News this Week

Science  21 Jul 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5785, pp. 280

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  1. 2007 U.S. BUDGET

    Senate Panel Backs Integrated Ocean Observation System

    1. Erik Stokstad

    From the Gulf of Maine to the Alaska Peninsula, the U.S. coastline is dotted with idiosyncratic networks of buoys, radar, and other instruments that keep their eyes on the seas. For years, marine scientists have wanted to expand and update this network so that all the data would be compatible, allowing them to investigate broad questions, such as the impact of climate change on the coasts.

    Buoyed hopes.

    The Senate is backing a long-planned program to expand and link regional ocean observing systems.


    Last week, a Senate spending panel gave that effort a major boost, adding $70 million to the Administration's budget request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to start up the Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS). Although thrilled about the news, lobbyists for ocean science are worried that NOAA may not be in it for the long haul.

    In a 2004 report, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy described IOOS as a “system of systems” for increasing maritime safety, mitigating the danger of tsunamis and other natural hazards, and improving coastal ecosystems. New buoys and other types of platforms would provide local information, and larger-scale questions could be addressed by standardizing and linking the sensors and data. “IOOS could fundamentally change our understanding of the ocean,” says Philip Bogden, who directs the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System.

    The commission recommended $138 million to get IOOS rolling, ramping up to $500 million a year in 5 years. NOAA would lead a consortium of 10 agencies already involved in ocean monitoring. Although the White House hasn't asked Congress to fund IOOS, Congress appropriated about $68 million for it in each of the past 2 years.

    This year, the Senate appropriations panel embraced the commission's recommendation. It designated $10 million to start a data center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and $60 million more for start-up funding. In addition, it earmarked $31 million for 13 existing regional networks and $37 million for a variety of existing programs related to IOOS. But there are strings attached: Before NOAA can spend the start-up money, it must provide Congress next spring with “realistic cost estimates” and a strategic plan.

    That could be a tall order. The commission report included only a rough breakdown for the $138 million, however, and an implementation plan finished last year by Ocean. US, a federal entity, doesn't contain a budget. “It will be a real push” for NOAA to cobble together all the details in time, predicts John Orcutt of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, director of the southern California network. The Senate also directs NOAA to start funding regional centers with competitive grants by 2008.

    The panel's healthy funding for IOOS is part of its $536 million boost to NOAA's current $3.9 billion budget. That figure must be reconciled with a $506 million cut by the House of Representatives. Still, IOOS supporters are optimistic that the project will move forward in 2007. The bigger challenge, they say, is persuading the Bush Administration to request more money in subsequent years.

  2. 2007 U.S. BUDGET

    NASA Budget Soars as Shuttle Lands

    1. Andrew Lawler

    With NASA celebrating the safe return this week of the space shuttle, space and earth scientists have their own reasons to put some champagne on ice. A Senate panel last week added a cool $1 billion to the space agency's 2007 budget. The money would ease the financial crunch threatening to cancel and delay a host of science missions—if the measure wins the backing of the full Senate and the House of Representatives later this year.

    On a roll.

    Discovery's safe landing this week coincides with congressional support for a bigger NASA budget.


    Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) argued successfully at a 13 July meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee that the space agency deserved $1 billion in emergency funding to cover the huge costs of getting the shuttle flying again as well as $40 million to repair damage to its Gulf Coast facilities from Hurricane Katrina. Although Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) insisted that calling the situation an emergency “is a stretch of the word,” the committee approved the measure by voice vote. NASA chief Michael Griffin would decide how to allocate the money, but the intention is to spread it among the science, aeronautics, and human exploration efforts that took a hit to cover shuttle expenses. “I will not let NASA back down from its commitment to science,” Mikulski said in a 17 July statement.

    The bill would give NASA $17.8 billion in 2007—a 7% increase rather than the 1% hike proposed by President George W. Bush in February. (The panel also included millions of dollars in controversial earmarks for projects for which NASA has not requested funds.) The additional funding could provide relief to missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope, which remains behind schedule and over budget. A Government Accountability Office report released last week warns that, under current planning, “the program will not have sufficient funding resources to ensure [its] success.” NASA asked for $443 million for the project in 2007; agency officials estimate they need an additional $1 billion over the next few years to solve difficult technical challenges.

    Even if the measure passes the full Senate later this year, it's expected to face tough sledding in the House, which on 29 June approved only $16.7 billion for NASA. “The odds that this will work are less than 50-50,” says one space agency official. The two senators met earlier this month with Vice President Dick Cheney, but so far the White House has remained silent on whether it supports the additional spending.

    Meanwhile, with the shuttle back on Earth, Griffin is expected to decide by this fall whether to give the green light to a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA officials last year said that safety issues ruled out a shuttle flight to install new instruments and refurbish the satellite. Griffin, however, is likely to approve the idea now that the shuttle fleet is back in action.


    Groups Challenge Key Stem Cell Patents

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Three patents that cover most U.S. research using embryonic stem (ES) cells should not have been granted because the work was obvious and not new, a nonprofit organization argues in a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) this week. “All they really did here was follow what a number of stem cell scientists were showing,” says John Simpson of the Santa Monica, California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), which is leading the effort with patent watchdog Public Patent Foundation. A successful challenge to the patents, held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), could allow more companies to exploit the technology for basic research or marketed treatments.

    WARF's patents, the first of which was granted in 1998, cover the use, sales, or research on stem cells obtained from primates—regardless of who makes them or how. Experts say the patents are broad because they cover both actual cell lines and general descriptions of making them. WARF requires that university researchers and those at other nonprofit institutions obtain licenses before they use the cell lines. But it only charges them licensing fees if a commercial product resulting from the research is made with stem cells. Companies must pay as much as $250,000. Harvard University pancreatic cell researcher Douglas Melton calls Warf ‘s licensing terms “onerous, restrictive, and uncooperative” barriers to cures.

    WARF Managing Director Carl Gulbrandsen says the challenge is “politically and financially motivated.” The foundation's patents are legitimate and “do not inhibit research,” he adds.

    James Thomson, a University of Wisconsin, Madison, developmental biologist, applied for the patents in 1995. The first patent was issued in 1998, followed by very similar ones in 2001 and 2006. In 1999, WARF signed a licensing agreement with Geron, now the main licensee.

    Under scrutiny.

    This colony of human embryonic stem cells (inset) comes from the lab of University of Wisconsin patent holder James Thomson.


    In its 18 July petition to reexamine the patents, FTCR charges that the first two patents are invalid because they cover a technique that was published before 1995. They cite a patent granted in 1992 to Australian Robert Williams, who described a method of deriving the mammalian stem cells in culture that, like Thomson's, required feeder cells and could turn into all manner of adult cells. FTCR also says that Thomson's efforts to isolate primate ES cells mimicked existing approaches to isolate ES cells from mice and other organisms. In an attached declaration to PTO, molecular biologist Jeanne Loring of the Burnham Institute in San Diego, California, says that the techniques mentioned in a 1990 paper and scientific books render Thomson's work “obvious to someone skilled in the art,” a condition that should disqualify a patent application.

    “If it were so obvious, it would have been done [before],” says WARF attorney Elizabeth Donley, who plans to review the Williams patent. “What worked in mice didn't work in humans.”

