Random Samples

Science  25 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5679, pp. 1900

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  1. Iowa Becoming a Primate Magnet

    Midwestern allure.


    Indah (above) and her brother Azy are headed west. In August the two orangutans, now at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., hope to be the first residents of the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, a sanctuary and research center under construction outside Des Moines, Iowa.

    The new facility, founded by Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend in 2002 with a gift of $10 million, claims to be “one of the first worldwide to include all four types of great ape for the study of cognition and communicative abilities.” Robert Shumaker and Benjamin Beck, who helped create the National Zoo's Think Tank project to investigate orangutan language abilities, will continue the research in Des Moines.

    The orang contingent will be joined later this year by eight bonobos. Ape language researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is moving from Georgia State University to head the bonobo research program. Chimps and gorillas will be added in the next few years on the 81-hectare site on the Des Moines River.

    “We're here to study the intellect of great apes,” says Shumaker. That includes research on social behavior and tool use as well as language abilities. The trust also plans exchanges with the Great Ape Research Institute in Okayama, Japan, which studies chimp behavior to figure out how humans got to here from there. Says Savage-Rumbaugh, “The Trust will exemplify the essence and soul of great apes.”

  2. Making Mona Frown

    Poets and songwriters take note: Researchers say it's the mouth, not the eyes, that are the windows to the soul.

    Human facial expressions are extraordinarily subtle. In an attempt to pinpoint what features make people look happy or sad, visual neuroscientists Christopher Tyler and Leonid Kontsevich of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco decided to experiment with one of the most ambiguous portraits of all time, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

    Obscuring the portrait with random smatterings of visual “noise,” the researchers generated at least 100 different fuzzy versions of the lady and asked subjects to rate each on a four-point scale from sad to happy. The researchers then averaged all the images for each category.

    Different patterns of visual “noise” around the mouth change La Gioconda's gaze from glum to glad.


    The next step was to overlay either the upper or lower half of the “happiest” or “saddest” composite faces on the original Mona Lisa. Overlaying the mouth caused Mona to grin or frown in the minds of the subjects, but overlaying the eyes failed to change the emotion. That suggests viewers get their cues more from the mouth than the eyes, the researchers report in the June issue of Vision Research.

    Visual psychophysicist Richard Murray of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia applauds the “really powerful” method and its “intuitively surprising” result. In addition to learning about expressions, he says, “we can use this technique on people with visual deficits to determine what's going wrong in their brain.”

  3. Animal Lib Comes to Russia


    Animal activists have targeted research labs in Moscow in a recent wave of assaults that have caught Russian authorities off-guard.

    On 21 April masked invaders burst into the Anokhin Institute of Normal Physiology, smashed a frog pool, and set loose 119 frogs in marshes near the city. On 8 May activists stole 110 rats and five rabbits from the department of higher nervous activity at Moscow State University. This month they invaded the university's physiology department and “were pouring white mice from their cages into a garbage bag” when surprised by security personnel, says deputy department head Andrey Kamensky.

    On 11 June they returned to the department of higher nervous activity. Researcher Anna Smirnova explains that the targets, crows and ravens, were mostly wounded wild birds brought in for treatment. “They leave their cages reluctantly, so the ‘liberators’ had to throw four of the most seriously wounded birds out the window,” she says.

    In an e-mail to Science, the Animal Liberation Front took credit for the raids and warned that “this is just a beginning of our action in Russia.” The country is ill- prepared to deal with the attacks: Parliament passed an animal anticruelty law in the late 1990s, but it got bogged down in the amendment process and was never signed by President Vladimir Putin. And police say current laws are vague on animal theft.

  4. The Balance of Justice


    Two figures in perhaps the most celebrated scientific misconduct case of the past 20 years are back in the limelight.

    On 16 June forensic scientist Larry Stewart, 46 (top left), head of the U.S. Secret Service laboratory in Washington, D.C., pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury in connection with his role in the stock fraud conviction of lifestyle guru Martha Stewart (no relation). In the late 1980s Stewart's analysis of laboratory notebooks was central to a congressional investigation of scientific misconduct charges against MIT researcher Thereza Imanishi-Kari. A federal review panel later dismissed the Imanishi-Kari case, saying it found “no independent or convincing evidence” that she had fabricated data.

    An indictment by U.S. Attorney David Kelley alleges that Stewart, an ink expert, lied in the Martha Stewart trial earlier this year when he said that he personally analyzed her stock purchase orders. The prosecutor alleges that junior experts in the Secret Service actually did the work. Attorney Judith Wheat of Washington, D.C., who represents the accused agent, says her client “stands by his work and his testimony.” And New York state officials argue that the stock fraud conviction cannot be appealed just because of this legal mess.

    On 8 June, Nobelist David Baltimore (inset), the molecular biologist who co-authored papers with Imanishi-Kari and came under fire for defending her, won recognition from a former employer that gave him chilly treatment during the furor. New York City's Rockefeller University, which had eased Baltimore out of its presidency at the peak of the misconduct flap in 1991, named him Doctor of Science (honoris causa), its highest honor. Current president Paul Nurse said the award for Baltimore, now president of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, was “the homecoming of Rockefeller University's most distinguished alumnus.”

  5. Jobs


    New LBNL head. Stanford physicist Steven Chu has been named director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California. The 56-year-old Chu, who shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for using lasers to trap and cool atoms, becomes the first Asian American to head one of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) national labs.

    “It's a spectacular choice,” says Keith Hodgson, director of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, who says that Chu's research on using high-tech physics tools to investigate biological molecules is “very attuned to future developments” at LBNL. Chu calls his selection a “big jump” from his practiced role as a top-flight researcher.

    Chu takes over 1 August from Charles Shank, who is retiring after 15 years at the helm. In January DOE expects to announce whether it has decided to retain the University of California as manager or chosen another institution to run the 73-year-old lab.

    A peaceful move. Gerson Sher has resigned as president of the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), but he hasn't abandoned its original mission.

    Sher left the U.S. National Science Foundation in 1995 to found CRDF, which promotes cooperation between scientists in the United States and Eurasia. The Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit began by helping find work for weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union (FSU), and over the years its mission has expanded into areas such as supporting former Iraqi weapons scientists. Sher says he found himself “spending less time on what I'm really interested in,” namely, cooperation with the FSU—an area he'll continue working in as a consultant.

    Sher will remain on CRDF's advisory council.


    Tucson bound. The oldest scientific foundation in the United States has tapped a dean at a small liberal arts college as its next president. James Gentile (below), a molecular biologist at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, will succeed John Schaefer as head of the 92-year-old Research Corp.

    The $150 million foundation, based in Tucson, Arizona, supports faculty at both predominantly undergraduate and research institutions as well as innovative research and instrumentation. “John casts a long shadow,” says Gentile about Schaefer, 70, who has run the foundation since 1982. “But it's a very exciting opportunity.” Gentile, 57, says he hopes to take over early next year after “tying up loose ends” at Hope.

  6. Awards

    Kyoto Prize. Computer scientist Alan Kay, who paved the way for the development of the modern personal computer, and cancer geneticist Alfred Knudson, who led the discovery of tumor-suppressor genes, have won the Kyoto Prize from Japan's Inamori Foundation in the advanced technology and basic sciences categories. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, best known for his theory of communicative action, is the winner in the arts and philosophy category. Each winner receives $450,000.