Random Samples

Science  16 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5853, pp. 1045

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    Boys in Delhi pore over a globe that at the press of a button will show different peoples of the world speaking their native tongues. It's part of a science exhibit on a train that will travel 15,000 kilometers over the next 7 months, stopping in more than 55 cities throughout India. The 14-car-long Science Express is chock-full of multimedia exhibits covering topics such as black holes and CERN's search for the Higgs boson. It also has a hands-on lab where children can do experiments such as mixing cement or separating chemicals with paper chromatography. The $10 million Indo-German project is a mobile version of the Max Planck Society's long-running “Science Tunnel,” which has been on display in Hannover, Germany, and has traveled to several cities in Asia.


    If you love chocolate, you can thank—or blame—the microorganisms in your gut. People who are hot for chocolate, researchers say, harbor different bacteria from those who are indifferent to the treat.

    Biochemists from Nestlé chocolate company and Imperial College London spent 5 days studying 22 healthy volunteers, half of them avowed chocoholics, on a set diet. They analyzed urine and blood samples for the metabolic byproducts of different types of bacteria. The results, published in the November Journal of Proteome Research, reveal that levels of dozens of these compounds in the two groups differ.


    The differences are “not just a product of our genes,” says biochemist and project leader Sunil Kochhar, noting that Indians who move to the United States show changes in gut bacteria. Kochhar thinks they become attuned over time to a person's lifestyle and, in turn, can influence future preferences—sometimes in a positive direction. Researchers found that chocoholics' blood had lower levels of bad cholesterol and higher levels of albumin, a nutrient- carrying protein. Glenn Gibson, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, U.K., says understanding how diet affects gut activity can lead to the development of personalized nutrition plans that can nudge bacteria in the direction of good health.


    Global warming is actually caused by growing numbers of CO2-emitting bacteria on the sea floor, says a study published online on 3 November in the Journal of Geoclimatic Studies. “Those who subscribe to the [human-caused climate change] theory have overlooked the primary source” of CO2 emissions, write Daniel Klein and colleagues at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    The problem is that Klein and his team don't exist. Neither does their Department of Climatology; Okinawa University, where the journal is purportedly published; or its editor, OU climatologist Hiroko Takebe.

    It's a hoax designed “to expose the credulity and scientific illiteracy of … ‘climate skeptics,’” according to “Mark Cox,” the self-described real author of the article. Cox says several anti-global warming Web sites cited the paper but hastily erased their coverage when the hoax was revealed. Science got an e-mail from Cox after speaking with David Thorpe, a U.K.-based science journalist and Web site designer. Thorpe says he created the site but denies writing the article.

    The paper reports that algal blooms have gradually killed off “brachiopod molluscs of the genus Tetrarhynchia” and other organisms that prey on CO2-producing bacteria, allowing bacteria populations to explode. The paper has “some clever ideas,” says geochemist Steven D'Hondt of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, but “some fairly fundamental flaws,” such as meaningless equations. He also notes that brachiopods and mollusks are two different phyla.


    Is Lucia de Berk, a Dutch nurse, a serial killer or the victim of shoddy statistics? Dutch courts sentenced De Berk to life in prison for murdering seven patients and attempting to kill three others. But dozens of statisticians last week petitioned the Dutch justice department to reopen the case.

    De Berk shown as witchlike in cartoons.CREDIT: ANP PHOTO/JAN HENSEMA

    Suspicions first arose in 2001 after a 6-month-old girl died under murky circumstances while De Berk was on duty. Prosecutors found that nine other suspicious incidents had occurred during her shifts at three hospitals. Although no direct evidence implicated De Berk, the courts decided that it was unlikely—only one chance in 342 million, according to one witness—that so many deaths could have occurred accidentally while she was nearby.

    That conclusion is based on “every statistical mistake in the book,” says Leiden University statistician and petition organizer Richard Gill. For instance, he says, several deaths were deemed natural and only later declared suspicious by doctors who knew De Berk had been on duty. And fewer people died during De Berk's 2-year stint at one hospital ward than during the prior 2 years. “Nobody was murdered by anybody,” Gill concludes.

    Last month, a justice department panel recommended that the case be reopened. The decision now rests with the Supreme Court.