Random Samples

Science  11 Feb 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5711, pp. 842

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  1. Neutrinos on the Rocks


    Scientists are turning a giant chunk of Antarctic ice into a new window on the universe. Last month they drilled the first hole for IceCube, a detector designed to look for telltale flashes of light generated when ice molecules are hit by high-energy neutrinos from outer space.

    Over the next 5 years, engineers plan to use hot water to drill 80 2.4-km-deep holes and drop in long cables, each equipped with 64 light sensors, before the water freezes. Scientists say polar ice—pure, dark, and transparent—is perfect for detecting neutrinos, which are the only particles able to traverse Earth relatively unhindered.

    The University of Wisconsin, Madison, is coordinating the IceCube project. Team member Nick van Eijndhoven of Utrecht University in the Netherlands expects the detector to shed new light on the energetic events in distant active galaxies and on mysterious stellar explosions called gamma ray bursts. IceCube will incorporate a small array called AMANDA. “This monster will really do a good job,” says van Eijndhoven. “It will dwarf AMANDA within 3 years,” eventually covering 60 times the volume of ice.

  2. Wake-Up Call for an Aging Europe


    The countries of continental Europe— particularly France, Spain, and Italy— may not be able to support their elderly populations by 2040. So predicts Richard Jackson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., who has computed an “aging vulnerability index” for 12 developed countries based on the growth in the elderly populations and the government benefits they're receiving.

    “Everybody expected when I embarked on this project to see Japan” emerge as the worst case, Jackson said during a presentation last month. But in Japan 50% of old people live with their children and their government benefits are “relatively stingy,” said Jackson.

    Continental Europe is another story. Jackson noted that most Europeans are retired by the time they hit 60—which is only 10 years above population median age in 2050. France has a particularly crushing burden. There, public benefits account for 70% of retirees' incomes—compared with less than 40% in the United States and the United Kingdom. And thanks to policies encouraging early retirement, only 2% of those over 65 are still in the French workforce. Italy and Spain are also heading for trouble, with more retirees than workers by midcentury, forecasts Jackson. He said that even a heavy influx of younger immigrants would not change the picture—“to make a substantial long-term difference, Europe would need a permanent increase of 20 million people a year.” But, noted Jackson, there is a way to cut the Gordian knot: “Redefine elderly at 75 and the problem goes away.”

  3. Men and Muscle

    CREDIT: C. J. PHAN/http://www.asiafitnesscoach.com/

    Not the Eastern ideal.

    Are Asian men more comfortable with their bodies than Caucasians? Such questions are of interest to researchers these days with the growth—among men of the West— of so-called muscle dysmorphia, a condition in which people never think they're big or muscular enough.

    Several years ago psychiatrist Harrison Pope of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and colleagues published a paper showing that among a group of U.S. and European men, the “ideal” body type sported some 13 kilograms more muscle than the men had. The men also estimated—erroneously—that women would find that more attractive.

    Pope and his student Jeffrey Yang decided to find out if this disconnect was a cultural universal. So they asked 55 young, heterosexual males in Taiwan to choose images that best represented their own bodies and their ideal shapes. These men chose an ideal body with only 2 kilograms more muscle, the authors report in the February American Journal of Psychiatry.

    The authors also report that a survey of ads in U.S. and Taiwanese women's magazines supported the notion that in Asia, muscles don't make the man. “Asian men were almost never shown undressed,” while 43% of Western men were baring pecs or abs.

    The results fit with the rarity in Asia of “body-image disorders” and the lack of interest in muscle-building drugs, says Pope. He and Yang speculate that Chinese culture plays a role because it has a subtle ideal of masculinity that emphasizes brains over sheer brawn. Psychologist Jack Darkes of the University of South Florida, Tampa, calls the research “timely” and says it would be interesting to see the results of such a study in Japan, where Westernization is more pervasive.

  4. Jobs


    New at NSF. Linguist David Lightfoot has been appointed head of the social and behavioral sciences directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The 59-year-old Lightfoot, dean of the graduate school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., represents the first major hire for NSF Director Arden Bement.

    Lightfoot says he's keen to expand NSF's collaborations abroad, in line with graduate training alliances he created at Georgetown involving Mexico and China. He also hopes to strengthen interagency cooperation, citing opportunities to support areas of basic research in neuroscience that could be jettisoned by the National Institute of Mental Health (Science, 22 October 2004, p. 602). Lightfoot joins NSF on 1 June, some 15 months after the departure of Norman Bradburn.

  5. Pioneers


    Fighting inequity. Jean Fort kept working on one issue even after she retired last year as assistant vice chancellor for research at the University of California (UC), San Diego. Last month that work paid off, in the form of uniform health insurance for the 6000 postdoctoral scholars across UC's 10 campuses.

    The new health plan is the first of its kind in the nation, and it puts an end to disparities in coverage based on the postdoc's funding source. It's the product of a 6-year effort that replaced a tangle of ad hoc procedures on the different campuses with a single, consistent set of rules (see nextwave.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2005/01/06/9).

    Fort gives credit to scores of fellow administrators who worked to change decades-old practices. But Fort was the “locomotive,” says Sam Castaneda, director of Berkeley's Visiting Scholar and Postdoctoral Affairs Program: “If it weren't for her, it never would have rolled out so quickly or smoothly.”

  6. Deaths


    Ageless. Biologist Ernst Mayr died in Bedford, Massachusetts, on 3 February, leaving behind a legacy of 700 research papers and more than two dozen books that have shaped evolutionary thinking. He celebrated his 100th birthday last year.

    An ornithologist turned evolutionary biologist who began his academic career at the American Museum of Natural History and later taught at Harvard University, Mayr's signature contribution to the field was to show that new species do arise from isolated populations as Charles Darwin had thought. In 1942 he published a groundbreaking book, Systematics and the Origin of Species, that gave a 20th-century perspective on Darwin's ideas. He continued to publish well after his retirement from Harvard in 1975: Last year, Cambridge University came out with his 25th book titled What Makes Biology Unique. In recent months, he was in the midst of a comprehensive reanalysis of Darwin's ideas.

    Mayr not only shaped scientific history but also served as an outstanding historian of science, says Harvard's James Hanken. In addition, “he was a tremendous champion of natural history museums.”

  7. Data Point


    Job openings. The U.S. government expects to hire nearly 24,000 scientists and engineers over the next 2 years, according to a report released last week by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the National Academy of Public Administration. The Department of Defense will continue to be the biggest government employer of scientific talent, increasing the number of new hires from 11,368 in 2002 and 2003 to a projected 14,156. The report cites national security concerns as one driving force. The Department of Agriculture, for example, plans to hire 400 new specialists to work on food inspections.

  8. They Said It

    “One of the things we tried to do with this film was to show what scientists are really like. … They're not driven by a materialistic value system. They're seeking something else, something more important.”

    —James Cameron on his latest offering, titled Aliens of the Deep, in a recent interview to The New York Times. The film is a 48-minute IMAX feature in which Cameron explores the deep sea with a crew of young marine biologists and geologists.