News this Week

Science  02 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5753, pp. 951

    Korean Cloner Admits Lying About Oocyte Donations

    1. Constance Holden*
    1. With reporting by Gretchen Vogel and Dennis Normile.

    South Korea's ambitious plans to create a World Stem Cell Hub, announced in October, were thrown into uncertainty on Thanksgiving Day when Korean researcher Woo-Suk Hwang resigned as president of the venture and from other official posts. He remains a researcher at Seoul National University. Hwang acknowledged in an emotional press conference that two researchers in his lab had donated eggs for his research, and that donors had been paid for their contributions—something he had denied for months.

    The admission seems to have done little to diminish Hwang's support in Korea, where he has enjoyed rock-star status, including an “I Love Hwang Woo-Suk” fan club ( Colleagues have reportedly urged Hwang to stay on as leader of the country's bold bid at world leadership in stem cell research. Korean newspapers and Web sites report that sponsors are pulling ads from a TV program that uncovered alleged irregularities in Hwang's egg-collection methods, and Korean women are lining up to donate eggs for stem cell research: A group set up on 21 November to encourage egg donations ( had been contacted by 800 would-be donors by the end of the week, according to a spokesperson.

    Buoyed by the outpouring of public support, Hwang told Science in an e-mail that he's “considering reconsidering” his resignation. But such a turnaround seems unlikely as repercussions ripple through the global community of stem cell researchers. Most scientists would probably agree with bioethicist Insoo Hyun of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, that “he did the right thing by stepping down.”

    The events that led to Hwang's downfall appear to be limited to the landmark paper he published in Science early last year announcing the world's first success in cultivating a line of stem cells from a cloned human embryo (Science, 12 March 2004, p. 1669). The consent form, summarized in supporting online materials, said the 16 donors had received “no financial payment” for the 242 eggs they contributed to the experiments, although such payments would have been legal under Korean law at the time. (Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy says a correction will be published.)

    Some activists and bioethicists wondered how Hwang's team could have located so many willing egg donors. Then in May 2004, Nature reported that one of Hwang's Ph.D. students, a co-author of the paper, had said in an interview that she and another lab member had donated eggs. Such donations would be ethically questionable because students may feel pressure to donate. The student later denied it, however, pleading poor English skills, and Hwang denied that anyone from his lab had donated eggs.

    A very public apology.

    Woo-Suk Hwang's press conference prompted an outpouring of support in Korea but a more negative reaction elsewhere.


    Rumors about possible improprieties in egg donations heated up again this fall after the 19 October unveiling of the World Stem Cell Hub based at Seoul National University. Hwang's denials began to unravel on 11 November, when his most prominent U.S. collaborator, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, announced that he was severing ties with Hwang, claiming that Hwang had misled him (Science, 18 November, p. 1100). Ten days later, Sung-Il Roh, who runs a fertility clinic at MizMedi Hospital in Seoul that supplied eggs for Hwang's research, announced that he had paid at least 20 women about $1430 each for eggs he had furnished for the 2004 study. Roh said the collections occurred in 2002, before Korea passed a law making such payments illegal. As Hwang's work became well-known, Roh said women were willing to donate eggs without compensation. Roh insisted that Hwang did not know of the early payments.

    Hwang finally came clean last week. He admitted that after receiving a call from Nature last year, he asked the two women if they had donated eggs. They confessed but “begged me not to publicize the fact” to preserve their privacy. “Now that I reflect on it,” he said, “I regret that I didn't come out with the truth.” As for payments to donors, he said, “I only found out that some of those eggs had been paid for when Dr. Roh called me a few days ago.”

    The revelations prompted the ruling party in South Korea's National Assembly to announce plans to set up a new group to ponder bioethics, and the Korean Bioethics Association convened a meeting to discuss what occurred in Hwang's lab. The institutional review board of Seoul National University's veterinary college also investigated the controversy and recommended that a third party with global credibility examine the matter.

    Elsewhere in Asia, researchers are feeling the ripples. Norio Nakatsuji, a stem cell researcher at Kyoto University, worries that the fallout could affect discussions on government guidelines for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research, which he fears “may become more strict because of this event.”

    Arnold Kriegstein, head of the Institute of Tissue and Stem Cell Biology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), says creation of the World Stem Cell Hub may have been “premature.” He says hub officials approached UCSF as a possible location for one of the two planned subhubs for generating new lines of human ES cells. But Kriegstein says that after meeting with Hwang's delegation, “we decided not to participate,” mainly because guidelines were unclear on ethical issues such as consent forms for egg donors and the tracking of research materials. Kriegstein and others are not writing off collaboration with the Koreans, however, and they acknowledge that Hwang's published findings are not in doubt. “It's not a blow to the field but to him personally,” says Kriegstein.

    In the United Kingdom, scientists have generally voiced sorrow about Hwang's mistake and pride in their own system of safeguards. “This highlights why the tough regulatory climate in the U.K. is protection rather than a problem,” said biologist Steven Minger of King's College in London.

    The future of the hub is now uncertain. On 15 November, the Korean government laid out plans to invest 11.5 billion won ($11 million) in the venture and make it independent from Seoul National University. There will be no subhub in San Francisco, at least for now. It has been rebuffed by both UCSF and the new California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. And the San Francisco-based Pacific Fertility Clinic, which had agreed to help with egg collection, said last week that it had severed ties with Hwang. Ian Wilmut of the University of Edinburgh, which the hub was eyeing as its European outpost, said “we are saddened” by the events, but “I hope that we can develop collaborative links” with the Koreans.

    Ironically, some maintain that Hwang now has an operation second to none in its ethical safeguards. This week, The American Journal of Ethics published an article by Hyun describing in detail the guidelines now used by Hwang's group for egg procurement, along with a commentary by Mildred Cho and David Magnus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who say that if the outlined procedure is followed, it is “a major step toward meeting the highest standards of ethical oversight for oocyte donation.”


    The Atlantic Conveyor May Have Slowed, But Don't Panic Yet

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    The ponderous churning of the North Atlantic Ocean that carries warm water northward and returns deep, cold water to the south appears to have slowed in the past decade or two. That would mean that this oceanic radiator is bringing less heat to warm Europe and, if global warming is behind the slowdown, will carry less and less heat to high latitudes in the future. But the slowing is hardly larger than the uncertainty of the observations. And “we don't know enough about the ocean to know whether this represents a trend” that will persist, says physical oceanographer Harry Bryden of the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton, U.K. Bryden and NOC colleagues report detection of the slowdown this week in Nature.

    Oceanographers only last year put down a string of instrumented moorings spanning the Atlantic from West Africa to the Bahamas, so for a long conveyor record, the NOC group had to draw on five oceanographic surveys across that stretch of the Atlantic between 1957 and 2004. During ship crossings of a month or two, researchers measured seawater temperature and salinity from the surface to near the bottom. The NOC group used seawater densities calculated from those observations, plus current measurements of the Gulf Stream passing by Florida and a few standard assumptions, to estimate the currents heading north and south through the depth of the Atlantic.

    The Gulf Stream remained steady through the 47-year period, and Atlantic flows remained much the same through the 1992 survey. But according to the NOC group's analysis, the conveyor appears to have slowed dramatically in 1998 and 2004. Fifty percent more Gulf Stream near-surface waters were turning back southward before reaching very far to the north, whereas part of the deep southward flow of cold water had decreased by 50%. All in all, the conveyor had slowed by 30%.

    A slowdown?

    Currents (red) carrying heat northward may have slowed, but no one knows for how long.


    The slowing, although sizable, is comparable to the estimated uncertainty of the observations, Bryden notes. Still, “it's real variability,” he says. Observed temperature changes driving the conveyor slowdown in shallower waters in the west and in deeper waters are just what he would expect from salinity and circulation changes previously reported in the far north (Science, 16 April 2004, p. 371). That's where the conveyor turns down from the surface and heads back south. “The pattern is reasonably convincing,” says physical oceanographer Peter Rhines of the University of Washington, Seattle. “It's a pretty nice picture.”

    The picture is still fuzzy, however. “It would be dangerous to jump to the conclusion that there's a persistent weakening” of the conveyor circulation, says ocean and climate modeler Richard Wood of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter, U.K. Wood, Rhines, and Bryden all worry that the near-instantaneous snapshots taken by the ocean surveys might have been misleading. Like any part of the complex climate system, the conveyor is bound to slow down at times and speed up at others. The two latest surveys, Wood says, may have happened to catch the Atlantic as the conveyor slowed temporarily, giving the impression that a permanent change had taken place.

