ScienceScope

Science  16 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5878, pp. 861
  1. Testing Stem Cell Waters

    1. Elsa Youngsteadt

    Proposed legislation to overturn federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) authority to ensure the ethical conduct of all U.S. stem cell research, regardless of its funding source. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) announced last week at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee that she plans to include this feature when she reintroduces a bill this summer to expand the number of human embryonic stem cell lines available to federally funded researchers. A previous measure was twice passed by Congress and vetoed by President George W. Bush.

    Her idea won the support of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, who testified at the hearing. “It would be shortsighted not to oversee [stem cell science] at a federal level,” Zerhouni said, citing existing NIH guidelines for the use of recombinant DNA and gene therapy as a model. DeGette and cosponsor Michael Castle (R-DE) are still drafting the House bill.

  2. NASA Calls Back Weiler

    1. Andrew Lawler

    In the midst of a budget crisis, NASA has turned to an experienced insider. Last week, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin named Edward Weiler as the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate. Weiler was made acting chief 6 weeks ago after S. Alan Stern resigned.

    Weiler most recently served as head of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, after spending 6 years running the science program at headquarters. The blunt-speaking astrophysicist faces rising costs in a host of missions, a flat budget, and a fight among scientists over whether NASA should focus on Mars or outer planet exploration.

    Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is hoping to make Weiler's job a little bit easier with a $200 million addition to NASA's 2008 budget that would pay back science and other programs tapped after the 2003 Columbia disaster. Her proposal is part of a Senate spending measure to fund the Iraq war that was expected to be voted out of committee this week. Its House counterpart contains no money for the space agency, however, meaning that the boost may not materialize.

    The Senate bill also contains $400 million for the National Institutes of Health and $200 million for the National Science Foundation. Legislators have calculated that the additional funds could support 700 and 500 more grants, respectively. But once again, the money's not in the House version

  3. ARISE, Young Scientists

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    Young scientists in academia are most likely to feel the pain when money is tight. A blue-ribbon committee of U.S. scientists, academic leaders, and policy wonks has come up with a list of steps that the federal government and universities can take to make the system work better for that important population—even without the lubricant of additional cash.

    Titled ARISE—Advancing Research in Science and Engineering, their report calls for universities to lessen the burden on young faculty members by shouldering a bigger share of salaries and lab costs. It cautions agencies not to run programs with low success rates and to improve monitoring of how their practices affect researchers. And it urges both groups to pay greater attention to the needs of early-career scientists by providing seed money, tenure timeouts, and more support for high-risk, high-reward proposals.

    The report, due out early next month (www.amacad.org/arise), was written by a panel of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences chaired by Thomas Cech, head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It was previewed last week in Washington, D.C., at the annual policy forum of the “other” AAAS (which publishes Science).

  4. Winds of Change at DOE

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is considering a new focus for its $50-million-a-year wind research program. The goal would be to derive 20% of the country's electricity from wind power by 2030, up from 1% in 2007. “We are moving beyond incrementalism,” DOE's Alexander Karsner told reporters in presenting a new report on wind power by a panel of DOE and industry officials.

    The report calls for new types of financing, better designs and windmill monitoring, and big changes to the electrical grid to bring electricity from windy areas to population centers. DOE has yet to allocate $10 million for wind research this year at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, as it considers a shift away from new kinds of windmills and toward extending the life of existing units. A decision is expected next month.

    One element the wind report did not include in its modeling assumptions was a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. But speaking on 12 May at a windmill manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain said such a scheme is needed “to assure an energy supply that is safe, secure, diverse, and domestic.”

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