Subscribe
 

ScienceInsider

  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 12:07pm
    Comments

    It's a confusing week with essentially three budgets crashing into one another. Here are the basics:

    Last week, President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package, with roughly $21 billion in federal science funding. Most of that funding is expected to get spent this year, and by late April agencies have to spell out just how they're spending the money. Yesterday, the House of Representatives and the Senate released a joint, omnibus spending bill for the current year (fiscal year 2009). The bill covers federal agencies currently operating on a temporary budget that expires next week. (That's pretty much most agencies except for the Pentagon.) The House will probably vote on the bill tomorrow or Thursday, and the Senate will follow. No news yet on what amendments or changes to the bill the leadership will allow. On Thursday, the White House will propose a skeletal budget for FY 2010, which begins in October. However, we don't know how much detail that document will include. The Administration says that it will send a full 2010 budget, its first, to Congress in April.

    Also, tonight President Obama will address Congress in his first State of the Union address and will probably lay out one or two initiatives that could have research components—energy, health care, and education are said to be focuses. But those initiatives won't be rolled out until 2010.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Pallava Bagla
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 11:48am
    Comments

    BANGALORE, INDIA—India is a step closer to fulfilling its aspiration of putting a human in space by 2015. A blue-ribbon government panel gave a nod last week to the Indian Space Research Organization’s $3.1 billion crewed space mission. Final approval from the Indian cabinet is expected in the next few weeks.

    By 2013-14, India intends to flight-test an unmanned space capsule, and a year later a crew of two or three astronauts would be launched into low Earth orbit on India’s Geo Synchronous Launch Vehicle. India would become the fourth country after Russia, the United States, and China to have a homegrown crewed space program.

    Some critics say that India should focus on alleviating poverty rather than space travel. ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair told Science that India can well afford the venture. “Our economy is growing very fast, we have sufficient resources, and this will translate into merely something like 16% of the budget of the Indian space program. Putting an Indian in space using an Indian rocket launched from Indian soil is [my] dream."Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Sara Coehlo
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 11:39am
    Comments

    Journal editors are always keen to ask authors to disclose individual contributions to papers and potential conflicts of interest. Today, the editors of PLoS Medicine published an editorial calling for editors to do exactly the same because their "political and scientific views, personal relationships, and professional and financial interests can all conceivably interfere with the objectivity of their decisions."

    An example is the added financial incentive of publishing papers likely to be reprinted as best sellers, when editorial boards have to consider the journal's survival in an increasingly competitive world in addition to scientific merit.

    The editorial identifies another four issues that contribute to bias in medical literature and a lack of transparency in scientific publishing, namely, recognition of interests beyond commercial, the problem of ghost writing, undisclosed original protocols, and the bias toward publishing only "exciting" results.

    Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, says that "it's a good editorial, pulling together issues that have been well aired before but which remain important, and it's excellent that PLoS is championing ethical publishing in this way." For the time being, the BMJ guidelines for publishing address all these concerns "except that at the moment we ask authors, reviewers, and editors to declare only financial competing interests," says Godlee, "but this policy is under review, and the plan is to extend the requirement to nonfinancial competing interests as well."

    Katrina Kelner, deputy editor for life sciences at Science, agrees that "bias in publication of medically relevant results is a serious problem and that journals can be one place where efforts can be made to make sure that such bias is minimized." According to Kelner, Science already follows most of the guidelines presented by the PLoS editorial. She also points out that open access is not theContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Andrew Lawler
    Eli Kintisch
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 9:51am
    Comments

    A $280 million NASA satellite designed to monitor carbon dioxide emissions failed early this morning because of a problem with the Taurus XL rocket. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was a critical part of the space agency's effort to gather data on climate change, and the probe's failure is a major blow to earth scientists eager to collect more accurate data on carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. The launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California went well at first, but a few minutes into the flight the fairing that contains the satellite did not separate properly from the rocket, according to NASA officials. That means the probe is in a useless orbit or plunged into the ocean near Antarctica. NASA managers intend to set up a mishap board to understand what took place. The failure comes just as the U.S. Congress approved a funding boost for NASA's Mission to Planet Earth.