    On the other hand, the NOC analysis may not have even captured what happened in the past decade or so. Climate models simulating the conveyor in a warming world don't call for such a large slowdown until sometime in the next century, Wood notes. In fact, climate researcher Jeff Knight of the Hadley Centre and colleagues recently reported that changing sea surface temperatures suggest that the conveyor has speeded up a bit since the 1970s (Science, 1 July, p. 41). And physical oceanographers Carl Wunsch and Patrick Heimbach of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have just crunched far more oceanographic data from a variety of sources over the interval of dramatic change (1993 to 2004) in the NOC analysis. In a paper submitted for publication, they report a small slowdown, a quarter the size of the NOC group's. The change in heat transported northward is negligible, they calculate.

    So has the conveyor slowed? Might it continue to slow? “We don't know,” says Wunsch. And it may take a decade or two more of watching and waiting to know for sure.


    Animal Rules Keep Grad Students Out of the Lab

    1. Wayne Kondro*

    OTTAWA—Twenty graduate students are suing Laurentian University in Sudbury, Canada, this week in hopes of regaining access to their rat labs. The students are caught in the middle of a dispute between their high-profile adviser, neuropsychologist Michael Persinger, and the institution over Persinger's compliance with animal-welfare rules, a battle that his supporters say is fueled by the university's desire to make room for its new medical school.

    Laurentian's associate vice-president (research) Liette Vasseur says that the school changed old locks on 9 November and didn't give new keys to the students because the university's animal-welfare committee had not approved seven of Persinger's research protocols. Until the protocols are approved, the experiments cannot be performed, and the students “have no need to go in the building if they don't do research there,” says Vasseur.


    Laurentian's Martin Persinger and graduate students are fighting the university's animal-care policies.


    But that explanation didn't placate the students. “You don't come in and just lock doors. That's draconian and barbaric,” says Robert Brouillette, lawyer for the students, who since 9 November have been unable to conduct various obesity, epilepsy, cancer, aging, and behavioral studies under the unapproved protocols.

    Persinger is considered a maverick for work on inducing religious or quasi-mystical states in human patients via magnetic stimulation of their left temporal lobes. In addition to that research, in a field tabbed neurotheology, he and his students use some 800 rats for a variety of experiments that occupy 70% of the school's animal-care facility.

    The dispute between Persinger's group and Laurentian's animal-care committee involves the interpretation of two Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) requirements: that rats be housed in plastic rather than steel cages and that they be euthanized at the end of an experiment. CCAC Executive Director Clement Gauthier says rats in steel units develop lesions on their feet and that euthanasia is recommended if experiments are invasive or yield “chronically ill” rodents. But Persinger says he's not convinced that plastic cages are better—one of his studies compares the long-term effects on animals of plastic and wire cages—and he believes that it's more humane and appropriate to treat sick rats after the experiment. Ian Duncan, chair of animal welfare at the University of Guelph, says neither plastic cages nor euthanasia are obligatory and that there can be sound reasons for alternative practices.

    The battle escalated this fall, say observers, when Laurentian became the country's 17th medical school. That expansion prompted an agreement with the nation's three granting councils promising full compliance with CCAC guidelines and increased the pressure for space on the university's limited animal-care facilities.

    But Persinger says the university has negotiated in bad faith. “You answer this and this and then they come back, well, now you need that and that,” he says. “It's an infinite progression.”

    • *Wayne Kondro writes from Ottawa, Canada.


    Congress Tells DOE to Take Fresh Look at Recycling Spent Reactor Fuel

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The United States is laying plans that could lead to recycling commercial nuclear waste into fuel for the first time in almost 30 years. But critics worry that such a boost for nuclear power could undermine global efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

    The Department of Energy's (DOE's) new budget, signed by President George W. Bush last month, contains $50 million toward a goal of beginning construction on an engineering-scale reprocessing plant by 2010. Supporters say that recycling fuel could not only save time and money but also ease a mounting nuclear waste problem. Opponents dispute each of those points, adding that the technology needed is not yet at hand and that the United States, by recycling waste, would be sending the wrong signal to the rest of the world.

    Researchers have explored reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods since the dawn of the nuclear age. U.S. government officials pushed recycling commercial fuel in the 1960s when uranium was thought to be scarce and plutonium was considered a good fuel. Separating out the plutonium and uranium from other fissionable material also would reduce quantities of certain types of highly radioactive nuclear waste, thus in theory increasing the storage potential at the yet-to-be-built Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. “The pursuit of [safe] recycling technologies … must be considered not just a worthwhile but a necessary goal,” DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman said earlier this month.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle?

    Argonne's Laurel Barnes studies a nuclear fuel reprocessing technique that converts oxide fuel to metal.


    But plutonium is also used in nuclear weapons, and critics say that producing more of it increases the likelihood that some will get into the wrong hands. The United Kingdom, France, and Japan use an aqueous method to recover uranium and plutonium from spent fuel rods. That technique, called PUREX, involves dissolving the rods with acid and chemically separating the two fuels. Japanese scientists have found that the approach is not economically viable, and the French experience has been mixed. Supporters also say reprocessing could forestall construction of an expensive second storage facility if, as projected, Yucca runs out of space within a decade—assuming the facility overcomes legal barriers to open.

    With the growing interest in nuclear energy as an alternative to greenhouse gas-emitting technologies, scientists have developed advanced reprocessing techniques aimed at solving the waste issue without adding to the proliferation threat. One experimental approach, touted by scientists at DOE's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, is to use aqueous methods similar to PUREX with extra chemical steps to keep plutonium mixed with uranium and to retain nasty fission products that make the product too radioactive to steal. Another method, called pyroprocessing, employs electrochemistry to create a metal fuel that could include a fission product called cerium-144, which remains highly radioactive for 2 years. The fuel, which would be hot and therefore tough for thieves to handle, could theoretically be fed immediately into an adjacent reactor to provide power, say advocates. Argonne deputy associate lab director Phillip Finck says that radiation monitors and tight security could make both recycling methods proliferation-resistant.

    But Princeton University physicist Frank von Hippel and others dispute the advantages. Most U.S. spent fuel is about 20 years old, he points out, making the nonproliferation advantages of cerium in pyroprocessing “irrelevant for the spent fuel we have.” Monitoring techniques to keep track of plutonium in a complex facility are woefully inadequate, says Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moreover, said Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) during a House debate in May, the current ban on reprocessing nuclear fuel “gives us the high moral ground as we look at the North Koreans and Iranians to tell them not to do it.” In 1977, President Jimmy Carter halted federal support for commercial recycling after India used civilian reprocessing to obtain nuclear weapons.

    Experts say the technology is likely to remain prohibitively expensive. A 1996 National Research Council study found that recycling existing U.S. spent fuel rods could cost up to $100 billion; building the fast reactors to burn recycled fuel obtained by pyroprocessing or by advanced methods would be a major element of that cost. A 2003 study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Maryland found that reprocessing uranium using current industrial methods would be economical only if the cost of obtaining uranium were to increase by a factor of 10. Geologists have only recently begun to look for new sources, but former Argonne reprocessing specialist Milt Levenson says the price could soon rise if demand increases—although he says there are too many factors at play to make an economic argument for or against reprocessing.

    Reprocessing could cut storage costs by keeping very-long-lasting isotopes in the fuel cycle, say supporters, allowing DOE to store the fission products with less long-term heat more compactly within Yucca. The Yucca repository is designed to store spent fuel rods in dry casks for 10,000 years. Opponents of reprocessing would prefer that U.S. utilities continue to follow that course—and that Congress expand Yucca only after exploring aboveground storage for fuel rods. Research on advanced recycling should continue, they add, but not at the risk of undermining diplomatic efforts to stop reprocessing abroad. If recycling methods show promise down the road, they say, spent fuel could be retrieved from Yucca and tapped for power. “We don't need to do it now. We don't have the technical knowledge to do it now,” says physics Nobelist Burt Richter, a member of an American Physical Society technical committee that in May called for a cautious approach.

    But growing energy demands require more nuclear plants, say supporters, and the waste problem needs reprocessing. “The federal government does a lot that isn't economical,” says Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL), whose district includes Argonne, “often because doing so is in the best interests of the nation for other reasons.” By giving DOE its marching orders, Congress has revived the debate over exactly what those interests are.


