Random Samples

Science  02 Sep 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5740, pp. 1485
  1. Eye on the Tiger


    East-West differences are mirrored by differnces in perceptual processes, new research shows. Richard Nisbett, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues have shown that Chinese and American students differ in the way they look at and remember a complex visual scene.

    Wearing headsets with a built-in eye movement tracker, 25 American and 27 Chinese graduate students were asked to observe 36 pictures—each with an object against a realistic background, such as a tiger in a forest—for three seconds each. The Americans zoomed in on the foreground object earlier and for a longer time than did the Chinese, who spent more time taking in the background and less time studying the object, Nisbett's team reports online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Chinese thus tended to recall background more accurately, whereas Americans remembered more about the central object.

    “As best I know, this is the first example clearly documenting [cultural differences in] where people look when they're encoding a scene,” says Daniel Simons, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nisbett suggests that the study reflects more general differences. East Asians have a more holistic, relational outlook on the world, whereas Americans are more individualistic and object-oriented, he says.

  2. Sleepless and Sharp


    Researchers have found that a drug that enhances mental alertness may also hold promise for helping shift workers and others battle sleepiness.

    The drug, CX717, is an ampakine, one of a class of synthetic compounds that amplify the signal of glutamate, a neurotransmitter important for learning and memory. Sam Deadwyler, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wondered if ampakines could help in his search for strategies to prevent sleep deprivation in pilots. He and his colleagues found that when given the drug, monkeys kept awake for 30 to 36 hours outdid their well-rested, drug-free counterparts in cognitive tests. And brain scans showed that unlike other stimulants, the drug worked selectively, increasing activity only in the areas activated during the mental tasks, the researchers reported 22 August in PLoS Biology.

    CX717 may have similar effects in humans. The manufacturer, Cortex Pharmaceuticals in Irvine, California, says in a small pilot study the drug improved mental function in young men kept awake for 27 hours. The Defense Department is now starting a trial to test the drug with shift workers.

    “This could have very large social and economic consequences,” says ampakine inventor Gary Lynch of the University of California, Irvine. He says a similar drug, Modafinil, affects different brain systems—those regulating sleep—so “the [two] drugs will probably find quite different uses.”

  3. Animal Wars

    As the battle between animal rights activists and researchers continues to escalate in the United Kingdom, 500 U.K. scientists and doctors, including 3 Nobel laureates, have signed a petition in favor of the use of animals in research.

    The petition comes on the heels of a decision by a small farm in central England that supplied guinea pigs for researchers to fold the business after 6 years of harassment by activists who last fall dug up the remains of the mother-in-law of one of the farm owners. Andrew Gay, a spokesman for Huntingdon Life Sciences, a longtime target of antivivisectionists, says the assault on the farm “marks a definite change in tactics” as protestors turn from large institutions to more vulnerable small outfits—“the soft underbelly of the life sciences.”

    Proponents of animal rights have been stepping up their activities in defiance of a new U.K. law that calls for substantial prison terms for anyone interfering with life science facilities or their providers. Signers of the petition, organized by the London-based Research Defense Fund, say they will not be intimidated. “We would rather not use animals, and we try hard to find alternatives,” says Robin Lovell-Badge, a geneticist at the National Institute for Medical Research in London.

    The animal rights battle may be further inflamed by plans to genetically engineer monkeys to develop Huntington's disease, announced last week by Yerkes Primate Center. Coincidentally, animal rights groups at an international conference in Berlin last week came out with a new petition calling for a global ban on experimentation with primates.

  4. Astronomers ID Adams Snap


    Astronomers say they have pinpointed the exact time and place that Ansel Adams took his famous photograph in California's Yosemite National Park. Autumn Moon, the High Sierra from Glacier Point, is known only to have been taken some time in the 1940s. A team led by Donald Olson at Texas State University in San Marcos concluded, after scouring maps, weather records, lunar tables, astronomical software, and a recently uncovered color version of the photograph, that it was taken near a geology hut on 15 September, 1948, at approximately 7:03 p.m. At right is a long-exposure photo the scientists took at the site. Their report will be in the October issue of Sky and Telescope.

