Science  12 Mar 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5408, pp. 1613
  1. Cash Crunch

    Studies at France's principal biomedical research agency could soon grind to a halt for lack of supplies. Researchers at INSERM have run afoul of controversial spending rules from the finance ministry, which require public labs to buy most of their supplies from companies chosen by competitive bidding at the beginning of each year. So far, however, INSERM has failed to designate its suppliers for 1999. As a consequence, researchers are exhausting limited funds set aside for purchases from “unofficial” suppliers. “I can't even buy food for my animals,” says one.

    INSERM researchers are protesting the buying restrictions and last week asked Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to delay proposed changes that would force scientists to make up their shopping lists a year in advance, which they say would make things even worse. A ministry adviser, however, disputed that notion, saying the changes would also widen buying choices and “take into account the special needs of researchers.” Meanwhile, as an emergency measure, the ministry has doubled the amount researchers can spend with unofficial suppliers, but even these extra funds are running out fast.

  2. Believe It or Not

    Newspapers in Canada and Britain are reporting that a soon-to-be-published study shows that microwave radiation from cell phone antennae messes with your short-term memory. They have even quoted British scientists who say they are limiting cell phone use based on the results. But sources familiar with the study have told Science that the findings are the opposite of what's been reported: that a brief, 10-minute stint on a cell phone appeared to enhance memory of a word list presented right after the call.

    Researcher Alan Preece of Bristol University won't confirm either interpretation of his team's work, which is the first human trial designed to see if cell phone radiation influences brain function. The trial's results will appear in next month's International Journal of Radiation Biology, and Preece is planning to reveal the details at an 8 April press conference.

  3. Road Kill

    When students change schools often, math and science can get lost in the shuffle. That's the message from the National Science Board (NSB), which has just issued a report on improving the poor performance of U.S. students (see p. 1616). “The importance of [student] mobility hasn't been recognized” in the current push for national standards on curricula, says NSB chair Eamon Kelly, citing studies that show nearly one-third of U.S. eighth graders have changed schools two or more times. Low-income students are more likely to move frequently, he adds, a factor that could exacerbate the achievement gap between minorities and whites.

    In other recommendations, the report, “Preparing Our Children” (, proposes a national campaign to improve instructional materials and teacher preparation as well as strengthen links between academic researchers, K-12 teachers, and school districts. Kelly admits that the suggestions aren't new, but says the board hopes to “raise the consciousness” of policy-makers and the public on the subject.

  4. Trouble for IT2?

    Representative James Walsh (R-NY) is making it clear that he doesn't like the politics behind IT2, the $366 million information technology initiative trumpeted by the Clinton Administration (Science, 29 January, p. 613).

    At a hearing last week, Walsh gave the National Science Foundation-led effort credit for being “much more focused” than NSF's previous program to make computer networks faster and more user-friendly, dubbed Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence. But he is concerned about “NSF's ability to act independently and not just follow orders from the White House” when it comes to spending its $144 million share of the six-agency initiative. The words from Walsh, who chairs the House panel that oversees NSF's budget, suggest that IT2 could face problems if money is tight.

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