Anger spreads over White House plans for Smithsonian


Researchers and scientific advisers at the Smithsonian Institution are up in arms over reports that the White House wants to transfer the museum complex's best-known research facilities to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The facilities, including the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, would be shifted to the NSF in 2003 under a plan hatched by the powerful White House Office of Management and Budget.

Researchers such as Melinda Zeder, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, fear that the proposed budget of $35 million would not cover the institutes' running costs.

Jerry Sabloff of the University of Pennsylvania, who chairs the Smithsonian's recently appointed science commission, says the topic will be hotly debated at the commission's next meeting on 13 December.

Sabloff, who wants to ensure that the museum complex continues to perform first-class research, says he hopes that further debate will lead to the proposal being shelved before President Bush's 2003 budget is announced in February.

Survivor brings personal experience to cancer post


President George W. Bush has nominated Andrew von Eschenbach, a cancer survivor and researcher at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Von Eschenbach, whose nomination is expected to be quickly confirmed by the US Senate, currently runs the Genitourinary Cancer Center and the prostate cancer research programme at M. D. Anderson. He was also president-elect of the American Cancer Society, and was a founder of the National Dialogue on Cancer, which aims to encourage investment in cancer organizations. John Mendelsohn, president of M. D. Anderson, called von Eschenbach a “superb clinician and a worldwide leader in prostate-cancer research”.

Richard Klausner, the NCI's last director, left in September to lead a new research organization, the Case Institute of Health, Science and Technology. Researchers are pleased that Klausner has been rapidly replaced, but are concerned that six other institutes at the NIH — as well as the NIH itself — remain without permanent leaders.

Two become one in battle against cancer


Britain's two leading cancer charities are to merge to form a new organization with a combined annual expenditure of £130 million (US$190 million). The Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) were expected to announce their merger at a press conference on 11 December. The new charity will be known as Cancer Research UK.

The alliance has been widely expected following discussions that became public earlier this year (see Nature 409, 4; 2001). By combining the ICRF's focus on basic, molecular science with the more clinical approach of the CRC, the two charities aim to create a new body loosely modelled on the publicly funded US National Cancer Institute, which conducts both types of work in parallel.

Livermore lab director set to quit next year

San Diego

Bruce Tarter, the director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, has announced that he will be leaving his post next year.

In a seven-year tenure, Tarter has ensured the future of the nuclear weapons laboratory by securing the construction of the National Ignition Facility there. But the project — a high-intensity laser chamber designed to ignite nuclear fusion — has been beset by large cost overruns and delays, and is not expected to open until 2008, overshooting its original opening time by some five years.

The University of California, which manages the laboratory for the US Department of Energy, says it has already started looking for Tarter's replacement. Tarter, a theoretical physicist, has been with the lab since 1967.

Scientists win respect but not public interest


A head of esteem? Many Europeans say they hold doctors and scientists in high regard.

A new survey has revealed a mixed set of attitudes towards science among the European public. Europeans continue to trust scientists more than other professions, but less than half of all Europeans say they are interested in science.

Doctors, scientists and engineers took the top three spots when the public were asked which professions they held in the highest esteem (see graph). If a disaster struck in their neighbourhood, for example, most Europeans say they would prefer to turn to scientists, rather than journalists or government officials, for explanation.

But the Eurobarometer survey, published last week by the European Commission, revealed that more than 60% of those surveyed did not enjoy reading about science, and only 46% described themselves as interested in the subject. The commission had already earmarked 50 million euros (US$44 million) to pay for initiatives towards the public understanding of science during its next Framework programme for research.

Europe loses its way over satellite navigation funding


The future of Galileo, the proposed European satellite navigation system, has been thrown into doubt by a new report from consultancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The report questions the extent to which industry would be prepared to fund the project.

European Union (EU) transport ministers agreed in April to co-fund with industry the project's start-up costs of 3.4 billion euros (US$3 billion). Galileo, which is due to become operational in 2008, would provide an alternative to the US-run Global Positioning System (see Nature 410, 853; 2001).

EU member states were expected to provide seed money for the system in their 2002 budgets, but Germany and Britain said on 7 December that they needed until at least March to consider the report, which was released last month. Contrary to EU plans, the study says that public money will be needed to run the project after 2008. Industry participation in the starting phase will also be less than expected.

Loyola de Palacio, the European transport commissioner, maintains that the European Commission will drop the project if member states do not make binding commitments by the end of this year.