March 1989

Volume 3 Issue 6

The Scientist March 1989 Cover



Technor Inc.: Is This Shining Star Rising Or Falling?

LIVERMORE, CALIF.—It seemed like a great idea at the time: In the spring of 1987, chemist Bob Peny, armed with a quiet resolve and the patent to a pollution-reducing process he had discovered while a researcher at Sandia National Laboratory’s Combustion Research Facility (CRF) in Livermore, left a secure, challenging, and well-paying job to start his own company, Technor Inc. Launched with a Department of Energy Small Business and Innovation Research grant, the startup seemed de

Creative Hackers Find A Niche In Japan

TOKYO—Takashi Chikayama is a true hacker—a person who spends long hours working to crack difficult software codes, not because he’s paid overtime, but because he loves programming. Unlike most members of his scientific cadre however, he doesn’t work in a basement university lab in Cambridge, Mass., or a plush office in Silicon Valley. Chikayama’s home is Tokyo—and he is Japan’s newest and quite possibly most potent weapon in the international battle

Bush Budget Appointee Wields Pen And Sword

WASHINGTON—To some scientists the title will sound impressive; to others, it will be simply obscure: associate director for natural resources, energy, and science at the Office of Management and Budget. But scientists ought to know who carries this portfolio, because the person in that office has the potential to relax or squeeze important parts of the federal research budget for science. The current occupant is R6bert Grady. a newly appointed (see story, page 1) political scientist


National Lab Briefs

Venture Capital: Rx For Tech Transfer Blues? As many of the national labs can attest, inventing a better mouse trap is no guarantee that the world will beat a path to your door. So several government labs have been forced to adopt unusual methods to sell their wares to the private sector. The latest experiment is an $8.5 million venture capital fund set up by Argonne National Lab and the University of Chicago. The privately endowed fund, known as ARCH Venture Fund, is a nonprofit creature form

Government Briefs

The Politics Of Filling The Pipeline If you think that an idea as all-American as national science scholars could be able to escape the taint of politics, you’ll have to think again. In last month’s address to Congress, President Bush proposed 570 such scholarships to entice the intellectual cream of U.S. youth to pursue careers in science and engineering, But his $5 million a year program to refill the U.S. science pipeline would be overseen by the Department of Education, and tha

Entrepreneur Briefs

Who needs venture capital? Not Stanford medical researchers whose work shows potential for clinical applications. Last month, Stanford University Hospital announced that it had awarded $351 ,200 to nine projects that need only to be developed a bit further to be ready for clinical testing. These are the first awards made by the hospital under its new technology transfer program, which was announced last summer. In an attempt to speed the transfer of innovative techniques from lab to bedside, th

Industry Briefs

Industry Scientists: Yale Wants You Now corporate scientists can tap into the brainpower and technical expertise of Yale University cell biologists, thanks to a project just established at the university by its Office of Cooperative Research. For $20,000 (small businesses pay $10,000), members of the Cell Biology Liaison Program are able to visit the school of medicine’s cell biology department laboratories, attend an annual symposium held exclusively for subscribers, participate in tech


States Wrestle Over Measuring The Value Of High-Tech Development

When Walter Plosila was asked in 1982 by Pennsylvania’s Gov. Richard Thomburgh to set up one of the nation’s first state programs to promote high technology, he knew he’d have to show results—and fast. After all, the governor and legislature were putting both personal prestige and taxpayer dollars behind an effort whose linchpin was state-sponsored collaboration between university researchers and industrial entrepreneurs. By February 1987, Plosila was ready to prove


On Multiple Authorship: Describe The Contribution

Concern over the pressure to publish and its spawning of fraudulent publications has led to an examination of multiple authorship of scientific papers. In prestigious journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and Science, papers with six or more coauthors are not uncommon. While many of the authors may have contributed to the work described in a paper, there are many instances in which names are added to the author list for political reasons. A scientist may supply a needed compou

Make Scientific Journals More Responsive-And Responsible

Scientific journals welcome new subscribers without reservation. It is a pity that many are far less welcom ing to the other group of people on whom they they depend--their authors. In one sense, it is inevitable that journals do not take pains to accommodate authors. Only a minority of scientists can succeed in having their work regularly published in the most respected and widely read journals in their field. Many papers are rejected by one or more journals before being accepted. What I d


