# News this Week

Science  12 Aug 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5737, pp. 996
1. EVOLUTION

# Vatican Astronomer Rebuts Cardinal's Attack on Darwinism

1. Constance Holden*
1. With reporting by Eliot Marshall.

Is the Catholic Church rethinking its support for evolution? That's what Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, suggested last month in The New York Times when he asserted that the church does not accept “neo-Darwinism.” His 7 July opinion piece disturbed many scientists, especially those in the United States already worried about a resurgence of creationism and its “scientific” cousin, intelligent design.

Last week, with no utterance forthcoming from the new pope, the Vatican's chief astronomer George Coyne took it upon himself to rebut Schönborn. Writing in the 5 August edition of The Tablet, Britain's Catholic weekly, the Jesuit priest accused the cardinal of “darken[ing] the already murky waters” of the evolution debate. He also pointed out that the International Theological Commission under the presidency of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, issued a statement last year that saw no conflict between Darwin's ideas and the teachings of the Church.

In his Times piece “Finding Design in Nature,” Schönborn last month dismissed as “vague and unimportant” the declaration of Pope John Paul II in 1996 that evolutionary theory is compatible with Catholic doctrine. “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true,” the cardinal wrote, “but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense—an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection—is not.”

It didn't take scientists long to react. On 13 July, three figures prominent in defending the teaching of evolution in the United States sent a letter to the new pope urging him to reaffirm his predecessor's statement. In these “difficult and contentious times,” wrote physicist Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Francisco Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, and Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, “the Catholic Church [must] not build a new divide … between scientific method and religious belief.”

The academy's president, physicist Nicola Cabibbo of the University of Rome, has promised to look into the issue, says academy member and astronomer Vera Rubin of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. In an interview in the 18 July issue of the National Catholic Reporter, Cabibbo indicated that he endorses the views held by Pope John Paul II on evolution. Although some scientists think that “evolutionism” rules out God, Cabibbo declared, “this extension of Darwin's theory is not part of what has been discovered by science.” Coyne makes reference to this debate in his recent essay, noting that “there appears to exist a nagging fear in the church” that the universe as defined by science “escapes God's dominion.”

Meanwhile, defenders of evolution are still lamenting a comment last week by a vacationing President George W. Bush, in response to a reporter's question, suggesting that public schools should teach students about intelligent design (Science, 5 August, p. 861). Groups representing biologists, astronomers, and science teachers, among others, have shot off letters to the White House expressing their dismay.

2. AVIAN INFLUENZA

# 'Pandemic Vaccine' Appears to Protect Only at High Doses

1. Martin Enserink

This week, a U.S. health official trumpeted apparently good news: An ongoing trial suggests that a vaccine can protect humans from H5N1, the bird flu strain many worry may evolve into a pandemic. But some flu experts found the glass half-empty. The vaccine seems to works only at doses so high that the world's flu vaccine factories could not churn out enough to combat a pandemic, they say. Based on the preliminary data, the current U.S. stockpile of the vaccine, produced by Sanofi Pasteur, is enough for only 450,000 people—not the more than 2 million the administration hoped it would protect.

The findings, although an encouraging proof of principle, show the urgent need to develop ways to use vaccine more sparingly and to replace chicken eggs—the limiting step in current flu vaccine technology—with cell-based production systems, says Jeroen Medema, a vaccine scientist at Solvay, another flu vaccine producer. At the moment, he notes, “it's a vaccine for the happy few.”

The new vaccine is based on an H5N1 strain isolated from a Vietnamese patient and genetically weakened to make it grow in eggs by researchers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Last weekend, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the trial, announced in newspaper interviews that initial data from 113 of the trial's 452 subjects show the vaccine eliciting protective antibodies. But to reach “levels that give you confidence,” says Fauci, two doses of 90 micrograms of purified killed virus, or “antigen,” had to be given 4 weeks apart.

The most common seasonal influenza vaccine is one shot of 45 micrograms of antigen—just 15 micrograms for each of the three circulating strains it targets. Because no one has immunity to H5N1, most researchers believed more than that might be needed in the new vaccine; plans for the U.S. stockpile were based on the assumption that two shots of 15 micrograms would work. “But 180—that really is a lot,” says virologist Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Fauci says trials with dose-sparing strategies, including immune boosters called adjuvants, are next on the agenda. Many experts hope that with powerful adjuvants, a single dose of less than 2 micrograms of the vaccine might be enough, says Osterhaus.

3. GENOMICS

# Painstaking Approach Pays Off for Rice Sequencing Project

1. Dennis Normile

TOKYO—Finishing 3 years ahead of schedule and delighting agricultural researchers worldwide, a publicly funded international consortium has completed a highly accurate sequencing of the japonica rice genome. “It sets a gold standard” for plant sequences, says Hei Leung, a rice geneticist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the Philippines.

The results, which appear in this week's issue of Nature, vindicate the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project's (IRGSP's) use of a time-consuming procedure in which the researchers created libraries of small bits of rice DNA and then sequenced them piece by piece. This map-based approach came under fire a few years ago after two teams not in the consortium published draft sequences of the rice genome based on a different technique (Science, 5 April 2002, p. 32). That approach, called whole-genome shotgun sequencing, busts the entire genome into different-sized bits, sequences them, and then uses supercomputers to put the data in order.

## Low tech

In this new era of prevention, even the commonly used diaphragm and other simple approaches are playing a role.

“It took me over 10 years to get this funded,” says Nancy Padian, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), describing her study of the diaphragm and a lubricant as an HIV prevention device in Zimbabwe and South Africa. “People are interested in a new microbicide, a new vaccine. But the diaphragm? 'No, no, no,'” says Padian, who finally received funding from Gates.

