Random Samples

Science  21 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5649, pp. 1325
  1. Tattling Tails

    It's a little boy's dream: talking through farting. But it may be a part of everyday life for herring. A new study finds that the fish may communicate by squeezing noisy bubbles out of their backsides.

    FRT-ing in school.


    Herring make various sounds and have unusually good hearing. Scientists discovered earlier this year that the fish often release bubbles from their tails during ascent or descent. To see if these bubbles might be a form of herring talk, marine scientist Ben Wilson of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, set up fish tanks in the lab. His group videotaped the fish and discovered that the bubble blowing correlated with sounds they dubbed fast repetitive ticks (FRTs).

    The scientists noted that the herring need to gulp air at the surface for continued FRTs. They also observed that the fish make this particular noise at dusk, when they are in the habit of clustering together. That suggests that FRT-ing has a social function, Wilson and colleagues reported online 5 November in Biology Letters.

    Although related fish have been caught rumbling from their bums, herring FRTs are streams of distinct pulses, says acoustic biologist Michael Fine of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond: “They're really cool signals. The question is whether the sound has a function.”

  2. Data Overload

    If you feel that you're being buried under an avalanche of information, there's a good reason: The amount of information produced and stored across the world has doubled in the last 3 years.

    In a new report, How Much Information 2003?, information scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, estimate that enough print, film, magnetic, and optical storage material were produced last year to fill the Library of Congress 500,000 times. That is equal to 5 exabytes (1018) of information, approximately the number of words spoken by human beings since the dawn of time.

    Worldwide data production has increased 30% annually between 1999 and 2002, says Peter Lyman, one of the authors. E-mails alone generated 400,000 terabytes of information. (A terabyte is enough to fill up paper from 50,000 trees.) The researchers compiled their numbers after asking people about their use of hard drives and monitoring “peer-to-peer” networks used to download music as well as sampling archives from the World Wide Web.

    The report (www.sims.berkeley.edu/research/projects/how-much-info-2003) is drawn mostly from the industrialized world. Information produced in poor countries is “almost invisible, due to a paucity of government statistics,” says Lyman.

  3. Bioscience in Nairobi

    The best way to stop an African brain drain is to provide the potential emigrants with a reason to stay home. Last month Canada pledged $30 million toward building the first in a series of research centers of excellence that will give African scientists a chance to stay in step with their wealthier colleagues around the world. “Africa has been producing scientists; the tragedy is that they are not in Africa,” says Wiseman Nkuhlu, an adviser to the New Partnership for Africa's Development.


    The Canadian gift is part of $65 million pledged by the Canadian International Development Agency for projects to further African science, including a “virtual” university and start-up grants for beginning researchers. The biosciences facility, to be built in Nairobi, Kenya, is expected to address needs for drought-resistant crops and safer livestock vaccines.

  4. Asia Catching Up on Greenhouse Effect

    While Europeans have reduced their output of greenhouse gases, several Asian countries have vastly increased their energy-related carbon emissions. Those contrasting trends over the past 2 decades are documented in a new report from the U.S. General Accounting Office, which also predicts that China's emissions, now half the U.S. output, will reach more than 80% of it by 2025. The silver lining in this dark cloud is that “emissions intensity”—tons of carbon per million dollars of economic output—is going down in most countries, with the notable exception of India.

  5. Engaging Young Minds

    Students learn science by doing it. And thanks to Hungarian biochemist Peter Csermely, more than 7000 eastern European high school students have been given a chance to do exactly that.

    Last week, the 45-year-old professor from Semmelweis University in Budapest received the European Molecular Biology Organization's 2003 prize for Communication in the Life Sciences for an 8-year-old program (http://www.kutdiak.hu/) that connects students in Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine with working scientists. Motivated students get a chance to arrange lab stays and experience what research is really like. “I was bored to death in high school,” admits Csermely, who thought there had to be a better way to interest bright students.

    In addition to the €5000 prize money, Csermely has been paid the most sincere form of flattery: A conference in Eger, Hungary, next October will discuss how to expand the program throughout central and eastern Europe.

  6. Jobs

    Weathering Washington. Promising to be “an honest broker of information,” oceanographer Chester Koblinsky is the new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) climate office and the NOAA climate program.

    Koblinsky, who spent 10 years at NASA before joining NOAA last year to help craft the strategic plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, acknowledges the “politically sensitive nature of the subject.” But he hopes that by expanding its suite of services, his office will be able to satisfy “the public's growing hunger for sound climate information.”

    Pulled away. Gerald Keusch is leaving the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) Fogarty International Center next month to become head of international health programs at Boston University (BU).

    NIH's recent budget boom helped Keusch expand the $63.5 million center's activities beyond its best-known mission: bringing foreign scientists to the United States for training. Under his directorship, the center beefed up research funding and delved into areas outside of infectious disease, such as tobacco-related illness and health care and economic development. Keusch, 65, also led the international Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, which supports research in Africa.

    Sources suggest that the Bush Administration's heavy-handed management of NIH may have spurred Keusch's departure. “In every change, there's a push and a pull,” is Keusch's cryptic comment. The pull is BU's “very interesting offer” that also will allow the former Tufts University professor to rejoin his family in Boston.

    Singapore CEO. Biophysicist Santosh Mishra is taking the reins of Singapore's Bioinformatics Institute, one of the leaders in the country's multibillion-dollar biotech initiative. Mishra, who worked for pharmaceuticals giant SmithKline Beecham in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, before becoming head of Lilly Systems Biology in Singapore, hopes to use his industrial experience to “build bridges” between the government-run institute and the private sector.

    The institute, formed in 2001, has been led on an acting basis by physicist Gunaretnam Rajagopal. But Rajagopal's coolness toward forming closer ties to industry is said to have knocked him out of the running. He will stay on as deputy director, working with Mishra to help the institute reach its target of 100 researchers.

  7. Politics

    Misplaced words. Congressional aides are supposed to be seen and not heard. That's especially true during committee hearings, even if staffers might have written questions for their bosses to ask witnesses.


    So it was a shocker to read, in a new report on the Department of Energy's (DOE's) research priorities (Science, 14 November, p. 1126), about an alleged “exchange” during a “recent” House Science Committee hearing between Bell Labs' William Brinkman and House Science Committee staff director David Goldston(above). The DOE report explains how Brinkman, who chairs a National Academy of Sciences panel examining how the National Science Foundation sets priorities for its big projects, testified that it was very difficult to rank research needs across disciplines. That's precisely why Congress “wanted someone else” to do the hard work, Goldston is said to have replied.

    Yes, those were his words. But they were spoken at an academy panel meeting. And Goldston was the witness: Brinkman had asked him and three other Hill aides to explain why Congress was so interested in the topic. During Capitol Hill hearings, Goldston avers, his boss, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-PA), does the talking.

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