  5. Misfortunes

    Shark attack. A marine field trip turned tragic last week near Adelaide, Australia. Jarrod Stehbens, 23, was diving with another research assistant off a reef about 2 kilometers offshore to collect cuttlefish eggs as part of a research project on the population structure of the species Sepia apama, which has been threatened by fishing. When the pair was about to emerge from the water, they were attacked by what was likely a great white shark. The other diver managed to surface and was pulled from the water by two researchers on the boat, but Stehbens was dragged down and vanished. Stehbens graduated last month from the University of Adelaide and was about to begin a Ph.D. program in marine ecology at the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Helgoland, Germany.

  6. Jobs


    Hot seat. A 19-year veteran of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, has become the first woman to chair its physics department. A particle theorist with 134 publications to her credit, Sally Dawson, 50, will lead a staff of 260 and oversee a budget of nearly $60 million.

    Dawson, now acting chair, assumes the helm of a struggling department. Last month, the National Science Foundation canceled a pair of high energy physics experiments to be built at the lab (Science, 19 August, p. 1163), and there's a cloud over the lab's flagship Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, a particle smasher that studies nuclear physics (Science, 24 June, p. 1852). Dawson's skills as a consensus builder should help her guide the department through its troubles, says Yannis Semertzidis, an experimental physicist at Brookhaven. “She listens to you sincerely, and she has great enthusiasm for physics,” he says. “She understands that the way out of the mess is physics, not politics.”


    Ideas man. Peter McPherson says that his first task as the new president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) is to halt “the gradual defunding” of public universities by state legislators. McPherson, 64, has watched that trend for the past 11 years as president of Michigan State University. There he learned the value of finding other sources of revenue, a skill that he plans to share with NASULGC's 215 members.”

    Ideas move things, and money can follow,” says McPherson. He will take over from Peter McGrath, who's leaving at the end of 2005 after 14 years atop the association.

  7. Politics

    Holding course. Mohammad-Mehdi Zahedi, an expert on fuzzy mathematics at the Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, has been named Iran's new science minister. But Zahedi is not expected to deviate far from the course laid by his predecessor, Ja'far Tofiqi, who championed big-science projects in highenergy physics, astronomy, and biotechnology in the country's $900 million science portfolio. “It's too early to say anything,” says deputy research minister Reza Mansouri, an astrophysicist, who nonetheless predicts only minor fluctuations in science policy. Zahedi, whose appointment was confirmed by Iran's Parliament last week, could not be reached for comment.

    Iranian researchers are more worried about the policies of the country's new president, the ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They say that a potential rollback of social reforms and a chill in relations with the West provoked by Iran's nuclear ambitions are greater threats to Iranian science than any potential changes brought about by Zahedi.

  8. Rising Stars

    Not old enough. 14-year-old Yinan Wang is the latest child prodigy to be offered a university place in the U.K. Could he also be the last?

    Unable to speak English when he arrived in the U.K. from China two years ago, math and physics whiz Wang is now on his way to Oxford to study materials science. But a new U.K. law, passed in March, states that all those working with children have a legal duty to protect them. In recent years, Oxford was the only British university to accept children as young as 12. But it will probably no longer do so. The new law would mean expensive training and screening of any personnel coming into contact with these youth, who would not be allowed to live with other students. Admissions officials are considering establishing a minimum age of 17, according to a spokesperson.

    That would be unfortunate, says mathematician Ruth Lawrence, who was 12 when she went to Oxford in 1982. Lawrence, now at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, believes parents or guardians should keep track of their children as her father did when she was at Oxford. “Universities should not be turned from wellsprings of knowledge into caretakers for students.”