Random Samples

Science  14 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5869, pp. 612

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    Better late than never. Nearly 4 centuries after Galileo was persecuted for heresy, the Vatican will erect a statue of the pioneer astronomer in its garden.

    Armed with only a Dutch spyglass, Galileo shook the foundations of the prevailing view of the universe with discoveries about the moon and Jupiter as well as the heretical notion that Earth revolves around the sun. He stood trial in 1633, was forced to recant his discoveries, and remained under house arrest until his death in 1642.

    It was not until 1979 that Pope John Paul II encouraged the clergy to reconsider the episode. Now, with the statue, the Church wants to close the Galileo affair and reach a definitive understanding not only of his great legacy but also of the relationship between science and faith, Nicola Cabibbo, a nuclear physicist and head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, told The Times of London.

    1870 painting of Galileo with secretary. CREDIT: ALFREDO DAGLI ORTI/THE ART ARCHIVE/CORBIS

    I think that the statue is a way for the Church to get away [from] the Galileo affair without embarrassment, says astrophysicist Simone Recchi of the University of Trieste in Italy. But Recchi says it's not enough: To win the support of scientists, it must concentrate on present problemssuch as stem cells, contraceptives, euthanasia, abortionand open a fair debate about them.


    A German law designed to prevent people from impersonating physicians and police officers has gotten some U.S.-educated scientists in hot water. A half-dozen Max Planck Institute researchers have been charged with unauthorized use of the title Dr.

    Ian Baldwin, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, says he received a letter in January charging him with Titelmissbrauch. I spent the weekend wondering whom I had killed, he says. Two other directors of the institute have also been charged, as have researchers in Dresden and Potsdam.

    In Germany, only those who receive their doctorates in the E.U. are allowed to use Dr., which is considered a legal part of a name. Maximum penalty is a year in jail. On 6 March, authorities announced that holders of U.S. Ph.D.s will be allowed to use the title. But because of a loophole in state law governing Jena, Baldwin's case is continuing. So far, he's keeping his sense of humor. If they have e-mail in jail, this could be productive, he says.



    This month, a famous family will return to its original home at the University of California (UC), Davis, after a stint at Arizona State University (ASU). A colony of 750,000 honey bees, now in its 32nd generation, was recently trucked to California.

    Honey bee geneticist Robert E. Page Jr., who developed the colony 18 years ago at UC Davis, took the bees with him when he moved to ASU as founding director of its School of Life Sciences. But they were stressed by the variable Arizona climate, so now they're pollinating almonds en route to settling at Davis.

    The country's oldest and most carefully characterized bee research colony, according to Page, has led to dozens of discoveries about bee genes, behavior, and development, all of which were made by selecting for one trait: pollen storage. Bees have an intricate social system based on how much pollen they store in their combs. By breeding bees into high- and low-storing stocks, we've identified a whole suite of traits that differ between them, says Page. For example, high storers are better at associative learning.

    The Davis colony has a new friend: the makers of Hagen-Dazs ice cream. More than 40 of our flavors depend on honey bee pollination, says spokesperson Katty Pien. The company just gave UC Davis 100,000 for research on pollination and on colony collapse disorder, which has caused agricultural havoc (Science, 18 May 2007, p. 970). Some of the money will also support a Hagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Fellow.


    Only 7.6 billion years from now, it'll be the end of the line for Earth. Two astronomers who suggested that our planet might escape the fireball as the dying sun expands have changed their minds: Earth will be engulfed and vaporized after all.

    In 2002, Robert Smith of the University of Sussex in the U.K. and colleague Klaus-Peter Schroeder calculated that a strong solar wind would eventually reduce the sun's mass, weakening its gravitational hold on Earth. The planet would then drift outward far enough to remain intact.

    But since then, Schroeder, now at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, has revised the stellar mass-loss formula that astrophysicists have been using for decades. The new formula shows that the sun's gravity will be stronger than he and Smith thought. The two have also refined their calculations to take into account the way Earth's gravity causes the sun to bulge slightly toward it. This tidal effect slows Earth's course so that it sinks toward the sun. The results spell ultimate doom.

    Out to get us.

    None of this matters much to human beings: Increased solar radiation will turn Earth into a lifeless rock about a billion years from now.