Newsmakers

Science  27 Jul 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5837, pp. 435
  1. POLITICS

    CREDIT: http://www.bosniapyramid.com/

    DIGGING FOR PRIDE. The Bosnian government last week promised to spend $140,000 for archaeological work on a hill north of Sarajevo that amateur archaeologist Semir Osmanagic (left) claims is a 12,000-year-old pyramid (Science, 22 September 2006, p. 1718). In doing so, Prime Minister Nedzad Brankovic overrode the country's minister of culture, Gavrilo Grahovac, who last month said that the government should stop supporting Osmanagic and instead investigate his tax-free foundation.

    The development is “very dispiriting,” says Anthony Harding, president of the European Association of Archaeologists, which considers Osmanagic's project to be pseudoscience. “The great majority of people in Bosnia must realize they are being taken for a ride.”

    Brankovic said the funding will support archaeological “restoration” at the site, particularly of the medieval ruins at the top of the hill. Osmanagic says the region was dominated by a monument-constructing “supercivilization” during the Ice Age. “Why don't we recognize something that is visible to the naked eye?” Brankovic asked reporters after visiting the site. “Why should we disown something that the entire world is interested in?”

  2. TWO CULTURES

    HEADY HUMOR. Dean Burnett hopes you'll laugh at his work.

    When not doing research on rat memories, the Ph.D. student at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom bills himself as the only neuroscientist turned stand-up comic in South Wales. His routine at the qualifying round of “So You Think You're Funny”—an annual comedy competition at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe—won him a spot at next month's semifinal.

    A cadaver launched Burnett's stand-up career. Working as an embalmer at a medical school, he realized that he and the 76-year-old corpse “were wearing exactly the same boxer shorts. I couldn't describe this in a serious context.” He sneaks science into his performances. One joke features a guy who refuses to believe in evolution because humans don't have wings. Another, about opponents of genetically modified foods, makes the point that “being biased against something because of its genes is racism.”

    CREDIT: COLIN ROBERTSON

    “He doesn't baffle people with science,” says Jeff Baker, an organizer of the Welsh Comedy Festival, where the 24-year-old performed recently. “But he gives them a more cerebral viewpoint.”

  3. AWARDS

    SHARING THE GLORY. A research team in Australia and another in the United States have won the 2007 Cosmology Prize from the Gruber Foundation for discovering that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. Saul Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley, and his team—the Supernova Cosmology Project—and Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University in Canberra and his group—the High-z Supernova Search Team—arrived at the conclusion, working independently, at about the same time. Perlmutter and Schmidt will split half of the $500,000 prize; the rest will be divvied up among the remaining members of the two teams.

  4. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    CREDIT: PENN STATE UNIVERSITY

    KEEPING BUSY. Last week, plant molecular biologist Nina Fedoroff accepted a new job advising U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and sold her house in central Pennsylvania in preparation for moving to Washington, D.C. But the 65-year-old chaired professor at Pennsylvania State University and lifelong academic researcher seems to be taking these seismic changes in stride. What's really got her stressed out is her application to renew a grant from the National Science Foundation—on which her fate as an active scientist rests.

    “If it gets funded, then I'm in business,” says Fedoroff, who's taking a 3-year leave from her faculty position to serve as the State Department's third-ever science and technology adviser. “I think I'll be able to run my lab from Washington. But plant science funding is tight, and if it's rejected, then I'm in trouble.”

    Starting on 6 August, Fedoroff's job will be to get more outside scientists involved in State Department activities, plug more foreign attachés into the world of science, and lend a hand to government-sponsored research efforts with an international component. Despite receiving no promises of access to Rice—” she's very busy at the moment”—Fedoroff is optimistic about making a difference. “I think there are lots of scientific bridges that can be built across chasms that cannot be crossed because of politics or religion,” she says.

    The new job wasn't the only big news Fedoroff received last week; she also was chosen for the nation's highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science. It's the first time in 4 years the list includes women (microbiologist Rita Colwell was also honored). “That's wonderful. I'd like to think it's progress,” says Stephanie Pincus, who co-directs a project run by the Society for Women's Health Research to recognize the achievements of women (Science, 22 June, p. 1683). But women were once again shut out of the National Medal of Technology, which went to five men. The complete list of awardees can be found at http://www.ostp.gov/.

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