    Experts say the challenges touch on fundamental difficulties about obviousness and novelty claims. “On one hand, you can say the technology was almost identical to what they did in mouse [cells], so you could argue it was obvious,” says Allan Robins, a molecular biologist with Irvine, California-based stem cell start-up Novocell. “On the other hand, there had been failures in rats and pigs; therefore, you could argue that it wasn't obvious.”

    Bill Warren, an attorney with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP in Atlanta, Georgia, says that PTO could decide not to review the patents because two of four key references FTCR cites were previously reviewed by PTO when it issued the original patents. But “if the Patent Office takes the case, then there are some very close questions of patentability” at issue, he says.

    PTO can take up to a year to decide whether to do a full reexamination and 2 years or more to rule.

  4. HIV/AIDS: Gates Foundation Doubles Support for AIDS Vaccine Research

    1. Jon Cohen

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced grants this week that will more than double its already substantial investment in AIDS vaccine research and development. The $287 million commitment is the largest nongovernmental contribution ever made to this struggling field.

    The Gates Foundation in 2005 sought proposals to develop consortia to work on a variety of HIV vaccine approaches. After receiving some 65 letters of intent, the foundation tapped a panel of outside experts to help select 16 groups, which will receive the money over the next 5 years if they meet specific milestones. “After working 20 years on an HIV vaccine and not finding a clear path forward, this is a really elemental step,” says José Esparza, senior adviser on HIV vaccines for the foundation, which is based in Seattle, Washington.

    Upping the ante.

    Bill and Melinda Gates have awarded $287 million to 16 new consortia that will work together to find an AIDS vaccine.


    The foundation has united the grantees into what it calls the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery. In all, the collaboration involves 165 researchers from 19 countries who are divided into 11 consortia that will develop vaccines and five others that will run central facilities for immunology, storing specimens, and managing data. The initiative is part of a loosely coordinated international effort on HIV vaccine research development, called the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, first proposed in Science 3 years ago (27 June 2003, p. 2039).

    The principal investigators, who met in Seattle last week, have agreed to share data and specimens. “That's going to take a lot of time to get used to, but everyone embraces it in spirit,” says Julie McElrath, who heads a group at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle that won a $30.1 million grant to explore ways to boost vaccines using additives called adjuvants. Institutions in particular will have to work out difficult intellectual property issues, says David Ho, head of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City. “The ideals are all good, but there are issues to work out,” says Ho, whose lab will receive $24.7 million to make vaccines that use a novel family of immune cells to help boost immunity.

    The other vaccine-discovery grants will either focus on antibodies, which prevent cells from becoming infected, or the cellular arm of the immune system that clears already-infected cells. Projects include exotic ideas such as studying llama antibodies, exploring skin patches as delivery devices, and evaluating unusual vectors such as the virus that causes Newcastle disease. “It should be great for the field,” says Bruce Walker, an HIV immunologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who did not apply for one of the grants. “It's clear that answers are going to come from incorporating research in multiple different fields, and that's what these grants are really designed to do.”

    About 25% of the money is going to three consortia led by principal investigators who are also the recipients of a separate, similar award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that's called the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI). Esparza says the foundation worked closely with NIH to make sure that people were not double-funded for the same work. “CHAVI is working on a different part of the Enterprise Strategic Plan,” stresses Barton Haynes, who heads CHAVI and received a Gates grant.

    The new commitment brings the Gates Foundation's investment in HIV/AIDS vaccine research and development to more than $500 million. “I'm excited by the amount of money being pumped into the field,” says Seth Berkley, head of the New York City-based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which received one of the new grants to do a large-scale comparison in monkeys of little-studied viral vectors. The challenge now, Berkley says, is to make sure the money is well spent.


    MIT Hiring Controversy Sparks Faculty Fracas

    1. Andrew Lawler

    Faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and neurobiologists elsewhere are in an uproar over a decision last month by an up-and-coming scientist to decline a position at MIT. Some scientists claim the incident reflects gender bias by a prominent faculty member, whereas others see it as simply a nasty case of academic politics. MIT's president has apologized for the incident, which points to ongoing tensions among MIT's fractious neuroscience teams and the university's struggle to hire accomplished women.

    Alla Karpova, a postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, was offered a job this spring as an assistant professor at MIT's McGovern Institute, which specializes in brain and cognitive sciences. She declined the position on 24 June. A week later, 11 senior women faculty members wrote MIT President Susan Hockfield complaining that Susumu Tonegawa, head of the rival Picower Institute of Learning and Memory and a 1987 Nobel Prize recipient, “strongly opposed her recruitment” and that other professors and administrators could not assure her “that she was wanted and welcome at MIT.” Karpova has since accepted a post as an independent investigator at the new Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Farm research campus in northern Virginia.

    The letter goes on to warn that the incident has “damaged MIT's reputation as an institute that supports academic fairness for young faculty and jeopardized our ability to attract the best scientists to MIT.” The authors urged Hockfield to apologize to Karpova and investigate the incident. “At stake are the career of a brilliant young scientist and the reputation of a great institution,” the letter concludes.

    A separate letter to Hockfield and MIT Provost Rafael Reif from Stanford University neurobiologist Ben Barres, an MIT alumnus, made more explicit charges. “I'm tired of seeing women treated poorly at MIT,” he told Science. Describing conversations he says he had with Karpova and with MIT officials, Barres wrote that Tonegawa and science dean Robert Silbey “in essence advised her not to accept the offer.” Tonegawa and Silbey, who has said he's “not happy” with the rate of hiring women science faculty members since he became dean, did not return phone calls and e-mails (Science, 21 April, p. 347, and 14 July, p. 171).

    Close quarters.

    MIT's new home for both the Picower and McGovern institutes.


    Tonegawa's supporters at MIT, however, say that any suggestion of gender bias is absurd. “To portray it as such sets back the cause for women scientists,” states a 7 July letter to Hockfield from a half-dozen Picower Institute faculty members. Tonegawa is under no obligation to collaborate with anyone, they write, adding that he contacted Karpova “at her instigation.” But other sources familiar with the content of e-mails sent by the 68-year-old Tonegawa to the postdoc say his words went beyond the issue of collaboration and conveyed hostility.

    Reif says that he will chair a committee to investigate both the Karpova affair and how neuroscience is organized at the university, adding that “a bit of tension seems to be underlying this set of events.” And on 17 July, Hockfield wrote the women faculty members that MIT apologizes to Karpova “for any misunderstanding.” The gender issue may be beside the point, says MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, who chaired a 1999 committee on gender bias and who signed the 30 June letter. “Regardless of the specifics of this case, this shows exactly why it is challenging to hire outstanding women at MIT,” says Hopkins.

    Karpova says she is “very much upset” over the publicity. “I am trying to move on with my life, to get back to doing science,” she says.


    U.S. Panel Calls for Extra Review of Dual-Use Research

    1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

    A panel set up to help the U.S. government prevent terrorists from misusing life sciences research has recommended that institutions and journals adopt formal procedures to prescreen the publication of findings from such dual-use projects.

