News this Week

Science  15 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5929, pp. 864

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  1. The 2010 Budget

    Stimulus Spending Looms Large as Obama Charts a Course for Science

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    Take a deep breath. That's what President Barack Obama seems to be telling nervous U.S. scientists in the detailed 2010 budget that he unveiled last week.

    Despite the candidate's repeated assurances about the importance of investing in science, Obama's $3.6 trillion budget request to Congress—his first since taking office in January—is hardly a call to arms. Overall spending on research would creep up by 0.6%, to $59 billion, over the comparable appropriation for 2009. (The more commonly quoted figure for federal R&D, which includes weapons systems, would edge up 0.4%, to $147.6 billion).

    What that number doesn't include, however, is the unprecedented $21 billion influx of research funding from the one-time stimulus package enacted in February (Science, 20 February, p. 992). The small percentage change also reflects large increases this year for some agencies that legislators approved belatedly in March (Science, 6 March, p. 1275). Then there's the fact that the new Administration is still filling many positions and, as one lobbyist notes, “You need people to come up with new programs.”

    Take the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which received $10.4 billion in stimulus funds that must be spent in the next 18 months. Its 2010 budget would rise to $30.8 billion, a 1.5% increase over a 2009 budget without the stimulus funding. “We didn't need additional resources,” says Kathleen Sebelius, newly installed as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, of which NIH is a part. Even so, Obama has proposed a controversial doubling of cancer research over 8 years, to $11.5 billion, starting with a 5% jump in 2010.

    The small overall increases for 2010 have put science advocates in a difficult position. They don't want to appear ungrateful for what's in the stimulus package, and even a small increase in the regular budget is better than nothing against a budget deficit topping $1 trillion. But “we would like to have seen the strong support for medical research expressed by President Obama matched by sizable funding increases [in the 2010 request],” said Richard Marchase, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland, in a statement about the proposed NIH budget. “While we appreciate that NIH received an incremental increase at a time when federal programs are facing cuts, and while the scientific community is immensely grateful for the investment in medical research that Congress and the president made through the Recovery Act, the budget still raises serious concerns about the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise.”

    Getting a $3 billion slice of the stimulus pie hasn't hurt the National Science Foundation (NSF), whose budget Obama has promised to double over 10 years as part of a commitment first made by Bush in 2007 to strengthen federal support for the physical sciences (see sidebar). The foundation would receive an increase of 8.5% in 2010, to $7.04 billion. Within that total, its research account would grow by 12%, to $5.73 billion. (Details had not been released at presstime.) The science and technology portion of the Environmental Protection Agency's budget would grow by 6.6%, to $842 million, with more research into air toxics, human health, and ecosystems. And the U.S. Geological Survey's budget would grow faster than inflation for the first time in years, receiving a 5% boost, to $1.1 billion.

    By the numbers.

    What would the president's promised 10-year budget doubling mean each year for the three agencies it covers? The Bush Administration was always careful to say it wanted to double overall spending by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology by 2016. But the Obama White House has calculated each yearly step, for each agency. Budget cynics may not be surprised, but it turns out that most of the growth occurs in the last 5 years and that 2011 is projected to be a pretty tough year. DOE's science office would grow by only 1.6% in 2011, for example, and NSF by 2.9%. Double-digit increases would return the following year and beyond, however, with each agency winding up in 2016 with twice the amount it had received in 2006.


    One agency whose science budget is getting a real shakeup is the Department of Energy (DOE). The president has requested $280 million for a competition to pick eight Energy Innovation Hubs, each one focused on a different energy-related challenge aimed at reducing the country's carbon emissions and fostering energy independence. “This is something that I feel quite passionate about,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the hubs, which he described as little Bell Labs. Each would receive as much as $135 million over 5 years. The 2010 budget also includes $10 million for a new agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to identify and fund what Chu and others call “transformative research” on solutions to the country's energy needs. ARPA-E received $400 million in the stimulus package.

    DOE would also get $115 million to begin educating students at all levels in clean-energy fields. That's six times the amount DOE now invests in training and would make the department a major player in federally funded science, technology, engineering, and math education. By comparison, the leader, NSF, would see its education directorate grow by only $13 million, to $858 million. That bump would be more than absorbed by boosts for technology training at community colleges and a hike in the graduate research fellowship program. The latter addresses the president's promise to triple the size of the program, to 3000 new awards a year, by 2013.

    The proposed 3.9% increase for DOE's Office of Science, to $4.94 billion, takes into account the 19% leap that the office received in 2009, as well as the $1.6 billion in the stimulus package. At the same time, the 2010 budget would also scale back some activities, notably the hydrogen vehicle program, a Bush favorite, from $169 million to $68 million. As Chu explained during a budget briefing, “Is it likely in the next 10 or 15 or even 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy? The answer, we felt, was no.”

    Counting on them.

    Science adviser John Holdren (left) and NASA's Christopher Scolese describe the president's proposed 2010 science budget.


    Old and new

    Obama provided few specifics about science when he previewed his 2010 budget in late February. But the details released last week contain more than a passing resemblance to those of his Republican predecessor, says Bush science adviser John Marburger. “It is certainly the sort of budget I would have expected under the previous administration, and indeed it carries forward the priorities of that administration, as the Bush administration carried forward science priorities of the Clinton administration,” Marburger wrote in an e-mail to Science.

    The promised budget doubling for DOE science, NSF, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for example, was a cornerstone of Bush's last three requests and had been embraced—but not always followed—by a bipartisan majority in Congress. The meager NIH increase, after the huge bulge from stimulus funding, also continues a tradition going back to 2004 after the agency's budget finished a 5-year doubling course. The competitive research program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture would remain at about $200 million. Similarly, most of NASA's vastly overcommitted science programs (Science, 3 April, p. 34) would get no more assistance from Obama than they received from Bush. But whereas astrophysics would drop by 7% in 2010, earth sciences, already buoyed by $325 million in stimulus funding, would receive boosts in each of the next 4 years, growing from $1.4 billion in 2009 to $1.6 billion in 2013.

    The biggest question mark for NASA is the fate of its human exploration program following the planned retirement of the space shuttle next year. On budget day, presidential science adviser John Holdren announced that Norman Augustine, former CEO of space and defense giant Lockheed Martin, has agreed to head a panel to do a quick review of the new rocket and space capsule that NASA has promised will be ready by 2015. “I anticipate they are going to … assess the status of where we are at and the progress that we are making,” explained acting NASA Administrator Christopher Scolese. “Clearly, if we are on the wrong path, we should change.”

    At the budget briefing, Holdren talked about how much the president “gets it” when discussing science and how he lights up when the topic turns to science education. But this year's budget request may not be the best metric to measure progress toward the president's goals. Standing alongside Holdren at the briefing—and singled out for praise—was National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco, a much-decorated marine ecologist to whom Holdren kidded he was “joined at the hip,” having been nominated the same day, appeared together before the Senate, and sworn in at the same ceremony. But despite that close kinship, NOAA's proposed 2010 research budget of $568 million is actually $8 million less than the Bush Administration requested last year.

  2. The 2010 Budget

    Navigating Treacherous Waters

    1. Dan Charles,
    2. Jocelyn Kaiser,
    3. Eli Kintisch and
    4. Erik Stokstad

    Science lobbyists have cheered President Barack Obama's arrival at the helm of the U.S. ship of state for a host of reasons. One is the impressive scientific credentials of the new Administration's initial appointments. The list generally begins with Steven Chu, a physics Nobelist, and includes science adviser John Holdren, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco, and the co-chairs of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, medicine Nobelist Harold Varmus and genomics wizard Eric Lander. Another is Obama's repeated promise to “restore science to its rightful place.” That's code for reversing the regulatory policies of the Bush years that seemed to ignore or distort the scientific analyses on which they were supposed to be based. And just last month, Obama received an ovation from the members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) by calling for 3% of the country's economy to be devoted to research, an unprecedented level of public and private spending on science.

    But how long will that honeymoon last? Here are five areas that could cause friction between the new president and the research community.

    1. Compromising on greenhouse gas reductions


    In addition to providing new funding, Obama has done plenty to befriend researchers concerned about global warming. He has stuck with his campaign promise to push for an 80% reduction by 2050 in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions. And an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruling last month that those gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act will give Obama leverage with Congress.

    But there's also much concern that the president may ultimately be forced to choose a watered-down deal over no deal at all. An Administration official said last month that the Administration was considering a bargain in which emissions caps would begin in 2014 instead of 2012, and that one concession to large carbon emitters might be opening up oil drilling in U.S. waters. Holdren also indicated recently that Obama might be rethinking a campaign promise to have companies pay for all the emissions allowances allotted to them as part of a reduction scheme.

    “It's too early to start whining,” says atmospheric scientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. “But I'm concerned about what the White House might eventually agree to.”