As Padian explains, the diaphragm should prevent HIV from reaching the cervix and endocervix, where most female infections occur. If it works, she says, the diaphragm will have a distinct advantage as it will enable a woman to protect herself without having to negotiate with a partner, as often happens with condoms.

In males, basic hygiene of the penis may prevent transmission. King Holmes from the University of Washington in Seattle, working with Elizabeth Bukusi at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, is studying whether wiping the penis with an ethanol-based gel—similar to the commercially available Purell—can thwart transmission of HIV, HSV-2, and other sexually transmitted microbes. “There was a long history of men using topical prophylactics, but with advent of antimicrobials around World War II, these basically stopped,” says Holmes.

One of the most provocative, low tech prevention studies focuses on the master organ that makes people vulnerable to HIV: the brain. Grant Colfax at the San Francisco Department of Public Health studies the link between methamphetamine use in gay men and HIV transmission. Meth users have decreased dopamine levels in the brain, which can lead to depression. Because studies have shown strong links between depression in gay men and sexual risk-taking, Colfax explains, he plans to launch a study this fall that will assess the impact of an antidepressant, bupropion (trade name Wellbutrin), which acts by indirectly increasing dopamine levels.

## Real world

Researchers concede that it's difficult to envision how these myriad prevention interventions will play out in the real world. After all, the benefits of condoms have been widely known for years. In addition, clinical trials often fail to reflect how a drug is actually used. The tenofovir PrEP and acyclovir studies evaluate daily dosing, for instance, but if they work, people might take the drugs intermittently. More troubling still, investigators worry that the benefits of most prevention interventions could be undermined by what psychologists call behavioral disinhibition. Specifically, if an intervention—whether it's proven to work or still in trials—leads people to think they are protected and thus can safely have more sexual partners or unsafe sex, the risk of becoming infected could increase.

Another untidy dilemma is that success comes at a cost. If, say, tenofovir PrEP works, then ethics demand that everyone in any prevention study be offered the drug. “It could have a major impact on vaccine studies,” says Peggy Johnston, who heads AIDS vaccine research for NIAID. “Each prevention tool that's added makes it harder for the next one to prove efficacious. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. It means were getting better prevention tools.”

And in prevention, as in treatment, combining interventions appears to be the name of the game. “We need to really look at how we put together a combination of options that fit people's lifestyles,” says the Gates Foundation's Gayle. Ideally, prevention campaigns also will promote these options to the high-risk groups most likely to become infected and spread the virus (a concept that has far less importance in the many sub-Saharan locales that have double-digit prevalence, which makes all sexually active adults vulnerable).

UCSF's Padian contends that a cocktail of the various prevention interventions now in trials could be “extraordinarily successful,” but she notes that other than circumcision, each one requires that people repeatedly take actions to protect themselves. Which means that a safe and effective AIDS vaccine will remain an urgent need. But in the meantime, if more of these unflashy biomedical alternatives prove their worth, they could powerfully slow HIV, which now infects another 14,000 people—half of them between 15 and 24 years old—each day.

8. HIV/AIDS

# Hedged Bet: An Unusual AIDS Vaccine Trial

1. Jon Cohen

Even the AIDS vaccine world has jumped on the simplicity bandwagon. To many AIDS vaccine researchers, the key obstacle is that no one has yet found a vaccine that can trigger effective antibodies against the surface protein of the virus. So Merck has constructed a vaccine that abandons antibodies altogether, and the company is testing it in a fast-tracked study to determine whether it's worth pursuing the approach.

Although antibodies prevent cells from becoming infected, the Merck vaccine attempts to train the cell-mediated arm of the immune system, which eliminates cells that HIV has infected. The vaccine uses adenovirus to carry three HIV genes, but, in a marked difference from almost every other vaccine under development, not the gene for the surface protein.

Working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, Merck has launched a study in 3000 people at high risk of becoming infected. This unusual study is essentially a hedge bet: it will not have the statistical power of the typical Phase 3 efficacy trial that leads to licensure, so researchers are calling it a Phase 2b. “What do you do if you want to know if something works, and the only way to do it is humans, and you don't have enough confidence to do a Phase 3 study?” asks Peggy Johnston, who heads NIAID's AIDS vaccine program. “You do an overpowered Phase 2.”

The trial aims to answer two discrete questions. First, most people have been infected with the adenovirus subtype (called Ad5) that Merck uses, and their antibodies against this “vector” could prevent it from producing the HIV proteins needed to stimulate a robust immune response. So half the people recruited for the international study, called Step, will have low levels of antibodies to Ad5. If the vaccine works, researchers then can evaluate whether the Ad5 antibody levels have any impact. Secondly, if it produces robust cell-mediated immunity, they'll know once and for all whether that response by itself can protect against HIV. “The Step trial is a good name for it,” says Johnston. “I see it as a step forward. But it's not the final step.”

9. ECOLOGY

# Beloved Arctic Station Braces for Its Own Climate Change

1. Elizabeth Pennisi

Researchers of all stripes have been monitoring the impact of climate change at Alaska's Toolik Lake for decades. They now face new challenges

TOOLIK LAKE, ALASKA—Lying on his stomach, ripping moss off a two-by-three-meter patch of tundra, Tom Crumrine learned this summer what it means to study climate change in the Arctic. The high school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, spent 3 weeks of his break on a fellowship at the Toolik field station on Alaska's North Slope, contributing to an experiment on how changes in vegetation caused by global warming will affect the Arctic landscape.

