Friday, 11 February 2000

Neal Lane, the President's science advisor, was clearly elated to be delivering good news at Monday's budget briefing. The overall FY 2001 budget is up a mere 1.5%, but calls for boosting basic research by 7%. Media coverage of the budget included little mention of science, which is probably a good thing - the nail that sticks out usually gets hammered down. Some highlights:

* NSF is the big winner. The total is up a stunning 17.3% to $4.6B, and research is up 19.7%. There are major initiatives in information technology, nanotechnology, and biocomplexity.

* DOE basic science programs are up 13%, including funding for the Spallation Neutron Source. No funds are budgeted to make up the $400M National Ignition Facility overrun, it must come out of other lab programs. Secretary Richardson groused to the press that "NIF science is sound, but the management stinks." Critics of the program told WN that the Secretary is only half right.

* NASA got only a 6% increase overall, but space science is up by 9.4%. A well-timed initiative, Living with a Star (yucky title), will use several spacecraft, including a Solar Sentinel on the far side of the Sun, to track solar storms as the Sun rotates. With the 11-year solar maximum almost upon us (WN 10 Dec 99), the budget debate in Congress may be played out against a backdrop of power failures, zapped satellites, radio blackouts and astronauts risking dangerous levels of exposure to assemble the ISS.

* NIST wants a $50M Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (great timing), and a 23% increase in the Advanced Technology Program. I think they call for a big increase in ATP each year just to give Republicans something to vote down.

Enacting such a budget is another matter. In hearings this week, Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) demanded to know why DOE wants to increase funding for research on alternative energy sources when nothing has come out of the last ten years of research. He also objected to climate research, accusing the Clinton administration of implementing the Kyoto accords without consulting Congress.

An NIH study of St. Johns Wort, a popular herb used to treat depression, found that it interferes with protease inhibitors used to treat AIDS. The herb may also interfere with cyclosporin, used to prevent transplant rejection. On NBC News, Bob Bazell reported that one company was selling Sam-E, another fashionable dietary supplement, at zero concentration. Under the Dietary Supplement and Health Act of 1994, suppliers of "natural" substances are not required to provide evidence of safety or efficacy.

Bob Park can be reached via email at
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