Random Samples

Science  16 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5656, pp. 308

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  1. Dueling Newsletters

    The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has launched its own weekly electronic newsletter, the NCI Cancer Bulletin—and immediately come under fire from a 30-year-old for-profit company called The Cancer Letter.

    Publisher Kirsten Boyd Goldberg and her attorney, Steven Lieberman, say it's no coincidence that NCI has chosen the same eight-page format, schedule, and theme color (red) used by the $305-a-year publication. Lieberman, of the Washington, D.C., firm of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst and Manbeck, says that NCI Director Andrew von Eschenbach wants to drown out The Cancer Letter because of its critical reporting: “The Cancer Letter has caught NCI with its pants down many times,” says Lieberman. It has accused NCI of becoming politicized and of awarding a $2 million grant without proper peer review. “Now [von Eschenbach is] trying to retaliate” by creating a no-cost rival, Lieberman claims.

    The NCI publication is available for free on NCI's Web site. Like its private counterpart, it will present news and grant opportunities. Von Eschenbach says he decided to create the new publication because “I've been looking for new ways to disseminate” news about NCI's achievements and research opportunities. He denies wanting to compete with The Cancer Letter and insists that “red is our corporate color.” But he notes that the new publication is “a pilot” that could change depending on how readers respond.

  2. Yanomami Redux

    In a new twist on the long-running Yanomami wars, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) intends to sharpen its ethics code. Last month its members overwhelmingly approved a resolution that the association “recognizes the harmfulness of false accusations regarding vaccine safety” that could damage public health efforts among indigenous people.

    By a vote of 1526 to 134, members also repudiated a widely publicized charge that the late geneticist James Neel and Napoleon Chagnon, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had used a vaccine that led to a lethal 1968 measles epidemic among the Yanomami Indians in Brazil. The charges were contained in a 2000 book, Darkness in El Dorado, in which journalist Patrick Tierney hinted that the vaccination program might have been part of a eugenics experiment (Science, 29 September 2000, p. 2251; 19 January 2001, p. 416). The book convulsed American anthropology for months and continues to be controversial despite an AAA task force that in 2001 exonerated the scientists.

    The resolution, in addition to strongly rejecting the Tierney accusations, directs the AAA ethics committee to look into “the responsibilities of anthropologists with respect to these issues.” Says Northwestern University anthropologist William Irons, a Chagnon supporter: “The ethics of spreading false allegations of genocide against other scientists—you never find that spelled out in the ethics code.”

  3. Salt-Resistant Rice

    Indian scientists have genetically engineered a new salt-resistant rice variety designed to stand up to global warming.


    Climate change is expected to cause rising sea levels in coastal rice-growing areas everywhere. A team of scientists led by Ajay Parida at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai has now taken a salinity-resistance gene—which they isolated 3 years ago from a coastal-growing mangrove—and put it into several Indian rice varieties.

    In greenhouse experiments, the plants have grown in water three times as salty as seawater. Last month the government approved a field trial for the new variety.

    Vibha Dhawan, director of bioresources at The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, says salt-resistant food crops are needed not just in the face of global warming but because soil salinity is a major consequence of the intensive chemical fertilizer use and overirrigation prompted by the Green Revolution. MSSRF estimates that about one-third of all irrigated land is now affected by salinization.

  4. Keeping God Out of the Canyon

    The National Park Service (NPS) is investigating whether its bookstores at the Grand Canyon should be selling a book claiming that the canyon was created 4000 years ago in the biblical flood.

    Last month the American Geophysical Union and six other earth sciences societies as well as the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) wrote Joseph Alston, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, urging him to stop the sale of a 2003 book, The Grand Canyon: A Different View. The book contains creationist essays compiled by Tom Vail, whose Canyon Ministries, according to the blurb on Amazon.com, offers “Christ-centered voyages through the canyon.”

    Although the bookstores are managed by a private entity, the Grand Canyon Association, “most visitors to the park will not distinguish between it” and NPS, notes the National Center for Science Education. The book has been sent to headquarters “for review in terms of the book's appropriateness as a sales item in a National Park,” according to a letter from NPS to AIBS.