The answers won't be clear for years to come. But delayed gratification is the norm at Toolik Lake, where for 3 decades scientists have journeyed 300 kilometers above the Arctic Circle to assess the state of flora and fauna as Earth warms. “It's always been a place where you could come and really focus on your work,” says Gaius Shaver, an ecologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

During the short research season, hundreds of ecologists, geomorphologists, plant physiologists, and biochemists traipse out to field sites, some 250 kilometers away, to measure and manipulate nutrients, species composition, temperature, water flow, and other factors. Their observations will be plugged into the still emerging picture of the impact of global climate change on Arctic ecosystems, which are coping with air temperatures that have risen by an average of 3°C in Alaska over the past 40 years.

The research station itself is also changing with the times. Toolik's leaders want to keep the lab open year-round, instead of just 4 months during the late spring and summer. They also hope to improve lab conditions, extend their studies into additional territory, and increase outreach to undergraduates as well as teachers like Crumrine and their students. “The Arctic is such a data-poor place,” says Tom Pyle, director of the Arctic research section at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides the station with 90% of its $10.5 million in annual support. But its record, he says, makes Toolik “the crown jewel.” However, scientists fear the gem could lose some of its luster. Toolik sits just off the Dalton Highway, a road built and maintained for the oil wells 200 kilometers to the north at Prudhoe Bay, and there are plans for a pipeline to carry natural gas from those same fields. Other proposed developments could also encroach on ongoing or planned experiments. And scientists are worried about NSF's ability to continue to support their work. Flat budgets expected for the agency's 26 ecological research stations, of which Toolik is one, for ecosystems studies and for Arctic research jeopardize existing activities and leave little room for growth. “Our concern is Toolik has a unique dataset that we feel is very important,” says John Hobbie, director of the ecosystems center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. If funders pull the plug, even temporarily, he warns, decades of work might be lost forever. “We can't reconstruct that data set.” ## Meager beginnings It was 30 years ago that Hobbie first recognized Toolik Lake's potential as a research site. He followed the bulldozers as they built the “haul” road northward to bring pipes, gravel, and other construction goods to the oil fields. A 25-meter deep lake perfect for comparing lake and pond nutrient cycles, Toolik allowed Hobbie to further his NSF-funded research on aquatic ecosystems, a project he's continued ever since. A year later, Shaver showed up to study revegetation of the roadside, helping to establish a terrestrial complement to Hobbie's work. With the Brooks Range as a backdrop, researchers at Toolik make use of continuous sunlight during the summer to work alongside caribou, bear, and moose on one of the world's most carbon-rich soils. Arctic tundra and boreal ecosystems take up one-sixth the world's land, but possess one-third the world's terrestrial carbon. Within hiking distance are tundra habitats ranging from wet soils covered with squishy moss to dry heath landscapes. The age of the land varies from 12,000 to 200,000 years, making the area a good place to understand how soils contribute to tundra ecology. In 1987, the field station became an NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, directed by Hobbie. NSF core funding, now$820,000 a year, provides for technicians and equipment to help keep long-term studies going with or without income from individual investigator grants. The site put down even deeper roots in 1999, when NSF signed a cooperative agreement with the University of Alaska to run the station. A new 5-year agreement starting next year will provide about \$1.5 million per year.

For years the lab grew slowly, retaining its rustic atmosphere. Two trailers served as kitchen, dining area, office, and lab. Scientists slept in backpacking tents. Today, there are four custom-built doublewides for labs, a dining hall open 24-7, a trailer for showers, and even one for laundry—32 buildings in all. There's a helicopter, and a fiber optic line put in for the Alyeska Pipeline Company of Anchorage provides Internet access. “They have put a lot of money into getting a really high-tech infrastructure,” says Jeff Dudycha, an evolutionary biologist at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, who visited Toolik this summer as part of a field trip arranged for the Evolution 2005 meeting in Fairbanks. Adds Breck Bowden, an aquatic ecosystems ecologist from the University of Vermont, Burlington, “We have lab facilities that rival what I have [at my university].”

The terrestrial research at Toolik consists in large part of parallel experiments in different types of tundra. Plots are fertilized with either nitrogen, phosphorous, or a mixture of both. Some are housed in plastic greenhouses that boost ambient temperatures by an average of 3.5°C and simulate global warming, while others are shrouded in layers of greenhouse shade cloth that block half the incoming light. Fine chicken wire helps exclude small herbivores, and taller fences keep out moose and caribou.

The message from all these experiments is clear: The availability of nutrients is the driving force for the ecosystem. With the light cut by 50%, “there isn't much impact,” says Shaver—at least not right away. The same is true for temperature. On acidic, 60,000-year-old tundra that has been fertilized, stands of dwarf birch eventually dominate, replacing sedges. The birch trees use added nutrients to grow taller and bushier, blocking ever more light from competitors. The shrub cover also insulates the ground, altering the season during which decomposition—and the release of nutrients—can occur.

In 2004, Shaver and his colleagues reported the surprising result that supplementary nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer had increased plant production but resulted in a net loss of nitrogen and carbon from deeper layers of acidic soils. When exposed to fertilizer, soil microbes boosted their breakdown of the organic matter in those layers. Moreover, fertilizer increased the rate at which organic nitrogen was converted to an inorganic form. He also learned that productivity in greenhouse plots can change: It took 9 years to see an increase in productivity in the unfertilized greenhouse plots, as the increased temperature slowly boosted microbial activity and the release of nutrients locked up in the soil. “The message I get is to be careful about jumping to conclusions,” says Pyle.