    2. Not delivering on new energy technologies


    When Obama promised NAS members last month that his Administration would make “the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history,” he predicted the payoff would include “solar cells as cheap as paint [and] green buildings that produce all the energy they consume.” Chu has also painted a rosy picture of the technical breakthroughs that will lead the way to a low-carbon future.

    But will there be a backlash when, as is likely, those breakthroughs don't materialize or have no practical impact before the next election? “There's no question that they're overpromising, but that's part of the excitement,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemist John Deutch, undersecretary of energy during the Carter Administration. Deutch says success will hinge on the Administration's ability to sustain generous support over many years, along with regulations that allow new technologies to flourish.

    3. Succumbing to disease politics


    Obama's 2010 budget to make cancer research the top priority for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has dismayed biomedical research advocates, who say such set-asides are harmful to science. Varmus, a former NIH director, has written that it's a bad idea to set aside funding for a specific disease because discoveries in one area often turn out to benefit another. Richard Marchase, president of the biology association FASEB, is also concerned that other disease groups will follow suit and that a coalition of patient and research groups that have pushed for increasing the NIH budget “will begin to unravel.”

    Advocates take heart in the fact that the increase is spread over all 27 NIH entities, not just the National Cancer Institute. Research on cancer covers basic studies of cell growth and genetics that could have broad implications for other diseases, says David Moore of the Association of American Medical Colleges. Still, there will be a push for Congress to embrace a broader approach.

    4. Leading NIH over a cliff again


    Many people are watching nervously as NIH, still without a permanent director, doles out its $10.4 billion stimulus windfall. On the one hand, acting NIH Director Raynard Kington is doing a fine job, they say, and delays in appointing an NIH director aren't unusual—the institute had no designated director for more than 2 years after Varmus left in December 1999, for example.

    Still, advocates believe that a fresh vision is needed for 2011 and beyond to avoid the same sort of crash that occurred in 2004 when NIH ended a 5-year budget doubling. In the meantime, Congress will need to be convinced that the stimulus money was spent in innovative ways and not just to let researchers extend current projects. “We're going to need big, glamorous things to hang our hats on,” says one lobbyist.

    5. Ignoring his scientific advisers


    Public health scientists and environmental advocates are still seething from the previous Administration's approach to regulating air pollution. Stephen Johnson, EPA head under President George W. Bush, endured scathing criticism when he picked standards for ozone and soot that were looser than those his experts advised (Science, 21 March 2008, p. 1602).

    The Clean Air Act requires EPA to base standards for these and four other common air pollutants only on what the science says will adequately protect human health. In 2005 and 2008, Johnson disregarded the advice of science advisers on portions of those standards. Advocacy groups sued, and now the soot and ozone standards are back at EPA for a second look.

    Lisa Jackson, EPA's new administrator, has promised to follow the science in deciding whether to tighten regulations on power plants, the auto industry, and other sources of air pollution. But will a recession erode that commitment? In her Senate confirmation hearing, Jackson left herself some breathing room: “I understand that the laws leave room for policymakers to make policy judgments.”

  3. Biomedical Research

    Stimulus Funding Elicits a Tidal Wave of ‘Challenge Grants’

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    A frantic grant-writing effort that has consumed biomedical research scientists this spring came to an end last week, resulting in a huge pile of new applications—more than 10 times larger than expected—to be reviewed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After this enthusiastic response, there will be many disappointed applicants: The rejection rate could run as high as 98%.

    The flurry of activity was sparked by the recent economic stimulus bill, which enabled NIH to expand ongoing grants and offer so-called Challenge Grants, described as an opportunity to jump-start research on certain topics. The NIH director's off ice announced the competition for these 2-year grants, worth $1 million each, in early March. This was just 2 weeks after President Barack Obama signed the bill that gave NIH $8.2 billion to spend on extramural research by October 2010 (Science, 17 April, p. 318). By 12 May, NIH had logged about 20,000 applications for the Challenge awards. That total surpasses anyone's expectations and tops what NIH normally receives in its regular three-times-a-year grant cycle. By contrast, NIH received only 1600 applications from researchers seeking to expand existing grants—fewer than anticipated.

    Initially, NIH expected to receive perhaps 1500 Challenge Grant applications and make 200 or more awards, says Anthony Scarpa, director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR). But as NIH officials spoke with university administrators, Scarpa says, NIH kept revising its estimate upward.

    Even after the 27 April deadline had passed, it took a while to pin down the total numbers. Some applications got clogged in the federal grants–submission portal, Although researchers worried that the Web site would collapse, that did not happen—the system just took longer than usual to process applications, so NIH gave investigators an 11-day extension. The 20,000 total is surprising, says one NIH official, but NIH has seen a similar disproportionate spike in first-year applications for some other new programs, such as the Pioneer Awards.

    Although some scientists grumble that the Challenge Grant award success rate will be so low that decisions cannot be made rationally, others are buoyed by the outpouring of ideas: “This is our march on Washington. Now policymakers need to step up to the plate,” says cancer researcher Peter Bitterman of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, which submitted about 240 applications.

    To review the applications, CSR has called on 15,000 people, largely previous reviewers but also new ones found with help from scientific societies. Each application will be sent electronically to three experts, then some 30 study sections will meet in person to assign overall scores, using a new “editorial board” model, Scarpa says. CSR staff members, who are also organizing a regular round of reviews this spring, have been working overtime, he adds: “It's a heroic effort. They're really overworked.” But Scarpa says he is confident that “it will be an excellent level of review.”


    NIH is calling in reinforcements to help review roughly 20,000 proposals for 2-year research projects.


    Scientists should expect that “substantially more” than 200 awards will be made, because many institutes and centers will decide to fund some on their own, says acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. NIH expects at least 400 overall. Still, the success rate will be low. But Kington says the effort won't be wasted because many investigators will resubmit their ideas in the bread-and-butter R01 category starting next fall.

  4. ScienceInsider

    From the Science Policy Blog

    ScienceInsider went all over town last week to hear federal agency officials present details of President Barack Obama's 2010 budget request to Congress. Here is a sampling of what we learned.

    At NASA, the earth sciences program was the favored child within space science, adding to its $325 million haul from the recent stimulus package. The budget offers little help for other heavily mortgaged science programs. However, the president threw a wild card into the NASA deck by announcing a review of the Bush Administration's plans for human exploration of the moon and Mars.

    The intramural labs at NIST fared well, as did external industrial support programs such as the Technology Innovation Program, a perennial target for the Bush Administration. Look for a boost in efforts to build a smart grid, advance solar energy, and revamp information technology in health care.

    Problems with the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal program, which was started in 2004 to screen cargo at land and sea borders for signatures of nuclear material, have led to a proposed elimination of acquisition funds for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office within the Department of Homeland Security. Administration officials say they plan to use stimulus money to buy the detectors if and when they are proven effective.

    While most institutes and the director's Common Fund would receive tiny raises, cancer research at the National Institutes of Health would take off on an 8-year doubling path. “It's a presidential priority,” explained acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. “I don't think it's inconsistent with the broad mission of the agency in any way.” Another Obama campaign pledge would boost autism research by 16%, to $141 million. Reversing a Bush policy, the president's budget also requests funding, totaling $194 million, for the longitudinal National Children's Study.

    For the full postings and more, go to

  5. Newsmaker Interview

    Texas Transplant Alfred Gilman Guides $3 Billion Cancer Project

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    Texas biomedical researchers were elated 2 years ago when voters approved spending $3 billion over 10 years for cancer research and prevention in the state. But they also wor ried about keeping funding decisions free of politics (Science, 31 August 2007, p. 1154). Dealing with such concerns is a top priority, says the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas's (CPRIT's) scientif ic director, biochemist Alfred Gilman, named last month.


    Gilman, 67, won a Nobel Prize in 1994 for work on G proteins and their role in cell signaling. A Connecticut native, he has spent nearly 3 decades at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where he is now an executive vice president, provost, and medical school dean. In June, he will step down to join the new venture. As Science went to press, the Texas House of Representatives and Senate were expected to approve the full $300 million from bond sales for each of CPRIT's first 2 years, and Gilman hopes to make the first awards late this year. Gilman's comments have been edited for brevity.

    Q:Why were you interested in this job? You're not a cancer biologist.

    A.G.:No, but the basic research I did was applicable to most cellular functions. I actually was funded by the American Cancer Society for several years. So I'm not without cancer connections.

    This is an exciting thing for Texas to do. It's real money, it's a real opportunity to accomplish some novel things in cancer research. I'm at a perfect point in my career to do something like this. I don't want to be dean anymore.

    Q:What is CPRIT going to do that will be different from what the National Cancer Institute does?

    A.G.:First of all, the biggest part of my job is going to be to put together the best darn scientific review committees you've ever seen, headed by superb cancer scientists. They will all be non-Texans. The first question that will be asked [of grant proposals] is, “How important and innovative is this research?” Not, “Can it be done?”