  5. Jobs

    Reverse psychology? Conventional wisdom says that countries with restrictive embryo research laws should suffer from a brain drain. So why is University of Pennsylvania developmental biologist Hans Schöler, who made headlines last spring when he coaxed oocytes from mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells, returning to his native Germany, which only allows research on a limited number of human ES cell lines?


    “It was a dream come true,” says Schöler about the offer from the Max Planck Institute for Vascular Biology in Münster to direct a new department of cell and developmental biology. In addition to a career-long guarantee of ample funding and a new building by 2006, Schöler gets a chance to influence stem cell research in the country. Even while in the United States, Schöler advised leading German politicians on both sides of the embryo research controversy. He takes up his new job in April, after which he plans to work within German laws to repeat his technique for creating eggs-in-a-dish with human ES cells.

    Sunshine days. When someone in their 70s moves to Florida, it's usually to retire. But Charles Weissmann, 72, a Swiss expert on prion diseases currently at University College London, is headed south in March to lead the fledgling East Coast campus of the La Jolla, California-based Scripps Research Institute (Science, 24 October 2003, p. 563). In addition to directing the center—launched with $510 million in state and county funds—Weissmann will also head a department of infectology and continue his own pathogen research.

    Weissmann moved to the United Kingdom in 1999 after Switzerland's retirement rules ended his career at the University of Zürich. He calls the new institute, which is operating at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton until a new facility opens in 2006, “an interesting enterprise” that provides “a bigger scope for my work.”

    Linking them up. David Evans, the Smithsonian Institution's under secretary for science, is taking on more responsibilities as part of an effort to improve collaboration among its various museums and research centers. Evans inherits the National Air and Space Museum, the world's busiest, from Sheila Burke, who has been promoted to deputy secretary under Lawrence Small.

    The addition should help in “ensuring greater cooperation between air and space, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, and the earth sciences division of the National Museum of Natural History,” says University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Jeremy Sabloff, who last year chaired a report on reorganizing Smithsonian's scientific research (Science, 10 January 2003, p. 180).

    Evans will report directly to Small, while Burke becomes the Smithsonian's chief operating officer.

  6. Deaths

    Fount of genius. Scientific dynasties are harder to create than political ones. But physicist Arthur von Hippel, who died on New Year's Eve at the age of 105, may be the exception.


    Born in Germany, von Hippel fled to the United States after Hitler came to power and helped develop radar and conducted important early work in materials science, mostly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He and his wife, the daughter of physics Nobelist James Franck, had five children, three of whom have become accomplished scientists. Eric is a professor of innovation at MIT, Frank Niels, a physicist and policy activist at Princeton University, and University of Oregon biochemist Peter is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “In a gentle way, my father chose all our careers,” recalls Frank, who was named for both his grandfather and Danish Nobelist Niels Bohr.

    In addition to his focus on the intricacies of molecular design, Arthur von Hippel enjoyed the great outdoors and built a log cabin in New Hampshire's White Mountains that the family still uses. And he was winningly unconventional, bringing students home for exams and feeding them apple pie and ice cream. “There was a wonderful Don Quixote aspect to my father,” says Frank.

    Mountain tragedy. An Idaho avalanche has claimed the lives of two fisheries scientists, one a leader in reforming graduate education.


    Marsha Landolt, dean of the graduate school at the University of Washington, Seattle, was vacationing over the New Year's holiday in the Sawtooth National Forest with her husband, Robert Busch, when a heavy snowstorm triggered a wall of snow that filled the cabin Busch had built. Five other family members sleeping on the second floor survived the early morning 2 January avalanche but were unable to rescue Landolt, 55, and Busch, 58, an aquaculture consultant.

    “Her leadership on several projects established the University of Washington as a national exemplar in improving graduate education,” says Deborah Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. “She was creative and effective and kind, and committed to making things happen.” Landolt was also active in improving conditions for women in science.

    The university has created a fund in their memories to support graduate fellowships.