ScienceScope

Science  25 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5875, pp. 435
  1. ID at the Box Office

    A new film that links Darwinism and Nazism and accuses the scientific community of bullying proponents of intelligent design (ID) grossed $2.9 million at U.S. theaters over the weekend, ranking fourth among newly released movies. But Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, California, predicts that Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed won't affect public attitudes toward evolution. NCSE debunks many of the movie's claims at http://www.expelledexposed.com/.

    David Beckwith, an aerospace engineer in suburban Maryland who took his family straight from an evangelical church service to see the show, says he buys the film's claim that persecuting those who question Darwinism is an attack on academic freedom. “I am more convinced than ever that there are a lot of scientists who think intelligent design should get a fair hearing,” he says. But a recent college graduate who says she's politically conservative but not religious says she was disappointed that the movie did not “present any arguments in support of intelligent design.”

  2. Small Business Looms Large

    A planned 20% increase in a $2-billion-a-year program to promote research by small companies through a tax on current budgets is moving rapidly through Congress, even as scientists complain that federal basic research is strapped for cash.

    This week, the House of Representatives was expected to approve a bill that would boost the share set aside for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program from 2.5% to 3% of an agency's budget. Some 11 federal agencies operate the program, begun in 1982 to help commercialize basic research discoveries. Although academics with start-up companies are part of the intended audience—companies with fewer than 10 employees receive 30% of the competitive awards from the National Science Foundation, for example—most science lobbying groups have long viewed it with suspicion. The Bush Administration also opposes any increase in the set-aside, which was last raised in 1995. “This is the wrong time to do it,” Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) argued unsuccessfully last week as a House science subcommittee marked up its bill, which the next day was folded into a nearly identical version approved by the small business committee. In the Senate, a companion bill that would boost SBIR's share to 5% is temporarily stalled.

  3. Grass-Roots Malaria Funding

    Even small donors can now support malaria research using a new Web site that connects them with African scientists. The site, MalariaEngage.org, provides descriptions of research projects. Donors can contribute as little as $10 to a specific project and follow its progress online.

    Peter Singer and Abdallah Daar of the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health in Toronto, Canada, teamed up with Tom Hadfield, a successful entrepreneur and Harvard University undergraduate, to create the site with $200,000 from Genome Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Scientists at the National Institute for Medical Research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, selected the first seven featured projects and will oversee the donations. Singer says the goal is to ensure that good ideas “aren't flushed down the drain for lack of capital.”

  4. A Step Too Far Ahead?

    Japan is planning to vaccinate 6000 health care and quarantine workers against the deadly H5N1 virus. The workers will get one of two killed, adjuvanted vaccines derived from different strains in a pilot project that, if successful, could lead to the vaccine being given to 10 million people considered at risk of exposure to a pandemic virus.

    The scientific community is split on the idea of vaccinating before a strain emerges. Peter Palese, a virologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, supports more research but adds that “vaccinating humans with a vaccine against a disease which might never materialize in humans is probably not appropriate.”

  5. A NIFty Idea

    A coalition of science policy wonks has proposed a federally funded National Innovation Foundation (NIF) to bring order and leadership to current efforts. “There's nobody in the government who wakes up every morning and says, ‘My job is to drive innovation in the U.S. economy,’” says Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C., who co-authored a paper with the Brookings Institution's Howard Wial that is offered as advice to the next Administration.

    The $1-billion-a-year entity, modeled perhaps on the National Science Foundation, could also provide one-stop shopping for states, says Ray Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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