    NIEHS Journal Is on the Block

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    The new director of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) environmental institute has drawn flak by proposing to sell off the institute's well-regarded journal.

    In September, David Schwartz requested public comments on privatizing the journal as part of an “ongoing review” of programs. Dozens of scientists and environmental and health groups have reacted in horror, fearing the loss of the journal's mix of research and news, now free online. Some also worry that a commercial owner would be less likely to publish findings unflattering to industry. Last month, a dozen Democratic members of Congress chimed in, writing NIH Director Elias Zerhouni that privatizing the journal “places at risk the integrity and quality” of Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).

    The 33-year-old EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a branch of NIH in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. It publishes original research and news in a subscription-based print edition and free online. EHP's impact factor (a measure of how often its articles are cited) of 3.93 ranks it second in environmental science behind Global Change Biology. EHP Editor-in-Chief Thomas Goehl says the journal's $3.3 million annual budget supports the news section, a student edition, and translations of summaries for developing countries as well as the publication of peer-reviewed research.

    Hands off.

    Many scientists want NIEHS to keep its journal.


    Since the institute announced its proposal in the 19 September Federal Register, more than 70 mostly academic researchers—including members of EHP's editorial board—have signed a letter voicing “strong opposition” to the move. They fear that nobody else will want to publish its mix of toxicology, epidemiology, medicine, and risk analysis, that developing countries would lose free access, and that EHP's “extras” such as news coverage of “complex science” would be discontinued. Some scientists also worry about EHP's independence. “A commercial publisher may be less willing to publish articles that have implications for powerful interests,” suggests epidemiologist David Michaels of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

    Some environmentalists worry that privatizing the journal could be part of what they perceive as a shift away from examining the risks of pollutants and toward studying clinical disease. “The E in NIEHS is going silent,” claims toxicologist Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City.

    Schwartz declined to be interviewed, but NIEHS noted in a statement that the government publishes few scientific journals. (In 1997, for example, the only other major NIH-published journal, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, was spun off and is now published by Oxford Press.) NIEHS also argues that maintaining EHP as a government publication “may actually limit the journal's independence and potential future growth.” The institute expects to make a decision in the next few months.


    Universities Must Pay to Play in Ph.D. Program Rankings

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    How does your doctoral program stack up against the competition? It may cost your university $20,000 to find out.

    The National Academies' decadal assessment of more than 4000 research doctoral programs at 300-plus U.S. universities is a must-read for both elite schools and those hoping to move up in the pecking order (Science, 23 June 1995, p. 1693). Begun in 1981 and repeated in 1993, it's a massive compendium of information for anyone interested in understanding a system acknowledged to be the best in the world. It also features a reputational ranking that allows universities to claim bragging rights—or to find out how much they need to improve (Science, 12 December 2003, p. 1883).

    Such a gargantuan effort doesn't come cheap. Academy officials say that a tight budget severely limited their ability to analyze much of the data collected from the 1995 survey, and an outside panel offered several suggestions for improving the process. So the academy quadrupled the budget for the next go-round (which will consist of four online questionnaires to administrators, departments, faculty, and graduate students in five fields), and study director Charlotte Kuh took on the task of raising the $5.2 million needed.

    Two foundations quickly chipped in $1.2 million, but the National Science Foundation (NSF), which has pledged $400,000, and the National Institutes of Health, which is ponying up $550,000, said the funding was contingent on the universities themselves anteing up. “They have more at stake than the government does,” explains NSF's Nathaniel Pitts, “and more interest in the departmental rankings.”

    Given those marching orders, Kuh developed a sliding scale based on the size of institutions' graduate programs. Schools that produce 100 or more Ph.D.s a year will be assessed $20,000; those graduating between 50 and 100 students will pay $10,000; and the smallest institutions will be charged $5000. The fee is mandatory, she adds: “We can't afford any free riders.” Those fees will generate $2.1 million, Kuh estimates, adding that she has a line on the rest of what's needed.

    John Vaughn of the 62-member Association of American Universities, which represents most of the country's top research institutions, says he hasn't heard of any universities that plan to opt out, and Kuh says an initial mailing last month to 160 of the largest schools has already yielded 50 pledges. But it's a grudging acceptance. Graduate school deans feel they are already financing the project by paying for the people and resources needed to collect the data, Vaughn says. “We're also concerned about the possible precedent it sets,” he adds. “What if every federal program that benefits universities were to ask us to contribute?”

    Assuming all goes well, Kuh hopes to post the first questionnaire in April and to offer a summary of all results by the end of 2007. “It will provide more information, derived from a more objective process” than previous surveys, promises Jeremiah Ostriker, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University and chair of the committee overseeing the study. “I think it'll be a remarkably useful effort.”


    Fuel Shortage Imperils Asteroid-Sampling Mission

    1. Dennis Normile

    Japanese scientists are confident that the tiny spacecraft Hayabusa picked up rock fragments it blasted from the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa during a brief touchdown on 26 November. Unfortunately, the craft might never deliver its cargo. At press time, ground controllers were having trouble communicating with Hayabusa and feared its rockets might be out of fuel. But images and data already transmitted back to Earth could overturn current understandings of asteroids, says Akira Fujiwara, mission chief scientist for the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

    If the mission succeeds, the fragments will be the first returned from a planetary body since Apollo astronauts hauled back their last load of moon rocks almost 35 years ago. Derek Sears, a professor of space and planetary sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, predicts that Hayabusa's “technically astounding achievement” will inspire other sample-retrieval missions to asteroids, comets, and perhaps even Mars. “This shows how it can be done and for a reasonable cost,” he says.

    Hayabusa has already overcome daunting setbacks. En route to Itokawa, the craft lost two of three gyroscopelike reaction wheels that control attitude. To compensate, team members fired small rockets originally intended for course corrections. Jun'ichiro Kawaguchi, Hayabusa project manager, says the rockets enabled them to orient Hayabusa but tended to push the craft off course.

    Kawaguchi says the difficulties of using the rockets likely contributed to mishaps earlier this month, when the team abruptly aborted a rehearsal descent and accidentally released a small rover into space instead of onto Itokawa. But the scientists learned from their mistakes and made a successful touchdown on 20 November and retrieved the sample 6 days later.

    Pyrrhic victory?

    Rocket problems might keep Hayabusa from returning its samples to Earth.


    The biggest challenge lies ahead. Hayabusa is short of fuel for the rockets used for course corrections; team members will have a limited ability to keep Hayabusa's ion engine on course during the 300-million-kilometer return journey.

    Meanwhile, planetary scientists are busy analyzing more than 1500 images Hayabusa transmitted back to Earth, along with data from infrared and x-ray spectrometers and a laser altimeter. Mission chief scientist Akira Fujiwara says they are already seeing surprises. Itokawa is strikingly different from the asteroid Eros, which NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft visited in 2001. For starters, the surface of Eros was covered by a regolith of powdery debris created by weathering and meteorite collisions. The surface of the much smaller Itokawa is bare rock. Fujiwara says Itokawa's weak gravitational pull “makes it very difficult to accumulate anything on the surface.” That means the space-weathering process could be dramatically different for asteroids of different sizes. Fujiwara promises that publications will start appearing within months.


    Talk on 'Underground' Bird Flu Deaths Rattles Experts

    1. Martin Enserink*

    A senior Japanese virologist and adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO) roiled the influenza field last week when he suggested—during what he believed was a private gathering in Germany—that China had concealed hundreds of human bird flu deaths. That's how several people, including two reporters, interpreted a talk by Masato Tashiro, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo. But Tashiro denies that he made any such allegation, saying he only meant to say that surveillance in China is poor.

    According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, Tashiro stunned an audience on 18 November that had gathered to mark the retirement of University of Marburg virologist Hans- Dieter Klenk. FAZ reported that Tashiro showed a table documenting several dozen outbreaks of the bird flu strain H5N1 in China, whose toll included at least 300 human deaths, seven cases of probable human-to-human transmission, and more than 3000 people in quarantine. “We are systematically being deceived,” the story quoted Tashiro as saying. Official records list only three confirmed human cases of H5N1 in China, two of them fatal. Given the number of avian outbreaks, many virologists wonder why China hasn't seen more human cases, says virologist Peter Palese of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

    Tashiro's allegations appeared on ProMED, an e-mail list, on 23 November. China's foreign ministry quickly denounced them as “baseless.”

