ScienceScope

Science  21 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1601
  1. Budget Blueprint Boosts Science

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    They aren't binding, but the 2009 budget resolutions passed last week by each house of Congress would provide sizable increases for U.S. research agencies. The Senate's version would add $3 billion, or 10.3%, to President George W. Bush's request for a flat budget at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That amount includes a $2.1 billion boost added during floor debate by the chair and ranking member of the spending panel that sets NIH's budget. “We still have a long way to go on this, but they're positive signs of support,” says Dave Moore of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. The House version added no additional funding for NIH. Both House and Senate budget resolutions endorsed the president's request for big hikes at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. But getting the additional money will be difficult, because the White House has said Bush would veto any bill that exceeds his request.

  2. Paging Dr. Planck

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    Germany's famed Max Planck Society will for the first time lend its name to doctoral degrees. In an agreement announced last week, the society and Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz will form a cooperation that oversees the granting of degrees for students at the International Max Planck Research School for Polymer Materials in Mainz. This arrangement breaks with tradition in Germany, where only universities are allowed to grant doctorate degrees; the 4000 students who work at Max Planck Institutes have had to receive their degrees from cooperating schools. In Mainz, a new Max Planck Graduate Center will select students, set degree requirements, and allow Max Planck researchers to join dissertation panels. Officials hope the arrangement will be a model for other Max Planck Research Schools.

  3. Taxonomy Sinking Down Under

    1. Cheryl Jones

    Australia's taxonomists are going extinct, says a report released this week by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. For every taxonomist joining the 150-person work force in universities, museums, and herbaria, four are leaving the profession, and many aren't being replaced, according to the report, which urges the government to fund new positions. Andrew Austin, director of Adelaide University's Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity, says the trend is bad news for conservation, biosecurity, and agriculture.

  4. EPA Panels Under Scrutiny

    1. Erik Stokstad

    A congressional oversight committee is investigating how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages potential conflicts of interest among scientists who review its health assessments.

    The inquiry stems from the August 2007 dismissal of Deborah Rice, a toxicologist with the state of Maine, as chair of a panel reviewing an EPA health assessment of decabromodiphenyl ether, a flame retardant used in computers, upholstery, and other products. The American Chemistry Council, an industry group, had complained of an “appearance of a lack of impartiality” because Rice had testified to Maine lawmakers in February 2007 that they should restrict use of the chemical, which has been found in breast milk. The agency removed her comments and plans to release the assessment 28 March. Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked EPA for documents relating to Rice's dismissal. In a statement, Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), who chairs the oversight subcommittee, said the matter “raises serious concerns about EPA's scientific integrity.”

    Democrats also worry about direct corporate influence in the agency's review panels. The committee asked EPA for records on nine scientists on current or past review panels who either work for companies or have received money from them.

  5. New Ag Fund

    1. John Bohannon

    In a country famous for having more sheep than people, New Zealand's agricultural researchers are celebrating an unprecedented budget boost. Last week, the country's prime minister promised to create an $875 million fund for agricultural research that would grow to $2.5 billion by 2023, paying for science with the interest from the fund, which could double ag research's $100 million annual budget.

    The government has not decided how to divide the new pie, which will be the focus of heated debate. Industry researchers note that fish and farm products are the country's major exports, but some scientists argue that New Zealand should start weaning itself off farm exports. “Converting most of our forest into greenhouse gas has given us an abundance of grass and a thriving dairy industry,” says physicist Paul Callaghan of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology in Wellington, but climate change and higher energy costs darken that sector's economic outlook. “Until we expand our high-technology businesses, we will continue to drift down the [international] rankings of prosperity.”