    At a meeting last week, the 25-member National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) unanimously approved recommendations from one of its working groups asking authors, institutional reviewers, and journal editors to carry out a risk-benefit analysis before deciding whether to publish results of dual-use research and in how much detail. “If you accept the fact that there is potential for science to be misused, then you could envision a situation where it might be necessary to withhold certain information from a paper,” says board chair Dennis Kasper, a microbiologist at Harvard University. Other points to consider would be whether to defer publication until a time when the benefits might outweigh the risks, and whether to limit access to the published material.

    The board has yet to specify how campus officials might implement this approach or how federal agencies funding dual-use projects might ensure compliance with guidelines for prepublication review. More detailed recommendations will not be ready before NSABB's next meeting in October, but several panelists suggested that the primary responsibility for oversight will likely fall upon institutional biosafety committees (IBCs), “which might need to be modified to include biosecurity experts,” Kasper says.

    The process would likely involve the following: An institutional oversight committee, either the IBC itself or another body appointed by the university administration, would first review proposals from researchers to determine, based on answers to specific questions, whether their projects have potential for misuse. If a project were to meet the standard for dual use—which the board has defined in broad terms as research leading to knowledge that could be misapplied to threaten “public health, agriculture, plants, animals, the environment, or materiel”—the proposal would be flagged accordingly before being submitted to a federal agency for funding. Papers and presentations arising from the work would need to undergo review by the same oversight body or a different one. In addition, journal editors accepting such submissions would be encouraged to conduct similar reviews of their own. Authors would have the option of appealing institutional decisions to modify their papers or prevent publication.

    Even so, says toxicologist Gary Miller, chair of the IBC at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, scientists are likely to balk at “prepublication screening” by institutional officials.


    NSF Reopens Competition for Site to Build Underground Lab

    1. Adrian Cho

    The long, strange quest to build a U.S. underground lab has taken another unexpected turn. A year ago, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that only two locations remained in the running to house the proposed Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL)—which would conduct experiments in particle physics, geology, microbiology, and other fields (Science, 29 July 2005, p. 682). But last month, NSF reopened the site competition to all comers. The reversal was prompted by an appeal from a losing group, but that group has now decided not to reapply.

    “There had been concerns raised that, in going with two awardees, we may have cut things off at too early a stage,” says Judith Sunley, acting assistant director for math and physical sciences at NSF, about last year's decision to award $500,000 each for conceptual designs at the abandoned Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota, and the active Henderson molybdenum mine near Empire, Colorado. NSF said it would choose three to five finalists from among the eight candidates, and many researchers grumbled when it didn't.

    The about-face has failed to appease critics, who say the Homestake and Henderson groups, which have already submitted their conceptual designs, have an insurmountable advantage. “For all practical purposes, it's not open to anyone beyond Henderson and Homestake,” says Robert Bodnar, a geochemist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg.

    The push for a deep underground lab began with a campaign to persuade federal lawmakers to take advantage of Homestake before the mine was abandoned and began flooding in 2003 (Science, 15 February 2002, p. 1213). That lobbying effort failed, however, allowing NSF to take the more traditional route of engaging the broader scientific community. When the agency chose the finalists last summer, NSF officials said that the depth of the two mines and their geologic characteristics and existing infrastructure set them apart from the other candidates, four of which would have required massive excavation.

    Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, who had proposed a site at Icicle Creek in the nearby Cascade Mountains, appealed NSF's decision. They argued that NSF considered factors beyond the intended scope of its assessment, such as opposition from a local citizens' group. Last month, NSF granted the appeal, and in a 12 June letter offered the team $500,000 and extra time to prepare a conceptual design.

    That's when things took a bizarre turn. On 14 June, the group accepted the offer but told NSF that it wanted to focus on a second site in nearby Pioneer Tunnel. The group changed its plans in large measure because it would be far easier to get permission to use the privately owned tunnel, says John Wilkerson, a physicist at the University of Washington, Seattle. Eight days later, NSF withdrew its offer. “We can only grant a reconsideration request on a project as originally proposed,” says NSF's Sunley.

    Sunley's 12 June letter also announced NSF's decision to mount an open competition. Ironically, the Washington group doesn't plan to enter. “We were disheartened by the [appeal] process,” Wilkerson says. “That certainly factored into our thinking about the probability of a successful proposal.”


    Researchers who had planned to tunnel under Washington state's Cashmere Mountain say they won't enter the new NSF competition for a lab site.


    Meanwhile, the Henderson and Homestake groups worry that a delay will sap their momentum. A new solicitation will go out in September, Sunley says, with proposals due in December and a final decision next spring, 6 months later than the original timetable. But even with an agreed-upon site, DUSEL is hardly a sure bet. NSF would have to find room in its budget for such a lab, which could cost as much as $300 million to build and an unknown amount to outfit.


    Pollinator Diversity Declining in Europe

    1. Erik Stokstad

    Several studies have suggested that particular pollinating insects might be in trouble—the domesticated honeybee in the United States, for example—but there has been little evidence for a large-scale problem. That is about to change: On page 351, a team led by Jacobus Biesmeijer and William Kunin of the University of Leeds, U.K., report a significant decline in pollinator diversity across the U.K. and the Netherlands since 1980. “They're going down, absolutely,” says ecologist Jane Memmott of the University of Bristol, U.K. The study found that insect-pollinated plants in the two countries have also run into trouble, but the authors and others acknowledge that it's difficult to prove that the loss of pollinating species is to blame.


    In Britain and the Netherlands, wild bees, such as Andrena gravida (above), are declining.


    Establishing a widespread trend for pollinators was a massive task. As part of a European Union biodiversity research program called ALARM, Biesmeijer helped gather nearly 1 million records of when and where various bees and hoverflies had been collected. Many records came from amateur naturalists, including Victorian vicars, whereas others came from scientists. After applying techniques to make all the data comparable, the team divided the countries into squares 10 kilometers on a side and compared pollinator diversity before and after 1980.

    Bees have been stung by the biggest losses. There were statistically significant declines in bee diversity in 52% of the U.K.'s cells and in 67% of the Netherlands'. Only a small fraction of the cells displayed increases in bee diversity. The extent of the decline is “worse than I had feared,” says entomologist Peter Kevan of the University of Guelph in Canada. Others note that experiments have shown that a diversity of pollinators can help maintain the diversity of plant communities, and vice versa.

    The situation is far less grim for hoverflies. British hoverflies declined in 33% of cells but increased in 25%. In the Netherlands, hoverfly diversity has actually increased in more cells than it has decreased. It's not entirely clear why, but hoverflies seem to do better in farm fields than bees do, and they do not depend entirely on nectar for food.

    Specialist hoverflies and bees—those that live in a narrow range of habitats or pollinate only a few species of plants—were particularly hard hit. They experienced greater declines in distribution than less choosy pollinators in both countries. “Many of the rare species are now so rare that they will probably go extinct [in these regions] in the next decades,” Biesmeijer predicts. The declines are probably due to destruction of habitat or agricultural changes; the team is analyzing the ALARM database for clues.

    To see whether plants have been affected on a national scale by declines in pollinator diversity, Biesmeijer and his colleagues pored over botanical atlases. In the U.K., 75 wild plants that need insects for pollination had declined in distribution, whereas 30 that are pollinated by wind or water increased overall. In the Netherlands, where just the bees have declined, only bee-pollinated plants lost ground. “It seems too cozy to be coincidence,” says Kunin.

