News this Week

Science  26 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6106, pp. 448
  1. Around the World

    1 - Washington, D.C.
    Fisheries Data Restricted to Protect Trade Secrets
    2 - Hyderabad, India
    Doubling Biodiversity Aid
    3 - Hyderabad, India
    A 10-Year Ban for GM Field Trials?
    4 - Haida Gwaii, Canada
    Rogue Geoengineering Experiment
    5 - Paris
    Small Satellite, Big Mission
    6 - Paris
    French Opinion on GM Study

    Washington, D.C.

    Fisheries Data Restricted to Protect Trade Secrets


    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spends about $40 million annually to put independent observers on fishing vessels, where they collect data on what's caught in U.S. waters. The information is crucial for evaluating how well fishery management plans are working. Now, NOAA wants to limit public access to these data to protect confidential business information.

    The agency's proposed changes include withholding information about where and when a vessel caught fish, which kinds and how many it caught, and what kind of gear it used. The public would have to request such information directly from fishing permit holders. NOAA says it can still give out “detailed and useful information” by aggregating fisheries data to keep it anonymous, but it doesn't say how it would do that.

    Fisheries data are far less useful when aggregated, says marine ecologist Larry Crowder of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who is trying to devise new approaches to management. “In most cases, our only reliable peek at what's going on in fisheries is the observer data,” he says.

    Hyderabad, India

    Doubling Biodiversity Aid

    Two years after setting targets for saving global biodiversity, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity has struck its first deal on how to pay for those goals. Developed nations agreed to double their aid to developing nations by 2015, a move welcomed by conservation organizations. The new amount—$10 billion a year—covers half of what scientists estimate is needed for those parts of the world ( Several developing nations pledged to boost their own biodiversity spending, including $50 million from India. “The fact that India made a financial commitment at national and international levels sets a precedent for other emerging economies to offer more support to global biodiversity conservation,” said Lasse Gustavsson, WWF International's executive director of conservation in a statement.

    Hyderabad, India

    A 10-Year Ban for GM Field Trials?


    On 17 October, a scientific panel appointed by India's Supreme Court called for a 10-year moratorium on field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops, as well as nonfood crops such as cotton that have insect-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis genes. A decade, the panel said, “is a reasonable length of time” to strengthen India's regulatory regime and develop “a cadre of experts in areas of relevance to food safety evaluation, environmental impact assessment etc.”

    The recommendations are not binding, and the court has not yet scheduled a hearing on the report, after which it could issue a directive compelling the government to implement a ban.

    This call clashes with a report released on 9 October by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scientific advisory council, which hailed genetic modification as a transformational technology that has paid dividends for agriculture and health.

    Maharaj Kishan Bhan, a vaccine specialist and secretary of the Department of Biotechnology in New Delhi, argues that GM research should be stepped up to meet challenges to food productivity posed by climate change and a rising population.

    Haida Gwaii, Canada

    Rogue Geoengineering Experiment

    Questions continue to swirl around what critics call a rogue geoengineering experiment in international waters off the coast of British Columbia. Last week, The Guardian newspaper first reported that in July, a retrofitted fishing trawler dispersed 100 tons of iron dust in an ocean eddy about 321 kilometers west of the island of Haida Gwaii. The iron was intended to foster phytoplankton growth, boosting the entire marine food chain.

    Satellite images taken before and after fertilization indicate a marked increase in phytoplankton. But oceanographer Kenneth Denman of the University of Victoria in Canada says there's no way to know whether the added iron caused it. In the area where the iron was released, ocean eddies carry iron-rich coastal waters as far as 1000 kilometers off shore, triggering natural phytoplankton blooms each summer; those blooms could be most or all of what the satellite images show, Denman says. He adds that because it appears no one performed careful control studies comparing fertilized and unfertilized regions, researchers are unlikely to produce useful science from the test.


    Small Satellite, Big Mission



    The European Space Agency has signed off on a new mission to study extrasolar planets orbiting nearby bright stars. The Characterizing Exoplanets Satellite (Cheops), expected to launch in 2017, will focus on studying known exoplanets rather than finding new ones.

    The green light for Cheops, approved last week, is good news for European astronomers whose earlier proposals for an exoplanet mission never got funded. A proposed exoplanet-detecting spacecraft known as Eddington was left stranded on paper in the early 2000s. There was no reason to revive it after NASA's 2009 launch of Kepler, which does the job Eddington was supposed to do. A more ambitious, next-generation exoplanet finder called Darwin didn't get funded either.

    Estimated to cost the agency no more than €50 million, Cheops will monitor stars to measure the dip in their brightness as orbiting planets pass in front of them. That's what Kepler does, too, but Cheops will take detailed observations of known exoplanets, helping researchers accurately characterize them.


    French Opinion on GM Study

    The French High Council of Biotechnology and the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) have each concluded that a controversial rodent study linking ingestion of genetically modified (GM) corn to tumors is inconclusive due to methodological, statistical, and interpretative limitations. The study, which had led the French government to consider asking the European Union to stop importing the GM crop, has drawn fierce criticism. The government now says it will push for a revision of European procedures for evaluation, approval, and control of GM organisms, although it insists the rodent study didn't influence this decision. Study author Gilles-Eric Séralini says he accepts the criticisms but demands that the Monsanto studies leading to the GM corn approval undergo the same scrutiny as his research did. ANSES did commend Séralini for examining GM plants and pesticide toxicity over long time periods.