    In an interview with Science, Tashiro called the FAZ story “misleading.” He did show a table with information given to him by “a friend” in China, he says, but just to illustrate the type of “underground rumors” currently circulating. “The friend is reliable, but the information itself, I don't know,” says Tashiro, who says his only point was that China may be missing H5N1 cases. “I don't think they are concealing any important facts.”

    But several people at the meeting took away a different message. The German radio network WDR carried a story similar to FAZ's, reporting “more than 200” deaths. “We were all flabbergasted; we didn't want to believe it,” says virologist and biochemist Michael Schmidt of the Freie Universität in Berlin, who was in the audience. “Tashiro is deeply convinced there have been at least 200 deaths; … he's very concerned. Maybe he thought this was just a small circle of friends where he could say a little bit more.” Klenk also says the FAZ story was a “correct” reflection of the talk.

    China's relations with WHO have been rocky since the country was caught hiding the true extent of the SARS epidemic in 2003. But China is cooperating well on bird flu, says Klaus Stöhr of WHO's influenza program. And although many people think the Chinese government may be missing human H5N1 cases, WHO has no reason to believe that it is concealing them, Stöhr says.

    • *With reporting by Gong Yidong in Beijing.


    Winning the War Against Island Invaders

    1. Kevin Krajick*

    To make islands safe for rare native species, biologists are mounting increasingly complex campaigns to shoot, trap, or poison exotics

    SANTA CRUZ ISLAND, CALIFORNIA—It is the coldest, blackest hour before dawn, and Norm MacDonald's professional killers are getting ready. In the doorway of a map-filled war room, Ace is cleaning the sight on his .223-caliber rifle and working the bolt. Steve, sipping tea, straps on a pouch of hollow-point ammo good for blowing baseball-size holes in flesh. Then they step outside to the helicopter that will take them to the enemy: 5000 feral pigs roaming this 250-square-kilometer landmass. “The boys,” as MacDonald calls his team in his soft-as-rain New Zealand accent, “are not just hunting. This is eradication.”

    Every day around the world, terminators are pursuing human-introduced creatures accused of threatening island biota, and, increasingly, wiping out every last invader. It's just a dream on the mainland, where exotic invaders such as nutria or zebra mussels can only be controlled, because once a patch of woodland or water is cleared there are always more in the next. But on islands, humans have proven good at finishing the job because space is limited and the exits sealed: Consider the dodo.

    Scientists have focused their attention on islands because they are among the richest and most vulnerable of the world's ecosystems. They cover 3% of Earth but house 45% of bird, plant, and reptile species. Introduced species are endangering many of the natives, because many island creatures are endemic. They have not evolved defenses against the mainland predators and grazers that humans bring—rats, cats, sheep, goats, and pigs. Islanders often get outcompeted or eaten; biologist Bernie Tershy, director of Island Conservation, a California-based nonprofit that specializes in eradications, says that since 1600, islands have accounted for up to 90% of bird and reptile extinctions worldwide, and half those of plants and mammals. Rats, now on 80% of islands, attack plants, insects, birds, and small animals; they are implicated in about half of recorded bird and reptile extinctions. Goats eat whole trees and gnaw plants to bare rock. On Hawaii's remote Laysan, rabbits eliminated 26 plant species within 20 years after arriving in the 1900s. On the Indian Ocean's subantarctic Kerguelen Archipelago, one cat and her three kittens arrived in the 1950s, and by the 1980s, they had reproduced into 3500 felines killing 1.2 million seabirds a year.

    Coming back.

    Without rats, Xantus's murrelet chicks are rebounding on Anacapa Island.


    Ecologists once thought it impossible to wipe out invaders, even on islands. Into the 1980s, “hardly anyone thought eradication could be done,” says Daniel Simberloff, an ecologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was an early advocate. But efforts on hundreds of islands worldwide have proven that mammals, at least, can be taken out, although campaigns against plants, insects, and reptiles are much tougher. Now exterminations in the name of conservation are taking place on ever-bigger islands, with ever more military-style planning and hardware. The key, say experts, is to attack fast and get every last individual before they can reproduce, adapt, or escape, because even a few strays can quickly rebound.

    New studies show that some threatened species recover spectacularly. “The problems are obvious, and the solutions are obvious,” says Tershy. However, this “nasty necessity,” as Tershy calls it, is not always simple. Subtracting one invader from an ecosystem can make other components run amok, and the slaughter cannot always bring back rare native species to environments that have been severely altered. Then there is human ecology, as animal-rights protesters increasingly try to thwart extermination efforts. Together, these complications can weave a plot as tangled as a history of the Hundred Years' War. Santa Cruz is Exhibit A.

    Extermination island

    About 100 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Cruz is the largest of the 12 Channel Islands of California and Mexico. Their precipitous canyons, woodlands, and prairies hold some 2000 species and subspecies. Approximately 140 are endemic to one or a few islands, including the gigantic island scrub jay; the island spotted skunk (said to smell nicer than mainland cousins); dozens of flowering plants; and six subspecies of cat-size foxes, each peculiar to its own island. Some 10,000 years ago, Chumash people arrived with imports such as oaks; after 1800, Europeans brought smallpox, pigs, sheep, garden plants, and honeybees. The Chumash disappeared, alien grasses spread to 75% of Santa Cruz, and by the early 1900s, creatures such as the island sparrow and the Santa Cruz monkey flower were extinct.

    Attempts at control came as early as 1904 after livestock escaped and started denuding the land. Hunters shot tens of thousands of sheep and pigs. But they never got them all. As soil eroded and nearly a dozen plants approached extinction in the 1980s and 1990s, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and National Park Service (NPS) took over Santa Cruz and other islands and got serious.

    Research on invasives was just taking off, but most scientists were at first focused on documenting invaders' effects, not designing ways to kill them off. New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) proved the worth of counterattack. Officials enlisted the country's deep-rooted hunting culture to attack large mammals, which are fewest, most visible, and usually the most destructive introduced creatures. Starting with islands of a few acres, New Zealanders hunted and trapped deer, goats, and pigs. They fenced islands into sectors, corralled animals in traps, ambushed them from helicopters, and made skirmish-line ground sweeps with tracking dogs. Eradication became an industry, and Norm MacDonald, a hunter since childhood, started his outfit, Prohunt Ltd. “We try to stay humane,” says the teddy-bearish CEO, an expert at shooting from a helicopter. “One shot for the head, one for the body—it's all over really quickly.”

    Goat attack.

    Invasive goats, such as these on Isabela Island in the Galàpagos, can strip vegetation completely.


    As New Zealanders added poisons and traps to the arsenal and moved to smaller prey such as possums and rabbits, the idea caught on. In the past 8 years, Island Conservation has rid 27 Mexican Pacific islands of 41 mammal populations, including hard-to-catch cats. Scientists rarely do the killing themselves, though. “The last thing you want is a bunch of biologists running around with guns,” says Josh Donlan, a conservation biologist at Cornell University. Island Conservation's muscle is longtime Oregon fur trapper Bill Wood. “I learned from the old guys,” says Wood, co-author of two chapters in the 2002 book Turning the Tide, a collection of island-eradication papers. For cats, Wood relies on night shooting with spotlights—a poacher's favorite—and elaborately engineered traps. Rabbits rarely escape Wood's Jack Russell Terrier, Freckles, who finds their burrows and digs them out.

    By the 1990s, DOC had shown that even rats can be wiped out, with poison pellets dropped from helicopters. In 2006, the agency hopes to confirm the world's largest rat eradication: 11,300-hectare subantarctic Campbell Island, hit in 2001 with 120 tons of the poison brodifacoum. Seabirds decimated by the rats are coming back fast. To protect nontarget animals, including rare seabirds, teams here and elsewhere tint pellets in bright colors that nontarget species reject, use bait stations they can't get into, or remove them to captivity until baits decay. Toxins deadly only to rats and cats are also in the works.

    Most of these strategies are in use in the world's largest eradication project, on Ecuador's Galàpagos Islands, funded by $21 million from the United Nations and private foundations (Science, 27 July 2001, p. 590). The flagship target is 150,000 goats on 458,000-hectare Isabela Island. Project leader Felipe Cruz says that 90% of the job is killing the last, canny survivors; a few goats can elude hunters for years, nimbly roaming over near-impossible terrain and hiding at the sound of a helicopter. So the project employs new methods, including deployment of 600 radio-collared, companion-seeking “Judas goats” that lead helicopter-borne shooters to holdouts. The group also has sterilized “Super Judas” nannies, implanted with hormones to draw billies. To assure total coverage, aircraft, ground hunters and even dogs are fitted with Global Positioning System units that record their movements, all integrated daily into a Geographical Information System. Final mop-up may involve airborne forward-looking infrared radar to generate thermal images of animals hidden in underbrush, the system used by U.S. Special Forces to hunt guerrillas. Cruz won't say how many goats they have killed so far, but he thinks it will all be over by March 2006. The work is described in the October issue of Conservation Biology, and papers are in press at Wildlife Research and Applied Animal Behavior Science.