    Observatory co-investigator John Burrows of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said in a statement : "The UK and European science community is a major partner in OCO and the loss of this instrument is a serious setback. The OCO mission aimed to make unique and high quality measurements of the atmospheric column of carbon dioxide at high spatial resolution. This information is urgently required to constrain our understanding of CO2 fluxes at the Earth's surface (uptake by both the land surface and the oceans) and emissions from fossil fuel combustion."

    A recently launched Japanese mission will collect much the same data, but Burrows said that the satellite would have collected "complementary " information.

    Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Adrian Cho
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 - 8:36am
    Comments

    The Department of Energy’s Office of Science comes out a big winner in the draft budget for 2009 formulated by the U.S. Congress yesterday. But a closer look shows that the 20%, $800 million increase to $4.77 billion would only make up for cuts made in last year’s budget and that one major item—the U.S. contribution to the international fusion experiment ITER to be built in Cadarache, France—would remain funded at just over half the requested amount.

    To be sure, the numbers released yesterday will be welcomed by many researchers at the Office of Science’s 10 national labs. Some of those labs were rocked by last-minute cuts in DOE’s 2008 science budget that played havoc with three of the office’s six programs. In particular, last year, DOE’s fusion energy sciences program saw its budget slashed from the $428 million requested by the Administration of then-president George W. Bush to $287 million in the omnibus budget passed by Congress in December 2007—including a cut of all $149 million for the United States’s 2008 contribution to ITER.

    Similarly, last year the high-energy physics program saw its budget cut from $752 million in 2007 to $688 million, a reduction that led to furloughs at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and the threat of layoffs there that was averted only when Congress gave the lab another $32 million last July. DOE’s basic energy sciences program, which supports research in condensed-matter physics, materials science, and related fields, received $1.27 billion last year, instead of the $1.50 billion requested, which led to major reductions in running time at its x-ray sources and other “user facilities.”

    The numbers are much higher this time—and ironically, they are very close to those requested by the Bush Administration last February in its final budget. AccordingContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Erik Stokstad
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 6:16pm
    Comments

    When Tom Vilsack was picked to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some environmental and organic groups grumbled that the former Iowa governor and proponent of ethanol was too close to large agribusinesses. Today, the White House announced its nominee for Vilsack’s deputy: Kathleen Merrigan of Tufts University, and the selection should satisfy the critics.

    In fact, in January, the Cornucopia Institute, which advocates for organic, family-scale farming, held her up as one of its top choices for a lower-level job, running USDA’s National Organic Program.

    Merrigan has a Ph.D. in environmental planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has taught at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy since 2001. She spent 5 years on the Senate agriculture committee, then another 5 years at the Wallace Center (formerly the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture). She also worked at USDA briefly at the end of the Clinton Administration.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 5:10pm
    Comments

    The National Science Foundation would get a 6.7% increase, to $6.49 billion. Although that's half of its overall requested boost for this year, it comes on top of a $3 billion bolus of stimulus money that NSF hopes to spend as quickly as possible. The agency's six research directorates would grow by $362 million over current levels, to $5.18 billion, compared to the $772 million increase that NSF had sought. Its education directorate would jump by $58 million, to $845 million; that's $55 million more than NSF had requested in 2009.

    For the second year in a row, Congress singled out the Robert Noyce Scholarship program, which aims to turn undergraduates into science and math teachers. After adding $40 million at the last minute to the program's FY2008 budget of $11 million, it repeated the favor this year, adding $43 million. A program to help researchers in states that struggle to win NSF grants would grow by $20 million, to $133 million. Congress also ordered NSF to fund a $10 million climate change education program and $3 million mathematics research institute.