  2. Random Sample


    Life may lurk in Antarctica's subglacial Lake Vostok, but it's still elusive. The Russian scientists who drilled through 4000 meters of ice to reach the lake in February are going back this winter to sample it. First, though, they tested the ice clinging to the drill bit, which may be old, refrozen lake water. It had few microbes, the team reported last week at an astrobiology conference in Stockholm.

    Sharper, Sharper, and Sharper Still


    Uranus has never looked better. The Voyager 2 spacecraft took the gas-enshrouded ice giant's first and only close-up in 1986 (left), but even tweaking the contrast (middle pole, in false color) could not reveal much character to the sun's seventh most distant planet.

    Now, new technology and exceptionally good observing conditions one night last July have yielded the sharpest views yet of Uranus. Astronomers used the 10-meter Keck II telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea—equipped with a near-infrared camera to up the clouds' contrast and adaptive optics to reduce earthly atmospheric blurring.

    As planetary astronomer Lawrence Sromovsky of the University of Wisconsin, M adison, and colleagues reported at last week's meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences in Reno, Nevada, Uranus has cloud bands reminiscent of Saturn and Jupiter and, surprisingly, “popcorn” clouds in its north polar region (right side). Although such convective clouds typify summer thunderstorms on Earth, the team will be watching to see whether this oddball convection shuts down as uranian summer comes on.

    Fright Night


    In 2004, when cognitive scientist Lisa Feldman Barrett was looking for ways to raise money for a local food bank charity, her 6-year-old daughter Sophia had an idea. “She loves candy, loves Halloween, and she knew her mom was an ‘emotion scientist,’” says Barrett of Northeastern University in Boston. So why not use her research on fear to design the ultimate haunted house?

    Their spooky-looking Victorian house was perfect for the job. To maximize its scariness, Barrett and her lab focused on stimulating the amygdala, the ancient, almond-shaped structure deep inside the brain that regulates the arousal crucial for fear. “It is easy to increase amygdala activation by showing people blood and guts,” Barrett says, but it can also traumatize, so they focused on subtler triggers: uncertainty, ambiguity, and novelty. If you can't be sure what is inanimate or alive—such as Barrett's graduate students disguised as ghouls and skeletons—then “the amygdala activates the sympathetic nervous system to increase heart rate, sweating, and breathing rate,” Barrett says. The amygdala is also wired to detect how much of the whites of other people's eyes are showing. So they filled the haunted house with actors in costumes with their eyes showing, creepily tracking visitors as they passed through.

    Doors open on 27 October, if you're brave enough to be a research subject in this scary experiment. More details at

    By the Numbers

    500,000 Number of children who developed tuberculosis in 2011, according to the World Health Organization's first analysis of this disease burden in children, published on 17 October in its Global Tuberculosis Report 2012.

    17.6 Percentage of journal articles published in 2011 available as open access either immediately or within 12 months of publication, according to a BMC Medicine analysis of the Directory of Open Access Journals.


    Join us on Thursday, 1 November, at 3 p.m. EDT for a live chat on a hot topic in science.

  3. 2012 Election

    Congratulations! Now Get to Work

    1. Science News Staff

    Regardless of his margin of victory, the president will need all the help he can get in dealing with several intractable problems.


    Promises dominate political campaigns. But once the election is over, either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will have to govern.

    This package examines the science-related issues facing the next occupant of the Oval Office and, for the few that have been featured in the campaign, the positions the candidates have taken on them. At the top of the president's “to-do” list will be trying to resolve the current budget deadlock; legislators will have another chance to address that next month during a lame-duck session of Congress. And while science needs funding to thrive, there are a host of other areas, including energy, education, the environment, space, and biomedicine, in which direction may be just as important as dollars.

    Of course, not all wisdom resides in the White House. Next month's election will also determine the makeup of Congress for the next 2 years. So we bring you one House of Representatives race in which federal science policy is receiving an unusual amount of attention (p. 463). Another story explores new research on negative advertising, a reviled but increasingly popular mode of trying to influence voters (p. 465). And we also look at a passel of state initiatives appearing on the ballot that affect the scientific community, including a hotly contested proposal in California to label genetically modified foods (p. 464).



    Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have promised, as president, to maintain U.S. scientific excellence while paring down a $1.4-trillion-a-year budget deficit. And it's the second half of the sentence that really worries the U.S. academic community. Although each man has said he believes basic research is essential for economic development, it's not at all clear how much is enough, and which areas should be emphasized.

    President Obama has been proud to run on his record of support for science. He has repeatedly honored a pledge, first sounded by President George W. Bush, to boost the nation's investment in the physical sciences and engineering through a 10-year doubling of the budgets of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, although Congress has typically trimmed his annual requests for those agencies. The president has also set a goal of boosting the nation's overall spending on research to 3% of the country's gross domestic product, using federal dollars to spur private-sector R&D investment. In addition, the massive 2009 stimulus package included an unprecedented, one-time, $20 billion boost for basic research (Science, 27 November 2009, p. 1176).

    As a former Massachusetts governor who has never served in Congress, Romney has no track record on federal funding for science. In speeches, he has affirmed the value of university-based research. But Romney has declined to provide any details. When he does mention basic research, it's most often in the context of energy policy, specifically, to contrast what he labels the Obama administration's misguided attempts to “pick winners” in promoting renewable energy technologies with his commitment “to spend the money more wisely.”

