Science  15 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5865, pp. 887

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  1. Cyclotron Shuttered

    A disappointing budget has forced the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to scuttle experiments and is causing labs to shut down machines. Officials at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL), an NSF-funded facility at Michigan State University in East Lansing, have decided to turn off the lab's two cyclotrons from May to September. The omnibus budget bill, signed into law in December, failed to contain an expected $1 million boost, to $19.5 million. As a result, officials can afford to run the machines, which produce radioactive nuclei for nuclear physics experiments, for only 3000 hours in fiscal year 2008 instead of the 4000 hours scheduled, says NSCL Director Konrad Gelbke. The lab will lay off six to eight of its 200 scientists and technicians, and 10 or more experiments will be postponed or canceled. NSCL “may be the optimal place to do some experiments,” says physicist Samuel Tabor of Florida State University in Tallahassee, “but if we can't do them here, [other] people will find ways to get them done.”

    NSF Director Arden Bement says the tight 2008 budget is also forcing the agency to make 1000 fewer grants than it had hoped and to award 230 fewer graduate research fellowships. A new program to study the societal impact of research investments will be delayed a year, he adds, and ongoing programs to support undergraduate research and middle school math teachers will shrink.

  2. It's Not Just Size That Matters

    The oversight board for the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has quietly bowed out of a long-running debate about how best to satisfy scientists. In 2000, the National Science Board told agency officials to boost the size of the typical research grant, even at the expense of the number and duration of grants. As a result, average grant size grew by 40% over the next 5 years as NSF's overall budget rose modestly, leading to lower success rates for grantees as the number of awards held steady. That triggered another board review, which led to last week's decision. “We think it should be left up to each discipline, based on the attitudes of the community it serves,” says President Emeritus Ray Bowen of Texas A&M University in College Station, who chairs the board panel that oversaw the review.

  3. Standards: An Evolving Story

    The Florida Board of Education will decide next week whether to approve new science standards that for the first time in the state's history would require the teaching of evolution. Nine counties have passed resolutions against the document, saying that evolution is not a proven fact, and two of the eight members of the politically appointed board have spoken out against it. But scientists say a statewide signature campaign and an endorsement from science curriculum expert Lawrence Lerner of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C., which gave the current standards an F in a nationwide assessment, bode well for their cause. A 19 February vote in favor of the standards would be “a great victory” in keeping creationist ideology out of public schools, says Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California.

  4. Interesting Findings

    Most U.S. medical schools are struggling with how to handle institutional conflicts of interest, according to a new survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and other researchers. The survey, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that only 38% of 86 medical schools have responded to a 2001 recommendation from AAMC to adopt a policy on institutional conflict of interest. Such conflicts arise when a university has a financial stake in research—for example, having patents on a drug that its researchers are testing. Ethicists say such conflicts should be disclosed to patients in clinical trials, along with any conflicts involving the investigators themselves.

    A school's delay may reflect the fact that managing institutional conflicts is “extremely complicated,” says Susan Ehringhaus of AAMC in Washington, D.C. AAMC and another group will issue “more detailed advice” this spring, Ehringhaus says.

  5. Hello, Columbus

    After years of delay, a 7-hour spacewalk by two astronauts, and a nudge from a robotic arm, the 10-ton Columbus laboratory module slipped into position aboard the international space station 11 February and is being prepared for research. The docking marked the start of the $2 billion orbiting lab's ability to host substantial science experiments. Columbus will be joined in March by another lab module built by Japan.