Science  30 Apr 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5415, pp. 721

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  1. New Marching Orders

    Chastened by an inquiry that uncovered multiple violations of its code of research ethics, the Veterans Administration (VA) is adopting a new plan to ensure that its clinical studies follow orders. VA undersecretary for health Kenneth Kizer told Congress last week that the agency's research centers will soon undergo review and accreditation from a new independent authority. Once established, the agency might also act to protect patients' rights at all federal facilities and even private clinics, according to government officials.

    The decision follows the VA's shutdown last month of research at its West Los Angeles Medical Center, prompted by the discovery that a cardiologist had performed an invasive research procedure on a patient who had refused consent (Science, 2 April, p. 18). To prevent future lapses, Kizer told members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on 21 April that he is creating a new headquarters office to enforce guidelines. And to fill a “vacuum” in monitoring human studies, he says the VA will hire a private group to certify, every 3 years, that patient safeguards are in place at research institutions.

  2. Worldly Scientists

    It's time for global leaders to have an esteemed body they can turn to for independent scientific advice, according to U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) head Bruce Alberts. “The world badly needs an impartial mechanism, based only on science, to promote smarter decision-making” on everything from climate change to water policy, he said last week.

    To fill that gap, Alberts announced plans to create a new international group—modeled on the academy's National Research Council—that could assemble expert panels to advise the United Nations, the World Bank, and other global institutions. Members could come from the NAS's 80-odd sister academies around the world, Alberts said.

    The concept is a good one, says Roland Schmitt, president emeritus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, noting that other scientific societies have expressed a similar need. But NAS may be the first to move from words to action: Officials plan to meet with potential partners at a science summit in Budapest, Hungary, in June.

  3. Earth to NASA

    Researchers continue to have concerns about NASA's blueprint for a new generation of Earth-observing missions. Echoing earlier reviews, a National Research Council (NRC) panel last week said that although the space agency is on the right track with plans to launch a new group of smaller, cheaper, and more sophisticated probes starting in 2003, NASA still needs a science strategy to make sure it gets the most out of its orbiting fleet, which will monitor everything from land uses to ocean temperatures.

    The NRC group, led by atmospheric scientist Marvin Geller of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, also warned the agency against relying on a proposed polar orbiting satellite system to collect long-term climate data after an array of current instruments expire early next decade. “There is skepticism about putting all the eggs in that basket,” says one academic. NASA earth science chief Ghassem Asrar was unavailable for comment, but one colleague predicts he “will be able to live with these recommendations.”

  4. New Blood Infusion

    Europe's top fusion research center is getting a change in leadership. After 18 years at the helm, Klaus Pinkau will step down on 1 May as scientific director of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching and Greifswald, Germany. The new boss will be Alexander Bradshaw, director of the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin and president of the German Physical Society.

    Bradshaw, a chemist who switched to synchrotron studies of matter, inherits one of the continent's most active fusion programs. It is the European headquarters for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project and is building Wendelstein 7-X, an experimental reactor, in Greifswald.

    Pinkau—who will stay on as an ITER adviser through the end of the year—will be a hard act to follow, says Martin Keilhacker, director of the Joint European Torus in Abingdon, Britain. But he says Bradshaw is “a very good scientist and administrator.”

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