Science  05 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5442, pp. 1061

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  1. The Long View

    It's way too soon for scientists to take it to the bank, but the National Science Foundation (NSF) has begun discussing new initiatives in mathematics and the social sciences.

    NSF is still awaiting White House reaction to its 2001 budget request, which won't be finalized until January. But NSF director Rita Colwell says she is already thinking about highlighting mathematics in her 2002 request and the social and behavioral sciences in 2003. “Mathematics is the foundation for all the sciences,” she told a 1 November symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes Science). And scientists “need the social and behavioral sciences to interpret the huge databases” being compiled in many fields.

    The fledgling initiatives are a response to a White House request for a 5-year plan from each agency. But the Clinton Administration will be history after next November's election, meaning that Colwell, whose 6-year term runs through 2004, must sell her ideas to the next set of political bosses.

  2. Double or Nothing?

    Science groups are taking another crack at getting a cherished funding bill through the House. But few expect the bill—which would enable, but not require, the federal government to double nonbiomedical R&D spending to $68 billion by 2010—to survive a clash with Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chair of the House Science Committee.

    In a repeat of last year's unsuccessful campaign, Representative Heather Wilson (D-NM) and nine cosponsors last week introduced the doubling bill (H.R. 3161), which mirrors a companion the Senate passed earlier this year (Science, 28 May, p. 1452). But Sensenbrenner, whose committee must approve the measure, has derided earlier versions of the bill, calling it a “feel-good” effort that will produce little actual cash for research. Still, Sensenbrenner aides say the lawmaker hasn't yet made up his mind about the current version, which probably won't get hearings until next year.

    In the meantime, doubling backers—who have made the measure a centerpiece for a high-profile campaign—are expecting the worst. But some believe the dogged effort could eventually pay off in a future Congress. Jokes one lobbyist: “We'd like a win, but a valiant defeat might be just as glorious.”

  3. Leonid Fever

    Meteor watchers are planning an all-nighter for 17 November, when Earth will plow through the debris left behind by Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet zipped through the solar system last year, and astronomers expect rare Leonid meteor storms this year and next. While last year's crop of Leonids provided some spectacular fireballs, they fell short of a first-class storm. This time, experts say the fireworks should have more pop.

    That prospect has researchers dispersing to far-flung locales to observe the storm. For instance, Peter Brown, an astronomer at the University of Western Ontario, is leading an expedition to the Canary Islands funded primarily by the U.S. Air Force, which hopes to glean insights into how to better protect its satellites. Other prime sites include Europe and West Africa, says Donald Yeomans, an astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who predicts peak meteor watching will occur at 01:48 Universal Time on 18 November.

  4. Nobel Switch

    French research minister Claude Allègre is lucky that France has so many talented physicists. When Nobel laureate Claude Cohen-Tannoudji resigned on 13 October from the nation's National Science Council, it took Allègre just 2 weeks to find another Nobel-winning replacement. Last week, the minister named physicist Georges Charpak of the CERN accelerator center near Geneva to fill the empty slot.

    But Allègre may need to do more than pull Nobelists out of a hat to end grumbling on the 27-member council, which prime minister Lionel Jospin created in 1998 to advise the government on research priorities. Allègre “confused [meetings of] the National Science Council with a press conference,” Cohen-Tannoudji groused to the French daily Le Figaro after quitting. “He came to expound on decisions that he had already made.”

    Allègre can expect a somewhat more sympathetic ear from Charpak. Last month, Charpak was one of six Nobelists who signed a letter supporting the minister's overall research strategy.

  5. Correction

    Last week's ScienceScope item “Upwardly Mobile” overstated the U.S. gross domestic product. It is $8.8 trillion.