    Judas pig.

    Hunters put a radio-transmitting collar on a pig so it can lead them to other pigs.


    In the Channel Islands, many eradications have preceded the war against the pigs, including removals of rabbits, cats, burros, horses, and cattle. TNC had all 37,171 sheep shot from its portion of Santa Cruz by 1987, and NPS, which owns the rest, deported 2000 remainders alive in 2001.

    When introduced species are gone, native creatures often bounce back dramatically. NPS reports that with livestock removal, riparian plants on modest Santa Rosa Island have gone from virtually zero in 1995 to 90% coverage today. Since NPS poisoned rats on tiny Anacapa Island in 2001 and 2002, nesting by rare Xantus's murrelets has increased 80%. Further south, on Mexico's Guadalupe Island, a half-dozen species of plants long thought extinct have suddenly reappeared in the last year or so, along with 150-some seedlings of nearly extinct endemic Guadalupe pines, even as Island Conservation mops up the last of 7500 goats there. In Alaska's Aleutian Islands, rare seabirds such as fork-tailed petrels have increased four- to fivefold within 10 years of fox removals, says Vernon Byrd, a biologist with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. And in New Zealand, biologists cite dozens of native invertebrates, reptiles, and birds that have rebounded after eradications (68 of the nation's 168 mammal-invaded islands are now cleared). On Korapuki Island, one rare skink increased 30-fold when rats were taken off, according to a review just published in Biological Invasions.

    Biologists are in fact so convinced of these successes that many do not bother doing extensive studies on the results, writing them up only in conference proceedings or internal reports. “You don't need a guy with a Ph.D. and 10 years of data to tell you the obvious: An insect that was practically nonexistent is now everywhere. Most people put the resources into doing the next job, not proving they did the last one,” says C. Richard Veitch, an ex-DOC biologist now with the World Conservation Union. He may be right in some cases, says Cornell's Donlan, but scientists are realizing that as they move to larger, more complex islands with multiple invaders, they need long-term peer-reviewed follow-up, because results can be confusing.

    On Santa Cruz, some ecologists think that earlier eradications may actually have helped make the war on pigs necessary. Removing sheep might have helped pigs overmultiply by giving them more forage and cover, says wildlife ecologist Bruce Coblentz of Oregon State University, Corvallis. The pigs till soil to 30 cm or more, making much of the island a lumpy mess, endangering nine species of endemic plants, and preventing gnarly old oaks from having descendants. (Pigs love acorns.)

    Worse, says Gary Roemer, an ecologist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, it appears that by about 1994, tasty piglets had attracted mainland golden eagles. They may also have come earlier for the tens of thousands of sheep carcasses that TNC left scattered, notes University of California (UC), Santa Cruz, field biologist Brian Latta. (The goldens previously were kept out by fierce fish- and carrion-eating bald eagles, but the balds were wiped out in the 1960s by DDT.) Roemer says the golden eagles then discovered a convenient food source in the tiny, unwary Santa Cruz Island foxes, which plummeted from an estimated 1500 in 1994 to 150 today. Nearby islands' foxes nearly disappeared too, and in 2004, three subspecies were declared endangered. TNC biologists say that as long as the fast-reproducing pigs are on Santa Cruz, they will provide abundant food for the goldens, which will stick around and eventually extinguish the slow-reproducing foxes. Scientists agree: The pigs must go.

    The last pig

    Killing the pigs and cleaning up the ecological mess after them is a huge operation. MacDonald and the boys have been living in an isolated old ranch house since this summer, after Prohunt was selected for the $6.2 million, 3-year project. TNC has fenced its land into five kill zones to keep fugitives contained. At the same time, there are programs to live-trap and relocate golden eagles to the mainland, reintroduce young bald eagles, and breed foxes in captivity.

    Before and after.

    Except for an exclosure area, the removal of goats and pigs transformed the highlands of Santiago Island (above) in the Galàpagos.


    It is now morning. After dogs and men take off in the copter, MacDonald and TNC official Julie Benson drive to a high hilltop in Zone 2 to watch them disembark. As of today, they have killed 2574 pigs. Except for a few used for pig roasts for the boys, the team piles up the dead in remote spots and covers them to keep off scavengers—and the eyes of visitors, who TNC officials feared may turn against the project if they see the results. Yesterday, MacDonald's crew was pursuing what appear to be the last four pigs in this zone, but they got only three. “Not good; now that pig is educated,” said MacDonald. “Every time we see an animal, we try to make sure that's the last time it sees us. If you know what I mean.” But as experience suggests, the last pig is not necessarily the end of the story.

    After TNC shot the Santa Cruz sheep and removed cattle, 33 of 43 endemic plant species came back, including the endangered Santa Cruz silver lotus and northern island Hazardia, spreading outward from cliffside refuges to which the livestock had pushed them. However, for unknown reasons several native plants have actually declined. More significantly, livestock are no longer eating exotic plants either, says Steven Junak, a botanist at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. As a result, previously invisible bamboolike fennel, a sheep and cattle favorite, has carpeted 5% of the island, higher than a man's head, perhaps spread in part by pigs. TNC has sprayed the fennel with herbicide, but it only gets replaced by fast-moving alien grasses, according to a recent paper in Biological Conservation. Star thistle and hundreds of other plants are coming in elsewhere, defying volunteer crews who pull them up by hand.

    This is especially troubling because plants are nearly impossible to eradicate once they get going, says botanist Marcel Rejmanek of UC Davis. He says infestations of a hectare or less can usually be wiped out, but it takes up to 10 years; those occupying 1 to 1000 hectares might be done in 30 years; and anything bigger is impossible. “Early detection is the only hope; once something is a problem, it's too late,” he says. (Reptiles such as the brown tree snake, which has extinguished practically all native birds, lizards, and bats on the Pacific island of Guam, seem equally resistant, along with insects, which have been removed from only a half-dozen islands worldwide.)


    Number of islands where documented eradications have finished off …


    Santa Cruz is not the only place to suffer ecological kickback. After goats were removed in 1998 from the Pacific's Sarigan Island, native forests sprouted fast—along with Operculina ventricosa, an exotic vine that no one even knew was present until the goats stopped eating it. It has now developed an uninterrupted carpet over parts of the island. Similar plant invasions have occurred on other islands after removal of pigs and rabbits. On various subantarctic islands, cats have been wiped out, leading to rat expansion; rabbits have been killed, expanding exotic grasses that in turn become habitat for rats; exotic possums and rats have been exterminated, but not possum- and rat-eating stoats, which then switch to eating native bird eggs; and so on. In 1979, Amami Island, Japan, imported 30 mongooses to control rats and poisonous snakes, but the mongooses instead ate crops and rare endemic birds, and they have now multiplied out of control, too wily to eradicate.

    “There are many instances where common sense tells you that cleaning up one mess may create a second mess, but some things are predictable only in hindsight,” says ecologist Erika Zavaleta of UC Santa Barbara. David Wardle, an ecologist at Landcare Research, says long-term predictions are hard to make, because invaders may alter the very chemistry and microbiology of island soils. Out-of-whack ecosystems may reestablish a balance, he says, but it might take hundreds, even thousands, of years. Eradication is only a first step, he says; soil amendments, planting of native flora, and animal reintroductions often must follow. “We should forget the word 'restoration,'” says UC Davis wildlife biologist Rob Klinger, who has worked on Santa Cruz. “You can never put things back exactly as they were.”

    It is now late morning, and the boys are heading back to the ranch house in a pickup over a rough dirt track. On the flatbed, a fresh, bloody pig jaw with two sharp tusks jumps up with each big bump—unfortunately, a souvenir from yesterday, not today. That last pig in Zone 2 got away again. “Don't worry,” says Steve. “We'll get him.”