    Biesmeijer and Kunin suspect that there is a causal relationship between the pollinator and plant declines, although it's not clear which is driving the trend. Ecologist Jaboury Ghazoul of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich is skeptical that recent pollinator declines have affected plant populations; he thinks it's more likely that human disturbances, for example, favor weedy, wind-pollinated plants. Others fear that the loss of bees and other pollinators will have a clear agricultural impact. Says pollination ecologist Juliet Osborne of Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, U.K., “There is an economic reason to be worried.”


    Europe Draws Up Road Map, With Added CLICs

    1. Michael Schirber*
    1. Michael Schirber is a writer in Lyon, France.

    European particle physicists last week laid out their priorities for the future in a document that gives top billing to the nearly completed Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. Commissioned by the CERN Council, the adopted road map runs parallel to a recently released U.S. strategy but differs slightly about future machines—a nuance that has raised some eyebrows.

    Top priority.

    European particle physicists' main goal is to complete the Large Hadron Collider, whose CMS detector is shown during assembly.


    When CERN was founded 52 years ago, it was tasked with both running its central laboratory on the French-Swiss border and coordinating European particle physics. For the first half-century, the lab took precedence. But with the increasing cost and globalization of particle physics experiments, the CERN Council, made up of one government representative and one scientist from each of the 20 member states, last year appointed a committee to draw up an European strategy, says Council President Enzo Iarocci.

    At a meeting last week in Lisbon, Portugal, the council voted unanimously to accept the committee's recommendations. The report's main focus is the LHC, which is scheduled to start smashing protons together sometime next year. With its unprecedented energy, physicists expect to discover new particles—including the Higgs boson, which according to theory endows everything from quarks to freight trains with mass, as well as shadowy partners predicted by supersymmetry theory which correspond to all the known particles.

    “But once you have made the discovery, then you have to understand what you have found,” Iarocci says. To do this, physicists agree, instead of large, messy hadrons, you need to collide pointlike electrons and antielectrons in a linear collider. Hence the strategy endorses the International Linear Collider (ILC), a project that many consider to be the next big particle physics machine. A global design effort is currently working out details, and a final blueprint is scheduled for 2008.

    Besides LHC and ILC, the strategy makes broad recommendations on how European research should be carried out—giving special attention to advanced accelerator R&D and a possible future neutrino factory. Many of the same points are included in EPP2010, a report commissioned by the U.S. National Academies and released in April. “It's a great relief that they say the same things,” says EPP2010 committee member Jonathan Bagger of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He thinks the coherent messages will help efforts to resuscitate the flagging U.S. particle physics program.

    The European strategy differs from EPP2010 in one main respect: Between the LHC and ILC, it inserts another type of linear collider, dubbed CLIC, which is currently under development at CERN. CLIC would use a low-energy particle beam to drive the adjacent main beam to energies five times as high as the ILC can achieve in the same length. Most researchers consider this two-beam acceleration scheme a promising but still unproven technique for the future, but the fact that CLIC is listed before ILC has turned some heads. “It's the only real issue I have with the strategy,” says Brian Foster of Oxford University, who leads the ILC design effort in Europe.

    But Iarocci says that the ordering is not meant to be a prioritization. And committee member Albrecht Wagner, director of Germany's DESY particle physics lab, notes that the European strategy includes CLIC in a broad recommendation for accelerator R&D, whereas it describes the ILC as “fundamental”—which in its predefined vocabulary means it is “absolutely necessary for advancement.” Foster is satisfied with that: “The wording overrides the positioning.”


    Result Rattles Dark-Matter Machismo

    1. Tom Siegfried*
    1. Tom Siegfried is a writer in Los Angeles, California.

    WIMPs versus MACHOs has turned into EROS versus MACHO.

    An astronomical collaboration looking for signs of the mysterious dark matter surrounding the Milky Way reported in 2000 that it had evidence of relatively large numbers of massive compact objects in the galactic halo (MACHOs). The team, known as the MACHO collaboration, said its observations show that such objects—possibly ancient, burnt-out dwarf stars about half as massive as the sun—make up roughly 20% of the Milky Way's dark matter, an amount comparable to the mass of all the galaxy's stars. That would imply that the other leading dark-matter candidate—weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs)—accounts for most of the galaxy's unseen mass.

    Now a new analysis from a competing team suggests that MACHOs may not even exist in substantial numbers. This collaboration, known as EROS-2, concludes that MACHOs contribute at most 7% of the halo mass and probably much less. “This is in clear conflict with the MACHO result,” the EROS-2 team declared in a paper posted online last week (11 July) at

    “It's an important paper,” says Kim Griest of the University of California, San Diego, a member of the MACHO team. But he says it's too soon to be sure of its implications.

    Andrew Gould, an astronomer at Ohio State University in Columbus and a member of the EROS-2 group, says the new analysis does not definitively disprove the MACHO team's conclusions, but “it argues that there are basically no contributions to dark matter from compact objects.” If so, WIMPs would likely account for almost all the halo dark matter.

    Both teams sought MACHOs using a technique known as microlensing. The gravity of a MACHO passing in front of a distant star distorts its light, causing the star to temporarily brighten for a period of days, weeks, or longer. MACHO and EROS searched for such lensing signals from stars in the Magellanic Clouds, small satellite galaxies to the Milky Way. A brightening of a Magellanic star could indicate the presence of an intervening MACHO in the Milky Way's halo.

    In almost 6 years at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia, the MACHO team observed nearly 12 million stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud and reported 17 possible MACHO sightings. The EROS-2 project (and its predecessor, EROS-1), using European Southern Observatory telescopes at La Silla, Chile, also reported several lensing events.

    Big question.

    Light from the Large Magellanic Cloud should reveal mysterious dark objects within our galaxy—but are they there?


    But after reanalyzing its data, EROS-2 has now ruled out all but one of its MACHO candidates from observations of nearly 60 million stars. That result is statistically irreconcilable with the MACHO estimate of a halo hiding 20% of its mass in dark compact objects. “The weight of the evidence is … that the mysterious dark population is not really there,” Gould says.

    Unlike the MACHO collaboration, the EROS team considered only the brightest stars, fewer than 7 million. Changes in the brightness of such stars caused by lensing are supposedly less susceptible to confusion with natural variations, and analyzing bright stars avoids the complications caused by the blended light of faint stars.

    But choosing the wrong threshold for selecting the brightest stars could skew the lensing data, says a member of the MACHO team, David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana—especially in the central region of the Large Magellanic Cloud, where stars are densely packed. Bennett also notes that the new EROS-2 paper has been submitted for publication but not yet refereed and accepted. “We think there are probably some things that need to be changed,” he says.


    Grim Statistics

    1. Robin Mejia*
    1. Robin Mejia is a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, California.

    With an unprecedented countrywide survey of human-rights abuses, statisticians have calculated the tragic numbers from Sierra Leone's decade of civil war—and pointed out who may be most to blame With an unprecedented countrywide survey of human-rights abuses, statisticians have calculated the tragic numbers from Sierra Leone's decade of civil war—and pointed out who may be most to blame

    Witness to horror.

    Thousands of people lost limbs in the gruesome amputations perpetrated during Sierra Leone's civil war. Researchers are now revealing the magnitude of human-rights violations in the country.


