Newsmakers

Science  27 Mar 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5922, pp. 1653
  1. THREE Q'S

    CREDIT: SOURCE: BRUCE BUDOWLE

    After 26 years at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), forensic microbiologist Bruce Budowle has joined academia. This month, he became executive director of the new Institute of Investigative Genetics at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton. Budowle is widely recognized for advancing the science of DNA fingerprinting and elevating its importance in criminal investigations.

    Q: How did you get started in forensics? I was a postdoc doing cancer and diabetes research at the University of Alabama in Birmingham when I developed a method for extracting proteins from hair. That led to a relationship with local law enforcement officials. When I saw an FBI job ad in the back of Science, I thought it was a good opportunity to help society directly rather than doing research for the sake of research.

    Q: How has science's role in investigations evolved? It used to be limited to matching the evidence to suspects. Now, science is routinely used to point the investigation in a specific direction. For example, if you find a bloodstain at a crime scene and typing it against a DNA database gives you no identification of the potential suspect, you can still use the phenotypic markers to recreate a physical description of an individual.

    Q: What will the new institute do? One goal is to strengthen a program at UNT on identifying human remains, a critically underfunded area nationally. Another is to develop a program on biosafety and biosecurity.

  2. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    FRACTION FACTION. “It doesn't seem like we should be wasting our time celebrating Pi Day in the midst of the current financial crisis.” So says Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who, along with nine other House Republicans, voted this month against a bill designating 14 March (3.14) as Pi Day.

    The lighthearted measure (H.Res. 224) notes the dismal performance of U.S. school students on international tests and suggests that “learning about Pi can be an engaging way to teach children about geometry.” It also praises the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its efforts to improve math and science education. The resolution passed by a vote of 391 to 10. The opponents included Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), a member of the House science committee that oversees NSF and whose chair, Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), introduced the bill.

    CREDIT: PHOTOS.COM

    Chaffetz, who says “I don't believe that the federal government should be involved in education because it's a state responsibility,” is not completely averse to celebrating numerical oddities, however. Two minutes after being told about another momentous mathematical event on the calendar, Chaffetz tweeted about Square Root Day (3.3.09). “This only happens eight [sic] times per century….awesome.”

  3. MOVERS

    CREDIT: LLNL

    A CATCH FOR HARVARD. Cherry Murray, the incoming dean of Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, hopes to increase the size of the faculty despite a shrinking endowment. Colleagues say if anyone can do it, she can.

    A soft condensed matter physicist, Murray spent most of her career as a scientist and then as a manager at Bell Laboratories before moving to the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2004. Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, calls her hire “a coup” for Harvard. She replaces Frans Spaepen, who has been interim dean since Venkatesh Narayanamurti stepped down in September.

    Harvard had planned to house dozens of new faculty members in its future Allston campus (Science, 11 July 2008, p. 190), but the recession has slowed construction, and Murray says that hiring will also be affected. She plans to work on increasing gender and racial diversity as well. “I am absolutely committed to having the student body of Harvard, as well as the faculty, … look like the U.S. population in general,” she says.

  4. IN PRINT

    (OVER)DUE DILIGENCE. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this month admitted to having overlooked an author's conflict of interest days after a tense exchange between a journal editor and two academics who had publicized the matter.

    CREDITS: JOANNE CACCIATORE; SUSAN LEO

    The paper in question, by psychiatrist Robert Robinson of the University of Iowa and his colleagues, reported that the antidepressant Lexapro could prevent depression in stroke patients if given soon after a stroke. The paper was published in May 2008, and last fall Jonathan Leo (bottom) of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, and Jeffrey Lacasse (top) of Arizona State University, West, say they “just stumbled on a disclosure” in a previous paper in which Robinson reported that he had been a paid speaker for Forest Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drug. Leo notified JAMA in October, and editors told him they “would look into it.” On 5 March, after no further word from JAMA, Leo and Lacasse criticized the paper—and the nondisclosure—in a letter in the British Medical Journal.

    Publicizing the case ticked off JAMA's top brass. As first reported in the Wall Street Journal's Health blog, Leo says JAMA Executive Deputy Editor Phil Fontanarosa called him and said, “You are banned from JAMA for life.” JAMA Editor-in-Chief Catherine DeAngelis acknowledges that Fontanarosa called Leo to say that “what he was doing was quite unprofessional.” But DeAngelis says Fontanarosa actually told Leo that “we certainly don't expect to receive anything from you to be published.” On 11 March, JAMA published a letter from Robinson and his co-authors acknowledging the conflict.

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