Research on streams and their role in nutrient flow is also yielding surprising results. In 2003, Bowden and hydrologist Michael Gooseff from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden began tracking the course and nutrient flow of subterranean water percolating along streambeds. They discovered that this submerged waterway and its surroundings—called the hyporheic zone—play a bigger role in stream ecology than had previously been thought. “We suspect that a major part of the nutrients to supply primary productivity actually come from [this] zone and not from the [nutrients] that run off the landscape directly,” says Bowden.

The researchers also are finding that the hyporheic zone holds steady at 2° to 3°C below zero, and the ice above gets no colder despite air temperatures of minus 50°C. “So it only took a little bit of exposure to sunlight” to start the water flowing again, says Bowden. “The whole system is primed to go” as soon as the sun returns to the sky, he adds.

## Opportunities and threats

Despite their concentrated efforts each summer, scientists are concerned that they might be missing part of the climate change story. “We are basing what we know [about the tundra] on data from June and July,” says Brian Barnes, director of the University of Alaska Institute of Arctic Biology, Fairbanks, which runs the Toolik station. “We've been assuming that nothing is happening in the winter because it's too cold.” But work by researchers such as Bowden is showing that underground temperatures may actually be mild enough to allow organisms to function and be on call for the spring.

The lab is also trying to add educational components to its research agenda. Crumrine is part of an NSF-sponsored program to provide teachers with research experience in the Arctic. There's talk about starting a graduate student summer course. Also, Robin Bingham, an evolutionary biologist from Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, is part of a group planning an Arctic biology course for undergraduates.

But such activities require additional resources, which are in short supply. The future of Toolik is closely tied to the future of NSF funding. The agency's overall budget was reduced this year and seems unlikely to do better than inflation in 2006. Forest ecologist Henry Gholz, who manages the LTER program, says both his budget and funding for ecosystems research will “likely remain static or only have a small increase.” Another problem is that LTER sites are judged by how well they leverage funding from other sources. But as Hobbie notes, “in the Arctic there are no other agencies to which we can apply for funds.”

Within NSF, there is increased competition for funding within programs that support work done at Toolik station. Over the past 5 years, the success rate for ecosystems proposals has fluctuated between 18% and 14%, says NSF's Michelle Kelleher. Success rates for the Office of Polar Programs have gone up and down as well: In 2000, it was 37%, but in 2005 it was 31%. The office is helping to sponsor the International Polar Year in 2007, a global effort to stimulate more research in the Arctic and in Antarctica. Without more money, Pyle says, any initiatives for the polar year will have to be paid out of the same budgets as for Arctic and Antarctic research and logistics.

There are non-fiscal threats as well. A natural gas pipeline, if it's built, would mean more people, more traffic, more way stations, and more gravel excavation. One of Shaver's sites is right next to an old gravel pit that, if reactivated, could destroy the site either directly or by increasing silt and other runoff sufficiently to invalidate longitudinal studies.

To counter these possible problems and more, Barnes and his colleagues at the University of Alaska are beginning to seek support from federal and state officials for a 44.5-hectare research park that would protect the study plots against potential intrusions. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management leases 10.8 hectares to the University of Alaska Institute of Arctic Biology as the station's grounds and has zoned the 31,000 hectares around Toolik Lake as a Research Natural Area. Expanding the size of the protected zone to include the upper Kuparak River watershed, a site of some long-term studies, would safeguard research without impeding oil and natural gas development, says Barnes.

It would also protect Toolik's future and avoid, in Gholz's words, NSF's having made “a huge investment that's thrown out.” Toolik deserves special attention, Bingham and others would argue, because of its ability to monitor a key component of global climate change. “Arctic ecosystems are some of the most endangered habitats and organisms on earth,” she says.

10. ARCHAEOLOGY

# Unraveling Khipu's Secrets

1. Charles C. Mann

Researchers move toward understanding the communicative power of the Inca's enigmatic knotted strings, which wove an empire together

In 1956, Peruvian archaeologists uncovered a vessel hidden in the floor of a high-status home in the Inca administrative center of Puruchuco, near present-day Lima, Peru. Inside, they found a kind of treasure: a set of 21 of the knotted strings called khipu. The Inca relied on sets of khipu (or quipu in Spanish) to keep records of their far-flung realm, which extended more than 5500 kilometers, the distance from Stockholm to Cairo.

The Spanish who conquered the empire discovered that it was held together by a highly efficient bureaucracy that controlled the distribution of labor, goods, and services, using streams of khipu to issue orders and record the results. So essential were khipu to the native population, according to Galen Brokaw, an expert in Andean texts at the State University of New York at Buffalo, that the early colonial government reluctantly approved their continued use until they could be displaced by alphabetic texts the Spaniards could understand. Today, only perhaps 600 pre-Hispanic khipu survive.

For more than a century, researchers have sought to understand how these distinctive objects were used within the empire, and whether they functioned as a unique kind of three-dimensional, textile-based “writing.” On page 1065 of this issue, anthropologist Gary Urton and mathematician-weaver Carrie J. Brezine, both at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, take a step toward answering both questions. Through a computer-aided analysis of seven of the Puruchuco khipu, Urton and Brezine have identified one way that data and instructions were passed up and down the hierarchy from local villages to the powerful central government in Qosqo (modern Cusco). In the process, they also have tentatively made the first-ever identification of a khipu “word.”

Almost simultaneously, archaeologist Ruth Shady Solis of the National University of San Marcos in Lima has independently unveiled what is seemingly the oldest khipu—or, perhaps, proto-khipu—ever discovered. Found in a cache buried inside a pyramid at Caral, an ancient city north of Lima that Shady's team has been excavating since 1994 (Science, 7 January, p. 34), the object resembles an Inca khipu, except that the pendant strings are twisted around small sticks.

