Science  24 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5572, pp. 1379

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  1. Genetic Outlaws

    Misuse of someone's genetic data should be a criminal offense, according to a British government advisory panel. The Human Genetics Commission this week issued a report on the use and storage of genetic data in research, law enforcement, and medicine. The government-appointed panel strongly endorsed national DNA data banks for use in law enforcement and biomedical research but called for independent oversight panels to prevent misuse—or any crossover between the two uses. The report also called for a law imposing criminal penalties on anyone who tests someone's DNA or looks at another's genetic data without permission.

    Genetic theft “constitutes a fairly major intrusion of privacy” and should be specifically outlawed, says commission member Alexander McCall Smith, a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh. The government is expected to issue its own genetics report this fall before proposing any legislation.

  2. Problem Child

    The streak of bad news for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory continued this week with the release of a report showing wage gaps for its minority employees that are generally greater than those at two sister weapons labs in New Mexico. The California weapons lab has been in managerial limbo since the Department of Energy (DOE) last month put on hold plans to name a new director (Science, 3 May, p. 821). Now, a General Accounting Office report says that male Asian professional staff members at Livermore earn an average of 5% less than their white colleagues, and female Asian professionals earn 8% less; wages for female Hispanic workers are 10% lower. Male Hispanic professionals also got merit pay increases that averaged 51% less than those of their white colleagues.

    “Livermore certainly looks like it has the potential of being the problem child of the three major weapons labs,” says Representative David Wu (D-OR), who helped push for the study. DOE officials have agreed to look into the discrepancies, he says, and he hopes the next Livermore director will be aware of the issues. Some Livermore employees have already sued the lab for discrimination. The House Science Committee, meanwhile, plans summer hearings on race issues at the labs.

  3. Favored Fauna

    Animals in Germany, which already enjoy some of the strictest legal safeguards in Europe, are about to be labeled a protected resource. On 17 May, the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, voted overwhelmingly to amend the constitution to include animals in a phrase pledging the state to protect “natural resources” for “future generations.” The vote—543 in favor, 19 opposed, and 15 abstaining—brushed aside objections from the country's leading research organizations. Next week Germany's upper house, the Bundesrat, is expected to go along.


    Although the change is expected to have little immediate impact, many scientists worry that it will give activists new grounds on which to attack the use of animals in research. Another section of the German constitution that protects scientific freedom means researchers should win such suits, says Ivar Aune of the Gesellschaft Gesundheit und Forschung e.V. in Berlin, a research advocacy organization. But the resulting delays, he says, might mean “we could win the battle and lose the war.”

  4. Now Batting for NSF

    The House and Senate spending panels that oversee the National Science Foundation's $4.8 billion budget made it clear during recent hearings that they view the 5% boost proposed by President George W. Bush to be inadequate. Although it's impossible to predict NSF's budgetary fate before either panel gets its spending allocation for all the agencies under its jurisdiction, here are some educated guesses based on comments from influential members and their staffs:

    • An overall increase of between 8% and 10%;

    • More money for disciplinary research, especially in the physical sciences;

    • More money for large new facilities already partially funded, such as a high-altitude airplane and a millimeter-wavelength astronomical array in Chile;

    • More money for undergraduate research; and

    • Full support for initiatives in nanotechnology and information technology.

    Sadly, from NSF's perspective, legislators will also almost certainly include money for their pet research projects.