Random Samples

Science  14 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5904, pp. 1031

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    At right are the dried remains of Haemulon sciurus, in one of the beautiful high-resolution photos, now online, of 168 fish specimens classified by 18th century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. The fish are in the collection of the Linnean Society of London (http://www.linnean.org/), which sponsored the project with the help of Japan's Emperor Akihito, an ardent amateur ichthyologist known for his contributions to the taxonomy of gobioid fishes. Linnaeus's Systema Naturae, the recognized starting point for biological classification, was published in 1735. Linnean plant and insect databases are already online.


    Was the continuing eruption of Lusi, the Indonesian mud volcano that began 30 months ago, triggered by a distant earthquake or by the drilling of a nearby gas well? The question has spurred fierce arguments among scientists (Science, 13 June, p. 1406).


    Opponents squared off in a debate last month at a meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in Cape Town, South Africa. Geologists Richard Davies of Durham University in the U.K. and Mark Tingay of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, argued that drillers had tapped into a highly pressurized aquifer that fractured weak rock in the unprotected borehole and that the magnitude-6.3 earthquake occurring 2 days before Lusi's eruption was too small and remote to have any effect. Rocky Sawolo, drilling adviser for the oil company Lapindo Brantas, and geologist Adriano Mazzini of the University of Oslo, Norway, claimed that well pressures were within acceptable limits and that the earthquake reactivated a nearby fault.

    At the end, the moderator, geologist John Underhill of the University of Edinburgh, U.K., called for a vote. Of 74 scientists voting, 42 agreed that drilling triggered the eruption. Only three opted for the earthquake scenario, 13 favored both factors, and the rest found the evidence inconclusive.

    The issue is more than academic. If Indonesian courts agree with the scientists, Lapindo Brantas could have to pay tens of millions of dollars in compensation to 10,000 families and dozens of business owners who have lost properties to the rising tide of mud.


    It's a criminal conundrum: $4 million in stolen gold and the crooks who just pulled off the heist teeter in a bus off the edge of a mountaintop. “Hang on, lads, I've got an idea,” says actor Michael Caine. Then the 1969 movie The Italian Job cuts to the credits.

    Now, to celebrate the movie's 40th anniversary, the Royal Chemistry Society (RCS) in London is asking fans to come up with an engineering idea to get Caine and his cronies out of their dilemma. “It's a way of pointing out that science is all around us—including a bank robbery,” says RCS spokesperson Brian Emsley.

    Entrants have until 1 January to submit a solution that includes a description of the physics and engineering challenges involved. Drawings and schematics are encouraged; no deus ex machina—such as a convenient helicopter—allowed.

    The winner will receive a 3-night visit to Turin, Italy, where the movie's action takes place. Daniel Frey, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who is not involved in the competition, says the challenge underscores the ingenuity required in science. “There's more than one way to skin this cat,” he says. He says principles such as equilibrium and inertia could help entrants tackle the problem. For example, the bus's toppling might be delayed briefly, allowing time for some intervention, if the balance between the gold and the people were changed.


    Depression is the most disabling condition in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In its annual report issued last month, Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update, authors found that unipolar depressive disorders account for more years of disability than any other condition—for both sexes, but especially females (see chart)—in rich and poor countries alike. Also high on the list are alcohol-use disorders (particularly for males), hearing and vision problems, and migraines. In a ranking of causes of years of healthy life lost, depression is surpassed only by lower respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases.