News this Week

Science  28 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5709, pp. 492

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    Summers's Comments Draw Attention to Gender, Racial Gaps

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates equality and diversity in the United States. But this year two unrelated events served to remind the scientific community how far it still has to go to reach the sort of world envisioned by the slain civil rights leader.

    Just days before the 17 January national holiday, an African-American professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) charged that racism was a factor in his tenure denial. And on 14 January the president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, triggered a national uproar when he said at an academic conference that genes and personal choices may help explain why so few women are leaders in science and engineering fields. Summers later apologized, but his contrite words aren't expected to end the controversy.

    No one denies that science and engineering faculty members at major research universities remain overwhelmingly white and male, despite large numbers of women and minorities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. But why this is the case is an explosive subject. Summers lit the fuse last week at a meeting on women and minorities in science and engineering, put on by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he cited data showing that more boys than girls score at the high and low ends on standardized math and science tests. Nearly simultaneously, MIT biologist James Sherley charged publicly that colleagues undervalue his research because he is black.

    Summers's time.

    Harvard's Larry Summers has put the issue of women in science on the front burner with his comments at a Boston meeting.


    According to participants at the off-the-record NBER meeting, Summers argued that women typically do not work the 80-hour weeks common to professions like law, business, or science. And while noting that socialization and bias may slow the progress of women, he cited the gender variation in test scores as a possible explanation for the larger number of men at the top of the professional ladder.

    That assertion surprised and angered participants such as MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, who led a 1999 effort to expose unconscious bias at her institution. “I thought I must not be hearing correctly,” she recalls. “When I looked around, I saw other women rolling their eyes.” Hopkins walked out in disgust. “He needs to listen as well as talk,” says Shirley Malcom, head of education and human resources at AAAS (which publishes Science), who spoke after Summers. “And I got the feeling he listened but did not hear.”

    He did get an earful. Participants told Summers that he was misinterpreting scientific data, including their own. “High achievers are more likely to enter science, but the gender gap [in test scores] does not explain why girls—even high achievers—drop out” in significant numbers from college math and science, says Yu Xie, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Summers cited a 2003 book by Xie and Kimberlee Shauman, Women in Science, that reported the performance of high-school boys varied more widely than that of girls. But Xie says this variation “is not the deciding factor” in whether women succeed in science. It's also at odds with rising numbers of women entering the scientific labor force, he notes. The decision to have a family, Xie says, seems to be the critical factor in a woman's scientific advancement. “And that,” he adds, “can't be explained by mathematical achievement.”

    Summers's analysis contains other flaws, Xie contended. Few researchers would argue that Asian Americans are innately more capable in math and science, he says: “The best scholarship attributes this difference mainly to culture.” The phenomenon appears based in part on Asian beliefs that math is an ability that is learned, not inherited. Xie suspects that similar complex cultural differences have shaped the status of women in science.

    Race and tenure.

    MIT's James Sherley says elite universities need to “face up to problems of racism.”


    Harvard's standing committee on women wrote Summers on 18 January that his comments “serve to reinforce an institutional culture at Harvard that erects numerous barriers to improving the representation of women on the faculty.” Summers replied the same day, saying, “I apologize for any adverse impact on the valuable work of your committee.” His NBER remarks, he added, were intended to “stimulate research on the many interrelated factors that bear on women's careers in science.” Two days later Summers announced that Harvard would begin an initiative to recruit women and back their careers.

    Malcom, trained as a biologist, says that Summers's attempt to pit nature against nurture is unproductive given that the two are so clearly intertwined. Although genetic differences between men and women obviously exist, she says, they cannot explain “the systematic absence of minority males” among research professors.

    That glaring absence was highlighted in an e-mail from MIT's Sherley to senior administrators after he was rejected for tenure earlier this month. The 47-year-old associate professor, the only African American in the 40-person biological engineering department, works on adult stem cell kinetics.

    In a document obtained by Science, Sherley states that he has been denied substantial independent research space and minority career development funds, as well as being paid the least of anyone with his rank and experience. In addition, he says he waited 4 years for an invitation to give a “Meet the Lab” presentation to his colleagues. “MIT could do so much better by just facing up to the problem of racism and leading other universities in making a sincere commitment to ending it,” he says.

    Sherley's work, however, has been controversial. He opposes use of embryonic stem cells, and his argument that adult cells could work just as well, says one leading researcher at another university, “is a controversial hypothesis many people don't think could be true.” In response, Sherley says that he considers being called controversial a badge of honor and that “findings from my laboratory have had a major impact on ideas in several related fields.”

    MIT officials declined to discuss the matter but called his comments “serious charges that will be handled seriously.” Less than 1 year ago, MIT faculty members pledged to take “a leadership position among our peer institutions in the recruiting and success of underrepresented minority faculty and graduate students.” The resolution urged MIT administrators to increase the percentage of underrepresented minorities on the faculty by “roughly a factor of two within a decade.”

    Meanwhile, NBER conference organizer and economist Richard Freeman says he now regrets inviting Summers. “I didn't appreciate how Larry would take all the attention,” says Freeman, who has hosted other closed-door meetings to explore other facets of the scientific workforce. But Summers's presence may have inadvertently put the issue into the national spotlight. “This provides an opportunity,” says one Harvard female faculty member. “And now Larry Summers is aware he has to do something.”


    One Virus, Three Names, Three Claims

    1. Martin Enserink

    AMSTERDAM—Yale researchers have discovered a new cousin of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that causes disease in children. Or have they?

    The team has christened the agent “New Haven,” and a paper published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases (JID) last week describes it as “a novel coronavirus.” But the team admits it's the spitting image of a virus reported by Dutch researchers last year, and the paper has irked some virologists who see nothing new. Calling New Haven a new virus is “quite inappropriate,” says University of Warwick virologist Craig Pringle, a former secretary of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).

    To complicate matters, the same virus was discovered and reported by not one, but two Dutch research groups last year. Each gave the virus its own name, and the two are still quibbling over who discovered it first.

    For decades, researchers knew only two human coronaviruses, which both cause the common cold. Then the third one, SARS, jolted the sleepy coronavirus field into action overnight in 2003. In a paper published in the April 2004 Nature Medicine (which appeared online on 21 March), Lia van der Hoek and Ben Berkhout of the Amsterdam Medical Center presented number four: a virus dubbed NL63, found in seven children with respiratory infections. The ink on that paper was barely dry when Ron Fouchier and his colleagues at nearby Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam reported finding the same virus, simply dubbed NL, in the 20 April Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences. (A note added in proof acknowledged the first paper.)

    Fouchier says his team had isolated the virus more than 15 years ago but had not gotten around to fully sequencing it and testing a series of respiratory samples for its presence. What counts is who published first, retorts Van der Hoek.

    That's my virus.

    Lia van der Hoek was the first to report a new coronavirus to which the other teams have laid claim.


    Looming behind the contest is another battle: Both groups have filed for a patent in the United States, but the Rotterdam team believes it can prevail because under U.S. rules it's the date of an invention that matters, not when a patent was filed. A diagnostic kit could be a moneymaker, Van der Hoek says: NL63 has now been shown to cause infections, often serious, in five countries.

    Now comes the “New Haven” virus, which Frank Esper, Jeffrey Kahn, and their colleagues at Yale found in children under age 5 with respiratory infections. In their paper, the team notes that New Haven, NL63, and NL are “likely” all the same. The Yale team had named the virus before the Dutch scooped them, Kahn explains—and they stuck with the name because it's too early to tell whether the agents really are the same, he says.

    That's “very unfair,” says coronavirus expert Luis Enjuanes of the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid. It's up to a group claiming a new agent to show that it's really new, he notes. Even the Yale team admits that the parts of the New Haven genome sequenced so far are almost identical to that of NL63. And in a second JID paper linking their virus to a childhood affliction called Kawasaki disease, the group used “primers” based on NL63 to hunt for the virus in patient samples. “Apparently they're not so different at all,” says Van der Hoek, who has sent a protest letter to JID.

    Kahn declined to say whether he has filed for patents on the New Haven virus but denied that the name had anything to do with defending intellectual property rights.

    ICTV will eventually decide the name of the new virus. The chair of its Coronaviridae Study Group, Willy Spaan of Leiden University Medical Center, also in the Netherlands, says a final name based on NL63 is most likely, because the Amsterdam group published first.