    After that job is done, there may be other challenges, including the golden eagles. It has taken 6 years and close to $1 million to capture and relocate just 42 with traps. About six holdouts are left—the wariest, says Brian Latta, who led the project until February. Now, with the pigs disappearing, he, Roemer, and others fear that the birds could attack the foxes even harder and finish them off in the wild. Golden eagles are common, so Roemer and others agree that the solution is easy: Shoot them, too (Science, 28 November 2003, p. 1532). But eradicating native wildlife—an American icon no less—“is very politically incorrect,” says TNC's Benson. TNC and NPS will keep trying to catch the goldens alive, even if it slows the foxes' recovery, she admits. Meanwhile, exotic wild turkeys are on the horizon. They are common on Santa Cruz, and the pigs probably eat their eggs, so biologists fear that once the pigs are gone, the turkeys could become a plague as they are on the mainland, where they vacuum-clean forest floors of amphibians and insects.

    All this may seem like a never-ending saga of manipulation, but against the grim backdrop of worldwide extinctions, eradications are worth it, say conservation biologists; they are one of the few clear success stories. “We're dealing with highly threatened species,” says Keith Broome, a senior DOC biologist. “We already know the consequences of doing nothing.”

    Not everyone agrees. On other Channel Islands, animal-rights protesters have slowed eradications by cutting fences and vandalizing traps. When the Anacapa rats were poisoned, the Fund for Animals sued, and two activists were arrested after landing to spread rat feed laced with an antidote. Local activists are currently suing over the pigs and flying “save the pigs” banners across the skies. They say that if pig numbers must be reduced, it should be done by means of contraception or relocation. TNC counters that neither of those methods will get every pig.

    Protesters say all individual animals are valuable, whether rare foxes or common rats. Santa Barbara businessman Richard Feldman, a co-plaintiff in the pig suit, says scientists have “demonized” the pigs and that evidence linking them to fox declines is thin or fabricated. He adds that pigs are now part of the island, such as oaks and foxes, which also once came from elsewhere. “Ecosystems are always changing. Scientists want to play god,” he says.

    Conservation biologists tend to side with endangered species. “Animal rightists are a bunch of well-meaning pinheads who just don't understand,” retorts Coblentz. However, some biologists agree that deifying science is a mistake. “We shouldn't confuse scientific knowledge with moral authority. Observing extinction and deciding what to do about it are different, and there all human beings have a valid point of view,” says Dov Sax, a research biologist at UC Santa Barbara. In a recent essay in Austral Ecology, Sax and ecologist James Brown of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, call for scientists to take more care in studying how species interact before deciding which ones to declare war on. Many “alien” species are not harmful to natives, points out Sax, and simply become part of the mix. “It is not to suggest that modern humans should … elect not to intervene,” they say. “It is to plead for more scientific objectivity and less emotional xenophobia.”

    On Santa Cruz, the story is still in progress. By midafternoon, Julie Benson is bumping along a dirt road in a Land Cruiser heading for the mainland ferry. Suddenly, a flash of hair and legs flits from the scrub on the left side and disappears in the scrub on the right side. It is a black-and-white adult pig, trailed by a baby. Both are running as fast as they can.

    • *Kevin Krajick is the author of Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic.


    String Theory Meets Practice as Violinmakers Rethink Their Craft

    1. Adrian Cho

    Incorporating innovative designs and novel materials, bright and responsive “ultralight” instruments may be the sound wave of the future

    KING OF PRUSSIA, PENNSYLVANIA—A little thin down low, the sound of the violin blossoms as Bach's unaccompanied sonata in C major wends into the upper registers. Close your eyes, and you can almost see the instrument making the bright, crystalline sound, its classic form curving as gracefully as the music, its amber finish enriched with nicks and scrapes accumulated over the centuries, its compact body resonating with the very emotion of the soloist. It may be best to keep your eyes closed, however.

    In fact, the instrument looks less like a violin than a model airplane gone horribly wrong, and it's hard to reconcile the beauty of the sound with the device's homely appearance. A latticework of spars covers its asymmetrical balsa-wood body. Crude vents perforate its top where a traditional violin's elegant “f-holes” would lie. Yet the thing sings to the violinist's touch. “The sound is just enormous under the ear,” says Annalee Patipatanakoon of the Gryphon Trio, a chamber group based in Toronto, Canada. “Wow!”


    Joseph Curtin is one of a small group of violinmakers experimenting with new designs and materials.


    The odd contraption exemplifies the innovative approach some violinmakers are taking to the hallowed instrument. For decades, scientists have tried to explain the violin's captivating sound and the supposed superiority of instruments made 300 years ago by Italian masters such as Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri. Now, a handful of top makers are embracing scientific methods and striving to move beyond copying the “old Italians.” Several have gathered here to report their progress to the Violin Society of America (VSA) * and encourage others to follow their controversial lead.

    “I've been trying to step outside and say, 'Hey, is [the traditional design] perfect?'” says Joseph Curtin, a violinmaker from Ann Arbor, Michigan. “In some ways it may be, but the more I look into the design, the more it looks rife with things that could be improved.” Such efforts have begun to attract attention outside le mètier. In September, the Chicago, Illinois-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded Curtin a $500,000 “genius grant” for his use of acoustic science, innovative designs, and novel materials such as balsa wood and carbon-fiber composites.

    Some aficionados say the traditional wooden violin could use a rethink. “We are at the beginning of a revolution,” says Fan-Chia Tao, an acoustical engineer with string manufacturer J. D'Addario & Co. in Farmingdale, New York. “Within a generation, the wooden violin will be as obsolete as the wooden tennis racket or the wooden golf club.” But others hesitate to fiddle with the fiddle. “I think that many who engage in [the scientific approach] feel that they'll be able to make Stradivariuses like you make Ford Explorers,” says Hans Tausig, former president of VSA, from his home in Forest Hills, New York. “And that's where they go wrong.”

    Sonic lighthouse

    A work of art, a historic artifact, a million-dollar investment: A fine old violin is many things. But when it comes to making music, a violin is a tool for producing sound. A violinist sets a string vibrating by bowing it and fixes the frequency, or pitch, of the vibration by pinning the string against the fingerboard. The string pushes the bridge, a wooden stanchion that suspends the strings above the top of the instrument, and the jiggling bridge forces the body of the violin to vibrate, too. The moving body pushes the air to create sound.

    That seems simple enough, but the character of a violin emerges from the subtle details. The vibrating body can contort in many distinct patterns of motion, or “modes,” depending on the frequency. For example, at frequencies around 285 cycles per second, the top and bottom of the body move in opposite directions, as air flows in and out through the f-holes in the top. Thanks to the myriad overlapping modes, a violin cranks out certain frequencies more efficiently than others, and the differences give the instrument its distinctive voice.

    The violin also acts like a sonic lighthouse, beaming its sound in specific directions, explains Gabriel Weinreich, a physicist retired from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The directions change rapidly as the frequency changes, so that even the slightest wiggle of the player's hand—such as the shaking “vibrato” violinists use to embellish notes—causes the direction of the sound to vary dramatically. Known as directional tone color, that phenomenon may explain why a good violin sounds “alive,” Weinreich says.

    And all agree that the best old Italians possess a buttery, lively sound that has set the standard for violins for centuries. Through innovations of their own, the Italian masters of the late 17th and early 18th centuries developed a design that violinmakers have copied religiously ever since, sometimes down to the blemishes in the finish. But a few makers are trying to push past the bounds of tradition.

    For ages, people have tinkered with the violin. In the 1970s, aeronautical engineer Leonard John, currently with Bombardier Aerospace in Downsview, Canada, developed a carbon-fiber violin. And the grand dame of violin research, Carleen Hutchins of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, produced a variety of novel instruments and inspired Curtin and others. But now, makers with sterling reputations for producing top-quality traditional instruments are embracing the insights of science, says Jeffery Holmes, a violin restorer and dealer in Ann Arbor. “They're interested in how the violin works and how science applies to it,” Holmes says.

    Mapping modes, sculpting sound

    At the least, a scientific approach should help produce instruments that sound more like the old Italians. Martin Schleske, a maker in Munich, Germany, has mapped the modes of classic instruments and analyzed the sound they radiate when tapped on the bridge, measuring the relative strengths of the constituent frequencies. He uses the data to make “tonal copies” that mimic the voice of the originals. “A lot of musicians say it's great,” Schleske says in a phone interview, “because there is now a way of getting an objective measure of an instrument.”

    Light and lively.

    Balsa-wood violins crank out the sound.


