Science  12 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5895, pp. 1431

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  1. Stem Cell Article Retracted

    Last week, The Lancet retracted a stem cell therapy paper without the consent of lead author Hannes Strasser, a urologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck. The move comes after an Austrian investigation uncovered ethical concerns about the conduct of the study. The paper, which reported results from an experimental stem cell therapy for urinary incontinence, was published in June 2007 along with an outside commentary hailing the findings as ushering in “a new era in urogynecology.” The results of the Austrian investigation are confidential, but according to a Lancet comment last week, the report found that the study “was conducted neither according to Austrian law nor according to [international] standards. … The report found that there were critical deficiencies in the way patients' consent was obtained.” In addition, The Lancet said, “the inspectors raise doubts as to whether a trial [conducted specifically] as described in The Lancet ever existed.”

    Strasser didn't respond to messages from Science seeking comment. In a June letter to Nature, he asserted that Austria's Ministry of Health had approved the study prior to its start. He also says that the medical school has offered the treatment to consenting patients outside the study after initial, positive results. After concerns about the paper surfaced, co-author Georg Bartsch of the Innsbruck urology department asked The Lancet to remove his name.

  2. Cuba Law Struck Down

    A 2006 Florida law banning state universities from sponsoring travel to neighboring Cuba and other countries under a U.S. trade embargo has been declared unconstitutional by a federal district court. The 28 August ruling allows Florida scientists to resume research in embargoed countries as long as they don't use state funds. The Florida Travel Act (Science, 9 June 2006, p. 1450) restricted the use of any funds—even from federal or private sources—by state-funded institutions. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of Florida International University (FIU), and U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz ruled that the law's restrictions infringed upon federal authority. The verdict should “make collaboration with Cuban colleagues much easier,” says FIU geographer Jennifer Gebelein, who studies the impact of land-cover changes in Cuba on surrounding coral reefs.

  3. California to Overhaul Chemical Regulations

    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign two bills passed last month that inject more science into the regulation of chemicals used in consumer products. But some environmentalists fear that the additional analysis might slow the new procedures.

    California has traditionally addressed new threats on a chemical-by-chemical basis, most recently by banning phthalates in children's toys. In contrast, AB 1879 would give the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) authority to list and regulate chemicals of concern based on the extent of exposure and the risk posed to children and infants, with input from an advisory panel that includes scientists. Before it could regulate a chemical, however, DTSC would have to analyze the risk posed by the chemical through its life cycle from production to disposal, the safety of possible substitute chemicals, and the cost of implementing any rules. “I worry that this might be a bottleneck,” says Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund.

    The second bill, SB 509, would create an online clearinghouse on chemical hazards. Both bills enjoy considerable support from industry, and the Pew Environment Group would like to see similar legislation adopted by the U.S. Congress.

  4. A Matter of Degrees

    Preliminary results from a 7-year project to improve Ph.D. completion rates at U.S. and Canadian universities indicate that whites, men, and international students are more likely to complete their degrees than women, other ethnic groups, and domestic students. That's what experts have long suspected. But there are also some surprising differences, according to a report this month from the Council of Graduate Schools. African-Americans have the greatest variance in completion rates by discipline, for example, although the numbers are too small to be statistically significant. Although 60% complete life sciences degrees in a 10-year period (the same as for whites), only 37% do so in math and the physical sciences. The project, funded by Pfizer Inc. and the Ford Foundation, supports additional data analysis as well as a range of interventions by 29 institutions—from additional mentoring to increased research opportunities—aimed at helping more students complete their degrees.