    (Several figures in this item have been corrected)Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Science News Staff
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 4:28pm
    Comments

    After last week's stellar stimulus bill for U.S. federally funded research, science fans have a mixed result coming from Capitol Hill this afternoon. The House of Representatives released the draft 2009 fiscal year budget. (Agencies have been working since October with a temporary budget that will expire next Friday.)  The numbers suggest that lawmakers bestowed their biggest gifts on most science agencies in the stimulus package. The bill, a compromise between House and Senate negotiators, will now go to the floor of the House and then to the Senate and may or may not be changed.

    The National Institutes of Health, for example, gets $30.3 billion for this year—a 3% increase from last year, an essentially flat budget. The National Science Foundation gets a 7% increase—better than lobbyists expected given the $3 billion boost it received in the stimulus. The Department of Energy's Office of Science, however, got a whopping $4.8 billion. That's roughly $800 million more than it received last year, which means a 20% increase for the office, which funds the majority of U.S. physical science. That's on top of a $1.6 billion increase it received as part of the stimulus package.

    After the jump there's a release from Senator Barbara Mikulski (D–MD), with some details on NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Along with NSF, the three agencies got a total combined increase of $1.2 billion.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    February 23, 2009

    CONTACT

    Rachel MacKnight/Cassie Harvey

    202-228-1122

    CHAIRWOMAN MIKULSKI CONTINUES FIGHT FOR FEDERAL INVESTMENT IN SCIENCE AND INNOVATION IN FEDERAL CHECKBOOK

    Strengthens commitment to climate change science

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today announced today that she continues to focus CJS funds on keeping America competitive inContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Greg Miller
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 4:26pm
    Comments

    On Friday, the FBI announced that it had arrested four animal-rights extremists suspected of harassing researchers who work at University of California (UC) campuses in Berkeley and Santa Cruz. The four are accused of violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act by participating in several incidents at researchers' homes dating back to October 2007, including one on 24 February 2008 in which several protesters allegedly tried to forcibly enter the home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher during a birthday party for her young daughter. They have not been charged in connection to firebombings that targeted UC Santa Cruz researchers last summer.

    Researchers in the United States have experienced an uptick in home protests and other personal forms of intimidation by animal-rights activists in recent years. A UC Berkeley spokesperson, cited by the Los Angeles Times, said police reported 158 such incidents at Berkeley between August 2007 and December 2008. If convicted, the four defendants could serve up to 5 years in prison for each violation.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 2:20pm
    Comments

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) on Friday reversed a controversial policy that reduced the amount of information available on new minority Ph.D.s. The move follows widespread complaints that the new rules, applied last year for the first time, would hinder efforts to attract more minority students into scientific fields.

    Each year, NSF conducts a Survey of Earned Doctorates, asking newly minted Ph.D.s to provide a wealth of information on their educational history and career plans. The results can be broken down by field and by race, ethnicity, and gender (REG). In 2007, citing new federal privacy rules, NSF's statistical branch decided to suppress a considerable amount of information about underrepresented minorities (in particular, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans). Staffers feared that savvy data miners could make use of the small numbers reported in some subcategories—one Hispanic received a doctoral degree in astronomy in 2006, for example—to identify individuals.

    The changes meant that any subcategory with fewer than six degree recipients went unreported. In practice, however, many more categories were also blanked out because NSF was concerned that the missing numbers could be calculated by a process of elimination. NSF also banned the use of zero, arguing that even a null set conveyed information—the absence of minorities in that category—that potentially compromised NSF's promise of anonymity to participants.

    News of the new rules took several months to trickle down to researchers, institutions, and professional societies that use the data, including organizations running projects funded by NSF aimed at fostering broader participation in science and engineering. By last spring, however, they were both bewildered and outraged. There were even rumors that sinister motives were at work. "Without evidence of underrepresentation, some people might wonder whether such programs are needed," notes Shirley McBay, president of the Quality Education forContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 11:52am
    Comments

    They may not, says a new study. It may not be what companies want to hear, but the math scores of U.S. students using educational software are no better than those of their counterparts who follow a traditional curriculum. That's the conclusion of the study, which is loaded with caveats about what it means for students and educators.

