Science  20 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5917, pp. 991

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    LICENSED CRITICISM. NASA needs to make big changes to its management style if it wants to foster innovation. That's the message of a satirical 10-minute video produced by aeronautics engineer Andrew Thomas, a NASA astronaut and veteran of four space shuttle flights, who was asked to examine the 50-year-old agency's culture.

    Using the theme song from the U.S. television show Law & Order, Thomas depicts how managers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, shoot down a young engineer's innovative spacecraft design, warning her that the proposed design might upset their bosses and jeopardize the company's NASA contract.

    The video, available on YouTube, made a splash at a NASA retreat last month. The short film is “extraordinarily funny and not at all funny,” blogged Wayne Hale, NASA deputy chief of strategic partnerships and a former space shuttle manager. Hale urged his colleagues to “break out of the sandbox” by encouraging creativity and by not being a slave to the chain of command.


    EVOLUTION STREET. Baba Brinkman has turned from Chaucer to Darwin for inspiration. A former literature student, the Canadian “lithop” artist performed the “Rap Guide to Evolution” last week during a U.K. tour.

    Microbiologist Mark Pallen of the University of Birmingham, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution, approached Brinkman after hearing of the rap artist's take on The Canterbury Tales. Brinkman immersed himself in Darwin's words and recent books on evolutionary biology and has been honing rhymes on sexual selection, altruism, and the battle with intelligent design. “He swallowed the idea and turned it into a work of genius,” says Pallen.

    On the track “Natural Selection,” which includes snippets of Richard Dawkins reading from On the Origin of Species, Brinkman offers lyrics such as this:

    Okay, it's time to reveal my identity / I'm the manifestation of tens of millions / Of centuries of sexual selection, best believe / I'm the best of the best of the best of the best / Of generations of competitive pressure genetically / But don't get upset, ‘cause we've got the same pedigree / You and I will find a common ancestor eventually / If we rewind geological time regressively / And I could say the same for this hibiscus tree / And this lizard and the flea and this sesame seed.



    Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, astronomer Jill Tarter, and classical musician José Abreu are the winners of this year's Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Prizes. Besides taking home $100,000 each, they receive a promise of support from the TED community to help fulfill a wish.

    Earle (above), an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, wishes to rally public support for a global network of marine protected areas. Earle, 73, hopes to see protection for areas such as the Patagonian Shelf, the Galápagos and the Hawaiian Islands, and the polar regions, as well as policies that ban bottom trawling and protect Arctic waters.


    Tarter (above), 65, director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute's Center for SETI Research in Mountain View, California, wants to empower global citizens to search for extraterrestrial life. She envisions expanding the institute's Allen Telescope Array from 42 to 350 telescopes while providing the public with open-access to radio telescope data so that they can help in the search for a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Abreu, 69, who won the prize for setting up several music-education centers for Venezuelan children, wants to expand the network beyond Venezuela.



    VOLCANIC TRAP. “It sounded almost reasonable,” recalls volcanologist John Lockwood from his base in Volcano, Hawaii. His good friend and fellow volcanologist, Minard Hall (right), had e-mailed that he had been attacked and robbed far from his home institution, the Geophysical Institute of the National Polytechnical School in Quito, Ecuador. Could Lockwood send $1200 to pay his hotel bills? “I responded to it” despite a nagging detail, says Lockwood: The e-mail was from Nigeria. He didn't send any money.

    Lockwood's cautious response was warranted. It turned out that Hall was the bait in an exceptionally personalized phishing expedition using his Yahoo address book. “Almost 100 people wrote to make sure I was okay,” Hall says. “I don't think anyone fell for it.”

    Lockwood responded to the scammer in Spanish and got a response in decent Spanish. But there were telltale signs of a hoax. For one, Hall's friends and most of his colleagues know him as Pete, not Minard. And Nigeria has no active volcanoes. “The scientific community does so much by way of e-mail [that] we're all vulnerable,” says Hall.