The Genome Project Holds Promise, But We Must Look Before We Leap

To an ever-increasing degree, explanation in biology is reduced to art expression in the language of DNA sequences. At least, a necessary condition for the interpretation of many problems in evolution, genetics, virology, immunology teratology, or cancer is the elucidation of a message in the well-known ATGC alphabet. Furthermore, the power of biotechnology rests on manufacturing blueprints of the same ilk. To a degree " unprecedented in biological history, we can describe the agenda for much


False Hope

False Hope I am most grateful to Paul Raeburn for his article entitled, “Biotherapeutics: Expensive Scam, Or Equal Opportunity” (The Scientist, December 26, 1988, page 7). As a biomedical researcher, a medical school professor, and a metastatic malignant melanoma patient, I believe it important that the public be aware of the overall implications involved in such an endeavor as Biotherapeutics. We all know that immunotherapy is in its developing stage, and I hope it will prove to b

Critiquing ""Critique""

Critquing "Critique" Your critique of Dr. Forer’s critique of “critique” as a verb won’t do (The Scientist, December 26, 1988, page 10). The Merriam Webster staff relinquished the right to be a council of last resort when they decided, by inverse snobbery, to regard a word or pronunciation as correct merely because it is often used. A good dictionary should be prescriptive as weil as descriptive. By adopting their misguided policy of sacrificing their prescriptive resp

No Turning Back

No Turning Back Garland Allen expresses concern about genetic research on human behavioral traits (The Scientist, February 6, 1989, page 9). His implicit solution, however—ending research and discussion of the genetic basis of human traits—does little more than turn back the clock to a period of ignorance. Do we really want to return to a time when psychiatrists thought that schizophrenia was a result of cold and and loving mothers—and blamed the mother for a child’s i


The accompanying article, in the same issue by Leonard Minsky, and the history of Jerome Jacobstein’s experiences adjoining it, remind us of cases in which universities have chosen to punish the whistlebiower rather than the person who in fact proved to be guilty of fraud. It is of course very difficult to set up a committee that is expert in the scientific field involved in a disptited case, and also free from conflict of interest. I would only insist that such a body cannot be set up w

Taking MacRisks

Taking MacRisks I was dismayed to read that the MacArthur Foundation might he discontinuing its so-called “genius awards” in science (The Scientist, February 6, 1989, page 14). Those awards are among the more imaginative ways of supporting science because they provide the recipients with enough supportto allow some real accomplishment. Corbally, the outgoing president of the founda tion, is quoted as saying that “The fellowships work beautifully for writers, poets, and histor

Funding Inequities

Funding Inequities Your story in the December 12 issue of The Scientist concerning NIH funding had the title, “The Rich Get Richer” (page 19). So what’s new? Many of us interacting with the system have known of the institutionalized inequity of the system for years. The reason why these institutions have monopolized the bulk of NIH dollars is because they have seeded the study sections with their own people and friends. The cruel joke is that many people inside the exclusive

Burying Science

I would like to bring to your attention a problem that is halting the benefits of medical and anthropological research. It involves the “reburial” movement, which is quite strong in a number of states—for example, California, Oklahoma, and Iowa. A small number of activists, for financial, political, and religious reasons, are insisting that all prehistoric skeletons and artifacts be buried regardless of next-of-kin desires. Reburial in Califomia and several other states is now

Fleecing The Public

Fleecing The Public Your account of Sen. William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece” awards (The Scientist, December 12, 1988, page 17) may be supplemented with the history of his success in obstructing regulation of vitamin products in 1974. The Food and Drug Administration proposed to set an upper limit of 150% of Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) per tablet for the over-the-counter vitamin products. There was no restriction on taking several tablets per day, which actu ally is a


Plant and Animal Sciences

PLANT AND ANIMAL SCIENCES BY PETER D. MOORE Department of Biology King’s College London, U.K. " The shells of dinosaur eggs developed in a manner that more closely resembles some birds’ eggs than it does modern reptiles’ eggs. The texture changes abruptly in sequential layers as a result of organic material periodically interrupting calcite deposition. This structure is also found in the thick shells of modern rarities such as ostrich and rhea. H. Silyn-Roberts, R.M. Sharp