    Meanwhile, the search for other coronaviruses goes on. In the January Journal of Virology, a University of Hong Kong team reports finding a fifth one, HKU1, in two pneumonia patients. It's clearly a completely new virus, Enjuanes says—and so far, it has been discovered only once.


    Shape-Shifting Catalyst Lights Way to New Strategy for Detecting Chemicals

    1. Robert F. Service

    Protein catalysts—or enzymes—are master shape changers. Take hemoglobin in red blood cells. When one oxygen molecule binds to the protein, the hemoglobin contorts, making it easier for the enzyme to bind additional oxygens. Chemists have rarely used shape shifting to control the activity of synthetic catalysts. But that may be set to change.

    In an advanced online publication of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, report that they have created a catalyst that turns on once it binds to a particular target, triggering a reaction that ultimately generates a fluorescent signal. The system is capable of revealing even minute quantities of the target molecule, they say.

    “This is very novel and interesting work,” says Wenbin Lin, a chemist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Other groups, he says, should now be able to design novel catalysts that can lead to the detection of trace amounts of a wide variety of compounds, such as explosives and environmental pollutants. “This is a general strategy that people can use,” Lin says.

    The new work is similar in spirit to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which amplifies snippets of DNA and attaches a fluorescent probe to the copies. This ability to detect virtually any strand of target DNA has made PCR one of the foundations of modern molecular genetics. Chemists, however, have lacked such a broadly applicable sensing technique. “One of the biggest challenges for chemistry is to do what PCR does for biology,” says Chad Mirkin, who led the Northwestern University effort. Chemists have come up with numerous schemes for detecting low concentrations of different compounds, but few are generalizable for detecting a wide array of compounds.

    Seeking such a strategy, Mirkin and his colleagues broke the problem into two parts: detecting a target molecule and amplifying a signal so that it could be readily detected. They created an organic ring-shaped molecule with four metal atoms, two zincs and two rhodiums. The zinc atoms are the key to the molecule's ability to act as a catalyst. These atoms work together to convert acetic anhydride into acetic acid, the same compound that gives vinegar its sour flavor. But the zincs do their job only when the two metal atoms are spaced far enough apart to let acetic anhydride molecules nuzzle in between them.

    Turn on.

    When chloride and carbon monoxide molecules bind to catalyst's rhodium atoms, a cavity opens between two zinc atoms (red circles). This triggers the catalyst to produce acetic acid, which in turn generates a fluorescent compound.


    For the targeting step, Mirkin's group designed the ring-shaped compound so that it would start off in a nonreactive, collapsed shape. In this conformation, rhodium atoms on opposite sides of the molecule bind to two sulfur atoms and two phosphine groups (see figure, above). But when a pair of chemical targets—carbon monoxide gas and chloride ions—enter the picture, the rhodium atoms cut their ties to the sulfur atoms and latch onto the targets instead. The atomic shuffle relaxes the catalyst's shape, thereby switching it on. The result: torrents of acetic acid.

    In step two, the acetic acid donates one of its protons to another compound in the mix, known as diethylaminomethylanthracene, changing it into a highly fluorescent tracer. Mirkin and his team watched the solution light up as the catalyst detected and bound to carbon monoxide and chloride.

    Mirkin notes that detecting chloride isn't anything special. Electrochemical detectors already exist for the job. But unlike those and other detection schemes, Mirkin and others say, the new approach should make it possible to detect many different target compounds simply by altering the catalyst.


    Panel Urges Unified Action, Sets 2° Target

    1. Eli Kintisch

    A new report from an international task force on climate change calls for the major industrial nations to join with China and India to tackle the problem together. It describes the devastating long-term impact on the environment of a 2°C rise in average global temperatures. The report is expected to help British Prime Minister Tony Blair argue his case for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as the United Kingdom this year assumes the presidency of the G8 nations and Blair becomes president of the European Union in July.

    Issued this week by a 14-member independent panel of scientists and policymakers assembled by U.S., U.K., and Australian think tanks, the report ( seeks to find common ground between nations that have ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and those, including the United States and Australia, that have not. It recommends a global effort to set up a cap-and-trade system for emissions that would extend beyond the Kyoto framework that expires in 2012 and a shift in agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels. It also calls on richer nations to help developing countries control their emissions as their economies grow. The panel was convened by Stephen Byers, an influential Labour member of parliament, and timed to coincide with a key speech by Blair this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

    “The cost of failing to mobilize in the face of this threat is likely to be extremely high,” the report says, noting that Blair has pledged to make climate change a priority for this year.

    In 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush said that “no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming and therefore what level must be avoided.” The report cites probabilistic analyses aimed at doing just that, however. Current global temperatures now hover around 0.8°C above preindustrial levels, and a 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a rise of from 1.4° to 5.8° by 2100. Recent analyses conclude that even higher temperatures can't be ruled out (p. 497).

    The report makes a case that even a 2° rise could have catastrophic effects on the planet, including the decimation of coral reefs worldwide, the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the severe degradation and disruption of various ecosystems. The report also notes that temperatures could exceed the 2° goal before emissions controls kick in and lower the temperature by 2100.

    Despite that dire scenario, policy watchers of all stripes in Washington, D.C., doubt that the report will have much impact on the Bush Administration. Patrick J. Michaels, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and a leading climate change contrarian, called the 2° goal “arbitrary” but speculates that the White House “will be amenable to” the report's suggestions to develop clean coal technologies and push for more efficient vehicles. Administration officials declined to comment on the recommendations.


    Missing Noble Gases Hint How Titan Got Its Dense Atmosphere

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    While the Huygens probe was discovering the weird yet familiar landscape on Titan (Science, 21 January, p. 330), it was failing to make some much-anticipated discoveries. The spacecraft's atmospheric analyzer never did detect the noble gases argon, krypton, or xenon, which cosmochemists expected to find lingering from the formative days of Saturn's lone big moon. “That's rather surprising,” says physicist Robert Pepin of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, “and a bit of a disappointment.”

    Researchers had hoped to use the abundance of Titan's noble gases as a guide to how volatile elements essential to life, such as carbon and nitrogen, were divvied up among solar system bodies, including Earth, as the gases hitched a ride with water ice. The absence of detectable primordial noble gases puts a crimp in those plans.

    Scientists are reasonably sure that Huygens would have detected primordial noble gases if they were there in the anticipated amounts. Huygens science team member Tobias Owen of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, noted at last week's press conference in Paris that the probe's gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer had detected argon-40, produced by radioactive decay of potassium-40 in the moon's rock. But there is as yet no sign of argon-38 or argon-36. This means the argon-to-nitrogen ratio must be on the order of 1000 times lower on Titan than on Earth, says Owen.

    No show.

    Huygens's failure to detect certain noble gases suggests that a moon gets an atmosphere only if it forms at a low enough temperature.


    The new upper limits for titanian primordial noble gases may be frustrating, but they at least point toward an explanation for Titan's uniquely massive nitrogen atmosphere. Its surface pressure is 1.5 times that of Earth, whereas Jupiter's large moons Ganymede and Callisto have no atmospheres to speak of. This, despite their being as massive as Titan—and therefore capable of gravitationally retaining an atmosphere—and just as ice-rich, suggests that all three moons would have started with similar allotments of ice-borne gases.

    Titan's dearth of noble gases suggests that the nascent Saturn system was too warm for its ices to retain the notoriously inert noble gases through adsorption or trapping within their crystalline structure, says Owen. Laboratory experiments indicate they would not be retained above 50 K, he says. But it was evidently cold enough to retain nitrogen. The Jupiter system, being little more than half Saturn's distance from the sun, was warmer still—perhaps warm enough for the ice that formed its big moons to lose not only noble gases but also the ammonia that forms a nitrogen atmosphere. So, for even a big, icy moon to have a massive atmosphere, it had best keep its distance from the sun.


    Climate Modelers See Scorching Future as a Real Possibility

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Researchers tapping the computer power of 26,000 idling personal computers are confirming that a searing heating of the globe in the coming centuries can't be ruled out. Their new twist is twofold. It could get even hotter than the previous worst case had it. And, contrary to earlier work, no modeler can yet say that such an extreme scenario is any less likely than the moderately strong warming that most climate scientists expect. That shakes up what had seemed to be an emerging consensus, although some balk at such an extreme perspective.