    I'm very much looking forward to having a high-impact, high-risk grant program that will give out, say, $100,000 for a year or 18 months to get preliminary data. We'll be putting forth RFAs [requests for applications] to encourage recruitment to Texas of both senior and junior scientists. We definitely want to recruit some stars. There will be some big consortium grants. I'll be surprised if there aren't big infrastructure projects, say, high-throughput screening or tumor-sample repositories. Certainly we'll support training.

    Q:Do you have any idea how much will go to basic versus clinical research and treatment versus prevention?

    A.G.:Some people have written down those numbers, and I've said, I don't want to see 'em. I want the judgment of quality to determine the distribution of money.

    My plan is that I would have the chairs of the study sections in essence constitute the equivalent of a [National Institutes of Health] council. They will get together in a meeting and merge their study sections' lists into a final funding list. I think that will be a very interesting meeting.

    Q:Is there going to be any attempt at geographic diversity?

    A.G.:Not much. (Laughs.) I've said a pretty consistent line here that I'm going to take the politics out of this. But if you look at the data, roughly half of NCI [National Cancer Institute] funding in Texas goes to M. D. Anderson [Cancer Center]. All of the UT components account for about 75% of NCI funding in the state. Now add Baylor [College of Medicine], and you are at about 90%. So that's not evenly distributed geographically. It's based on peer review. And so I think it will shake out roughly that way.

    But I think the high-risk, high-impact program will provide opportunities for people in smaller schools to compete. A great idea can come from anyplace.

    Q:Are Texans going to expect cures?

    A.G.:Every time everyone uses the “C” word, I say, “Please, we will not overpromise.” And what I've said to one of the sponsors of the legislation [is], we'll work hard but we're not going to promise that we're going to cure anything. I'm saying that we're going to make a lot of progress.

    Q:You will remain on the boards of two drug companies [Eli Lilly and Regeneron]. Why don't you see that as a conflict of interest?

    A.G.:Because I don't see either Eli Lilly or Regeneron coming to CPRIT for funding or being involved in projects with CPRIT investigators, but if they do, it's just as big a conflict of interest that I've been at UT Southwestern for 28 years. I've recused myself from here to eternity. I'm setting up the review system, I'm organizing it, I'm facilitating it. And I'm not voting.

    Q:Is there anything else to know about how CPRIT will work?

    A.G.:I said to the oversight committee, “You give me the tools I need, I will give you the world's best peer-review system.” I want to call up these folks and invite them to participate. I'll say, “You're going to help give away $300 million a year for cancer research, and your advice will be taken.” And I said, “If you ignore the advice of review groups, then they'll walk and I'll walk with them.”

  6. Particle Physics

    Austria's Possible CERN Withdrawal Rattles Physicists

    1. Daniel Clery

    Physicists across the globe are looking forward to exciting discoveries once the world's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, fires up in September at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. But researchers in Austria, one of the lab's 20 European member states, were shocked to hear last week that they may have to leave the party early. Austrian science minister Johannes Hahn announced on 7 May that he intends to withdraw the country from CERN membership by the end of 2010 because his ministry thinks its ε16 million annual contribution would be better spent on smaller research projects. Christian Fabjan, director of the Institute of High Energy Physics in the Austrian Academy of Sciences, calls the decision “devastating,” adding: “It degrades the position of Austria to a backseat in fundamental research.”

    The matter has attracted huge public interest in Austria. “We were surprised by the amount of reaction,” says physicist Daniel Grumiller of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the Vienna University of Technology. Researchers have been quick to gather support for reversing the decision, setting up Web sites for letters and an online petition that attracted 5500 signatures in its first 24 hours. “It would be a great loss for Austria, and a blow to Europe and the scientific world, if short-term thinking and lack of vision caused Austria—birthplace of Ludwig Boltzmann, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Victor Franz Hess, and Lise Meitner—to pull out of CERN now,” posted physics Nobelist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

    Hahn said in his statement that Austria wants to participate in new research facilities that will soon be starting up in Europe. And facing a flat budget, the science ministry (BMWF) decided to review current international memberships. CERN, he noted, takes up 70% of the ministry's fund for international research, and a small nation such as Austria has a low visibility in such a large endeavor.

    Vanishing point.

    As CERN makes final repairs to the LHC, its managers look for a way to stop Austria from jumping ship.


    Fabjan counters that the ministry received a modest increase in its budget for 2009, although he acknowledges that BMWF still has more commitments than it can afford. “Having too many projects is a good situation. It promotes healthy competition,” he says. But the ministry should have been more open in the way it decided between CERN and other efforts, he contends: “The choice was made internally, without consulting the scientific community.” Fabjan also points out that Austria's contribution to CERN, which is calculated according to its size and national wealth, is just 0.47% of the ministry's annual budget.

    Austria has been a member of CERN for 50 years. Because membership is governed by an international treaty, Austria's withdrawal must be approved by the council of ministers and Parliament, and the order signed by the president. Physicists are hoping that a sustained media campaign will reverse the decision.

    CERN, too, is hoping for a different outcome. The lab's director general, Rolf Heuer, visited Vienna to speak with Hahn on 11 May. They agreed to continue discussions and seek an outcome satisfactory to both sides. CERN spokesperson James Gillies says that a number of member states have in the past had trouble paying their fees, but something was usually worked out, such as a temporary rebate. However, Yugoslavia did secede from CERN in 1961 as did Spain in 1969, although Spain rejoined in 1983. Austria accounts for only 2.2% of CERN's budget, but the lab's greater concern, during the financial crisis, is a domino effect. Says Grumiller: “If a relatively rich country like Austria pulls out, it could set other members thinking.”


    From Science's Online Daily News Site

    Nice Guys Finish First. In tribal societies, one might expect that the fiercest warriors get the most women and father the most children. But that's not necessarily the case, says a new study of the brutal Waorani tribe of Ecuador, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The most aggressive Wao warriors have about the same number of wives and children as milder-mannered men have, and their children are less likely to survive beyond the age of 15, largely due to an endless cycle of revenge killings.

    Unpredictable Sun. Fans of solar storms and power failures are in for some bad news. A panel of the world's solar scientists announced that the next solar maximum—when the sun's irradiance, solar wind, and sunspots are most volatile— is not coming as soon and will not be as strong as predicted. That means fewer solar storms, which can cause power outages here on Earth.


    How Do You Hide a 5-Ton Shark? Every summer, hundreds of basking sharks emerge off the northeast coast of the United States, jaws agape to capture the tiny zooplankton that make up their diet. But by winter, the world's second-largest fish seems to vanish. Now, researchers have used satellites to solve the mystery of the basking sharks' winter home, they report in Current Biology. The findings could help conservationists better protect the 10-meter-long sharks, which may number fewer than 10,000 worldwide.

    Stronger Than Steel. New supercomputer simulations of the crusts of neutron stars— the rapidly spinning ashes left over from supernova explosions—reveal that they contain the densest and strongest material in the universe. So dense, in fact, that the gravity of the mountain-sized imperfections on the surfaces of these stars might actually jiggle spacetime itself. If so, researchers report in Physical Review Letters, neutron stars could offer new insights into gravitational waves.

    Read the full postings, comments, and more on

  8. Swine Flu Outbreak

    Flu Researchers Train Sights On Novel Tricks of Novel H1N1

    1. Jon Cohen

    Shortly after receiving word on 23 April that the same odd strain of swine influenza had infected humans in both the United States and Mexico, researchers around the world pounced on this novel H1N1 virus. “I've never seen so many people mobilized for something like this so quickly,” says molecular virologist Elodie Ghedin, who specializes in influenza genomics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania. Indeed, several journals, including Science, have already published papers about the outbreak.

    No gray zone.

    Each row compares an amino acid from the hemagglutinin protein in the seasonal H1N1 (l) with the outbreak virus (r). The two viruses have markedly different amino acids, which means antibodies against one protein likely won't work against the other.


    In contrast to the regimented organization of the public health effort, the research community has a free-for-all spirit, more Wikipedia than Encyclopedia Britannica. Questions include: Where does this virus come from, how does it do its dirty work, where is it heading, and how do we combat it?

    “Everybody is trying to make sure we do the analysis quickly and get the human specimens we need to capitalize on this,” says Richard Scheuermann, a molecular immunologist at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. “Even if this virus turns out not to be too virulent, it may help us be prepared to respond rapidly in the situation where the emerging outbreak strain is highly virulent.” Another reason, experts say: This H1N1 has also made headway into the Southern Hemisphere, which is entering winter now, influenza's favorite season, putting billions of people at risk. And it may well return to the north in September.

    One of the earliest research projects to go public was a wiki-style Web site called “Human/Swine A/H1N1 Influenza Origins and Evolution” created by two evolutionary biologists in the United Kingdom: Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh and Oliver Pybus of the University of Oxford. Rambaut and Pybus began pulling sequences of the new virus off public databases on 27 April; by 30 April they had posted the wiki with phylogenetic analyses of the strain's origins. “Researchers were making the sequence data publicly available, so we decided, let's make our analyses publicly available even though they might be provisional,” says Pybus. Many others quickly joined in, too.

