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Gulf oil spill: BP grants $500 million for independent research

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The panel is headed by Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, who splits her time between professorships at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University, and her post as chairman of Canon US Life Sciences.

The panel is initially tasked with overseeing a competitive selection process that would lead to the establishment of several research centers in the region, presumably at universities with expertise in marine and petroleum science. Scientists would then apply to these centers for money to support individual research projects.

Despite what appear to be layers insulating individual researchers from taking a direct hand-off from BP's paymaster, skeptics are wary.

In a letter earlier this month to BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward, for instance, NRDC executive director Peter Lehner argued that the advisory panel should be named by an organization such as the National Academy of Sciences. It also outlined two other criteria for independence, including no prohibition against BP-funded scientists testifying in court.

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