Science  21 Dec 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5551, pp. 2451
  1. No-Confidence Vote

    In a straw poll, some 150 genome scientists, physicians, and ethicists voted 3:1 in favor of ending the government-backed Human Genome Project when it finishes its work in 2003. The informal tally, taken last week at a meeting of human genome experts in Warrenton, Virginia, reflects concern among some scientists that proponents of the decade-long, $300 million effort have oversold its immediate benefits to biomedicine. But Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which funded and coordinated much of the sequencing effort, warned voters that “ultimately, you aren't going to decide this.”

  2. MOSE Advances

    Venice's lagoon may get its floodgates after all. Italian officials earlier this month approved a controversial plan to spend $2.3 billion to build MOSE, a set of inflatable floodgates designed to protect the historic city from tidal flooding. In March, officials had requested revisions in the plan after researchers complained that the project hadn't accounted for the latest predictions for sea-level rise due to climate change (Science, 6 April, p. 28).


    Critics still argue that MOSE, which will take at least 8 years to build, will be an environmental and economic disaster. Some experts say that reengineering the lagoon's outlets would do better—and save money. And the environmental group WWF-Italy calls MOSE a “presumptuous technological bet.” A separate controversy over contracting is likely to delay construction—and prolong debate.

  3. Lander Take Off?

    Look for the renowned Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its genome center run by Eric Lander to go their separate ways in 2002. The center served as the flagship organization in the Human Genome Project with its more than 200 employees and a vast collection of sequencing machines. With the bulk of that project complete, new Whitehead director Susan Lindquist and Lander are contemplating making the center into its own institute, affiliated—like the Whitehead—with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to sources familiar with the talks. Whitehead spokesperson Seema Kumar acknowledges that “informal discussions” are under way to examine “organizational models” to best make use of the center's genomic expertise.

  4. Orbach to DOE

    Theoretical physicist Ray Orbach, chancellor of the University of California (UC), Riverside, is slated to become the Department of Energy's next science chief. President George W. Bush on 11 December said he will nominate Orbach, 67, to head DOE's Office of Science, which oversees a $3.2 billion research program. Orbach is a veteran academic and administrator who has led UC Irvine for nearly a decade. His appointment is getting good reviews. But one congressional aide warns that Orbach will have his hands full “promoting science in an agency that seems to be losing interest.”

  5. Super Concerned

    Japanese researchers hope to recreate the events that led to last month's accident that destroyed nearly 6800 of the 11,000-plus photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) at the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector (Science, 23 November, p. 1630). Leading theories involve the effects of water pressure, the energy released by the collapse of the 60-cm-diameter vacuum tubes, and the impact of debris from the first broken tube. “We are going to try to reproduce the disaster,” says Yoji Totsuka, a professor at the University of Tokyo's Institute for Cosmic Ray Research and head of the observatory, which in 1998 recorded the first convincing evidence that neutrinos have mass.

    The first test will shatter one PMT at the tank's bottom and watch its impact on others nearby. A second experiment will test the ability of prototype plastic cocoons to protect the tubes from shock waves and debris. Totsuka hopes to complete the experiments in time to present the results to an investigative committee early next month.

  6. EPA Seeks Advice

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)has put on hold plans to use studies in which companies dose people with pesticides while the National Academy of Sciences studies the issue. A 1996 law that requires new safety limits for pesticides on produce prompted industry to expose paid volunteers to chemicals to determine the minimum level at which a toxicant causes effects. The Clinton-era EPA barred using the human data due to ethical concerns, but last month agency officials said they were reviewing some studies (Science, 14 December, p. 2285). Now EPA has shelved the studies until the academy weighs in on whether some human research is “unacceptable,” and on how the agency should handle studies that don't follow federal ethics guidelines.

  7. Healthy Investment

    Spending more on health care in the developing world would save lives, reduce conflicts, and boost the economy, a panel of 18 economists, health experts, and scientists argues in a report presented this week to World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland. Echoing views long espoused by its chair, Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, the panel says that middle-income countries should spend an additional 2% of their gross national product on health and rich nations should chip in an extra 0.1%. Most of the money—some $66 billion by 2015—should go to getting drugs and vaccines to needy people, with $3 billion set aside for basic research and a “global NIH” that would target common but poorly understood diseases. The panel estimates that the investment would be repaid sixfold in economic expansion.

    Sachs hopes such numbers will start swaying national health spending decisions as early as 2002. In the meantime, he says, big pharma should make its drugs cheaper for poor countries.

  8. PCAST Named

    The Bush Administration has unveiled its President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The president introduced his 22 picks and said that they would begin work by producing reports on information technology infrastructure, increasing federal science spending in fields likely to produce economic benefits, improving energy efficiency, and combating terrorism. The panel (see will be led by White House science adviser John Marburger and investor E. Floyd Kvamme.

    The council's makeup—just one member is a working scientist, more than half come from industry, and many served Bush's father—suggests that “the Bush Administration is moving even further than Clinton” toward addressing industrial issues, says Harvard University science policy analyst David Hart. Marburger says that the dearth of scientific expertise is deliberate: “The goal is to get advice from leadership in higher education and industry and not necessarily at the scientific level.”

    One more high-profile executive may still join the panel. The White House initially said that America Online founder Steve Case was on the team, but a paperwork glitch prevented his formal appointment.

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