According to Shady, it is more than 3000 years older than the oldest previously known khipu, which date from the 9th century C.E. If so, then khipu, though younger than the world's first writing systems of Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics, arose in the third millennium B.C.E. and are among humankind's oldest means of communication.

The Caral artifact's apparent great age of 4000 to 4500 years “indirectly strengthens the case” that the khipu were “more than numeric,” notes Daniel H. Sandweiss of the University of Maine in Orono. Ancient writing methods such as cuneiform evolved over many centuries from accounting records, as scribes invented symbols to identify what was being counted. “If what Ruth has found really is a khipu ancestor,” Sandweiss says, “then khipu would be following the pattern of other writing systems.”

Inca khipu consist of a main cord from which dangle as many as a thousand smaller strings, the latter of which contain clusters of knots. In the 1920s, Leland Locke, an amateur scientist, argued that khipu were simply lists of numbers, with individual knots representing digits and groups of knots on a strand representing successive powers of 10. (Blank spaces function as zeroes.) Locke's rules held true for many khipu, and his view of them as mnemonic devices largely held sway until the 1970s, when the Cornell University husband-wife team of Robert and Marcia Ascher overhauled his work, assembling a detailed khipu database (http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/research/quipu-ascher/). They argued that khipu were more akin to writing—and indeed that about 20% of surviving khipu do not fit Locke's rules.

If khipu were a form of writing or protowriting, they were unlike any other. Scribes “read” the khipu by running their fingers along the strings, sometimes while manipulating small black and white stones—in striking contrast to other cultures' ways of recording symbols, which involve printing or incising marks on flat surfaces. “The Spaniards were bewildered by them,” Urton says. “Four hundred years later, we aren't much better off.”

The Aschers sparked a new push to decode khipu. Supported by a National Science Foundation grant and a MacArthur Prize, Urton and Brezine in 2002 began assembling a more sophisticated khipu database that permitted complex searches (http://khipukamayuq.fas.harvard.edu/). Among the first khipu they entered was the set unearthed at Puruchuco. According to anthropologist Carol Mackey of California State University, Northridge, these khipu were found in the home of a khipukamayuq, an elite scribe who created and read the khipu that recorded the flow of goods, labor, and taxes within the empire. Mackey noted that two of the khipu were almost identical—an observation that tallied with the Inca writer Guaman Poma's 1609 claim that khipukamayuq made multiple copies of each khipu so that “no deception could be practiced by either the Indian tribute payers or the official collectors.”

Brezine realized that the pattern of string colors on the two matching khipu also “was very similar—you had sequences of four strings, each with [the same] repeated pattern of four string colors.” Brezine then asked the database to identify khipu with a “similar kind of arrangement of four string colors in repeating sets.” By interfacing the values in the Harvard khipu database with the popular software Mathematica, Urton says, “she was able to ask, 'Is there any instance of these strings whose sum is found on another khipu?'”

The answer was yes. Brezine's data-sifting revealed a hierarchical pattern involving seven of the 21 khipus. The hierarchy consists of three levels, each with two khipu. (Urton and Brezine removed one of the level 2 khipu, which has disappeared from the Puruchuco museum, from their analysis). Khipu on each level have identical or nearly identical number values and string colors—“the checks-and-balances aspect” of khipu accounting. And the values on lower-rank khipu add up to the values on subsections of higher-rank khipu. Thus, Urton and Brezine argue, the seven khipu represent either demands, probably from the provincial governor, for labor or goods, which lower-level functionaries broke down into components, or reports of tribute from the bottom being aggregated on their way up the ladder. Either way, Urton says, “you see how information might have been funneled upward and dispersed downward”—an essential task in controlling the large, diverse, and populous empire.

Notably, some of the cords in the level 2 khipu are only approximate sums of the corresponding cords in level 1. But the top level khipu is much more precise, with only 2 inexact totals. That suggests to Urton that “some data-manipulation was going on.” The khipukamayuq may have been matching real figures for labor taxes on the bottom to ideal requests from the top, for example.

The khipu on the two top levels have introductory segments of three figure-eight knots on three strings. To Urton and Brezine, the knots on these khipu, which presumably would have circulated out of their place of origin and perhaps as far as the capital, most likely served to identify their place of origin, the palace at the place now called Puruchuco. If so, then the introductory segments give its name—the first-ever precisely deciphered “word” in khipu “writing.”

“The identification seems logical to me, though we are being cautious about it,” Urton says. Aware that the decoding of both Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphics began by identifying place names, he believes that “if khipu can be deciphered, this is the kind of approach that will do it.”

Urton has previously argued (Science, 13 June 2003, p. 1650) that khipu were a kind of binary code, with the 0s and 1s being the either-or choices faced by khipu-makers (right or left direction for knots, spin, and ply, for example). With other researchers, Brokaw has criticized this binary theory, because, he says, “there is no way to reconcile it with the decimal code in which the khipu [also] clearly participate,” and because he believes it is not supported by ethnographic data. But Brokaw calls the current work “fascinating,” noting that it does not directly depend on the earlier binary theory.

The increased belief that the khipu were a complex means of communication is coupled with growing recognition of the extraordinary role of textiles in the precolonial Andes. “Textiles are important to every society,” says William J. Conklin, an architect and archaeologist who is a research associate at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. “But their role in Andean societies as carriers of meaning and power is different from anything else that I know.” Conklin notes, for example, that very early textiles from Huaca Prieta, a north coast site dated to about 1500 B.C.E., were apparently not used for clothing. The “incredible fact,” in Conklin's view, is that “weaving was invented for what we might call 'conceptual art'—to communicate meaning—and only afterward was it used for clothing.”

