Science  07 Sep 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5843, pp. 1307

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  1. An Open Secret in the U.K.

    Population biologist John Beddington of Imperial College London looks likely to become the U.K. government's next chief scientific adviser when chemist David King steps down at year's end, several newspapers reported this week. An official at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills told Science that Beddington is the favored candidate in a recruitment process that remains open. An expert on the management of fisheries, Beddington currently chairs the science advisory council of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “He has many and varied skills and would make an excellent appointment,” says ecologist Robert May of Oxford University. However, some researchers worry that a recent government restructuring by Prime Minister Gordon Brown may have diminished the science adviser's influence.

  2. Just Say No

    Scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, filed suit 30 August in a U.S. district court in southern California in hopes of blocking new rules that require them to submit to background checks in order to keep their jobs. The 28 plaintiffs say the checks, required by the end of September, are unconstitutional and would allow investigators to pry into their emotional state, finances, and sexual activities. “This is something straight out of the 1950's McCarthy era,” says Dennis Byrnes, JPL chief engineer for flight dynamics. NASA officials say the checks, standard procedure for all government employees for decades, are simply being extended to contractors in a post-9/11 world (Science, 6 July, p. 31). JPL is operated by the private California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and employees are part of the university.

  3. Sonar Ban Blocked

    The U.S. Navy can continue using sonar in exercises off the southern California coast even though the noise may harm whales, a federal appeals court ruled last week. In response to an emergency motion, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 2-1 to stay a 6 August injunction by a district court that would have barred the sonar. “The public does indeed have a very considerable interest in preserving [whales],” the majority argued. “But it also has an interest in national defense.” The court will hear the Navy's appeal of the injunction in November.

  4. When It's Okay to Fail

    BEIJING— Chinese officials are hoping that a proposed change in the country's basic law governing science and technology will encourage researchers to be more honest in reporting the results of their experiments.

    Last week, Wan Gang, China's new minister of science and technology, went before a working group of the National People's Congress Standing Committee to explain how the government plans to amend the 14-year-old law to promote greater innovation and creativity by fostering a “tolerance for failure” when results don't pan out. Observers say that the pressure to succeed can lead a scientist to alter results or create a culture in which peers are afraid to be critical.

    But some scientists worry that the proposed revision might institutionalize mediocrity. “If failure happens, somebody ought to take responsibility and learn from it,” says one legislator, physicist Chen Nanxian of Tsinghua University in Beijing. The amendment is expected to be finalized at the legislature's annual meeting in March.

  5. Laser Research Targeted

    The U.S. Department of Defense plans to kill off a 20-year-old medical laser research program next month—unless Congress decides to rescue it. The Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year that begins 1 October contained no money for the medical free electron laser program, which supports five university-based centers and researchers around the country. The $16-million-a-year competitive grants program is managed by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which is reviewing proposals that may never be funded.

    But the program has friends in Congress. Authorizing panels in both the House and Senate strongly back continuing the research, noting its “proven track record of delivering combat casualty care technology and medical interventions.” The House has approved spending $2 million for 2008, and the Senate is expected to address the issue this month when it debates the Pentagon budget. The Senate panel also asked for a strategic plan to address both the research and its applications. Supporters hope that, at the least, the program will limp along at minimal funding until the next Administration.

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