Random Samples

Science  18 Jul 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5887, pp. 321

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    The saga of faked photos of a wild South China tiger (Science, 14 December 2007, p. 1701) reached its denouement last month, when the photographer was arrested and 13 Shaanxi Province officials, including its top wildlife official, were sacked.

    Last October, a farmer named Zhou Zhenglong produced 71 purported images of the reputedly extinct tiger at a much-touted press conference held by the province's forestry association (SFA). SFA gave him a 20,000 yuan ($2666) reward and began plans for a tiger reserve. But Chinese netizens soon pounced on the images, arguing that they were fakes. A national ruckus ensued and led to a full-scale criminal inquiry. Police found, among other things, that the “trees” in Zhou's photos were in reality only 0.8 centimeters wide.

    At the 29 June press conference, Bai Shaokang, a spokesperson for Shaanxi's Public Security Bureau, announced that Zhou admitted he had cut a tiger picture from a calendar and stuck it in a bushy area to photograph it. He also used a carved wooden tiger paw to leave prints nearby. Zhou is being held on charges of swindling the government, and SFA has demanded that he return his reward.

    The sorry episode has given the Chinese a new saying: “Zhenglong paihu”—meaning that something is as unbelievable as a tiger photo by Zhenglong.


    About 3500 years ago, ancient Crete fell apart. Palaces and public buildings all over the island were destroyed, and the indigenous Minoan culture fell under the sway of Mycenae on the Greek mainland.


    For years, experts pinned much of the seemingly abrupt changes on a Mycenaean invasion. But a recent analysis of bones in Cretan tombs indicates that the “invasion” was actually a local insurrection. Aegean scholars began to doubt the invasion theory some time ago, when excavations showed that the destruction had been selective and “Mycenaeanization” had been gradual, not sudden.

    New support for a revised scenario comes from Argyro Nafplioti of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Nafplioti sampled dental enamel and thigh-bone from 30 individuals who had been buried near Knossos in Minoan graves and Mycenaean-style tombs before and after the 20-year period of destruction. Strontium isotope analysis and comparisons with ancient and modern animal tissues from Crete and Mycenae revealed that all were native-born Cretans, the researchers report in the August Journal of Archaeological Science. Archaeologist A. Bernard Knapp of the University of Glasgow, U.K., says the new analysis offers “a compelling corrective” to those who still see Crete as “the domain of ‘Mycenaean’ elites controlling [its] social, political, ideological, and material cultural traditions.”


    A highly contagious facial cancer in Tasmanian devils (Science, 18 February 2005, p. 1035) has sparked a trend toward adolescent pregnancies in the endangered animals. The disease, which emerged about 10 years ago, strikes mostly adults and kills them within months. Juveniles seem to be stepping in to fill their reproductive role, Australian biologists say.


    The scientists compared the average age at reproduction for devils at the same sites in Tasmania before and after the cancer's onset. Healthy devils typically start breeding at age 2 and have multiple litters. But devils at four out of the five sites tested began breeding by age 1 and typically produced only one litter before falling ill, the scientists reported online 14 July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    It's unclear whether this is a true case of evolution or if young devils are simply maturing earlier thanks to less competition for resources, says evolutionary biologist Nelson Hairston of Cornell University. Similar changes in reproductive patterns have been observed in fish and in mammals such as rabbits. This example adds “a very sexy example in a charismatic megafauna,” he says.



    A Rotterdam soccer stadium will briefly become a giant physics lab on 19 July, when Dutch researchers plan to carry out experiments to study the “wave,” the ripple that races through a crowd as fans briefly stand up and raise their arms. Fluid dynamicist GertJan van Heijst of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands wants to test the idea that the wave is a soliton, a single wave that keeps its shape and travels at constant speed.

    Solitons have a peculiar trait: When two of them collide, both emerge and continue on unchanged. If stadium waves are solitons, the same should happen there. To find out, Van Heijst wants to create colliding waves three times during festivities for the 100th anniversary of Feyenoord soccer club. A sports commentator will give the expected 50,000 fans slightly different instructions each time as cameras record what happens.

    Scientists have never done field experiments with the wave, says Illés Farkas of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, who studies the phenomenon through analyses of videos and computer models. “This is really fascinating.” The stunt is part of the bicentennial celebration of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.