    That ambiguity has put the U.S. academic community on high alert. Their response has been a steady stream of reports and white papers documenting how research has contributed to the nation's prosperity, and petitions urging that it not be cut. Staying the course is even more critical now that other countries have learned from the United States and have begun making similarly large investments in research, they add.

    The argument that research should be buffered, if not exempt, from the overall federal belt-tightening is not a new one, of course. But the current effort to trim the massive federal deficit adds urgency.


    The immediate threat to U.S. science is $110 billion in across-the-board cuts to this year's budget, divided evenly between defense and domestic discretionary spending. Under those automatic cuts, which are scheduled to take effect on 2 January, most science agencies would see their 2013 budgets shrink by 8.2% from current levels. For the $31 billion National Institutes of Health, for example, that translates into a $2.5 billion reduction. The $7 billion National Science Foundation would lose $580 million, and the Department of Energy's $4.9 billion Office of Science programs would drop by $423 million.

    Those cuts, called sequestration, were intended to be a last resort under a two-step agreement struck in August 2011 between the White House and Congress to begin reducing what is now a $1.4 trillion annual deficit. The two sides shook hands on more than $900 billion in projected cuts through 2021, starting with $21 billion in the 2012 fiscal year that ended on 30 September. The law created a committee to find an additional $1.2 trillion in some combination of spending cuts and increased revenues, but last December, Congress failed to adopt the committee's recommendations. That inaction started the clock running on sequestration.

    So far this year, Congress has made no headway on resolving the deadlock. In fact, it's gone in the opposite direction, extending current spending levels for another 6 months in lieu of passing a spending bill for the 2013 fiscal year that began on 1 October.

    A lame-duck session after the election will give it one more chance. Although most observers aren't optimistic, scenarios include a postelection détente that starts down a path toward shaving $4 trillion off the deficit over 10 years or a 6-month delay in the effective date of sequestration.

    The election results will certainly influence any decision. A status-quo outcome—a Democratic president and a divided Congress—could nudge all sides toward a compromise, while a Republican sweep is likely to mean no movement until after the winners take office in January. And if sequestration is imposed, those cuts will seriously hamper the plans of whoever is elected.

    Lurking in the shadows, however, is an ugly but unspoken truth: The era of American dominance in science is over. By any reasonable yardstick—spending, Ph.D. production, publications, patents, sales of high-tech manufactured goods, or something else—the rest of the world is narrowing the extraordinary lead in science that the United States has maintained for the past half-century. And although cutting back on research might accelerate that process, no foreseeable increase in federal spending will allow the United States to recapture that large advantage.

    So be wary of any candidate who says his policies will guarantee U.S. preeminence in science. That ship has sailed. In the new era of constrained choices, investing more in one area usually requires spending less in another field. All-of-the-above may work as an energy strategy. But it's no longer a reasonable expectation for federal spending on research.


    Defense Research

    Will the 2% solution survive? The next president will need to decide whether to honor a long-standing commitment to grow the Department of Defense's (DOD's) relatively small basic research budget by 2% annually over the next 4 years despite overall cuts in military spending.

    Although basic science accounts for less than 0.5% of the Pentagon's annual budget, the $2.1 billion is a lifeline for many academic researchers. Roughly half goes to universities, and DOD is the single largest government funder in many fields of engineering, mathematics, and computer science.

    Military planners say research is essential for a modern fighting force. And former defense secretary Robert Gates—who served under both Obama and his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush—promised to prevent basic science spending from stagnating. Gates is gone, however, and his successors confront the tumultuous task of figuring out how to “rightsize” the Pentagon.

    The Obama administration has said cuts must be made but it will try to limit the damage to DOD's basic research programs. Romney has promised to increase overall defense spending but hasn't said whether basic science would also grow.


    Energy Research

    What to keep and what to trim from the Department of Energy's (DOE's) sprawling $11 billion research portfolio is the big question facing the winner of next month's election. Neither candidate has said much during the campaign about how tightening budgets (see "Funding") would affect the department's research priorities, but they have offered divergent views on the government's role in commercializing technologies.

    Scientists involved in physics and fusion studies that require big, expensive machines are particularly anxious about where fundamental studies that offer little promise of immediate practical payoffs will rank among the priorities in an Obama or Romney administration. Particle physicists, for instance, are wondering if the White House will back a nearly $800 million plan to build a scaled-down version of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE). In addition to documenting the behavior of these subatomic particles, the LBNE is the best hope for the survival of the last U.S. bastion of particle physics, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois (Science, 7 September, p. 1157).

    The next president may also have to sacrifice one of three major projects in nuclear physics so that the others might survive. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, an atom smasher at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, is considered the more vulnerable of two existing facilities because DOE recently upgraded the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia. The third, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, is under development at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

    There is trouble brewing on two fronts for U.S. fusion researchers, who seek to reproduce on Earth the process that powers the sun. One formidable challenge comes from the ITER international fusion project under construction in France. The United States is expected to put about $2.2 billion into the $23 billion project over the next 8 years—meaning its annual contribution will ultimately match everything DOE now spends on fusion reactor research. So the next administration has three options: Increase the overall fusion budget, close several U.S.-based fusion laboratories, or reevaluate its support for ITER.

    Fusion researchers may also be squeezed out of working on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, a $3.5 billion laser facility built for both fusion research and nuclear weapons studies. Last month, NIF scientists missed a DOE deadline for igniting a fusion reaction inside a tiny capsule filled with hydrogen fuel (Science, 21 September, p. 1444). As a result, NIF's focus is now shifting to weapons research.

