Getting Down With NSF

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Think peer review is tough? Try party review.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) hopes to stage a December gala to cap its yearlong 50th anniversary celebration. But the National Science Board, which manages NSF's $4 billion portfolio and usually conducts its affairs in a sedate, secretive, and soporific fashion, is discovering that arranging fun is no picnic.

The presidentially appointed panel is trying to choose entertainment that would please everyone--and offend no one. Its travails became public on 4 May after an earlier closed meeting ended in what Carnegie Institution astronomer Vera Rubin, chair of the party committee, described as "a state of disorder."

"We considered the Capitol Steps," a local comedy group that does political satire, Rubin explained to the full board. "But we worried that they might say something embarrassing." The chief alternative--music--was equally contentious. Factions favoring ballroom dancing vied with supporters of a sit-down concert. Nor were people fired up by one member's proposal for a "science cabaret" featuring posters by winners of student science competitions. Another member hinted darkly that a mariachi band, which made a surprise appearance at a farewell dinner for former NSF director Neal Lane, could reappear as the default choice.

Beyond entertainment are two other potential land mines: location (the White House is a remote possibility) and the guest list. Any suggestions? Send them to

Posted in Scientific Community