Random Samples

Science  17 Sep 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5691, pp. 1709

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  1. Viking Burial Site


    Viking brooch. Archaeologists are thrilled by the discovery of the first Viking graveyard uncovered in England, which they hope will shed light on a period with a notoriously scant record.

    The famously fierce Vikings of Scandinavia surged up English shores in the 8th century and dominated until the Norman conquest in 1066, leaving a lasting legacy in terms of genes, language, and culture. But unlike their predecessors, the Romans, the Vikings rarely built permanent remains such as stone roads or buildings.

    The find was made in March by an amateur, Peter Adams, wielding a metal detector on farmland in Cumbria, northwestern England. Archaeologists uncovered six graves with Viking objects including weapons, spurs, and jewelry that seem to date to the early 10th century. Little of the skeletons remain due to the acidic soil, but the objects suggest that the graves contained four men and two women. “To find just one grave is great,” says excavation director Alan Lupton of the firm Oxford Archaeology North, who directed the 8-week excavation. “To find six is mind-blowing.” University of Oxford archaeologist David Griffiths says there are Viking grave sites in Scotland and Ireland, but they were excavated in the 19th century under less than scientific conditions.

    The graves show features of both pagan and Christian burial practices that could yield information about how Vikings made the transition from paganism to Christianity, says Lupton.

  2. Defying Darwin

    Promoters of intelligent design, the “scientific” wing of creationism, are gloating over a tactical victory this summer: the appearance of a critique of Darwinian evolution in a peer-reviewed biology journal. But the current editors say the journal shouldn't have published it.

    The piece by Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle, Washington, appeared last month in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a small journal published by the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. The article was accepted by then-editor Richard Sternberg, who does systematics research at the National Institutes of Health's GenBank. Sternberg is one of the signatories of “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” a statement circulated by the Discovery Institute.

    The article has ruffled feathers at the journal. Its current editor, ornithologist Richard Banks, says Sternberg deviated from the journal's practice of assigning every submission to an associate editor. The society issued a statement calling the Meyer paper “a significant departure from the [journal's] nearly purely taxonomic content” and says the officers and editors “would have deemed this paper inappropriate for publication” if they'd known about it in advance.

    Sternberg, who calls himself an advocate of “process structuralism,” says the paper “was not outside the journal's scope” and was reviewed by three biologists. “Meyer set forth a reasoned view about the basis of taxa” which deserved airing despite being “politically incorrect,” he says. The Discovery Institute has been making hay over the incident. “Darwinists try to thwart intellectual freedom,” crows its Web site.

  3. Magnetic Memories

    CREDIT: N. T. LINFORD, ARCHAEOL. PROSPECT. 11, 1–13 (2004)

    Skeletons often dissolve when buried in acidic soils. Now an archaeologist has shown that he can detect long- decayed remains by measuring the faint magnetic signal formed by soil microbes that enhance the magnetism of iron oxides from hemoglobin and other sources. This image, published in the current issue of Archaeological Prospection by archaeological geophysicist Neil T. Linford of English Heritage in Portsmouth, U.K., shows the magnetic signal from soil covering a roughly 1200-year-old Anglo-Saxon skeleton from Suffolk.

  4. More Chimp Charges


    Ill-fated Ashley. The government facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, that houses the former Coulston chimps faces new animal- welfare accusations—this time over the 2002 deaths of two sick chimps and the near-death of a third. On 7 September the Otero County district attorney filed animal-cruelty charges against Charles River Laboratories, which runs the facility for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the facility's director, veterinarian Rick Lee.

    The animals are largely the offspring of those used in early space-flight experiments. Many were turned over in 1998 to the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo. But in 2001, following accusations of negligence and cruelty, NIH put them in the care of Charles River (Science, 27 September 2002, p. 2191).

    In Defense of Animals, a California-based group that has been critical of the facility, claims that care has still not improved. Based on reports from whistleblowers, the district attorney brought charges relating to the deaths or near-death of three severely sick or injured chimps, Rex, Ashley, and Topsy, who had been left overnight without medical care. Charles River issued a statement saying that they always provided “immediate and appropriate medical attention” to the animals in question. NIH said in a statement that the facility has passed inspection for proper accreditation but that the agency will “continue to review the issues.”

  5. Awards


    Rights warrior. Nguyen Dan Que, a Vietnamese endocrinologist currently under arrest in his home country, has received the 2004 Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights of Scientists Award from the New York Academy of Sciences. The 61-year-old doctor has spent 18 of the last 26 years in prison as a consequence of his efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Vietnam.

    After graduating from Saigon Medical School in 1966, Nguyen practiced medicine in Europe on a scholarship from the World Health Organization but soon returned to Vietnam to provide free medical care for the poor. He became an outspoken critic of the government's health care policy and a champion of freedom of expression in the late 1970s.

    Nguyen has been held incommunicado since his most recent arrest in March 2003. His brother, Quan Nguyen, an internist at Fairfax Hospital in Annandale, Virginia, says his brother does not know about the award but “would be very honored to receive it.”

    You go, girl. Women scientists received 60% of the National Science Foundation (NSF)- backed early career awards announced last week by the White House. That's a surprising outcome, given that the pool of young scientists from which NSF picks its winners is roughly 3-to-1 male. “The unmistakable message is that women have arrived,” says NSF's acting director, Arden Bement.

    Maybe at NSF, but apparently not at the other seven agencies that participated in the 2003 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). NSF's contingent of 12 women (out of 20 winners) is twice the combined total of women in the rest of the PECASE class of 57. The National Institutes of Health's class of 2003, by comparison, contains 10 men and two women.

    Herpetology honor. University of Wales biologist Simon Creer has won the Joseph B. Slowinski Award for Excellence in Snake Systematics from the Center for North American Herpetology. The award was created to honor Slowinski, a curator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, who died after being bitten by a venomous krait in Myanmar on 11 September 2001 (Science, 5 October 2001, p. 45). Thomas Wilcox of the University of Texas, Austin, won the first award last year.

  6. Jobs


    Continental vision. A French nuclear physicist-turned-policy wonk has been named the first director of the newly created European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) in Vienna, Austria. Serge Plattard takes up the reins of an institute, founded last November by the European Space Agency and the Austrian Space Agency (ASA), that will try to draw up a long-term framework for European space research. “We have lots of programs but no vision,” he says.

    Plattard, 57, anticipates having a staff of up to a dozen analysts and an annual budget of $1.8 million. “I know how to manage international and multi- disciplinary teams,” he says, “and how to attract nonstandard funding.”

    Plattard wants ESPI to be very independent and produce studies that can be instantly used by decision-makers. He's certainly up to the task, according to ASA's Michel Jakob, who says Plattard “can talk on the level of ministers and scientists. He can speak with everybody and be taken seriously.”

  7. Deaths


    Popularizer par excellence. Gerald Piel, a pioneer of modern science journalism and former publisher of Scientific American, died on 5 September in Queens, New York. He was 89.

    A history major at Harvard University, Piel was science editor at Life in the 1940s before buying Scientific American with some friends in 1947. He introduced the idea of having scientists write popular accounts of their research, which helped boost its readership over the years. Piel remained an influential voice after stepping down as publisher in 1984, serving as president of AAAS (publisher of Science) in 1986 and writing books such as The Age of Science: What Scientists Learned in the Twentieth Century (2001).

    “He was a landmark figure in journalistic letters, and he directly promoted the growth of science as much as any one person could,” Scientific American noted in an obituary earlier this month.