Science  24 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5841, pp. 1015

You are currently viewing the .

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution



    WAR OVER WORDS. Pediatrics researcher Frederick Zimmerman (left) is finding out that baby talk can be dangerous. Last week, the Walt Disney Co. attacked a study he published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics suggesting that baby videos might do more harm than good to infants' language development. Robert Iger, CEO of Disney, which owns the popular Baby Einstein series of educational videos, said that Zimmerman's work was flawed and that a press release from his institution, the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, misrepresented the study's findings. UW President Mark Emmert has defended the work and rejected Disney's call for a retraction of the release.

    The study, based on parental interviews, found that infants who watched a lot of “baby DVDs” understood fewer words than those who viewed fewer videos understood. Disney says Zimmerman and colleagues shouldn't have lumped together all baby videos and that other studies have shown that “the specific nature of content and the way [the video] is consumed are vitally important.”

    Zimmerman says he would welcome data from Disney on the topic and that his paper “is not the definitive study in the area.”


    WHO'S THE BOSS? Since its creation in 1950, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided staff and support to the National Science Board (NSB), the body that oversees the $6 billion agency. The arrangement has grown somewhat contentious in recent years, however, as NSB has sought to assert its independence. This month, the tension reached a new high when Lawrence Rudolph (below), NSF's longtime and influential general counsel, suggested at the board's most recent meeting that the 24-member presidentially appointed panel might want to ask Congress for permission to hire its own general counsel and other key staffers if the board felt its interests and those of NSF were no longer compatible.


    Rudolph's blunt words come in the wake of recent congressional unhappiness with the board's behavior (Science, 3 August, p. 579). And they appear to have caught NSB chair Steven Beering and NSF Director Arden Bement off-guard. “I can't take seriously the idea that we separate the two bodies,” says Beering. “This relationship has worked for 57 years, and I think it should be strengthened, not weakened.”

    Bement says the board and the agency have endured some rocky times but are now in sync. “The board chairman and I pledged upon his election to do our utmost to improve communications, and as a result they have improved considerably,” he notes. Rudolph declined to elaborate on his comments.


    OFF THE RAILS? Three research policy leaders within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are leaving, and their posts may remain vacant until the next Administration. John Agwunobi, a pediatrician who has been assistant secretary for health since 2005, is joining Wal-Mart as a senior vice president overseeing its health division. Congress doesn't seem to be in any big hurry to approve President George W. Bush's nominee for surgeon general, James Holsinger Jr., especially after the previous incumbent, Richard Carmona, recently denounced his former bosses for stifling science. And next month, career fed Bernard Schwetz steps down as head of the Office for Human Research Protections. Fortunately, says biomedical lobbyist Anthony Mazzaschi, such positions are often held on an acting basis by “pretty competent federal employees … who keep the train on the track.”

    After 4 years on the job, physicist Robert Dynes has announced that he will step down as president of the University of California system in June 2008 and return to full-time research at UC San Diego. Dynes's tenure has been marked by controversy, including what critics said were extravagant salaries and perks awarded to dozens of senior university administrators.

    William Jeffrey, a physicist by training, is resigning after 2 years as director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to head the science and technology effort at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Alexandria, Virginia.



    QUICKENING THE PACE. One of Japan's hottest stem cell scientists is moving to California, in part because of a more favorable research environment. Shinya Yamanaka, who last year conferred the transformative powers of embryonic stem cells upon skin cells taken from adult mice, will be joining the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, where his work will be partly funded by the state's stem cell initiative. He'll initially split his time between Gladstone and his current institution, Kyoto University, and within a few years leave his Kyoto post and move to San Francisco.

    Yamanaka's accomplishment with mouse cells has raised hopes of developing therapies that avoid ethical concerns about using human eggs or embryos (Science, 8 June, p. 1404). He is now racing with other researchers to reprogram adult human cells, and he says that work will proceed faster in California than it would in Japan, where lengthy applications and prolonged reviews slow down research. Yamanaka plans first to bring his human cell research to Gladstone, where he did a postdoc in the 1990s, and leave his mice in Japan for now.