Khipu, Conklin says, were part of this tradition, as possibly shown by the Caral proto-khipu. Consisting of a ladderlike assemblage of 12 cotton strings, some knotted, that are wrapped around sticks, the object was found in a sealed room within one of the large pyramids at Caral earlier this year. Along with the other objects in the cache—including pristine baskets, mysterious spheres of fiber, and what looks like netting—the apparent khipu will be displayed at a Caral exhibit in Lima's Museo de la Nación until 31 August. Shady reports that her group “soon” will submit for publication the results from a “study of the context and the material within the cache.” Sandweiss cautions that the huge temporal gap between the Caral object and the earliest firmly dated khipu—one carbon-dated by Conklin to between 779 and 981 C.E.—is “puzzling.” Clearly, he says, “there is a great deal more to be learned here.”

11. # The Tsunami's Psychological Aftermath

1. Greg Miller*
1. Reporting for this story was supported by a fellowship from the Carter Center.

The massive psychosocial relief effort has had its problems, but most survivors of the Indian Ocean disaster have shown remarkable resilience. One positive outcome may be a much-needed increase in mental health services for the region

TIRRUKKOVIL, KALMUNAI, AND COLOMBO, SRI LANKA; CHENNAI AND CUDDALORE, INDIA—Two dusty vans pull up at a camp for displaced tsunami survivors near Tirrukkovil, a small fishing village on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Several men hop out and begin setting up a mobile medical clinic. They grab a table and a few plastic chairs and set them up under a thatched roof supported by metal poles. Next comes the pharmacy: a row of medicine jars on a wood plank in a neighboring tent. As word spreads, a line forms to see Dr. Rajandra, a physician sent from the ministry of health.

The first two patients have respiratory infections, which flourish in the close confines of the camp. Next, a young woman in a batik dress complains of a headache that won't go away. She also has abdominal pain, numbness in her extremities, and, when asked, confesses that she hasn't been sleeping well and hasn't felt much like eating. She slumps in her chair and stares blankly at the table but patiently answers the doctor's questions. Her symptoms began about 6 months ago, she says, shortly after the tsunami swept away her house and all her belongings and took the lives of five members of her extended family. Rajandra suspects she's suffering from mild to moderate depression.

The young woman's situation is common, says Boris Budosan, a Croatian-born psychiatrist with the International Medical Corps (IMC) who works in the camps around Tirrukkovil and elsewhere in Ampara district, the region in Sri Lanka hardest hit by the 26 December 2004 tsunami. People in this part of the world almost never speak of mental anguish, Budosan says; it's just not part of the culture. Instead, they complain of various aches, pains, and discomforts that have no apparent physical cause. “In the West you can ask somebody if he's sad,” Budosan says. “Here, they don't talk that much about their feelings.” Even if the symptoms are masked, Budosan says, he and his colleagues regularly find people living in the camps who suffer from mental problems, especially depression, and who can benefit from counseling or medication.

At the mobile clinic, Rajandra gives the young woman a small plastic bag of anti- anxiety and antidepressant pills, and a worker from IMC gives her a short mental health survey and will pass her name on to a psychiatrist scheduled to visit the camp the following week. Their work is part of a massive effort under way in villages around the Indian Ocean to gauge, and help alleviate, the psychological toll of the tsunami. Perhaps more than any other disaster in recent history, the tsunami triggered an outpouring of aid for the devastated region—along with unprecedented attention to the mental health of the survivors, many of whom saw their children or other family members carried away by the waves. Since the disaster, hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have sent teams to the region to provide various forms of “psychosocial” aid.

Eight months later, the full impact of the tsunami on the mental health of the survivors remains unknown. The World Health Organization (WHO), among others, has estimated that hundreds of thousands of people could suffer lasting psychological effects. Some early evidence, however, suggests that people may be coping better than expected, aided by the Asian emphasis on strong family and community ties. “Given the scale of the catastrophe, the population has been remarkably resilient,” says Harry Minas, a psychiatrist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, who has worked with WHO and the Indonesian government on the mental health of tsunami survivors.

Similarly, the verdict is not yet in on how effective the myriad interventions have been. The mostly Western relief groups arrived with abundant good intentions and a wide variety of strategies. But the field of disaster mental health is relatively new, and little research exists on what interventions best stave off long-term psychological problems. Problems have arisen in the aid effort, but many experts say the spotlight on mental health has benefited tsunami survivors and provided political leverage for revamping health policy in the region to include mental health care. This would be a welcome development for a part of the world where mental health problems are thought to take a heavy toll but—as in much of the developing world—are largely unrecognized.

## Gauging the impact

One reason solid epidemiological data aren't yet available is that many research teams felt it would be unethical to conduct studies in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. “When we saw what the situation was, we threw our [survey] sheets away,” says Prathap Tharyan, a psychiatrist at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, describing a visit he and colleagues paid to coastal Tamil Nadu state shortly after the tsunami. Instead of doing research, the team found itself on cleanup duty. “Now, 8 months in, we will get approval from our ethics committee and go do a survey,” he says. Researchers in other tsunami-affected regions have similar plans.

Some of the most-cited estimates of the toll come from WHO, which in February suggested that up to half of the 5 million people affected by the tsunami would experience moderate to severe psychological distress that would fade without intervention over the course of a year or more. Roughly 5% to 10% would develop more persistent problems, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other anxiety disorders that would be unlikely to resolve themselves without intervention. And perhaps 1% to 2% would be left with incapacitating mental problems such as major depression or psychosis. WHO also cautioned that the tsunami could trigger acute episodes for thousands of patients with preexisting conditions, especially those who were displaced from psychiatric facilities or lost their medicine in the disaster.

