Swami Says?

5 January 2001 7:00 pm

Which science policy and funding issues are going to be hot in 2001? Science's news staff picks some areas to watch in the upcoming year:

Pay Hikes. Look for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to propose higher stipends for graduate students and postdocs in its 2002 budget request, due out early this year. NSF officials calculate that they will need $52.4 million to raise postdoc pay under research grants to $40,000, a 45% hike, and another $30 million to boost grad student stipends from $18,000 to $25,000.

Director Rita Colwell is also hoping to launch a multiyear math initiative in 2002 that would triple or quadruple the division's current $130 million budget over 5 years. Ironically, mathematicians now get the smallest grants, because they need relatively little equipment and because the community has long preferred to share the pain when budgets are tight.

Defining Animals. Biomedical science backers and animal-welfare groups are preparing for a congressional scuffle over research rodents. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture moved to regulate the use of laboratory rats, mice, and birds, which constitute 95% of all research animals, after activists won a lawsuit. But Congress temporarily blocked the rules at the behest of some research groups, who said regulation would be too expensive (ScienceNOW, 11 October). Animal-welfare groups are mobilizing against a push to permanently block the rules. Predicts one congressional aide: "The fur is going to fly."

Help Wanted. France is looking for a new director of research. The main man behind the scenes at the French research ministry, geophysicist Vincent Courtillot, says he plans to quit soon. Courtillot, a close associate of former science minister Claude Allègre, stayed in his post after Allègre was sacked last March. In a note to his staff, Courtillot explained that after nearly 4 years of "passion, joy, and stress," it was time to return to his Paris laboratory at the Institute of the Physics of the Globe.

Forecast: Cloudy. More fights over food and climate are coming. The United States may bow to political pressure to restrict genetically modified (GM) foods this year, but a rapprochement with GM-leery Europe is still a ways off. An expert panel formed by the European Union and the U.S. recommended labeling and more strictly regulating biotech foods. It's unlikely the Bush Administration will go along. Market forces may rule: Already, some U.S. grain processors are separating crops so they can sell non-GM products to Europe.

Meanwhile, the new Administration is also unlikely to support international efforts to put teeth into the Kyoto global warming treaty. Negotiations collapsed last year after the U.S. objected to demands by European nations to stiffen emissions-trading requirements, and several more meetings are planned this year.

Boosting Science. In Japan, science planners will launch a drive to raise government R&D spending from the current 0.7% of gross domestic product to 1%. The increase, which a government advisory council calculates would cost about $218 billion over 5 years, would bring Japan's public-sector spending more in line with that of the U.S. and Europe, says Hiroo Imura, a key government science adviser and former president of Kyoto University. The target has not been formally adopted by the government, says Imura, "but we're hopeful."

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