Science: theoretically...

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Bill Clinton might be popular with Tony Blair, but back in the US the head of the National Institutes of Health AIDS Vaccine Research Committee isn't happy. Last week, he said that 10 years was an "unreasonably short time" in which to produce an effective AIDS vaccine. President Clinton called earlier this month for a "new national goal for science" to develop such a vaccine within that deadline. Dr David Baltimore's response: "If you mean by 'develop a vaccine' have a vaccine in the field working to protect people, then 10 years is an unreasonably short time." But there is some good news: "If you say what he meant by development of a vaccine is to have a good vaccine candidate - then I'd say that's a reasonable timeline." But hold the champagne and foie gras, for now.

First we eradicated smallpox - next, polio? Incidence of the viral disease has fallen dramatically in Asia in the past decade, which could mean that the World Health Organisation will meet its target of eradicating the disease by the year 2000. There were 1,116 confirmed polio cases in southeast Asia last year, including 1,005 in India, 63 in Indonesia and 24 in Bangladesh. Polio cases in the region have declined 96 per cent since 1988, when the WHO set its millennial goal. India immunised 93 million children at the beginning of 1996 and 120 million a year later. The last case recorded in the Western Hemisphere was in 1991, in a three-year-old boy in Peru.

British researchers have found more evidence that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have a higher than average chance of passing it onto their children. Jeremy Chataway, a neurologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, commented, "In general, the current theory of multiple sclerosis is that there is a genetic component, so people are born at risk... but that genetic susceptibility is triggered by outside factors." The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, was based on studies of 45 couples who both had MS. It showed that six per cent of their children also had the disease. Another six per cent had signs of MS but had not yet developed full symptoms.

Two molecular biologists in Germany have been accused of faking data in papers published in leading science journals. The pair of scientists (who have not admitted any wrongdoing) published work concerning cytokines and genes which helped in cancer drug therapy, and are said to have provided computer-generated images of data from unrelated experiments to form fresh sets of experimental data. The increasing use of digitised data has made it easier to manipulate graphs and images - potentially increasing the opportunity for faking.

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