    Last summer, a gathering of climate modelers, paleoclimatologists, and other climate researchers seemed to be converging on a middle ground (Science, 13 August 2004, p. 932). Three different kinds of studies—a collection of the latest expert-designed climate models, perturbations of a single model, and studies of past climate—addressed the question of how sensitively the climate will respond to increasing greenhouse gases. All three seemed to be pointing to a moderately strong sensitivity. When greenhouse gases are doubled, it appeared, warming would be something like 2°C to 4°C. A low, nearly harmless climate sensitivity much less than 2°C seemed quite unlikely, and an extreme one of more than 6°C or 7°C was possible but far less likely than the consensus range.

    Now comes modeler David Stainforth of the University of Oxford, U.K., and 15 colleagues with their pumped-up version of the perturbed-parameter approach. In a similar study reported at last summer's workshop and in Nature, James Murphy of the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter, U.K., and colleagues altered 29 model variables that control physical properties such as the behavior of clouds, atmospheric convection, and winds. Given their available computing resources, they had to perturb only one parameter at a time for a total of 53 simulations. In order to extrapolate their results into the high-sensitivity range, they had to assume that changes in two parameters simply add up.


    If climate were as sensitive as a new study allows, greenhouse warming in coming centuries would be double-digit (oranges and reds).


    In the Stainforth study, published this week in Nature, the modelers varied six parameters several at a time so that they could explore nonlinear interactions between parameters. The resulting 2578 simulations used in the study were run on personal computers whose owners—members of the general public—contributed their idle processing capacity to the experiment.

    In this distributed-computing study, perturbed parameters did in fact interact nonlinearly to heighten climate sensitivity. None of the simulations had a climate sensitivity less than 2°C, in line with expectations. And most simulations did not fall far from the model's sensitivity of 3.4°C when run with no parameters perturbed. But the inevitable long tail of results on the high-sensitivity side ran out to 11°C, 2°C farther than any kind of study before it.

    How likely is an 11°C sensitivity? “We can't yet give a probability for our results,” says Stainforth. “Our [high-end] results are very sensitive to our prior assumptions,” such as which parameters are perturbed and by how much. Previous studies suffer from the same limitations, he says.

    Other climate researchers will take some convincing. “I just can't believe climate sensitivity is 10°C,” says paleoclimatologist Thomas Crowley of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Climate's responses to past, natural changes in greenhouse gases or equivalent climate drivers, such as volcanic eruptions, have just been too modest for that, he says. Until modelers can rein in their unruly simulations—perhaps using the tens of thousands of additional perturbed-parameter simulations now in hand at—Crowley will stick with a moderately strong warming.


    Centers Embrace an Alliance But Remain Wary of a Merger

    1. Dennis Normile*
    1. With reporting by Pallava Bagla.

    TOKYO AND NEW DELHI—The developing world's two premier agricultural research organizations have agreed to join forces on selected scientific projects. But the leaders of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the Philippines, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), near Mexico City, rejected an outside recommendation to merge their administrative structures.

    “A cynic could say that there is not much new” in this agreement, says Alex McCalla, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis, and chair of the CIMMYT board of directors. “Still, this is a set of commitments that goes way beyond anything these two centers have done before.”

    The two centers are part of a global network of 16 institutions working on agricultural challenges in the developing world. The impetus for closer cooperation comes from recent research showing that the major cereals share many genes. Last year the two centers asked the Rockefeller Foundation to study various organizational options, including a full merger (Science, 27 February 2004, p. 1281). Meeting earlier this month in Shanghai, the centers' two boards of directors accepted the foundation's suggestion to begin four joint research programs immediately and to pool support services related to issues such as intellectual-property rights, biosafety, and scientific publishing.


    IRRI's rice researchers will soon be teaming up with CIMMYT's efforts involving wheat and maize.


    But governance issues proved more difficult. All agree that a complete merger wouldn't work. “Dissolving two existing international institutions and replacing them with a new one raised a host of very difficult legal and procedural problems,” says Gary Toenniessen, a Rockefeller Foundation official and coordinator for the working group. The working group and the boards also agreed that the research projects should have a single leader and a unified budget. But the boards balked at putting the two centers under a single director-general and a single board of directors, as the foundation's working group had suggested.

    McCalla says both boards felt that having a single director-general “was tantamount to a merger” and, thus, “premature.” Instead, the boards decided to set up two committees, one to oversee the joint programs and one to explore common management. They also agreed to have two members sit on both boards. “Depending on the performance of these joint programs, we may take a second step toward greater cooperation,” says Keijiro Otsuka, an agricultural economist at the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development in Tokyo and chair of the IRRI board.

    Gurdev Khush, formerly chief breeder at IRRI and now a professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, calls the alliance “a welcome development.” He sees the joint work on intensive rice-wheat and rice-maize crop production systems, crop databases for breeders and farmers, and how crops can adapt to climate change as a step in the right direction. Toenniessen agrees, but adds, “We wish they would have gone further.”


    Hubble, Other Programs Face Cuts in 2006

    1. Andrew Lawler

    The budget ax is about to fall on several NASA science programs. Despite President George W. Bush's decision to seek a small boost in the agency's $16.2 billion budget in 2006, sources say that the victims this year and next will include Mars data programs, aeronautics research, and the Hubble Space Telescope. The cuts, certain to be controversial, are part of the space agency's 2005 spending plan as well as the 2006 request that the president will send to Congress on 7 February.

    The White House's priorities for the space agency include returning the shuttle to flight, developing new human exploration technologies, and finishing the space station. Those programs will eat up the bulk of the increases in the president's request, say sources, and starve several other activities. For example, NASA and the White House have decided to let the aging Hubble telescope fall into the Pacific Ocean, say Administration sources, instead of mounting a servicing mission involving either robots or astronauts arriving via the shuttle. But some lawmakers have already warned the White House that they will oppose the decision not to return to Hubble to extend its life.

    Although the fight over Hubble will likely produce the most fireworks on Capitol Hill, space agency managers are quietly making significant cuts this year to other science programs to cope with hundreds of millions of dollars in congressional earmarks as well as the return-to-flight costs for the shuttle. For example, NASA plans to severely curtail spending for new technologies devoted to science missions such as information systems designed to improve data return from future robotic Mars missions, Earth science probes, and the upcoming Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy flight, according to Administration sources. Those technologies would improve autonomy and increase the number of measurements that can be made during NASA missions. The cuts, which will be made by the exploration directorate, may surpass $30 million.

    Despite the budget squeeze, NASA managers are working hard to salvage as many science programs as possible by delaying those with later starting dates. One prime example of that strategy is the Beyond Einstein program, which was scheduled for the next decade. Sources say that the president's new budget will pledge to limit the damage to science programs inflicted by spending on human space flight. That pledge will be sorely tested, however, during the upcoming budget battles.


    Fundraising Begins for Network of Four African Institutes

    1. Dennis Normile

    A group of African scientists, engineers, and educators will gather this weekend in Ajuba, Nigeria, to announce plans to transform education and research in sub-Saharan Africa. Their goal is a network of four regional schools that will train 5000 scientists and engineers per year and provide world-class research facilities. And they are looking for big money to bankroll the plans—an endowment of $500 million by 2007 for the first institute and up to $5 billion to support all four.

    “It is a big challenge,” admits Hippolyte Fofack, a World Bank senior economist involved in planning the African Institute of Science and Technology (AIST). Fofack admits there are few firm commitments yet but says that “the vibrations are very positive.”

    The case for strengthening sub-Saharan Africa's tertiary education and research efforts is easy to make. The region has only 83 scientists and engineers per million residents, one-fifth of the ratio for North Africa and one-sixth that for all developing countries. Research spending as a share of gross domestic product has actually declined since 1970, to a scant 0.47%, while spending in East Asia has quadrupled, to 1.27%, over the same period.

    AIST is modeled on the Indian Institutes of Technology, a loosely affiliated group of seven institutions begun in 1963. Planners hope for four institutes, one each in east, west, central, and south sub-Saharan Africa. The first, on land provided by the Tanzanian government in Arusha, seeks to open its doors in 2007.

    Setting the bar high.

    The World Bank's Hippolyte Fofack agrees that financing AIST “is a big challenge.”


    The curriculum, including undergraduate and graduate programs, will emphasize “solving practical problems,” says Mohamed Hassan, executive director of the Third World Academy of Sciences and a member of the institute's advisory committee. Degrees will be offered in science, engineering, economics, and management.

    Organizers hope to build a world-class faculty by using generous salaries and first-class facilities to lure back some of the estimated 30,000 African Ph.D.s now working abroad. An even bigger challenge, says Hassan, will be finding good jobs for graduates. “Otherwise, we'll be repeating the cycle of having talented scientists and engineers just fly away,” he says.

    There is some fear that existing universities could be hurt if scarce funding is diverted to new institutions. “What struck me [about the AIST proposal] was the lack of interest in building on what already exists,” says Damtew Teferra, director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa at Boston College's Center for International Higher Education.

    Still, South African icon Nelson Mandela has agreed to chair the first AIST board of directors, and the Nelson Mandela Institution for Knowledge Building will manage the endowment. Fofack has amassed a long list of ministers who support the initiative in principal. “African universities aren't really prepared to develop engineering programs with strong links to [industrial] sectors,” notes Christian Sina Diatta, Senegal's research minister. AIST's planners hope that governments will back up their words with financial support during the kickoff meeting. “Politicians talk a lot about the importance of science and engineering,” says Hassan. “This will be a real test of their commitment.”


    Saudi Millionaire Plans an NSF for Arab Scientists

    1. Richard Stone

    SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Filling a void in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, a Saudi tycoon has endowed the first pan-Arab science fund.

    At a technology investment forum last month in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel announced that a holding company he heads, the Jeddah-based Abdul Latif Jameel Co., will make a $1 million annual donation to the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF) to launch and support a new peer-reviewed research competition. The new fund, to be managed by ASTF, would select 20 proposals a year based on merit, backing each at $50,000. Although that may seem like small potatoes, “there hasn't been anything like this in the Arab world,” says ASTF president Abdalla Alnajjar. “It is a wonderful beginning and an impetus to other rich Arabs and private companies to play a role in science development in the region,” adds Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University.

    Deep pockets.

    Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel has pledged an annual donation of $1 million.


    Some observers also hope the donation will spur Arab governments to strengthen their own support for science. Arab countries spend on average 7% of gross domestic product on defense but less than 0.2% on research and development. “If they don't take drastic measures to revitalize science,” Pakistan's science minister Atta-ur-Rahman told Science, then the region's oil-fueled prosperity will seem like a mirage after the oil runs out—“from Cadillacs back to camels,” he says.

    ASTF, based in Sharjah, is hammering out guidelines for the fund and the international board that will oversee it. The foundation is best known in the West for its high-profile partnership with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to support Iraqi scientists (Science, 14 May 2004, p. 943). ASTF intends to model the new competition, and the breadth of projects it supports, after the U.S. National Science Foundation. Only scientists from 22 Arab nations will be eligible to compete for grants, although they are allowed to have Western collaborators, Alnajjar says.

    The Abdul Latif Jameel Co. started out as a Toyota dealership and has since diversified into a multinational company dealing in electronics, real estate, and other areas. Its pledge of $1 million per year to the new fund is open-ended, says Alnajjar, who plans to woo other sponsors to follow suit. “If properly run, this could snowball into something much bigger,” he says. The fund is expected to be up and running by summer.


    Boston University Under Fire for Pathogen Mishap

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Opponents of a proposed $128 million high-security biology lab at Boston University are crying foul following the belated revelation last week that a dangerous bacterium infected three workers at another BU lab. But the news isn't likely to derail plans for the new biodefense lab, which last week cleared its final major regulatory hurdle.

    The May 2004 incident, involving a highly infectious strain of tularemia, did not become public until a week after Boston's Zoning Commission approved construction of the biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab. Federal, state, and city officials defend the failure to go public, insisting that the lab accident never posed a public threat. But those who argue that the BSL-4 lab should not be built in the city's crowded South End neighborhood say the incident strengthens their argument that BU is incapable of managing a laboratory that will deal with even more potent agents. Local residents have filed a suit to halt construction, and the city council may soon reconsider previously defeated legislation banning any BSL-4 lab from being built.

    The trouble last year began on 22 May, when a researcher at BU's BSL-2 lab developed a fever, cough, and headache. Two days later, the same happened to a second worker; 4 months later, a third researcher was hospitalized with similar symptoms. In late October, BU scientists discovered that all three workers had handled a live strain of tularemia instead of the noninfectious variety that is typically used.

    Safety first?

    Boston University's delayed reporting of a tularemia outbreak (inset) has stoked criticism of its plans to build a BSL-4 lab.


    The scientists were trying to find a vaccine for what is colloquially called “rabbit fever,” a sometimes-fatal illness caused by bacteria that federal officials fear could be used by bioterrorists. Paul Mead, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, who is leading an investigation into the mix-up, says the leading suspect is a contaminated reagent. Investigators also say that workers improperly handled the bacterial sample by not placing it in a sealed chamber to filter out any infectious agents.

    On 4 November, BU told lead scientist Peter Rice, chief of infectious diseases, to halt the vaccine project. But it took BU nearly a week to notify the state public health department and one more day to inform city officials. Under government guidelines, labs are to report any such incident in an expeditious manner. “We were immediately disturbed” by the delay, says John Auerbach, chief of Boston's public health department. Anita Barry, who heads the communicable disease section of the department, says BU's “lapse of 2 weeks was not that unusual, but we were unhappy.”

    BU eventually closed the lab space and put 11 employees on paid leave. Last week, Rice was removed from his position but allowed to remain on the faculty. The university also failed to update a safety record report issued last summer that claimed no infections in its BSL-2 and BSL-3 labs during the past decade. That document was used in the environmental impact statement for the BSL-4 lab.

    The proposed BSL-4 lab is one of six to be built around the country with National Institutes of Health funding. Although the zoning board's approval paves the way for construction to start this year, opponents say the tularemia episode gives them new ammunition. “Now BU has demonstrated they are not competent to manage even a BSL-2 [lab],” says Sujatha Byravan of the Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A new lawsuit by 10 residents argues that the environmental impact statement for the proposed lab is flawed, and four city council members have pledged to push legislation banning the lab.

    The city approved construction just days prior to the revelations, however, and Mayor Thomas Menino and construction unions remain staunch and powerful supporters. Their backing suggests that, for BU, the tularemia incident may turn out to be more of a temporary headache than a fatal illness.


    Scientist Quits IPCC Panel Over Comments

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser*
    1. With reporting by Eli Kintisch and Pallava Bagla.

    An ugly spat has broken out among contributors to the world's leading scientific report on climate change. Chris Landsea, a hurricane expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Miami, announced last week that he is resigning as a contributor to the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) because a leading co-author had “politicized” the process with pronouncements about the impact of global warming on last year's tumultuous hurricane season.

    The tussle began last October when Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, took part in a media phone call organized by Harvard scientists on last year's spate of hurricanes. Trenberth, who was introduced as the lead author of a chapter on climate observations for the IPCC's 2007 report, noted that warming sea temperatures and rising sea levels caused by global warming are “changing” conditions for hurricanes and warned that the 2004 hurricanes “may well be a harbinger of the future.”

    His widely reported comments upset Landsea, who notes that IPCC has concluded that no such link can yet be made. Landsea threatened to resign unless IPCC leaders reprimanded or removed Trenberth. On 16 January, Landsea stepped down, saying in an e-mail to colleagues that Trenberth's actions have made it “very difficult for the IPCC process to proceed objectively” on hurricanes.

    In an e-mail to Science, IPCC Secretary-General R. K. Pachauri repeated what he had told Landsea: “In their own individual rights, [IPCC authors] are free to express their views on any subject, including various aspects of climate change.” Trenberth told Science that “it's ridiculous to suggest I [was] representing the IPCC”; his role as an author was mentioned during the October event merely as “part of my credentials.” He also defended his view that changing sea conditions could be contributing to greater hurricane intensity.

    That position is “plausible,” says hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But hurricane activity varies so much from decade to decade that “not a single person in my field thinks you can see the signal.”