    It is unlikely that either Obama or Romney has strong views on these in-the-trenches science decisions, so the person serving as energy secretary could play an influential role. Nobel laureate Steven Chu hasn't said whether he expects to serve in a second Obama administration, but many Washington insiders will be surprised if he stays. Romney has made it clear that his energy team will focus primarily on ramping up domestic coal, oil, and gas production—a traditional stance for Republican administrations.

    No matter who is elected, DOE's spending on efforts to commercialize new energy technologies is likely to be reshuffled. Romney has promised to eliminate loan-guarantee, tax-credit, and other programs aimed at accelerating the commercial development of nonfossil energy sources, such as solar and wind power, saying the market should decide “winners and losers.” Obama has said he'll stand by those programs—some of which were created by Republicans—despite the high-profile bankruptcies of several government-backed companies. Any decisions will require buy-in from Congress, which has its own ideas.

    One thing the two candidates agree on is continued funding for DOE's 3-year-old Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which last year spent $275 million on research into emerging technologies that need a nudge to attract private investment. They are especially fond of the agency's administrative nimbleness, including its commitment to kill off projects that aren't meeting milestones.


    Climate and Environment

    It is hard to find two issues that more starkly highlight the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney than climate change and environmental regulation. At the same time, whoever wins the election will have to cope with sharp constraints on his ability to implement those policies.

    Obama agrees that humans are causing climate change and says the federal government should take action to curb the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming; Romney says the causes need more study, and that it's not clear that the government should do anything about greenhouse gases. Obama has adopted or set in motion a panoply of new rules aimed at reducing pollution and protecting habitat from development; Romney has vowed to roll back most if not all of them, arguing they harm the economy.

    Neither candidate, however, has acknowledged the dirty little secret of environmental politics: Few presidents are able to move as far or as fast on environmental issues as they claim they'd like to. Just as Obama has been stymied on a number of fronts by Congress, the courts, and political opposition from both the left and the right, Romney would face a host of obstacles to undoing present policies.

    Still, there are several areas where the winner can act unilaterally. For instance, Romney could rescind with a stroke of a pen several Obama-era executive orders that require government agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make “green” purchases. He could also slow the implementation of recent rules aimed at cutting carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants and essentially block efforts to extend those rules to new plants.

    It's less clear, however, that he could undo court rulings that have upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that those emissions “endanger” public health under the Clean Air Act and, therefore, require regulatory action. And Romney could also face legal tangles if he attempts to roll back other regulations targeting mercury pollution and ground-level ozone. In contrast, reelection would give Obama a chance to consolidate and entrench these regulatory approaches, but he could also face new legal challenges.

    The two candidates also differ on how to protect habitat on federal land. Obama has taken a two-pronged approach: Honor existing moratoria on oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coasts of California and Florida and oppose drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), but move cautiously to allow exploratory wells in Arctic seas off Alaska. He also has stiffened regulatory requirements for companies wanting to drill, mine, or log on public lands.

    Romney, in contrast, has said he would push to open for drilling ANWR and other coastal areas, as well as offering greater incentives to quickly develop areas that are already open to leasing. He has criticized Obama for crippling efforts to exploit public holdings and said he would give states a greater say in how to use federal lands within their boundaries.

    The next administration will also need to decide how much political capital to invest on reaching an international deal to address climate change. Obama has said the U.S. will stay involved in desultory efforts to persuade other major greenhouse gas emitters—most notably China—to act in concert to curb their emissions. China has shown little appetite for the subject recently, however, and Congress fiercely opposes any deal that it believes puts the United States at an economic disadvantage. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, has said that it is skeptical of any global discussions, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the causes and impacts of climate change.

    Although few are betting on any global agreement any time soon to curb emissions, the issue isn't going away. In September 2013, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will start releasing its next big report on the science, impacts, and potential mitigation of climate change. The new data are expected to rekindle debate on the topic.

    Striking the right balance between protecting the environment and fostering economic development lies at the heart of another issue facing the next president, namely, how best to rewrite the Toxic Substances Control Act. It's the nation's flagship law regulating the use of new and existing chemicals. One especially thorny issue is how to regulate the minuscule products of nanotechnology without hobbling commercialization of that nascent field.



    For better or worse, teachers have captured the lion's share of the meager attention given to education during this year's presidential election. Their political activism infuriates Mitt Romney, who would like to ban teachers' unions from making campaign contributions. In addition, his support for vouchers—channeling federal funding for low-income and disabled students to parents rather than to local and state agencies—is designed in part to blunt the influence of teachers' unions in making policy. In contrast, President Barack Obama has relied on these unions to help get out the vote, and he frequently mentions that funds from his massive 2009 federal stimulus package have kept hundreds of thousands of classroom teachers on the payroll.

    But what do the two candidates think about the job that those teachers are paid to do? Both men have said that teachers are the essential ingredient in a good school. And although it may be easy to dismiss their comments as an applause line, their position also squares with a growing body of research on the powerful influence of good teachers on student learning.

    Those findings could play a role in several pieces of legislation coming up for review as soon as next year. Two key reauthorizations are the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which former President George W. Bush branded “No Child Left Behind,” and the Higher Education Act, which governs student lending and teacher training. Also on the table are special education and technical education programs, as well as the Department of Education's research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences. Scientists hope that research on teacher quality will get a boost regardless of which man is elected.