“Talking to psychiatrists [in the affected areas], we get a feeling that our general assessment … was more or less valid,” says Shekhar Saxena, WHO's coordinator for mental health evidence and research in Geneva, Switz-erland. Preliminary surveys and anecdotal reports suggest that the tsunami has indeed affected people deeply. Many women have been wracked with guilt and anxiety over children they were unable to save. Children have been afraid to leave their parents to go to school. Men have found it hard to return to the sea to fish, and many have turned to alcohol to help cope. Survivors complain of nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts of the disaster. One of the challenges for the upcoming epidemiology studies will be to distinguish normal stress and grief responses from psychopathology.

At the same time, many people who have worked with tsunami survivors are struck by their resilience. Asian culture, with its emphasis on group welfare over individual self-reliance, seems to have been a powerful, positive influence. “People came together to support each other and look after the necessities,” says Athula Sumathipala, a Sri Lankan psychiatrist who has worked with tsunami survivors in the south and west of the country. “A man who lost his own son would care for someone else's son.”

“In India, most people try to deal with grief in the context of community activities,” explains Tharyan. “In the West, public grieving is not en-couraged, but at fun-erals here people cry, scream, shout.” That has helped people cope, in Tharyan's view. So has religion. “Hinduism has many rituals regarding death,” he says. “By the end of the first year, you've done so many rituals you're not grieving anymore.”

Sadly, a long-standing familiarity with upheaval and tragedy may also have bolstered the coping mechanisms of many tsunami survivors. “The idea that people who have chronic stress and now have an acute stress will break down is not entirely true,” says Saxena. “Sometimes they cope better.” In Sri Lanka, ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese government and armed Tamil rebels killed at least 60,000 people and displaced at least 800,000 between the early 1980s and a 2002 cease-fire agreement. Much of the violence took place in the Tamil homeland in the north and east of the country, the areas worst hit by the tsunami. Struggle is accepted by people here as a given in life, says P. M. Vincentine, a counselor for SHADE, a psychosocial NGO founded to help war trauma survivors in northern and eastern Sri Lanka but which has shifted its focus to tsunami survivors. “There is a Tamil saying: 'Through the struggle, you have to live,'” he says.

Similar sentiments can be heard across the region, from war-torn Aceh province in Indonesia to coastal India. “People here have a tough life to begin with,” says Tharyan. “The expectations in life are very different from those in the West.” Many people in Tamil Nadu view the tsunami more as the latest obstacle life has thrown at them than as a cataclysmic blow, Tharyan says.

## Chaos on the ground

Into this cultural milieu came the psycho-social NGOs. Prominent international relief groups like Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross brought psychiatrists, psycho-logists, and other workers with extensive field experience in disaster areas. The Scientologists brought “Volunteer Ministers” who trained local people to do “touch assists,” a technique that reputedly eases suffering by restoring communication between injured body parts. Other groups brought everything from trauma counselors to swim instructors to teddy bears.

The upshot, especially in the early days, was chaos. It was nearly impossible to keep track of who was coming and what they were doing, Saxena says. Coordinating the NGOs—a task taken on by WHO and other U.N. agencies in consultation with local governments—has been a major challenge throughout the region, but especially so in Sri Lanka, which has attracted more psychosocial relief groups than other countries. “At times there were more tents set up for the people trying to help than for the people being helped,” says Saxena.

This has occasionally led to friction and even competition as psychosocial NGOs have tried to stake their claims in the refugee camps. At a recent psychosocial coordination meeting in Colombo, several participants said this is still going on. “Kids get attached to volunteers, and then new groups come and offer incentives” for the children to join their activities instead, said T. Gadambanthan, a psychiatrist in the eastern town of Trincomalee. “Children are torn between these loyalties, and it can be traumatic.”

Another problem early on was that many aid workers lacked fluency in local languages and knowledge of local culture, says Sumathipala. In the first weeks after the tsunami, for instance, some foreign groups buried bodies in mass graves due to fears of disease. “We have thousands of years of culture here, particularly with regard to death and mourning,” says Sumathipala, who believes that casting aside these traditions added to people's suffering. Efforts to dispose of bodies quickly were likely misguided anyway: Research has shown that dead bodies do not pose an imminent threat of disease, and WHO and other groups have discouraged mass burials to allow time for traditional practices.

In terms of psychological services, one of the biggest problems, say many experts, has been an overemphasis on finding and treating cases of PTSD, which is characterized by flashbacks, emotional detachment, sleep difficulties, and other disruptions. Recent years have seen a lively debate among mental health experts over the importance of PTSD in disaster mental health, especially in non-Western settings. The harshest critics see PTSD as a bogus diagnosis—a medicalization of normal grief. But even more moderate experts think the diagnosis has been overemphasized. “It's not at all clear that this is the disorder that burdens people most,” says Mark van Ommeren, a specialist in disaster mental health at WHO. “It's only one of many problems that arise after a disaster.”

People who come looking for PTSD will find it—and miss half the people who need help, says Minas of the University of Melbourne. In Bosnia, for instance, special centers set up to find and treat people with PTSD “proved to be a disaster,” he says. People with war-related depressive and anxiety disorders other than PTSD were overlooked, as were people with preexisting conditions that were exacerbated by the war.

By putting out bulletins and using its contacts with NGOs in the field, WHO has tried, with mixed success, to discourage teams from focusing exclusively on PTSD. The organization has also tried to discourage the use of “single-session debriefing,” a controversial intervention intended to reduce posttraumatic stress. In these sessions, survivors are encouraged to relive the traumatic event shortly afterward. But the bulk of research has failed to find evidence that it reduces the incidence of PTSD or other psychological problems, and some studies have suggested that it may even increase the likelihood of problems.