    A Race to Beat the Odds

    1. Richard Stone*
    1. With reporting by Pallava Bagla.

    The tsunami ravaged settlements along the coast of Sri Lanka, but aid workers have been successful so far in preventing a mass disease outbreak

    KALMUNAI, SRI LANKA—Dozens of huts, cobbled together from corrugated tin and wood scavenged from wrecked buildings, are clustered around a Hindu temple decorated with brightly painted holy figures. Inside one shelter an elderly Tamil woman squats in the sandy soil, rinsing chunks of eggplant for the evening meal. Ants crawl frenetically over a small sack of flour—her entire larder. She's one of the lucky few survivors of the crowded beachfront neighborhoods of Kalmunai, a town in eastern Sri Lanka that was hard-hit by the tsunami.

    Children are playing, barefoot, beside a pool of fetid water. “I'm really worried about this camp,” says M. A. C. Mohammed Fazal, the district's chief medical officer. The 800 people living here, like the 437,000 other displaced survivors along Sri Lanka's eastern and southern shores, are vulnerable to a variety of infections, including potential killers such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. “We're looking for all the usual suspects,” says epidemiologist Angela Merianos, a SARS expert with the World Health Organization (WHO) temporarily assigned to Sri Lanka to help local health officials ward off diseases in the camps.

    The 26 December tsunami, the third biggest natural disaster in the last 100 years, is known to have claimed more than 228,000 lives, including some 31,000 in Sri Lanka, which suffered the second highest toll after Indonesia. In the immediate aftermath, some health officials warned that disease outbreaks could double the tsunami's toll. So far, such a crisis has been averted.

    “It's a myth that spikes in disease always follow a disaster,” says David Bradt, a WHO epidemiologist assigned to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. Provided people have access to chlorinated drinking water and sanitary living conditions, he says, an outbreak “is certainly not inevitable.”

    But the fate of the displaced survivors hangs in the balance, and untold numbers are likely to experience serious psychological damage from this disaster. “These people are at tremendous risk,” says Denham Pole, a WHO physician in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital.


    Many who escaped the initial inundation, like these inhabitants of Kalmunai, are now at risk for health problems.


    “The sea is coming”

    Fazal's own tragedy began to unfold the night before the tsunami, when he admitted his father, who was complaining of chest pain, to the hospital. Fazal stayed with him overnight and came home early in the morning of 26 December. Soon after, the hospital called to say that his father, who had suffered a heart attack, was deteriorating. Fazal raced back, but by the time he arrived, just before 9 a.m., his father had died. “I was sobbing next to his body,” he says, “when suddenly there was panic on the streets. People were shouting, ‘The sea is coming!’” The hospital emptied.

    Soon after, tsunami victims began pouring in. The first victim Fazal saw was a 5-month-old girl, cradled by her mother. “The baby was dead, but her mother didn't believe me,” he says. Fazal, 32 and the father of an 18-month-old boy, was confronted over and over again with gut-wrenching sights. “Every time I looked at a dead child, I saw my son's face, and I cried,” he says. Later that morning Fazal found out that his wife and son and other family members had been spared.

    Many victims were saved. Those whom Fazal and his staff were unable to treat were sent to the general hospital in Ampara, 25 kilometers inland. The surge of injured victims quickly abated. By early afternoon, Fazal says, only corpses were arriving at Kalmunai hospital.

    On the other side of Sri Lanka, in Colombo, by late morning of 26 December “we were hearing rumors that the sea had suddenly risen to very high levels and had drowned people on the coast,” says Pole. Initial news reports said that up to 300 people had drowned, but Pole knew that Sri Lanka's east coast was dotted with fishing villages hard up against the shore. “The death rate was incalculable at that stage,” he says.

    At dawn on 27 December, WHO launched what it calls a “rapid health assessment.” Over the next few days, teams fanned out to affected areas. It wasn't easy. For example, as one team neared the colonial-era fortress town of Galle, south of Colombo, “the roads were covered with houses,” Pole says. The assessment revealed two things: “The country as a whole was largely unaffected,” says Pole, but swaths of coastline were utterly devastated, and there were countless families whose homes were gone and children who had lost parents. “The enormity of the disaster began to sink in.”

    Foreign aid workers and Sri Lankans raced to provide basics such as clean drinking water and latrines. “The response of the government has been excellent,” Pole says. “They forgot all the usual bureaucracy and cleaned out their store.” Emergency supplies flowed to all the affected communities, including those in the northeast controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the rebels' political arm.

    Lack of clean water is the deficiency felt most keenly. A high water table has flooded cesspools and tainted wells, says Bipin Verma, an emergency health expert in WHO's Colombo office. In the days after the tsunami, local health officers rode around in trucks with megaphones ordering people to boil water. “Now people understand what they have to do,” Fazal says.

    Nutrition is a growing concern, says Verma. The price of vegetables has risen since the disaster, and Sri Lankans have been eating less fish out of the false fear that fish are contaminated by corpses in the water.

    The risk of vector-borne diseases still looms. “To me, that's the biggest health threat,” says Verma. Dengue and malaria, both transmitted by mosquitoes, are endemic in Sri Lanka. WHO has borrowed 50 pesticide fogging machines and distributed them throughout the country. Chlorination, sanitation, vector control: Basic measures can save lives. “We don't have to have new science to do this,” says Bradt.

    Death toll.

    The tsunami killed 31,000 Sri Lankans.


    The healing process

    It will be a triumph if Sri Lanka averts a major disease outbreak. Other consequences of the disaster—the psychological repercussions—cannot be avoided. “There's an enormous amount of trauma,” says Kan Tun, WHO representative to Sri Lanka. First came shock. “People were paralyzed by despair,” says Pole.

    Four weeks after the tsunami, survivors are at risk of posttraumatic stress disorder. “In my experience, adults are more vulnerable than children,” says Verma. Teams of caregivers with SHADE, a nonprofit based in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, are working with victims in the Kalmunai region. Fear is the most prevalent emotion, says SHADE's Jeyabalini Gobal: “Children are afraid of another wave; they even get frightened by small sounds.” Her team's main tool is art therapy. “They draw pictures of their surroundings before and after the tsunami,” Gobal says. “That allows them to express what they can't yet talk about.”

    SHADE has worked with victims of violence in the war-torn northeast, where the government and LTTE fought a long-running civil war that was halted by a cease-fire in 2002. “In a war situation, children get angry, they can vent their feelings,” says Gobal, whereas after the tsunami, “they feel powerless.” Much of the northeast still bears the scars of war. For example, the countryside around Jaffna, tightly controlled by the Sri Lankan military, is littered with bullet-scarred, burned-out shells of houses. In this region the damage from the war—to lives and property—far outstrips that of the tsunami.

    In these Tamil communities, medical facilities that had deteriorated badly over the course of the civil war had been on the mend since the cease-fire. The country hadn't reported a case of cholera for 2 years running.

    WHO's aim is to ensure that the aid pouring into Sri Lanka is used not only to rebuild the country's public health infrastructure but also to make it stronger. “It's a tremendous opportunity,” Pole says. Kan Tun predicts it will take at least a year to restore “basic functionality” to Sri Lanka's health care system. Heightened vigilance for outbreaks can have unexpected benefits. After a cyclone devastated Orissa, India, in 1999, WHO and the local government launched a surveillance system that 3 years later gave early warning of an outbreak of leptospirosis, a rodent-borne disease new to the region.

    In the meantime, Sri Lankan survivors are struggling to put their lives back together. In Kalmunai, on the morning of 22 January, a Saturday, construction crews were erecting the steel skeletons of a pair of dormitory-style buildings with concrete floors that will temporarily house 80 displaced families.

    Down the road, Fazal pulls up next to a pale green mosque and points to a long mound of freshly turned earth. The bodies of several hundred victims from a largely Muslim neighborhood were washed and clothed inside the mosque before being buried in the mass grave. Fazal, a Muslim, said the burial prayer for his father here.

    At Kalmunai's beach, the scale of the tragedy hits home. A new post office, freshly painted in white, is one of the few buildings with any standing walls. There's little else but flattened palm trees, scattered bricks, and twisted metal in the sand. A few women in saris and a raggedly dressed man wander through the rubble.

    Less than 100 meters inland, shops are open for business. Green and yellow streamers hang from lines strung above the road to mark Id-ul-Adha, the Hajj festival day, which took place on 21 January. People were in no mood for a celebration this year. Nevertheless, says Fazal, “we're recovering a sense of normalcy.” How long the recovery takes depends largely upon whether a second, preventable disaster—a major disease outbreak—visits itself upon the island.


