Science  01 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5863, pp. 557
  1. Science Stimulus Unlikely

    U.S. science lobbyists hope to persuade Congress to restore some of the money for basic research cut from the 2008 budget last month. But although a few senators, led by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), are weighing whether to add money to the upcoming Iraq War supplemental appropriations bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says next year is a better bet. “We need to get that money back in '09,” she told Science last week. “We're all disappointed [with the '08 budget]. But I don't see it getting into the supplemental.” Next week's presidential 2009 budget is expected once again to request big increases for the physical sciences.

  2. Ready, Set, Learn

    Forget computer bridge and chess. Researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, U.K., are holding a winner-take-all tournament to find the best approaches to solving social-learning problems. The European Commission is putting up €10,000 in prize money for the strategy that proves most effective in computer simulations of situations in which people must compete for resources, such as food. Is it best to copy what everyone else is doing? Rely solely on past experience? Be selective about who to imitate? Entries can be narratives or computer programs and are due 30 June. The organizers will find the 10 best, which will battle each other; the winner will be announced next year. “Hopefully, the field will get a real shot in the arm,” says organizer Kevin Laland, a St. Andrews evolutionary biologist.

  3. Points for Origin-ality

    A new virtual center to gather researchers from disciplines related to anthropogeny, the study of human origins, will be announced shortly by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) is an expansion of a project started more than a decade ago that has quietly gathered leading researchers from diverse fields three times a year to discuss human origins. UCSD biochemist Ajit Varki says $3 million from the Mount Kisco, New York-based Mathers Foundation will support meetings, an archival Web site, a museum, and an eventual journal called Anthropogeny. Most centers for human evolution are each “driven by one person focused in their area of research,” says Varki, CARTA's organizer. “It's time to start pulling it together.”

  4. Tissues Case Over

    Participants who have donated tissue for research shouldn't get their hopes up that they can ever take it back. That issue was largely settled last week when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in a fight between a medical researcher and his former university over who owns tissue donated by patients. William Catalona, a prostate cancer researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, sued the school after it blocked him from taking his patients' tissue samples to a new job at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

    The university argued successfully in federal district and appellate courts that institutions own the biological samples their researchers collect because patients have donated them as gifts (Science, 29 June 2007, p. 1829). Law professor and bioethicist R. Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says that although the district court's ruling in favor of the school may not apply in every case—it depends on a particular state's gift law and the details of the patient consent form—“the opinion is likely to be highly influential nationwide.” Catalona says that the legal rulings have made “a travesty “of federal regulations protecting research subjects.

  5. EPA Wants Data: If You Please

    How risky are nanomaterials? Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a voluntary nanomaterials toxicity reporting program to help find out. The new program encourages—although it does not mandate—companies that make, use, or import nanomaterials to submit characterization and risk data to help the agency figure out which nanomaterials are worrisome.

    The agency has also affirmed its previous decision that it will not consider nanoparticles new chemicals if they are made of the same chemicals as materials currently registered under toxicity databases. The rule would apply, for example, to nanoparticles of zinc oxide because larger clumps of the stuff are a component of skin creams.

    That's a mistake, says Andrew Maynard, chief science adviser to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. “EPA's approach ignores the existing scientific research that suggests different nanostructures with the same molecular identity present different hazards,” Maynard says.