    The $14.5 million study was designed to find out whether students are benefiting from the growing use of educational software. Preliminary results released 2 years ago suggested that the answer, for first- and fourth-grade students in reading and for sixth- and ninth-grade students in math, was no. But those results were widely criticized by educators and software makers for lumping together the outcomes from many different products and for testing their impact on student achievement in the 1st year the teacher had used the material. The 2nd-year results, posted last week, address those concerns by reporting results for individual software packages, and by testing a new cohort of students whose teachers had a year of using the software under their belts. (Image credit: Department of Commerce)

    What it found is that none of the four math products tested produced a statistically significant difference in achievement between control and treatment groups over the 2-year study, which began in the fall of 2004. (One of the six reading packages registered a meaningful jump in test scores for fourth graders.) Students of teachers using Cognitive Tutor, a computer-based curriculum for Algebra I students developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, for a second year showed a meaningful improvement in test scores. But the software had no overall impact on student achievement when data from both student cohorts were combined.

    Education research isContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Pallava Bagla
    Monday, February 23, 2009 - 8:35am
    Comments

    NEW DELHI--In a rare confession of inadequacy, India's science minister, Kapil Sibal, told Parliament last week that India competes poorly with developed nations in science. He blamed India's "comparatively low" investment in R&D and a shortage of scientists. "India is lagging behind," he said. But India's government isn't ready to put its money where Sibal's mouth is: The next day, the finance minister submitted to Parliament an interim budget requesting $2.3 billion for civilian R&D in 2009, essentially a flat budget.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Erik Stokstad
    Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 8:09am
    Comments

    Environmentalists are hoping so. They're hailing yesterday’s announcement by the United Nations Environment Programme that more than 140 countries have agreed to negotiate a treaty to reduce mercury pollution. "This consensus is a huge breakthrough," Elena Lymberidi-Settimo of the Zero Mercury Working Group said in a statement.

    Negotiations should start later this year and conclude by 2013. In the meantime, countries will encourage voluntary efforts to reduce exposure to mercury, for example, by lowering the amounts in thermometers and in mining.

    According to NRDC:

    The treaty will include actions to reduce global mercury pollution and human exposure to the chemical, by reducing intentional use of mercury in industrial processes and products and reducing emissions from coal plants and smelters. It will also address the problems posed by mercury waste sites.

    And the Guardian saw inklings of Copenhagen in the development:

    The new-found consensus in Nairobi, which saw the US, India and China lifting their resistance to a binding global mercury treaty, raised hopes for progress later this year at the crucial UN meeting in Copenhagen on an international climate change deal.

    "There was a seismic shift from the American government from its previous position," said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN environment programme. "It was clear from the beginning of this week that the US negotiators had been given a clear line from Washington, and indeed the White House, to come together with the rest of the world and do something."

    Continue Reading
    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Daniel Charles
    Friday, February 20, 2009 - 1:10pm
    Comments

     "I feel like I've been dunked into the deep end of the pool," Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu confessed to reporters at a sit down hosted by energy publication Platts this week, as he struggled to answer a question about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

    Chu, a Nobel prize winner, knows a great deal about research. He can speak at length, and passionately, about ways to extract fuels from cellulose. He's a man, in fact, who seems to live with one foot in a greener future. Unfortunately, his job requires his attention on the oil-stained present.

    When a crowd of reporters ran into Chu in a hotel hallway this week, one asked if he would try to stop OPEC from cutting oil production. Chu brushed the question off, saying, "It's not my domain."   The comment raised eyebrows, to say the least, and a few hours later, during a teleconference, Chu blamed his words on "naivete" and retracted them.  The next day, at a press conference, he faced it again:  "Does the U.S. want OPEC to cut production at its March meeting?"  Chu paused and repeated the question slowly, as though pondering a particularly interesting query from a graduate student. "I would have to look more into the exact details of what they're considering," he said finally.  "I'm not the Administration, quite frankly."

