Newsmakers

Science  12 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5848, pp. 177
  1. ON CAMPUS

    CREDIT: SOURCE: AP; ROSE LINCOLN/HARVARD NEWS OFFICE

    MUZZLED. Two years after Lawrence Summers made the fateful remarks about women and science that got him pushed out of the Harvard University presidency, some still treat him like a pariah: A recent instance involved female faculty members at the University of California (UC) who led a successful petition to have Summers disinvited as a dinner speaker at the September meeting of the UC Board of Regents. But the controversy has earned Summers the sympathy of some of his erstwhile critics.

    Among them is Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, who says, “I don't know anyone at Harvard who favors what happened at UC Davis. … The regents and faculty who opposed [Summers's] appearance look like ignorant fools.” The petition that led the regents to rescind the invitation cited Summers's “poor relationships with both women and underrepresented minority faculty at Harvard.” Summers says, “I was somewhat surprised that none of the [UC] chancellors spoke up publicly on the precedent set by rescinding speaking engagements because of controversy.”

    Regents' spokesperson Trey Davis dismisses the episode as “no big deal,” adding that “you don't want to annoy people needlessly.” Maureen Stanton, an evolutionary biologist at UC Davis who signed the petition, says what she and others were really objecting to was the decision by the university's governing body to grant a private audience to a controversial figure like Summers. “It wasn't a free-speech issue,” she says. “Had Summers been invited to a public forum at the university on how to diversify science and engineering, we would have had no problems. We would simply have shown up with some tough questions.”

  2. THEY SAID IT

    “I am now a heavenly body. I found out about it yesterday. … I was blown away. It came out of the clear blue sky—just like an asteroid.”

    —Actor George Takei, who played Sulu in the original Star Trek series, reacting to the International Astronomical Union's decision to name an asteroid in his honor. Discovered by Japanese astronomers in 1994, 7307 Takei is located between Mars and Jupiter.

  3. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    CREDIT: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

    YOUNG BLOOD. The U.S. Commerce Department has picked a 32-year-old political operative with no scientific background or industrial experience to head a new office intended to foster innovation. Joel Harris, who has worked at the White House and for Republican former Colorado governor William Owens, will direct the Technology Council, which replaces the department's 19-year-old Technology Administration.

    The Technology Administration, which once boasted a $10 million budget and 50-plus person staff, including an undersecretary for technology, was allowed to wither on the vine until Congress and the White House agreed this year to eliminate it. But experts don't hold out much hope for the new council, tucked within the secretary's office and lacking a budget. “It's definitely an opportunity lost,” says Christopher Hill of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, a veteran player in technology issues. “I can't imagine that it is a prescription for actually doing anything.”

    Harris hopes to prove the critics wrong. “Technology is a critical driver for our economy,” he says, “and my job will be to identify and coordinate action on the most important issues.”

  4. MOVERS

    CREDIT: WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

    WORLDLY-WISE. Barring objections from the U.S. Senate, the controversial chief of global health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could soon be headed off to a new assignment. Last week, a Senate committee considered whether to approve William Steiger as U.S. ambassador to Mozambique. Steiger, 37, a Ph.D. in Latin American history and the son of a former Republican congressman, has been accused by HHS employees and outside researchers of micromanaging HHS scientists' international activities and pushing conservative, pro-industry positions (Science, 10 September 2004, p. 1551). Recently, he came under fire for allegedly suppressing a global health report from the U.S. Surgeon General.

    At last week's hearing, Steiger deflected questions about some of these matters from the presiding member, Russ Feingold (D-WI), asserting that the Surgeon General's report “had serious flaws” and disputing the scientific value of an international AIDS meeting. He said he has “gained much experience” that has prepared him for dealing with Mozambique's problems with AIDS and malaria. The committee is expected to approve the nomination, as is the full Senate. HHS spokesperson Bill Hall said “no decisions have been made” about when Steiger might depart or who would take over his position. “His departure will be a relief for HHS scientists and professionals,” says University of California, San Francisco, international health expert Thomas Novotny, a former HHS official.

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