    Their most provocative finding is that the sequences available so far have a common ancestor that dates back to “Septemberish” 2008, says Pybus. “So there were a few good months of transmission of this virus before anyone noticed it,” he says. Pybus is also co-author of a paper Science published online on 11 May that analyzes the Mexican outbreak, estimating that it infected 23,000 people by the end of April with a case fatality rate similar to an epidemic in 1957 but not as deadly as the infamous 1918 Spanish flu.

    Probing origins is tricky because the virus disappears within a week or so of a person becoming infected, but antibodies to the infection last much longer. “It's very important for us to go back and do retrospective serosurveys in Mexico in humans and perhaps pigs,” says Jeffrey Taubenberger, a virologist at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, who has studied the 1918 Spanish flu.

    Finding more of the virus's pig ancestors could be key. The current virus, a “triple reassortant,” is a hodgepodge of North American swine (30.6%) and avian (34.4%) and Eurasian swine (17.5%) and human (17.5%) flus. It's possible that the Eurasian swine flu virus may have gone undetected in North American swine for many years, says Taubenberger. “We've done a great job of getting thousands of human influenza virus sequences, and hundreds, at least, of the bird virus sequences, but very few pig viruses,” he says.

    So far, the only pigs found to harbor this novel H1N1 are in an isolated herd in Alberta, Canada, but scientists there doubt those animals are the source of the new virus. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspects that a carpenter working on the farm who had recently returned from Mexicali, Mexico, with flulike symptoms infected the pigs. Researchers did not isolate virus from the man, probably because they tested him after he recovered, and now are studying his antibodies to see if he had the swine H1N1. They are also sequencing the pig virus, which should clarify its place in the family tree.

    Scheuermann has scoured databases to see how each of the eight genes in the current strain compares with previously isolated genes from several species. His group has found similar genes in Southeast Asian and Hong Kong swine from the 1990s that were also in North American birds in 2000. “It could be that the virus in Southeast Asia got transferred from pigs to wild birds in the 1990s, and through migratory patterns went up the northeast coast of Asia and mixed with the wild bird population coming down to North America,” he says.

    Several groups are attempting to unravel just how virulent the virus is and what genetic changes enabled it to expand its host range from pigs to humans. Sequences from hundreds of isolates have shown that the virus does not have the virulence signatures of the deadly avian influenza that surfaced in humans in 1997 or the catastrophic 1918 strain. As to its efficient transmission, virogenomicist David Spiro, who heads a large flu-sequencing project at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, Maryland, says the sequence of the most common recent ancestor might reveal the genetic changes that enabled the virus to adapt to humans. “That answer must be out there,” says Spiro. But NIAID's Taubenberger says phylogenetics “is just the beginning”; hypotheses must then be studied in test tubes and lab animals. “Looking at where the differences are is interesting, but the key thing is to actually do transmission studies with these parent viruses and the new reassortant virus,” he says.

    One reason the new strain alarms flu experts is because it differs so radically from other human influenza viruses that our immune systems have little preexisting defense against it. Antibodies to the hemagglutinin glycoprotein—the “H” in H1 that studs the viral surface—play a central role in thwarting infection. A study done by the University of Pittsburgh's Ghedin compared the amino acids in the current isolate's hemagglutinin glycoprotein to the one in the seasonal H1N1 and found little overlap (see diagram).

    At the same time, the virus has caused severe disease in otherwise healthy young adults—the group usually least vulnerable to flu—prompting some to speculate that other influenzas or vaccines may provide some protection. And the elderly, the most vulnerable, have largely been spared. Virologist Nancy Cox, who heads the influenza division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says CDC is analyzing antibodies from different age groups to see if the elderly population has some protection from previous flu seasons. No clear answers have surfaced yet. “These are very early days,” says Cox.

    Inevitably, the new virus will reassort with existing ones and pick up new bad habits, such as increased drug resistance. Ghedin, who previously worked at JCVI, showed that at least 3% of humans who develop symptomatic seasonal flu are coinfected by two different influenza viruses. Right now, the swine-origin H1N1 is susceptible to the anti-influenza drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), but the seasonal H1N1 has mutations in its neuraminidase gene that render the drugs worthless. If a person becomes coinfected with both, the genes could swap, and then, JCVI's Spiro warns, “out the window goes the drug treatment regimen we have.”

  9. Swine Flu Outbreak

    Swine Flu Names Evolving Faster Than Swine Flu Itself

    1. Martin Enserink

    The Germans call it Schweinegrippe; French newspapers talk about la Grippe A. The World Health Organization (WHO) now calls it “influenza A (H1N1),” and so do government officials in many countries—but not the Dutch, who are sticking with “Mexican flu.” The Mexican ministry of health, meanwhile, often calls it simply la epidemia.

    Three weeks after the world woke up to the threat of an influenza pandemic, a Babylonian confusion has arisen about what the virus—and the pandemic, if it happens—should be called. Some virologists say WHO's new name, A(H1N1), although politically correct, isn't very clear and is not going to stick.

    The U.S. team that first reported two cases of the new virus in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on 21 April called it “swine influenza A (H1N1),” because its genes matched those of viruses previously found in pigs. WHO adopted that name as well; during a 27 April press briefing, WHO flu expert Keiji Fukuda used the word “swine” 22 times. When asked the next day whether that name was appropriate, Fukuda said, “the virus that is identified is a swine influenza virus,” and “we do not have any plans to try to introduce any new names for this disease.”

    But protests from the pork industry and the senseless slaughter of all pigs in Egypt announced on 29 April appear to have changed the agency's position. Since 30 April, the word “swine” has not appeared in any of WHO's official statements. Calling it the “Mexican flu” is problematic as well, says WHO spokesperson Dick Thompson: “We're very aware of the potential for stigmatization,” and besides, it's not certain that the virus originated in Mexico.

    Health officials in many countries avoid the porcine and Mexican connections as well. Within days after the first report, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials started pointing out that the new virus had never been found in pigs, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and government officials started “veering away” from the term swine flu.

    In MMWR, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came up with several creative alternatives, including, on 28 April, “swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) virus,” or S-OIV for short. In the 6 May update of MMWR, CDC coined the name “novel influenza A (H1N1) virus.” “It's clearly a name that is evolving fast,” says Derek Smith, who studies flu evolution at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

    The problem with WHO's name, A(H1N1), is that it isn't specific, says virologist Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. One of the three sub-types that make up seasonal influenza every year is also an A(H1N1), and so is the virus that caused the 1918–19 pandemic, widely known as the Spanish flu.


    The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, the official custodian of virus names, deals only with newly discovered viruses, says Australian virologist John Mackenzie, ICTV's vice-president. It has no official opinion on what particular flu strains should be called.

    Nobody is in charge of naming pandemics either. The Spanish flu didn't originate in Spain; it got its name because of the mistaken idea that that country was hit first. The 1957–58 pandemic, first seen in China and caused by H2N2, came to be known as the Asian flu. The pandemic of 1968–69, an H3N2 strain, went down in history as the Hong Kong flu, because that's where the first known outbreak occurred. Calling the new outbreak the “Mexican flu” fits nicely with that tradition, says Osterhaus, who believes that it will be the popular name for the pandemic no matter what public health officials say. That's also why the Dutch Outbreak Management team, an expert group of which he is a member, continues using the term “Mexican flu,” as does the Dutch government. (Their insistence has triggered a fiery letter from the Mexican embassy in The Hague.)

    Thompson says there are “ongoing discussions” at WHO about other names. Ideas abound: Some have suggested the “North American flu” in an effort to continue the geographic tradition without singling out any country. Others have suggested the “California flu” because the two patients described in the first MMWR were children from southern California. Influenza vaccine expert David Fedson likes the California connotation but has a better idea. “I favor calling it the ‘Schwarzenegger virus,’” Fedson says. “If it leads to a terrible pandemic, we'll call it ‘the Terminator.’ Then everyone will know what we're talking about.”

  10. Science and the Media

    ‘Vengeance’ Bites Back At Jared Diamond

    1. Michael Balter

    Two tribesmen from Papua New Guinea are suing the prominent biologist over a popular magazine article about the human thirst for retribution.


    Jared Diamond is being sued for allegedly defaming Papua New Guinea tribesmen in an article in The New Yorker.


    In April 2008, well-known biologist and author Jared Diamond penned a dramatic story in The New Yorker magazine, a violent tale of revenge and warfare in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Titled “Vengeance is Ours” and published under the banner “Annals of Anthropology,” the 8000-word article tells the story of a clan war organized by a young Papua New Guinean named Daniel Wemp to avenge the death of Wemp's uncle, Soll. In Diamond's telling, the war started in the 1990s over a pig digging up someone's garden, went on for 3 years, and resulted in the deaths of 29 people. In the end, Diamond wrote, Wemp won: His primary target, a man Diamond referred to as “Isum,” had his spine cut by an arrow and was confined to a wheelchair. Diamond juxtaposed Wemp's story with that of his own father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor who never exacted retribution for the loss of his family, to draw an overall lesson about the human need for vengeance.