    To many, former Liberian president Charles Taylor personifies Sierra Leone's decade of conflict. The Special Court of Sierra Leone has indicted him for numerous war crimes, including supporting rebels seeking to destabilize the country, and he was arrested in Nigeria in March. Last month, after the United Kingdom agreed to imprison Taylor if he is convicted, he was transferred to The Hague, where his trial will finally take place. But Taylor is not the only target of the Special Court. It has handed down a dozen other indictments, more than half of them for leaders of various rebel groups, including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that Taylor backed. Some of those trials are already under way.

    Yet prosecutors, human-rights activists, and researchers are still uncovering the enormity of what happened in Sierra Leone during its 1991–2000 civil war. In a soon-to-be-released statistical analysis funded by the U.S. State Department, scientists have put together the most credible figures yet on the tragedies that unfolded. After conducting an unprecedented survey involving face-to-face interviews with 3633 randomly selected households from across all of Sierra Leone's 150 chiefdoms, the authors of the analysis conclude that more than 25% of the country's 5 million people were forced from their homes and approximately a quarter-million saw their property destroyed during the conflict.

    The survey's results, which were incorporated into a draft report to the State Department—a public version with additional analysis will be available later this year—include estimates of the prevalence of more violent crimes as well: Approximately 140,000 civilians suffered assaults and beatings, 95,000 were arbitrarily detained, and several thousand suffered amputations. In addition, about 25,000 were raped, and nearly 10,000 were forced into sexual slavery. The researchers expect to release an estimate of the total death toll this fall. In a new project cosponsored by AAAS (the publisher of Science), they also hope to use the survey's results to guide humanitarian efforts in the still-devastated country (see sidebar).

    Some familiar with the ambitious effort, known as the Sierra Leone War Crimes Documentation survey, see part of its value as a proof of concept. “The real novelty is that this experience shows that you can have a survey-based approach for measuring massive human violations in a dangerous country with sensitive respondents raising very sensitive issues. It was argued before that this kind of exercise was impossible because you couldn't get people to answer, or data wouldn't be good enough for robust statistical analysis,” explains Raul Suarez de Miguel, who runs a project on documentation of human-rights violations for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. “Thanks to the Sierra Leone survey, we can now imagine replicating this kind of survey in other parts of the world.”

    Perhaps as important, the survey indicates which of the warring rebel and government groups in Sierra Leone were most responsible for atrocities. The new statistical analysis could be entered into evidence at the Special Court, but it's not clear by whom. Some who have seen the data say it could actually help certain defendants by shifting the blame for a large share of atrocities to other factions, such as the group affiliated with Taylor.

    From Yugoslavia to Sierra Leone

    Reducing 10 years of civil war in a largely illiterate country populated by more than 20 different tribal groups to numbers wasn't easy, especially because many crimes happened in the countryside, far from any communications infrastructure. The new effort, from a team led by statistician Jana Asher, a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a joint project of the American Bar Association (ABA) and Benetech, a California company that produces technology for social good.

    In some ways, the Sierra Leone survey is the outgrowth of an earlier statistical analysis that Asher and Patrick Ball, director of Human Rights Programs at Benetech, did for the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia and later Yugoslavia who was accused of war crimes and human-rights violations. Ball, who was with the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program at the time, presented those results to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, although Milosevic died of a heart attack before his trial ended (Science, 22 March 2002, p. 2188).

    For that study, Ball and Asher analyzed data collected by other groups, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch, and border-crossing guards. They used a technique called multiple systems estimation (MSE), which was originally developed to count wildlife and has been adapted for epidemiology work and human-rights data analysis. Most data sets available to human-rights researchers document just a piece of a greater conflict. Even when researchers collect their own data, they frequently rely on what statisticians call convenience samples—for example, responses to a call for testimony from anyone who suffered a human-rights violation.

    MSE's strength is that it can use two or more separately collected but incomplete lists of a population, such as displaced people, to determine a total population size. However, its formula relies on assumptions that are virtually never true in the context of human-rights data collection, namely that each individual in a population is equally likely to be captured on a list and that there are no dependencies between the lists. As a result, researchers have expended a great deal of effort on statistical modeling to account for dependencies.

    Through a combination of luck and timing, Sierra Leone became the testing ground for a different approach, a randomly sampled household survey of human-rights violations. A prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone who had seen the Milosevic work approached an ABA representative who coordinated that study to ask whether data analysis could help the court better understand the Sierra Leone conflict. Ball, who was leaving AAAS for Benetech, saw the chance to try a random-sample survey on a larger scale than had been done before. Benetech and ABA decided to collaborate on a new project on Sierra Leone, and ABA hired Asher to lead the survey component of it.

    Random-sample household surveys are “always hard to do … in the underdeveloped world, and [they are] incredibly hard to do in an unsettled community,” says David Banks, a professor of statistics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “It's certainly novel to do it from a rights standpoint, and [this survey] is certainly a big deal.”

    On the ground

    In January 2004, Asher touched down in Freetown to start her survey. Other groups had already questioned many people about the conflict; the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) interviewed 7706 people, and an NGO called the Campaign for Good Governance had talked to more than 1000. However, because both groups used convenience samples, neither set of data could be used to independently estimate the total prevalence of war crimes across the country. And it seemed likely that both groups, which collected testimony primarily in the cities, would have missed crimes in the countryside.

    Legal review.

    The Special Court of Sierra Leone (above) is judging the fate of those accused of human-rights violations and war crimes during the country's civil war. One defendant is the recently arrested Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia (right).


    Asher talked to about half as many people as TRC did, but her staff of 32 was the first to cover the whole country, a feat that took 9 months. Although Sierra Leone is slightly smaller than South Carolina, many regions are almost inaccessible to outsiders. One survey team hiked for 16 kilometers to get to a site—after a 16-hour boat ride.

    The members of Asher's local staff, whom she calls her “partners” to emphasize their importance, were key to obtaining cooperation from respondents. They suggested, for example, that team leaders visit with the many Sierra Leone chiefs before interviewing households in each one's territory. That encouraged otherwise reluctant villagers to talk, says Asher. Local staff also helped her figure out the best way to get people to discuss touchy subjects such as rape and worked with her on the innovation she's most proud of: a method of determining dates for the survey.

    In illiterate societies, victims frequently cannot give calendar dates for when crimes occurred. For the Sierra Leone survey, the team developed a list of seven landmark events that virtually everyone would remember from the civil war, such as “the invasion from Liberia” and “the attack on Freetown.” Using these landmarks as reference points in combination with questions about seasons and ages of family members, interviewers were able to determine the age of a victim and the date of a crime to within a year in more than 99% of the interviews.

    Asher's team also did four rounds of field tests for the survey, ensuring that its questions were conceptually equivalent in each of the six languages the interviewers used. During this testing, she discovered that the idea of human-rights abuses didn't exist in all of the languages, so the surveys were reworded around the concept of “suffering.”

    Asher “sets an example for us,” says Fritz Scheuren, vice president of statistics and methodology at the National Opinion Research Center and past president of the American Statistical Association, who calls her work “the best I've ever seen of understanding the difficulties of working across cultures.”

