Getting Down With NSF

Think peer review is tough? Try party review.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) hopes to stage a December gala to cap its yearlong 50th anniversary celebration. But the National Science Board, which manages NSF's $4 billion portfolio and usually conducts its affairs in a sedate, secretive, and soporific fashion, is discovering that arranging fun is no picnic.

The presidentially appointed panel is trying to choose entertainment that would please everyone--and offend no one. Its travails became public on 4 May after an earlier closed meeting ended in what Carnegie Institution astronomer Vera Rubin, chair of the party committee, described as "a state of disorder."

"We considered the Capitol Steps," a local comedy group that does political satire, Rubin explained to the full board. "But we worried that they might say something embarrassing." The chief alternative--music--was equally contentious. Factions favoring ballroom dancing vied with supporters of a sit-down concert. Nor were people fired up by one member's proposal for a "science cabaret" featuring posters by winners of student science competitions. Another member hinted darkly that a mariachi band, which made a surprise appearance at a farewell dinner for former NSF director Neal Lane, could reappear as the default choice.

Beyond entertainment are two other potential land mines: location (the White House is a remote possibility) and the guest list. Any suggestions? Send them to