    The federal government provides less than 10% of all funding for elementary and secondary education in the United States, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education receives a tiny fraction of that federal investment. Even so, Obama has probably spent more time talking about STEM education than any president in recent memory. His stump speech invariably includes his promise to train 100,000 more science and math teachers over the next decade as part of a broader effort to build a more technology-savvy workforce. Obama has also run on his record of fostering state-based educational innovations through a $4 billion Race to the Top competition for schools, as well as a public-private partnership, called Educate to Innovate, created to attract more students, in particular women and minorities, into STEM fields.

    Romney hasn't ignored the subject, although he has much less to say about science and math education. He believes that Washington has no business financing implementation of the so-called Common Core, a voluntary effort by 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt a similar curriculum in math and language arts, and a companion common assessment of student performance. That stance presumably would also apply to the pending next-generation science standards that have yet to be embraced by the states. At the same time, however, he backs efforts by states to hold teachers accountable for how much students learn, including losing their jobs if test scores stagnate.

    The importance of science education to the Obama administration is no coincidence. Physics Nobelist Carl Wieman was the driving force for STEM education policies during most of Obama's first term before leaving the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in June for treatment of a serious medical condition. Wieman has spent more than a decade conducting research on two related issues: how to improve undergraduate science courses, and the training of future STEM teachers. He believes that both areas would benefit from an approach he calls “deliberate practice,” that is, treating the brain as a muscle that acquires skills through extended and strenuous learning activities. Two recent reports, one by a presidential advisory body on improving STEM education and another by the U.S. National Academies on discipline-based science education, strike similar themes on what needs to be done.

    In short, a second Obama administration will likely continue its push to beef up federal STEM education efforts. Romney, on the other hand, would probably be content to see local authorities take the initiative.


    Space Science

    The budgets for space science and space exploration at NASA may be comparable in size, but that's where their similarity ends. Human flight and the hardware needed to make it happen get most of the attention from Congress and the public, thanks in part to the clout of the aerospace industry and the popular appeal of astronauts. But scientific missions, such as Hubble and the Mars Curiosity rover, have racked up the biggest achievements in recent years.

    The next president will be challenged to find a way to keep both sectors healthy, and it promises to be a tall order for either man. Critics of President Barack Obama say he lacks a comprehensive vision for human exploration and that NASA's pipeline of robotic missions is running dry. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has settled for criticizing his opponent's record without offering any substantial plan of his own.

    There is no shortage of scientific decisions facing the next administration. The agency's plans for exploring Mars in the next decade are only beginning to take shape, following the Obama administration's recent decision to cancel NASA's participation in the European-led ExoMars mission. NASA is under pressure to deliver the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope by 2018, its new launch date, and the next president will have to ensure that the mission does not suffer any further cost increases.

    The next administration will also have to wrestle with Congress over the way forward in promoting commercial spaceflight after Obama cancelled the Constellation program, whose goal was to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020. That approach was replaced with a plan to commercialize human spaceflight, develop new technologies, and send humans to a nearby asteroid by 2025. The administration has had to overcome considerable resistance from Congress over the past 3 years to begin implementing Obama's vision.

    If Republican nominee Romney has a position on these and other issues facing NASA, he's keeping it a secret. All he has said on the subject so far is that he doesn't like the direction in which NASA is headed. In a space policy white paper released by the Romney campaign last month, he attacked Obama for failing to “deliver a coherent policy for human space exploration and space security,” which he said was eroding the nation's leadership in space. “The President's disjointed collection of scientific projects lack guiding principles, plausible objectives, or a roadmap for long-run success,” Romney wrote in the white paper.

    What would Romney do differently? His paper offers some rather broad hints. One would ensure that NASA has “practical and sustainable missions” that balance “pragmatic and top-priority science with inspirational and groundbreaking exploration programs.” A second would improve the relationship between NASA and its international partners. A third calls for a clear road map for developing the commercial space industry. At the same time, some of his proposals sound like what NASA is already doing, such as developing “new generations of spacecraft for government missions” while transitioning out of “routine space operations in low Earth orbit as private sector capabilities mature.”

    If Obama wins a second term, he can expect to continue his tussle with Congress to secure funding for the programs NASA has embarked on at a time when the space agency's budget is only likely to flatten or decline. He's already compromised (supporters would say he's shown flexibility) by embracing two elements of the abandoned Constellation program—a stripped-down version of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle that is to serve as a lifeboat for the International Space Station and a heavy-lift rocket.

    The fighting over the big redirection that Obama ordered may have finally subsided, but more recent changes are continuing to be met with resistance. Obama's decision to cancel NASA's participation in ExoMars has ignited protests from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. NASA officials have responded by outlining a new Mars exploration program that would begin with an orbiter mission in 2018 followed by a sample return effort and culminating in a human mission to the Red Planet in the mid-2030s. But filling in the details of that plan will be just one of many challenges that await the next president.



    Biodefense has been well below the radar in the election campaign, but the next administration will have to make an early decision on how much further to go in regulating basic research involving potentially risky pathogens. In March, the Obama administration expanded regulatory requirements for federally funded scientists working with 15 particularly dangerous agents after a global controversy over whether scientists should publish two studies showing how they made the H5N1 avian influenza virus potentially more dangerous to humans (Science, 6 April, p. 21).

