Random Samples

Science  02 Feb 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5812, pp. 579

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    A Russian court is scheduled to resume hearing testimony on 21 February in the country's first legal challenge to the teaching of Darwinian evolution.

    Mariya Shraiber, 16, an 11th grader at public school No. 148 in St. Petersburg, has sued the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, claiming—on the basis of an obscure law governing political parties—that the school's biology textbook offends her religious sentiments because it does not allow for other theories, such as creationism. She also contends that the science in The Origin of Species is unproven and derived from Marxist-Leninist ideology.

    The case—dubbed the “Monkey Process” by the Russian press as a nod to the Scopes trial—is being promoted by a maverick Russian public relations agent who set up a Web site called antidarvin.ru. Mariya's father Kirill, who is representing her in court, says his daughter does not belong to any particular faith.

    The plaintiffs have the support of members of the Russian Orthodox Church, some of whom have regularly attended the court proceedings. Russian scientists are less enthusiastic. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Vitaly Ginzburg has characterized the lawsuit as “disgusting obscurantism and delirium.”

    Andrei Fursenko, the country's education and science minister, suggested last month in a radio interview that he is not averse to amending the textbook to include a variety of theories.

  2. NETWATCH: Revising the Universe

    In the 1920s, astronomers tussled over whether the universe has more than one galaxy. Less than a century earlier, the chemical composition of stars was unknown and, according to one philosopher, unknowable. Focus on how our understanding of the universe took shape at Cosmic Journey, a new history of cosmology from the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in College Park, Maryland.

    The exhibit traces intellectual developments from the ancient Greeks' Earth-centered universe to the modern idea that an enigmatic dark energy is speeding the expansion of the universe. Visitors can also follow the technological breakthroughs that opened up the cosmos, including refracting telescopes, spectroscopy, and radio astronomy. Biographical pages cover figures such as American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), whose observations crushed the single-galaxy model of the universe and revealed that it was expanding.




    At the turn of the 20th century, German naturalist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel captured the beauty of plankton and jellyfish (above). And when Monaco's Prince Albert I built the Monaco Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium in 1910, one of the designers transformed two of Haeckel's drawings, including one of an elaborate medusa, into chandeliers (below). The connection between Haeckel's creations and the Art Nouveau movement in architecture and design will be explored in an exhibit at the meeting of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography next week in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On display will be jewelry, glassware, woodcarvings, paintings, photographs, and even a quilt—a rare treat for conventioneers tired of gazing at posters and vendor displays.


    Slaves' camp. Below: Tromelin. CREDIT: GRAN/CONFRÉRIE DES GENS DE LA MER

    On 31 July 1761, a French ship carrying 122 sailors and 60 slaves from Madagascar to Mauritius was wrecked off the tiny Indian Ocean island of Tromelin. The crew built a raft and sailed the 470 kilometers back to Madagascar, leaving the slaves with a 3 months' supply of food and promises that they would be rescued. Fifteen years later, a French ship picked up the only survivors, seven women and an 8-month-old baby. Before they were freed and lost to history, the women told their rescuers that they had kept a fire going continuously for the entire 15 years.

    Last fall, 10 French researchers flew to the 1-square-kilometer island, where France maintains a weather station, and spent a month looking for traces of the slaves' ordeal. They found a wall of a building constructed from pieces of coral and sandstone, as well as some copper bowls and the bones of tortoises and fish. At a press conference in Paris on 17 January, the team also disclosed finding the oven in which the slaves had burnt pieces of the wrecked ship. From the layering of residues, they concluded that the fire had indeed burned until the rescue.

    Expedition leader Max Guérout of France's Marine Archaeology Research Group says that the findings represent one of the rare instances in which “we have historical and archaeological evidence about slavery at the same time.” More details are at www.archeonavale.org/Tromelin.