Friday, 2 July 1999 Washington, DC
1. MICROGRAVITY: PROTEIN CRYSTAL HYPE.
After an international team from BioCryst Pharmaceuticals and
the University of Alabama, Birmingham developed a potential
flu drug, NASA stepped in and exuberantly announced that the
protein crystals they used were grown on the shuttle. Wrong.
Science magazine revealed that the relevant crystals were actually
grown on Earth
(Science 14 May 99).
One of the UAB researchers, Lawrence DeLucas, in a defensive letter to Science
(Science 4 Jun 99),
puffs that space-grown crystals "were used to determine several
inhibitor-protein complex structures and to optimize the
cryopreservation protocol." Furthermore, "NASA's contribution to
this project was substantial in terms of 10 years of funding support."
Nobody doubts that NASA spends a lot of money - the issue is
whether space-grown crystals are worth the staggering cost of
growing them. In another letter to Science
(Science 25 Jun 99),
W. Graeme Laver, who grew the crystals for Biocryst, clears that up.
Laver quotes from a letter he received, in which DeLucas acknowledges
that crystals grown on the NASA shuttle "did not show any
improvements compared to Earth-grown crystals."
2. ABM TREATY: AMENDMENTS STALLED AGAIN:
The Pentagon will take some "weeks or perhaps months"
to develop a plan for a national missile defense, according
to John Holum, Clinton's nominee for the State Department
arms control post. "It's important that the decision on
architecture will be made based on the threat... then we'll
decide what amendments to the treaty are needed." The plan is
to complete an agreement on permitted missile defense by next
June, although the White House admits that it could be later.
Since Senator Helms (R-NC) refuses to allow a vote on the CTBT
while the ABM stands as is
(WN 5 Mar 99),
it looks like CTBT is delayed for another year as well.
3. EMF: WAS LABORATORY EVIDENCE FAKED?
Conspicuously absent in the EMF/cancer debate was a plausible physical
mechanism. Robert P. Liburdy of LBNL tried to rectify that
by researching the effect of EMF's on tamoxifen-treated human
breast cancer cells. But now Liburdy has been investigated for
scientific misconduct, and the Office of Research Integrity reached a
settlement with him in which he must retract parts of two studies
and not apply for federal grant money for three years.
Liburdy contends he merely cleaned up noise in data for
4. PHYSICISTS WIN MACARTHUR GENIUS AWARDS:
Writer of "The Amateur Scientist" in Scientific American magazine,
Shawn Carlson left academia to promote scientific discovery among the
public. He plans to use his award to expand his Society for
Amateur Scientists. Another recipient is Eva Silverstein,
a 28-year-old theorist at SLAC. Together with Shamit Kachru of
U.C. Berkeley, she works to link theories of particle physics
(Helene Grossman wrote this week's What's New.)