    The papers were ultimately published, but the episode is still reverberating through the bureaucracy. Government officials are working on plans that would ask universities to do more to help reduce the risks to society from biomedical research that might be used for good or evil. But any new system could take several years to implement, and academics are likely to push back against any rules that they see as adding to their workloads without truly reducing risks. The next administration will also have to help resolve the question of how—and when—to end a voluntary research moratorium that has stalled certain kinds of influenza studies.

    The next president will also need to review a proposed $3.1 billion expansion of the controversial BioWatch early warning system designed to detect a bioweapons attack. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has so far spent about $1 billion to deploy BioWatch systems in 30 U.S. cities. But government auditors and independent analysts say the current technology—which involves air filters that are hand-checked daily for the presence of pathogens—is faulty and unreliable. BioWatch planners have proposed an upgrade, known as Generation 3, which would automate much of the system. But many members of Congress are skeptical of the cost and have called for a review before moving ahead. DHS officials have asked an outside group to take a look and report back sometime next year.



    On the campaign trail, president Barack Obama and Mitt Romney differ sharply on what to do about illegal immigration, including the 12 million undocumented persons living in the United States.

    But the candidates are not far apart on the issue of legal immigration, which gets much less attention. And they hold nearly identical positions on how to make it easier to retain the most talented foreign students after they graduate with advanced science and engineering degrees from U.S. universities. Their solution, often shortened to the sound bite “Staple a green card to their diplomas,” is also a key objective for the U.S. high-tech community.

    But the politics of immigration make achieving that goal difficult. Last month, for instance, the House of Representatives defeated a Republican-backed bill that included a “stapling-lite” provision because many Democrats objected to how it would be implemented. Conventional wisdom says that such changes will have to be part of comprehensive immigration reform, which so far has eluded Congress.

    But next year could be different. “I can deliver, Governor, a whole bunch of Democrats to get comprehensive immigration reform done,” Obama promised during last week's debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Not to be outdone, Romney replied: “I'll get it done, first year.” If the next president keeps his word, foreign-born scientists could find themselves with a much easier path toward permanent residency.


    Biomedical Research

    Although president Barack Obama's policy on stem cell research and his choices to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute have pleased the biomedical research community, his habit of singling out specific diseases for special attention in budget requests has ruffled some scientists' feathers.

    Most scientists would prefer that a president rely on NIH's peer-review system to award money based on the strongest proposals. Mitt Romney, who has otherwise said little about biomedical research, has promised to do exactly that.

    Obama administration officials have said that their emphasis on specific diseases is a response to public health needs and scientific opportunities. And the practice may be irresistible for politicians responding to key constituencies and their own health histories.


    Obama, whose mother died of ovarian cancer, favored cancer research over the rest of NIH's portfolio in his 2010 and 2011 budget requests. His 2010 request also proposed doubling cancer research over 8 years. Congress, however, ignored those requests.

    The Obama administration has enjoyed greater success in its bid to boost autism research, which grew by 28% over those 2 years. Research on Alzheimer's has also been favored in the past year. “We can't wait to act; reducing the burden of Alzheimer's disease on patients and their families is an urgent national priority,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in February about the new Alzheimer's money.

    The Romney campaign is not immune to such pleas, and Ann Romney, Mitt's wife, is a breast cancer survivor. The Republican platform says the party supports biomedical research, “especially … neuroscience research” on diseases such as autism, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. It also backs more research on cancer and other diseases among “formerly neglected groups.”

    At the same time, Romney's campaign Web site doesn't mention research on specific diseases. And he toed the biomedical community's line while campaigning in Iowa during the Republican primary. “Where I will spend money … will be determined not by the people who are the politicians but by the scientists and by people who measure where they think the impact will be the greatest,” Romney told a boy with autism at a town hall meeting. “So I can tell you that I will do it in a fair and appropriate, nonpolitical way.”

    One of President Obama's most significant science policy changes was his 2009 executive order lifting limits on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells. Romney hasn't cleary indicated whether he would maintain or reverse that policy.


  4. 2012 Election

    For Once, Science Is an Issue in Race for a Seat in Congress

    1. Adrian Cho

    A physicist takes on a longtime friend of science in a tight Illinois race in which research matters.

    Gloves off.

    Biggert and Foster have sparred over science this fall in a campaign marked by attack ads.


    Candidates for Congress rarely fight over how fervently they support science. But it's happening in Illinois's newly redrawn 11th district, a contorted swath of Chicago's southwestern suburbs. The election for a seat in the House of Representatives pits Democrat Bill Foster, a physicist who served in Congress from 2008 through the start of 2011, against Republican Judy Biggert, the seven-term incumbent who has served on the House science committee for her entire career.

    Science features in the race because the district includes part of Argonne National Laboratory, a multipurpose lab owned by the Department of Energy (DOE). It also runs just south of DOE's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), the sole U.S. laboratory specializing in particle physics. Polls show Biggert, 75, and Foster, 57, in a dead heat, and the votes of scientists probably won't decide the contest. But the at-times-nasty campaign raises the question of whether it's better for researchers to have a longtime ally or one of their own on Capitol Hill.

    The candidates are trading potshots over science. In a recent debate, Biggert, whose old district encompassed Argonne, all but accused Foster of abandoning his colleagues: “My opponent couldn't get on the science committee even though he's a scientist.” After the debate, Foster told Science that if elected, he'd prefer a seat on the appropriations committee, where he could directly influence science funding.

