Friday, May 10, 2002
1. SECRECY: VISAS TO STUDY "SENSITIVE" TOPICS WILL BE SCREENED.
It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to light the fuse on a shoe
bomb, but nevertheless, after 9/11 the State Department updated
its list of areas of study that are regarded as "sensitive." The
White House proposed to deny student visas in any of the 16 areas
on the list. That got the attention of the academic community,
which explained just how dependent the U.S. scientific enterprise
is on foreign scientific talent. The administration backed down
a bit, announcing on Tuesday that a presidential directive will
create IPASS, the Interagency Panel for Science and Security,
which will evaluate visa applications based on the nationality of
the student, the area of study, and the nature of any research
being conducted at the institution. According to OSTP director
John Marburger, IPASS will rely heavily on information from the
intelligence agencies. Using terrorism as a justification, the
dissemination of unclassified information is being restricted.
In December, certain biology journals were pressured to withhold
(WN 22 Feb 02).
Last week we reported on a Pentagon plan to control unclassified information
(WN 3 May 02).
2. NSF: BILL INTRODUCED TO DOUBLE THE BUDGET IN FIVE YEARS.
National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (H.R.4664),
would provide a 15 percent increase in the NSF budget next year
and put it on track for doubling in five years. This is a major
achievement, made possible by the cooperation of the academic and
industrial communities. The bill has a long way to go, and it is
only an authorization. Any money must still be appropriated.
Nevertheless, it's an essential first step and appears to have
strong support in the House. The doubling of the NIH budget,
which is expected to be completed this year, began the same way.
3. YUCCA MOUNTAIN: HOUSE BACKS THE NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY.
vote was an overwhelming 306-117. The debate carefully avoided
logic on both sides. When opponents warned of the catastrophic
consequences of possible leaks, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who is a
supporter, responded, "We're all going to die." It was perhaps
the only scientifically defensible statement of the day, but it
failed to reassure anyone. It won't be that easy in the Senate.
4. DEPRESSED? MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY AN M&M.
According to a story
in the Washington Post this week, a new analysis found that in
the majority of trials conducted by drug companies, sugar pills
did as well, or better, than antidepressants such as Prozac,
Paxil and Zoloft. This is not to say the antidepressants didn't
work, they did, but so did placebos. In fact, brain imaging
showed the placebos affected the same areas of the brain as the
prescription antidepressants. This may be telling us that if the
problem is in your head, the cure is probably in the same place.