    Asher's estimates still have good-sized confidence intervals—for example, the figure of approximately 96,000 who were arbitrarily detained is plus or minus 14,000—but the numbers are more precise than what is normally available after a decade of civil fighting in a developing country. Suarez characterizes the result as “the difference between having an idea that something occurred and having data structured” so that you can analyze it to determine the magnitude of abuses, the geographic distribution, and whether conditions are improving or deteriorating over time. “This is where science can really contribute to human rights,” he says.

    For example, it was widely believed that the RUF was responsible for the worst violations. The survey puts numbers to the claim, finding that the RUF committed 40% of the nonfatal war crimes, and “rebels” whose affiliations aren't completely understood committed another 30%. The Civil Defense Force (CDF) and Sierra Leone Army, whose alleged leaders have also been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, perpetrated 4% and 3% of the crimes, respectively.

    On trial

    The survey wasn't without problems. Several of the interviewers came down with malaria or typhoid severe enough to require medical evacuations. Since the interviews in Sierra Leone have ended, the research team also has fractured. Asher and Ball both signed off on the report to the State Department, but they are no longer speaking. Both independently plan to analyze deaths as a function of other violations, such as forced migrations and amputations, to show how each contributes to death during conflict.

    Ball is now using the Sierra Leone survey, along with data sets collected by TRC and Campaign for Good Governance, to develop software that automates part of the MSE work. He expects to focus primarily on MSE in future Benetech projects. “Surveys cost a lot more than MSE,” he says, particularly when there are already-existing data sets.

    At this point, it's unclear whether the Special Court for Sierra Leone will use Asher's survey in legal proceedings. “The idea was always that the information would be available to them if they need it,” says Wendy Betts, the original ABA lead on the project. (She is now program director at the National Center for State Courts International Division.) “It depends on … the prosecution's strategy. It happened in Kosovo that the data helped show that the attacks were widespread, which was key to the case.”

    Yet Asher's results could be exploited by some defendants, notes Ball. Out of the Special Court's 13 indictments, five were for alleged RUF leaders, one for Charles Taylor, and the rest, including three for CDF leaders, are for others. That distribution bothers him: “Even the most casual observer of the statistics can see that the CDF is not responsible for the majority of crimes. … That's false moral equivalence.”

    Betts considers the documentation of proportional responsibility more in the context of future human-rights tribunals. “It could have implications as to how courts use their resources next time,” she says. Unfortunately, when it comes to human-rights violations and war crimes, there always seems to be a next time.


    From Accountability to Rebuilding

    1. Robin Mejia

    The conflict in Sierra Leone is officially over, but the country is still recovering. Life expectancy there is only 40; in the 2005 United Nations Human Development Index, Sierra Leone ranked second to last out of 177 countries.

    Finding the crimes.

    Jana Asher (far right) and her partners spent 9 months visiting all of Sierra Leone's 150 chiefdoms for a war-crimes survey.


    Having surveyed more remote regions in Sierra Leone than anyone since the conflict ended, Jana Asher and her colleagues got a close view of the damage (see main text). Asher recently took a position with the Science and Human Rights Program at AAAS (the publisher of Science), where she is now reanalyzing the data she gathered on human-rights violations to document humanitarian needs. For example, although rape and dismemberment were some of the most visible crimes, many more people lost homes and had their property destroyed or stolen during the fighting. Asher and the American Bar Association plan to release a “needs map” for Sierra Leone by year's end, which they'll make available to nongovernmental organizations.

    “Reparations need to include helping people rebuild,” says Asher. Her current work shows that 63% of the violations reported to her team during the survey were forced displacements. This is far more than other groups had found. Only about 20% of the violations recorded by the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which took statements from more victims but didn't go out into the countryside, were displacement. Asher doesn't discount the severity of other crimes—in fact, she hopes to document the geographic distribution of sex crimes, to show where clinics are needed—but she notes that for people already living on the edge, the loss of a home and livestock can prove fatal.


    Neutrino Hunters Go Nuclear to Tackle Antimatter Deficit

    1. Richard Stone

    HONG KONG—It's nearly 1:30 a.m. when three unmarked cars ease into a deserted tunnel linking Hong Kong's central business district and Aberdeen, a residential community in the island's southwest corner. About halfway through the mountain passage, which is closed for maintenance, the cavalcade rolls to a halt beside a cavernous service hall. A young man leaps out and unlocks a steel door, and his colleagues swarm into a tiny, humid room hewn from granite. After a couple of hours of fiddling with electronics and scintillation counters, the group huddles around a computer. “We have a signal,” says a young physicist, beaming with pride.

    This is no spy operation. The physicists in the Aberdeen Tunnel are testing their scintillation counters by spotting muons, particles produced when cosmic rays slam into the upper atmosphere. The setup is a prelude to an ambitious attempt to slay one of physics's most obdurate dragons: Why is there so much more matter than antimatter in the universe? Construction is planned to begin in 2007 on the main attraction 55 kilometers northeast on the mainland: the Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment—a set of detectors up close and personal with a nuclear power plant. Last month, the Chinese government pledged $6.25 million to the effort. Daya Bay and four similar efforts worldwide are vying to measure a fundamental property of neutrinos, ghostly particles that rarely interact with normal matter. Only in the past decade have physicists confirmed that neutrinos have mass, albeit minuscule, and oscillate between three flavors: electron, muon, and tau neutrinos. Physicists have enumerated four measurable oscillation properties: three “mixing angles” and the charge-conjugate parity (CP) value. Two angles are known from studies of neutrinos from the sun, the atmosphere, reactors, and accelerators. Only an upper limit has been reached for the third mixing angle, θ13, while the CP value remains an enigma.

    CP is of supreme significance: If neutrinos violate CP, that could explain why antimatter is now so scarce. Quarks are proven CP violators, but that's “not enough” to explain the matter-antimatter imbalance, says Ming-Chung Chu, a theoretical physicist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “CP violation in neutrinos is what we really need to go after,” adds physicist Kam-Biu Luk of the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The only way to solve the riddle is to first measure θ13. Enter Daya Bay and its brethren. They will use nuclear power plants to study θ13. The nuclear chain reaction produces a flood of electron antineutrinos, which are assumed to have the same fundamental properties as neutrinos. All five experiments will install a detector near a reactor to measure antineutrino flux and then place an identical detector a certain distance away. The few antineutrinos that might oscillate as they travel that distance will evade the second detector because it can register only electron antineutrinos. This dip in antineutrino flux would yield θ13. Most theorists believe that the target value—sin213—lies between its present limit of 0.19 and 0.01, says Maury Goodman, a neutrino physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

    Physicists need as large a supply of antineutrinos as possible, because few will actually interact with the detectors, and even fewer will oscillate and show up as a deficit. The detectors must be shielded from background radiation that can mimic the antineutrino signature. The teams plan to cocoon their detectors—in all five cases, massive tanks filled with a gadolinium-doped scintillator solution—inside a mountain or in an underground shaft and sheathe them in water or metal to absorb particles other than antineutrinos. However, cosmic-ray muons can barrel through these defenses. And that's why Aberdeen Tunnel is a good warm-up: Physicists hope to learn how to differentiate between the flashes caused by muons and antineutrinos.

