The Smithsonian Institution took a long-awaited step on Monday, selecting 18 researchers to help guide a reorganization of scientific research at this conglomerate of 16 museums, a zoo, and a half-dozen research centers. The institution has been in turmoil since early April, when word spread of Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small's plans to cut some research efforts and revamp others.
Scientists and members of Congress have been up in arms about the plans. So in early May the Smithsonian's Governing Board of Regents decided to convene the panel to help quell the outcry and chart a less controversial course for future scientific endeavors (ScienceNOW, 7 May). It includes biologists, astronomers, geologists, anthropologists, and paleontologists--a half-dozen of whom are Smithsonian staff. Chaired by Jeremy Sabloff, director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, the panel will first meet on 6 September. Afterward, "we will take as long as it is necessary to come up with the appropriate recommendations," Sabloff says.
Over the next several months, he expects the group to evaluate reorganization plans proposed by Small, alternative plans floated by Smithsonian scientists, and perhaps even ideas from panel members.
Smithsonian paleontologist Brian Huber, a spokesperson for the Senate of Scientists at the beleaguered National Museum of Natural History, is not happy about the wait. "It's going to be a slow process, and we're going to be in limbo for some time." Even so, he says, the delay will be worth it if the panel "will move us in a direction we want to go."