    In recent weeks, Diamond's article itself seems to have come back with a vengeance. On 20 April, Diamond, 71, was sued in the Supreme Court of the State of New York for allegedly defaming both Daniel Wemp and Isum Mandingo, the alleged target of Wemp's revenge war. The lawsuit, which also names as a defendant Advance Publications Inc., the owner of The New Yorker, demands at least $10 million in damages. It follows a yearlong investigation led by Rhonda Roland Shearer, an artist and the widow of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Shearer directs the Art Science Research Laboratory, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that she and Gould founded before Gould's death in 2002. Among its activities is a journalism ethics program and a Web site called, which published the Shearer team's 10,000-word report, “Jared Diamond's Factual Collapse,” the day after the lawsuit was filed.

    In the report, Shearer and her colleagues, who included three researchers in PNG, claim that Diamond and The New Yorker got many important facts wrong in the original article, including the contentions that Wemp had personally organized the warfare, that Soll was his uncle, and that Mandingo had been paralyzed by an arrow. Indeed, the report includes a recent photograph said to be of Mandingo standing and looking strong and healthy. The report maintains that neither Wemp, Mandingo, nor any other of several New Guineans named in The New Yorker were told about the article beforehand. It also claims that Wemp's life is now in danger from other clans that might want to avenge Mandingo's alleged injuries, or even from members of his own clan for portraying them as ruthless killers.

    Diamond stands by his story, arguing that it was based on detailed notes that he took during a 2006 interview with Wemp as well as earlier conversations the two men had in 2001 when Wemp served as his driver in PNG. “The complaint has no merit at all,” Diamond told Science in an interview in his office at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is a professor of geography. Diamond adds that he still considers Wemp's original account to be the most reliable source for what happened. David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, also defends the magazine's story: “It appears that The New Yorker and Jared Diamond are the subject of an unfair and, frankly, mystifying barrage of accusations.”

    The affair has raised concerns among anthropologists familiar with PNG, who worry that The New Yorker's “Annals of Anthropology” banner has tarnished the field's reputation. Anthropologist Pauline Wiessner of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, a leading expert on tribal warfare in PNG, thinks Diamond was naïve if he accepted Wemp's stories at face value, because young men in PNG often exaggerate their tribal warfare exploits or make them up entirely. “I could have told him immediately that it was a tall tale, an embellished story. I hear lots of them but don't publish them because they are not true.”

    Different worlds

    Three worlds collide in this case. First is the world of science, specifically anthropology, which uses fieldwork and scientific methodology to study human cultures. Next is the craft of journalism, with its own set of ethics and practices aimed at reaching the general public. Finally, there is Papua New Guinea, a young nation still struggling to integrate many hundreds of tribes and clans into a modern state. For many years, Diamond, a physiologist by training, has worked in all three domains: He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a winner of the National Medal of Science, as well as a highly successful writer. In 1998, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, on the geographic factors that made some societies rich and some poor. His most recent book, Collapse, about the environmental forces that brought some societies down, has also sold well. And he has regularly visited PNG for nearly 50 years, although primarily to study the island's birds rather than its people.

    Although Diamond's frequent merging of these worlds has brought him both success and some criticism, this time it may have landed him in legal trouble. When Diamond's article appeared in The New Yorker, it drew the attention of Shearer, a fierce media critic who in recent years has gone after numerous reporters for alleged transgressions of journalistic ethics. (One of her most celebrated campaigns was against journalist William Langewiesche, who asserted in a book that firefighters had looted blue jeans from stores in the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks.) Shearer says that after reading Diamond's article, which appeared in the 21 April 2008 issue of The New Yorker, she immediately was “very skeptical” at the suggestion that Mandingo could have continued to live in the remote, rugged PNG Highlands while conf ined to a wheelchair and perhaps needing special medical care. She e-mailed Diamond and The New Yorker asking if they had verified this and other details; Shearer says that she received no response from Diamond and that the magazine's initial reaction was to say that it stood by its story.

    Shearer already had contacts in PNG from an earlier investigation during which she chased down rumors that a Komodo dragon was running amok in the country. (It turned out to be a hoax.) She asked her contacts to try to find Wemp. One, biologist Michael Kigl of the PNG Institute of Biological Research in Goroka, explained to Science that he was able to contact one of his own relatives in Wemp's province, who in turn managed to help locate one of Wemp's relatives. Thus Kigl found Wemp in his Highlands village in July 2008 and tape recorded an interview with him. According to Shearer and the 10,000-word report, Wemp denied organizing the revenge warfare attributed to him in Diamond's story. The report says that Wemp expressed surprise at The New Yorker article and claimed that Diamond had never told him about it. (Wemp's attorneys in New York City and PNG declined to make him available for an interview for this story, saying that their clients preferred to tell their stories in court and not in the press.) According to the report, the following month Kigl also located Isum Mandingo and took several photographs of him standing and walking.

    At least one other Papua New Guinean supports the account of Shearer's team. “Diamond's article is a confused story that names real places and persons but mixes up false, wrong, and defamatory allegations that bring into disrepute the good name of the named clans and their members,” said Mako Kuwimb, a member of Wemp's Handa clan and a PNG attorney now doing graduate work at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. In an e-mail to Science, Kuwimb added that PNG Highlanders are accustomed to having anthropologists among them, “and we know what [they] do and how they gather information.” Diamond, Kuwimb says, “converted a simple, casual conversation [with Wemp] into an article that looks and sounds like an anthropological piece” but “never followed [anthropological] procedures and protocols.” On 21 April of this year, Kuwimb sent The New Yorker's publisher, Lisa Hughes, a detailed, 30-page refutation of the Diamond article. Among Diamond's biggest errors, Kuwimb told Hughes, were his statements that the war he described had begun with the “pig in the garden” episode and had lasted 3 years. Kuwimb contends that the war was sparked by a gambling dispute and lasted only a few months.

    Annals of unease.

    Some anthropologists thought The New Yorker banner reflected poorly on their discipline.

    Some anthropologists have their own concerns with Diamond's article. For starters, many think that the “Annals of Anthropology” banner was misleading. “The New Yorker was wrong to imply that Diamond was an anthropologist or that what he wrote was anthropology,” says Dan Jorgensen of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, who has worked in PNG since the 1970s. Cultural anthropologist Alex Golub of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, who says The New Yorker fact checker spoke with him for about 10 minutes while the story was being prepared, agrees. “This affects our discipline's brand management,” he wrote on an anthropology blog he participates in called Savage Minds. “It's important for people to know that if they meet an anthropologist, they are not going to be written up in The New Yorker without being told about it.” Savage Minds has now teamed up with to produce a series of invited essays on the case.

    A number of researchers say that Diamond should not have used the names of real people and real clans; cultural anthropologists often use pseudonyms for the people they write up and follow strict ethical guidelines for informed consent when they do name people. Wiessner thinks Diamond should have refrained from naming even the tribes involved. “That was a very big mistake,” she says.

    Journalism versus science

    But both Diamond and Remnick insist that such anthropological criticisms are irrelevant, because Diamond was working as a journalist for a popular magazine, not as an anthropologist writing a scholarly article. Although Diamond says he did not find out about the “Annals of Anthropology” line until shortly before publication and now regrets it, Remnick points out that the magazine routinely uses the “Annals” logo for stories not written by trained experts in the field at hand. Says Diamond, “Everyone knows that The New Yorker is not a scientific publication; it's journalism.” That's why he used the names Wemp gave him, he says. “In journalism, you do name names so that people can check out what you write.” Remnick agrees: “Journalistic practice differs from scientific practice in a number of ways,” he says, “and this seems to be one of them. Using real names is the default practice in journalism.”

    Diamond insists that he followed good journalistic practice and that his article was based on detailed notes he took of the stories that Wemp told him. In 2001, Diamond says, Wemp drove him and Australia-based ornithologist David Bishop around the oil fields of Highland PNG as they conducted a survey of local birds. During several long drives, Diamond says, Wemp told them stories about the Highlands war that had supposedly begun when a man from Mandingo's clan, the Ombal, found that a pig had ruined his garden and blamed a Handa man for the damage. The ensuing warfare eventually killed Soll, whom Diamond says Wemp identified as his uncle, and it fell to Wemp to take responsibility for organizing a war for retribution.

    Fierce advocate.

    Media critic Rhonda Roland Shearer (above) charges that Jared Diamond's article included errors about Daniel Wemp (left).