Life Sciences

LIFE SCIENCES >BY WILLIAM F. LOOMIS Department of Biology University of California, San Diego La Jolla, Calif. " Gene therapy of certain cancers has come a step closer. Neoplasia of retinoblastoma and osteosarcoma cells was suppressed by introducing a functional copy of the RB gene on a retrovirus vector. Unlike the original cell lines, the suppressed cells failed to form tumors when injected into nude mice. H.-J. Huang, J.-K. Yen, J.-Y. Shew, P.-L. Chen, et al, “Suppression of the neop


CHEMISTRY BY RON MAGOLDA Medical Products Department E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co. Wilmington, DeL " This publication describes the first total synthesis of the potent immunosuppressant, (-)-FK-506. T.K. Jones, 5.0. Mills, R.A. Reamer, D. Askin, et al, “Total synthesis of the immunosuppressant (-)-FK-506,” Journal of American Chemical Society Ul (3), 1157-1159, February 1, 1989. ( Alanine racemase, a pyridoxal 5’-phosphate containing enzyme, has been inhibited with a number


PHYSICS BY FRANK A. WILCZEK Institute for Theoretical Physics University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, Calif. A deeply troubling problem for modern physics is why the vacuum doesn’t weigh very much. A recent paper reviews the reasons why this seemingly innocuous fact bothers people, and it presents as well some of the wild speculations this phenomenon has engendered. S. Weinberg; “The Cosmological Constant Problem,” Reviews of Modern Physics, 61 (1), 1, Januar

Coauthorship Between U.S. And Canadian Scientists Rises Sharply In The 1980s

Recent enactment of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement has been touted by proponents as a move toward cooperation between the two nations that is without precedent. But on the science front, at least, strong collaboration is hardly a new phenomenon. Indeed, it has been dramatically on the rise throughout this decade. Since 1980, scientific cooperation, as reflected in scientific papers written jointly by Canadian and U.S. scientists, has risen sharply. Canadians have increased by a third,

Computational Science

COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE BY BRUCE G. BUCHANAN Department of Computer Science University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pa. " Electronic mail systems simplify communication but often result in information overload, or sometimes a flood of “junk mail.” Or the horizon are software tools that filter messages according tc criteria defined by the individual. This paper describes one such prototype. S. Pollock, “Arnie-based message filtering system,” acm Transactions on Office Infor


A Low-Profile Science Discipline Is Buzzing With Activity

Africanized honeybees have not reached the United States yet—the smart money is on their crossing the border from Mexico about February 1990. But these aggressive insects have already turned the bee research community upside down—a classic example of how Nature, every once in a while propels a low-profile scientific discipline into the limelight. While some bee scientists in the field may bemoan the swarms of reporters demanding time-consuming interviews, others seem to enjoy b

New Products

Express Mail: Searching For Relief From Bitnet

Spending too much time on electronic mail, lately? Maybe Binet is the culprit—and maybe you’d like an alternative. Among scientists in academia who’ve been bitten by the E-mail bug, Bitnet appears to have emerged as the transmitting/receiving network of choice. Since it’s a network run by a consortium of academic institutions, it’s private----essentially only other academics may use it. And virtually all academic institutions—and the National Science Foun

FASEB Expo Spotlights State-Of-The-Art Instruments

Three interdisciplinary themes weave through this year’s annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), opening today at the New Orleans Convention Center. These special areas of interest are AIDS, 2nd messengers and signal transduction, and mechanisms of adaptation to the environment: FASEB projects that its huge program of tutorials, society and guest symposia, special lectures, and slide and tape poster sessions, will attract about 13,000 peop


National Academy Of Sciences Honors 13

In a star-studded eyent next month, the National Academy of Sciences will give out more than a quarter of a million dollars in prizes, ranging from honors for an associate professor of astronomy to a medal for a computer industry chairman of the board. One award is a new one: the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, intended for young scientists. The winner will be Kiyoshi Mizunchi, chief-of the section on genetic mechanisms at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digest

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