Science  04 Jul 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5885, pp. 25

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  1. Peruse These Ties

    Congressional appropriators want to give the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) a billion-dollar budget increase next year. But senators also want NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to stiffen his agency's oversight of the financial ties between academic scientists and pharmaceutical companies.

    Last week, the Senate spending panel ordered NIH's parent body, the Department of Health and Human Services, to begin the process of rewriting regulations meant to avoid financial conflicts of interest among nonfederal scientists. Grantees now must report to their institutions relevant income from any company exceeding $10,000 annually. (NIH intramural scientists are banned from receiving all such income.) A House spending subcommittee has asked NIH directly to improve its conflicts policy. NIH is already planning to seek comments on revising the regulations, Zerhouni said in a 20 June letter to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who is investigating several cases in which academic researchers may have failed to report income from drug companies (Science, 27 June, p. 1708).

    The Senate language is part of a 2009 spending bill that is unlikely to be approved until after the November elections. But agencies ignore such congressional requests at their peril. The bill itself would provide NIH with a $1.025 billion hike, to $30.2 billion, the agency's largest increase in 6 years. A parallel House bill would give NIH a $1.15 billion increase.

  2. Austrian Astronomers Score

    VIENNA—Last week, the Austrian government joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO), Europe's premier telescope facilities, based in Chile's Atacama Desert. “At meetings, everyone always assumed we were members,” says Josef Hron, an astrophysicist at the University of Vienna. Cash-strapped Austria has declined membership since ESO was established in 1962, he says, but the economy and astronomy have flourished in the country over the past decade. Considering the $3.6-million-per-year cost of membership—plus a $36 million entrance fee to be paid over 15 years—Austrian astronomers have just seen their budget doubled. Not only will they have far easier access to ESO's Very Large Telescope—currently the largest of its kind—but they plan to take an active role in future ESO projects, such as ALMA and the Extremely Large Telescope.

  3. Settlement in Anthrax Case

    Nearly 6 years after naming biomedical scientist Steven Hatfill a “person of interest” in its investigation of anthrax-laced letters, the U.S. Justice Department has agreed to pay him $5.8 million. Hatfill, who formerly worked in the Army's Fort Detrick, Maryland, biodefense laboratory, claimed in his 2003 suit that the government had invaded his privacy in its quest to solve the 2001 incidents, in which five people died. Hatfill's attorney says the settlement, for which the government admits no wrongdoing, means “justice” for his client.

  4. Rights for Apes? ¡Si!

    Spain's parliament plans to give great apes the right to “life, liberty, and freedom from torture,” a move that has few practical implications in Spain but that supporters hail as a landmark that could make more countries consider adopting such measures. The environmental committee in Spain's Congress of Deputies approved the bill last week; it is expected to become law.

    The bill instructs Spain's government to adhere to, and promote in the European Union, the Great Ape Project (GAP), a movement started in 1993 by scientists and philosophers that aims to grant the apes basic legal and moral rights. As a result, harmful scientific studies—which are no longer carried out in Europe—would be banned. “We really haven't seen this before for any animals at any national level,” says Princeton University bioethicist and GAP co-founder Peter Singer.

  5. Alliance Aims for Cancer Vaccine

    The GAVI Alliance, a global partnership that helps poor countries buy vaccines, plans to branch out into seven new diseases—including cervical cancer, a disease targeted by two new vaccines whose cost looms as a major obstacle to poor countries (Science, 16 May, p. 860). Last week, GAVI's board also decided to add cholera, typhoid, meningitis A, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, and rubella to its list of targets.

    Vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, have been widely introduced in Europe and the United States. GAVI is hoping producers will agree to lower the current price of $360 for three doses to about $21, says GAVI policy and strategy director Nina Schwalbe. “This is a milestone,” says Joakim Dillner, an HPV expert at Lund University in Sweden. “GAVI is the scientific community's only hope for bringing this vaccine to developing countries.”