Random Samples

Science  26 Jan 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5811, pp. 441

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  1. NETWATCH: Wallace Revealed

    After spending years collecting specimens in exotic locales, a young British naturalist dreams up an explanation for how one species transforms into another. The description fits Charles Darwin, but it also matches Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), the co-discoverer of natural selection and one of the 19th century's leading biologists. Wallace was also one of the founders of biogeography, the study of organisms' distribution.

    A new online exhibit from the Natural History Museum in London documents Wallace's work and life with annotated selections from his writings and other memorabilia, such as a plate of a ring-tailed lemur from a 1900 collection of his articles. You can browse some of his travel dispatches, including the letter in which he describes the destruction of all his South American specimens in a shipboard fire. Other offerings indicate that Wallace didn't resent being overshadowed by the older scientist. For example, Wallace wrote a friend that he was “thankful that it has not been left to me to give the theory to the public.”



    Scientists have found cocaine on a sampling of Dublin bank notes, adding to concern that Ireland is becoming the cocaine capital of Europe.

    A team led by Brett Paull, an environmental chemist at Dublin City University, analyzed 45 bills collected from around the city, using chromatography and mass spectrometry, and found coke residues on all of them. Three bills also had traces of heroin.

    “The chemicals produce a nice, clear signal down to picogram concentrations,” says Fritz Sörgel, a chemist at the Institute for Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research in Nuremberg, Germany. This isn't the first study of its kind: A 2001 U.S. study of $1 bills, for example, found cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and phencyclidine. But it is the latest in a recent burst of reports by European researchers that suggests increasing drug abuse on the continent. “Spain is thought to be the number-one country for cocaine abuse,” says Sörgel, “but Ireland appears to be rising to the top.”

    Paull says that in 5% of the samples, particularly €20 and €50 notes, the concentration was about 100 times higher than the rest. “That suggests that those bills were rolled up and used for snorting,” he says. “The rest may have been contaminated during processing in banks.”


    The famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) has begun to factor another global concern into its timing: Instead of reflecting only the threat of nuclear annihilation, its end-of-the-world calculus now includes climate change.

    “Flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property,” BAS says of the risks that sparked the move. That and nuclear proliferation, including North Korea's recent bomb test, have pushed the minute hand from 7 to 5 minutes before midnight. What do the stalwarts of weapons control think of this fuzzier doom? “I understand their concern about broadening the appeal,” says Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., but “I hope it does not distract attention” from the nuclear-weapons threat.

    It's the 14th time the clock has shifted since its 1947 debut; the safest we've been was in 1991, when weapons reductions moved the clock back to 17 minutes.



    Japan's archaeologists are about to get long-sought peeks into the tombs of the country's early emperors.

    In July 2005, the Japanese Archaeological Association led 15 academic societies in asking Japan's Imperial Household Agency for permission to investigate 11 ancient imperial tombs that have gotten only cursory, if any, inspection by scientists. Included on the list is the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, who ruled in the 4th or 5th century and is said to rest in one of the world's largest burial complexes, near present-day Osaka. Last month, the agency decreed that one representative from each society will be allowed to enter some of the tombs.

    In the past, critics have accused the Imperial Household Agency, which oversees some 900 burial sites, of blocking detailed investigations on the grounds that scientists might turn up evidence that the ancestors of today's royal family really came from Korea. Japanese legend traces the lineage back through 125 emperors to the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami. Myths aside, there is academic debate over which older tombs house which imperial bones.

    Koji Takahashi, a Toyama University archaeologist on the association's board, says researchers won't be allowed to touch anything, so they are likely to concentrate on mapping tomb layouts and details of interiors. “Until now, we couldn't get in at all, so this is a step in the right direction,” says Takahashi.