    But during the debate, Foster counterattacked on science. “You voted for the Ryan budget,” he began, referring to the cost-cutting federal budget proposed by Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who chairs the House of Representatives Budget Committee. “You claim to be a supporter of science, and yet the Ryan budget has been analyzed and it provides for a 30% cut to federal research budgets.” (An analysis by AAAS, the publisher of Science, estimates that nondefense research spending could drop by 27% under the Ryan budget.)

    Scientists clearly prefer Foster. Records from the Federal Election Commission show that hundreds of researchers from all over the country have donated nearly $400,000 to his campaign. Only two donors who identify themselves as scientists show up on Biggert's tally. “If you think about the problems facing the country, most of the solutions involve science at some level,” says Michael Turner, a Foster donor and a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, which manages Argonne for the DOE.

    But Washington insiders say scientists often overestimate the influence that one of their own might exert in Congress, which is home to only a handful of scientists and engineers. “Personally, I would not vote for or against somebody because they were a scientist,” says David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He served as chief of staff for the science committee under Republican leadership from 2001 through 2006.

    Goldston and others say a nonscientist friend on the Hill may be more productive. And that's what Biggert has strived to be. A lawyer, she won election to the House in 1998 and says she immediately sought a spot on the science committee so she could advocate for Argonne. That decision paid off right away, she says. “President [Bill] Clinton cut $20 million from the electrometallurgical project at Argonne,” she says, referring to work on a technology for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, “but I got the money back.”

    By all accounts, Biggert played a leading role in drumming up Republican support for the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which authorized increases aimed at doubling the budgets for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and DOE's Office of Science over 10 years.

    On the job.

    As a member of Congress, Bill Foster (right) went to Fermilab in 2009 to trumpet $60 million in new funding; Judy Biggert (left) helped break ground last year for a new facility at Argonne.


    Biggert says she strongly favors basic research over applied efforts. For example, COMPETES also established the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), a program to quickly develop promising ideas from energy-related research. But Biggert worried that ARPA-E, which stresses more applied science, would take money away from DOE's fundamental research programs. So she lobbied successfully for language in COMPETES that said ARPA-E would receive money only after DOE's basic research efforts were fully funded. ARPA-E launched in 2009 with a one-time allocation of $400 million from the massive stimulus package. Its budget this year is $275 million, compared with $4.9 billion for the Office of Science.

    Foster argues that his scientific expertise will make him a more effective advocate for the labs. He worked at Fermilab for 22 years before leaving in 2006. As a teenager, Foster and his younger brother started a theater lighting company that has made them wealthy. So Foster describes himself as “a scientist and a businessman.”

    In March 2008, Foster won a special midterm election to represent a district that was home to Fermilab and gained a full term 8 months later. But in November 2010 he lost his seat to Republican Randy Hultgren.

    Foster takes an explicitly quantitative approach to politics. “A scientist or an engineer has a natural instinct to attach a number to a problem,” he says. “Very often, even having an approximate number gets you to the correct policy choice.” Foster says his scientific bent served him well on the financial services committee when it took up reform of banking regulations. A numerical approach, he says, helped clarify which factors were of greatest importance in regulating complex financial instruments.

    But some Washington insiders have doubts about such a science-as-policy approach. The few scientists who are in Congress don't always see eye to eye, Goldston says. On many issues there just isn't a “scientific position,” he says.

    Some observers say that Biggert's support for science has flagged since the conservative Tea Party gained influence within the Republican Party. The shift was evident when it came time to reauthorize COMPETES in 2010, says one congressional staffer. “She was a big champion of COMPETES in 2007,” the staffer says. “2010 was a different story. … She was more cautious.”

    Biggert says she was unhappy that the reauthorization did not contain the clause ensuring full funding of basic research before funding of ARPA-E, but she eventually cast an “aye” vote. And the Ryan budget doesn't reflect her stance on science, she says: “I will fight as hard as I can so that there aren't cuts in basic research.”

    Fermilab's uncertain future has also become a campaign issue. Foster has blamed Biggert for the lab's inability over the past decade to snare a major new federally funded project, such as the proposed $800 million Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment.

    But the real hurdle has been DOE's Office of Science, which has held funding for particle physics flat while boosting spending on clean energy research, the Obama administration's priority. So if Foster wins and Obama remains in office, Foster would face an uphill battle to win new money for Fermilab. Still, Foster says that being a scientist makes him more credible in advocating for the value of such research: “There isn't a substitute for having people with real technical competence making those arguments all the way up the command chain.”

    The race to represent Illinois's 11th district will be decided on issues such as taxes and health care reform, not federal funding for research. But for the moment, the topic has become part of the public debate. And the discourse seems as rough as that on any other issue.

  5. 2012 Election

    Food Labeling Issue Tops State Ballot Questions

    1. Meghna Sachdev

    Scientists say California's Proposition 37 would send a misguided message to the public about genetically modified foods.

    An attempt in California to require the labeling of food containing genetically modified (GM) material has rekindled a long-running debate about its safety. It has also angered many scientists, who say that such foods pose no danger to the public.

    Proposition 37, one of 174 ballot issues facing voters next month in 37 states, would be the first such law in the United States. It would require labels on any food containing more than one part in 200 of GM material. That's an even lower threshold than the levels in existing labeling laws in Europe and Japan.

    Those in favor of Prop 37, one of 11 issues being put to California voters on 6 November, say it's needed to educate consumers. But they also worry about the effects of GM food on health and the environment. In fact, many supporters hope that mandatory labeling will be the first step toward an outright ban of GM food products in the United States.

