Newsmakers

Science  14 Dec 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5857, pp. 1703
  1. Politics

    CREDIT: CHRISTINA TEAL

    A COSTLY CLICK. Christina Comer always thought that supporting the teaching of evolution was part of her job. But last month, she was forced to resign as director of science at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) after she forwarded an e-mail to friends and colleagues about an upcoming talk on the politics driving the intelligent design (ID) movement.

    The talk was given by Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond whose testimony in the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board trial 2 years ago helped scientists win a major victory against the teaching of ID in the classroom (Science, 6 January 2006, p. 34). In a memo recommending Comer's termination, which was obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, agency officials said Comer ‘s e-mail implied “that TEA endorses the speaker ‘s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.” The memo also said that Comer had disregarded a directive requiring her to get permission from the agency before communicating with outsiders about science education, which officials thought necessary to maintain “the integrity” of an upcoming revision of state science standards.

    “I don ‘t understand how I can remain neutral about evolution when it says in our standards that it should be taught,” says Comer, 56, who was a science teacher for 27 years before joining TEA in 1998. Forrest and others fear that Comer ‘s firing signals the launch of a new attack on the teaching of evolution, pointing to 2005 comments by Donald McLeroy, chair of the Texas Board of Education, that ID had not gotten a fair hearing. “Texans should now prepare themselves for an attempt [by creationists] to influence the upcoming review of state science standards,” says Forrest.

  2. MOVERS

    LEADING ITER. Physicist Chris Llewellyn Smith has been named to head the governing council of ITER, the €10 billion project to demonstrate fusion as an energy source. The former director of CERN and university president was chosen at the group's first meeting held at the ITER site in Cadarache in southern France last month.

    Also under discussion at last month's meeting was a yearlong review of ITER's design, originally put on paper in 2001. It showed “that the ITER design is fundamentally sound,” says Llewellyn Smith, adding that officials now expect to start procurement and construction. Managers hope to fire up the reactor for the first time in 2016.

  3. IN BRIEF

    CREDIT: SIEMENS FOUNDATION

    SIEMENS AWARDS. Girls swept the top honors in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology last week. Isha Jain (above) of Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, won first prize in the individual category for her research on bone growth, and Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff of Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview, New York, ranked first in the team competition for their research on tuberculosis. Jain will receive $100,000, and Marinoff and Schlossberger will share $100,000.

  4. IN BRIEF

    TURKISH TRAGEDY. Six scientists were among 57 people killed in a plane crash in Turkey last month. Officials said the plane flew into the mountains in western Turkey after taking off from Istanbul for Isparta late on 30 November. The scientists were on their way to a conference on high energy and accelerator physics at Süleyman Demirel University. They included Engin Arik, a particle physicist at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul and the leader of a Turkish group working for the Atlas project at CERN; Arik's students Özgen Berkol Doğan and Engin Abat; and Doğus University researchers Şenel Fatma Boydağ, Iskender Hikmet, and Mustafa Fidan.

  5. Pioneers

    CREDIT: S. KIRSCH

    SURVIVAL INSTINCT. Eight years ago, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steven Kirsch and his wife, Michele, established a charitable foundation to deal with knotty social issues such as climate change, campaign finance reform, and air pollution. Now, after being diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer known as Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), Kirsch has decided to channel the foundation's $7 million toward research on the disease that is likely to kill him within 5 years.

    Approximately 1500 people a year in the United States are diagnosed with WM, making it a low priority for federal research dollars. And Kirsch knows that medical research is a slow and deliberate process. “So realistically, whatever I do to find a cure will likely be too late to save my own life,” he writes on his Web site (http://www.skirsch.com/), which charts his medical condition. “But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try.”

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