Friday, 7 January 2000
1. BUDGET 2001: CLINTON WILL CALL FOR A MAJOR SCIENCE INITIATIVE.
"It's the economy, stupid" was the slogan of Clinton's campaign
staff eight years ago. Well, the economy is on a roll, and it's
clear that what's driving it are advances in science. A proposal
for a major new initiative in science will be in the President's
2001 budget request in February. As President Clinton made clear
in his speech in December
(WN 10 Dec 99),
the call will be for a
"balanced" research portfolio--the unified message delivered by
scientific societies over the past three years has sunk in. And
the emphasis will be on "fundamental" research. You will recall
that in his first term Clinton stressed techology. That did not
sit well with Gingrich Republicans, and opposition to NIST's
Advanced Technology Program even led to efforts to abolish NIST
(WN 8 Sep 99).
But industry R&D is up sharply in this economy,
and there is a consensus in Washington that the government should
concentrate its support on basic research.
2. SNAKE OIL: FDA CAVES IN TO THE SUPPLEMENT INDUSTRY--AGAIN.
The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994, passed
in response to a massive lobbying campaign by the supplement
industry, turned the clock back a hundred years to the days of
traveling snake-oil salesmen. It exempted "natural" dietary
supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and herbs, from proof of
safety, purity or efficacy. The only legal requirement was that
dietary supplements not be promoted as preventing or treating
disease. So what is "disease"? Compliance turned into a
tightrope act. Two years ago FDA proposed a new regulation to
cover such natural conditions as morning sickness, menopause and
memory loss due to aging, within the definition. The industry
launched a new lobbying campaign. Result? The FDA dropped the
broader definition from the final rule issued this week.
3. POKEMON: SPOON-BENDING PSYCHIC SUES NINTENDO.
Uri Geller wants $96M for suffering he says he has endured as a
result of having been parodied as a Pokemon character. Alakazam
is described as an evil magician whose brain possesses incredible
psychic powers. He is drawn with a spoon in each hand--and the
same character is named Ungeller in Japan. It looked like more
than a coincidence. Could other Pokemon characters have also
been drawn from real life? This not being exactly the hotest
news week of the year, the WN staff decided to investigate. You
can imagine our shock when we encountered Professor Oak. He is
drawn in a white lab coat so he must be a scientist, and is
described as a kindly professor who possesses great knowledge and
has dedicated his life to study. Sound like anyone we know?
Hmmm, if the Pokemon creators had a real person in mind, the clue
must lie in the name "Oak." Oak is a tree. And where would you
go to find trees? Yes, yes the forest, but where else? The
Park! Actually, the adjective "kindly" was a dead giveway.