Issue Date: January 5, 2004
Investigation of Klausner moves forward
Congressional investigators continue to gather information to determine if Richard D. Klausner, former National Cancer Institute director, acted inappropriately during his tenure at NCI by unduly influencing the awarding of a significant contract to Harvard University, which may have benefited him financially. This investigation is part of the House Energy & Commerce Committee's ongoing review of whether some individuals are unfairly favored by NIH when it awards research grants and contracts. As outlined in a letter last year to involved parties, the committee is looking into the circumstances surrounding a five-year, $40 million contract awarded to Harvard by NCI for the university to establish a molecular target laboratory, which builds upon the university's Institute of Chemistry & Cell Biology. Harvard announced the award in March 2002. During the decision-making process for this contract, Klausner had been a candidate for Harvard's presidency and had recused himself of matters involving the university. Yet, according to the congressional letter, he appears to have provided undue influence. "Although Harvard announced its receipt of the award in March 2002, the committee has records and information that raise questions of whether the outcome or the circumstances ensuring that award outcome occurred well before March 2002, during the time Dr. Richard Klausner served as director of the NCI before he left that position on Sept. 30, 2001," the committee wrote in the letter. A decision to hold hearings on this case will likely come when Congress reconvenes later this month.
Nanoscience gets a boost
In an effort to keep scientists and engineers at the forefront of nanotechnology, the National Science Board of NSF has set up funding for the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN). Thirteen university sites will form the network, which will provide a national integrated system of user facilities to support research and education in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. "NNIN will implement, on a national scale, innovation in education that will impact all levels from professional through K–12, include outreach efforts to nontraditional users, reach underrepresented groups, and disseminate knowledge to the wider technical community and public," says Lawrence S. Goldberg, NSF senior engineering adviser. NSF will invest at least $70 million in NNIN as part of NSF's nanoscale science and engineering priority area, he says. The network will be led by Cornell University and is expected to start its five-year run this month.
Supercomputer projects awarded by DOE
The Department of Energy has awarded three major projects to be performed at DOE's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The projects are allocated 4.9 million hours of supercomputing time, about 10% of the total time available on the center's IBM supercomputer. The three projects are: "Thermonuclear Supernovae: Stellar Explosions in Three Dimensions," led by Tomasz Plewa at the University of Chicago, awarded 2.7 million processor hours; "Fluid Turbulence and Mixing at High Reynolds Number," led by P. K. Yeung of Georgia Institute of Technology, awarded 1.2 million processor hours; and "Quantum Monte Carlo Study of Photoprotection via Carotenoids in Photosynthetic Centers," led by William A. Lester Jr. of DOE's Berkeley lab, awarded 1.0 million processor hours. Processor hours on a supercomputer are the product of hours run times the number of processors used. For example, running a job on 2,048 processors for four hours equals 8,192 processor hours.
Challenge to FDA's planned warning on mercury in fish
FDA's planned warning on mercury in fish is under attack by an environmental group via the federal information quality law. The Environmental Working Group is seeking to block the warning through a petition under that 2000 law. EWG says the draft warning--which provides no specific advice other than a recommendation to eat 12 oz per week of a variety of fish--could increase consumption of fish containing significant levels of mercury, leading more pregnant women to have unsafe levels of the metal in their blood. EWG argues that the planned warning fails to meet the data quality act's requirement that information disseminated by the U.S. government be transparent and reproducible because FDA has not determined what effect its advice would have on mercury levels in the general population. This, EWG says, makes it impossible for anyone to reproduce the science and risk assessments supporting the advisory. The environmental group also says the draft advisory is based on inadequate data and faulty analysis. EWG's petition under the data quality act is believed to be the first filed by a public interest group. FDA is expected to respond to the petition in early 2004.
GOVERNMENT & POLICY ROUNDUP
The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office is seeking comments by Feb. 10 on proposed changes to ensure competency in legal practice before the office. Among the proposed changes is a requirement for mandatory periodic education for everyone registered to practice before the agency. To review the proposed changes, visit http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/sol/notices/68fr69442.pdf.
The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board has launched an improved news report section on its website that presents the latest headlines on chemical incidents from around the world. The information can be found at http://www.csb.gov/ by clicking on "incident news reports" under "newsroom."
Ephedra has been banned from the marketplace by FDA because of serious health concerns. As many as 100 deaths have been associated with use of ephedra products. The ban is one of the first ever for a nutritional supplement.
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