    The exchange suggests that Chu—a lifelong academic researcher—isn't yet at home dealing with the political realities of his new job. While one expects he'll soon learn the ins and outs of the oil business, in some ways, he may always be an odd duck in Washington. He still carries the habits of a scientist, pausing in the middle of sentences to reconsider or rephrase what he was aboutContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 7:30pm
    Comments

    Mild-mannered Anna Palmisano, head of DOE's biological and environmental research arm, said at an advisory board meeting yesterday that "the past 3 weeks have been as wild as any as I have experienced in government." For one, her managers are furiously trying to plan three fiscal years at once: the current fiscal year, which started in October but is being funded under a temporary spending bill that ends on 6 March, the 2010 budget, which agencies are still negotiating with the White House, and the 2011 budget, which will represent the first full budget submission by the Obama Administration to Congress.

    On top of everything, DOE's Office of Science, under which Palmisano's branch sits, has to figure out how to spend the $2 billion it received as part of the stimulus package. That spending, she said, must be approved through the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. The officials said she had read with interest a recent story in Science that laid out how different agencies were planning to spend their new riches. Some were offering grants to unfunded proposals, others targeting special areas they wanted to bolster. But the funds will go to construction projects, she said, despite the fact that the language in the final bill didn't specify just how the Science Office should spend the money. "We chose to interpret our guidance quite literally," she said, apparently citing the White House preference, not stated by Congress in the final bill, that the money be used for "shovel-ready" projects.

    And what did she think of her new boss? At an all-hands meeting earlier this month, Steven Chu mentioned "biology, biotechnology, environment, and climate" among DOE's "priorities," she said. "We are absolutely thrilled to have Dr. Steven Chu as director—I've never heard an energy secretaryContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Constance Holden
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 3:10pm
    Comments

    The New York Times reports today that members of the U.S. Congress have already committed to holding hearings on the recommendations of a long-awaited National Academy of Sciences report on U.S. forensic science released yesterday. The whole forensic science system, including research, credentialing of personnel, and certification of crime labs, is in drastic need of an overhaul, said the committee. First order of business: Congress should establish an independent National Institute of Forensic Science. The group also criticized methods such as fingerprint analysis that have traditionally relied heavily on instincts rather than quantitative data. The National Institute of Justice apparently balked at the study even before the committee was established and refused to supply funding for it. The only crime-tracking technique the panel found to be adequately backed by science is DNA testing, which has exonerated more than 200 convicted individuals in the past 2 decades.

    (Photo courtesy Getty)

     Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 2:02pm
    Comments

    By signing the $787 billion stimulus bill Tuesday at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, which draws part of its power from rooftop solar panels built by a local company, President Barack Obama highlighted his campaign to create and preserve green jobs. But the choice of locale was also a vote of confidence for a museum community badly shaken by recent actions in the U.S. Congress.

    Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted to ban museums from receiving any funding in the stimulus package. Although conferees eventually resorted to House language that didn't mention museums, the final bill still excludes educational institutions with living exhibits—that is, zoos and aquariums. Adding insult to injury, the law lumps them together with "casino or other gambling establishments," golf courses, and swimming pools as outside the pale.

    How did this issue even come before Congress?

    In December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors put out a list of 15,000 "shovel-ready" municipal projects that included a handful of improvements to museums and zoos, many designed to improve energy efficiency. Groups opposed to the stimulus plan called many of the projects an inappropriate use of federal dollars and linked the list to a comment from the mayor of Las Vegas that stimulus funding could help finance a museum on the history of organized crime. The House quickly inserted the gambling language into its version of the stimulus bill, and an amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) expanded it to include museums. That amendment passed 73 to 24.