    Diamond says that he made a few notes of these conversations when back in his room but did nothing with the story until another trip to PNG in May 2006. By then he had begun work on a new book about tribal societies and contacted Wemp to get a more detailed account of the war Wemp had described 5 years earlier. Diamond says that in 2006, he told Wemp explicitly that the story would go into the book. But he was unable to find Wemp again in 2007 when he decided to excerpt one of the book's chapters for The New Yorker; Wemp had left his job without leaving contact information, Diamond says.

    In 2006, “I said to Daniel, ‘Would you be willing to tell the whole story in one piece and I will take notes?’” Diamond says. He pulled out a large, red notebook and took “sentence by sentence” shorthand notes of the conversation, Diamond says, adding that Wemp spelled out the names of the warriors and other individuals who would later be named in The New Yorker piece. (Both Diamond and Shearer agree that Bishop was present during some of the May 2006 conversation; reached by telephone, Bishop declined to comment.) The Shearer account agrees that Diamond took notes in shorthand in a red notebook but differs markedly about what Wemp said.

    Diamond says that although Wemp clearly understood that he would be named in the book, he did not try to get permission from Mandingo and the others: “I trusted Daniel's judgment about what was appropriate to discuss.” Diamond says he did double-check Wemp's story with some younger members of his tribe, who confirmed that some of the people Wemp named had been involved in a tribal war. Diamond also told Science that he heard conflicting accounts about how serious Mandingo's injuries were and that Mandingo now may have recovered from his wounds. In regard to The New Yorker's fact checking, Remnick says that the fact checker was unable to find Wemp before the story was published. After Shearer's team found Wemp, however, the fact checker did speak with him by telephone, on 21 August 2008. Soon afterward, Shearer, who had kept in regular touch with the magazine, scored her first victory: In a 12 September 2008 letter to a London attorney, The New Yorker general counsel Lynn Oberlander agreed, “as a sign of good will,” that the magazine would remove Diamond's article from the freely accessible part of its Web site, although it is still available online to registered subscribers.

    Remnick nevertheless defends the magazine's efforts to verify Diamond's story. He says that this particular fact checker “is one of the best I have ever had the privilege of working with.” And he adds that “we had Jared Diamond's meticulous, detailed notes from the 2006 interview with Daniel Wemp, … and we consulted with people with expertise in the Southern Highlands, who confirmed that Daniel Wemp's description of the revenge battle was consistent with known practice.” Remnick also insists that in the August 2008 conversation between Wemp and the fact checker—which was tape recorded by mutual consent—Wemp raised only relatively minor factual objections to Diamond's account and asserted that the stories were basically true. In Diamond's view, the case is really about scientists coming under fire for popular writing.

    Whether or not Diamond got the facts of Wemp's case right, it is true that the tribes of PNG do practice revenge warfare, says Wiessner, who has studied war in PNG's Enga Province, just north of the region where Wemp and Mandingo live. In Enga, more than 300 tribal wars have taken the lives of nearly 4000 people since 1991. That's one reason Wiessner, who is active in local efforts to bring peace to PNG clans, is worried about the outcome of the case if it results in a large monetary award: She fears that the money could eventually go to buy weapons that would make the wars even more deadly. “When these wars first started, they were fought with bows and arrows, but now they have M-16s,” she says. And although Wiessner faults Diamond for apparently taking Wemp's stories at face value, she also believes Wemp himself violated clan ethics by telling them in the first place. “For him to have given the names of tribes and implicate[d] other people than himself,” as Diamond reported, “that was wrong,” she says. “He should have sought approval of the clan elders beforehand.”

    In Wiessner's view, The New Yorker article gave a one-sided view of tribal warfare. Although the death toll often seems high, she says Highlanders are expert practitioners of what anthropologists call “restorative justice”: the mediation of disputes in which aggrieved parties receive compensation from those who have wronged them, thus avoiding warfare. “Diamond did not put it into that context,” Wiessner says. She thinks that Diamond should travel to PNG and engage in some restorative justice of his own. “Diamond has been wonderfully respectful of PNG and has done so much to raise the image of the country in the world, until that story,” Wiessner says. “He should be taken to a village court; he should apologize; he should say that he was told this story and he should have checked it; and in compensation, he should give some money to each tribe, for their schools, a health center, or some community project.”

  11. Materials Science

    Carbon Sheets an Atom Thick Give Rise to Graphene Dreams

    1. Robert F. Service

    Interest in a novel material with amazing properties continues to sweep through physics and chemistry labs worldwide. Will graphene's promise pay off?

    Rolling plane.

    Simulated structure and “topography” of a graphene sheet like the ones in the micrograph at right.


    The lab-coat realm of science may seem worlds away from the fashion-crazed frenzy of New York City's Garment District. Yet science is not immune to fashion trends. Take the science of new materials: High-temperature superconductors, organic electronic materials, even cold fusion have all been trendy topics—some for longer than others. Scientists flock to new areas that show unique promise and offer knotty riddles, but careers can depend on which fashions have staying power and which are mere fads.

    When a material called graphene, which consists of single-atom-thick sheets of carbon, came along 5 years ago and caught a spark, it was hard to tell which way it would go. Researchers quickly discovered that these sheets are very strong yet flexible and highly conductive. So interest spiked. But would graphene be a flash in the pan?

    Half a decade after its arrival on the scene, graphene is showing staying power. Last year, researchers churned out some 1500 papers on graphene. The number of Google searches on the topic rivals the number for carbon nanotubes, another hot topic with a 20-year head start. “It's gone from zero to infinity,” says George Flynn, a chemical physicist at Columbia University. And the torrent shows no sign of abating. “I don't see it saturating anytime soon,” says Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, who led the team that first isolated flecks of graphene back in 2004.

    It's easy to see why. Graphene's carbon atoms, which are arranged in a chicken-wire pattern of hexagons, give it a perfect crystalline order. This order makes graphene the strongest material ever made when yanked along the sheets, yet it flexes like plastic wrap. It's also an outstanding heat conductor. Electrons whiz through the sheets at rates far beyond those achieved in other materials. All these characteristics have made graphene a playground for researchers including theoretical and high-energy physicists, chemists, and computer-chip-device makers looking to lend graphene's exceptional properties to tomorrow's ultrasmall gadgetry. “Graphene is amazing in basically every perspective,” Vitor Pereira, a physicist at Boston University, told attendees at the recent American Physical Society (APS) meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which featured 23 packed sessions on graphene.


    Andre Geim (left) and Konstantin Novoselov first isolated graphene in 2004.


    Uncertain beginnings

    It was never obvious that graphene could exist as a freestanding sheet. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a variety of research groups worked to extract single layers of graphene from graphite, the “lead” in pencils, which is made up from stacks of graphene sheets. The sheets in graphite are only loosely bound together, which is why scraping a pencil along a piece of paper leaves them behind. Early on, researchers tried to cleave ever-thinner slices from those three-dimensional flecks of graphite. That worked to a point but typically left scientists with thin stacks of about 100 layers of graphene. So groups tried other approaches, such as chemically wedging other atoms between the stacks to exfoliate single sheets or using an atomic-force microscope tip to drag a graphite fleck over a surface in hopes of dislodging a single sheet.

    In 2004, Geim and his Manchester colleague Konstantin Novoselov, together with others in Manchester and at the Institute of Microelectronics Technology and High Purity Materials in Chernogolovka, Russia, reported that they had found a simple way to do the job. In a technique that left a lot of people slapping their foreheads and wishing they had thought of it first, Novoselov simply placed a fleck of graphite between two layers of cellophane tape, peeled them apart, and repeated the process multiple times. Eventually, they whittled the graphite down to single layers (Science, 22 October 2004, p. 666).

    Once graphene was isolated, the race was on to see what it could do. Even in their first Science paper, Geim and his colleagues saw some alluring properties. For starters, electrons traveling over microscopic distances raced through graphene with little of the electrical resistance common to other materials, likely because graphene is so atomically pristine that it contains few defects to scatter electrons. The researchers also patterned electrodes atop it to create a transistor. By applying different voltages to their electrodes, they could control the numbers of negatively charged electrons and positively charged electron vacancies (also known as “holes”) left behind when a conducting electron surfs from one atom to another. The achievement marked the first time such a “field effect” had been seen in a single-layer conductor.

    Those early studies revealed that graphene was a semimetal, a versatile charge carrier that conducts both electrons and holes. The Manchester team's original study found that charges moved through the group's devices at up to 10,000 centimeters squared per volt second (cm2/vs), the standard unit of current velocity. By contrast, electrons zip through silicon, the workhorse of electronics, at a mere 1500 cm2/vs and through high-speed gallium arsenide (GaAs) at 8500 cm2/vs. That initial electron speed record didn't last for long: In 2008, Geim and his colleagues reported that electrons could fly through graphene at an unheard-of 200,000 cm2/vs. At the recent APS meeting, Columbia University post-doctoral assistant Kirill Bolotin reported that he and colleagues had increased the speed to 250,000 cm2/vs by chilling a sheet of graphene to 5 kelvin and suspending it between a pair of tiny pillars.