    Daya Bay won't be the first out of the gate. The French-led Double Chooz group aims to start taking data next year. Nor will Daya Bay have access to the biggest antineutrino source: The Japanese KASKA team intends to track the particles from the world's most powerful assemblage of reactors, the Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant near Niigata. “It's a healthy competition,” says KASKA physicist Fumihiko Suekane of Tohoku University. But thanks in part to favorable positions right up close to the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant and its neighboring Ling Ao plant, the Daya Bay experiment is poised to be the first to reach the 0.01 benchmark within 3 years of start-up.

    Whether that will be good enough to snare θ13 is an open question. “It's unknown exactly how sensitive these experiments will be,” cautions Goodman, the U.S. co-spokesperson for Double Chooz. He says that initial measurements “will be steps along the way to more precise experiments.”

    The Daya Bay collaboration is headed by Luk and Wang Yifang of the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing, who have assembled a 100-strong team from 24 institutions in four countries. The group has cash in hand from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and commitments are expected this fall from China's Ministry of Science and Technology and other agencies. The U.S. Department of Energy is also backing Daya Bay with $800,000 for R&D this year and is expected to add more. “It's groundbreaking for us. Hong Kong has never been involved in a physics project of this kind,” says Chun-Shing Jason Pun of the University of Hong Kong. And it is strengthening scientific links across the Taiwan Strait, with three Taiwanese and seven mainland institutions taking part.

    There's always a chance that the predictions are wrong and that the θ13 value will be much smaller than 0.01, perhaps even 0—and frustratingly out of reach. That would leave experimentalists and theoreticians alike scratching their heads. Chu, for one, is not perturbed by that prospect. “That would mean new physics,” he says. “Either way, we can't lose.”


    Picking a Path Among the Fatwas

    1. John Bohannon

    Scientists in Iran find themselves challenged by true believers; some are trying to negotiate a peaceful compromise

    Open encounter.

    Clerics met with scientists and philosophers in Tehran in search of common ground.


    TEHRAN—Scientists and philosophers mingled with clerics in robes and turbans here at a recent gathering in Iran's cavernous new international conference center. They had come to discuss science and religion—specifically, to seek common ground between Western science and the tenets of Islam. The Iranian intellectuals who helped organize the meeting* are hoping for a kind of détente that will help Iranian scholarship blossom. They were encouraged at the outset by Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, president of the Iranian parliament, who offered the contingent of foreign academics a warm welcome.

    But 2 days into the meeting, a chill filtered through the halls. Iran's government-controlled newspapers announced that a prominent Iranian sociologist, Ramin Jahanbegloo, had been arrested at the airport on his way to a conference in Belgium. His crime, according to the reported comments of Iranian Minister of Information Mohsen Ejei, amounted to “contacts with foreigners.” Another state-controlled paper described Jahanbegloo as “an element of the United States who is part of the plot to overthrow the regime under the guise of intellectual work by peaceful means.” No other charges have been cited. As Science went to press, Jahanbegloo was still being held without legal council in a prison notorious for torture. Hundreds of academics around the world have signed a letter to the Iranian government calling for his release.

    The foreigners who were aware of the arrest left the meeting uncertain about the government's intentions for Iranian academia. Iranians are often confused, too. Interpreting the leadership's signals can be difficult in a country where scientific achievement is revered but where the Koran—and a small group of clerics who interpret it—has the final say in all matters. And it can be disastrous to read the signals incorrectly.

    Iran is investing heavily in science now, after decades of neglect (Science, 16 September 2005, p. 1802). Even the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa, or edict, calling on researchers to secure Iran's position as the “leader in science” in the Middle East over the next 20 years. But at the same time, discussing ideas that displease the religious elite can land you in jail. As Haddad-Adel told Science, “We do not allow our scientists to make propaganda against Islam.” Exactly what might constitute such propaganda is unclear, and Haddad-Adel declined to specify.


    Many Iranian academics argue that science and Islam are compatible and that the challenge for each is to adapt to the other. “Iran is the world's only laboratory for bringing science and religion together,” says Haddad-Adel, who was an academic philosopher before becoming one of Iran's most powerful politicians. But what this might mean in practical terms for Iran's scientists is uncertain. Some see any dialogue with the ruling clerics as helpful. “Most of the conflicts [between science and religion] are due to misunderstanding,” says Jamshid Darvish, an evolutionary biologist at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad. But others are wary; they fear that more entanglement with Iran's religious conservatives will only lead to tighter controls over academia.

    Dangerous questions

    A glance at the evolution exhibit at Tehran's museum of natural history reveals the tension below the surface. Wave after wave of schoolgirls in matching headscarves file past a row of glass cases containing meticulously arranged fossils. A label next to a trilobite, for example, says that the specimen, discovered in the nearby Alborz mountains, came from the Devonian, a period 400 million years ago when those sediments were submerged in a shallow sea. Along the opposite wall, a diorama chronicles the evolution of life on earth. Painted scenes of ancient life look as if they've been copied directly from the latest biology textbooks. But the exhibit takes a sharp detour from science in the final display case where evolution is summed up. In an open tome representing the Koran, phrases in calligraphy proclaim that “God willed an atmosphere created from gases” and “God created man from water.” Above that is a poster—published by the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas—describing how Earth was created in a few days by an omnipotent being.

    If this exhibit leaves you wondering what the curator actually believes, then that is probably by design. Under today's Iranian theocracy, “you are forbidden to deny the existence of god,” explains Eghbal Taheri, a pharmacologist at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences. “You can do your science,” she says, “but in the end you must choose your words carefully.” For example, “you cannot say that the amazing cells in the eye are nothing more than a product of evolution over millions of years.”

    Religious constraints have consequences for academia, says an Iranian philosopher of science who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Censorship, and especially self-censorship, is everywhere,” he says. “In my papers and presentations, I must often change the ending to include some religious aspects, even though I am agnostic, which of course I can never admit.” The clerics ignore most of the sciences, he says. But potential hotspots in addition to evolutionary biology include psychology and neuroscience; researchers in these fields often take care to leave room for the existence of a soul, he says. “But most of all,” he adds, “there's sociology,” where the benefits of theocracy are questioned at a researcher's peril. This is the widely assumed motivation for arresting Jahanbegloo, although the Sorbonne-trained sociologist is not known for activism.

    There is no consensus among Iranian scientists, however, on whether religious constraints are doing harm. Taheri acknowledges that censorship exists but says, “I do not think it inhibits our work.” The chancellor of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Bagher Larijani, brother of Iran's nuclear negotiator, disagrees. “It is a problem,” he says. “We scientists must approach [the religious leaders] very quietly and humbly to explain ourselves.” Larijani, an endocrinologist and Iran's chief medical and research ethicist, says that such dialogues have already encouraged Iran to embrace research tools banned in other Muslim countries, including human embryonic stem cells and transgenic plants and animals. To meet Iran's 20-year science goal, he says, scientific and religious experts must come together to work out their differences. Or, as Shiva Khalili, a psychologist at the National Research Center of Medical Sciences in Tehran puts it, “science and Islam must be harmonized.”

    Science in the balance

    The conference in Tehran—organized by Khalili and a diverse team of Iranian academics—was supposed to get the scientists and ayatollahs talking, but the discussions revealed as much discord as harmony. Speakers did not even agree on whether it made sense to bring religion and science together. “Science is secular,” says Reza Davari Ardakani, a philosopher at Tehran University and the current president of the Iranian Academy of Sciences. “We are pitting these two things against each other, but there is no reason to do so. Science and religion occupy different positions.” Nonetheless, says Haddad-Adel, the “harmonization” will proceed, starting with the construction of a bricks and mortar institution in Tehran “to give a permanent home for the dialogue.”