    Nuke Policy Leads India to Build Own Network

    1. Pallava Bagla

    NEW DELHI—India's determination to protect its seismographic secrets may result in two tsunami early-warning systems for South Asia.

    Last week the government announced it would spend $30 million on a system independent of a multinational network for the region being planned by UNESCO (Science, 21 January, p. 331). The decision is driven by India's long-standing refusal to allow international parties to operate seismic monitoring stations on its territory, a policy that stems from its rejection of the global Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to preserve its right to conduct underground nuclear tests.

    “We are not joining a U.N.-led system,” declared Kapil Sibal, India's minister for science, technology, and ocean development, at the end of a 2-day meeting here last week on the aftermath of the deadly South Asian earthquake and tsunami. “We will not hesitate in forging alliances with other countries, but we have to have our own tsunami warning system.”

    The meeting offered scientists from around the world a chance to mull over preliminary data collected since the tragedy and begin planning to mitigate the impact of future events. Indian officials said the tsunami center likely will be housed at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) in Hyderabad and that it will monitor other marine hazards, including cyclones. “India is the natural choice for establishing a regional early-warning center,” says Costas Synolakis, a tsunami specialist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a participant at the meeting, noting that the “[scientific] backbone already exists in India.”

    In their memory.

    Top Indian scientists join science minister Kapil Sibal, with head bowed, during a moment of silence for the tsunami victims.


    The Indian network would for the first time include a dozen Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) data buoys in the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the southern Indian Ocean. India also plans to quadruple its current lineup of 12 online tide gauges and triple the 51 seismic stations it now operates. Officials also pledged to analyze initial earthquake reports in 10 minutes, down from 30 minutes, and improve modeling of tsunamis and their impact on land. Sibal pledged to have the key elements of the network in place in about a year.

    The world's most reliable and open seismology network is the Global Seismographic Network maintained by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), a Washington, D.C.-based consortium. But India is not part of this network of more than 100 stations, because it never signed the CTBT. “There is a deep suspicion among the global community whether India will share online seismic data since it has never done so in the past,” says Synolakis.

    Last month's tsunami has triggered a review of that policy, however. Valangiman Subramanian Ramamurthy, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, told Science that “our existing policy of not sharing online seismic data has to change” so that scientists can do a better job of understanding tsunamis. India is reassessing its relationship with IRIS, he said, hinting that one change could be a willingness to share data, in real time, on earthquakes of magnitude 5 and higher. That threshold, observers note, would be well above the level generated by any test of India's nuclear arsenal.


    DNA Helps Identify Missing in the Tsunami Zone

    1. Susan Ladika*
    1. Susan Ladika is a science writer in Tampa, Florida.

    As the tsunami flood recedes, one of the recovery workers' most sensitive tasks is to put names to anonymous bodies and tell relatives when a loved one has been identified. Methods of DNA testing used in the Balkan war zone are proving their value in this work.

    Before the massive effort to identify victims in the Balkans, scientists examining skeletal remains often relied on mitochondrial DNA, which degrades less rapidly than nuclear DNA but can only identify a person's maternal lineage. Experts had assumed that nuclear DNA, which can provide a more precise match, “was not present in sufficient quantities to warrant such testing,” says Ed Huffine, vice president of the Bode Technology Group Inc. in Springfield, Virginia, and a DNA program manager for the group that's helping coordinate a multinational forensics effort. But in Bosnia, “the success rate using nuclear DNA was greater than 90%,” says Huffine, who helped establish the International Commission on Missing Persons identification program in the former Yugoslavia.

    Positive ID.

    Forensics experts are collaborating in Thailand.


    Many countries are taking part in the DNA studies, which help support a massive data consolidation effort in Thailand. China, for example, has offered DNA testing at no cost for all countries affected by the tsunami, according to Cai Daqing, spokesperson for the Beijing Genomics Institute. Huffine traveled to Beijing earlier this month with 100 teeth and bone samples to be tested at the institute.

    Among those contributing from a distance are Sweden, which has listed about 900 people as missing, and Finland, with about 170. To help identify remains, police in Sweden are collecting DNA on mouth swabs from relatives of the missing, says Gunilla Holmlund, associate director of the department of forensic genetics at the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine. This is more reliable than taking DNA from toothbrushes and drinking glasses used by the missing, according to Holmlund: “There are so many errors in that.”

    Sensitive work.

    Without DNA testing, sorting out identities can be chancy.


    Sweden also has temporarily suspended a ban on the use of newborn blood samples in its biobanks to identify people. Having DNA from this source “is a very great help when whole families have gone missing,” Holmlund says. Finland is collecting DNA from relatives as well as from toothbrushes and other personal items of the missing.

    Alec Jeffreys, a pioneer of DNA fingerprinting at the University of Leicester, U.K., says that to reduce the risk of errors, each DNA sample should be analyzed for at least 15 genetic loci. The Beijing Genomics Institute, according to Huffine, is using 16 loci, which is well within what Jeffreys calls “the safe limit.” Some nations may be using fewer, which could make it harder to make a match.

    In many cases, “DNA won't stand alone,” Huffine says. What's required is “a composite of evidence,” including medical and dental records. Every scrap of information will be put to use.


    Dover Teachers Want No Part of Intelligent-Design Statement

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    A Pennsylvania school board has added “intelligent design” to its curriculum while simultaneously barring discussion of the origin of life

    DOVER, PENNSYLVANIA—Jennifer Miller always wanted to be a teacher. And after “loving molecular biology” during a high school class, she decided to teach the subject at that level. For 12 years she's shared her passion with students at Dover High School, part of the 3600-student Dover area school district here in southeastern Pennsylvania. But last week she did the unthinkable: She walked out on her three ninth-grade biology classes.

    Miller wasn't abandoning her students. Rather, she was standing up for her professional principles. The local school board had ordered her and seven colleagues to read to their biology classes a statement that attacks the theory of evolution and promotes intelligent design—the idea that the complexity of life requires action by an intelligent agent—as an alternative explanation for the origin of life. The statement also bars scientific discussion in the classroom of the origin of life, consigning that topic “to individual students and their families.”

    The board's statement ( officially puts intelligent design into a U.S. public school curriculum for the first time. And that step has united the science faculty at Dover High School. “Intelligent design is not science. It is not biology. It is not an accepted scientific theory,” the teachers wrote in a 6 January letter to Dover School Superintendent Richard Nilsen, requesting that they be excused from delivering the missive. Reading the four-paragraph statement, they argued, would force them to “knowingly and intentionally misrepresent subject matter or curriculum.”

    Nilsen acquiesced. So last week he and Assistant Superintendent Michael Baksa visited all nine ninth-grade biology classes to read the statement—without taking any questions afterward. Their arrival was the signal for Miller and a few of her students to leave.

    Opposition to the teaching of evolution has roiled U.S. public schools for more than a century. But after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism constitutes an illegal dose of religion in the classroom, opponents began looking for a scientific anchor for their beliefs. Dover represents the latest wrinkle: The attempt to denigrate Darwin's insight—and the overwhelming evidence for it—posits it as simply one in an array of equally valid hypotheses about how life evolved on the planet. Last week a Georgia school district appealed a federal judge's ruling banning textbook stickers labeling evolution as “a theory rather than a fact.” The judge said the stickers reflected the school board's affinity for “religiously motivated individuals” (Science, 21 January, p. 334). And on 14 December, a group of Dover-area parents asked a U.S. District Court to declare the school board's statement unconstitutional. A trial is scheduled for September.

    By design.

    Ninth graders at Dover High School heard Superintendent Richard Nilsen (right) read a statement on intelligent design in their biology classes.


    In the meantime, the issue hangs over the staff at Dover High like a cloud. “It's gotten to the point where I don't even want to go shopping because I might be accosted,” says Bertha Spahr, a chemistry teacher who came to the school in 1965 and who chairs the science department. Miller and Robert Eshbach, a third-year environmental sciences teacher, have become media minicelebrities, appearing on ABC's World News Tonight and the BBC as well as in the pages of The New York Times. “We could do three or four [interviews] a day, if we wanted,” says Miller.

