Random Samples

Science  10 Mar 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5766, pp. 1355
  1. Lost Kingdom Found?


    Tambora caldera.

    A team of volcanologists claims to have rediscovered the lost kingdom of Tambora. In April 1815, a volcanic eruption on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa buried the kingdom and resulted in the deaths of some 90,000 people. The event, which generated an extended episode of global cooling, still ranks as the largest and deadliest eruption in recorded history.

    In 2004, a team led by Haraldur Sigurdsson of the University of Rhode Island (URI), Narragansett, excavated a wooden house buried below a 3-meter-deep gully in the volcanic deposits. There they found the bones of two adults as well as artifacts including bronze bowls and ceramic pots. Team member Lewis Abrams, a geophysicist at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, says the house was clearly destroyed by the eruption, as evidenced by the finding of melted glass and carbonized wood beams. Sigurdsson says this site must be Tambora, which was known throughout the East Indies for its honey and wood products, because no other sites in the vicinity have yielded significant artifacts.

    The team plans to return next year, and Sigurdsson hopes to unearth a palace he believes is buried there. But some researchers question the magnitude of the find. Roland Fletcher, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, says he doubts that the community was powerful enough to boast a palace. URI announced the discovery last week; a spokesperson says the team had delayed going public due to an agreement with National Geographic.

  2. Stars in the Head


    A Japanese astronomer wants you to ponder the heavens evens you engage in earthier activities. His idea: astronomical toilet paper. Every 70 centimeters, the paper tells, with pictures and text, of the formation, evolution, and death of a star. “By reading this toilet paper, I'm hoping people will realize they are part of the universe and possibly develop an interest in astronomy,” says its inventor, University of Tokyo Ph.D. candidate Masaaki Hiramatsu. Over the past year, observatories and science museums have sold 13,000 rolls at $2.25 apiece (see www.tenpla.net/atp).

    Hiramatsu hopes to extend his market by playing to the intense Japanese interest in astrology: His next roll will feature “interesting heavenly objects in the vicinity of the zodiac constellations.”

  3. Dueling Space Disks


    Like leaves in a whirlpool, planets around a star always orbit in the same direction. Or so astronomers thought. Now they've discovered two distinct disks of gas rotating in opposite directions around a gestating star 500 light-years away.

    Because planets might arise from each gas disk, the unique system could theoretically spawn two sets of planets orbiting in opposite directions, says Anthony Remijan of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, who with Jan Hollis of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, reports the finding in a study to appear in the 1 April Astrophysical Journal. But theorist Richard Lovelace of Cornell University says that's unlikely because strong shearing motions between the disks may cancel out the spins and force the gas to fall onto the star in less than a million years—probably not enough time for big planets to assemble.

  4. The "MYTH" of the Biased Doc

    “Physician [racial] bias” is often blamed for disparities between the healthcare of blacks and whites in the United States. But far more important is the fact that blacks and whites live in different areas and so are treated by different hospitals and doctors, according to health researchers speaking last month at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

    For example, a 1996 Duke University study showing that whites were more likely than blacks to be treated aggressively for heart disease is often cited as evidence of physician bias. But Peter Bach, a pulmonologist at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore, Maryland, said most of the whites in the study had private practice physicians whereas the blacks were in community health plans—so the discrepancy had more to do with the type of providers than with racial bias. Bach also said a survey of 84,000 U.S. primary care physicians showed that only 20% of doctors handle 80% of black patients. Doctors in that 20%, he said, are less likely to be board certified, and they are more likely to practice in low-income areas and to be black themselves.

    Brian Smedley, director of a 2002 Institute of Medicine report on health disparities, said physician bias cannot be discounted and cited studies showing that doctors presented with hypothetical cases may make different diagnoses depending on a patient's race. But lawyer Jonathan Klick of Florida State University in Tallahassee, author, with psychiatrist Sally Satel, of a new book, The Health Disparities Myth, said such studies don't reflect real life: “When whites and blacks see the same doctors in the same hospitals in the same areas, they get the same care.”

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