    Mixed message.

    Visitors to Tehran's natural history museum can view standard displays on geology and evolution as well as a “creation evidence” poster from Texas.


    The diverse menu of conference lectures gave a flavor of the dialogue to come. Some theologians brought Islamic ethics to bear on scientific issues such as human cloning and climate change. Their conclusions were similar to those of the Western mainstream: Reproductive human cloning should be banned, and the risks of climate change call for immediate action. Others wrestled with issues raised by science-oriented theologians in the West—such as whether the physical constants of the universe are fine-tuned to make life possible. With something less than scientific rigor, they cited the health benefits of prayer and belief in god while warning against the dangers of atheism. In the midst of this, Iranian academics gave lectures on everything from cosmology to evolutionary psychology.

    Many Iranian scientists say that more interaction with the clerics is badly needed. Although applied science such as medical biotechnology receives the government's blessing, “we lack funding for basic research,” especially evolutionary biology, says Darvish. Religious leaders need help understanding that embracing evolution “is necessary to solve problems in many fields, including medicine and the environment,” he says. “We need today's biology to stay up to date.”

    Darvish is adamant that religion should stay out of the science classroom and laboratory. “In my classes, I only teach evolution and the mountain of evidence that supports it,” he says. But science in Iran may not emerge from harmonization unaffected. Discussions at the conference touched on possible plans ranging from a voluntary science and religion seminar series, which Darvish supports, to a revision of science textbooks to include theology, which he rejects.

    Which way this dialogue tips could determine how many of Iran's best researchers remain in the country or drain away to the West. “Science students are required to take a number of religious classes,” says Hazhir Rahmandad, an Iranian engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “But right now the burden does not prevent you from getting a proper scientific education,” he says. “What worries me is that there seems to be a new push to change this equilibrium.” Student protests erupted last year when Iran's ultraconservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appointed a cleric as chancellor of Tehran University. Critics say that the new chancellor's “forced retirement” of 40 members of the university faculty last month is part of an effort to eliminate dissent.

    But optimists say the conservative trend will be short-lived. “I don't think there will be any Islamicization of science,” says Saba Valadkhan, an Iranian molecular biologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “There is a new generation of pragmatic reformers in Iran, and they are the ones pushing for this dialogue between science and religion,” she says. “That is the way to make science functional in a highly dysfunctional atmosphere.”

    • * First International Congress on the Dialogue Between Science and Religion, sponsored by Tehran University of Medical Sciences, 1–4 May.


    Twinkling Stars May Reveal Stuff of Early Solar System

    1. Govert Schilling1
    1. 1Govert Schilling is an astronomy writer in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

    Australian researchers say dips in the brightness of stars may tell of a vast array of objects beyond the planets, but others aren't so sure

    CATANIA, ITALY—The Kuiper Belt, resting place of much of the detritus left over from the creation of the solar system, may contain many more small objects than previously thought. Australian astronomers scanned the outer reaches of the solar system by looking for a brief dimming of the light of distant stars as subkilometer-sized bodies passed in front of them. Preliminary results presented at a workshop here earlier this month* suggest that huge numbers of such objects lurk beyond the orbit of Neptune. Although most Kuiper Belt researchers are cautious, studies by some other teams suggest the Australians may be onto something. “If this is true, it would be fantastic,” says Alessandro Morbidelli of the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur in Nice, France, because information about the smaller denizens of the Kuiper Belt cannot be found any other way.

    Astronomers have found more than 1000 bodies in the Kuiper Belt, including an object known as 2003 UB313 (nicknamed Xena) that is slightly larger than Pluto. But because they are several billion kilometers away, even the most powerful telescopes can't see Kuiper Belt objects smaller than about a hundred kilometers across. Researchers are keen to know more about their size distribution, as it would shed light on the early youth of the solar system.

    An effort to fill that gap has been going on since last year. The Taiwanese-American Occultation Survey (TAOS) operates three automated 50-centimeter telescopes at Lu-Lin Observatory, Taiwan, which scan starlight for telltale dimming that signals a Kuiper Belt object passing in front of, or “occulting,” the star. So far, the survey has drawn a blank. Team member Federica Bianco of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says TAOS can't observe very brief dips in brightness, so it is capable of spotting only the relatively rare objects larger than a few kilometers in diameter.

    But George Georgevits and Michael Ashley of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and Will Saunders of the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Siding Spring say the Kuiper Belt may teem with objects too small for TAOS to see. Using a fast detector at the 1.2-meter U.K. Schmidt Telescope in Siding Spring, they saw well over a thousand brief brightness dips, each lasting for a tenth of a second or less, while monitoring dozens of stars for about 2 weeks.

    “It's very important work, and they should certainly continue,” Morbidelli says. “But the results so far are very strange,” because current theories of the evolution of the solar system do not predict huge numbers of small Kuiper Belt objects. Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who discovered 2003 UB313, adds that “the believability factor [of these results] isn't very high. Unfortunately, you can never go back and check.” But Georgevits counters that he has checked and ruled out every other possible cause of the stellar winks.

    When worlds collide.

    Two icy bodies crash in the Kuiper Belt in this artist's depiction. Could such collisions have populated the belt with tiny objects?


    So are the results real? “Well, it seems they are observing something,” says David O'Brien of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, although he adds that no one has yet carried out a detailed statistical analysis of the Australian results. According to O'Brien, collisions in the Kuiper Belt may have produced hordes of small objects. “If confirmed, these results could tell us something about the strength properties of Kuiper Belt objects,” he says.

    Some other studies support the Australian results. Taiwanese astronomers have uncovered similar brief occultations of the well-known x-ray source Scorpius X-1 in data from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer satellite. A team led by astronomer Ping-Shien Wu of the National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu presented the finding in April at the Chinese Astronomical Society Taiwan's meeting in Taichung and is due to publish it in Nature next month. And at the Catania workshop, Françoise Roques of the Paris Observatory described three brief occultations detected with the 2-meter Bernard Lyot Telescope in the French Pyrenees, which Roques says may also represent small Kuiper Belt objects.

    Not everyone is convinced. “They have to do more checks on possible false alarms,” says Matthew Lehner of CfA. For instance, the dips might be caused by unknown effects in Earth's atmosphere. To avoid these, you need to observe from space, says Lehner, who is part of a team that has pitched to NASA a $425 million occultation mission called Whipple, which would detect Kuiper Belt objects as well as comets in the much more distant Oort Cloud.

    Meanwhile, Georgevits hopes to raise half a million dollars for a purpose-built ground-based telescope equipped with a very fast video camera. Such a device could survey the whole Kuiper Belt for a fraction of the cost of a space mission, he says. And although his team's preliminary results raised some eyebrows, everyone agrees on the need for a more comprehensive search. Says O'Brien: “Small Kuiper Belt objects will never be observed directly. Occultation surveys have a lot of potential to fill in this gap.”

    • * Trans Neptunian Objects: Dynamical and Physical Properties, Catania, Italy, 3–7 July.