    Taking a different, rather irreverent tack, Samuel Zygmuntowicz, a maker from Brooklyn, New York, is experimenting with tailoring the sound of an inexpensive violin by simply gluing small strips of wood to it. The spars stiffen the instrument and alter its modes. “I started as a sculptor,” Zygmuntowicz says, “and to me what's exciting about this is I can shape sound the way I used to shape clay.” Such experimenting could help pinpoint the origins of a fine violin's superior tone.

    But innovators are striving not merely to produce a better knockoff of a Stradivarius but rather to achieve something new. In particular, they argue that violinists will always opt for instruments that project more sound and respond more quickly. Makers might produce them by using materials as stiff as, but lighter than, the spruce traditionally used for violin tops and backs, says Norman Pickering, an acoustical engineer in East Hampton, New York, and a consultant to D'Addario. For a given amount of energy, the lighter stuff will move more and create a louder sound. Also, because the material has less inertia, the instrument should switch from note to note more readily, provided that the friction within the material, or “damping,” is about right.

    So violinmakers are experimenting with light, stiff materials such as carbon fiber and balsa wood. “When you get a lot lighter than traditional [materials], you get an immediacy of response that's almost shocking,” Curtin says. He has brought to the meeting a violin whose vacuum-molded top and back consist of two plies of balsa covered with a thin laminate of spruce. Stripped of the corners and curlicues that adorn a traditional violin, the instrument looks at once old and modern, its economical lines hearkening back to the architectural designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. It sings sweetly when the Gryphon Trio's Patipatanakoon plays it in a demonstration of the innovative instruments.

    Visualize the vibe.

    A violin's body oscillates in a variety of patterns, or modes. Here, the top moves in a butterfly-shaped pattern, with opposite quadrants moving in opposite directions.


    Curtin's violin looks positively conventional next to the creations of Doug Martin, a boat builder and amateur violinmaker from Eliot, Maine. Strange, asymmetrical assemblages of unfinished balsa wood, Martin's violins look much like primitive folk art. Yet they pump out sound, and in spite of some rough qualities, they've captured the imagination of professional makers. Discarding the notion that a violin should look like a violin, the soft-spoken Martin has clearly let his imagination run. “These aren't models for a final product,” he says. “They're purely experimental, for gaining experience as fast as you can.” Some professional violinmakers feel that the homemade instruments can teach them something, too.

    Top down or bottom up?

    To be sure, some makers bristle at the idea of innovation. William Fulton of Idyllwild, California, questions whether a carbon-fiber or balsa-wood instrument counts as a violin. “It represents a new instrument that looks like a violin and it plays like a violin,” he says, “but it ain't a violin.”

    Others worry that the use of carbon-fiber composites will inevitably lead to mass production of instruments. But cheap wooden violins are already mass-produced in China and elsewhere, and factories are cranking out ever better instruments, says Gregg Alf, a violinmaker in Ann Arbor. “Innovation is our defense against mass production,” Alf says. “It allows us to offer something more than a factory that's 5 years behind.”

    Ultimately, musicians will decide whether innovative violins succeed. But no one knows what it will take to persuade a soloist to play Carnegie Hall with an ultralight violin. Some say it's simply a matter of getting superior instruments into the hands of leading violinists. “I suspect there's an underground lake of anger at having to pay so much money and having so many problems with [old] instruments,” Curtin says, “so that if there's something better, [musicians] will change fairly quickly.”

    Others predict that change will begin at the bottom, with instruments for students. Student instruments are often so poorly made that it's nearly impossible to wring a decent sound from them, says D'Addario's Tao. Lightweight carbon-fiber instruments would be easier to play, he says, and if students grow up with innovative instruments, they may be more receptive to them as adults.

    At least a few players are already willing to consider novel instruments. “I don't think anyone is willing to discount anything anymore,” says violinist Patipatanakoon. In the end, what matters is how an instrument plays, she says, and she praises one of Martin's rough-and-ready balsa violins. “It's so comfortable,” she says. “You can just sink into it.”

    Still, when asked which of the several instruments suits her the best, Patipatanakoon chooses one made of traditional materials by Andrew Ryan of Providence, Rhode Island—the most conventional one of the lot. A revolution in violinmaking may have begun, but it seems there's a tune in the old fiddle yet.

    • * 33rd Annual Convention, 10-13 November 2005.


    The Congressman With His Hand on Science's Purse Strings

    1. Jeffrey Mervis,
    2. Eli Kintisch

    A veteran House member and chair of a key spending panel has become a cheerleader for U.S. research and science education

    Once Frank Wolf takes up a cause, says his congressional colleague and good friend Sherwood Boehlert, it quickly becomes a passion for him. “He doesn't flirt with an issue. He marries it,” quips Representative Boehlert (R-NY), chair of the House Science Committee, about the Virginia Republican who this year became head of the House spending panel that oversees more federal research agencies than does any other appropriations subcommittee.

    In this case, the cause is the need to strengthen the U.S. scientific enterprise, from the classroom to the laboratory to the tax code. Next week will mark Wolf's arrival as a heavyweight on the national science policy scene. On 6 December, the federal government will sponsor a National Summit on Competitiveness, a 1-day event in Washing-ton, D.C., at which dozens of business, government, and university leaders will be asked to throw their weight behind recommendations made in a slew of recent reports on the subject ( The proposals include big increases in research spending, a special pot for risky ideas, training thousands of new science and math teachers, and increasing the number of students going into scientific careers. Wolf was a prime mover for the conference, giving the Commerce Department money to organize it.

    Wolf's influence over science stems from his ascension in February to the chair of an expanded spending panel that, on the science front, gained authority over the budgets of NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF); the panel already oversaw the budgets of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That reshuffling put Wolf in charge of a sizable chunk of government funding for civilian nonbiomedical research. He quickly used his new status to pen a 3 May letter to President George W. Bush calling for a tripling of federal spending on basic research over the next decade.

    A lawyer and former political appointee in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Wolf, 66, entered Congress in 1981 on his third attempt, riding the long presidential coattails of Ronald Reagan. Reelected by comfortable margins by a combination of Washington suburbanites and rural Virginians, Wolf has been a loyal Republican and solid legislator who can be counted on to speak up for the many federal workers in his district. He's best known nationally for his outspoken advocacy of global human rights and has made several trips to Africa, the Middle East, and Tibet, where he has loudly denounced China's treatment of its underclass.

    From the chair.

    Representative Frank Wolf has taken a keen interest in science spending.


    “He's probably the most decent human being in the U.S. Congress,” says former Representative Bill Goodling (R-PA), now a higher education lobbyist. “He's also tenacious. And I hope that the White House will recognize that he can be a major ally in trying to keep us cock of the walk in science.”

    Wolf's influence over science is limited, however, by how much money his committee is given to spend by congressional leaders and by the competition for those funds: Wolf's committee also handles the budgets of the Justice and State departments, for example. Still, during a tough year for discretionary programs, Wolf managed to persuade fellow legislators to give NSF not only more than the president requested but also more than the House had originally approved (Science, 11 November, p. 956).

    Wolf admits that he was mindful of his new constituency as he negotiated the fiscal year 2006 budget. “After all the speeches I've given about increasing funding for science and education, had we not increased the NSF budget … It would have sent the wrong signal.”

    On 17 November, Wolf spoke with Science's Jeffrey Mervis and Eli Kintisch from his Capitol Hill office in the Cannon building. What follows is an edited transcript of his comments.

    When you meet with scientific groups, what do they want?

    They are concerned about more resources and more emphasis on math and science education. I think that most people think we've either stalled or are falling behind.

    You can feel that there's something that's not right. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that. … Just look at the number of engineers being trained. China is turning out 500,000 a year, and India 350,000. And we're graduating 70,000.

    Given the high unemployment rate among U.S. engineers, if we train more engineers, where would they work?

    Well, I think they'd work at American companies. That would be one of the tradeoffs. If we train more people, you have to make sure that our companies hire them and not give the jobs to scientists overseas. And I think there will be a great need for them.

    Do high-tech CEOs say that they will hire more scientists?

    That's why we're having this summit. … I think that you have to educate the American people about how serious this is. And then you have to educate the leadership.

    What would you like the Bush Administration to do?