    The Dover controversy began more than a year ago, when the district's current high school biology textbook came up for a routine, 7-year review by the school board. School board members quizzed the teachers and later publicly expressed their displeasure with the way the textbook handled evolution. Although the board eventually adopted the latest edition, it also accepted an anonymous donation to the school library of 50-plus copies of the 1987 book Of Pandas and People, which makes the case for intelligent design. On 19 November the board approved the statement that triggered the suit and led to Miller's walkout.

    Ironically, evolution occupies only a tiny part of ninth-grade biology at Dover High. Miller and the other two introductory biology teachers will spend at most three 90-minute classes on the topic—the last unit of the year before final exams—even though state curriculum guides say the unit should run for 19 days. “I'll teach competition,” says Miller. “We'll talk about how more things are produced than survive. I'll teach the evidence for Darwin's theory [on the origin of species] and talk about his trip to the Galápagos. I'll cover natural and artificial selection. And we'll do reproductive evolution.” But that's it. “We don't mention evolution anywhere else in the course.” Miller says she prefers to concentrate on the present, “and how things that are here are still evolving.”

    Contrary to the claims of intelligent-design advocates, the board's directive will narrow rather than broaden the scope of the course. “In the past, we could talk about the origins of life,” says Miller. “At least I could ask them what they might have heard [as criticism of Darwin], and we could discuss it. But now the school board has ruled that out.”

    As they begin the new semester, Dover teachers are hoping for at least a respite from the hoopla. The May primary features seven (of nine) school board seats, but they won't be filled until the general election in November. That means the controversy is likely to reignite in early June, when the next batch of students begins their brief study of evolution.


    Debate Continues Over Safety of Water Spiked With Rocket Fuel

    1. Erik Stokstad

    An expert panel recommends that EPA take a new approach in weighing dangers of perchlorate, but industry says precaution is trumping science

    With billions of dollars in cleanup costs at stake and an intense battle being waged over the underlying science, the regulation of perchlorate is one of the hottest environmental issues around. So it is perhaps no surprise that a long-awaited report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the health risks of the chemical—a constituent of rocket fuel and explosives—hasn't calmed the debate. The report,* released 10 January, largely supports the bottom line of stringent draft regulations in progress at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies. Industry scientists, however, say the report is overly conservative and takes the wrong approach in calculating a safe dose.

    Perchlorate first turned up as a contaminant in 1985 at some Superfund sites. Worried about thyroid effects and damage to the developing brain, EPA drafted a risk assessment in 2002 that suggested drinking water should contain no more than 1 part per billion (ppb). But the Department of Defense and contractors argued that perchlorate is safe at concentrations up to 220 ppb. In 2003, the two sides agreed to have NAS assess the evidence and EPA's approach (Science, 21 March 2003, p. 1829).

    Perchlorate inhibits the thyroid's uptake of iodine, which can decrease production of two thyroid hormones. These hormones help regulate metabolism and are important for healthy brain development in fetuses and infants. While EPA was working on its first risk assessment, peer reviewers pointed out that crucial data were lacking, especially about effects on the developing brain. To address this, an industry-backed consortium, called the Perchlorate Study Group, funded a range of research.

    In its 2002 draft risk assessment, EPA put much weight on studies, conducted by industry-contracted scientists, of pregnant rats that had been fed doses of perchlorate. The agency took the lowest daily dose at which worrisome effects (such as changes in hormone levels and brain shape) were noticed in the brains of the fetuses. Then they multiplied that dose by a safety factor of 300 to account for uncertainties, such as differences in metabolism between rats and humans. But industry groups and outside peer review panels that EPA consulted criticized the rat studies as unreliable.

    Enter NAS. In March 2003, it agreed to review all the published studies and evaluate EPA's approach. The committee, chaired by Richard Johnston of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, put more weight on recent human studies than the rat studies and existing epidemiological data, both of which it viewed as inconclusive. In particular, the committee relied on a 2002 study by Monte Greer of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and colleagues.

    On the map.

    Perchlorate is made and used all over the United States.


    Greer's team fed 37 healthy adults various doses of perchlorate and monitored them for 14 days. The NAS panel took the highest daily dose at which iodide uptake by the thyroid was not inhibited and applied a 10-fold uncertainty factor to account for more sensitive individuals, particularly pregnant women with underactive thyroids or iodide deficiency.

    The resulting “reference dose”—the starting point for calculating safe levels in drinking water—of 0.0007 mg/kg is broadly consistent with the dose in EPA's draft risk assessment (0.00003 mg/kg), says William Farland, EPA's acting deputy assistant administrator for science. “It's in the ballpark.” And the NAS dose is only twice that recommended by California regulators—quite a good match for the imperfect science of risk assessment, says George Alexeeff, deputy director for scientific affairs at California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, whose group also relied on the Greer study. “As far as we're concerned, [they're] essentially identical.”

    Industry scientists, however, argue that EPA and the states—and now NAS—are too conservative in their calculations. “The numbers are excessively safe, unnecessarily low,” says Dan Guth, a toxicologist with Boeing.

    A recent study by TERA, a nonprofit risk assessment group in Cincinnati, Ohio, that consults for industry, which yielded a slightly higher reference dose of 0.002 mg/kg per day. This 2004 paper focused on two studies: Greer's 2002 research and a 2000 epidemiological study by Casey Crump of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues that looked at 9784 newborn infants and 162 children in three cities in Chile, where perchlorate naturally contaminates drinking water at levels between 4 ppb and 120 ppb.

    The key difference is that TERA chose a different “critical effect,” or warning sign, of impending harm: the dose at which perchlorate changed levels of the thyroid hormone T4. Michael Dourson of TERA, an author, says changes in thyroid hormones are the most appropriate indicator of possible dampening of thyroid activity. The academy panel, on the other hand, picked iodide inhibition—an earlier effect—as the critical indicator, concluding that is “the most health-protective and scientifically valid approach.”

    EPA will now have to decide whether to follow NAS's advice on how to generate a reference dose. And that's just one step of the process; to get the concentration that's safe in drinking water, the reference dose must be adjusted for exposure. That requires regulators to decide which groups are most sensitive—fetuses or infants, for example—and make assumptions about how much perchlorate in the diet comes from water versus other sources. Given these factors, NAS's reference dose, for example, could yield a drinking water standard from 2.5 to 24.5 ppb. The low end of the range would necessitate a long and expensive cleanup: 35 states have more than 4 ppb of perchlorate in drinking water.

    • *Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion, National Research Council of the National Academies, January 2005.


    Galaxy Patterns Preserve an Imprint of the Big Bang

    1. Robert Irion

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Nearly 2500 astronomers skirted floods and a washed-out bridge to attend the largest-ever meeting of the American Astronomical Society, 9 to 13 January.

    Graceful filigrees of galaxies stretch through today's universe like cobwebs in a long-abandoned room. Astronomers have now determined that these large-scale structures are not random. Rather, they preserve a faint echo of sound waves that reverberated through space for about 350,000 years after the big bang.

    The discovery, reported jointly at the meeting by two international teams, confirmed a prediction made more than 30 years ago. However, the signature is so subtle that some astronomers doubted they would ever see it. Surveys of hundreds of thousands of galaxies finally revealed the imprints, in the form of enormous “ripples” where galaxies preferentially tend to congregate. “This is a very valuable confirmation of the theory of how we came to be,” says astronomer Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    The pattern of ripples was set in the first incandescent moments of the universe. As the baby cosmos expanded, matter and energy seethed within a dense broth. Tiny fluctuations—probably due to quantum effects—caused some regions to have more matter than others. When gravity tried to compress these denser regions, the hot particles already were so close together that they resisted being squeezed. Instead, they rebounded and then oscillated under gravity's influence. The oscillations set off sound waves, like the resonance of a ringing bell.

    Echo location.

    Galaxies (left) trace ripples from the big bang (right).


    Today, the stretched-out remnants of these waves still pervade the universe as barely perceptible hot and cold patches in the faint glow called the cosmic microwave background (Science, 19 December 2003, p. 2038). In 1970, astrophysicists P. J. E. Peebles and Jer Yu of Princeton University predicted that matter in the universe would tend to clump at the peaks of the most dominant patches, just as water tends to pile up in ripples spreading on a pond.