    Most scientists argue that these concerns are unfounded. Genetic modification using recombinant DNA is a technique that does not alter food in any meaningful way, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Scientists worry that labeling will serve only to mark GM foods as “different,” a designation that could discourage consumers from buying them. If that happens, scientists say, reduced demand could prevent advances in plant genetics from being commercialized.

    “We have some very serious problems in agriculture, and we need to use all of the science that we can to solve these problems,” says Robert Goldberg, a plant biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Goldberg calls the arguments for Proposition 37 “antiscience” and “ideological.”

    Although surveys earlier in the year found that two in three voters supported Prop 37, recent polls indicate that the race is tightening. Opponents have spent $35 million on a media blitz, funded in large part by contributions from agribusinesses such as Monsanto and DuPont. In contrast, supporters have raised only $5.4 million.

    Several states are asking voters to support cash-starved higher education systems. By far the largest is California's Proposition 30, which would generate billions of dollars a year by hiking sales and income tax rates.

    In South Dakota, Referred Law 14 would tap a portion of the taxes collected from contractors to provide grants for in-state projects costing more than $5 million, including research on alternative energy technologies and improving agricultural practices. New Jersey's Question 1 would authorize the state to issue $750 million in bonds to upgrade facilities at all manner of public colleges and universities. It includes $52.5 million for private institutions with small endowments.

  6. 2012 Election

    Want to Tear Down Your Rival? Here's What Might Work Best

    1. Eliot Marshall

    A new study of negative political ads shows that timing and audience may be the keys to success.

    If you want to attack your political opponent, do it after voters have made up their minds.

    That's the conclusion of a new and controversial study on the impact of negative advertising in political campaigns. October is the critical month for election propaganda, says Yanna Krupnikov, a political scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She finds that people are most susceptible to negative ads late in the campaign if they attack the candidate they have chosen. The ads can discourage people from voting, she reported last year in work funded by the National Science Foundation.

    Rising tide.

    Purely negative TV campaign ads—those mentioning only a rival, like many now targeting Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—have risen sharply in the past decade just before the U.S. presidential election. This sample shows the breakdown of ad tone for September since 2000.


    Negative ads are on the rise (see graph), and the idea that they discourage voting has been batted around for decades. Political scientists Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar reported in the mid-1990s that such ads significantly discourage voter turnout, and their work triggered scores of follow-up papers.

    More recent analyses have been overwhelmingly skeptical of that conclusion, however. Some researchers have found the opposite effect: that negative ads actually boost participation. One prominent doubter, John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, assembled a database of 3 decades of ads created for presidential campaigns. His 2006 book, In Defense of Negativity, argues that such ads do not stifle voter turnout and are actually good for democracy because statements that challenge an opponent contain more factual information than feel-good image ads and, thus, promote a vigorous debate.

    Northwestern's Krupnikov doesn't think it's that simple. She believes that other analysts may have missed the vote-suppressing effect of negative ads because they didn't look carefully at the timing and targeting of such ads. Had they done so, she argues, they might have found a similar effect.

    Her work is based in part on how people make consumer and voting decisions. It's a two-step process, she says: People amass and evaluate information (including negative comments, which are helpful at this stage) before making a choice. Then they decide to act. A late blast of negative information may discourage voting without changing a person's choice, she says. If a voter thinks that a chosen candidate may not be any better than a disliked candidate, that voter “has no reason to turn out and vote.”

    Krupnikov used the 2004 presidential election to test her theory, examining the tone of advertising and surveys about voter turnout. She analyzed similar surveys from elections in 1976 through 2000 and melded those responses with ads in those seven earlier elections, cataloged in a database and evaluated by Geer and colleagues.

    Krupnikov found that only late negative ads (those aired after 1 October) were linked to a significantly lower likelihood that people would turn out to vote. The data for the seven other elections are less precise, but in the October 2011 American Journal of Political Science, she writes that her analysis of the earlier years yielded “the same pattern” as for 2004.

    This year, researchers are waiting to see what happens in a presidential election that appears headed for a record wave of negative ads. “Most of President Obama's advertising has been negative,” says Kenneth Goldstein, a political scientist who last year became CEO of Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. “But so has Mitt Romney's advertising—and ads by all the allies and PACs [political action committees].”

    Goldstein developed methods of tracking and analyzing political television ads as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP) reports that most ads being aired in the final stage of the 2012 presidential campaign are negative. September's TV ads fall into three “tone” categories, WMP says: 62.8% purely negative (“mentioning solely the opposition candidate”), 29.5% contrast ads (“those that mention both the favored candidate and the opposition”), and 7.8% positive ads (“mentioning solely the favored candidate”). The share of negative campaign ads in September has risen steadily throughout the decade, from 22.7% in 2000 to 30.5% in 2004 to 56.2% in 2008.

    Goldstein isn't particularly concerned about the trend. “I've studied this every which way in many years and in many races. I don't always find positive effects [encouraging voter participation], … but I have never found negative effects.”

    What may be the most thorough scholarly rejection of the idea that negative ads suppress voting comes from a meta-analysis by Richard Lau, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and colleagues. Their review of 111 papers in the November 2007 issue of The Journal of Politics found no significant vote-discouraging effect. “I spent 15 years of my life reading every damn paper that was written on this,” Lau says.

    His conclusion is that these ads, if they influence voters at all, actually stimulate participation in elections. Lau would be “a lot more concerned” about the ad blitz if one side heavily outspent the other. But in this year's presidential election, he says, “both Obama and Romney have more money than God.”

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