    Lending a hand

    Graphene's high speed for electrons and other remarkable properties are promising practical payoffs in applications as diverse as energy-storing capacitors and sensors. Most of the excitement right now focuses on using graphene to improve silicon-based computer chips, which form the backbone of a $260-billion-a-year industry. Chipmakers have thrived over the past 4 decades by continually shrinking the dimensions of transistors and other devices and packing more of them into a tighter area, thereby steadily increasing computing power. But researchers are nearing the limits of conventional transistors, which rely on silicon as the semiconductor to ferry electrical charges in a channel between electrodes. One strategy for further boosting the performance of transistors is to replace the silicon channel with a better conductor.

    For use in conventional transistors, however, graphene is too good a conductor. A key property of a semiconductor is that its conductivity can be switched on and off: Digital circuits differentiate between binary “0s” and “1s” by whether a semiconductor transmits an electrical current. But graphene's conductivity never turns off.

    That shortcoming doesn't automatically count graphene out for use in chips. It could prove handy in mobile phones, for example. Cell phones use analog-based radiofrequency (RF) circuitry. Instead of digital circuitry's simple on/off states, RF devices differentiate signals by their relative strength. RF circuits are traditionally made from highpriced semiconductors such as GaAs and indium phosphide (InP). Because charges move more quickly in graphene, it has a shot at beating out conventional devices.

    Progress is already beginning. In the 14 January issue of Nano Letters, for example, researchers led by Phaedon Avouris and Yu-Min Lin at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, reported making graphene transistors that can switch on and off 26 billion times per second. That's still well below the performance of InP. But Lin notes that graphene's intrinsic high speed should eventually make it possible to push the frequency much higher.

    There may even be hope for digital graphene transistors. Even before graphene was discovered, theorists realized that if it were cut into ribbons just 10 or 20 nanometers across, the confinement of electrons could make the material a semiconductor, as crowding would enable an “off” state. In 2007, Kim's group at Columbia and Avouris's at IBM reported using lithographic patterning to create graphene nanoribbons and fashion them into transistors. Those devices, however, still had a problem: They didn't show as large a difference in the conductivity between the off and on states as chipmakers would like for reliable circuits.

    A team led by Hongjie Dai, a chemist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, improved matters with a scheme for making nanoribbons chemically, which produced much larger on/off ratios (Science, 29 February 2008, p. 1229). Those devices turned out to be good at ferrying positive charges, making them positive, or p-type, transistors. To make modern circuitry, however, chipmakers need negative-charge-conducting, or n-type, transistors as well. In the 8 May issue of Science (p. 768), Dai's group reported that by adding ammonia groups to the edges of the graphene nanoribbons, they can “dope” the material and use it to make n-type transistors. Rodney Ruoff, a chemical engineer at the University of Texas (UT), Austin, calls the progress “encouraging.”

    Even so, graphene transistors remain a long way from finding their way into your next computer. Numerous groups have recently shown that atoms and surfaces that sit next to graphene can dramatically influence its conductivity, among other properties. So making millions of devices that all work the same way—an essential property for computer chips—will require controlling exactly what is allowed to interact with graphene surfaces. “It's an open question whether that can be done well,” Ruoff says.

    Edge effect.

    A fringe of ammonia molecules enables graphene ribbons to conduct electrons in transistors.


    Growing prospects

    Up to this point, an even bigger hurdle has been manufacturing large-area graphene films, say Ruoff, Geim, and others. Geim acknowledges that his team's original cellophane-tape approach to making graphene flakes has little chance of being scaled up into an industrial operation capable of covering the 300-millimeter-wide silicon wafers that are the industry's standard substrate. So researchers around the globe have been racing to come up with other ways to grow large-area graphene films at low cost.

    Several groups have made steady progress in growing graphene atop wafers made from silicon carbide. The technique uses high temperatures to boil off silicon from the outer surface of the wafer, leaving graphene behind. Researchers have created large graphene sheets with this approach. But because there is no easy way to peel those graphene layers off the expensive silicon carbide wafer, many groups are looking for answers elsewhere.

    They've been finding them. “There has been spectacular progress in the last 2 or 3 months,” Geim says. In 2008, for example, a team led by Jing Kong, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, reported at the Materials Research Society meeting in Boston that they had used a technique known as chemical-vapor deposition to grow large graphene sheets atop thin nickel films sitting on silicon wafers (Science, 19 December 2008, p. 1785). They also showed that they could pattern the graphene films using a simple stamping procedure. In the 5 February issue of Nature, researchers at Sungkyunkwan University and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, both in South Korea, reported that they had extended the technique to transfer high-quality nickel-grown films onto sheets of transparent plastics for use as transparent electrodes in light-emitting diodes and other devices.

    Researchers are growing large graphene sheets on other metals as well. In a paper posted online in Science on 7 May (, Ruoff's team at UT, working with researchers at Texas Instruments in Dallas, reports using a similar technique to grow large-area graphene films on thin copper foils. Both the nickel and the copper growth techniques form highly pure graphene. But because copper normally forms larger grains that network themselves together in sheets, it makes larger regions of pristine graphene, Ruoff says.

    Will larger area graphene sheets ensure that the ultrathin carbon membrane will be a scientific or commercial success? Not necessarily, Ruoff and others say. But materials science, physics, and chemistry are crowded, highly competitive fields. “People are desperately looking for a new idea,” Avouris says. So far, graphene is offering them in bunches. As long as that continues, graphene will remain firmly in fashion.

  12. Materials Science

    Relativistic Physics in the Lab

    1. Robert F. Service

    Graphene holds enormous promise for transistors and other electronic devices (see main text). But it is already making an impact in the arcane world of high-energy physics.

    Graphene holds enormous promise for transistors and other electronic devices. But it is already making an impact in the arcane world of high-energy physics.

    That's because electrons in graphene don't behave like electrons in a standard metal. In the lattice of a typical metal, electrons feel the push and pull of surrounding charges as they move. As a result, moving electrons behave as if they have a different mass from their less mobile partners. When electrons move through graphene, however, they act as if their mass is zero—behavior that makes them look more like neutrinos streaking through space near the speed of light.

    Klein's fingerprint.

    Wiggles in this interference pattern verified a 90-year-old paradox.


    At such “relativistic” speeds, particles don't follow the usual rules of quantum mechanics. Instead, physicists must invoke the mathematical language of quantum electrodynamics, which combines quantum mechanics with Albert Einstein's relativity theory. Even though electrons course through graphene at only 1/300 the speed of neutrinos, physicists realized several years ago that the novel material might provide a test bed for studying relativistic physics in the lab.

    Andre Geim and his team at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom pounced on the idea. In the September 2006 issue of Nature Physics, they suggested that by tracking the way charges move in graphene, scientists might be able to demonstrate a 90-year-old quantum mechanical oddity called the Klein paradox. In 1929, Swedish physicist Oskar Klein came up with a thought experiment: What would happen if a relativistic particle—one traveling near the speed of light—tried to cross a high-energy barrier? Quantum mechanics states that subatomic particles behave not like tiny billiard balls, which exist in one definite place at a given time, but like waves in which the probability of their being in any one place is spread out. Such ephemeral behavior suggests that a low-speed particle has a small chance of “tunneling” through a modest energetic barrier, because the particle's wavelike nature gives it some probability of appearing on the other side. Electron tunneling is commonly seen in modern materials and even vexes computer-chip designers by enabling electrons to stray to where they are not wanted. To keep the electrons on course, computer makers raise energy barriers around electrical conductors by surrounding them with strong insulators.

    Klein realized that when electrons travel at relativistic speeds, the likelihood that they will tunnel through a barrier can skyrocket. That's because in the spooky world of quantum mechanics, within which particles can wink in and out of existence, a relativistic particle that hits a barrier can generate its own antiparticle, in this case a positron. The electron and positron can then pair up and travel through the barrier as if it weren't even there.

    Experimental physicists love a good challenge, and several groups sought to use graphene to turn Klein's thought experiment into reality. After some initial progress by others, Columbia University physicist Philip Kim and his graduate student Andrea Young recently confirmed that Klein tunneling occurs in graphene. Young and Kim patterned a trio of electrodes atop a graphene sheet, allowing them to raise a narrow energetic barrier to charges moving through the graphene. The quantum mechanical waves of charges moving through this barrier create an interference pattern. In the March 2009 issue of Nature Physics, the pair reported that when they turned a magnetic field on these charges, it shifted their interference pattern—the expected signature of Klein tunneling (see figure).

    “It's the first step in realizing quantum field effects in graphene,” Young says. Kim adds that the insights that can be gleaned using graphene are just beginning. Most materials, he notes, are complex, dirty mixtures of atoms, impurities, and defects, which make calculating their expected behavior nearly impossible. But that problem goes away with graphene. “For the theorists, it's one of the simplest systems. But it has very rich physics,” Kim says.