    Museum officials say the language is a clear sign that politicians don't fully understand how museums serve the U.S. economy and society as a whole. "Last year, museums attracted 850 million visitors," says Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums in Washington, D.C. "That's moreContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Dennis Normile
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 6:16am
    Comments

    TOKYO—Japan "has not shown leadership" on environmental issues, former investment banker Yasuyo Yamazaki said here yesterday at the inaugural press conference of the Sun-Based Economy Association. Yamazaki, who heads the new nongovernmental organization, says he and his colleagues are out to provide that leadership by pushing for the creation of a renewable energy-based economy in Japan that could be an example for other countries.   

    By several measures, Japan is already is a good model. It has one of the lowest per capita carbon emission levels among industrialized countries—roughly half the emissions of the United States. It is one of the world's most efficient countries when carbon emissions are measured against GDP, and Japanese manufacturers are world leaders in many green technologies, including hybrid and electric cars and photovoltaic cells.

    But Japan made its biggest gains in energy efficiency in response to the 1970s oil crisis. Over the past decade or so, the country has not cut carbon emission per unit of GDP, while the U.S. has. Japan is likely to fall far short of its own Kyoto Protocol target for 2012 of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 6% from 1990 levels.

    Yamazaki blamed the reluctance to tackle environmental issues more aggressively on entrenched industrial interests and timid politicians. And that's where the Sun-Based Economy Association (Web site is only in Japanese at the moment) comes in.

    They intend to propose combinations of public spending, tax incentives, and regulatory changes to begin weaning Japan's economy and society off of fossil fuels. Although Yamazaki emphasized the need to get these initiatives started "this year and next year," the group is still working out its own agenda. The only concrete proposal Yamazaki described centered on promoting the use of electric and hybrid vehicles by building charging stationsContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Lila Guterman
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 5:24pm
    Comments

    As was rumored last week, Harvard University has announced that it will slow the construction of its new science complex in Allston, across the Charles River from its main Cambridge campus. The recession is to blame, says the school, whose endowment has dropped 22%.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Lila Guterman
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 4:55pm
    Comments

    The National Institutes of Health will dedicate most of its $8.2 billion for research from the economic stimulus bill to funding grant applications it has already received and to supplementing existing grants. A smaller amount, on the order of $100 million to $200 million, will go to new grant applications it receives in the coming months.

    Speaking Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., to a packed auditorium of representatives from universities and associations, acting director Raynard Kington said NIH would soon issue a request for applications for new “challenge grants” of as much as $500,000 per year for 2 years. These challenge grants will be for research addressing certain areas in science or public health that NIH thinks can advance significantly in 2 years. NIH will create a shortened application process for these peer-reviewed grants but hasn't said which areas will be targeted.

    Because NIH has to spend the stimulus money within those 2 years, it is under pressure to start sending money to grantees as soon as possible. That's why, Kington said, it will not issue a massive call for new applications. Instead, it will mainly look to add money to existing grants and to fund grant applications it has already received and peer reviewed.

    Any of the 2-year grants that result from the stimulus package will come with unusually stringent reporting requirements, Kington said, including reporting the number of jobs created or preserved. He repeatedly said that NIH would be “embarrassed” if institutions did not spend the money or boost their local economies. He expects grantees to “hire people and make purchases and advance science,” he said.

    Because the stimulus bill's aim is to improve the nation's economy, Kington said, NIH would also be sensitive to geographic distribution of the grants it gives.

    Kington gave few specificsContinue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jennifer Couzin-Frankel
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 4:45pm
    Comments

    PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), fresh off earning the distinction of being one of just three Republicans to vote for the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus plan and savoring a successful effort to keep $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health in the bill, is making the rounds of his home state this week. Yesterday and today, he held two town halls, taking questions this morning from a mostly friendly audience of AARP members. Choosing to endorse the stimulus package was “very tough,” he said, leaving the stage to wander among the audience and forcing the cameras to follow.

