of California, mentioning the Navy's own forecasted losses of beaked and ziphiid whales. The Navy says the 3 August decision, in favor of the Natural Resources Defense Council and allied plaintiffs, will disrupt important antisubmarine training. The judge did not address the plaintiffs' contention that the sonar is illegal under environmental laws.

  4. Breaking the Ice on Icebreakers

    A campaign to build two new U.S. icebreakers is picking up steam. Last fall, a report from the National Academies said the ships are needed to preserve full and timely access to the region for a host of missions, including the National Science Foundation's Antarctic research station (Science, 6 October 2006, p. 33). And last week, a key Senate panel, as part of a reauthorization of the U.S. Coast Guard, ordered the agency “to acquire or construct” the new icebreakers as part of its current fleet, which includes two aging icebreakers in need of major repairs.

    With melting ice promising to increase activity in the Arctic, the Bush Administration thinks the icebreakers are needed to maintain a U.S. presence for economic and national-security reasons. “I think a bill such as this makes a lot of sense,” presidential science adviser John Marburger told Science. Observers say the Coast Guard would welcome such a directive, although it has not formally requested the funds from Congress.

  5. Progress on Virus Deadlock

    Indonesia threw global health officials into a panic last January when it stopped sharing H5N1 avian influenza samples with the World Health Organization (WHO), which has centers run by the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and Australia for virus analysis. Indonesia called unfair WHO's policy of passing viral samples on to pharmaceutical firms, as the resulting vaccines developed are likely to be too expensive for developing nations to use.

    Last week, at a meeting of technical experts from 23 countries held in Singapore, a solution was proposed: having WHO itself assume ownership of donated biological materials, better positioning the organization to negotiate how those samples are used. The idea drew the support of “almost all countries,” says Masato Tashiro, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Tokyo. He cautions that the details have yet to be worked out.

    WHO's David Heymann says that even if WHO assumed ownership, it would still provide viruses freely to vaccine manufacturers. He adds that WHO is working on mechanisms to ensure vaccines would be available to developing countries during a pandemic, but he doesn't foresee a move to link virus sharing with virus benefits. The issue will be taken up at a meeting of WHO member states in early November.