# Random Samples

Science  30 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5658, pp. 621
1. # Keeping Tabs on Tigers

In an unusual cooperative step, India and Bangladesh have embarked on a joint census of the Royal Bengal tigers that inhabit the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarban.

The forest, an expanse of marsh and mangrove covering about 10,000 kilometers, straddles the border at the mouths of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. It harbors more than 600 tigers, making it perhaps the single largest contiguous breeding population in the world.

The main census tool will be the collecting of pugmarks: plaster casts and paper tracings of tiger footprints in the mud that are supposed to reveal the age, weight, and sex of the animals. Many wildlife biologists claim that pugmarks are unreliable and should be replaced by other sampling methods, such as camera traps (Science, 30 May 2003, p. 1355). But officials at India's Project Tiger say that in this swampy terrain high-tech devices are unlikely to work. Even so, some of the animals will be fitted with radio collars so that biologists can track their movements by satellite.

In the early 1960s, the Standard Model of elementary particles looked like it was in trouble because some force-carrying particles, such as photons, were massless whereas others had mass. Brout and Englert got around the problem by means of a phenomenon known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. Higgs, working independently, then proposed that the massive particles got their mass by interacting with an all-pervading field by means of a particle that was later named after him. Physicists hope to sight a Higgs boson later this decade using the $2 billion Large Hadron Collider, now under construction at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva. 6. # Jobs Well-worn road. The U.S. Senate has once again lured away one of academia's top lobbyists to monitor science issues at the Pentagon. This week University of Washington advocate Elaine McCusker (below), co-chair of academia's Coalition for National Security Research (CNSR), began work as a staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Her duties include tracking the military's$13 billion science and technology program.

McCusker replaces Carolyn Hanna, a former lobbyist for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who also ran CNSR before moving to the Senate 4 years ago. Hanna last week joined the Department of Homeland Security. Says one former colleague of both women: “This is beginning to look like a career track.”

7. # In the Courts

Brush with the law. The secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, which collects, protects, and preserves the nation's treasures, is getting his wrists slapped for owning the feathers of endangered birds. Last week, the Smithsonian Board of Regents announced that Lawrence Small plans to plead guilty to a nonintentional misdemeanor under the Migratory Bird Act, but he will not be punished for his actions.

A profile of Small in the January 2000 Smithsonian magazine, shortly after he took office, highlighted his private gallery of headdresses and other ceremonial garb adorned with bird feathers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took notice, starting an investigation that led to the filing of charges earlier this month in a U.S. district court in Raleigh, North Carolina. Small supposedly obtained the collection with proper permits, but he has turned it over to federal authorities.

Although the charges are minor, they don't help Small's public image, which has already suffered because of budget and administrative controversies and animal deaths at the National Zoo. Nonetheless, the board says it continues to support him as secretary.

8. # Data Points

Gaping void. There are no female African-American full professors in the top 50 physical sciences and engineering departments in the United States, according to a new survey by chemist Donna Nelson of the University of Oklahoma, Norman. Hispanic women fare only slightly better, holding down 0.1%—nine of 8055—full professorships.

The survey captures the extent to which “the twin barriers of gender and race affect careers in several scientific disciplines,” says Nelson. The survey also found gender disparities in academic hiring at the entry level. In nine of the 14 disciplines surveyed, women's share of assistant professorships was smaller than their share of Ph.D.s from the previous 10 years. By contrast, white men were overrepresented in relation to their proportion among Ph.D. recipients.

The growing number of female Ph.D.s, which rose by an average of 6% across disciplines from 1983–92 to 1993–2001, “cannot magically close the gender gap” in academia, says Debra Rolison, a chemist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Job seekers may be put off by what she calls “the dysfunctional human environment of science and engineering departments, where both men and women are expected to give up their personal lives.”