Random Samples

Science  14 Dec 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5857, pp. 1701

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  1. Flat Cat: Act II

    Tiger tracked to this 2002 poster. CREDIT: WWW.YWXINLONG.COM

    Suspicions about purported photographs of a presumed-extinct South China tiger (Science, 9 November, p. 893) were confirmed last month when a netizen found the apparent source of the image: a 2002 Chinese lunar New Year poster. But China's obsession with the issue has continued. The China Photographers Association convened a team including biologists and forensic scientists who met in Beijing for 5 days pondering 40 digital photos of the beast. On 2 December, they noted, among other things, that the tiger was in exactly the same position in all the photos and that its eyes did not reflect the camera's flash.

    Both the photographer and the State Forestry Administration (SFA), however, continue to maintain that a tiger exists in the mountains of Zhengping County. At a 4 December press conference, an SFA spokesperson reiterated that the agency plans to look for it. After the first snowfall, 10 large-carnivore experts will comb a 200,000-hectare forested region for signs of tigers, leopards, and bears. As for the photos, an SFA official offered this logic: “There are a lot of photographs of the Loch Ness monster [in Scotland]. … People care about the existence of the monster rather than the authenticity of the photos.”

  2. MIT: Completely Online

    It took 5 years, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has put all its courses online. Free materials for all 1800 courses are available at ocw.mit.edu—everything from full video talks about aerospace engineering to anthropology lecture notes about “Intersubjectivity, Phenomenology, Emotion, and Embodiment.” The site has drawn 35 million visitors since 2002, most from outside North America, says MIT's Stephen Carson. “It's unprecedented to have all the courses available at a university this deeply and openly available on the Web. … It's an extension of the public-service function of the university.”

  3. Sale of Rare Astrolabe Halted


    This 14th century brass astrolabe probably belonged to an educated gentleman about 1388, the time Geoffrey Chaucer was writing The Canterbury Tales. Now the owner wants to sell it to a foreigner, and the U.K. government is moving to keep it in Britain.

    Found in 2005 under the floors of a 17th century inn just outside Canterbury, the pocket-sized instrument, valued at about £350,000, has been in the possession of the landowner. The name of the purchaser is confidential, according to a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media, and Sports. The department has put a temporary ban on the astrolabe's export to give U.K. institutions time to raise money to buy it.

    Used for timekeeping, surveying, and performing astronomical calculations, this quadrant is one of only eight such instruments known to exist in the world, the culture department says. A horizon line positioned at 52° N shows that it was made for use in southern England.

  4. Dehydrated DNA

    Here's a new item for your family album: your genes. For $175, DNA Direct, a clinical genetic testing outfit in San Francisco, California, will provide a kit you can use to swab your cheek and mail in a sample. A week or two later, you'll receive three vials containing your air-dried and chemically stabilized DNA, which can be stored indefinitely at room temperature and reactivated with a few drops of water. The samples have more than sentimental value. The company suggests they might come in handy for genealogy, family medical histories, settling inheritance suits, determining paternity in the face of an elusive male, or—in a pinch—identifying your remains should some dire mishap render them unrecognizable.

  5. Oh, to Live in Iceland

    Enjoying longevity in the Blue Lagoon, hot springs near Reykjavik. CREDIT: JENS NIETH/CORBIS

    Iceland has the most well-developed humans of any country on Earth, according to the 2007/2008 United Nations Human Development Index, which rates life expectancy, income, and education in 177 countries and regions. The land of geysers and glaciers displaced Norway, which has led the ranking for 6 years. Although not first in any category, Iceland ranked third in life expectancy (81.5 years), 13th in combined school and college enrollment (95.4%), and fifth in per capita gross domestic product (U.S. $36,510). Australia, Canada, and Ireland round out the top 5, with the United States slipping from eighth to 12th. All 22 countries in the Low Human Development category are in Africa.

    Demographer Elwood “Woody” Carlson of Florida State University, Tallahassee, notes that it's not fair to compare small countries to the United States. “We probably should be comparing Iceland to Connecticut or something. … If you average together all the European countries, the continent as a whole doesn't look much different from the U.S.A.”