Having trouble getting NSF to fund your research grant? Sponsor a conference instead. Responding to widespread rumors that funding rates were as low as 10 to 15 percent, NSF's Pat Werner and Jim Edwards analyzed the proposals funded by the Division of Biotic Systems and Resources, which gives out grants in ecology, population biology, and systematics. Not true, they discovered: The lowest success rate for investigator-initiated research funded by any one program was 19.7 percent, and the average was near the foundation's overall rate of 25 percent. At the same time, the program managers found that conferences and professional travel were the surest paths to success. In fact, approval rates in some sections topped 80 percent. To be sure, the competition was quite a bit easier: The division received 1,316 research proposals last year, compared with just 38 requests for conferences and travel. The latter are popular with budget-conscious program officers because they cost much less than a research grant and serve more scientists.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has joined the environmental movement with its recent announcement that the main drag through its 7,200-acre Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md., has been renamed Biocontrol Road. Its former name, from the 1940s, was Pesticide Road. "Innovative approaches to control crop pests by using their own natural enemies" made the switch necessary, notes ARC director Essex Finney, Jr.
A new commitment by the Energy Department to improve science education and create job opportunities for Native Americans owes its existence to a speech by a Los Alamos physicist to a group of Navajo school administrators--in their own language. Fred Begay's ability to offer himself as an example of how a Navajo can flourish in a world dominated by the white man has led to an agreement between the Navajo schools in New Mexico and the government weapons labs at Los Alamos and Sandia. The pact would commit federal funds to bring students and teachers to the labs for long-term research experiences, place lab volunteers in schools to help develop science programs, and make long-term loans of equipment to schools. "Native Americans are underrepresented as scientists, technicians, and as science and math teachers in their own schools," says a DOE spokesman. "We hope to change that."
The University of Western Ontario has found a new use for classroom videotapes: as a weapon against the controversy surrounding the racial theories of psychology professor J. Philippe Rushton (The Scientist, May 14, 1990, page 17). University officials last month ordered Rushton to teach his introductory course on personality and individual differences via videotape in an attempt to diffuse the protests against Rushton's claim to have found a genetic basis for differences between the races on such measures as intelligence, temperament, and sexual behavior. The university wants individual students to come to a secure room, once a week, to screen his 90-minute lecture instead of attending two 2-hour lectures and discussions each week in a regular classroom. Rushton has filed a grievance against the action and is fighting the decision in court. The university says it wanted to ensure the safety of both Rushton and student protesters.