Science  05 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5407, pp. 1425

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  1. The Source Is With Him

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has tapped David Moncton (below)–head of the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois—to lead construction of the agency's new science flagship, the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS). The change comes after a January advisory panel report criticized Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where DOE plans to build the SNS, for lacking the skills necessary to manage the $1.3 billion project.

    Work on the SNS, which will create neutron pulses for studying the atomic structure and physics of materials, is scheduled to begin this year and finish in 2005. But reviewers worried that Oak Ridge's Bill Appleton, the project's original midwife, lacked experience with building monumental science facilities. Moncton, on the other hand, shepherded the $812 million APS—where he will retain a quarter-time position—to completion. That, together with his training as a neutron scientist, makes him “the right man for the job,” says Brian Kincaid, former director of the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

  2. Stem Cell Take-Home Test

    Every institute chief at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a homework assignment this spring. The taskmaster is Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the appropriations subcommittee that approves the NIH budget. The topic, assigned by Specter during a 23 February hearing on NIH's budget: Explain why human embryonic stem cell research is important to your scientists.

    Specter wants the essays because he's worried that NIH's plan to fund human stem cell research is becoming “a real battleground.” Legal experts at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ruled in January that a congressional ban on funding of human embryo research doesn't apply to stem cells derived from embryos (Science, 22 January, p. 465). But 70 conservative House members and 7 senators strongly disagree. They wrote to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala asking her to halt NIH's plan to forge ahead with stem cell research. But Shalala and NIH Director Harold Varmus say they won't retreat—even if they are getting poor grades from some lawmakers.

  3. The Devil Is in the Data

    Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, has taken the unusual step of opposing new data access regulations being proposed by her own Administration. The law, written last year by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), is designed to force taxpayer-funded scientists to turn over their raw data to anyone who files a Freedom of Information Act request. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), however, has attempted to limit the law's reach by interpreting it narrowly (Science, 12 February, p. 914). Under rules the OMB hopes to finalize by 30 September, researchers would have to disclose only published data used to develop policy or rules.

    But that compromise doesn't sit well with Colwell. “No matter how narrowly drawn,” the rule “will likely harm the process of research in all fields,” she wrote in a 22 February letter to OMB Director Jacob Lew. Instead, she urges the White House to get behind a bill sponsored by Representative George Brown (D-CA) that would repeal the law.

  4. Australia's Food Court

    A special “citizens court” will put genetically modified (GM) foods on trial in Australia next week. Sponsors of the unusual courtroom drama, including the Australian Museum and private groups, hope it will help forge a consensus on how the government should regulate the controversial products.

    On 10 March, 14 lay jurors will gather at the Old Parliament House in Canberra to begin questioning a range of experts on eight hotly debated questions, including whether Australia should support international regulation. The jury's verdicts—to be rendered after 3 days of testimony—could help shape government regulations, such as GM food labeling requirements due in May. Observers hope the trial, modeled after a public- input process developed in the Netherlands, will help steer officials to wise decisions. Jurors “can be pretty damned insightful and see through the guff to the heart of the matter,” says biologist Richard Jefferson of Cambia, a Canberra-based agricultural research institute.

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