    The House had allocated just $3.5 billion for NIH, so Specter's move was a masterstroke for biomedical research lobbyists. Did he insist that the NIH money stay in the bill in exchange for his vote? Absolutely not, he said. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed such a trade, he told the audience, “I said, ‘No deal, Harry.’ ” As for worries that NIH, with a new influx of funds to spend quickly if the bill becomes law, will suffer through another boom-and-bust cycle like it’s in now, Specter didn’t appear too worried. “It all depends whether I become chairman” of the appropriations subcommittee, which allocates funding and which he’s in line to lead, he said seriously, emphasizing his many years of support for NIH. “You have to have activists who are willing to fight.”Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Eli Kintisch
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 3:40pm
    Comments

    So who do you think will be more effective at getting their recommendations listened to:

    1) the Natural Resources Defense Council, out with a report listing ways in which the United States and China can collaborate on climate change, mentioning renewable energy, energy efficiency, and combined research efforts

    or

    2) Harvard University's Belfer Center, with a report on energy research and the new Administration.

    (Hint: Although he wasn't involved in the writing of the report, Obama science adviser John Holdren is the former head of the Belfer Center's science policy shop and started the energy research policy project that produced the document.)Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 3:21pm
    Comments

    No House Republican voted for the $787 billion stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed into law yesterday. But there's at least one who was tempted to do so by its massive support for university-based research. "It grieved me a bit to vote against it, and I'm absolutely delighted with the increased funding for science and technology," says Representative Vern Ehlers (R–MI), a former experimental physicist and senior member of the House Science Committee, where he's been a strong advocate for greater federal investment in science. "But on the whole, I thought the bill was not good public policy." (2005 photo credit, House of Representatives)

    Ehlers takes many of his Republican colleagues to task for arguing that basic research doesn't belong in a stimulus package. "It's easily justifiable because it's the ultimate stimulus," Ehlers insists. "If you fund science correctly, you can most definitely improve the economic future of the country. And anybody who says otherwise just doesn't understand science and the value of scientific research, despite my years of trying to explain it to them." Although the mail has been running three-to-one in favor of his "no" vote, Ehlers says voters are willing to see if the stimulus spending has the desired effect on the economy before criticizing it. His constituents are much more concerned about the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, he adds.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Andrew Lawler
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 2:34pm
    Comments

    The hottest competition in the solar system is over. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) said today that each agency will launch a probe to Jupiter in 2020 to explore the moons of the solar system's largest planet—edging out a proposed mission to the ringed giant. The multibillion-dollar missions—no estimate of the cost was offered—will examine Europa, which has an icy surface covering a liquid water ocean, and Ganymede, which is the only moon in the solar system with an internally generated magnetic field. Both potentially harbor life or its building blocks. NASA would build and launch the Europa probe, whereas ESA would be responsible for the Ganymede orbiter. The schedule calls for each spacecraft to orbit Jupiter (pictured, Credit: NASA) in 2026 before splitting off and operating for 3 years.

    In 2007, NASA invited teams to prepare proposals for missions to one of four outer planet satellites before choosing two finalists. The runner-up in the competition is Saturn and its intriguing moon Titan. That mission would have involved a NASA orbiter and an ESA lander and balloon. But officials from the two agencies determined that the proposal was not as technically advanced as the Jupiter mission. NASA and ESA officials said they remain open to a Saturn mission, although constrained budgets make such a trip a long shot.

    ESA science chief David Southwood issued a statement calling the decision "a landmark of 21st century planetary science. … The cooperation across the Atlantic that we have had so far and we see in the future, between America and Europe, NASA and ESA, and in our respective science communities is absolutely right. Let's get to work."Continue Reading

    Posted In: 
  • By: 
    Erik Stokstad
    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 12:18pm
    Comments

    For years, environmental groups have wanted to know the locations of field trials of genetically modified organisms, whereas companies and researchers have resisted revealing that information, because activists have occasionally destroyed field trials. Yesterday, environmental groups scored a win on the issue. The European Court of Justice, the highest court in Europe, ruled that governments in the European Union must make the location and “environmental risk information” of field trials public. Confidential business information can remain secret.Continue Reading

    Posted In: 

Pages