    Unveiling the patterns required painstaking analysis of galaxies charted by two sweeping surveys: the 2-degree Field (2dF) Galaxy Redshift Survey, run by the United Kingdom and Australia, and the U.S.-led Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Astronomers examined the spatial positions of 221,000 galaxies and 46,000 galaxies, respectively, from the two programs. Although the techniques differed, both teams found a slight excess of galaxies with separations of about 500 million light-years. That pattern—not visible to the eye—matches the expected distances from the centers to the edges of acoustic ripples that grew as space expanded, says SDSS astronomer Daniel Eisenstein of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

    Astronomers now wish to use this characteristic separation between galaxies as a way to gauge accurate distances to much more remote galaxies, when the universe was younger. “It's like a standard ruler,” says 2dF astronomer Shaun Cole of the University of Durham, U.K. “You can use it to do trigonometry and measure the geometry of the universe through time.” That's a nifty tool, agrees astronomer Martin Rees of Cambridge University, U.K., but he's delighted simply to confirm that galaxies behave as gravity predicts they should. “The concordant picture we have of the universe is hanging together extremely well,” he says.


    Satellite Swiftly Catches New Bursts

    1. Robert Irion

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Nearly 2500 astronomers skirted floods and a washed-out bridge to attend the largest-ever meeting of the American Astronomical Society, 9 to 13 January.

    A new satellite dedicated to spotting the most powerful cosmic explosions turned on with a bang in December. The satellite, called Swift, caught an “amazing” nine gamma ray bursts in its first 12 days of operation, reported astronomer Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Swift and other satellites also witnessed a whopping x-ray flare in our galaxy, an event that has scientists buzzing.

    NASA launched Swift on 20 November to probe mysteries about the origins of gamma ray bursts (Science, 8 October 2004, p. 214). Bursts lasting longer than a few seconds probably erupt when the cores of massive stars collapse into black holes. But to confirm that scenario and find out what drives the explosions, astronomers must study bursts while their initial fires still rage. Swift swivels quickly to examine new bursts and sends the coordinates to telescopes on the ground, including fast-responding robots.

    That automated sequence wasn't yet switched on when Swift and the European Space Agency's INTEGRAL satellite both spied a bright burst on 19 December. But even on shorter notice, two robotic telescopes on the ground had time to catch a burst in the act for just the second time: The explosion lasted 9 minutes, one of the longest ever seen. The data—in both optical and infrared light—may penetrate more deeply into a burst's fireball than ever before. Research teams have papers in press and won't yet discuss their findings.

    Shower of power.

    Highest-energy cosmic rays spark blasts of particles in the atmosphere.


    As a holiday bonus 8 days later, a bizarre object about 50,000 light-years away uncorked an extraordinary blast of x-rays that pierced the sides of several satellites—including INTEGRAL and Swift—and tripped their detectors. Most telescopes could not examine the flare's aftermath, because it was close to the sun. But astrophysicists suspect it came from a “magnetar,” a slowly spinning neutron star encased by the most intense magnetic fields known (Science, 23 April 2004, p. 534).

    Two other magnetars have erupted with giant flares in the past 25 years, but the new flare was at least 100 times stronger. Indeed, the x-rays were so potent that a satellite called Konus-Wind saw them reflect off the moon. “This is a unique event, the mother of all giant flares,” says astrophysicist Chryssa Kouveliotou of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She and other researchers are furiously completing their first analyses, which could reveal how an ultrastrong magnetic field crushes and fractures a neutron star.

    Not all news from Swift is so glowing. The power supply for a cooling unit on one of the satellite's telescopes died shortly after launch, says astronomer David Burrows of Pennsylvania State University, University Park. As a result, the electronic detectors are 25°C to 50°C warmer than anticipated. The balminess could make the x-ray telescope less sensitive to faint bursts, but Burrows and his colleagues are orienting Swift to avoid the worst heat exposure from Earth. “This makes our operations more complicated, but we think there will not be much impact on the science,” Burrows says.


    An Origin for the Fiercest Cosmic Rays?

    1. Robert Irion

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Nearly 2500 astronomers skirted floods and a washed-out bridge to attend the largest-ever meeting of the American Astronomical Society, 9 to 13 January.

    Imagine catching a golf ball driven by Vijay Singh. The most outrageous particle accelerators in space pack that much energy into single protons. These rare “ultra high-energy cosmic rays” (UHECRs) bombard Earth from all directions, so physicists can only speculate about their birthplaces. But at the meeting, theorist Glennys Farrar of New York University (NYU) made a disputed claim: identification of the first bona fide cluster of UHECRs, spat out from colliding groups of galaxies.

    Farrar's evidence comes from five UHECRs seen since 1993 within a patch of the sky several times larger than the full moon. Two networks of detectors in Japan and Utah recorded the events. Each array measures sprays of millions of particles created when UHECRs slam into the air overhead (Science, 21 June 2002, p. 2134).

    Physicists recently recognized that four UHECRs out of a sample of about 100 formed a hot spot near the Big Dipper. In a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, 62 scientists agreed that the grouping had about a 0.5% chance of arising randomly. “That's not significant enough to qualify as a point source,” says physicist Pierre Sokolsky of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, although co-author Farrar argued that the chance probability of finding such a tight cluster of four events actually is less than 0.1%.

    Now, Farrar proposes two new factors. First, she found a fifth UHECR within the same hot spot by considering about 200 more cosmic rays with slightly lower energies. Second, she worked with NYU colleagues David Hogg and Andreas Berlind to examine deep-sky images of that spot from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. They found two rich groups of about 50 galaxies crashing together, at a distance of about 600 million light-years from Earth. Virtually no other galaxies lie between the groups and us. That means the charged particles would zip to Earth along fairly straight paths instead of “smearing out,” Farrar says, because magnetic fields in the voids between galaxies are low.

    It adds up to a stream of UHECRs blasting from the merging galaxies, Farrar concludes. “I'm not prepared to identify a [physical] source, but we have candidates,” she says. They include shock waves rifling through the groups, active galactic cores powered by black holes, or even long-ago gamma ray bursts. Crucially, Farrar's claim would rule out an entire class of models for UHECRs: the decay of exotic, ultraheavy particles left over from the big bang. Such decays, she says, would not come from a single hot spot.

    Farrar's analysis has sparked fierce debate. “My colleagues and I simply don't understand how she gets these small probabilities,” says Sokolsky. Adding the fifth event from a different data set introduces a risky bias, he notes. Others agree: “You can only do so much with limited data,” says Nobel laureate James Cronin of the University of Chicago.

    Still, the merging galaxy groups are tantalizing, says astrophysicist Tsvi Piran of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “This is corroborative evidence that the [UHECR] association may be real,” Piran says. All agree that a gigantic cosmic-ray observatory under construction in Argentina, called Auger, may pioneer the new science of UHECR astronomy by spotting thousands of events in the vast sky.


    Snapshots From the Meeting

    1. Robert Irion

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Nearly 2500 astronomers skirted floods and a washed-out bridge to attend the largest-ever meeting of the American Astronomical Society, 9 to 13 January.

    A hive of black holes. The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way has attracted a throng of dark companions. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has detected flickering outbursts of x-rays from four objects (circled below) orbiting within a few light-years of the galaxy's core, reported Michael Muno of the University of California, Los Angeles. The likely sources are gulps of gas spiraling into small black holes, each a few times as massive as our sun, Muno and colleagues believe. Extrapolation suggests that about 10,000 black holes—most of them alone and invisible—have “migrated” toward the Milky Way's heart by means of gravitational interactions with less-massive stars.

    Dark swarm.

    X-ray flares (circled) point to small black holes near the Milky Way's core.


    Mega Vega disk. A famous disk of dusty debris around the bright star Vega extends much deeper into space than expected. New infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope reveal tiny dust particles orbiting Vega at a distance about 20 times greater than Pluto's average distance from our sun, reported Kate Su of the University of Arizona, Tucson. Vega's intense radiation blows away such dust grains within 1000 years, Su notes. A collision of Pluto-size objects within the past million years would have created enough fragments to grind into one another and feed the shroud, she says.

    Pulsars aplenty. A knot of stars called Terzan 5 is home to our galaxy's densest nest of pulsars, according to Scott Ransom of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ransom's team used the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope to find 21 neutron stars that spin dozens to hundreds of times each second, called “millisecond” pulsars. The startling haul of precisely calibrated radio beacons—also reported online by Science on 13 January (—will help astronomers create a three-dimensional map of the mass hidden deep inside the tightly packed Terzan 5 cluster, including a possible medium-size black hole.