Science  02 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5680, pp. 27

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  1. Japan Panel Backs Therapeutic Cloning

    TOKYO—Japan is all but certain to allow therapeutic cloning after a key bioethics advisory body voted last week to recommend lifting a ban on the practice. Opponents complain that they were surprised by the vote, which is expected to be endorsed later this month by the prime minister's Council for Science and Technology Policy.

    In Japan, such committees usually wait for a consensus (Science, 18 June, p. 1729). But on 23 June, after 3 years of debate, the committee chair, former law professor Taizo Yakushiji, called for a vote. Ten of the 15 members who attended endorsed relaxing restrictions on therapeutic cloning.

    The vote “was unfair, unsuitable, and unacceptable,” says Motoya Katsuki, director-general of the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki and a leading opponent of therapeutic cloning. Although their views will be included in the final report to the policy council, Katsuki predicts that the majority stance will be accepted with little debate. It will then take a year or more to pass legislation and create a regulatory framework.

  2. India Gets Role in Earth-Monitoring Network

    NEW DELHI—India has joined Japan and Europe as a partner in the U.S. National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), a $4.5 billion remote-sensing network.

    India will provide one of 15 ground stations for the system, whose first satellite is expected to be launched in 2009, and has been invited to provide a science payload on subsequent missions. The agreement between the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Indian Space Research Organisation, announced here last week, is noteworthy because the U.S. military is also involved in NPOESS. U.S. trade sanctions still apply to some Indian space organizations believed to have contributed to India's nuclear weapons and missile program.

    The data, available globally, are expected to improve prediction of violent storms; aid disaster-relief workers; and strengthen the agriculture, fisheries, and maritime industries.

  3. HHS Tells WHO: We'll Pick the Experts

    The Bush Administration wants to pick the government experts advising the World Health Organization (WHO), a change in existing practice that critics see as the latest example of the politicization of science.

    The new policy, laid out in a 15 April letter to WHO from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), explains that having WHO invite scientists to serve as consultants “has not always resulted in the most appropriate selections.” Instead, says William Steiger of the HHS Office of Global Health Affairs, WHO must now submit its request to his office, which will then make the call.

    In a 24 June letter to HHS, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) calls the policy “a raw attempt to exert political control over scientists and scientific evidence.” He likens it to HHS's decision to curb the number of staff members attending the international AIDS meeting in Bangkok this month (Science, 23 April, p. 499). But HHS spokesperson William Pierce says the objective is “to make sure that WHO is getting the best we have to offer.”

    WHO has asked the United States to reconsider the policy, because it invites experts “for their personal knowledge,” not as government representatives, says spokesperson Ian Simpson.

  4. German Biologist Found Guilty of Misconduct

    A commission at the University of Konstanz in Germany has found evolutionary biologist Axel Meyer guilty of scientific misconduct in managing his research lab. Meyer, well known for his studies of the evolution of cichlid fishes, was cited 24 May for “damaging the scientific interests” of lab members by, for example, placing “misleading job advertisements” and “blocking the publication of a lab member's paper for more than 2 years.” The internal commission said that Meyer had claimed ownership of other people's intellectual property by “demanding to be co-author on every paper from his group” even when he hadn't contributed.

    The investigation was launched last year after complaints from 16 graduate students and postdocs who had worked in Meyer's lab. The letter writers asked for more oversight of Meyer and letters of explanation from the university to those whose careers had suffered. Meyer says the problems were no different from those in any other large lab. A university spokesperson said a decision about punishment is pending.