  13. Lunar Resources

    Two Missions Go in Search of A Watery Lunar Bonanza

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Frustrated by long-controversial hints of water ice on the moon, researchers-turned-miners are going to blast for the mother lode in hopes that astronauts can use water to fuel a permanent moon base.


    Both the Shepherding Spacecraft (foreground) and Atlas upper stage will hit the moon.


    Almost half a century ago, theoreticians began arguing that the moon—despite blistering midday temperatures—harbors eonsold permanent ice. Orbiting spacecraft eventually found hints of ice near the lunar poles, but the remote observations weren't convincing. Now, scientists are going for broke in their search for lunar water that could fuel and water a long-duration presence on the moon.

    Early next month, NASA plans to launch an Atlas 5 rocket to the moon. It will carry a rather conventional spacecraft, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), designed primarily to peer down in search of safe landing sites for future astronauts. But piggybacking on the Atlas launch will be the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission. Actually, most of LCROSS is the Atlas, as the one mission involves two craft bound for the moon. The Shepherding Spacecraft bearing LCROSS's brains, eyes, and maneuvering jets will send the spent Atlas upper stage to a 7200-kilometer-per-hour impact on the moon this fall. Minutes later, the shepherd will crash as well. The terminal encounters are intended to blast lunar water—if any—high above the surface for all the world to see.

    No one is sure that the water is there, where exactly it would be, or how well the $80 million LCROSS will excavate it, but scientists are looking forward to the big splat. “I think it's highly likely that there's ice,” says lunar scientist Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas. “If there is no ice there, I don't really care. But I want to know.” That urge to know—and the lure of a resource easily convertible to a high-energy fuel of oxygen and hydrogen—have driven the decades-long and often exasperating search for lunar ice.

    Hints but no pay dirt

    Apollo moon rocks are drier than bone dry, yet ice on the moon makes abundant sense. Icy comets and water-rich asteroids have been bombarding the moon since its formation, Spudis notes, and there are places on the moon where the explosively delivered water would be stable indefinitely. Thanks to the moon's tiny tilt on its axis, its polar regions barely lean toward the sun in “summer.” As a result, the kilometers-high walls of some near-pole impact craters cast eternal shadows across adjacent crater floors. Although the lunar surface can reach 120°C in sunny spots, temperatures in permanent shadow hover at about 50 degrees above absolute zero by most calculations, cold enough to freeze nitrogen and to lock up water ice forever.

    Before finding signs of polar ice on the moon, astronomers stumbled across them on hellishly hot Mercury. Bouncing radar signals off the innermost planet to image its rocky geology in the early 1990s, radar astronomers received reflections from permanently shadowed craters near the poles. The reflections behaved electromagnetically as if they had bounced around within thick ice layers on the planet.

    Inspired by the apparent discovery, in 1994 planetary physicist Stewart Nozette of LPI and colleagues jury-rigged a last-minute radar experiment that bounced signals from the Clementine lunar orbiter off the lunar surface. On the radar's one pass over the moon's south pole, the reflected signal was “suggestive of ” ice, the Clementine team reported, although other planetary radar specialists remained doubtful.

    Follow-up using ground-based radars, principally by planetary scientist Donald Campbell of Cornell University and his colleagues, failed to support the Clementine observations, Campbell says. Some parts of the moon did return the distinctive reflections, but they come from rough terrain, Campbell says, not permanently shadowed areas. “I'm skeptical about significant water deposits at the lunar poles,” he says, although he adds that there could be grains of water ice too small for radar to pick up.

    The next moon mission after Clementine could look for just such grains. In 1998, the neutron spectrometer aboard the orbiting Lunar Prospector spacecraft gauged the energy of neutrons that cosmic rays create on hitting the moon's surface. Such neutrons slow dramatically if they collide with hydrogen atoms in the upper meter of lunar soil before flying off to the spacecraft. By measuring the proportion of fast neutrons to slow ones, Lunar Prospector proved to everyone's satisfaction that the moon's polar regions are enriched with hydrogen—possibly from traces of ice mixed in with the soil.

    Lunar Prospector's principal investigator, Alan Binder of the Lunar Research Institute in Tucson, Arizona, immediately hailed the result as proof of water in lunar polar regions at an abundance of about 1 weight percent, enough to mine (Science, 13 March 1998, p. 1628). Subsequent studies have tended to narrow the hydrogen signal to permanently shadowed regions. But “that doesn't mean it's water,” says the instrument's principal investigator, William Feldman of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson. The hydrogen could have been beamed in on the solar wind, for example.

    Inky targets.

    LCROSS will target permanently shadowed crater floors near the pole (center).


    All in all, a majority of planetary scientists remain guardedly hopeful. “There's a good probability there's water there,” says Dana Hurley of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who has modeled the preservation of cometary water on the moon. “The issue is that none of the data is conclusive.”

    Fire in the hole

    When space on board LRO's launch vehicle opened up, NASA selected LCROSS as a means of conclusively testing the icy-moon hypothesis, or, as LCROSS principal investigator Anthony Colaprete of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, puts it, as a way to finally “reach out and touch the lunar hydrogen.” It will be one bang-up experiment. Separating from LRO, the still-coupled upper stage and Shepherding Spacecraft will swing by the moon and enter two long, looping orbits around Earth before separating just before impact.

    The 10-meter-long, 2-ton upper stage will lead the way, crashing at a steep angle at 7200 kilometers per hour into the likeliest permanently shadowed region available. A flash, an upward jet of debris, and excavation of a 3-meter-deep, 20-meter-wide crater will follow. The instrument-laden shepherd and LRO, as well as Earth-based telescopes, will probe the rising debris plume for signs of ice, water vapor, hydroxyl from water, and hydrated minerals. Then the trailing 700-kilogram shepherd will fly through the plume—sending back data all the while—before blasting its own, smaller crater near the first.

    At least, that's the plan. Whether the basic physics of impact probing will cooperate remains to be seen. “It's a very unproven and highly unpredictable science, impact cratering,” Colaprete told an audience at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in March. Erik Asphaug agrees. Asphaug, an impact modeler at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz, calls LCROSS “the most challenging impact modeling I've ever done.” If too little of the right stuff rises into view above the crater rim, observations will be compromised or impossible. But calculating the depth of excavation and the amount, speed, and direction of ejecta is fraught with uncertainty, Asphaug notes.

    The uncertainties start with the LCROSS impacter. “By planetary standards, it's pretty slow,” says Asphaug. Making assumptions that work in simulations of faster comet and asteroid impacts may give a misleading idea of what to expect in slower impacts. And the upper stage is a far cry from models' usual solid spheres. “A good model of it would be a soda can,” says Asphaug, a hollow shape that's tough to model. In laboratory experiments reported at LPSC by impact specialist Peter Schultz of Brown University, hollow projectiles fired into targets similar to lunar soil splash out high-speed ejecta at lower angles than solid projectiles do. As a result, models may underestimate the chances that ejecta will hit the crater rim instead of rising into view, Schultz says.

    Then there's the target, the dirt and rubble of the upper few meters of the moon. As much empty space as rock, this “regolith” will be highly compressible, another challenge for modeling. All things considered, “it's going to be interesting,” Schultz says.

    Even if there's ice on the moon and LCROSS kicks up plenty of debris high into the sky, it could still miss striking it rich. Clementine radar and Lunar Prospector neutrons painted broad-brush pictures of where ice might be, including sunlit areas surely too hot to harbor ice. Planetary scientist Richard Elphic of Ames Research Center and colleagues have recently sharpened the Lunar Prospector picture by discarding the sunlit areas and confining the detected hydrogen to nearby, permanently shadowed areas as mapped recently by Japan's Kaguya orbiter. Assuming the hydrogen is bound up in water, the analysis boosts its abundance well above 1% in some craters, Elphic says. “But some permanently shadowed features still do not appear to have any hydrogen.”

    LCROSS will avoid apparently dry places, of course, but the absence of hydrogen in locations where simple theory would call for it suggests to some that any lunar ice could be patchy. “I didn't like LCROSS from the get-go,” says Spudis. “It is highly possible that it will miss a deposit of ice that is there.”

    That's where the $550 million LRO comes in. Although its primary mission is to scout out safe landing sites, four of its seven instruments are dominantly or entirely devoted to the search for water ice. It carries another neutron detector to map hydrogen at higher spatial resolution. Radar will get the best view yet inside permanently shadowed craters. (A similar instrument is already flying on board the Indian Chandrayaan-1 orbiter.) A laser altimeter will map topography. And a radiometer will gauge actual temperatures in permanent shadow.

    “We have hope, but that's not the same as data,” says David Paige of UC Los Angeles, the principal investigator of LRO's radiometer. “Is the LCROSS approach going to work? We don't know. Even LCROSS, LRO, and the international effort combined may in fact not be enough to solve this problem. There's no guarantee the moon will cooperate.” And no country has a mission in the works to land in eternal darkness to force the issue.