Science  15 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5891, pp. 897

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  1. THREE Q'S


    When rumors that NASA had fabricated the moon landings began to spread in 2001, astronomer Philip Plait debunked the accusations on the Web. The former NASA researcher will now take on a universe of pseudoscientific untruths and psychic claims as the newly appointed president of the James Randi Educational Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He took over this month from founding president and magician James Randi.

    Q: Does debunking myths with science make them go away?

    I wish. In many cases, the best you can do is keep the stuff from getting any bigger. You can't kill the virus, but you can control it.

    Q: Won't you be preaching to the choir?

    Preaching to the choir is important. Some years ago, a talk by James Randi inspired fellow skeptic Robert Lancaster to take on Sylvia Browne, a self-proclaimed psychic who conducts healing sessions and charges a lot of money. Lancaster's Web site,, has done a lot to question her credibility.

    Q: Why not just let faith healers and spoon benders be?

    They are hurting people; they are stealing people's money. More importantly, they are spreading bad thinking, and bad thinking can kill you. People are not getting their children vaccinated because they think that vaccines cause autism. I can easily imagine a [U.S.] senator or a representative trying to investigate if the moon landings were real, which would be a huge waste of tax dollars.


    Fusion physicists were caught off-guard when Raymond Fonck, associate director for fusion energy sciences at the Department of Energy, announced his resignation on 31 July. Fonck took the post just 17 months ago, and researchers expected him to stay until an agreed-upon 2-year term expired next spring. In a statement, Fonck, 56, said that he would return to his faculty position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He did not return a call for comment.


    CLIMATE CHANGE, UP CLOSE. Five biologists were evacuated from northern Alaska earlier this month after a presumably hungry polar bear approached their field camp. The researchers were studying birds feeding around Teshekpuk Lake on the Beaufort Sea, where shorelines have been eroding rapidly due to climate change. A lack of sea ice, also due to warming, has prevented Alaskan polar bears from reaching their hunting grounds.

    Although the bear didn't threaten the scientists, its presence would have required a round-the-clock vigil. “It would have been very difficult to get our work done,” says Joe Liebezeit, conservation scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. The researchers were flown out 30 July during a break in the weather. They have since returned to pack up their gear, including mauled tents. They hope to be back at the site next year.


    “Yes, I know you! You know me, too!”

    —California's Bernann McKinney upon receiving five puppies cloned from her deceased pit bull, Booger. RNL Bio, a South Korean company, charged McKinney $50,000 to make the clones, which were delivered last week.


    MIXING IT UP. Most couples send postcards home from their honeymoons. But when Ryan and Corin McLean Boyko visited Africa last summer, the graduate students at the University of California, Davis, also sent back samples of dog DNA.


    Between gazing at pyramids and rafting past crocodiles, the two made time to collect blood samples, from 350 village dogs in Uganda, Egypt, and Namibia, for a research project co-led by Ryan's brother, Adam, a genetics postdoc at Cornell University. Armed with a portable centrifuge, the newlyweds got help from veterinarians and government officials to do the sampling, weighing each dog in a cloth sling suspended from a fish scale and vaccinating some against rabies. Come nightfall, the motor of a hired taxi ran their centrifuge to process the blood samples.


    “Science is very much a part of our relationship, so it was very appropriate to be doing science on our honeymoon,” says Corin. Years from now, she adds, “I think it's still going to be one of my favorite things that we've ever done.” In addition to the memories, the couple will gain a citation as coauthors on Adam's upcoming paper on African dog diversity.