## Exporting trauma?

Some critics question the entire enterprise of psychosocial aid to disaster victims, particularly in non-Western countries. Derek Summerfield, a psychiatrist at Maudsley Hospital in London, is among the most vocal. The idea of disaster mental health is “culturally alien” outside the West, Summerfield says: “We can't imagine something like this happening in our countries without our needing counseling, so we take it all to Sri Lanka.”

Instead of putting tsunami survivors in our shoes, we should begin by asking what they actually want, says Summerfield, who has worked in Bosnia and other war zones and advised Oxfam and other NGOs on their psychosocial aid programs. In his experience, people want help rebuilding their homes, reestablishing their livelihoods, and getting the children back to school. “They don't want foreigners coming over and saying, 'You've suffered a deep wound in your psyche, and you're going to need our help getting over it,'” he says. R. Thara, a psychiatrist and director of SCARF, a mental health NGO based in Chennai, India, that has done psychosocial work with tsunami survivors in Tamil Nadu, agrees that counseling has been overemphasized. “We had a needs assessment where we asked people what they needed, [and] counseling was the last thing they checked, and probably only because we'd mentioned it.” Sumathipala says the same is true in Sri Lanka. “People want material help, people are not asking for counseling,” he notes. Two surveys in the north and east of the country in recent years found that people displaced by the civil war who sought mental health treatment were actually more concerned with finding employment than relief from psychological symptoms such as flashbacks.

Still, Thara, Sumathipala, and others insist that for a small proportion of tsunami survivors, counseling is in fact needed. “As a psychiatrist I believe a certain amount of people would need psychological intervention, including counseling and medication,” says Sumathipala.

The critique by Summerfield and others highlights how little is known about the best way to care for the mental health of people who have lived through a disaster. The bulk of the research to date has been carried out in developed countries. As a result, much of what is being tried in Asia, for instance, is based on good intentions rather than good science, says Minas. “I think there's a real obligation to carry out good quality evaluation of what's being done and the consequences of the disaster,” he says. “But there's an ethical quandary about what kind of research, and carried out by whom.”

In the first few months after the tsu-nami, says Sumathipala, several foreign researchers were found to be conducting research without approval from any authority in Sri Lanka, or, at least in some cases, approval from their home institution. Sumathipala has been keeping a list of such incidents to push the government to set up a national medical ethics review board. His list includes a Japanese group he says collected blood from tsunami survivors to search for biomarkers of PTSD, without previous approval. A ministry of health official seized their samples and insisted that they get approval, which they subsequently have done. Many groups—university researchers as well as local and foreign NGOs—circulated surveys in the aftermath of the tsunami. Some of these were inappropriate, Sumathipala says, including one distributed by a German group that asked young children detailed questions about sexual abuse.

Minas is working on a set of guidelines that could be used by communities—aided by consultants from local universities and other institutions—to evaluate research proposals in future disasters. Many NGOs are reluctant to do research, Minas says, because they see providing service as the first priority. He thinks that view reflects a misunderstanding of the purpose of research. “Lots of people are ready to just get in and do things without any evidence of whether what they're doing helps people … or maybe even does harm. I think it's negligent to do that without evaluating what's going on.”

## Looking forward

Despite the glitches in the relief effort and problems with particular NGOs, most observers say the psychosocial response has been beneficial overall. There are also encouraging signs that the influx of money and the expertise of the better trained groups may help pave the way for a stronger mental health care infrastructure.

The need is great. In Sri Lanka alone, WHO estimates that before the disaster some 384,000 people suffered from serious mental disorders such as major depression, bipolar illness, and schizophrenia, and perhaps 2 million who were afflicted by less severe mental disorders. These numbers dwarf even the worst case estimates for mental health problems related to the tsunami. (WHO estimates that 22,000 to 44,000 tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka will develop psychological problems serious enough to require long-term treatment.)

But the country has just 41 psychiatrists, including academics. About four times that many Sri Lankan psychiatrists practice in the United Kingdom, says John Mahoney, WHO's point person in Sri Lanka for mental health. There are no psychiatric nurses and only eight psychiatric social workers for the entire country. Nearly all of these meager resources are concentrated in Colombo, where many patients are relegated to outdated government-run asylums. In June, a Colombo newspaper visited the Mulleriyawa women's asylum near the capital and photographed patients tied to the beds with strips of cloth. The hospital, built to house 400 patients, holds hundreds more, some of whom have been there for decades, Mahoney says: “Places like this shouldn't exist.”

Earlier this summer, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health approved a plan developed by WHO, in consultation with local health officials, that would close Mulleriyawa and another large mental hospital while vastly increasing access to mental health services, especially for people outside the capital. WHO has pushed for this plan before without much success, but with the momentum from the tsunami behind them, Mahoney is now optimistic that reform is possible. “Now things will happen,” he predicts.

A key component of the WHO plan is to provide mental health training to primary care doctors, community health workers, and midwives in Sri Lanka. Rajandra, the ministry of health physician from Tirrukkovil, for example, recently attended a series of mental health workshops put on by IMC. NGOs are providing much of the human—and financial—resources for this training.

Similar plans are in the works for Aceh, where mental health care was virtually nonexistent, and Tamil Nadu in India. The trick, of course, will be to keep the ball rolling after the tsunami aid money dries up. If the plans succeed, however, they may represent the most lasting legacy of the tsunami in terms of mental health.