Science  09 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5852, pp. 895


    OLD AND THE YOUNG. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has elected its youngest president ever. String theorist Robbert Dijkgraaf, 47, promises to help rejuvenate the 199-year-old academy and turn it into a forum for debates about science and society.

    The leader of a high-profile group at the University of Amsterdam, Dijkgraaf is best known in his own country as a prolific newspaper columnist, op-ed writer, and TV guest who has long championed the cause of scientific literacy. He has also addressed the lack of science education in Dutch elementary schools. For instance, he spent some of the Spinoza Prize money he won in 2003 to set up a Web site where students and teachers can find fun hands-on science experiments. Besides strengthening KNAW activities in the same areas, Dijkgraaf—an art lover who interrupted his physics training for 2 years to study painting—hopes to encourage exchanges between scientists and artists.

    With his playfulness and enthusiasm, Dijkgraaf is the right man to modernize the 220-member KNAW, which is “still a bit like a 19th century society sometimes,” says Herman Verlinde, a Dutch physicist at Princeton University, where Dijkgraaf did a postdoc.



    TIME TO GO? Fabio Mussi, Italy's research minister, wants to make room for fresh talent at the country's 62 state universities. So he's proposed lowering the official retirement age for Italian professors from 75 to 70. “Going this way, we expect to save more money to hire young researchers,” says Mussi, who is 59, about reducing the retirement age in 1-year increments over the next 5 years.

    The plan, which Mussi announced at a public talk last month at the Genova Science Festival, has been greeted with cheers from the young and grumbling from senior academics. Federica Migliardo, a 32-year-old physicist at the University of Messina, says it's needed to revitalize Italian science. But Armando Bazzani, a 66-year-old physics professor at the University of Bologna, predicts “there will be great resistance” when the minister introduces his plan in Parliament.


    BITE YOUR TONGUE. Like many scholars of evolution, Oliver Curry is all for explaining the topic to a general audience. But now he wishes he hadn't shared his less-than-scientific musings with a popular entertainment channel.

    In 2006, Curry, an evolutionary theorist at the London School of Economics, wrote an essay for the British Bravo TV network in which he laid out “plausible scenarios” for how humans might evolve over the next million years. Although Curry made it clear that the exercise was purely speculative, Bravo billed his ideas as serious research. That triggered a flurry of media reports forecasting, among other things, the emergence in the next millennium of a “coffee-colored” race.

    Last month, Curry finally issued a statement declaring that his essay was “intended as a ‘science fiction’ way of illustrating some aspects of evolutionary theory.” And he adds, “I do not endorse the content of these media reports.”



    A GIGANTIC PRESENCE. As Indonesia's “king of paleoanthropology,” Teuku Jacob ruled over a vital collection of hominid fossils. He was a formidable skeptic of the 1-meter-tall “hobbit” remains from the Indonesian island of Flores, arguing that they instead represented a diseased modern human. On 17 October, at the age of 76, the professor emeritus and former rector of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta died of liver problems.

    Jacob studied fossil hominids under famed paleontologist G. H. R. von Koenigswald, then found and was curator of many important specimens, particularly of Homo erectus. He was a key figure in the Indonesian independence movement, making nationalist radio broadcasts after World War II during the country's 4-year fight for independence from the Dutch. “He built the field up—he was paleoanthropology in Indonesia for quite a while,” says anthropologist Russell Tuttle of the University of Chicago in Illinois, noting that Jacob trained Indonesians to study the fossils found in their country. “It was an indigenous effort.”

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