    Ideally, I would like to see the Administration paint of vision of where we need to be going. I guess that's what is lacking: the failure of a vision. … It should be similar to what President Kennedy did for sending a man to the moon, and what President Eisenhower did after Sputnik. Everybody knows what is missing. But you need to explain what this means to the country. Or do you want all the jobs to leave this country, and have China become the dominant world power? The Chinese government is spying against us, and its government is throwing Catholic priests and Protestant clergy in jail and is plundering Tibet. Is that who you want to lead the world in innovation? I think most people would say no. …

    This country needs to do something to make sure that the jobs don't go abroad, that we do something to improve math and science education. We have to pay teachers more and make sure our youngsters have real math and science teachers. You can't stop the opposition. You can't stop a youngster in Romania from wanting to be involved in the American dream. So we have to make sure that we have good students, well-trained teachers, great universities, and the proper tax policy to foster research.

    Speaking of teachers, do you think that the debate about intelligent design …

    I'm not going to go there. I don't think that it's even part of this process. We're talking about funding. …

    But many scientists are worried that it might affect public attitudes toward science.

    No, I don't think so. … What's going to make a difference is improving science and math education. I think that ID is a news story, and it's something that journalists like to write about. But it's not the real issue.

    Why doesn't the Administration share your vision [on what the U.S. needs to do to remain competitive]? Do they disagree with you, or do other things have a higher priority?

    I think they are bogged down with other things. The war against terrorism is very important. Recovering from Katrina and Rita, too. And I don't know that up until earlier in the year, that there were quite the facts [available] to describe the problem. … But my sense is that now, I'm hopeful that this will become a priority in the [next] budget that's submitted. You can't just do things with words. You need deeds, too. … Most of what has to be done should be relatively noncontroversial. The costs are not large.


    Best Archaeopteryx Fossil So Far Ruffles a Few Feathers

    1. Erik Stokstad

    By acquiring a dream fossil, a privately owned museum hopes to boost its scientific reputation—but some paleontologists remain skeptical

    When the first Archaeopteryx fossil emerged from Bavaria's Solnhofen limestone in 1861, the slab of rock electrified the scientific world. Sporting birdlike feathers but the teeth and tail of a dinosaur, the magpie-sized creature shed light on the origin of birds and bolstered defenders of Darwin's Origin of Species, published just 2 years before. Over the next century, six more skeletons turned up in the same rocks and won pride of place in some of the most prestigious natural history museums of Europe.

    On show.

    The new fossil of Archaeopteryx will join this Camarasaurus and other Jurassic dinosaurs in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.


    Now there is one more in the flock, and it's causing a flap. On page 1483, paleo-ornithologist Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and colleagues describe the best preserved Archaeopteryx yet. “By all measures, it is a treasure,” says Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania. Unlike its predecessors, however, this one is heading not for a major urban museum but to a small, privately owned museum in Thermopolis, Wyoming (population 2953). And some paleontologists say it deserves better.

    The new specimen is undeniably world-class. The skull further links Archaeopteryx to its close dinosaur relatives. The foot is also better preserved than that of previous specimens, and it shows a hyperextensible second toe—like the killer claw of Velociraptor—and appears to have been best suited for life on the ground rather than in the trees as some had supposed. Although there's nothing radically new about the specimen, “it's the dream of every paleo-ornithologist to describe an Archaeopteryx,” Mayr says. “We would have loved to have the specimen in Frankfurt.”

    Instead, the rara avis will alight in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, founded in 1995 by Burkhard Pohl, an independently wealthy former veterinarian with a lifelong interest in fossils. Some paleontologists object. “There's no guarantee that it will be preserved and curated in perpetuity,” says Mark Goodwin of the University of California, Berkeley's, Museum of Paleontology. Goodwin and others are also leery of Pohl's connections to the world of commercial fossil dealing, an activity that they argue undermines scientific research (Science, 14 April 2000, p. 238). Both the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and its journal have policies strongly discouraging the study of privately held fossils.

    But Mayr and other scientists say that the specimens at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center are too good to ignore and that Pohl has made efforts to beef up his institution's scientific expertise. “They really are striving to establish a level of credibility,” says Brent Breithaupt, who heads the University of Wyoming Geological Museum in Laramie.

    Pohl, 49, grew up with an interest in natural history. After earning a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine at the University of Berne, Switzerland, Pohl worked in a virology lab, but fossils were his real interest. With a sizable inheritance from his family's cosmetics and hair-care company, Pohl began to expand his collection.

    In the early 1990s, while traveling through the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, Pohl heard about a ranch near Thermopolis with dinosaur-rich outcrops. Pohl and his then-business partner, a German fossil preparator and dealer, negotiated a lease to dig for fossils. When the 3035-hectare property came on the market in 1993, Pohl bought it for $800,000.

    Their company, Big Horn Prospecting Inc., was set up as a for-profit business to excavate dinosaurs. The partners soon split up, and Pohl decided to set up a museum that would show fossils being dug up and prepared, as well as exhibits of casts and real skeletons. In July 1995, he opened the Dinosaur Center, a 1500-square-meter steel building. “It's not the prettiest structure,” he admits. Pohl also set up the nonprofit Big Horn Basin Foundation to help care for the fossils, run the exhibits, and take tourists, for $125 a head, out to dig at some of the sites.

    As museums go, the center is a shoestring operation. About a dozen people, including three or four preparators, work there year-round. Pohl holds the only Ph.D. In May, he hired Scott Hartman as science director. Hartman has a bachelor's degree in zoology, training in scientific illustration, and several years of museum experience. This year, Hartman and his colleagues presented findings at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meeting, including the oldest known specimen of a troodontid (see ScienceNOW,

    Pohl also makes specimens in his collections available to outside scientists. In July 2004, Eric Buffetaut of CNRS in Paris and David Martill of the University of Portsmouth, U.K., published a paper in Nature that showed that a fish-eating dinosaur called Spinosaurus ate pterosaurs too. The Brazilian specimen—a tooth embedded in a pterosaur vertebra—is housed at the center. “I do not describe fossils in private collections, if I can help it,” says Buffetaut, but he says he has no misgivings about fossils in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. “I know who's in charge, and I trust him to behave in a scientifically acceptable way.”

    But some paleontologists remain uncomfortable about working with Pohl. They want to be absolutely certain that fossils, particularly foreign ones, were legally excavated. China and Mongolia, for example, have spectacular vertebrate fossils— and laws against exporting them. Pohl says that the center has never bought anything from these countries, but he himself has purchased specimens with an unclear history, because they looked scientifically significant. “If I know something is stolen, I won't touch it,” he says. But he acknowledges, “it's really gray lots of times.”

    Digging in.

    Burkhard Pohl, owner of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, helps out with an excavation on his ranch.


    Scientists also worry about whether the center can guarantee them future access to scientific specimens, as mainstream museums can. Privately owned specimens can be sold. Although some of the center's fossils, including the Spinosaurus tooth, are officially owned by the Big Horn Basin Foundation, others belong to Big Horn Prospecting or to Pohl himself. Hartmann says he doesn't know exactly how many of the collection's 10,000 bones fall in each category. The center is overhauling its collections database and management system, he says, to make curatorial information more accessible and track issues of ownership.

    The origins of the Archaeopteryx, however, remain hazy. Pohl says he “found a donor” to buy it from a private collector after the Senckenberg failed to raise enough money. (Mayr declines to reveal the asking price, but the Paläontologische Museum München paid DM 2 million—about $1.3 million—for a less spectacular specimen in 1999.) The Archaeopteryx appears to be legal, because Bavaria allows the export of fossils. Pohl won't say who legally owns it, but he says that it's “guaranteed that it will stay in a public collection.”

    Prize bird.

    This new specimen of Archaeopteryx is one of the best preserved and the first to go to a museum outside Europe.


    That's not good enough for some paleontologists, who recall ruefully how another privately owned Archaeoptery went missing after its owner died in 1992. They worry most about so-called type specimens—the original reference fossils for new species. Pohl himself owns the type specimen for a new species of crane, Parvigrus pohli, which Mayr described in the 29 July online issue of Naturwissenschaften. “Having a holotype in a private collection is quite questionable,” says Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California. Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley, goes further: “No respectable journal would publish a specimen that was not in a permanent public repository.”

    The critics say their fears would be eased if the center were officially accredited by the state or federal government. Pohl and Hartmann say that the center already abides by many guidelines. “The policy that we have is that the first and best of every specimen should stay in the collection,” Pohl says. After he dies, Pohl says, he wants the collection to stay together, but he hasn't worked out the details yet. If his family is any indication, there's reason to believe. Last year, Pohl's mother, a Ph.D. biologist and lifelong mineral collector, donated her collection of more than 80,000 minerals to the Technische Universität Bergakademie in Freiberg, Germany—making its collection the largest in the world.

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