Court Cool to Academy's Secrecy

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has lost another round in a long legal war with animal activists and environmental groups. The U.S. District Court of Appeals here today rejected a request to rehear a January decision that chastised the academy for its secrecy. Under judicial pressure, the NAS is already beginning to open its door a little wider to outside scrutiny--but only by a crack.

The court case stems from objections lodged by animal activists, who felt they were underrepresented on an academy panel that revised an animal-care guide for lab researchers. In January, a three-member panel from the court ruled that the NAS should have followed the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act when it formed the expert group (Science, 17 January, p. 297). The academy intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, says William Colglazier, executive officer of the academy's operations arm, the National Research Council (NRC).

But NAS officials are already promising to open up processes that have come under fire for being too secretive and biased. Colglazier says the academy plans to allow the public into NRC committee meetings in which panel members are gathering information, and to require panel members to discuss publicly their potential biases. In addition, he says, the NRC may stop using committees for some studies. Instead, the council might rely on an outside scientist and NRC staff to prepare a draft study, then submit the text to a rigorous review. Colglazier says the new policy could be approved as early as next week.

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